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Clover, the new postal worker, had woken up that morning without an ounce of foreboding. That was a major mistake on her part. It was her first curve on her new route, freshly handed to her from yet another of her deeply shaken coworkers, but Clover had no reservations about it. She simply went down the roads, through the deep, dark, winding paths of the woods, her little hat in place. The air was thick and heavy with fog and she could just barely catch a glimpse of the little white eyes in the corner of her vision.
Flicking her tongue out into the air, Clover noticed nothing out of the ordinary. It was actually quite nice out... Sometimes it felt like she was the only one who really appreciated the little things, like the deep grey of the sky, the darkness of the distance, how pleasant the eyes were when the weather was mild... Hollowford was just a lovely little village, Clover thought, the people were kinder and more cordial than anything she’d ever seen in any other stretch of the woods. It was here where she didn’t mind a little chit chat, and had no problems walking along and making conversation while carrying packages to doorways. The hospitality charmed her.
Well... Maybe the “NO TRESPASSING” signs a little further into the woods weren’t as welcoming as that Watchmen fellow offering her a whole tin of homemade cookies. Perhaps the way they hung crooked, hastily nailed up to the trees, was a little off-putting... or it could’ve been the sheer number that made it so alarming, but Clover had a job to do... And everyone else was friendly.
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Daisy, who was no one special, had woken up that morning with quite a strong feeling of dread and foreboding. So strong that they wanted to stay in bed, or actually, go to bed. At the moment they were curled up on the couch, recovering from an accidental curve long power nap. The overwhelming dread was not an unusual feeling for them, it was almost every curve that something horrible happened to Daisy. Maybe it was because most of those terrible things were their own fault, but horrible things are still horrible things, regardless of their actual cause.
Reluctantly, Daisy had decided it was time to get up and start the curve. They sat up, stretched a bit, and promptly began to climb out the window, tumbling into the hedges. The window was directly above the couch while the front door was across the room, it was simply a matter of convenience. Sometimes convenience meant falling into a bush.
This curve was going to be awful, Daisy just knew it.
They made their way out of the hedges, absently picking sticks from their shirt as they headed towards the mailbox. The lawn was still wet from dew and the air was not yet unpleasantly warm. Taking in the morning, Daisy was glad for the safety and privacy their absurdly high fences offered. As they approached the front gate, Daisy began to stall. Oh how they dreaded this part of the curve... To leave the comfort of their home? For the sake of mail? Pathetic. Unthinkable.
Maybe they could just quit checking the mail, Daisy thought, but... No, no, they ordered things too often for that to be manageable. They paced in thought, anxiously hovering near the front gate. Were they expecting any packages this curve? They ordered some sort of... thing, they forgot what it was exactly, recently... Hadn’t they? Maybe they were up too early for anything to be delivered, maybe it would come the next curve. It probably wasn’t that big of a deal. Probably.
Convincing themself to go back inside, Daisy turned around, and then, froze completely. There was a faint and distant sound... A sound that was not that of croaking bird song, not howling wind, not the creaking of the trees or the whispers too quiet to comprehend, but a sound that made Daisy seethe with hatred.
The sound of approaching footsteps.
As the sound grew louder, closer, Daisy tensed up and held their ears up high. They quieted their own footsteps, crouching low to the ground and slowly creeping closer to the fence. As the sound suddenly stopped, Daisy sprung up and catapulted themself over the fence.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!?”
The potential trespasser, hand once reaching towards the mailbox, had toppled over and fell backwards onto the ground. A horrid little snake approaching their sanctuary! Daisy had also realized that this was the mail carrier, but they had decided it was far too late to back down now. They had leapt onto the mailbox and pointed one clawed finger towards that fiend, that, well. It was just a mail carrier, really.
The snake looked startled, but took a moment to pick herself up off the ground, and held out a stack of envelopes. Daisy snatched it out of her hand with no hesitation, stepping backwards and balancing on the fence. They stared at each other for just a moment, the snake with a look of mild confusion and Daisy with a look of intense annoyance. Having decided that enough was enough and the moment was over, Daisy hissed loudly.
Standing atop the fence and looking more smug than they had any right to be, Daisy watched the snake run back down towards the village. Victory felt great. With that out of the way, they inspected their stack of envelopes. Honestly, it was a lot more mail than Daisy had been expecting. They didn’t know who’d even send all that-
“Good morning, Daisy!” said Goodbye.
Daisy jumped up and screamed, ending up on the ground with their rightfully earned mail scattered across the front lawn.
“It’s so nice to see you up so early in the morning,” Goodbye leaned on the fence and watched as Daisy struggled to collect their mail, “usually you’re still asleep now, aren't you?”
Daisy’s face scrunched up. It was unfortunate that Daisy had even a single neighbor, and it was even more unfortunate that it was Goodbye. The fact that he lived just one slightly long walk away aggravated Daisy to no end.
“I... fell asleep earlier.”
“Ooh! At a reasonable time early, or, early-afternoon early?”
Daisy barely looked up at him, shuffling letters in their hands “... Do you actually WANT something?”
“I wanted to say hi,” said Goodbye.
“Well, you did! Congratulations! Anything else?”
“...and I wanted to bring up, uh—” he tilted his head back a bit, taking his eyes off Daisy, “—my fence. That you broke.”
Daisy had already gone inside and locked the door.
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Daisy slumped against the closed door. This was much better. Despite the fact they had been outside for only a moment, it was always a relief to come back in. It was much more... sticky and wet out there. They went over to their ratty old sofa and began to flip through the mail. With a perfume sample here and a magazine there, Daisy wasn’t expecting much. Most of it was tossed to the side, a few letters from the Village Council hitting the floor when Daisy had missed the trash can. They flipped through the next few letters and paused.
A bright red envelope. Factory red.
...So, they weren’t done with all that Factory business. They tossed a large envelope of soap samples onto the coffee table and threw everything else away. Daisy had really wanted to be done with Factory and they really thought they were... That there wasn’t going to be another letter, another unopened gift, another unread email, another unanswered call.
But, really, what was one more letter in the pile?
They flipped the envelope in their hand a few times before getting up and heading towards the study. It was like anything else that Sullivan had ever sent, brightly colored, covered in little rainbow stickers, Daisy’s address penned in intricate cursive, all the i’s dotted with hearts. The letter itself would be disgustingly heartfelt, or there’d be a slightly nauseating card filled with scrip and loose change. Daisy almost laughed. There didn’t seem to be a return address on this one.
Entering their study, they kicked a few pillows on the floor back into the corner and swiftly turned to their desk. The letter, still unopened, was quickly shoved in the bottom drawer where all the things Daisy didn’t like to think about got to live.
They turned on their computer, leaned back in their office chair, and didn’t think about a thing.
...Of course Daisy did have a few things to think about as their computer hummed to life. First things first, they checked their email inbox. It was much less stressful than the actual mail. They got to ignore things from the comfort of their own home. Daisy couldn’t ignore everything though, email was how they found jobs, and jobs were what found money, which in turn found food and such, which was then used for being not dead.
It was all the usual, information for the next town meeting they’ll never attend, another bounty request they’d ignore... and something with the subject listed as URGENT!
Doubtful, they opened it.
I hope you're well, but I know how you are. I'll make this quick.
Your old landlord is about to clear everything out from your apartment, and with how... suddenly you left, I wasn’t sure if you were able to bring everything you needed with you. Anything still left in the apartment will be collected for Toybox by the end of the coil. If you feel as though there’s nothing of value to you, please feel free to ignore this message.
With that out of the way, I’d love to hear from you. How have you been doing? Has anything been going on recently? I’m not sure what the best way to reach you is, so I’ve sent this message in letter form as well, hopefully at least one of these will get to you.
Dr. Sullivan Passer
Daisy slouched, maybe it was a trick. It wasn’t from Sullivan’s usual address after all.... It did sound like him, though, if a little frustrated... And the letter that came in that morning. Wouldn’t his usual address be his work email anyway? This wasn’t exactly work related... Sinking a little further in their seat, irritation flickered. It probably wasn’t a trick, which meant that it was Sullivan attempting to do something helpful for then, and that something meant that Daisy would actually have to go get their stuff.
It was their stuff in their old apartment, and wouldn’t be theirs anymore if Daisy kept on dangling from their chair.
Briefly, Daisy wondered why they hadn’t gotten this information from the landlord himself. They then remembered who their landlord was, and that they’d given Sullivan the spare key. Grimacing, Daisy pushed off their desk, slowly spinning in their chair.
There was a gate just outside of Hollowford, one that’d bring Daisy pretty close to the apartment... It’d just be a short walk. It’s not like they had much stuff, so Daisy would only have to bring a few boxes. And walk. Outside. To Factory.
Maybe they’d need help carrying everything.
They turned themself right side up again and looked over their computer screen again. Their cursor hovered over the reply option, Sullivan would be... enthusiastic about being asked to help. He might even perceive it as some sort of... reconciliation, which was the last thing Daisy wanted.
They cleared their inbox and stood from their chair. This was a problem to be solved, with another problem!
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Daisy began to dig through the closet for everything they might need. New clothes, a bag, and most importantly... an umbrella. Their umbrella. As red as it was, it was the one piece of Factory that Daisy could never throw away. It’s been with them far too long for that.
Once dressed, Daisy pulled their wallet from the bag and looked through it. Crap. It was empty.
They turned back to the drawer of things Daisy didn’t like to think about. At least they had an idea of how to get some money.
Cards and envelopes, left unopened for however long, had their contents unceremoniously dumped out on the floor. One by one, Daisy tore them open, sorting everything into one of two piles. One pile for vouchers, tickets, tokens, or anything of value... Another for anything stupid, sweet and sentimental. The letters themselves were stacked and to be placed back in the drawer once valuables were extracted.
It was quite the haul. Daisy had a hefty stack of food vouchers across several companies and had enough bus tokens to get anywhere they wanted in Factory. Some part of them felt disappointed.
Well, that didn’t really matter. They filled their wallet to the brim and tossed everything else back in the drawer. Once they dropped their wallet back into their bag, they scampered into the living room, umbrella in hand. What else would they need? Keys, snacks, reading glasses, water bottles... Oh maybe a knife! Wipes and paper towels were simply a must. Could they fit an extra change of clothes in there?
...No, no, Daisy had to be quick! If they stalled too long, they’d never get anything done. Can’t be pacing around the house and filling their bag with junk. Regardless, they still managed to pack half the kitchen... Now, it was on to the hard part.
The front door.
They gave their bag one last look over, and dropped a bottle of soap into it. Better to have something and not need it than to be in a situation where you really need soap and have none in sight.
Alright. They were still stalling. All they had to do was walk out the door. Their bag was fine, their house was fine. All they had to do was—
Daisy held their umbrella tight, and stepped out the door.
The walk to Goodbye’s home was only slightly long, and happened to be quite scenic. As hypnotic as the leaves in the wind were, and how peacefully the sun glittered through gaps in the trees, Daisy felt nothing but dread. Goodbye might turn down whatever desperate pleas Daisy could think up... They didn’t want to resort to threats and extortion quite yet, either. This was Grey, there was no telling how he’d react to that... Maybe bribes and extra desperate pleas?
Before Daisy knew it, they were already at Goodbye’s front gate. It was far from the first time that they wished that the walk was a little longer.
...It was a nice little house. It was hidden away in the trees, nicely shaded, potted plants scattered about. Daisy briefly entertained the thought of stealing something and running back home. Instead, they stepped over the broken down fence and into the yard.
Daisy knocked at the door.
The door actually opening caught Daisy a bit off guard, but it only took a moment to pretend that they weren’t at all nervous.
“Daisy! What... brings you to my home? Where I live?”
They pushed past Goodbye, making their way into the house. Daisy only turned around once the door clicked shut
“...Well are you—”
“Goodbye,” said Daisy, putting on a wide smile, “you’d do anything for a friend, right?”
“...You have explicitly told me that we are not friends.”
Daisy gasped, feigning shock, “When would I have ever said such a hurtful thing, my good friend, Goodbye?”
“Last coil. When you broke down my fence.”
They laughed and laughed, before swiping a vase off the nearby table, “Shut up, we’re friends right now.”
“What’s one vase between pals? The past is in the past, my dear friend, we need to keep up with the now!”
“FENCES CAN BE MENDED LATER. Right now, I, er... Well, I may possibly need your assistance...?”
Goodbye had an unreadable expression. That was a given, as he had no face. Daisy simply stood straight, maintaining eye contact and a smile... They really needed to sell this, just this once.
It felt like an eternity but Goodbye seemed to have given in. He sighed and slouched against the wall, “What exactly do you need help with?”
“I just... need to pick up a few things from my old apartment, it should be a quick trip to Factory, but an extra set of hands wouldn’t hurt.”
He went around Daisy, further into the house. They slowly trailed behind him, taking the chance to look around. Daisy had been here once before, some sort of Welcome to the Neighborhood thing, and it didn’t seem much different. A little less tidy than before, maybe? Goodbye had went off to another room somewhere, so Daisy dug about in the living room. Tartan couch, boring throw pillows, big bookshelves, little end tables...
Huh, there were... a lot of books, actually. Textbooks mostly—
Goodbye returned with a messenger bag over his shoulder. This was going much quicker than expected. Perhaps this curve wasn’t going to be utterly horrible after all.
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Never mind, Daisy was right the first time. The curve was turning out to be just awful.
Upon arriving to the gate with Goodbye, they were accosted by some gaudy, disaffected teen. Apparently, the gate had been closed down, meaning that Daisy couldn’t go through, meaning they couldn’t get to Factory, meaning they couldn’t just get their stuff and go right back home. Daisy kicked at the gate, which was all wrapped up in barricade tape. It didn’t budge.
The teenager sighed, “Once again, all gates to and from Factory are closed down until further notice.”
“Why? For what purpose? Who could this POSSIBLY benefit?”
“It’s just, well, it’s Ventas—”
Daisy almost screamed, “It’s CAVERN, Ventas doesn’t—” they waved their hands around aimlessly “—CAN’T own any part Cavern!”
“Ventas owns the gates, though.”
They wanted to cry, Ventas Corporation just had that effect on people. Of course Ventas would own the actual gates! It had near complete control over what went in and out of Factory... It’d also explain why the barricade tape was pink and green.
“—by Their Majesty’s Royal Decree” it was stupid. This was stupid. Ventas being buddy-buddy with the Kingdom of Arizona was stupid. Daisy turned to face Goodbye, who had been standing awkwardly behind them while waiting for Daisy to finish their completely civil discussion.
“So,” said Daisy, “we’re taking the long way.”
“We really can’t go through here?”
“No, Goodbye, we cannot.”
This trip was really going to be the death of them.
It wasn’t like it was hard to get to Factory, getting from one zone to it’s neighbor was simple. It’s just that Grey and Factory were not neighbors and were in fact on opposite sides of DREAMLAND. The neighboring zone was Indigo. All Daisy had to do was follow the river. Which would be fine! It would be perfectly fine if Daisy hadn’t neglected one important fact:
Goodbye loved to talk.
If it was anything else, Daisy would be fine. Just walking beside someone on a trip through three whole zones wouldn’t be that bad! Except Goodbye just wanted to talk.
“—but it’s more scenic this way, isn’t it?”
Daisy nodded along, not looking up from the river. The dark water rushed by.
Since the two of them had started walking, Goodbye had been trying to strike up some conversation, to which Daisy would shut down with some dead-end reply. By now most people would have gotten the hint and accepted the silence.
Goodbye tried again, “Have you ever been to Indigo?”
“Eh, no, I haven’t.”
“Oh,” he clasped his hands together, “It’s such a lovely zone, I hear it’s particularly beautiful this time of cone!”
Daisy still hadn’t looked up, “Really.”
“Well, I’ve only been during the serotinal conic. The weather is quite nice then, the sunshuts are particularly stunning.”
“I go every cone to visit family! I’d actually go a lot more often if it weren’t for all the—” Goodbye gestured vaguely “—incorporation.”
“You... have a problem with that?”
“It’s—” Daisy actually started to laugh, “—it’s not!”
With all the cackling at Goodbye’s expense, they hadn’t noticed the river growing wider until Daisy almost tripped into it. Goodbye had caught them before they fell. They still smacked at his hands... but it was only then that Daisy had noticed how radically their surroundings had shifted. The dense trees had become lighter and more spread out, the bird song and unintelligible whispers were replaced with a low electrical hum, and the sky itself had faded from a deep grey to dull purple.
The mountain streams fed into something much larger. Daisy walked around to the other side of Goodbye and away from the water.
“...So, you said you had family here?”
“I do,” Goodbye gave Daisy a look that they couldn’t really parse, “but they live in Norlatch, we’re heading towards Andorgate.”
Daisy hummed, “What’s it like?”
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The path ahead became more defined as they walked, now a dirt road rather than a trail in the grass. Daisy twirled their umbrella as they listened to Goodbye ramble about Indigo cooking. He was on about something involving aspic and crab when Daisy spotted something off in the distance.
There was a shimmering spike that towered above the trees.
Daisy squinted. Was that some sort of building? It was mostly a blur...
“Goodbye,” they elbowed him in the side a few times, “—what’s that?” Daisy pointed to the shape.
“Oh! What? Its—...” Goodbye looked up.
He slowed down until he stopped walking entirely.
“I’m assuming that’s not, eh, part of the usual scenery?”
“Oh absolutely not!”
“Well,” Daisy kept walking, “there isn’t anything to be done about it. Let’s... move on.”
It only took a moment for Goodbye to catch up with them.
The spire drew closer as they continued along the river. It was jarring and out of place. Like a piece of Indigo had been cut out and replaced by something else... but it wasn’t going to ruin their curve! It’s not like Daisy lived here. What some big needly thing was wasn’t important. It could be some art installation or an ecological disaster or anything at all, and it wouldn’t affect Daisy’s life in any meaningful way.
Still, it annoyed them. If only because Goodbye kept slowing down to stare at the thing. Probably an art installation then, something meant to be distracting and eye-catching. Strange patterns danced across its surface, after all.
There had been a lot less conversation ever since they spotted the shape. The closer they went, the more unbelievably vast it became.
Daisy could hear the chatter of a crowd. It seemed like some little assembly had formed by the spire's base.
“Maybe we can ask around?” said Goodbye, sounding hopeful.
They didn’t really want to waste the time, but when Daisy turned to reply—
“Goodbye, I don’t mean to alarm you—” Daisy bit back a laugh “—but your head is a TV.”
A hand shot up to his face, “Already?”
“You know what? Just, just go right on ahead!” Daisy’s voice warbled now, “See if you can find anything out!”
Goodbye actually looked exasperated at that, now able to make facial expressions. Hah, serves him right. Daisy watched as he turned away from the river and made his way towards the spire. After a moment, they adjusted their grip on their umbrella and followed.
“Excuse me,” said Goodbye, having gotten the attention of someone at the edge of the crowd, “What exactly... is that?”
A light bulb of some sort turned their head, “I don’t know! That’s— that’s why I’m here?”
This wasn’t going anywhere fast. Daisy scanned the crowd, but they were too short to see anything worthwhile... There were plenty of trees around, though. That’s an idea. They held the handle of their umbrella in their tail and quickly scurried up the nearest tree. Goodbye looked up at them incredulously. They grinned, leaning on the branch that stuck out the farthest. Past the crowd, Daisy could see a woman standing on a box at the base of the spire. She seemed to be trying and failing at dispersing the crowd, yelling into a megaphone intermittently.
They landed in the middle of the crowd, directly on top of someone’s head. Luckily Daisy weighed almost nothing and only left a few scratches. They bounded off again, leaping towards the woman on the box.
Daisy slid down the spire. Slowly. They hit the ground with a gentle thud.
The woman tried again, “Excuse me?”
“Hi, yes,” said Daisy from the ground, “I have a few questions. About the giant spike covering the sky?”
“Why is there a giant spike covering the sky?”
“We’re working on that one. Anything else?”
“Why’s it all... eh, Arizona-y?”
Before she could respond, the spire began to shake. The checker pattern distorted where Daisy had slammed into it, rippling out like waves. Far above the crowd, a smaller spike suddenly jutted out... like a branch.
“Okay!” the woman shouted into her megaphone as the crowd started up, “We have everything under control! Now, please evacuate the area, slowly, so that we. Uh, have enough space to handle this.”
A few people hesitantly left the crowd. The rest stood there until the spire shook again, another spike branching out. It was much lower this time.
That seemed to get the crowd going.
The woman got down from her box, running off while still yelling, “This has been Mayor Mayor, holding office in Andorgate, Halfader, and Norlatch! Currently campaigning in Xnorgate and Radices! See you soon Indigo!”
Daisy realized they had dropped their umbrella.
They stood up, dusted themself off, and walked to where their umbrella lay in the grass. They were lucky it wasn’t trampled. Upon picking it up, they saw Goodbye standing awkwardly under a tree, unsure of what to do.
Before Daisy could approach, a figure swung down from the tree directly behind Goodbye.
“Is she gone?” the figure asked, hanging upside down.
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“That mayor woman, she’s gone, yes?”
Daisy stared for a moment before nodding. “I, eh, yes?” They recognized the figure in some way, but Daisy couldn’t remember who it was exactly...
“Great!” He pulled himself back upright and jumped down from the tree, still holding the suitcase in his right hand. “Oh, wow! Would you look at that?”
He walked past Goodbye, approaching the spire. “Isn’t it great?”
“Well, uh, what is that—”
“It’s great, isn’t it!?” He laughed.
As he walked past Daisy and towards the spire, his face remained at a fixed angle. Almost like it was stuck. It was only mildly disturbing.
“...Say, it’s a bit unusual to see a little fellow from Grey all the way out here! Are you here on business?”
“Ah, forgive me for not introducing myself earlier. I am the Salesman!” He reached out to shake Daisy’s hand, his back still facing them. “I’m here on the behalf of our King!”
Daisy did not shake his hand. “What’s the giant spike for?”
“You see it’s... It’s for the continued glory and splendor of the Kingdom of Arizona, of course!”
“Glory and splendor,” Daisy echoed, angling their head. They knew the Salesman.
“It’s a publicity stunt.”
Taking a moment to look back at Goodbye, who looked as lost as ever, Daisy replied slowly. “Okay, I think we’ll be leaving now—”
“Now, now, you just wait! I deal in far more than glory, you know—” the Salesman popped his briefcase open “—and what’s a salesman without his products anyway? If none of this interests you, I’ve got plenty of other briefcases!”
Goodbye stammered, “Ah, no, no we don’t need anything really, we’re just— Daisy.”
They were already rummaging through the briefcase, grabbing anything that had bright enough packaging.
“How are you even going to carry all of that? You didn’t even bring a bag!”
Daisy waved away at Goodbye. “Shush.”
It’s not like there’s anything wrongwith a little self-indulgence every now and again. They haven’t had some of this stuff in forever! Most of it was stationary or office junk, but the snacks were a treasure trove of nostalgic Factory garbage.
The Salesman began addressing Goodbye. “So, what are two folks like you doing here in Andorgate?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Goodbye, glaring at Daisy. “We’re only passing through.”
“Really! Where to?”
Daisy kicked Goodbye in the leg, “Actually, I think that’s all I need!” They smiled.
The Salesman held his left hand out towards Daisy, palm facing upwards. “Now, I understand if you don’t have any currency, this is Indigo after all! ... but I do need some form of payment.”
“Maybe you have some items of value? That red umbr—”
“OH! Right, right! Eh, let me just...” They dug out their wallet, shifting the assortment of food and beverages they held to the side. Daisy wasn’t entirely sure how much all that was worth... They flipped through their wallet a bit before settling on 20 or so Lamina store vouchers and a few stray tickets. “Would that cover it?”
The Salesman froze completely, “I—...”
“Eh, Goodbye, do you want anything?”
“... Sure?” He picked out a soda and a silly straw from the still open briefcase. Daisy dropped another ticket and a few bus tokens into the Salesman's hand as Goodbye slid the soda into his bag.
“Pleasure doing business with you!” Daisy walked away briskly, they were a little out of practice with in-person spending.
“W—wait!” the Salesman had begun packing up, pocketing the vouchers and desperately trying to keep pace. “You said you were headed to Factory, correct?”
Daisy glared at Goodbye. “We are.”
“And... you’re going on foot? At this time of cone?”
“It’s sort of an—” Daisy grit their teeth “—an emergency trip.”
“My my, it must be! You do know all the Cavernways in Elsewhere are flooded right now, don’t you?”
“So you two will have to pass through both Elsewhere and... Arizona, yes?”
This was obviously leading up to the Salesman asking them a favor. “Mhm.”
“See, I have some business there that I can’t exactly attend to at the moment. I’m wondering if I could ask you for a favor.”
There it was.
Now, Daisy didn’t want to do anything they didn’t already have to, but... “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“I just need you to deliver something—” he pulled a small gift bag and a business card from his suit jacket, “—it should be on the way.”
The gift bag was unassuming enough, it had a picture of the Salesman’s face printed on front and was stuffed full of tissue paper. The card was glossy with an address scribbled over it.
“Hold this for me just a moment,” Daisy dumped their assortment of snacks into Goodbye’s arms and slid the bag over their wrist.
Goodbye fumbled. “Daisy!”
“Consider it done. Anything that I, eh, need to know?”
“There’s nothing more to it. Just get the bag over to that address and I’ll owe you a lot!”
Good to hear. Daisy nodded. “Now, Mr. The Salesman, we really ought to get going. I’m on a time limit, you know! Come along, Goodbye.”
Daisy ran off before anyone could respond. Goodbye hurried after them.
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“What is with you?! You— what... what are you... doing?”
Goodbye trailed off, watching Daisy shove the entire gift bag into their pocket. They started on the snacks and drinks from Goodbye’s arms next.
“How are you doing that?”
“Daisy, you just put a 6-pack in your pockets. That’s not... how pockets work.”
“Well, what can I say? I’m just talented like that.”
“That’s not an answer.”
At last, Daisy plucked the final can from Goodbye’s arms, and cracked it open. “You know, that whole thing could’ve gone really bad. We’re lucky!”
They took a sip. “That Salesman could’ve recognized me, and wouldn’t THAT have been a disaster—”
“—that’s paint? You’re drinking paint?”
“Not the point, Goodbye.”
“You’re not supposed to... drink that!”
“What? Are you a Company Representative or something? I feel like you’re not listening to me.”
Goodbye put his hand to his head, “Excuse me, what am I supposed to be listening to exactly?”
“About the Salesman!”
“What about the Salesman.”
“I, uh, he—” Daisy waved their arms aimlessly, “—he didn’t recognize me! And YOU, you don’t...” They trailed off into a series of indecipherable noises before grabbing onto Goodbye’s sweater. “You have no idea what that means, do you?”
“How do I explain this?” Daisy sighed. “The Salesman is an... especially high bounty. I, at some point in the past, was a well-known bounty hunter. You can see how it would’ve been a problem if he had recognized me, right? ...But now he owes us! The Salesman owes us!”
“Excuse me? Bounty? Why does he have a bounty?”
“Oh you know, known con-man with a lot of assets and unpopular business practices. The usual.”
“Wh—” Goodbye pushed Daisy away from him, “If he’s a con-man, why would he pay you back?”
“Easy! If he doesn’t, we turn him in for the bounty.”
“I... don’t want to be included in this.”
Daisy rolled their eyes, “Oh sure! Don’t want any easy money then! Let’s just keep going, shall we?”
There were more spires after that.
Scattered amongst the treetops or positioned on distant hills, they only grew in number as they followed the river. Spires even jutted out from the water on occasion... They weren’t as large as the one from before, standing much shorter or thinner. On occasion, something would be skewered on the top of one. Usually a tree or some mess of shredded cables.
Glory and splendor. What was that supposed to mean?
Daisy checked the gift bag they were given. Only tissue paper and a sealed envelope. Uninteresting. Unhelpful.
“Goodbye. What do you think of all this?”
“... I don’t like it.”
“Hm.” This wouldn't affect them. “I don’t like it either.”
The strange spires stood at odd angles now, having shifted in the soft ground. Daisy watched as the the sky grew a more vibrant purple. Just little closer to Factory, then. Hopefully, it’d still be Factory... They weren’t sure what they’d do if—
“Do you think it’ll rain soon?” asked Goodbye.
Daisy jumped. They looked up, watching the sky turn a more vibrant shade of purple. The clouds seemed to be closing in.
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The dirt road turned into one of worn asphalt, uneven and cracked. A thick blanket of pale-purple clouds dimmed the light of the sky, and water rushed past the side of the levee. Daisy and Goodbye walked beside the trees and the cars that would zip past every now and again.
Elsewhere was miserable.
It was overcast, and the very air was warm and sticky. Everything was warm and sticky. Soggy even. The river was murky, the road was full of potholes, and the freaky spires were still there! Even more of them, actually. Clustered together and half piled onto each other from sinking in the mud... Not even mud that had the common decency to not be the consistency of evil pudding that did everything in its power to steal your shoes. Awful mud. Awful air. Awful zone. Someone could wring Daisy out like a sponge at this point!
... Not to mention that Goodbye kept falling behind, forcing them to wait until he caught up again.
“Aren’t you tired?” he whined.
“No, not really.”
“We’ve been walking for a while now... How would anyone not be tired?”
“Come on! It hasn’t been that long, Goodbye.”
He looked unimpressed, pulling back his sleeve to reveal a watch. “We left a little past 4. It’s midcurve now. Walking for a whole half-measure is a little long, Daisy.”
“Oh, eh, well...” That was perhaps a little long. “—but we’ve made three zones in just a half-measure, we’re making good time!”
“If I don’t get to sit down soon, I will collapse.”
“Fine. Fine! Let’s have a seat, don’t mind that we’re, oh, ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!”
... Well, what were they supposed to do? It’s not like Daisy could pull a chair out of Nowhere! They weren’t magic. Of all the things they had in their pockets, a chair was not one of them.
A car zipped past.
Oh, if only they hadn’t left their car in Factory. It was a good car. It was a piece of junk that left them smelling like a gas can for curves, but it sure could drive on a road! And with that they could just... put things in the car and they wouldn’t need to walk and they wouldn’t need Goodbye!
Okay, Daisy might’ve been a little tired.
The two of them had only walked a little further before Goodbye perked up.
“Would you look at that! A bench.” He said with a sort of unpleasantly smug lilt.
And just a little further down, a bench there was! Daisy squinted at it. It seemed old and... damp. Whatever sign had stood next to it before was knocked over. Well, a bench was a bench. Goodbye sped up a bit, leaving them behind.
It had started to rain.
He had already melted into the bench when they arrived. They sat next to him silently, umbrella in hand.
“... I don’t know why I agreed to help you.”
Daisy opened their mouth to respond—
“We’re not friends. You don’t like me! I could’ve just... stayed home. Not worrying about any of this.”
“I guess, I felt like I... that I had something to prove. To say that I was on your side. Hollowford, you know, it’s a nice place— but I know how it feels to be an outsider... it’s not even a problem to you!”
“So, you know. I’m over it. I don’t like—”
A truck zipped past.
The truck backed up, pulling in front of the bench. Daisy only watched as the window rolled down.
“I am so so sorry.” The woman looked thoroughly mortified. “I don’t have towels or anything I just—” she shifted in her seat, “—uh, you folks need a ride? Y’all are just sorta... sitting in the rain. I’m Jupiter, by the way.”
Daisy looked at Goodbye, then closed their umbrella. They were far too wet to feel anxious about getting in a car with a stranger.
They walked around to the other side of the vehicle. It was a bit tall.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” asked Daisy, yelling only slightly, “We’re a little wet, if you didn’t notice.”
“Oh, no, it’s not a problem! It’s my fault, anyway.” Jupiter replied.
Daisy had barely reached for the door when Goodbye picked them up by the scruff of their neck. He opened the door and tossed them inside before climbing in himself. It was not well appreciated.
Jupiter drove off all the same.
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Daisy was a bit uncomfortable. They were soaking wet, cold, wedged right between Goodbye and a complete stranger, and...
... the seat belt was sort of high.
It had been awhile since they were in any sort of motor vehicle and it was stressing them out. Barreling down a shoddy road at high speeds in a giant hunk of metal that they were not in control of was never something Daisy found relaxing. All they could do was sit there and stare out the window while curling tighter into the seat.
“Now, where exactly are you two headed?” asked Jupiter over the noise of the truck.
Goodbye looked at Daisy a moment and answered in their place. “They’re headed to Factory.”
“... On foot?”
Daisy grimaced. “The Cavernways were closed.”
“I’ve heard! ... If you don’t mind, I’ve been wondering how the other zones are dealing with the whole... Arizona thing that’s been going on?”
“It’s about the same in Indigo as it is here, a little less concentrated. None of this has even touched Grey, though.” Goodbye responded.
“Huh. Well, I’m actually on my way to Arizona to do something about all that. Proper is where all the, uh, government buildings are, if I remember correctly.”
This interested Daisy, it seemed like a lot of work for something that wouldn’t get very far. “You’re going all the way up to Proper to complain?”
“I mean, I might as well. Already tried tearing a few of those spires down. More just—” Jupiter threw a hand up, “—popped up! And besides, there’s gonna be other folks up there with me.” She smiled.
Daisy didn’t really get it. “What will you do if they don’t do anything?”
“Well, that I can’t say... It’d make any future actions of mine, that I may or may not take, premeditated under Arizona jurisdiction.”
Goodbye turned his head, “Excuse me—?”
“Look, we’re almost past the trees!”
The passing trees had become sparser, revealing a blanket of rolling grass and wildflowers broken up by sparkling sections of water. The horizon was perfectly flat and looked as if it went on forever. Even the spires seemed distant and unreal.
“Once we spot the mountains, we’ll be at Arizona in no time. It would’ve taken you two awhile if you just kept walking.”
“Right,” said Goodbye.
There was almost always a trick to get from one zone to the next. Every river eventually lead to here. It made passing through Grey and Indigo quite quick in comparison to the time spent walking around in Elsewhere, getting nowhere. Between Arizona and Elsewhere was a mountain range and simply heading directly forwards would put you on the other side... Was there a trick for getting back to Grey?
“How would you get to the mountains, if you had to?” Daisy wondered out loud.
“You’d go at an angle, but there’s nothing much up there on the Elsewhere side.”
They accepted this answer and turned to stare out the window again, passing a lone house raised up on stilts.
The ride fell into silence.
A vague mountainous shape could be made out in the distance. Daisy sighed. Almost to Arizona and almost out of this shaky metal deathtrap. The rain was letting up, too. Lovely.
“You know, the King of Arizona actually came down here before all the spires went up.” Jupiter said suddenly.
That caught Goodbye’s interest. “Really? What were they like?”
Taking a deep breath, she started rattling off. “They were... odd. Floated around like they didn’t have a care in the world, had a group that followed them around like little dogs. Some sorta TV and a palm tree woman. Came down to try and lay out plans for a road I think.”
“It was just odd to me,” Jupiter continued, “coming down here themself, acting like there wasn’t a single thing that could hurt them. Left a trail too! Everything they touched, anything that they looked at would fall apart into little cubes.”
“They pulled a woman out of a filing cabinet.” She gave Goodbye a glance, a momentary look, before turning back to the road. “That just ain’t normal.”
“Oh! We’re almost there!”
As the mountains came further into view, Daisy noticed something strange. The mountains were pink.
The wrong shade of pink.
“That’s... not quite right,” said Jupiter, “those are supposed to be purple on this side.”
Goodbye looked puzzled. “Really?”
They sped up a bit and the mountains grew closer.
The instant they hit Arizona, the truck jolted. Suddenly, the mountains were far behind them. The road ahead wound over a mess of cliffs and plateaus. It left Daisy reeling in their seat. Everything that they could see was jagged, geometric, and glimmering. The swimming patterns of checkers and stripes dominated their vision.
The clouds were now light and feathery, pale orange bleeding into the vast pink sky.
Daisy realized that their claws were digging into the seat. They sat up straight and folded their hands into their lap, choosing to ignore the shredded upholstery. It wasn't like the landscape was totally foreign to them. They'd been to Arizona before, but... they were never in the mood to take it all in.
“... did we hit a bump?” wheezed Goodbye.
“That is—” Jupiter chuckled, “—the fastest I have ever seen anyone incorporate.”
“Oh. That's a little embarrassing actually.”
Jupiter cackled, “I suppose I'll drop you two off somewhere in Proper. I think I have a map in that little glove compartment over there.”
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“Take that exit there.” Goodbye pointed, looking down at the map. It had been decided without argument that he would take charge of directions, and the map had not been at any point taken from Daisy due to their inability to read it. No, not at all.
Jupiter switched lanes.
There were quite a few more cars on the road now that they were further in Arizona. It made sense. They were headed towards Proper, and Proper was the heart of the Kingdom of Arizona.
Goodbye had informed Daisy that they would be making their way to the district of Melon once they were dropped off. It was the border between Arizona and Factory... and apparently where the address that the Salesman had given them would lead. Well, Daisy wasn’t one to back down on a deal without reason. That Salesman was lucky it wasn’t too out of their way.
“Could you turn on the radio or something?” asked Daisy.
“Can’t,” Jupiter replied, “it’s busted.”
Suddenly, Daisy was very gently shaken awake. “We’re almost there,” said Goodbye.
Strange, they couldn’t remember falling asleep.
The truck was well into the city now. Long choppy shadows stretched across buildings. It felt odd to be completely surrounded by all these high-rises and skyscrapers after so long. Traffic moved belatedly and Jupiter looked more exasperated by the moment. The world felt very small then.
Blearily, Daisy asked “Goodbye, what time is it?”
He looked at his watch again, which now had a built in calculator, and answered “Uh, 6:67” Daisy jolted straight up. They’ve been in this truck for far too long. Goodbye gave them a sort of concerned glance before addressing Jupiter, “Could you drop us off soon? You’ve been... circling for a while.”
“... Where do I park?” Jupiter said, showing a significant amount of restraint.
Despite the initial struggle, Jupiter found a parking space without hitting anyone, truck or otherwise. She opened the door and hopped out before circling around to the back of the truck. Goodbye got out next.
... They didn’t have a choice, did they?
Daisy carefully slid out of their seat.
“Before y’all two head off,” said Jupiter from the bed of her truck, “I’ve got a little something!”
She popped open the cooler in the back and triumphantly pulled out a half dozen eggs along with a few bottles of something.
Goodbye elbowed Daisy and muttered, “Don’t make that face. You drink paint.”
“I bought that off of a reputable salesperson. This is eggs from some... folksy woman’s cooler. Cooler eggs.”
He accepted the cooler eggs from Jupiter. “Didn’t you say that guy was a con-artist?” replied Goodbye.
Daisy was given two eggs.
“They’re boiled,” said Jupiter. She raised a bottle in one hand, “Want a drink?”
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Proper came alive in the night. Shop fronts and billboards dominated Daisy’s vision, demanding attention from any and every passerby. Blinking lights and blinding colors sparkled all around them, and the endless chatter of pedestrians came from every direction.
Daisy had very little patience for it. “How far was the bus stop, again?” they asked, biting into the last of their egg.
“Not far,” Goodbye sighed.
He had been doing that a lot, sighing, since Elsewhere actually... It was dismissive and irritating. There was absolutely no reason for Goodbye to continue dragging this trip out any longer, yet he dragged his feet and fell behind! Over and over. It was especially irritating as they were unfortunately reliant on him to navigate.
Daisy hated this city.
It wasn’t as if they were unfamiliar with the urban environment, they had grown up in a city!
Most cities were the same: busy, noisy, and impersonal. This place was no different, yet... It felt barren in a way that others hadn’t. The zone itself felt a little too vast for everything to be right.
Of course there were glistening lights, things that sparkled, people passing by each other with indifference, but there weren’t any gears ticking away beneath the surface. Whatever these people were busy with, it wasn’t here.
Suddenly, Daisy stopped, turned around, and glared. They had walked past Goodbye again.
... It wasn’t as though the sidewalk was packed, yet a few people still attempted to push past them. Hopefully they wouldn’t be needing their wallets anytime soon.
“You seem to be in a rush!” Daisy sneered, still not closing their umbrella.
Goodbye continued past them without even a glance.
They huffed, “And you used to be so enthusiastic before this curve.”
“... How long do you have to pick up your stuff?”
“Until the end of the coil or so.”
“You have—” It was Goodbye who stopped then, quite unexpectedly. “—The coil? You have four whole curves? You, what? Can we—” he sputtered, “can we take a break?”
“What? We’re almost there!”
“We left at 4, there’s places for us to stay here. When we left I really didn’t expect the Cavernways to be closed when I went with you... and I really didn’t expect to walk for 3 fucking measures just because I didn’t want to be rude!”
“I—” Daisy took a breath and steadied their voice, “I didn’t ask for your politeness, Goodbye. I asked you for a favor, and you agreed to it. If you lack follow-through, that’s not my fault, is it? You should’ve told me you were incapable of helping me then instead of now. It’s irresponsible.”
He scoffed, “It’s irresponsible to drag someone you don’t like with you across 3 zones.”
“Well, why don’t you go home? It’s never too late to give up, after all.”
“Oh, would you look at that—” Goodbye pointed, dripping with venom. “—The bus stop is just over there!”
And there it was, across the street.
By the time Daisy responded, Goodbye had already turned around and walked off in the other direction.
Whoever made these bus routes was utterly demented. The map was indecipherable and the schedule was nonsensical, bringing question after question. Who lived like this? What society functioned like this? How much was the bus fare? Did they even have Arizona money on them? No, wait, Daisy just pick-pocketed two people. They were probably fine, it was fine.
There were a few other people waiting alongside them. They turned to the nearest one, “Excuse me, do you know if the next bus goes to, ah, Melon or anywhere near that..?”
Daisy was given a sort of half-shrug motion, followed by the individual pulling on their headphones, in response.
This place was miserable. The sky was completely black now, and it had gotten cold.
They checked over the address they were given again. It was a professional looking business card with the logo hastily scribbled over. The contact information was similarly scratched out and written over by a different number... What was that Salesman up to?
Daisy waited for the bus by themself.
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The bus shook.
Buses were awful things. They were always too hot or cold, unreliable, unsafe, full of idiots, and slow. Daisy had always been more of a car person. In a car there were no strict routes to adhere to, no other passengers to pick up, no need to transfer, and no one to deal with. There was privacy... but here they were! Alone and surrounded by strangers.
It didn’t help that everyone was so tall, either. Daisy was never the tallest in any zone, but at least in Factory, they were never the shortest! Even Grey had a good amount of variance. Here? Not so much. It was unnerving.
And there was a non-zero chance that they were a wanted criminal in this zone, wasn’t there? Sure, no one should be able to recognize them, but—! Wait, wait, no, they remembered now. Daisy was pretty sure that the last one was never criminally investigated... Or at least, they hadn’t been a suspect if it had been?
... This bus wasn’t good for their mental state. They looked out the window.
It was less busy than it was before. Further from the city center, there weren’t as many flashy lights. Good. The glare from those gave Daisy a headache.
Oh, their stop was next.
Getting off the bus, there wasn’t much to see. Nothing but the road, gravel, and ugly little bushes. Daisy grimaced. Was this place really designed for people? It was just as much a wasteland as the empty desert outside of the city, only more bags fluttering about...
Were they at the right place? Daisy stepped away from the bus stop to open their umbrella.
Ah, a sign. They checked it against the business card.
... Eh, that looked close enough. One less thing to worry about. Forgoing, the sidewalk, Daisy made their way past the shrubbery. It’d be quicker to cut through the adjacent parking lot.
The lights of the main building were still on. How lucky.
Through the glass door, Daisy could see someone talking animatedly over the phone. Their voice, even muffled by the glass, was deep and booming as they gestured wildly. Evidently, they were quite engaged with their conversation. Daisy knocked on the glass as forcefully as they could.
They jumped. Hah.
With a hand over the receiver, the individual inside approached the door.
And pointed to the closed sign. Daisy rolled their eye. Of course, nobody ever gives them the time of curve! They held the business card up to the glass. At least Daisy could see their name tag now, Cathode, the eponymous Cathy.
They watched as Cathode held their face closer to read the card, then they froze up completely.
Cathode’s face briefly flickered between a few different screens before settling on a blank one. Clumsily, they unlocked the door while trying to hang up with some amount of haste. Daisy very nearly laughed at how quickly Cathode slammed down the receiver.
The glass door swung open, and Cathode moved to lean on the door frame. “What do you want?” they asked, sounding defeated.
Daisy pulled the gift bag from their pocket. “I was asked to deliver this.”
“How did you—?”
“Never mind, not important. What’s in it?”
“Well...” Daisy looked into the bag again. “Tissue paper mostly, an— ah... A potted cactus?” that was definitely not there before “—and this letter.” They pulled out the envelope for Cathode to see.
They gave Daisy a quick look over, “Open it.”
Daisy frowned. Suspicion was never a good thing in situations like this. Quickly, they ripped off the top of the envelope and shook out a folded piece of paper. It was quite ordinary. Plain stationary with downright sloppy cursive.
After an initial skim through, Daisy began to read aloud.
“Intended for viewing only by the Most Honorable Cathode,” Cathy looked unimpressed so far, “—the Marquess of Melon, Royal Advisor of Interzonal Relations, Motor Vehicle Salesperson, and superiors: Statement of the Honorable Salesman, Baron of the Arizonan-Manufacturing—” the letter was very quickly snatched from Daisy’s hand.
“I didn’t know that the Salesman was the baron of anything,” said Daisy.
“He isn’t,” Cathode scoffed, “give me the bag.”
Daisy was happy to comply.
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Once the bag was in their hands, Cathode began to close the door.
Ah, Daisy had very nearly forgotten!
“Now...” They caught the door before it shut. “I can’t say I understand your bizarre political system, but what I delivered must have been of some importance to you, right?”
Cathode glared. That was better than slamming the door in their face, so Daisy continued.
“And after I’ve delivered something of such importance, I feel... entitled to a small favor. A very small favor. Much smaller than, oh I don’t know, trekking through three zones just to hand you a little bag, hm?”
They mulled it over, presumably weighing their odds.
Quickly, they attempted to pull the door shut. Daisy remained steadfast, even managing to pry the door further ajar. Oh, they could do this all night. Wiggling their way into the building would be nothing, and Daisy was not above breaking a window.
Cathode very noticeably cursed under their breath. “What sort of favor?” they asked, more of a sigh than a question.
“Transportation.” Daisy smiled. “I need to get to Factory, more specifically Sugar, as soon as—”
“Oh, that’s all?”
Before Daisy could respond, Cathode’s hand met their shoulder, and the world spun.
Daisy was in a car. A car? It felt like they’d been haphazardly thrown into the seat, again, while simultaneously having all their senses turned inside out. They could barely tell up from down!
Why were they in a car all of the sudden?
Daisy looked to the side and spotted Cathode in the driver’s seat, appearing much more composed than they felt. The windows revealed that the car was in motion. Distant lamps and taillights wound around the horizon as if they were lights on a string. They’ve had a lot of strange experiences in vehicles that curve, Daisy realized. The road rushed past.
“Wh—” No, that came out a bit weak. Daisy tried again. “... What in the world was that!?”
Cathode replied cheerfully, “I’m driving you to Factory!”
“... In a car?”
That was it, Daisy had made up their mind, they were going to attack this person! No, it didn’t matter that they were royalty or something. Sometimes violence is the answer—
There was a shuffling from the backseat... Daisy craned their neck to get a better look.
There were two more people in the car? No, wait, make that three. The torus was also a person. There were three more people in the car.
“Excuse me,” said Daisy, “Mx. Cathode—”
They huffed, “Most Honorable Cathode.”
“—Is this not your car?
Cathode said nothing, then took a breath in... and said nothing again. They tapped lightly on the steering wheel.
“Well... technically,” they said after a while, “every car is my car! It’s within my domain.”
While Daisy was not familiar with the ins and outs of Arizona, and especially not its judicial system, they were fairly certain that auto theft was considered a big deal.
They weren’t sure whether or not to voice this thought when Cathode spoke again.
“Look, okay, it was the closest vehicle to Factory. I will give it back, and I’ll even top off the gas tank!” They glanced into the rearview mirror. “What about that, huh?”
From the backseat, the cassette player awkwardly shrugged. They likely had little choice in the matter.
Daisy had little choice as well. They opted to look out the window rather than try to draw blood from a rock and make sense of their situation. Lanes twisted around, splitting, merging, passing under and over one another. They were far from the city now. No high buildings filled the black sky, though, on occasion, there were high walls or some large processing facility.
There was a surprising amount of cars for whatever time of night it was! Daisy couldn’t read the dashboard clock... It was analog and the kind with weird little lines instead of numbers, so they were out of luck. Still, it felt too late for this kind of traffic.
The torus in the backseat piped up with a low, droning voice. “So, uh... Commemoration, right?”
“OH, yeah!” Cathode shouted, “You heading out to see family, kid?”
Kid? “I’m 39.” Daisy continued as Cathode jumped, “And it’s not even—!”
... Actually, Daisy had no idea what spiral it was. It really couldn’t be that close to Commemoration, could it?
“What’s the date?” they asked.
The torus chimed in again, “It’s Meltwater 14th!”
Daisy had forgotten about Commemoration. That explained the abundance of lights and glittery things! How did they lose track of time so badly? But, didn’t that mean...
“My landlord is kicking me out on Commemoration?” Daisy asked no one in particular.
“Yikes,” said the cassette player, “that’s rough.”
Well, it didn’t mean all that much to them. Daisy was never very religious. They had nothing to commemorate and no one to remember, nor was Daisy particularly attached to the idea of commemorating Nothing itself.
They ought to be home before Commemoration anyway.
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If Daisy hadn’t gotten out the car when they did they would’ve screamed. Someone had decided to turn on the radio, and Daisy quickly found out that it was not preferable to silence.
Cathode had dropped them off in front of the Factory gate not long ago. They stepped out of the car after Daisy, promptly vanishing into thin air. Not even a goodbye or a little wave or something? Daisy was unfamiliar with the etiquette surrounding teleportation but they felt that was a bit rude. The car had driven off once the original driver had gotten their bearings.
They turned towards the gate. Unlike the one in Hollowford, this gate lead directly to Factory! ... but it still brought Daisy to Lily rather than Sugar City, which was where their old apartment was.
Not to mention the fact that the gate was weird.
The gate was supposed to sit on the border between Factory and Arizona. It was not supposed to be some sort of portal! How did Arizona just... spill over? There used to be a wall there, if Daisy remembered correctly.
Eh, it didn’t matter. Not when they were almost there! With no reason to delay any further, Daisy stepped through the gate and onto the streets of Factory.
Finally, familiar territory.
Sugar was far enough from here to make traveling through the conventual means unbearable. Far too many bus transfers and far too much walking. Luckily, Daisy knew a few tricks. Taking a shortcut in Factory wasn’t always the easiest thing to do. It relied just as much on chance as it did on skill...
Now, where was a good jumping-off point?
Aha, That street lamp should do wonderfully! Daisy quickly made their way across—
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Cathy could never catch a break, could they? They came back to the dealership to lock up for the second time that night, and there’s the Salesman, acting as if it were normal for him to... be hunched over in front of a cactus. Several of them in fact.
...Where did he get those?
The Salesman stood up and turned towards Cathode, though it didn’t make much of a difference.
“Ah, your Most Honorable—” He greeted Cathode with a cursory bow. “—It’s such a pleasure to see you after so long.”
Cathode couldn’t say the same. They pointed to the cactuses behind him, “You better move all that before you leave.”
“What are you...?” the Salesman trailed off, “Oh, right! Ha! You know how it is with the cacti,” he laughed. One of the pots fell to the ground and shattered. It sat on the floor in a sad little heap.
They decidedly did not know how it was with the cactuses, nor did they care to find out.
“What’re you doing here, Sales?”
“Oh, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed!—” He held his hand to his chest in mock offense. “—Actually, won’t you fetch me something? As small as you can get it. You can do it, can’t you? Quickly!”
They sighed, stepped to the side and held out their arm. Where they expected a car to appear, stood a small electric scooter instead... There was no way that counted as a car.
They stood dumbstruck as the Salesman laughed. “Do you see what I mean now?”
Cathode shook their head.
“The reach of our King has been spreading... If this continues as planned, you could very well benefit from it! Imagine: You, a duke, with power over not only motor vehicles, but over trains, bicycles, boats, maybe even—”
“Man, you gotta slow down,” said Cathode, not moving their hand from the Salesman’s face, “but I’m listening.”
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Daisy blinked. Where in the world were they?
They had fallen down a manhole. Honestly, who just leaves holes in the middle of the street like that? How irresponsible!
Slowly, Daisy rolled over to look up at the ceiling. Rather than the opening through which they fell, there was only an odd light fixture. Unsurprising but annoying. The underground portions of Factory had always been unstable... There would be no way for Daisy to tell how far they’d fallen or where exactly they ended up.
It shouldn’t take too long for them to get back on track, though.
The room that they were in had no obvious doors or exits, but halfway through the floor gave way to a sea of colorful plastic balls. They got to their feet. That could work, couldn’t it?
Without any other choice, they picked up their umbrella and slowly waded into the ball pit.
... Daisy didn’t know exactly where they were, but at least they weren’t underground anymore! There were no recognizable landmarks in the area. The surrounding buildings looked nearly identical, each partially illuminated by the row of street lamps.
Ah! At the end of the street was a signpost. That would have the street name, so perhaps they could figure out their way from there? It was too far for them to read. Quickly, they approached it.
Well, those were numbers. Numbers that didn’t mean anything to Daisy. Should they ask someone? It was quite late, though. They didn’t really want to stand near anyone, let alone ask for directions! What should they—
A poster flew into their face.
Oh, come on! They pulled the poster from their face and glared down at it. The blocky red text in its center simply read: “Daisy!” That’s... an interesting coincidence. They balled up the poster and tossed it behind them.
A second poster landed beside them, saying something else, “That’s a little rude, isn’t it?”
Wait a moment. “... Appley?”
“Got it in one!” read a new line of text, “Good glory, Daisy! It’s been so long since I’ve last seen you. How have you been? You sure look different!”
Daisy wasn’t going to make small-talk with a poster. “It’s been fine. Now, Appley, my dear friend, I—” They considered their words carefully “—was under the impression that you lived in Sugar? I’m not, ah, exactly sure of where we are. Do you mind helping out a dear friend?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind at all. We’re in Sugar, obviously!” Obviously? “You want to find your way back home, right?”
“Ah,” Daisy hesitated, regarding the Appley with some suspicion, “Yes?”
“Great! I’ll lead the way.”
The words on the poster rippled until they were unreadable, shifting into the shape of an arrow pointing right.
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“Appley, this is not my apartment.”
Daisy had been lead to some bright touristy part of Sugar. They observed their surroundings with a vague familiarity. Signs and lights of every size filled the streets in front of them. Had they been here before?
The poster wavered in their hands. “Well, no. It’s not... but I wanted to say something. Turn around.”
They remembered where they were—
“You really ought to talk to her.” Appley moved within the larger poster that hung on the wall, distorting the image as they went.
There was no way that was going to happen. “Appley—”
“All I’m asking is that you say hi. I bet she’d really appreciate it.”
She wouldn’t. They sighed, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. It... wouldn’t go well.”
“Aw, why not?”
... Aside from the fact that Daisy practically robbed her? Well, they really couldn’t say!
“I don’t want to talk to my ex-wife right now, Appley. Can’t you just help me to my apartment? The apartment that I have to clear out before Commemoration?”
In their hands, the small poster fluttered again. “What about Sully? He’s been doing well without you!”
“Don’t call him that.”
“Oh sorry, Dr. Passer has been doing well without you. I forgot you’re the only person on a first name basis with him.”
Daisy let go of the poster.
It was caught by the wind before it touched the ground. As it flew up into the air, spiraling, it lead their eye to an old billboard atop a nearby building. There were only two words printed across it:
They knew where they were, Sugar’s theater district, Production Park. The apartment wasn’t much further now... Were the buses still running? It must be past midnight now, but Daisy didn’t wear a watch.
Maybe they should call a taxi.
The taxi was the right choice. It had been a pleasantly uneventful ride. Daisy stepped out of the cab and looked up at the building in front of them.
They were expecting it to be... more familiar. Of course, they recognized their old apartment, but it was unremarkable. Walking up the stairs, Daisy felt like they were showing up somewhere uninvited more than anything else.
Hadn’t they lived in that apartment for 3 cones? That was longer than they’d lived in Hollowford for.
Right, 237. They dug through their bag. Hopefully they hadn’t misplaced their keys! If they came all this way for— Wait.
The door wasn’t properly shut.
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Why wasn’t the door shut? Surely Daisy hadn’t done that, had they?
They lightly tapped against the door with the tip of their umbrella. It swung open with ease.
... Daisy took off their shoes. Socks would be quieter on the tile than their dress shoes. Inside, one of the lights were on, but Daisy noticed something else first. Something very odd.
Dozens of perfectly wrapped gift boxes were stacked on the kitchen counter, and even more sat on the floor.
They bore a striking resemblance to the ones Daisy had at home. All the things that Sullivan had sent and Daisy never opened, opting instead to hide them away in the closet and corners where they didn’t have to look at them.
Creeping further into their apartment, Daisy had only a single question: What the fuck was going on here? Someone else was here, that much was obvious, but why? Whoever it was had taken off their jacket and left it on a chair.
Daisy whipped around, pointed their umbrella at the trespasser and— “Dr. Passer” they said plainly.
Sullivan placed the box he was holding onto counter and clasped his hands. “Ah, Daisy, you sure look different! I wasn’t expecting you here so... soon.”
“This is my apartment,” Daisy spoke with a strangled sound. “You’re in my apartment.”
He began to wring his hands. “Yes, I... suppose that I am.”
Suppose that he— “What’s wrong with you? You suppose? It’s mine. My apartment. That you are in. Why? Why are you—...” Daisy trailed off. What were they even supposed to say to that? “You’re a freak, Passer, you know that right? What are you doing here?”
He hummed before he speaking, “I was simply... packing up my things before you arrived. You can still call me Sullivan if you’d like.” That last part was said as if he were telling an old inside joke, expecting Daisy to catch onto some hidden meaning.
They didn’t particularly notice. “What? No, the boxes? Why— What?”
“... See, Daisy, after you ran off I thought to myself: Why bother renting a warehouse when I’ve got the spare key to an empty apartment! You always kept odd hours so nobody would really notice if I dropped by to stash a few things here and there.” He gestured vaguely towards the gift boxes on the counters.
“You’ve been sending those to me.” Daisy said blankly.
Sullivan laughed, “Well, you’re the only person I knew in another zone who wouldn’t go around opening everything. Now, if you’ll excuse me—” He took off his hat and held it to the counter, sliding the boxes into it. “I must be on my way.”
“What have you been sending me?”
He placed his hat back on his head. “Nothing of importance.” His voice took on a gravely serious tone, “Just don’t touch any of those boxes once you return to Hollowford, I’ll collect those shortly. I really ought to get going—”
“How in the world did you find out where I live?” Daisy asked without meaning to.
Suddenly, Sullivan became quite jovial. “Oh, that! Hand me your umbrella, will you?” He pulled it from Daisy’s hand as if taking a toy away from a child. He opened the umbrella and held it upside down, seemingly searching for something.
At long last, he plucked a small red device from the inside of the umbrella.
“Look,” he said, “A tracker! I won’t be needing it anymore.”
After closing it, he pushed the umbrella back into Daisy’s hand and pocketed the tracker.
Their voice turned shrill, “What about the cards? And the letters? What was the point of—”
“Payment for your services. Anything else?” He began putting on his jacket.
They felt like they were missing something. As he headed towards the door, Daisy felt compelled to keep speaking.
“I wanted to say that I’m— Well, that... Things went poorly in the past. That is to say—” What were they even trying to say? Daisy wasn’t sure. They sputtered on regardless. “We were— You remember that I... Weren’t we close once?”
Sullivan turned very slightly and gave Daisy an odd, pained look.
He shut the door behind him.
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