“I heard he used to be a bandit.”
“Really? An honest-to-goodness bandit?”
“Apparently! A real guttersnipe. But it was all kept hush-hush when he moved into The Valley.”
“A cover up?”
“Well, not a very good one, clearly. From what I’ve heard, he had quite the dubious reputation. Many considered him naught but a dirty charlatan… Until he joined the Enchantress, of course. If he could hide his past before, he certainly couldn’t after that. Took to villainy like a Fish to water.”
“Hmph. I wasn’t afraid of him.”
“You never left Pridemoor.”
“Well I’ve always thought he was quite mysterious!.. It makes perfect sense that he was a double agent all along. He’s almost dashing, now, don’t you think? When’s he coming out..?”
A Peacock, a young man in a blue doublet, and a lady in a red dress all leaned forwards expectantly, anticipating the arrival of the guest of honour. The lady was about to speak again, when she was interrupted by the loudest yawn she’d ever heard, coming from right behind her.
Turning indignantly towards the source of the interruption, the group beheld an intimidatingly tall, dark haired woman with emerald green skin. She was dressed in splendid black robes, and she was giving them a look that was even blacker.
Mona Mopes had little patience for the snide gossip of nobility. She’d grown up surrounded by it, and made a point to avoid it wherever possible as an adult. Running away from home had helped, but today she had no choice but to grin and bear it. Or scowl and bear it, rather.
But she would bear it, nevertheless, for today was a momentous occasion indeed.
It had been two weeks since the destruction of the Tower of Fate. News of the heroes who conquered the vile edifice -Plague Knight and Shovel Knight- had spread quickly throughout the land.
Shovel Knight, it seemed, had ducked out humbly. After a small celebration by the townspeople, he’d retreated to his modest home on the outskirts of The Valley, apparently to care for his injured partner.
The Villagers all thought it very gallant and noble of him to do so, and wished him well on his way out. However, they would not be robbed of the opportunity to throw a grand party for a conquering hero… so their adulation was heaped upon the unlikely champion, Plague Knight, instead. Nobody would have guessed in a million years that that creepy little bird-man was a double agent, but now the truth was out, everyone was itching to congratulate him.
Plague Knight, unfortunately, refused their attentions on different grounds. Social situations were hardly his forte, and he was most certainly not used to all this positive regard. He was boastful and lively at first, but withdrew into a shell of nervous twitchiness as The Villagers clamoured for more than just his account of his heroic deeds and adventures.
After that, he refused any and all invitations to social gatherings, hiding away in some secret place that nobody could find. He’d certainly gotten his parade, only to find that he didn’t really want it…
A summons from the king, however, was enough to catch his interest. The Villagers had failed, but the king and his court would not be dissuaded. As aristocrats, they were used to getting what they wanted, and they all wanted a piece of at least one of the heroes of the Tower of Fate. So it came to pass that Plague Knight was invited to Pridemoor Keep to be knighted. For real.
Mona felt as if she’d been standing in the throne room for hours, though she knew it to be hardly a quarter of one. The nobles around her were shuffling with a similar sort of restlessness, their fancy shoes scuffing on the lavish red carpets. Some of the less refined ones at the back of the crowd were leaning against the walls, which still bore the golden gilt of King Knight’s reign.
Speaking of King Knight, the royal rascal crouched at the far end of the room, away from the assemblage, his shiny helmet lowered over the floor, which he was half-heartedly scrubbing. He wasn’t audible, but it was almost certain he was grumbling to himself about the injustice of it all. Mona had found his punishment amusingly light, but then, King Pridemoor was known to be a bit soft.
Then again, perhaps it wasn’t about the physical aspect; forcing a man who thought himself royalty to do such a menial task -and in plain view of an entire royal court- was surely deeply humiliating. Perhaps king Pridemoor was more devious than Mona had first thought?
As the nobles in front of Mona began to grow increasingly uncomfortable with her scowling stare, Mona puckered her lips and made a staccato shushing sound. Despite loathing nobles, and the court, and all their frivolous pomp and circumstance, she was genuinely excited to see her little partner achieve a true rank. Mostly due to the fact that he himself was a bit twitterpated by the idea.
He’d tried to pass off his glee, of course. Plague Knight was too proud to admit that he was honestly flattered by all that fancy nonsense. But Mona could hear the tremble in his voice and see the skip in his step, and his feelings were, as usual, infectious.
Mona wanted this moment to be perfect for him. She wanted him to be surrounded by a halo of adulation and respect. The gossip being whispered back and forth was hardly surprising, but today she could absolutely not ignore it as she usually did. Today was important. And so Mona was doing her best to both tolerate the place and people she hated, as well as using her natural intimidation to make sure none of them ruined the occasion.
And with that final shush, she conveyed her silent message: Shut up, or I’ll make you.
The nobles eyed her right back with looks of disdain or uncertainty. None of them knew who she was. She’d refrained from speaking on her role in the fall of the Tower on a large scale. She didn’t want the attention it would garner just yet. She would quietly disseminate word of her skills once the immediate fervour died down… once people were looking to invest in an acclaimed alchemist.
Luckily, a keen battle of haughty wit was promptly prevented by the sudden noise of the doors opening, and the clanking of armour.
The assemblage quickly went quiet and peered forwards eagerly as a procession of knights proceeded down the hall, swords and shields gleaming in the light from the wide open windows.
They performed a little salute, raising their swords, then trooped to their places around the king’s throne, trailing a small figure in dark blue cloth.
Plague Knight skittered quickly up the carpet, clearly trying to control himself. He looked nervous under so many eyes, but as he made his way past Mona, he tilted his beak upwards and puffed out his chest, causing the chains at his throat to catch the light and gleam as brightly as any of the knights’ armour.
Mona made sure to shoot him a smile -a real one- as he went. She still wasn’t very practiced at the gesture, exactly, and the expression probably wasn’t as big on the outside as her feelings were on the inside. Nevertheless, it seemed to help.
She heard the nobles whisper around her, and saw their heads turn to follow her partner as he moved.
“He’s much smaller than I thought…”
“And such simple attire… One would think he would dress a little more finely to be received by the king..!”
“Is he going to remove his mask? Isn’t it customary to show one’s face at solemn events?”
Mona narrowed her eyes and drummed her fingers against her skirts. She kept her eyes fixed on her partner, all the while performing subtle acts of magic. The whispers died down with tiny yelps as she banished an article of clothing here, and summoned an object there. It was all she could do to control the situation, but it seemed to be working out well enough.
Plague Knight was standing before the throne, now, and Mona stayed her hand to concentrate on him.
The king stood up from his ornate seat and spread his arms wide.
“Plague Knight, master of the Explodatorium and hero of the Tower of Fate. We are honoured to have you in our presence. Your valorous acts were instrumental in freeing our land from the tyranny of The Enchantress, and you performed them even at great personal risk. To recognize your courage and sacrifice, we wish to bestow upon you the title of knight.”
The court clapped politely, and some of the more boisterous members let out a hearty ‘hear, hear!’
Plague Knight seemed to be about to make one of his usual quips, when he was instructed by an attendant to kneel. He dutifully dropped to one knee, clutching onto his staff to make sure he didn’t keel over in his nervousness.
The king stepped forwards and drew his sceptre, placing it gently on Plague Knight’s right shoulder, then drawing it over his hooded head to rest on his left.
“I dub thee… Sir Plague Knight, Hero of The Valley!”
Plague Knight sprang up almost immediately with a gleeful whoop, and promptly knocked the king’s crown off in the process. There was a resounding gasp from the court, then an uneasy pause, before the sound of chuckling rose over it.
Mona was quite amused at Plague Knight’s display of excitement, and she wasn’t afraid to show it. The king, it seemed, shared her view. Once their monarch began laughing as well, the court quickly followed suit, and one of the knights stooped down to pick up the fallen crown. King Knight, who had been edging closer for a short period, hand outstretched, fell back in disappointment and tossed his cleaning rag to the ground.
“Thank you, Tristan,” said the king, taking the crown back and replacing it upon his head. He then raised his hands and lead the room in a much louder round of applause. Mona joined in wholeheartedly.
“Well, Sir Plague Knight. How do you feel?”
“Hee! Exhausted and absolutely grand, hahaha!!”
After the festivities had ended and the alchemists were finally allowed to leave, Mona and Plague Knight found themselves ambling leisurely back to the carriage that had ferried them from The Village to Pridemoor Keep. They were both full to bursting with banquet food, and completely tuckered out from dealing with the world of social niceties all day.
“Well, Sir Plague Knight, I’m sure we’ll both get a good night’s sleep… A good knight’s sleep, in your case,” said Mona, smirking at her little joke.
Plague Knight snorted and folded his arms, “Alright, don’t rub it in.”
“I’m not, Sir Plague Knight, I’m just in awe of your regal standing! I feel humbled by your very presence.”
“Hee! Why, Lady Mopes! Can a little man such as myself ever hope to truly intimidate a great woman such as you? A title might give me a swelled head, but it can only swell so far, heeheehee!”
Mona smirked and placed a hand on his hood, pushing down slightly, “Perhaps some high-heeled sabatons might help, Sir Knight! Though, when I referred to your standing, I wasn’t talking about height…”
There was a pause, before Mona quickly withdrew her hand and folded it into the other, glancing away. Plague Knight drew away in a similar fashion. Banter had always been something of an awkward little dance for the two of them, but now they were performing it on the edge of a knife. It had been a little while since they’d essentially admitted their feelings for one another. Essentially, of course, because neither of them had actually said ‘I love you’ out loud. Or at least while the other could hear.
Nevertheless, despite their nervous, doubting natures, the point had been gotten across. And now the true, flirtatious nature of their back-and-forths was embarrassingly obvious.
Neither of them was ready to move forwards, exactly. They were still revelling in the knowledge that there was even the possibility of moving forwards. But the tension was building. One of them, at some point, would have to make a move…
“So, um… have you had word from Percy, yet?” asked Mona, as they neared the carriage.
“Hee! Just this morning, actually. He says he’s settled in nicely, but I think I’m going to check in and make sure he hasn’t gone, eehee, ballistic.”
Mona snickered. After the fall of the Tower of Fate, Plague Knight had expressed the wish to move his activities to the Potionarium, the formal reason being that the Potionarium was closer to one of the largest settlements in The Valley, thus making commerce easier. The unspoken reason, of course, was to be closer to his partner. Permanently, this time. And to that end, he’d conveniently removed the local mood-ruiner by gifting him his old lab.
Percy was terribly excited at being assigned to the Explodatorium.
‘It’s so roomy! Think of the ballistic experiments I could get up to?!’
Still, Plague Knight remained the owner of the place. Despite parting ways with it, he still seemed to feel responsible for it. Mona understood; she’d always be terribly worried about the Potionarium, even if she ever felt like leaving it behind.
“When are you heading up?”
“Hee, well, I’d rush over immediately but I’m a little dazed from all the… hee! You know.”
Mona nodded. The adulation was a bit overwhelming.
“I don’t want to have to deal with all this and Percy at the same time. So… I think I’ll go next week, heehee! I might be gone a while though…”
“That’s fine. You know I can hold down the fort myself, right?” replied Mona, raising an eyebrow.
“Hee! Of course! Ah– after you!”
They’d reached the carriage now, and the driver aboard had given them a salute indicating he was ready to take them home. Plague Knight opened the carriage door and swept his arm out grandly to usher Mona inside, his trailing sleeve flapping as he did so.
Mona climbed in and he clambered up after her, scooching onto the seat next to her and slamming the door behind them.
“…Ah… Haha, well, it’s just…” he swallowed and flinched a little as the carriage began to move, “I, uhh… I know you can hold down the fort, heehee! I suppose I’ll see you when I get back.”
Mona heard him swallow a sigh as he turned away to look out the window. She watched him for a few moments before leaning back and closing her eyes. The ride home would be a long one, and she had a feeling he was suddenly too shy to talk.
- - -
“Visit upon me your greatest challenge! Do not hold back!!”
Mona gave a deep sigh and snapped her fingers.
The air in the Lich Yard was less dense and putrid than usual. Though the trees remained dead and the buildings derelict, there was a sense that things were changing… growing anew in stagnant waters. Just days ago, the new and old residents of the Yard had met to discuss the sins of the past, and an accord had been reached.
After tonight, the living would return to the city of the dead they had once inhabited. This time, however, they were to live in harmony with their expired neighbours. It would be a fragile sort of peace, considering the trauma of the razing of the Yard and the old bad blood between the inhabitants. But at least a certain portion of the skeletal villagers were happy to see their more lively counterparts again.
“My daughter is coming back… I can finally see her again. I no longer serve The Enchantress!”
“I always meant to tell that barkeep I was only haunting his establishment to get his attention…”
“Never really hated the fleshies, me. They just smell…”
But the party being thrown was not in honour of the return of the living. It was for the man who’d once dominated the domain. Spectre Knight’s loyalest lackeys had decided to organize a little shin-dig for their deceased deputy.
“It’s his going-away party!” the Super Skeleton closest to him had said, “Nobody really wants him around here anymore, and I don’t think he wants to stay, either. Something about old bones…”
Mona had been recruited for entertainment purposes. Her game, Spin Ye Bottle, was a favourite of Spectre Knight’s. She hadn’t known, when she’d pitched the activity to him all those years ago, that the skeletal Knight would take to it so keenly. She’d been glad, of course– she’d only been using it as an excuse to spy on him and gain knowledge on The Enchantress… but she didn’t exactly want to be his friend.
Yet even now, when it was all over and she could finally reveal her true intentions, she felt strangely compelled to keep quiet and give him his final game.
She would never forgive Spectre Knight for what he’d done for the Order… but she felt a certain pity towards him, somehow.
Besides, it was a little amusing to see the haughty, intimidating apparition turn into a boastful child whilst playing her game.
So here she was, in the Lich Yard, conjuring bottles for an overgrown invisishade to smack around like a Memmec after a rat.
“Ha! Hya! Ho!”
Spectre Knight dove through the air, slashing his scythe sharply, sending the bottle Mona had tossed at him bouncing merrily back and forth. The assembled undead and a few sympathetic living villagers clapped and cheered as he soared acrobatically over their heads. The cheers abruptly stopped, however, when the bottle fell to earth and smashed.
Spectre Knight was just shaking his fist at the sky as if the heavens themselves had distracted him, when a brittle boneclang wended her way through the crowd and tugged on his cloak. After a few moments of whispering between the two, Spectre Knight stiffened, then turned back to the crowd.
“I must take my leave. An urgent matter of business calls for my attention,” he turned to Mona and bowed, “Thank you for your time. If we meet again… I shall not fail.”
Mona sighed and waved limply, though secretly, she was quite excited to leave. Plague Knight was returning from his trip to the Explodatorium tonight, and she was eager to meet him when he got back.
When it seemed appropriate, Mona got up, banished her desk and bid a hasty goodbye to the ghouls of the Lich Yard, before teleporting back to the Potionarium.
She arrived in her back room, feeling a little dazed. Teleportation was always something of a gamble for her, though it was easier when she knew the destination well. She stretched, then went to go sit back down at her desk. She conjured a quill and notebook and began working on her notes in the meantime. She always had about eight ideas swirling around in her head at any given time, and spent as much time as she could spare on developing them. Who knew when they would come in handy?
She was just poring over a particularly frustrating formula when the collapsable wall into her room gave in with a crunch to reveal her partner.
“Oh! Mona! Hee!”
“Hey, Plague Knight. Welcome back.”
Plague Knight beetled over to her, a little skip in his step. It was almost like old times, though without the urgent sense of secrecy…
“Were you waiting up for me?” he asked, slyly, “How devoted! Heeheehee!”
“I was previously engaged,” said Mona, folding her arms, “…So I was only waiting a little while.”
She stood up before he could tease her any further and activated the Torque Lifts, taking them down into the lab proper.
It was much quieter than it used to be. Many of the minions had left to visit their families. Now that the Serum Supernus venture was over, little minion labour was required. Besides that, The Valley no longer hated alchemists and those associated with Plague Knight, so they were free to go out into the open and do as they pleased.
Only a few remained. Those that had no-one or nowhere else to go, or wanted to genuinely pursue their scientific studies. Things were much laxer these days…
“So, how was the Explodatorium?” asked Mona, sitting down at her desk once again and conjuring a seat for her partner, “Totally destroyed?”
“Much less totally destroyed than I thought it would be,” said Plague Knight, hopping onto the provided resting place and leaning back comfortably, “Percy is moving all his catapults into the test ranges, heehee! Honestly, what more does he need to know about sending things flying?!”
“It probably takes a while to sink in for him,” said Mona, shrugging, “How’s the Magicist settling in?”
“Heh! Oh, much better. She knows her way around a lab.”
Well, that was good. The Magicist would be around to keep Percy from messing things up too badly. If she was alert enough, that was…
Since the fall of the Tower, Percy and the Magicist had been going steady. Despite the Magicist’s unfocused nature and Percy’s serial skirt-chasing, the two seemed to be getting on like a vat on fire. Mona had begun to avoid them before they’d gone off to the Explodatorium; there was only so much cooing, kissing and cuddling she could take without feeling ill.
“Do you regret it?” she asked, propping her chin up on one hand.
“Regret giving the lab away? Hee! Well…” Plague Knight waved his hand vaguely, “It still belongs to me. But… Heh… For a while there, it was really getting me down.”
Mona cocked her head, curiously.
“The lab itself, I mean. By association to the Order… it became a bit… hee! Ugly, you know?” Plague Knight chuckled, “Intimidation and mystique is all well and good, but The Enchantress’s brand of macabre wasn’t exactly mine.”
Mona twisted up her mouth. She understood what he was getting at. The Explodatorium wasn’t Plague Knight’s anymore, but the Order’s. Even if it was disbanded, the memories still festered.
“Heh, besides… I like the Potionarium better,” said Plague Knight, sitting up a little straighter and looking away, “It’s… homier! Heehee!”
“Homier? Are alchemical labs supposed to be homey?” Mona asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, it doesn’t hurt,” replied Plague Knight, “It’s closer to The Village. We can open up commissions again..!”
Mona brightened, “Oh, yes! I liked those…”
She hadn’t gotten to work on any sort of commissions until the Essence collection started and she was put on bomb-design duty, but she had one enjoyable memory of meeting the Commission Team of the Explodatorium. Helping them find tricky solutions to curious problems had been quite amusing… it was something Mona liked a lot. She used to solve riddles and puzzles in her spare time, and these days, the clear future meant she could do anything… she could turn her love of inventing solutions into a career.
A smile spread across her face unconsciously at the thought, and she only noticed when Plague Knight let out a little cackle and pointed.
“You’re smiling! Now we HAVE to open up commissions and put you in charge!”
Mona flushed and recoiled, “Wh-what? I– That’s silly logic. A smile doesn’t mean you have to do anything.”
“Doesn’t it though?” Plague Knight sighed, dreamily, before shaking his head and running a hand over his beak in embarrassment.
It seemed they’d both lost their composures a little.
“Hrm. Well. Don’t you want to be in charge of commissions?” asked Mona, recovering enough to pull her face back into its usual blank look of apathy.
“Heh, er… No, actually, I was thinking…” Plague Knight kicked his feet a little and peered down at his twisting hands in his lap, “I ah… hee! While I was at the Explodatorium, I had a chance to do a little… teaching. The herd’s thinning, have you noticed?”
“Most of the minions have left, except the ones who are really interested in alchemy, heehee! They’re pretty bright when they’re not surrounded by dullards! I held a class on transmutation the other day and there wasn’t a single singed robe or broken limb, heeheehee! It was, uhh… actually rather enjoyable.”
Plague Knight continued to fidget shyly, “…I think I rather like teaching.”
Mona was silent for a few moments. This was a side of Plague Knight she’d only seen hints of before. Behind the maniacal bandit, there was something of a gentler soul. Or perhaps gentle wasn’t quite the right word… one could never remove the madness from the man, but there did seem to be a part of him that wanted to create as much as it liked to destroy.
“I think you’d be an excellent teacher,” she said, firmly, “You were always really good about explaining things carefully when you were passing techniques on to me.”
“Eheh––“ Plague Knight winced and tapped his fingers together, bashfully, “W-well, I… You’re a fellow genius, heeheehee! Of course you understood. The minions, though, even the cleverer ones, are a bit… thick.”
“But they’re willing. They’ll keep trying, so long as you’re willing to keep trying, too.”
Plague Knight still seemed hesitant, “Yes, well, I… It’s just that… Well, we both know what alchemy professors are like…”
“Are you talking about the ones at the Academy?”
She wondered, suddenly, where Plague Knight had learned most of his craft. He’d only been at the ill-fated Academy for a few months, and only then to steal supplies. He hadn’t needed to take instruction from the narcissistic and uninspired staff. Had he encountered similar people somewhere else?
“Plague Knight, you’re not going to turn into one of them just because you become a teacher. You… you’re nothing like he was.”
“You’d never hold anyone back. You never held me back. I’ve seen… I’ve seen hundreds of men get jealous of others’ success. Try to sabotage them. Undermine them. You’ve got your pride, and you don’t like it tarnished, but… This is different. You’re not like that. You… you always…”
It was one of the reasons she liked him so much. He’d always been so supportive of her progress and success. He’d helped her feel confident after a lifetime of being shut down and disapproved of. He was the only voice outside of her own that told her she could do what she set out to.
“You’re everything a good teacher should be. Maybe not quite as patient…” Mona knew he could get quite irate when faced with idiocy, “…but you… you’re…”
There was a long silence.
- - -
“Wow, you’re great at carrying that sack!”
“Thanks! I’m a professional. You’re not too shabby yourself!”
“Aw, shucks, I’ve just had a lot of practice toting powders around, and such…”
The corridors of the Iron Whale echoed much louder than usual with wet, metallic footsteps as pairs of minions and villagers made their way back and forth, heaving huge bags of gold over their shoulders.
Mona bustled briskly amongst them, keeping an eye on the proceedings and cackling to herself slyly. It really was a peach of a deal… Now that Plague Knight was seen as something of a hero, he was naturally trusted by The Valley to possibly take on further heroic tasks. One such undertaking was the sacking -literally- of the Iron Whale.
Treasure Knight had plundered vast amounts of gold from The Valley, leaving many villages destitute. Now that the Order had disbanded, however, and he was no longer under the protection of The Enchantress, the people believed it high time -or tide?- to get back what was theirs.
All they needed was a little extra bit of reinforcement… which Plague Knight was happy to provide when asked. Leading a team of his bulkiest minions, he’d blasted his way onto the floating treasure-trove and bombed its crew into submission.
The path now clear, villagers stormed the stronghold and began taking back their valuables, all under the protective and watchful eye of the most intimidating minions available.
The most beautiful thing about the procedure was, of course, that nobody knew exactly how much money Treasure Knight had amassed. And from where. And from whom. No names were carved into the gold, unless they were personal trinkets, and all of it really rather blended together into a glittering golden heap in the vaults… Which meant that Plague Knight and his underlings could help themselves to whatever they could get away with carrying.
Nobody bothered to question him! Treasure Knight was getting what he deserved, and the heroic Plague Knight was kindly helping justice run its course!
Ooh, being a hero certainly had its perks.
As the last few men tottered out of the vaults, laden with treasure, Mona came to the mouth of the final, empty chamber and saw Plague Knight standing inside with a fisherman. Further on was Treasure Knight himself, sitting in a crumpled, defeated heap, head in his hands.
“Serves yer right,” spat the fisherman, “After scarin’ all them fish! Stealin our wages! Here, ya greedy bastard, the last o’ me earnings..! The same kindness yer offered me! See how that does ya, haha!”
With a flick of his wrist, he sent a single copper flying through the air to land with a soft plunk in the water around Treasure Knight’s boots.
“Hee! I know a little fishy that isn’t afraid of him,” said Plague Knight, reaching into his robes.
Before Mona could advise against it, Plague Knight tossed a Bait Bomb into the water and yanked the fishermen out of the room behind him.
“Did you have to?” Mona asked, half in disapproval, half in amusement, quickly falling into step beside them.
“Heehee! No revenge is complete without a little boom, eh?”
A rather large boom, in fact, sounded in the chamber behind them, and the fisherman let out a whoop of laughter.
“Yar! Yer alright for a lubber, Mr. Knight!”
Plague Knight waved a hand, “Hee! Oh please, you’re making me blush!”
Mona swallowed a snort and continued to run. There was another faint boom from behind them, and a quickly approaching clank of chains.
Plague Knight smartly leapt into his two companions, pushing them to the side as an anchor promptly blew past them, then fell heavily to the ground and screeched against the metal floor as it was retracted.
- - -
The Lost City was quite a beautiful place, despite the resident hazards. Vaulted structures of old stone crowded its interior, rising up out of the volcanic earth as a petrified reminder of something great long past. These were intricately designed things; covered in carvings and patterns, thick with old writings of events that were all but forgotten…
…Of course, it was a little hard to enjoy amidst the sweltering heat. The lava flow that had toppled the City in the first place still ribboned its way between its sunken towers, giving off a stifling glow.
But here they were nonetheless, two alchemists and one quasi-archeologist, gathered together in an echoing chamber containing an enormous cauldron.
Mona had banished the thing there herself from the Explodatorium. It was filling slowly with slime, which was cascading from some unseen vein in the ceiling.
“So that’s really what Blorbs are made of?” Mona asked, curiously, peering up at the green goo and fanning herself with her cape. She probably should have dressed a little lighter…
“Pretty much. Under the right temperatures, it turns sentient and breaks off,” replied Mole Knight, following her gaze, “The running hypothesis is that most Blorbs in the land come from the Lost City… not that anyone’s interested in knowing that.”
Mona shrugged, personally feeling it was quite interesting.
Plague Knight’s chuckle echoed from behind the cauldron, along with the faint scrapes of his chalk. He was just finishing the minor details of the alchemical circle in which the huge iron pot was sitting.
“Hee! What are you two jabbering about?” he said, appearing around one side of the cauldron, across from where Mona was standing.
“The existence of Blorbs,” said Mona, flatly, “We’re on topic.”
“Oh, yes, so you are,” said Plague Knight, nodding, “The heat’s getting to me, heehee!”
It was getting to Mona, too. She was naturally hot -her normal body temperature being a few degrees higher than the average person- and the heat of the Lost City was only compounding with that to make her very sweaty indeed. This strange, personal quirk was helpful when it was cold, and suited her to the Potionarium -who’s underground confines were naturally cool- but it made visiting Mole Knight’s domain a misery.
She would put up with it, though; today’s experiment was very much worth it. They were lucky to be down here, anyway; if not for Mole Knight’s inexplicably mentorly feelings towards her partner, it would have been very hard to orchestrate their current activities indeed.
“Hee! Anyway– I completed the circle!” cried Plague Knight, brandishing his chalk triumphantly.
“And you’re sure it’s all correct? You were just saying the heat was getting to you…” replied Mona, smirking.
“It’s perfectly fine!! Now! Mole Knight, if you please…”
Mole Knight turned to his erstwhile colleague, “So, lemme get this straight, again… I don’t want anything exploding down here.”
Plague Knight giggled impatiently, “There’s no way you can mess this up! Just use that pyromancy of yours to heat the cauldron! Quickly now– heehee! Before it spills over!”
Mole Knight sighed and shook his head, then waddled under the cauldron and took on a wide stance. He curled his claws inwards before him, then flung them out to either side. With a sound like a thunderclap, the Knight burst into flames, bright orange tongues leaping off of his armour and licking the bottom of the huge pot. Simultaneously, Plague Knight flicked his staff and activated the alchemical circle.
Mona flinched backwards as a wave of scalding heat hit her, but relaxed as she heard a faint bubbling sound issuing from above. Yes, just as planned..!
A few moments later, there was a loud splash as globs of slime began to pop out of the cauldron. As they fell through the air, their forms changed, becoming human-like in appearance.
“HEE! It’s working!” cried Plague Knight, excitedly, fanning himself with one of his long sleeves.
Mona joined in his frenzied cackles as the new and improved batch of Slimulacra came into the world.
“Weehee! That should be enough, yes?” called the little alchemist, over to his partner, as a swarm of gooey bodies filled the area.
“I think so,” Mona called back, cheerfully.
“Hee! Alright, Mole Knight, you may cease your magics…”
Mole Knight straightened up, the raging fire around him dying down, and walked out from under the cauldron.
“What are these things, anyway?” he asked, peering at the nearest upright blob, which promptly tried to assume his shape. It had to meld with another of its kind to imitate his girth.
“Slimulacra,” replied Plague Knight, “Alchemical constructs made of sludge with rudimentary intelligence. These ones, however, are a little more -hee!- advanced than the usual…”
“The slime from your City actually has a form of sentience, as you were explaining,” Mona continued, picking up from her partner, smoothly, “meaning that these Slimulacra are essentially larger, more mobile and useful Blorbs. And…”
She glanced over at Plague Knight, excitedly, who stiffened in anticipation and waved at Mole Knight.
“Light one up! HEE!”
Mole Knight sighed.
“You could say please, once in a while,” he muttered, before flicking his claw at a nearby Slimulacrum.
With a loud WHOOMPH, the thing burst into flames… and yet, it still retained its form. It jumped a little at suddenly being set alight, but then carried on with its business, wandering towards Plague Knight and promptly sinking down to imitate his form. Mona watched it, glee rising up through her stomach, into her chest.
Long ago, back when she and Plague Knight had first met, they’d attempted to create a Slimulacrum out of flames. An ‘Inflammitation’, as she’d dubbed it. Though the construct had been deeply flawed, and had lived only for mere minutes, it was still the first project they’d fully collaborated on.
And now the concept was revived, only better and more stable, born of a simple, yet genius idea… A symbol of how far they’d come together, and how much they’d grown. It warmed Mona’s heart– which, unfortunately, she really didn’t need right now.
Plague Knight seemed similarly fatigued by the heat. His chuckles were wheezier than ever, and he had sunk onto his bottom and conjured a large glass bottle of… something, which he was gulping down gratefully.
“Cooling concoction!” he called, answering her unspoken question, “Care for a sip?”
“Don’t mind if I do…” replied Mona, stepping down off the stone platform she’d been occupying, and walking towards her partner.
“Hey!” Mole Knight turned to the pair indignantly as Mona came to sit down next to Plague Knight, “What am I, chopped liver? What’re we gonna do with all of these things?!”
Plague Knight shook himself a little and passed his straw to Mona, glancing up at the annoyed Knight, “Oh, heehee, yes, of course! My dear Mole, I wish to acquire more of this excellent slime from you!”
Mole Knight sighed deeply at the flighty pair. Mona supposed it was rather rude of them to treat him as a living bunsen burner, but they tended to get a little caught up in science when they were performing it together. They were used to it just being the two of them…
“Just place an order with me and I’ll carve you out of a bushel of the stuff,” grumbled Mole Knight.
“Hee! Actually, why don’t we just take what’s in that cauldron?”
Mole Knight folded his arms -or placed one on top of the other, as was his only option- and probably frowned deeply under his helmet.
“That stuff’s an export of mine. You’d better be able to pay.”
“It’s more of a natural resource,” countered Plague Knight, petulantly.
“That’s under MY jurisdiction,” growled Mole Knight, “Don’t play dumb with me, Plague Knight. I know you’re not stupid.”
Plague Knight shrugged, “You’re right! Heehee! I’m incredibly brilliant! And of course I can pay. It happens that I’ve recently come into quite a bit of gold…”
Mona snickered into her straw. Now that the cooling concoction was working its alchemy, she could concentrate a little more on the subtleties of what the two Knights were saying.
Plague Knight turned to her, then, “Won’t you fetch a little for our fine furrowing friend, my dear?”
Mona flushed a little at the term of endearment, dropping the straw back into the bottle of potion, and Plague Knight flinched, realizing what he’d said.
“I-I-I mean, p-partner, would you please-–“
“Yes,” Mona muttered and raised her left hand. A moment later, an entire treasure chest appeared next to Mole Knight. The lock disappeared, and the lid released, slightly. Mole Knight stuck the tip of a long, orange claw tentatively underneath and flipped the chest open.
Sure enough, the thing was filled with gold and jewels.
“It’s pure,” Plague Knight assured, “And imported, I think.”
Mole Knight dug through the chest carefully, inspecting the contents, before straightening up and nodding.
“Alright. That’ll do. You can take the cauldron and all these… things. But I tell ya, if you really wanna run things efficiently down there…”
Mona tuned out at this point, concentrating on banishing the cauldron of slime and the Slimulacra back to the labs. With a loud snap, the objects disappeared in a flash of blue light, and Mona stood up. Mole Knight seemed like he wanted to continue talking, but Plague Knight interrupted him before he could.
“Hee! Well, nice seeing you!” called the little alchemist, blithely, hopping up next to Mona and taking ahold of her skirts, “See you next time we need slime! And, uhhh, combustable council, hee hee hee!”
And before the bulbous red Knight could protest, the pair were gone in a wink.
- - -
“Fascinating..! Absolutely fascinating…”
“Er, you… really think so..?”
Mona stood nervously next to her partner, watching the tiny Knight before them scamper around her completed demonstration. It had taken a bit of finagling to transplant the Torque Lifts successfully into Tinker Knight’s workshop, but Mona had managed. Now, the humble rotating platforms were being inspected by someone Mona rather considered something of an idol.
Tinkering had been Mona’s first love. Since she was a child, she’d been obsessed with seeing how things worked. Unfortunately, being born a noble meant that working with her hands was out of the question… Her parents had allowed her to study alchemy only because it was mostly a scholarly pursuit.
But now that she was out of their clutches, she could do anything she wanted… and tinkering was one of those things. Born of such desires were the Torque Lifts, the Dynamo Decanter, the burner gauntlets and nearly every gadget inside the Explodatorium and Potionarium. And all the while she was building them, she was hearing stories about Tinker Knight, the brilliant machinist, master of the Clockwork Tower and inventor extraordinaire.
She didn’t like to admit it, but she found she had something of a celebrity crush on him. Not the romantic type, of course– that rather confusing and nerve-wracking honour went to her dear partner. But she did admire the tiny Knight enough to become rather shy and tongue-tied in his presence. Especially when it came to her own inventions. She felt like she was back in school, being examined by a favourite instructor.
Even simply being inside the Clockwork Tower filled her with nervous excitement. The place was a marvel of modern machinery; nearly all of it was composed out of moving parts, yet it remained as stable as a tightly drilled screw. Scores of criss-crossing conveyer belts, complex networks of enormous gears, a whole wing of moving platform systems… it was an engineer’s paradise..!
“These are brilliant,” said Tinker Knight, finally turning back to the alchemists and patting the side of the Lifts with one large, gloved hand, “Y’know, I once built a very similar type of gizmo…”
Mona winced a little, “O-oh?”
“But I could never figure out how to get’em to move on their own. Now that I’m looking at yours, though, the answer seems obvious! And as someone who uses drills as much as I do, I probably should’a seen it earlier. Heh! You’ve got a brain in there, Ms. Mopes. Maybe you can share a bit of it with Plague Knight; stop’im from being such an idiot.”
Plague Knight squawked indignantly and Mona blushed, resisting the urge to hide behind her hair.
“Hee! Look who’s talking!” Plague Knight cried, “You couldn’t even build a bomb-proof mech!”
Tinker Knight immediately stiffened, taking a step towards the alchemist.
“And you couldn’t figure out how to do a couple’a push-ups to ask a girl out!”
“W-w-what does that have to do with intelligence?!” squeaked Plague Knight, recoiling.
“Emotional intelligence, dummy,” said Tinker Knight, folding his arms.
“Well, how can Mona fix my emotional intelligence with her technical intelligence? Hee! That makes no sense! NOW WHO’S THE IDIOT, HEE HEE HEE?!”
Mona ran a hand over her face and groaned.
“Plaguey, why don’t we give Tinker Knight a final demonstration of the Lifts? If he wants to recreate them, he needs to get a good idea of how they operate…”
Mona snapped her fingers discretely, causing the Lifts to descend to the ground. Once they were fully stopped, she daintily stepped onto the middle of the nearest platform. Plague Knight promptly took the one two spaces down. Tinker Knight was just about to mount the platform in the middle when Plague Knight kicked his foot into the grooves and manually started the ascent. Tinker Knight cried out in surprise as the Lifts shuddered to life, whirling up past him and forcing him to jump back.
Plague Knight let out a mischievous cackle, which was quickly swallowed by a yelp and a gag as the dizziness caught up with him. Mona couldn’t help but smirk. He really was an idiot. A really stupid, dumb, endearing idiot…
- - -
“Phew. I think that’s everything in the itinerary,” Mona muttered, sinking down onto the bed at the inn they were staying at, “I can’t wait to head home… Incidentally, why aren’t we teleporting back..?”
She glanced across at the bed adjacent to hers, where her partner was sitting, peering through a notebook. They’d been all over The Valley in recent weeks, checking in with ex-Order members for various reasons, running errands for villagers and for their labs… But now, with the visit to the Clockwork Tower out of the way, it seemed they were finally finished. Mona was missing her cozy little desk pretty badly…
“Eheh… Uhhh, we actually have… er… one more thing to do… heeheehee…”
Mona frowned at Plague Knight, sitting up a little and cocking her head, “What? I could have sworn installing the Lifts at Tinker’s was the last thing on our list…”
“Eehee..! Yes! Well! On our list, yes,” replied Plague Knight, tentatively, tapping his index fingers together, “But, uhhh… There’s one last thing… I was thinking… we might… do…”
Mona propped her head up on one hand, “Go on, spill it. What have you got up your sleeve..?”
“Nothing!” squeaked Plague Knight, “Nothing up my sleeves but my bombs! You put them there!”
“Yes… but what are you suggesting?” asked Mona, slowly, feeling a little unnerved by Plague Knight’s sudden bout of anxiety. Exactly what was he up to..?
“Heh… Haha… Hee…” Plague Knight swallowed, audibly, then glanced down at his lap, “I, ah… I was, uhh… As I was getting in touch with my… with my old colleagues, heehee… I happened to have a nice little chat with Propeller Knight…”
Mona nodded, raising an eyebrow, “Oh yeah? Did he give you those flying lessons he offered?”
“What? Oh, no–“ Plague Knight coughed and drummed his fingers against his knees, “He uhh… He was talking about how he’s allowed to use the Flying Machine as his own personal playhouse again… And, well, you know… It’s really… scenic up there…”
There was a long silence and another swallow.
Mona took a moment to decipher the string of syllables. Then she blinked.
“I– A-a date?”
“D-did I call it a date?”
“H…Hee! Well! Yes! I-I-I suppose I did! I mean– I s-suppose it is, heehee! I-if, uuhh, i-if you’d like– I mean, if you…”
“Yes!” Mona blurted out before she could fully think through her proceeding words, “I-I mean… Yeah. Sure. I’d like to go.”
Plague Knight let out an audible sigh of relief and keeled backwards onto his mattress.
“Oh thank goodness. Hee! It’s tomorrow, at around six…”
Mona nodded and sank back into her sheets as well, a bit blue in the face.
Wow… An actual date. The kind of thing people who were… dating did. Did this officially mean they were a couple? Or did it mean they were beginning the process of becoming one?
Mona had little idea of the intricacies of romance. It was a science outside her scope. All she knew was how she felt. And despite her feelings being a little confusing at times, she knew deeply and truly that she liked Plague Knight. A lot. A lot a lot. And if this was the start of the road down which they grew closer, she had no objections to racing to it.
Besides… she wasn’t one to pass up a free trip to the Flying Machine..!