Chapter 1: Prologue: Voice in the Shadows
“He is adorable, is he not.”
The sibilant voice slinked from the darkness, its words in a tongue that had been long forgotten from the word. It bore no threat, no great promise of superiority; it seemed, for the moment, to be naught but curious.
Every fur on his body rose, though.
“And you have kept him,” the voice continued, intrigued. “I do not blame you. As much as you are a part of this world, you are... separate. Held above and away. Another of your own, even one like this, would be a great comfort.”
With a sigh, he lowered the newspaper, keeping his eyes lidded. “Are you finished?”
“Peace, Judd. An observation, nothing more. I am happy for you, truly.” A single tube was placed on the coffee table. “Your usual delivery... though, if you would like, I could make another injection next time. For the young one, that is.”
“...That’ll be his decision.” Judd turned a page of his newspaper. “I’ll let you know when you come around again.”
“As you wish.”
The music from the neighboring apartment drifted through the wall, its upbeat tune quite contrasting the silent tension in the room.
Judd frowned. “Don’t you usually leave by now?”
“Is it wrong that I wish to speak with an old friend?”
“What’s there to talk about?” he asked flatly. “The latest fashions? Turf War statistics? New bands, new stores? Somehow I don’t think you’re interested in any of that.”
“On the contrary, I do keep up with Inkling culture. Perhaps not as much as you, being outside of it, yet it is all so fascinating, in its way.”
“Patterns and predictions,” Judd grumbled. “That’s all it is to you. All they are to you.”
“It is a fault of mine,” the voice admitted. “One I constantly try to overcome. Perhaps we could speak of... something, then? Small talk, if it is alright?”
“...You hear about Spyke’s thing?”
“The urchin? Yes, I understand he has become quite wealthy. A regular success story, from the streets to the stratosphere.”
“He’s nice enough, for a don.” Judd turned his paper. “Earns the loyalty of the street rats, makes sure to skim only the top off the storage markets... Not nearly as bad as that Grizz guy.”
“Grizz, you say.”
“He offers high-risk part-time jobs for moderate pay. And the corporate side of things is just as skeezy if you look into it.”
The voice hummed in contemplation. “Taking advantage of a situation or two, is he?”
“Rumor is he’s got people hunting the Salmonids for their eggs. The golden ones, anyway.” Judd turned another page. “Suppose that means they’re on the move again.”
“Oh, yes. They are.”
“And of course you would be interested in that, wouldn’t you.”
“I watch things,” the voice agreed. “It is my purpose, after all.”
Judd hrmfed dryly, not even bothering to reply.
“He is rather adorable, is he not?”
With a sigh, Judd put down the paper. “Why are you so interested in the kitten? Is it because he’s a mammal, or because he was made by that old machine, or because he’s my clone or what?”
“It is another... detail.” The voice seemed oddly reluctant. “Another incidence which... another case, where something from the old world is being dredged up and influencing this new one.”
“And we’re right back to where we started.”
“Tartar is dead.”
Judd tensed, claws digging into his armchair. “What?”
“Tartar is dead,” the voice repeated. “This past week.”
“The same way Salmoriglio went. Insanity, followed by targeted termination conducted through local agents.”
“So you had him killed.”
“...I made a gamble,” the voice said, softly. “I had hoped the agents would find... something other than what they found. He had been cut off from the network, but I knew he was gathering forces. I had hoped it was something far more innocent, a minor glitch that could be corrected... I did not expect the agents to conduct termination, but the investigation afterward proved them justified.”
“You’re saying he was raising an army?”
“No.” It was almost a whisper. “It was... something else. Something far more horrible...”
The voice trailed off, letting the music of the neighbors dominate again. The moonlight glittered off the tube on the coffee table.
“...I am losing control.”
Judd smirked. “Figured that out all on your own, did you?”
“I know I did not have much control before,” the voice said. “But if I’d known about Tartar, perhaps... things are moving, Judd. The Salmonids, you know what that means. The kitten, something new from the old. Tartar, going mad... There is something stirring in the murk, and if it wakes the consequences would be unpredictable.”
“That must be very frustrating for you,” Judd drawled. “Not knowing what to expect, unable to figure out what comes next--”
“This is serious, Judd! This is not like the war between the Octarians and the Inklings, where two nations squabble for resources and territory, this is a greater danger to the society that has been built!”
“You said that about the Kachumbari too, and they handled that pretty well. You’re worrying over nothing.”
“...Perhaps. Nevertheless, I must ask that you be ready to provide assistance, should it be required.”
Judd snorted. “That isn’t my world anymore. It never was. I’m not a part of this.”
The voice rolled the glass tube forward. “And yet.”
He glanced down for a moment, before leaning forward. “Really? You’re really going to pull that?”
“It may be out of my control, whether I can continue. I make no threats. I will keep delivering these, as promised, until I can no longer.” The voice drew back. “But I fear that time may come sooner than you suspect. Consolidate what you can, Judd. I will tell you when I learn of more.”
Judd watched the voice slip out the window and vanish into the night. With a sigh, he grabbed the tube, flicking off the cap and injecting the needle into his shoulder.
“Crazy old loon... loves the sound of his own voice.”
The moment the syringe was empty, he tossed it into the trash bin.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1: Meet-up at the Mall
There was a rapid pounding on the door. “Hey 8, you up yet?”
“...Oooookay. Not a morning person?”
“I... do not understand the question.”
“Right. Never mind. Look, just get ready to go, okay? We’re headed for Arowana mall in ten minutes. You can take... whatever from the closet, okay?”
For a moment, there was silence... and then a sigh, as the one on the other side of the door walked away. Agent 8 didn’t notice, really. Or, well, she did, but she was more absorbed in her own contemplation.
The room was like nothing she could remember. That wasn’t all that difficult, really, what with her memory being patchy at best, but there was something... strange about this room. Something she didn’t have a word for, as far as she knew. The way posters lined the walls haphazardly, the desk in the corner covered with sketches of various sorts. A plush bird of some kind resting atop the ruffled sheets of the bed. The light, not buzzing but warm; the tiny statues on various surfaces, carved into shapes both familiar and not. It was...
Cluttered? Yes, but that wasn’t the right word.
Eclectic... true, true. The Deep Sea Metro had also been eclectic, though, and it didn’t make her feel like this.
She didn’t... want to leave. She didn’t not want to, but... something about this room. Something soothed her, in a way she couldn’t quite describe.
Her eyes drifted over to the mirror, hanging off the closet. There in the reflection sat an Octoling; red skimmed with amaranth tentacles framing two golden eyes circled in black. She should have been familiar, even with the outfit she’d put on a while ago--she was the same reflection Agent 8 had seen in the windows of the train so many times. But back then she’d only seen terse anticipation, somber silence, bitter pain. Now... she was unrecognizable. Fingers not curled, but spread. Tentacles not twitching, simply resting. Tension, once constantly assuaged by her sway, now no longer present.
A smile tugged at her face. Relaxing... calming. Closer, not quite the right words, but closer...
“8? You ready?”
She shook her head, hopping off the bed. “Sorry, Agent 4, I was just thinking about things.”
“I can get that,” Agent 4 agreed, opening the door. “And I’ve already told you, you can call me Anh. I mean, we’re living together now.”
“Right.” Agent 8 shook her head. “Sorry, it’s just... it’s nothing.”
“...Right.” Agent 4 nodded slowly. “Come on, I’m sure the others are waiting for us.”
The Barracuda Condos were only a short walk away from the uptown shopping district. Well, strictly speaking, Barracuda Condos owned most of the uptown shopping district, but the Inklings apparently only used the term in reference to the apartments since, apparently, that was ‘home turf’.
Agent 8 was still trying to wrap her mantle around that one. Agent 4 assured her it was just a local cultural quirk, something she’d pick up eventually. Like calling her Anh. It would just take some getting used to, that was all.
Maybe it would help if she could remember her own name... or any name. Marina seemed familiar, vaguely, and she had the faintest glimmerings of the popstar Inklings she’d met, but she wasn’t sure if she had known about them before. She wasn’t sure of anything.
That was the whole problem, really.
“...Hey, you alright in there?”
Agent 8 shook her head, turning to Agent 4. “I’m just... looking around, is all.”
“Yeah... the advertising around here can be a little overwhelming if you aren’t ready for it. Come on, the food court’s just--”
The moment the chocolate-skimmed hand brushed against 8′s own, she pulled back--without thinking, without even fully realizing.
“...just...” Agent 4′s red eyes glanced away, her short purple tentacles curling just a bit. “Down this way.”
“The others are probably waiting for us, come on.” The inkling started down the hall, pace sedate. Agent 8 glanced down at her green rain boots for a moment. Then, with a sigh, she started after her.
The mall was a bit more lively than she expected. She knew, intellectually, that there would be many people wandering around, shopping and talking with their friends, but... it wasn’t like the Deep Sea Metro had been. There, everyone had been mostly distant, focused on their own thing. Here there were groups, but they... acknowledged each other when they passed. Sometimes they greeted each other fondly, sometimes... sometimes they even merged, and broke up into new groups. Inklings, jellyfish, octolings, urchins, anemones, a few fish, the occasional carapaced individual...
Agent 8 shook herself, catching up to her guide. “So... there are... a lot of people here.”
“Hmm?” Agent 4 looked around. “Well... actually this is a slow day... oh, here’s the food court.” She turned, waving at the jellyfish behind a podium.
“Ah heyo! Weycome to fud court, friend! What are you yuking for?”
“Kua kite koe i te wheke kōwhai? He kotiro he roa nga ringa.”
The jellyfish’s eyes widened. “Ae kua kite ahau ia ia! Ko ia i te tepu kotahi tekau ma toru.”
“Mauruuru koe mo to awhina. E noho hou!”
Agent 8 stared as Agent 4 confidently strode into the morass. After a moment, she shook herself and caught up with her. “Uh... If I were to ask what that all was back there--”
“What? Oh, yeah, I speak Jelly. Took a course on it a while back... I pick up languages, no big deal really.”
“No big deal...” Agent 8 frowned. “Right, of course it’s no big deal. Here I am, not even knowing my own name, and you’ve mastered... how many languages?”
“Inkling, obviously, Jelly as well, one of the more common shell dialects, enough fin to make me passable... a smattering of Urchin? I’ve picked up some Octarian, actually, nothing formal but when you’re out in the field you figure things out.”
“So you know something like four or five different languages, and I don’t even know who I am, and it’s no big deal.”
“...Hey.” Agent 4 turned around, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I’m not trying to make light of what you’re going through. You have to relearn... basically everything, and that can’t be easy. I’m here for you, though. And I just happen to find languages easy, that’s... that’s it, really. Also apparently I’m terrible at comforting people. I have no idea what I’m saying. Except, uh... I’m ready to help, I guess. No, I mean I am definitely ready to help. At anything. Even if it’s awkward. But I might not be good with the awkward stuff, I might have to look online for that first. Can you react or something, I tend to ramble when I don’t know if what I’m saying is coming through or--”
“I, uh... yeah.” Agent 8 shook her head. “No, yeah, I get that. Sorry, I was just... anyway, thanks. For that. What you said.”
“...and you can take your hand off my shoulder now.”
“Sorry!” Agent 4 retracted her hand so quickly her arm snapped. “Sorry, sorry. Do you, uh, are you not a touchy-feely sort of person?”
“I... kind of went through a lot--”
“Right, the... stuff.”
“Yes. Stuff. So... I...”
Agent 8 trailed off awkwardly.
“...So! Table thirteen. That’s where Agen--er, that’s where Yuu is.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m right here.”
“No no no, Agent 3′s real name is Yuu.”
Agent 8 blinked. “Seriously?”
“That... must get confusing.”
“It takes some getting used to,” interjected a new voice, “but once you get a hang of it, everything works out.”
Agent 8′s breath caught for a moment. Slowly, warily, she turned to look at the newcomer.
The inkling’s skim wasn’t nearly as thick as hers and Agent 4′s, but there was still a healthy pink to her body. A pair of thick yellow tentacles dripped down to her hips and framed a confident, casual smirk. It was the eyes, though--those violet eyes, filled with raw determination, that Agent 8 remembered... now they were soft and friendly, but for a moment, just a moment, she thought she had seen the hard gleam of a huntress peering right into her soul.
“So I got a text from the Squid Sisters, apparently there’s some paperwork issue with the captain or something and they might be late. Of course, Pearl and Marina are still at work, and Sheldon turned this down so he could figure out all that crazy stuff you found in the NILS statue. So, for now, it’s just us agents, huh?”
“...I... guess it is,” Agent 8 said. Her tentacles began to twitch.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: A Conversation over Pizza
“Huh, they have a dewgong option here now,” Anh mused as she looked over a menu. “That’s cool.”
Yuu gave her a look. “You like dewgong cheese?”
“It’s actually not that different from normal manatee products. Tastes a bit weird, but it grows on you.”
“Please tell me you’re not one of those sealshake fanatics.”
“Of course not!” Anh scoffed. “That’s just health nut advertising. Seal milk doesn’t have any ‘magic predator properties,’ that’s just how they sell it to wannabe athletes.”
“Oh thank the brine. You have no idea the amount of sludge I’ve gotten for just one little cookie... so that’s dewgong supreme for you, an ordinary splashslice for me, and... hey 8, what kind of pizza do you like?”
Agent 8 stared flatly at her. “I. Don’t. Know.”
“...Riiiiight. That whole thing. Tell you what, what about we get you Hawaiian and if you don’t like that after two slices, I’ll swap with you?”
The octoling looked like she wanted to say something, but after a moment just shrugged and glanced away. “Fine. Whatever.”
Yuu gave a grin that was only a touch strained. “I’ll go get our food, see you in a splish.”
Anh watched her wander off to one of the restaurants lining the food court. After a moment, she turned to agent 8. “So... anything you, uh, want to talk about or anything...?”
“...Not really,” she grumbled, rubbing her arm.
Anh’s tentacles curled for a moment. When she’d first met the octoling two weeks ago, she had been very quiet and withdrawn. Not really all that surprising, considering what she had just gone through. Anh had offered to house her on... not quite a whim. There was a lot of late night psychology journal reading going into it. But it wasn’t that hard to justify that decision at the time, and two weeks later she didn’t feel like she should regret it. Agent 8 had been improving, very slowly becoming less... standoffish.
The inkling had known today would be tough on her. It wasn’t her first day out of the apartment, but it was the first that wasn’t... structured. Anh hadn’t expected Agent 8 to retreat into herself so quickly though...
“Aaaaaand I’m back!” Yuu dropped a small stack of pizza boxes on the table, sliding one to each of the others.
Anh nodded thankfully as she popped hers open. “Mmm. Smells delish.”
“It’s passable,” Yuu replied as she took her seat. “Good for mass-produced, really, but I bet you I can make better.”
“Home-cooked meals actually save a lot of cash. And if you’ve got the right spices that makes everything better.”
“You know what? I might take you up on that.” Anh smirked, pulling a slice out and holding it up. “As long as you figure out how to work with dewgong cheese.”
“Well sludge, I’m doomed aren’t I?” Yuu chuckled, opening her own box. “So, party at your place I’m guessing?”
“Well, when 8′s okay with it. What do you say, 8, do you want... uh...”
Anh noticed how agent 8 was staring, horrified, at Yuu’s pizza.
“...Okay. Listen to me, 8. Do not make assumptions,” Anh said gently. “If you tell us what is wrong, we can work through it together. Alright?”
“There...” The octoling swallowed. “There are... fish. And, and things with shells, and... and they’re dead and you’re going to eat them--”
“Um... yes...?” Yuu slid the pizza away. “I’m sorry, are you vegan? It’s okay if you are--”
“Am I--there were, the metro, some... there was Iso Padre, and, and those girls who were going to school and--”
Anh brought her palm to her face. “Right. Right, you wouldn’t know about the clades, would you? And we’ve been eating noodles... Agent 8, those aren’t tiny people on the pizza. Alright? They’re just animals. Plenty of people eat animals. Animals eat animals. Plants eat animals. It’s perfectly normal, and there are no people getting hurt.”
Agent 8 managed to tear her eyes away. “What? What do you mean?”
“It’s...” Anh paused. “Okay. Animals are... creatures that don’t talk. They don’t build things, they run on instinct and... you know the birds around? Those flying things? They’re animals. You wouldn’t mind eating a bird, would you?”
“Because there’s bird on your pizza,” Yuu added. “Sliced up chicken-”
Anh kicked her leg under the table, without breaking her gaze on agent 8.
“I... don’t know...?” Agent 8 sighed. “I’ve been saying that a lot lately, haven’t I.”
“Well, it makes sense--OW!” Yuu glared at Anh. “Quit it!”
“Quit being a jerk.”
“I’m not being a jerk, I’m just telling it like it is!”
Anh turned to her with a frown. “You’re being incredibly insensitive is what you’re being.”
“What are the clades?” agent 8 interrupted quickly. “I mean, you mentioned the clades...”
“Right.” Anh gave Yuu a final pointed glare, before turning back to agent 8 with a gentle smile. “The five clades are the officially recognized groups of sapient peoples in modern society.”
“Why are you speaking like a textbook?” Yuu asked. “You can just lay it out easy. Blots, shells, jellies, fins, lil’ guys. Five different kinds of people. Bam we’re done and golden.”
Anh, very pointedly, ignored her. “The Limupeds, commonly called the Painters or Blots, are a clade consisting of every species that has the ability to create bodies out of ink. Us three, for instance, are limupeds, and there’s also the urchins, sea slugs, horseshoe crabs, anemones, jacks... a few others.”
“Alright...” Agent 8 nodded slowly. “And... what are the other clades?”
“The Crustavesti, Aquaefictus, Duracrus, and Novunati.”
“Shells, jellies, fins, and lil’ guys,” Yuu added flatly. “You’re overcomplicating this. Don’t tell her the science, tell her what she needs to know.”
“Alright. Yuu is an oblivious moron.”
“You said to tell her what she needs to know,” Anh said innocently.
“I work my butt off to save Inkopolis,” Yuu grumbled, “and this is the thanks I get.”
“Look.” Anh rubbed her tentacles. “The point is... nobody’s eating people. We’re just eating fish. Suckerfish, shellfish, jelfish, finfish. It’s a little confusing, I know, but... I’ve had squid rings. And I know they’re not people. It’s perfectly fine.”
Agent 8 glanced at Yuu’s pizza again.
“...You’re sure about that.”
“Yep. There are laws and enforcers and... basically, on the off chance there is people on somebody’s plate, they either killed them themself or something has gone very horribly wrong somewhere. So... yes, I’m sure.”
“We’re not salmonids,” Yuu assured her.
“Yuu?” Anh said gently.
“Do us all a favor and kindly keep your beak clamped.”
Yuu glowered at her. “What exactly are you saying?”
Anh took a deep breath, exhaled very slowly, and gave agent 8 a polite smile. “Excuse us for a moment.”
She grabbed Yuu’s arm, dragging her off a short distance, then whirled about angrily. “That girl has been a paranoid wreck ever since she got to the city. She doesn’t know what’s considered normal, what to expect, she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. When I took her in she didn’t even understand the concept of sleep--she was afraid to shut her eyes in case she forgot everything again. It took me three days to get her basically functional, and six more to get her to a point where she said anything without my prodding. Today is her first real day in Inkopolis, her first real outing, and she’s going to have some major culture shock no matter what happens. We need to be gentle, understanding, and informative.”
“I get that,” Yuu said with a roll of her eyes.
“Really? I just got finished telling her that nobody eats people, and then you go and mention the one race that actually eats people. And you’re using slang terms, and you’re making assumptions on why she’s upset...” Anh pinched the bridge of her mask. “Just... think a little before you speak, alright?”
Yuu opened her mouth... and, after a moment, shut it with a sigh. “Alright. Alright, fine. I see where you’re coming from, but... just... if you hold her suckers through everything, she’s not going to be able to walk on her own legs. I just wanted to be an ordinary friend, right?”
“And that’s good and all, but you have to give it time. Okay?”
“Fine! Fine. Are we done here?”
“Yeah, I... sure. That’s what I wanted to say.”
“Good.” Yuu nodded, walking back over to the table. “Hey, 8, sorry about that. Had a bit of a discussion--”
“It was about me, wasn’t it.”
“Nnnnnnnnnnnnngyes, but in a good way! See, agent 4 and I were thinking, hang on, this is 8′s first real day out on the streets. So she should be the one to set the pace!” Yuu slammed herself down into her chair. “So what do you want to do? Anything at all.”
Agent 4 sighed.
“...I, uh...” Agent 8 poked at her pizza box. “I... don’t know.”
“You know what?” Yuu grinned. “That’s fine. We’ll do what everyone does when they don’t know what to do.”
“Read a book?” Anh deadpanned.
“Window shopping!” Yuu declared. “Soon as we finish these pizzas, I’m going to show you the rest of the mall.”
“Oh.” Agent 8 finally opened her pizza box. “I didn’t know there were so many window shops.”
Agent 4 sat down. “It’s a figure of speech, 8. It just means we will be looking through the windows at the shops.”
“...that makes a lot more sense, actually.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: ‘Ordinary Life’
Yuu had been prepared for a casual day at the mall, maybe with some questions every once in a while. Because, let’s be honest, a lot of stuff just didn’t make sense if you hadn’t lived with it all your life. Maybe something about ‘why’s this brand so popular’ or ‘what’s so special about those shoes’ or even ‘gee whiz, agent 3, how do you keep ten tentacles straight, I have enough trouble with just eight!’
Agent 8, though… she was being kind of a dimmer. Like, sure, the whole forgetting who you are and also basically everything else plus going through that testing course literally designed by a deranged machine had to be horrible. Yuu wasn’t going to deny that. And, okay, maybe an instant springback was a little much to expect, but… two weeks! Seriously! How long would it take 8 to just relax? Yuu had already gotten used to her own nightmares.
Granted, she’d had to buy a new desk after accidentally breaking her old one. That had been awkward, especially since...
Yuu shook her head, smiling at the other two agents. “So like I was saying, brand loyalty is kind of a mixed bag, ya’know?”
“It is completely irrelevant,” agent 4 said flatly. “There are exactly three standards that matter when buying clothes: turf war specs, if it looks good on you, and whether you can afford it.”
“Really?” Yuu smirked at her. “Funny you saying that.”
“Navy Enperrials, an Annaki yellow cuff, Toni Kensa goggles—not even one of his shirts, the goggles.”
“I… like these goggles?” The inkling frowned at her. “What is even your point?”
“My point is two years ago, none of those brands existed. Somebody’s focused on wearing the freshest gear, huh?”
“That is entirely a coincidence! I pulled these from my closet because they were there and didn’t clash!”
“Mmhmm, and who bought them?”
Agent 4 crossed her arms. “Are you seriously going to psychoanalyze my shopping habits to justify your idea of brand loyalty?”
“You know there’s a difference between knowing a lot and actually being smart.”
“…I concede there are multiple forms of intelligence, but I fail to see how it’s relevant.”
Yuu rolled her eyes, turning to agent 8 with an exasperated look. “Does she talk like this all the time?”
That was it. Not ‘I think it’s just you’ or ‘only when it’s important’, not even ‘I agree with her and I hate you.’ Just… no, with that inscrutable expression, swaying gently on her hips. The octoling had been so adamantly horrified earlier, and was now just so… so darned quiet, not showing any interest in anything. How was she supposed to help this girl if she never expressed an opinion?!
“Look. If you buy clothes from just one brand, they’re almost guaranteed to go together. But that also means you’re short on making your own unique look by a factor of, like... literally hundreds. Like, hold on, there are...” Yuu did a quick count on her fingers. “Three million, ninety-eight thousand, one hundred fifty possible outfits with just what’s on the legal market. Add the Grizzco stuff and that goes up to three million, three hundred sixty-four thousand, nine hundred total outfits.”
Agent 4 blinked. “Wait. You... calculated all that in your head?”
“Yeah, see, genius right here. I mean, okay, I’m not factoring in legwear because who actually looks at that... My point is any way you look at it, there are more than thirty million possible outfits, right? So it is not only embarrassing to be caught in the same clothes as somebody else, it’s downright... stupid! Of course, if you’re both brand loyalists your likelihood of having a different outfit is not completely shot, but it gets shot down to something a lot smaller.”
“An... exponential decrease,” agent 4 offered.
“Same time, though, there’s the whole matching thing. It’s a hard decision, you know?” She turned back to agent 8, who was now giving her a very puzzled look---well, anything was progress. “So it’s important to choose: Do you want to be brand loyal, or mix it up?”
“...I... have absolutely no idea what you are even talking about.”
“Fashion!” Yuu cried. “Basic fashion, geeze!”
“Yuu!” agent 4 snapped.
Yuu groaned, putting her head in her hands. “I know, I know, I’m sorry, you’re right, I shouldn’t have exploded, it’s just... I don’t know, this is important, right?”
“I... well...” The inkling frowned. “I... think that it’s important to you, and a lot of other inklings, and... I respect your opinion, I just never actually, uh, cared all that much about... clothing.”
“Right. Fine, whatever. I was never good at explaining this sort of thing. If my old squad was here, they could probably cover it better.”
A smile began to grow on her face. “Speak of the devilfish...”
She turned around, putting her hands on her hips. “Thin-Kin bout something, galpal?”
“Oh you know it galpal!”
The newcomer had skim even thinner and paler than Yuu’s, but her bright orange tentacles matched her confident amber eyes, and the smirk on each girl’s face was identical as they approached each other. Hand slammed hand, hip bumped hip, tentacle slapped tentacle, and the two leaned in for a warm embrace.
“Oh my cod, where’ve you been, dudette?” The orange inkling leaned back. “Me and the squad were, like, totally worried you’d got picked up by some rando creep.”
Yuu chuckled. “Would you believe I’ve been saving the world?”
“Ouch, Kin!” The yellow girl put a hand on her chest. “That hurts, really!”
“Come on, be real. You hanging with a new squad?”
“Huh?” Yuu glanced at where her friend was looking. “Oh! Yeah, kind of. Guys, this is Kin, she’s the captain of my old Turf War squad.”
“It’s... nice to meet you, I suppose.” Agent 4 stepped forward, holding out a hand. “My name is Anh.”
“Good to meet you!” Kin chirped brightly, taking her hand and startling her with a brief tight hug. “I hope Yuu isn’t giving you too much trouble, huh?”
“I, uh--” Agent 4 shook her head, dimming the glow of her tentacles. “Well... define ‘too much.’”
Kin giggled uproariously, a feat that Yuu could never manage to replicate. “If you have to ask, it’s not enough. Oh!” She turned to look at agent 8. “And what’s your name, cutie?”
The octoling waved a hand awkwardly. “...hi...”
For a moment, there was silence.
“...Your name is Hai,” Kin repeated, still smiling.
“Yes. Yes, my name is Hai.” Agent 8 nodded. “That is, in fact, what I just said.”
“Hai is a very good friend of mine,” agent 4 interjected, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “We’re, uh, rooming together. For rent reasons.”
“Waaaaait.” Kin narrowed her eyes. “I know what this is.”
“Oh here we go,” Yuu said, grinning despite the annoyance in her voice.
“You two are totes dating!”
“Wha--No! I mean, Hai, she, it’s--”
“I’m going through some stuff,” agent 8 said flatly. “Anh is being a good friend. Neither of us is interested in that sort of thing right now.”
“Aaaaaa, gotcha.” Kin winked. “Just don’t wait too long, somebody might make a move.” She leaned over to Yuu. “How long have they been ‘rooming’, gal?”
“Ever since they first met. Which was two weeks ago.”
The orange girl clutched her cheeks with a delighted gasp. “OMC love at first sight really?!”
“You know we can hear you,” Anh said flatly.
“You two are adorable!” Kin squealed. “I just can’t help it!”
“I... haven’t heard that word before,” agent 8 managed.
“Adorable. What does that mean?”
Kin dropped her hands in shock. “Are you serious?”
Agent 4 sighed. “Adorable: Adjective. Something or someone that inspires great affection; delightful; charming. Generally used to express the idea of the subject invoking urges to hug and protect.”
“Oh wow. You’re actually serious.” Kin shook her head slowly. “Cutie, look, if you ever need anything, you just drop me a line.”
Yuu almost said something--almost--but then paused. Maybe this... yeah, maybe if agent 8 had more friends, she’d loosen up. This could work.
“Yeah, Hai’s been through a lot,” Yuu told her. “But that’s all kind of personal, so maybe we should talk about something else.”
“Right. Hey, you hear about that new splatling Nouveau’s releasing?”
“Wait, Nouveau is releasing a splatling?” agent 4 asked. “I mean... didn’t they learn from the dapple dualies?”
“Oooooh, you’re a turf player!” Kin put a hand on her hip. “What’s your rank?”
The inkling waggled her hand. “A plus-ish...? It’s been a while since I’ve played, I got caught up in some stuff and I’ve mostly been watching since.”
“Yeah, fair enough. Back in the day me and Yuu were S rankers... of course, that was before she dropped and with the overhaul I dunno if she’s a real competitor anymore.”
“Hey!” Yuu protested. “I’m still pretty good!”
“Yeah. You know what, I’ll prove it!” She shot a thumb at the other two agents. “My squad against yours.”
“Yuu,” agent 4 hissed, “what are you doing?”
“No can do.” Kin shook her head. “Three on four’s not fair.”
Yuu blinked. “Four? I mean I know Ling and Ostap are still with you--”
“Actually Ostap dropped. We were picking randos for a while there, and we ran across one called Lon--well, they’re both ubergeeks, so they hit it off. Me and Ling actually found a fresh pair after the overhaul--Ami and Obi, great squids, lotta talent. You’d like ‘em.”
“I’m sure. And I’m sure I’d like them more after showing them what a real turf squad can do.”
“Tri squads aren’t legal anymore, Yuu.”
“We’ll get a fourth.”
“Yuu, seriously!” agent 4 snapped. “Hai hasn’t ever played--”
“Not league, no, but she’s played plenty of street turf.” Yuu gave the octoling a warm smile. “I know she can hold her own.”
“You would,” agent 8 muttered, not quite looking at her.
Kin looked between them. “Yuu, are you serious about this? I’m all for a friendly match, but--”
“Look, Kin? These two need a couple more friends. And what better way to meet young squids then in a casual game of turf war where they can prove they are the very best?” Yuu crossed her arms. “I am straight up telling you: We’ll get a fourth, and no matter how terrible they are, we will splat your squad to the sea.”
“...You know what?” Kin pulled out her phone and glanced at the screen. “The mall’s on rotation, and it’s open caturday. We can hit it up in the eleven, eleven thirty bracket, and head out for lunch after. Sound good?”
“Sounds great.” The yellow inkling smiled brightly. “Hope you like getting splatted, Kin.”
“Splats aren’t everything, Yuu.” Kin pocketed her phone and gave a bright smile to the others. “Later cuties! I’m looking forward to trouncing you!” With a wave, she walked off.
As soon as she was out of earshot, agent 4 dropped her arm from 8′s shoulders. “What the heck, Yuu?!”
“What? Come on, we’re agents, we’ve got this in the bag.”
“That’s not the point! You volunteered us for something without even consulting our opinion!”
Yuu shrugged. “Yeah, sure. And if I didn’t, you’d have spent all of the next few weeks angsting in your apartment and not, I don’t know, actually living life?”
Agent 4 groaned. “This is--come on. 8, can you back me up here?”
Agent 8 was silent for a moment.
“...So,” she said eventually. “You’ll be fighting other inklings.”
“And... this is considered normal.”
“There are respawn points if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Agent 8 gave her a flat look, as though she had just said something incredibly stupid. Sometimes that happened to Yuu. She’d learned to live with it.
“Alright?” agent 4 repeated incredulously. “You’re alright with this?”
“Yes. Should I not be?”
The inkling opened her mouth, paused, and slowly let out a sigh. “...no, it’s fine. You’re right, it’s fine. But where are we going to get a fourth player?”
Yuu smirked. “Don’t worry about that. I know a guy.”
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: Backup plans
“Oh come on Spyke,” Yuu wheedled. “It’s not like I’m asking for anything permanent, we just need a fourth for one turf war caturday. You don’t have to do much, really, us three have got this down, you just need to--”
“Look, mate, I have wot ya might call some serias ob'gations these days.” The urchin glanced at her with a green eye. “And unlike some people, wot can dis'pear weeks on end and turn up right dandy, my ob'gations are the kind that can atch’ly end up tangled if not kept up day to day.”
“You’re just sitting here typing on a laptop,” Yuu said flatly.
“I am in the middle of org'n'zing a very important bis'ness transaction ‘tween the people wot have money and the people wot have gear.”
“But anybody can do that, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s illegal to go into a shop and buy things.”
Spyke gave Yuu a flat look. “Ya really don’t know wot I even do, do ya mate?”
“Okay, seriously,” Anh said flatly, “how the heck do you two know each other?”
“Spyke and I go waaaaaaay back. He was one of my first friends in the city you know. We swapped a couple favors, traded a few stories... hey Spyke, you remember what happened during the Pokemon Splatfest? You know, when that one jelly--”
“The one wot got sloshed and started screaming ‘bout the floor?”
“Yeah, that guy! Man, that was... actually pretty terrible. But what I was talking about was how he knocked over that crate--”
“Aaaaah, yessss. And it sprang open--”
“--and all the springs went rolling--”
“--right as Marie and Callie had swapped their verses for the song, yes.” Spyke shook his head. “And Callie started singing out spring puns.”
“Yeah, that was great. Man,” Yuu chuckled, “I was standing right at the best spot, I got to see Marie’s expression through the whole thing. At first, it was like ‘What the?’ then she was like ‘okay, real funny Callie’ and then, this look of horror came on her face when she realized she’d have to follow that up in less than a minute.” She smiled. “Man, I wish I’d snapped a pic of that.”
“What are they talking about?” Agent 8 murmured to Anh.
“Something that happened before my time,” Anh grumbled. “Look, you’re old friends, I get it. And I’m... actually kind of surprised at that, because... I mean, I get how you and the Squid Sisters got to know each other--”
“Wait.” Spyke gave Yuu a look. “Ya know the Squid Sisters, mate?”
“I, uh... did their grandpa a favor this one time... a lot of favors, really. And we sort of met up and chatted. We’re friends, yeah. Well, kind of, their lives got in the way, but... we talk sometimes.”
“Aaaaah. ‘Friends’ she says.”
Yuu sighed. “Alright, fine, don’t believe me. Seriously though... are you sure you’re not available for--?”
“Yes, I’m not 'vail'ble for turf war, that is a completely 'diculas idea.”
“Fine, fine, we’ll get out of your spines. Yeesh. Come on, guys.”
The other two followed her out of the cafe. Anh glanced back. “Seriously, though, was that your plan? Get the famous Spyke to play turf with us?”
“That was the backup plan. My first plan was to get Ostap to join up, but I haven’t got a text back. Probably in another Geek-Out Lockdown or whatever.”
“Ah.” Anh crossed her arms. “So tell me, do you have a plan C?”
“I will!” Yuu assured her. “I will, just give me a moment.”
“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”
The yellow inkling glowered at her. “So I’m flexible. Not everybody needs every little detail planned out for them, you know.”
“Having some idea of what to do is usually better than just rushing in and getting splatted,” Agent 8 noted.
“Look, I’m the one that got us all into this, and I’m the one who has experience with the whole... team making... thing. So I’ll just figure this out, okay? Unless either of you knows somebody.”
Agent 8 rolled her eyes. “I do not.”
“Yeah, I was always a rando picker...” Anh frowned for a moment. “Although... actually, hold on. I might have an idea.”
Yuu tilted her head. “Really? This I’ve got to see. Lead the way.”
Yuu jumped when they entered the shop, glancing around wildly before, awkwardly, rubbing the back of her head as she noticed the bell above the door. Before either of the other two could so much as quirk an eyebrow, though, a warm voice warbled from the sea slug woman resting on the rug.
“Ah, hello again my little inkfish! And to you as well...” She peered at Yuu and agent 8. “Oh, my. You poor dears... Craymond, can you get the mullein and the amaranthus essences?”
“YES I CAN AND I AM GOING TO I WILL BE RIGHT BACK!” Something pale and spindly jumped from her head, rushing into the back chamber.
“Come on, then, come in my little inkfish.” The woman waved a hand at a small smattering of pillows. “You are perfectly safe here, I promise.”
“Uh... thanks?” Anh glanced at the other two, who seemed just as confused as she was, before shrugging it off and walking over to the cushions. “So... hey Flow, I don’t mean to bug you while you’re at work, but um... Have you ever, uh, played turf war or anything like that...?”
“Have I ever... Oh, my little inkfish!” The sea slug tittered, languidly slipping behind a small table with a pair of ottomans. “That takes me back... I used to play street turf all the time.”
“Wait, really?” Yuu gestured at her. “But you’re so... uh...”
Flow gave her a wry smile. “So...?”
“...sooooooooooo, uh... Yeah, I’m just going to say it, you look like a hippie flower child.”
“Yuu!” Anh snapped.
Flow gave her a wry smile. “Well, you wouldn’t be wrong.” She reached down and produced a long metal tube, a boxy canister mounted in the middle and matched on one end by a thick handle with a metal and hose attached. “Of course, just because I’m one thing doesn’t mean I’m only that.”
Yuu nodded. “Alright, fair enough. What, is that an E-liter?”
“Not just an E-liter, my little inkfish. This is a Krillshot.”
Anh shot up. “What? You have a Krillshot?”
“Mmm, yes. She’s the... thirty-seventh one made, I think.”
“Oh wow, that’s...” The girl approached reverently, her eyes roving over the weapon. “That’s incredible...” She reached out--and stopped, flinching her hand back. “I’m sorry, I--”
Flow chuckled indulgently, extending her arms. “It’s alright. You can hold her.”
“I... oh... wow.” Anh took a delicate grip of the gun, making sure she held it firmly before she lifted it from the sea slug’s grasp. “I’m just... wow. Where... where did you even get her...?”
“I’m a lit-tle bit older than I look,” Flow admitted wryly. “I played street turf back before there was even a league, you know. Used to crawl up to the highest perch I could find and rain down burst bombs on our unsuspecting foes. And, well, when I heard somebody was making a long-range weapon, I went right to the shop and asked for one.” Her eyes grew distant. “That designer was one handsome squid... his tentacles flowed like rivers--”
“I’m sorry, I get this is a cool gun and all,” Yuu interjected, “but... why are we treating it like a holy relic?”
“This... this is an E-liter Krillshot,” Anh managed, staring at Yuu in shock. “This is, literally, the first charger ever made for street turf. For nonviolent turf war. I mean, the Krillshot lawsuit is what convinced the league to open the doors for custom weapons. I am...” Her eyes roved across the barrel. “I’m holding a piece of history here.”
“She’s a great performer,” Flow added. “I can splat somebody at thirty-five feet with her.”
Anh’s beak dropped open in shock. “What? But even the 4k scope only goes to twenty-eight!”
“Regulations,” Flow explained simply. “This girl predates the league by a nice, oh.... five weeks?”
“OLDIE BUT A GOODIE!” proclaimed the pale thing scuttling in from the back room.
“There you are, Craymond!” The sea slug held out her arm, taking the small bowls of ground petals as he crawled up onto her head.
“Sooooo....” Yuu smiled. “What would you say to, I don’t know, joining us three for a casual game of turf war on caturday?”
“Oh, sorry dear. I’ve got a business to run these days.” Flow took the bowls, opened the lids, and pressed them together, shaking their contents. “Can’t leave the shop during business hours and, unfortunately enough, that puts me out of the running for the turf these days. But I can give you this.”
She put the lids back on the bowls and held them out, one to Yuu and one to agent 8. Both took them, somewhat hesitantly.
“Essence. You put it over a candle and let the smell fill your room. Don’t try to burn it directly though,” Flow admonished, “keep it in the bowl. There’s a shop that sells little cradles in the Reef if you need them.”
“Ah.” Yuu nodded vaguely. “Okay then.”
“IT’S VERY RELAXING!” Craymond shouted.
“...sure thing lil’ guy.” Yuu put her bowl in her pocket. “Me and Hai there will... totally do that sometime. Yeah.”
“And if you ever want to talk about anything, my little inkfish, my doors are always open.”
“Riiiiiiight.” Yuu glanced at Anh. “So... should we get moving?”
“Huh? Oh!” Anh handed the gun back to Flow. “Right. Right, sorry, we’ve got to... Really sorry, didn’t mean to be a bother--”
“It’s alright, little inkfish, it’s a slow day. Just...” Flow glanced at the other two. “Look after them, will you?”
“Uh... sure thing.” Anh nodded, walking toward the door. “Good seeing you again!”
The three of them stepped out into Inkopolis Square. Yuu threw up her hands. “Well, that was a bust.”
“I mean... I heard she used to play, but I didn’t know she had a Krillshot.”
“We still need a fourth. And unless 8 here has some mysterious blot friend up her sleeve, that means we might have to scrounge for a rando.”
Agent 8 rolled her eyes. Then, for a moment, she paused.
"Of course I’ll join on!”
“What?” The squid turned to look at the objector. “Why not, girl? I’m as good as any of you young’ns, and it’s just a game anyway.”
“A game based on the war you fought more than a century ago!”
“Marie’s right, gramps.” A black-tentacled inkling put her hand on her hip with a flat look. “If you start getting war flashbacks in the middle of a game, things could get bad, fast. Also, let’s be honest: You’re old. Ancient. You have literally lived through history and shaped it a bit.”
“What Callie is saying is that you are in no state to exert yourself, gramps. I mean... look at you.” The grey-tentacled inkling gestured at him. “You’ve got scalloping on your face.”
“Listen, young ladies, I might be old, I’m a lot tougher than I look. I can take a full blast to the face without getting splatted, and soldiers of the Squidbeak Splatoon never let each other down.”
Marie crossed her arms, scowling down at the old inkling. “The answer is still no, gramps.”
“Hrmph.” The old squid leaned on his bamboozler as he shambled toward the hut. “You two never let me have any fun.”
“....So, that was captain Cuttlefish,” Yuu deadpanned. “Great idea, 8, I’m so impressed.”
“You asked if I knew anyone. I know him. And you and Anh... and Pearl and Marina, and that’s pretty much it.”
“This is not what I had in mind when I suggested a Squidbeak Splatoon gettogether,” Callie muttered.
“I didn’t plan for this either,” Anh pointed out. “Heck, this whole thing is Yuu’s crazy idea.”
“Hey, I just thought we could show off our skills in a socially acceptable way. I mean... come on. You’ve saved Inkopolis, I’ve saved Inkopolis, 8′s saved Inkopolis, and apparently, nobody cares? That’s just... wrong.”
“I didn’t save the city to get accolades,” Anh said flatly.
“I didn’t either! It’s just...” Yuu sighed. “That’s... besides the point. I don’t know, I just...”
“You decided to take up this challenge for your own ego, is that it?”
“If it were just for my own ego I wouldn’t have brought the two of you in!”
“Alright, enough!” Marie stepped between the inklings. “This was supposed to be a casual, friendly meetup. Just friends, relaxing. No need to get competitive about this.”
“Mmmm,” Callie mused, “I could bring up any number of splatfests...”
Marie rolled her eyes. “Takes one to know one. And besides, that was all for show.”
“Was it though?” Callie teased.
“...it was mostly for show,” Marie allowed. “My point is... we’re all friends.”
Yuu and Anh crossed their arms with a simultaneous huff, pointedly not looking at each other. Agent 8 gave Marie a flat, unamused look.
“...We’re all friends,” she repeated firmly. “Or we should be, anyway. So let’s just learn to get along. Alright?”
“Fine, whatever.” Yuu slumped against a wall. “What about you two? Either of you up for caturday?”
Callie sighed. “I would be, except I... I’m still trying to get over the, uh, thing with Octavio. Get my tentacles back under me after, you know, vanishing for a bit. What about you, Marie?”
Marie shrugged helplessly. “I’m actually scheduled to record a new song then...”
“Right.” Yuu began counting off on her fingers. “Ostap, Spyke, Anh’s strange sea slug friend, the captain, you two... that’s six. Pearl and Marina make seven and eight, if they’re not busy... and they probably will be, with Inkopolis news and all. Sheldon... way too busy with the NILS statue. I guess there’s Annie if I can even get a hold of her... and if she even cares to play...”
She looked at her opened hands and sighed.
“We could cancel,” Anh pointed out. “It’s just a game, I’m sure your old friends would understand.”
Yuu dropped her hands, focusing on her shoes quietly.
Anh opened her mouth, paused, and shut it. She turned to the Squid Sisters with a helpless expression, gesturing at the other inkling.
“... soldiers of the Squidbeak Splatoon never let each other down,” Callie murmured.
Marie gave her a long look. Then she sighed, turning back to the others. “This is just a casual game? You need a fourth, that’s it?”
“That’s it,” agent 8 confirmed.
“I... might know somebody,” Marie admitted. “A lot of free time on his tentacles, these days. Probably would love a chance to show off, but...”
“...Just... how desperate are you?”