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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 day 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 today... 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 that 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 day long power nap. The overwhelming dread was not an unusual feeling for them, it was almost everyday 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 day. 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.
Today 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 of 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 day... 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 today? 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 tomorrow. It probably wasn’t that big of a deal. Probably.
Convincing themselves 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 themselves 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 today. 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 themselves 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 week. 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 today wasn’t going to be utterly horrible after all.
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Never mind, Daisy was right the first time. Today 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 sunsets 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 day! 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 themselves 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—” Sales 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 you know!”
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, 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 Sales 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 midday 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? Yall 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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“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 subdistrict 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 today.”
“... 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 day! 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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