V A Heckin' Harrowing (Quest)

Mickey Mouse

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Let’s take the fight to him, pals.

Far away in his twisted domain, these words escaped Darkseid’s notice. He neglected them not because he couldn’t hear them, or because the group of cartoonish buffoons on the annoyingly whimsical planet somehow gained a leg up on him. No, rather, the would-be crew of heroes -- seven of them now -- simply, essentially, didn’t exist. They were exactly as they were: rodents and pests not worthy of the Fallen Arbiter’s gaze.

Yet, deep in the depths of Nos’talgia’s most unforgiving domain, Mickey Mouse trudged on.

He felt lost, as did the six following his lead. He stood the smallest and least physically imposing of them all, but the domain they’d lurked into was mighty dark and getting more foreboding with every step. The would-be hero barely knew which way was up. Every path they took, every patch of gray, cracked dirt they stepped on seemed to wend and wind in the most mangled way, and the forest around them creaked and groaned. Mickey didn’t exactly want to believe it, but sometimes his eyes told him the jagged, unruly, leafless trees were… moving?

Yet there was no wind in the Uncanny Valley. The mouse king noted this pretty early on in their trek, lifting his round, spherical black nose and trying to catch a scent of their quarry. He realized rather quickly the only thing he smelled was nothing; emptiness. This forest was devoid of the aromatic fragrances of most other wooded groves like it. No sweet-smelling berries, no savory flowers, no odorous tree sap. Crooked black-and-grey trees tangled ahead of them as far as the eye could see, but the life that normally accompanied plants like them… well, that life was gone.

For Mickey’s money, he would’ve guessed they were the only living things here in this wicked wood if not for the Sqwid Sqwad’s insistence otherwise. The quintet of Inklings had, admittedly, not delved too deep into the lore of the Fallen Arbiter quite yet, despite initially making the rash decision to commit their lives to him. Their brief foray into cultism, however, had turned up some fruit in the midst of this fruitless forest: the existence and location of an outpost of sorts they suspected had been occupied by one of Darkseid’s thralls.

According to their tale, a long-forgotten keep stood tucked into the side of a mountain somewhere deep within the forest. To hear them tell it, the place had always been pretty gloomy, even before the Uncanny Valley encroached upon it (altogether out of character for a Nos’talgian landmark) but had taken on a new, spooky life altogether in recent days. Vlad the Inkpaler had been the only one to really see it -- an accomplishment which earned him his role as the prophet of their short-lived cult -- and he’d told a thrilling story of plants rising to the call to serve their new master, of shades of more human-looking creatures darting through the halls, new life breathed into them by whoever the castle’s new occupant was.

The stories made Mickey shudder; he’d yet to come face-to-face with any of the Fallen Arbiter’s actual minions, but even in Vlad’s vague terms, they sounded a whole heckuva lot scarier than Heffalumps and Woozles.

The zippers on his long, black cloak clinked against each other as he stalked through down the latest fork in their twisty path. He held the Star Seeker out in front of him, its indigo blade close to the only color that existed in this blank, dreary place. The golden star at the end of the weapon glimmered strangely, reflecting a light that Mickey was almost certain wasn’t even there. Much time had passed since he’d last felt like he needed to walk with his keyblade at the ready; even the wilds of Kraw seemed manageable compared to these nightmarish circumstances. He didn’t really know if these Inklings had teeth or what, but he heard some sort of mandibles chattering behind him, and Blues wasn’t exactly the type to so obviously betray his fear.

“All this makes me hella nervous,” Argyle admitted from the back of the pack. Mickey paused, glancing over his shoulder to see her lavender tentacles almost shaking at the sides of her head. He sighed softly, almost to himself. He couldn’t deny the anxiety creeping up his own little bones -- and he couldn’t expect his crew to not be nervous if he himself couldn’t beat back the fear.

The Proto Man stood just off his shoulder. Mickey met the preteen machine’s gaze, trying to silently communicate with his best friend. The mouse king had always been a leader, but he’d never really felt like it. Blues was by far the smarter of the duo, and the closest Mickey’d ever felt to being large and in charge was during their brief experiment with the Potara Earrings, and the Proto Mouse. They’d been through a lot together, and their connection was potent, but they hadn’t managed to figure out telepathy just yet when they weren’t occupying one mind, and he could tell Blues wasn’t really receiving his messages right now.

“Yeah, pal, I get ya,” Mickey turned his eyes back to Argyle. He gazed at her through blank, pale stares of the other four Inklings, and could tell they, too, looked to him for support.

He stifled a chuckle -- just a few hours ago, they’d been content to sacrifice him and drag his bloody, nasty corpse to this castle. Now, they had somehow turned the corner and were following him headfirst into battle, fear or no fear.

Did he really have that effect on people? Maybe he’d misjudged himself.

He’d certainly misjudged them. When he and Squee and Blues had spied on Argyle, peering through her window and seeing the scattered notes and red thread-laden conspiracy board, they’d taken her and any of her compatriots for thugs and evildoers, when it turned out they’d just been heckin’ scared, man. They’d somehow ended up in the wrong corner of the universe at the wrong time.

…the mouse king didn’t know why, but he had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t the only wrong corner of the universe. Could this Unmaking shiz be happening on more than just Nos’talgia? He pushed the thought out of his mind: save one thing at a time, Mick.

“Mayyyyybe,” he started, holding out the word as he searched his noggin for an idea, “we should set up camp somewhere soon?” He looked up into the sky. “I dunno exactly how to tell when it’s night in this goshdarn place, but we’ve been walkin’ for a while and I could do with a nap. What about y’all?”

He glanced around at the Inklings, and saw hints of smiles crop up on their faces.

Nice.

“Blues, your sensors tell you anywhere around here that’s good for campin’?” he turned to the preteen machine.

The android whirred for a moment before settling. “Quick scan indicates there’s a structure of some sorts up ahead,” the boy nodded with a smile. “Not sure what the weather patterns are like in here -- this Medium thing the Crossroads has doesn’t give any clear reports on the climate in this section of the world. But… shelter’d probably be wise.”

“Yep,” Mickey nodded in agreement. “Look, fellas,” he smiled to the Inkling crew, “we’re gonna get a little camping in on our way to this castle.”

“The structure’s just up ahead, past that tree line,” Blues pointed, and the septet set off.

They pushed their way through the ashy, spiky brush, each of their diminutive forms letting off an ‘ouch’ or ‘ow’ as they scraped against a thorn or two, emerging on a small cliff-face on the other side. Mickey was first out, and his eyes went wide when he spotted the ‘structure’ Blues’ sensors had detected tucked in the crook of the cliff-face below.

A giant, bluish-black castle rose from the rocky face of the mountain’s foothills. Pointy towers stabbed upward, bending in ways towers shouldn’t have been able to bend. The central structure spread large and bulbously below them, alight with what, from their admittedly far vantage point, seemed to be flickering teal torches. The flames betrayed swaying shadows within the castle’s span, though the adventuring mouse and his compatriots could only guess whether those shadows were just tricks of the light, or if they belonged to some living thing or things. Banners, torn and tattered, hung haphazardly from towers. Either whoever had placed them there had no eye from symmetrical decor, or several of them had been ripped down. Though the latter seemed likely, Mickey wouldn’t be too quick to discount the former: the feng shui of this place was just wholly awful, in his opinion. Minnie could’ve given this place a spit shine that would certainly have, at least, made it less abjectly terrifying.

As it was, though, his dearly beloved wife wasn’t here -- she was thus far nowhere to be found in this whole huge galaxy, as it happened -- and this place looked the worse for wear, inside and out. A huge, formidable-looking wall rose up before the mighty fortress, cracked and broken in places that implied many, many assaults over the years. Most of these cracks were freshly repaired, implying -- most forebodingly -- that someone, or something, currently occupied this place, leaving the mouse king to only guess at what exactly it could be.

“Vlad,” he squeaked a bit as the black-suited Inkling strode up next to him. “This it?”

He wasn’t looking at Vlad, but he could hear the Inkpaler gulp nervously. “Yes.”

Mickey Mouse nodded. So they’d found the keep, then.

Quest: The Root of the Problem
Mickey Mouse
Post WC: 1606 (according to Google Docs)
Quest WC: 1606/10000 (according to GDocs)

Mickey Mouse has brought his Summon, Proto Man, and his Minions, the Sqwid Sqwad (purchase pending) to fight the Parademon & co.
 

Mickey Mouse

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Deep within the bowels of the castle’s monstrous majesty, an ear-splitting, ferocious screech wailed out.

Mickey Mouse’s eyes snapped open.

For quite a while, peace and quiet blanketed the makeshift camp on the cliff-face, in stark contrast to the twisted fortress tucked away in the crook of the mountain. From their high vantage point, the mouse king and his comrades tried for some time to discern the source of the shifting shadows and intermittent chittering emanating from down below. Until the piercing noise, no certain signs of life had appeared, so the septet tried their best to rest before inevitably moving on the keep later in the night.

Despite the eerie quiet, the would-be leader of the troop hadn’t been able to sleep, his mind racing like Lightning McQueen in the World Grand Prix. What the heckskies were they getting themselves into? He barely knew diddly-squat about this Darkseid fella, and here he was about to charge headlong towards what might very well be one of his cronies? Maybe even get into a fight with them? With six wayward souls following behind him, too – golly gee whiz, who the heck did he think he was?!

He knew who the heck he thought was. By Gosh, he was a dang hero.

At least he was supposed to be. He hadn’t acted all that much like one for a hot minute, though, if you asked him. His sketchy dealings with that Viz person; another spin in that evil death tournament, Dante’s Abyss; his inaction as another creepy darkness had crept over the old place; all that nasty business in Nippur. With all that bopping around his noggin, he felt positively vile. When was the last time he’d done something actually heroic? Man, he couldn’t even remember. This whole business, though… it was a chance to make things right, wasn’t it? Who else was gonna rise to the heckin’ challenge if not him?

He sat up and turned his gaze toward the castle. The final echoes of the screech at last faded, but the resumed silence didn’t assuage the chills creeping up the keyblade master’s spine. He shuddered a bit as the sound dwindled into nothingness; even in its final notes, it was unlike anything he’d ever heard. An altogether unrecognizable noise, yet somehow simultaneously sounding like all the pain and misery Mickey’d ever felt – or even just witnessed – in his long, long life. He shivered, abject terror washing over him. Was this what people meant when they said ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire?’ Dang, what a wacky way to recommit to being a big ol’ hero.

“It’s not dissimilar to what Gilgamesh sounded like,” Blues chimed in, “back when he was Diablo’s slave.” Mickey glanced over at the preteen machine, leaned against a tree. With his sunglasses pushed up, he looked almost like he’d been asleep; Mickey knew better, though. Naps weren’t in the cards for his best friend – machines like Blues didn’t need to sleep. That didn’t spare him from the occasional overt emotional response, though, and despite Mickey’s best efforts, the tension between the pair regarding the gilded king hadn’t yet disappeared. “Yea,” Blues continued, “forgot your new buddy used to be possessed by a demon, huh?”

Mickey frowned. “Because of us,” he threw back.

“Served him right,” Blues scowled.

Mickey didn’t waste time responding to that. He pushed himself off the ground and walked away from the android. He didn’t want to fight. Not at a time like this.

He knew the mechanized boy hadn’t seen the King of Heroes’ behavior on the island, and forgiveness had never been hard-coded into Blues’ matrix like it was in Mickey’s. But didn’t he trust Mickey’s judgment at all?

No – why would he? The mouse king had thought it himself, not moments before: what had he done recently to earn anyone’s trust as a hero?

His eyes fell to the castle below. The shadows danced, even though little light filtered in through the dark, overcast clouds above their head. The ceaseless chittering drifted up toward their campsite again in the absence of the piercing screech. He suddenly felt the pit in his stomach urging him to charge forward into the unknown reaches of the fortress, to go down there, knock on this big fella’s door, and be the hero he wanted to be. Was it… selfish of him to fight these evildoers just because he felt down on himself? Was that even the only reason he was doing it? Someone had to do it, right? Someone had to fight back. Someone had to help.

How did he know if he was the right mouse for the job?

He looked at the Inklings scattered across the rocky cliff-face, curled up and sleeping pretty soundly. Somehow, he’d convinced them to put their faith in him, right? Not a super high bar, given that just before trusting him they were gonna give up their whole life to the big, faceless evil that was Darkseid. He’d managed to win them over, though. He’d at least saved them from whatever fate waited at Darkseid’s feet. Wasn’t that heroic?

“I know naught of this being Gilgamesh,” the sing-song voice of Orphie piped up nearby, “but that noise came not from a creature of flesh.”

Mickey perked up at the sound of the pink-tentacled Inkling’s voice; he hadn’t even noticed they weren’t amongst the slumbering others. Instead, they stood precariously on the edge of the cliff, ink-guitar hanging loosely in front of their chest. Their pink tentacles cascaded down their shoulders, wriggling slightly to a beat Mickey couldn’t hear even with his big mouse ears. No gusts of wind blew through the mountainous pass, but their patch-laden jean jacket protected them from the inexplicable cold that seemed to hang perpetually over the Uncanny Valley. Mickey pulled his own pitch-black coat closer around his tiny body and attempted to pinpoint what they were looking at. Their eyes clearly fixated on the castle below, but their gaze seemed farther away than any pair of pupils Mickey’d ever seen.

Orphie was one of the more curious members of the Sqwid Sqwad – they rarely spoke, but incessantly hummed softly beneath most conversations. Mickey had never been able to pinpoint the melody, and never understood why they insisted on rhyming nearly everything they said. Still, he appreciated the way they heard the world. They seemed to have an understanding of the Crossroads he, in his limited experience with the place, could only dream of. His big ears filtered sounds others often couldn’t hear, and Orphie seemed attuned to those sounds and more beyond them without any special traits to make it so. They just seemed… connected to the space around them.

“Ya don’t sleep, Orphie?” Mickey smiled softly, sidling up and sitting down next to where they stood. He let his legs hang off the cliff and looked up at the pink Inkling, observing their focused but absent gaze. Their staring contest with the fortress below didn’t break, and a response never came, so Mickey pushed on. “Yeah, it sounds really weird.”

“It is calling us,” Orphie declared, almost under their breath. “Are you in no rush?”

Mickey glanced up to see that the Inkling’s eyes had turned to him. He felt suddenly seen by them, and not just in the literal way. He felt seen in a way that – now, in the midst of his swirling anxiety about what was to come and his place in it – made him distinctly uncomfortable. “I just…” he started, averting his own gaze back to the castle, “…I don’t wanna do this wrong.”

Orphie didn’t respond. They knelt down, knees touching the edge of the cliff, and sat on their feet. They adjusted their inktar to a playing position, and strummed it once, then again, and again. Almost unconsciously, Mickey’s eyes closed. The soft, tinny sound of the music washed over him; something about the tune sounded strangely familiar, but Mickey couldn’t place it.

Then, Orphie sang.

Snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen…

Their voice was gorgeous. Straight-toned and pure, whistling in the Uncanny Valley’s never-ending night. Mickey knew there was no snow in reality, but with his eyes tightly shut and his imagination running wild, he imagined the little white flakes fluttering down around him. He could almost feel them press against the fur on the tip top of his head, melting into little water droplets and running down his face. Tears welled up in his eyes and slipped through his eyelids, sliding down his cheeks and mixing with melted snowflakes.

A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the queen,” they continued. “The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside… couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried…

Mickey’s eyes popped open. “I know this song,” he muttered, almost quiet enough to escape Orphie’s notice, but the Inkling’s focus did shift to him. They strummed a wrong note on the inktar as he stood up and looked at them. “How do you know this song?”

Orphie shrugged. “I can hear songs of the soul,” they explained. “Your soul, their soul,” they continued, pointing back toward the Sqwid Sqwad, “I hear the music that makes your heart whole.” Mickey blinked – none of that made any sense to him, and yet somehow he understood them completely. He glanced back toward the castle, and wondered if he dared to ask… what was the song of the monster’s soul? If it even was a monster, that is.

Orphie seemed to understand inherently what he wanted to know, and obliged his curiosity with a simple response. “It has no song,” they said, “and that feels wrong.”

Thrum-thrum. Thrum-thrum. Thrum-thrum.

The mouse king’s ears perked up.

“…I hear a song,” he whispered.

Orphie spun toward the castle, flinging their tentacles as they did so. Mickey, too, turned to look down at the large, foreboding structure, and that’s when he saw it: the vines that crept up the outer wall of the keep had started to move. Shadowy figures had started to skulk out of the front gates, across the drawbridge over the moat. They moved slowly, but with a certain shambling rhythm that made the mouse suddenly aware the gross-looking black water surrounding the castle was perfectly still.

“Wake up the others, Orphie,” Mickey commanded. The Inkling didn’t move, at first – they simply watched as the shadowy mass slinked out of the castle and towards the hill path that would lead them straight for their cliff-face. “Orphie,” Mickey repeated, “wake them – ”

He stopped suddenly as he noticed his shadow falling before him, down the cliff and splaying out on the land between the bottom of the cliff and the keep’s wall. He could’ve sworn – knew, even, that he was standing almost completely still, but his shadow seemed to… dance?

What the heck? he thought.

His eyes went a little wide, his focus drawn from the creatures starting to creep their way up towards his squad. Orphie remained frozen next to him.

How is anyone supposed to trust me if I can’t even trust my own goshdang shadow?

It took every bit of mental fortitude he could muster to summon his keyblade to his gloved hand. The light filled the air before his palm, and finally the Star Seeker reappeared and his fingers grasped the hilt. His knees bent into a fighting crouch. He blinked twice, and when his eyes opened again, he realized he’d been so focused on the shadows he hadn’t seen the vines speeding towards him. They lunged at him, and for a moment, he just watched as the thorny, spiky black plant appendages sped through the air, threatening to drag him to parts as of yet unknown.

“Mick!”

Blues’ voice shook him awake. Without thinking, he sprung forward, leaping off the cliff and swinging the keyblade at the conglomeration of vines racing at him. The blade slashed through them like they were nothing; they withered into ash, and Mickey began to fall.

“Mick!” Blues’ voice called out again. The mouse king turned as he fell and saw the preteen machine sprint toward the cliff and stop at the edge, and worried look plastered on his cyborg countenance. For the first time since they’d entered the Uncanny Valley, Mickey really smiled.

And then he whistled.

Quest: The Root of the Problem
Mickey Mouse
Post WC: 2060 words (according to MS Word)
Quest WC: 3666/10000
 

Mickey Mouse

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A little while ago…

“A package?” Mickey Mouse squeaked, incredulously. He looked up, eyes almost bulging out of his head from wonder at the mysterious creature before him. The people and things he’d encountered in the old place had been pretty weird -- and it didn’t slip past his notice that he himself was an anthropomorphic mouse -- but some of the things in the Crossroads surpassed even his pretty active imagination.Standing before him, supporting a long, thin package with one wing, seemed to be a human-sized -- as in, much larger than Mickey -- bipedal stork, purple-feathered and blue-beaked. Strangely enough, her outfit looked perfectly normal, resembling a traditional mail carrier’s uniform, but with a glowing, teal ‘MM’ blazed on the front pocket. Medium Mail Services, she’d clarified when Mickey had opened the door.

“Don’t ask how we knew you were here,” the intergalactic mailperson droned as she stood outside the Toon Town hotel room Mickey and Blues had shacked up in. “The Medium Mail has their ways of getting all packages delivered -- and delivered on time.”

The words seemed scripted, sounding more like a stock mission statement than something the bird’s bird brain had come up with. The postgirl didn’t seem too enthused or keen to make sure that she’d found the right spot, though; either she was absolutely certain that this package belonged to this location, or she just didn’t care, and based on her general demeanor, Mickey suspected it was the latter. He would’ve been more worried about her efficiency at her job if there hadn’t been a large ‘to’ sticker plastered on the side of the package in full view that, indeed, read ‘To: Mickey Mouse.’

“Oh,” she monotoned, “and there’s a note, too.”

She tossed an envelope in the mouse’s direction. It was also addressed to a certain diminutive hero. Mickey grinned; he hadn’t gotten actual, honest-to-Gosh mail in so long! The malbird not-so-carefully shoved the package up against the wall, and turned to the window of the hotel corridor, clambering out of it and flapping away. Mickey barely noticed her exit whilst he took in the sender’s identity, written in excellent handwriting on the top left corner of the envelope: ‘Gilgamesh, Uruk, Mesa Roja, The Crossroads.’

Gilly?!

Mickey smiled, in spite of himself. He musta gotten someone else to write this, he chuckled, his handwriting just can’t be this cute!

Without much hesitation, he tore into the envelope.

Mickey,

I was perusing some shops in my new city -- Uruk, you may have heard of it -- when I noticed one of the businesses seemed to have come into possession of this. As I recall, it belongs to you, so I exercised my kingly powers and obtained it. I command you to use it well, mouse. Do not disappoint your king.

Best,
King of Pals His Majesty Gilgamesh


The mouse king’s smile grew bigger, and he turned his eyes toward the package leaning outside the door of their flat. Gilgamesh was lucky the mail carrier had managed to deliver it today. Tomorrow morning, he and Blues were set to trail after Argyle the Inkling, and who knew when they would be back? He wondered, idly, if the mail carriers really would’ve been able to find him anywhere in the whole Crossroads as he started to tear into the package.

He grinned when he spotted the familiar rolled-up rug inside.

***

Whoosh!

“Carpet?!”

The Proto Man’s eyes went wide beneath his sunglasses as an all too familiar looking purple-and-gold rug swooped out of the shadows of the cliff face and scooped up the plummeting mouse king. Mickey’s tush landed with a plop on the magic carpet, smirking as he pushed himself up onto his feet and ducked beneath an incoming swarm of demonic vines trying to catch him off-guard. He lifted the Star Seeker up, slashing through the thorned limbs and watching as they disintegrated into nothingness once they’d been severed from their host.

The mouse’s brow furrowed. These plants weren’t normal; they seemed to have been consumed by whatever darkness had taken root in the keep, warped and mangled almost into… evil versions of what they’d once been. From what Mickey heard, the Uncanny Valley had never been the most friendly place, but the strange indigo energy snaking through these vines looked nothing like the dreary gray that blanketed the rest of this creepy locale. He shuddered as he realized that maybe Darkseid -- or whatever thrall he’d sent to Nos’talgia in his place -- had literally taken over the flora here and deformed them into his own monstrous minions.

A scowl crossed Mickey Mouse’s face. He couldn’t let some shiznit like that slide.

“Dive, carpet!” he shouted, and the magical rug obliged, tilting down and sending itself and its diminutive passenger on a collision course with the ground. The speed of the flight blasted the mouse through the air, and for a moment, he could almost feel gusts of wind blowing on his face. He knew that wasn’t true -- there was no wind here in this part of the Uncanny Valley, after all -- but the familiar feeling of air whipping past his little mousy cheeks warmed his heart even in the midst of all this dark stuff.

He’d certainly missed this old rug. Cruising around on a magic carpet certainly had its benefits, but he didn’t just miss flying around. Truly, this carpet had become an old pal throughout their adventures in the old place -- he’d been a trustworthy friend. Friends were too few and far between nowadays -- Gilgamesh, Blues, Mugen, yeah, but how many of the other myriad souls he’d encountered could he really trust?

He used to have so many people he could rely on, and all too often, Mickey missed the friends he’d made way back when, before he and Blues had ripped through the space-time continuum and landed in the Crossroads. Heck, even before he’d managed to mangle his way through dimensions and land in the old place. He missed Donald and Goofy. He’d missed the carpet, he missed Simba, he missed Erza…

…he missed Minnie. More than anything.

He didn’t know what to think about the fact that she hadn’t popped up yet. She’d been in the Dante’s Abyss facility with him, Blues, and Gilgamesh, after all, right? So where the heck was she? He wanted so badly to drop everything and search for her, to find out where she may have landed -- or if she’d landed at all. But he couldn’t. As much as it pained him to admit it, there were other things that needed to be done. He hated the thought of leaving his lady love behind, of not being there for her when she needed him, yet…

Yet, in the face of such a threat as this, he knew he’d been brought to this universe for a goshdarn reason. He knew that even if he never saw his sweet, beloved wife again, he’d been brought here because the Crossroads needed someone to fight against this great evil creeping into the galaxy. They needed a hero. Fate had brought him here to provide that to them -- if only he could live up to those expectations.

Can I do it?

He wished Minnie was there to reassure him.

Maybe, though, part of this next adventure in the Crossroads was finding those missing links. After all, he hadn’t been the only person from his old universe to show up. Blues was here, by his side, like always. The carpet had reappeared, and Gilgamesh, and Victor Wolfy. He scoffed a bit as he dodged another whipping vine; he supposed not all the transfers were gonna be desirable, but they’d all been brought here for some purpose. He didn’t quite know how he or any of these people fit into the greater conflict against this Fallen Arbiter, but he knew they all did -- and for once, he was ready to jump all in and find out how.

No more hiding on an island in the middle of freakin’ nowhere, he resolved, or compromising with stupid megalomaniacs. From now on, he knew, he had to stick to his values, and value number one was perfectly clear: save innocent people from those who’d inflict evil upon them. Like this Darkseid fella.

His glance fell again on the large, dark keep that rose before him. As he approached, he watched the shades creeping across the moat. Their faces looked positively skeletal, but their bodies seemed to be altogether inhuman right now. Mostly, they dressed like knights and soldiers that may have previously guarded this magnificent palace, but their armor was cracked and broken, wisps of shadows and the same indigo energy that snaked through the vines oozing out of the breaks. Their arms and legs exploded forth from the armor in places, looking almost like exposed muscle -- but the muscle wasn’t any color Mickey had seen before. It wasn’t pink or red or anything in between, but a creepy, dead-looking bluish gray. They poured out of the entrance to the stronghold, almost clambering and trampling on top of each other as they swarmed across the huge gate toward the hill leading to Blues and the Sqwid Sqwad.

Mickey hovered overhead, turning to look at where his allies were making a stand. In the distance, the white of their skeletal faces and the glint of their broken armor almost made them look like teeth surging forward, preparing to crunch down on the sextet of warriors making a stand at the crest of the hill. Blues fired buster blasts into the crowd, holding them back as best he could, while Vlad the Inkpaler and Argyle surged forward and inked as much of the ground as possible. Crush, for her part, had leapt full force into the horde, launching her ink-stained knuckles into shade after shade.

Gotta go help.

“Carpet, take me up th -- ”

From below, a burst of yellow ink leveled a whole chunk of shades. A tiny, yellow squid flew out of the ground and shifted shape into the Sarge, turning and leveling his ink rifle at another sect of gently glowing zombies and firing off a round. The shades scattered, but were too late to avoid the onslaught; they found themselves covered in the yellow ink, sent flying -- some on top of each other and some completely off the hill and down into the valley Mickey himself had barely avoided plummeting into just a few minutes before.

The mouse king refocused as he noticed the Sarge start to fall down into the horde. “Carpet, let’s go get him!” he commanded, and the magic carpet followed orders to the letter, swooping down and catching the military-looking squid boy before he’d fallen into the clutches of a blanket of ruthless shades.

“My thanks, sir,” the Sarge nodded, saluting to Mickey.

“Oh, bud, that’s not necessary!” the mouse blushed a bit, but the Sarge simply blinked at him, as if not using the honorifics was something that made absolutely no sense to him. Mickey would admit that -- much like PLUTA referring to him as ‘captain’ of the Spaceboat Willie -- the affirmation made his heart swell just a bit, but nevertheless, he moved on. “We’ve gotta jump down and fight these sons of guns.”

“Negative, sir,” the Sarge shook his head. “You don’t have time to deal with these guys -- we need someone to get to the source, and you’re best set up to do it, captain.”

Mickey glanced back towards the keep. It was true: the best way to take out this horde was to cut off the head, to face Darkseid’s thrall head on and eliminate it. Without their leader, Mickey had a feeling these shambling zombies would be dead in the water -- or, er, undead in the water, as it were. But how was he supposed to take him down? The Sarge seemed confident in his abilities, which the mouse king was thankful for, but truthfully, he had no clue what they were even facing -- if he tried to go and fight Darkseid’s fella now, he’d be outmatched simply because of his lack of knowledge.

Besides he had no idea how to get past the wall and get to the center of the keep, where whatever had made that ear-splitting screaming noise was undoubtedly holed up. A whole contingency of shadowy archers had begun to gather on the top of the wall, so even flying looked to be a no-go. All this was a fool’s errand -- there was no way in, and no way that he could match whatever awaited him on the other side of the wall. Unless…

“How’d you get down here so quick, fella?!” he spun around and turned his gaze back to the Sarge.

“We can travel through the ink, sir,” the beret-wearing Inkling pointed toward the trail of yellow ink snaking beneath the feet of the encroaching army of shades. “If we can spray it, we can swim it.”

Mickey glanced over the edge of the magic carpet, and suddenly found an idea popping into his brain. “...ya can, huh?”

The Sarge’s gaze turned towards the Sqwid Sqwad’s new de facto commander -- at least as far as he was concerned. He narrowed his eyes.

“What do you have in mind, sir?”

Quest: The Root of the Problem
Mickey Mouse
Post WC: 2206 (according to GDocs)
Quest WC: 5872/10000
 
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