Agents 1 and 4's training plan for Lily has her facing more than just an old foe... friend? of the Squidbeaks.
The sun was still low over the horizon as Lily and Lorne arrived in Octo Canyon, ready to begin their training. The air was cool was it brushed through the Hideout, and Lily shivered. She couldn't wait to get into that hoodie, and she set her backpack down, kneeling before it to retrieve the gear.
Lorne chuckled. "Hey, this'll be the first time you put the gear on, right? I'm excited for you!" With a grin, she rested a hand on Lily's shoulder as she carefully removed the headset, hoodie, boots and Hero Shot, staring at them in awe.
The gear was a gift from Callie. She had argued to her (in private) that Marie should have granted them to her at the beginning, but, hey, better late than never, right?
As she set the clothing down on the bench and begin to remove her civilian gear, Lorne started to move ahead of her. "Hey, where are you headed?" Lily called after her as she sat down next to the pile of gear and began untying her shoes.
"Prepping your training! Get the headset on - I'll ping you to go to Beaker's in a bit!" Agent 4 descended the ramp past the stone archway and was gone.
Lily watched her leave, then put her head down and quietly thought.
Twelve thousand years.
Twelve thousand years humans had been extinct.
Twelve thousand years, at least, that I've been gone.
It wasn't like she didn't know she was the last human - she had assumed that as soon as she'd stepped into Inkopolis for the first time. But it was the number that put things in perspective.
Twelve thousand years.
If it was something like three million years, it just wouldn't have the same impact. But most recorded human history had happened within a three thousand year period. These creatures had had plenty of time since human extinction to evolve themselves and their culture.
Maybe, she thought to herself, this is why it's important I grab this stuff.
It's not just about making sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands anymore.
This stuff needs to be preserved. My knowledge needs to be preserved.
She sighed, and pulled the Hero Headset from the neat pile of gear next to her. She examined it, watching the patterns of the pulsing earpieces, but thinking of home. Thinking of the friends she missed. Thinking of her previous life, almost a distant memory.
Lyrics from an old song formed in her mind. Without thinking, 'knowing' she was alone, she let the words come out:
| \"I could never find the right way to tell you | Have you noticed I've been gone? | Because I left behind the home that you made me | But I will carry i---\"
"Oy. Human. You right over there?"
Lily's eyes snapped up, glancing around frantically for the source of the voice. She pulled on the headset and grabbed the Hero Shot from the pile of gear and stood.
The voice had come from just to the left of her, in the formerly-empty space behind the grate back to the Square.
A mass of tentacles sat beneath a bulbous head with bulging eyes, making their owner look perpetually angry, even as they eyed her. Atop the creature's head was a very ornate, almost ceremonial headwear.
This creature sat in an octopus-sized snowglobe, taller than she was.
The two watched each other in silence. As Lily watched, Octavio shifted, 'sat up' in his globe, taking interest.
Lily slowly, cautiously approached the globe, weapon up. From inside the globe, he didn't seem to be able to touch her, despite its condition. "I'm fine. And just what makes you think I'm human? They're extinct. Or did you not get the memo?"
The octopus thing scoffed. Lily noticed she couldn't see the thing's mouth behind its 'moustache'. "Fine. 'Formerly human'. You match the description my scouts gave. 'Long hair, smaller frame, clueless'... About the only thing you're missing is 'buck naked'... unless you want to fix that for me?" Lily could just feel the guy's smirk.
"Fuck off." Lily turned and headed back to the bench to pull on the hoodie over her shirt. "I'm not having any of it right now."
She kicked off her Cream Basics, pulling the Hero Boots on carefully and ignoring the octopus in the globe as it watched her. The boots seemed... a bit much. Lily wasn't sure what to make of it. There was more shoe here than seemed necessary, or fashionable! Maybe the extra stuff was armor?
She made sure that the boots fit her carefully, then placed them neatly in her backpack. As she did, something clicked in her head about what the creature had said to her.
If these 'scouts' had said she was nude, then they had to have been the same ones that had attacked her at the Hideout when she was but a newly-turned, clueless Inkling.
And if that was the case, Callie had said at Agent 4's debriefing that they had been sent by...
Lily turned around, geared up, looking the part of an Agent. "So. You're the Octavio I've been hearing about. Been having fun in there?".
The octopus rolled his eyes at her. "Clearly. All alone, trapped in this confined space for days on end? I'm having the time of my life here. I'd have at least expected your friend to come and gloat. You both look quite alike, you know."
"We've been busy." Lily watched him carefully, noticing out of the corner of her eyes that her tentacles had shifted from its usual blue and had taken on an olive-ish tinge. Huh, I didn't realise it would do that... I guess it masks my identity a bit... "Nothing you should worry about."
"You can't get home, can you, human?" Octavio tutted, trying to contort his features into faking something approximating 'worried concern' and failing. "If only you had just let my scouts bring you to me, you'd be much happier. You wouldn't need to pretend to be someone else. Our scientists would be much closer to solving your conundrum."
"Who says I want to go back? Who says I am trying to be someone else?" Lily frowned, and checked the headset to make sure it was still on.
"I mean, really, who would willingly want to hide behind the facade of an Inkling of all things?"
"You say that like I have a choice in the matter."
"So you don't deny you're human?" Octavio's smirk had returned and taken on a smug quality.
Lily sighed. She knew he knew. "Formerly, to use your words. That was my previous life."
"I'm just saying, you could be more than you are, even now. I can tell you have so much untapped power within you. I could help you realise that potential, human." Octavio still had that sort of 'smirk' vibe about him, but his tone had become more serious.
"Funny. Thinking I have any sort of potential."
"So the confidence could use a touch-up too. Trust me," the octopus said to her, easing himself against the glass, eyes focused right on her. "Free me from this prison, and I will show you your true potential. I will guide you, and you will be a force to be reckoned with."
"Sorry, I never let out on the first date." She chuckled at her own dumb play on words, as a series of beeps played on the headset. "One sec," she said to Octavio as she keyed the mic button. "This is Agent 5, come in."
"Oh, don't be so formal!" Lorne's voice came in over the headset. "It's just you and me out here."
"And an octopus you never told me about," Lily added, eyeing him.
"Wha--- Oh! Did I not--- Gah, sorry, Lily... Yeah, that's DJ Octavio, we've been holding him since Callie and the Great Zapfish were rescued. I hope he's not been giving you too much grief..."
"Eh... He's trying to convince me to break him out. Keyword 'trying'."
"Heh, right... Well, anyway, your training is all setup here. Just had to calm your training partner, since Callie isn't here yet."
"Eh? Training partner?"
"Just get over here and I'll show you! Remember, Beaker's Depot, and then head for the boss kettle."
"Wait--- Your idea of training is putting me up against a---?!" She cut herself off, realising she probably shouldn't divulge too much to the guy just in front of her. "Are you crazy?"
"Don't worry, he won't be too rough on you. He agreed to that."
"I'm not convinced..."
"C'moooon. There's a kiss in it for you if you meet me there..."
Lily sighed. "Damn you... I'm on my way."
"Good girl. See you shortly." With a click, the voice of Agent 4 was gone.
Lily sighed, and laughed softly to herself. Oh, how things are changing quickly between us.. "Looks like I'm headed out," she said to Octavio. "I'll be seeing you around, 'DJ' Octavio."
"You'd better," Octavio grumbled, pretending to be upset. "It's so boring without company."
"Noted." She turned, and started to make her way toward the archway. Without looking, she waved at him with her free hand. "See you soon."
The kettle was in sight almost as soon as Lily had arrived.
First though, Lily had to cross Beaker's Depot. And unlike the Hideout and Lookout before it, the Depot was not one cohesive platform. It was a series of separated platforms of different shapes and lengths, and it was not immediately certain just how one would get from place to place.
A glowing bulb fixed onto the edge of the platform just ahead of her caught her attention. Curiously, Lily leaned down and tapped it. Nothing seemed to happen at first, but when she tried firing at it with her new Hero Shot, the bulb lit up completely and a... line of wire and ink? emerged from it, curving and twisting around a smaller platform.
She realised she would have to use this rail to get across, and sighed deeply.
Agent 5 stepped up to the edge carefully, biting her lip as she couldn't help but look past the inkrail at the potential drop if she couldn't hold her balance.
Looking just ahead, she noticed that the next platform was not too far away. She wasn't too sure if she could hold her balance around those turns, so perhaps a leap from the straight part of the rail would get her where she needed to go? Sure, it was still a little bit of a drop... She'd not have to worry about leaning into the turns...
"A...alright. Here goes..." She stepped up to the railing. Ink seemed to be propelled forward throughout the rail, so she supposed as long as she kept her balance, she wouldn't have to worry about her own momentum.
She took a deep breath, stepped up onto the bulb projecting the ink... and then did a tiny hop, and landed with both boots on the railing.
Agent 5 was immediately propelled forward under the power of the ink, and she nearly toppled over just from the unexpected force. She stuck her arms out to keep steady, but already the turn (and the point at which she'd have to leap off) was coming up fast.
She leapt from the rail just as it began to turn and fell toward the main platform, frightened and screaming, arms and legs wheeling about in the air.
She crashed onto the ground inelegantly, but who cared? She'd made it. She let herself lay there for a moment, then got onto her feet, and spent a moment to calm herself.
On the other side of the platform, she saw two more gaps between her and her destination.
This time, instead of a railing, a hovering bulb led the way. Once again, Five shot at it carefully, but this time, as the ink connected with the bulb, she found herself pulled toward it, and panicked. But as quickly as she had been pulled, the Grapplink had dropped her neatly beneath it, on the next platform, where Lily could already see another rail bulb.
The next obstacle she faced was the last, but was also the meanest. A long rail sped around and around the next platform, which Lily could see held the big kettle that the Hideout and Lookout had had.
Lily say for a while, thinking about how she could possibly get to that Kettle.
A part of her mind chimed in, see those two Grapplinks above the kettle platform?
She looked up. Indeed, there they were. One on the side to her left, and one on the right.
"Oh, hell..." Lily's face dropped. She was going to have to get on the rail, and fire at the Grapplink from the rail.
She took a few deep breaths and looked over the rail's path. The path acted like a rounded square, plenty of straight sections that curved around the platform. It also raised slightly, so that it could make another pass around the Boss kettle platform, before finally breaking away and returning to another part of the main platform.
OK, so, if I can at least keep my balance, if I can't get a shot on the grapple thing, I'll at least be put back on solid ground...
Lily stepped up to the beginning of the rail, nervous... Well, she wasn't going to even get to the training unless she tried. Surely Lorne knew this was simple, right...? She wouldn't put her through this if she didn't know Lily could get there?
Lily stepped onto the rail, and was immediately whisked along.
Once again she immediately focused on balancing herself, letting herself center herself on the gentle slope that led into the main portion of the rail. Just don't look down, she reminded herself.
She had made it to the first straight. Lily made sure her weapon was ready, but kept her focus on staying upright as she slid along the rails. The first Grapplink passed by her. That's okay, I'll come back to it...
The first turn nearly through her off completely, and she had to force herself to lean into the turn, briefly tipping herself forward into empty space as she hit the apex of the turn, and tipped back as she exited the turn. She frantically stabilised herself, glad she had at least made the first turn. She'd just have to do that a couple more times if she missed her shots...
She was already coming up to the next turn, and a shot at the next Grapplink. Briefly, before the turn, she tried to get her hands in front of her, holding her Hero Shot out. Leaning back slightly, it seemed like it might work...
But she leaned forward again as she was thrown into the next turn, and came back up ready.
Keeping as steady as she could, she aimed her Hero Shot up high, and fired a spray of ink above her, hoping that any of it would hit the Grapplink.
The first few shots didn't, and the force and pushback from the weapon was not something she had accounted for.
She began to tip backwards.
Thankfully, though, one shot of ink did make its mark, and with a flash, Lily was pulled forward, from the railing.
Lily dropped onto solid ground, and she collapsed onto her knees, shaking.
She'd made it.
She crawled slowly up to the boss kettle's grate, looking inside. No way to see what awaited her.
With a sigh, and a hope that Lorne and whoever was her training partner would go easy on her, she transformed and let herself fall inside.
"Hey, you made it!" Lorne called from the center of the arena as she arrived. "Holster your weapons and come on over, Five!"
She was standing with an absolutely massive... sentient box, as far as Lily could tell. Its comical face was contorted in a kind of worry as Lily had arrived.
Four grinned and waved at Lily after she had super-jumped into the arena. As Lily walked up to it cautiously, she nonchalantly noted, "Five, Octostomp here will be your training buddy."
"W-what?!" Lily looked positively mortified. She stared up at the giant face of 'Octostomp' and bit her lip. She had a fairly good idea of why it might have been called that... "How'd you organise this?!"
"Well, I couldn't have done it without Callie, actually. She came up with the idea. Turns out these guys still really like her. Now, don't worry. He's gonna play as nice as he can! Callie and I have made sure of it."
"...Are you kidding?"
"Trust me, Lily. Basically, when you're ready, he'll rush at you and try to squish you. Oh, don't fret!" She noticed the look on Lily's face at the word 'squish'. \"He won't actually. I wouldn't let him. That's why there's a bit less panelling on his front than normal. Anyway, if you can get out of the way, that's when you can climb his sides and get on top!
"Now, if you were against someone who *really* wanted to do you in, each of the creatures in these boss kettles are controlled by a main tentacle. You'd bust that a few times, and they'd go down. For your training, instead since Stompy's in on this and we're gonna play nice with him too, I want you to... hmm. Oh, I know! When you get up there, give the tentacle a big ol' hug!"
"Is... is he down for that?" Lily glanced up at the big guy's face, and he seemed to be smiling widely. "I think he might be?"
"Yeah he's down!" Lorne chuckled. "In fact, why don't you hug him right now? You've climbed walls with your ink before, right? Just climb up on his back!"
"Stand back, Five." Lorne backed away, standing clear of Octostomp, and Lily did the same, her eyes flicking back and forth between the giant octo machine and her fellow Agent.
Once the girls were a safe distance, Agent 4 called over, "Alright, Stompy! I hope you trust us! Lily's gonna come up and give you a hug, alright?"
Octostomp watched her carefully, and his eyes examined the ground in front of him.
Then he closed his eyes, and after a few long seconds, his massive body began to tip forward.
The noise he made when his metal front panelling slammed against the concrete platform was immense close-up. Lily cursed loudly and jumped back further, not expecting it.
"Alright, Lily!" Four called. "I mean, Five! Oh, whatever. Ink up the side of him and get on his back and go give him that hug!"
Lily nodded nervously. She ran around to Octostomp's side, seeing all his panelling was intact, and carefully used her Hero Shot to create a path straight up his side. She leapt into it, changing as she did, and swam up through it in her squid form, quickly arriving atop his back.
Lily stepped carefully, wondering if the creature knew she was up here, wondering if he could feel her. She quickly saw the tentacle that Lorne had mentioned - it was the only feature on his otherwise featureless back. It was large, its suction cups along its outside. It wriggled slowly, knowing it was defenseless. Wow, he must really trust those two a lot to even let me do this...
She slowly approached the tentacle, slightly in awe of its size.
And carefully, slowly, she placed her hand upon it.
She felt it freeze and tense up. She gave it a few seconds to adjust to her presence, waiting to see if it would try to do anything to her.
But it didn't. Feeling a little safer, she rubbed her hand along the tentacle, the texture new and strange to her. After a few seconds, she'd finally worked up the courage and leaned in, hugging herself against the tentacle, wrapping her arms around it and squeezing gently. "'Salright, big guy. I won't hurt you," she said quietly. Then she called out to Four, "I'm OK! I made it!"
"Good going, Five!" Lorne shouted back happily, and as Lily let go to descend, she felt a rumble beneath her as Octostomp prepared to get back up.
She wasn't quite prepared for how nimble he'd be though. As soon as she'd jumped down from his chassis, the Octo boss almost bounced up into the air, landing gracefully on his small two legs. He'd left a imprint of maroon ink on the ground, with little cutouts for his face and the cutouts in his front panelling.
"Tell you what," Lily said with a smile to the two of them. "Hugging something that big felt pretty good. Glad I got that out of my system."
"You did good." Lorne smiled at her. "But now the training begins. So, here's what you'll do - he'll be trying to rush you, as we mentioned before. Evade those as best as you can for a while and then, if he slams down, climb up and get the hug on 'im! And then every time you do, he'll---"
Lorne was cut off by a loud, powerful roar from Octostomp. Under its power, the ink that had already been laid down lifted off the various surfaces and dissipated.
This didn't stop Lily from tensing and bracing herself, as if the beast was about to rush and eat her alive.
"...he'll do that." Lorne chuckled, and turned to Lily. "So, when you're ready, give us some sorta signal, and we'll get you going and watch over you two to make sure all is well!"
"Uh... alright." With a bow toward the Octo box, Lily slowly made her way toward one side of the arena, and Lorne watched 'Stompy' made their way to the opposite, then super-jumped her way back to the platform that they had entered the area on. She was safe.
Once Lily had reached the other side of the boss platform, she checked the ink levels on her Hero Shot, and fired once, just giving herself an area to top up and mark where she had started. Then she stood tall and, after doing some quick stretches, held the weapon in front of her, ready to move, watching her opponent carefully.
Four's voice came in over Lily's headset. "Alright Lily, you ready to go?"
"I...I guess so... I'm still not sure about this."
"Don't worry, you'll learn the same way I did. At the sound of my whistle, that's your cue to start moving, alright?"
Lily didn't get a chance to respond - because Four's whistle went off immediately after she finished speaking, and ahead of her, the massive Octostomp leapt into action, putting on his 'game face' and only giving her a few seconds to prepare before he launched into a charge, grinding the corner of his frame against the ground right at her.
Lily briefly froze. The arena was a decent size, but again, the scale of that thing charging at her... For a moment she was simply a deer in the headlights.
But then Lorne's voice called in her ear, "Lily, move!!" and she unfroze, her human self-preservation kicked in, and she sprinted and dove off to the left, two seconds before she watched Octostomp's metal frame grind to a halt a few meters past where she was just a few moments ago.
...Holy shit, her human mind told her, breathing heavily as she stared at the spot where she would have been crushed. I'm going to die doing this.
She took a deep breath. Then, lifting her Hero Shot up and getting back on her feet, Lily began inking a path forward, around the beast. She keyed her mic between shots. "Sorry, I froze up! Friendly or not, that guy's fuckin' terrifying to face!"
"Just keep moving, and remember to use your ink! Remember, you move faster swimming in it!"
"Got... got it."
Stompy was already up again and turning to see where Lily had gone. Lily leapt for the ink trail she'd made, transforming, and swam around, trying to keep him from getting a lock on her until she was ready.
She came up near the other side of the platform, breathing hard. She knew she was going to have to get him to attack again. She reminded herself, just get out of the way when/if he charges, and then I can ink my way up his side. "Hey!" She shouted at her, waving. "Come at me!"
He didn't charge in quite the same way, though. He actually ran at her on his short little legs til he was about half-way to her, and then, when he was almost there, to Lily's surprise, he stopped, bend down just a bit, then launched up into the air.
Lily saw quickly, despite parts in the front panelling missing, that she was about to be crushed if she didn't get out of the way. She quickly kept moving, launching herself into her ink and swimming as fast as she was able.
If the noise Octostomp made when he simply tipped over was immense, the noise and force of at least tens of tons of metal and Octo crashing down almost right on top of her damn near blew her away.
Agent 5 was lifted from her ink by the rush of air, disoriented and ears ringing. She barely heard Agent 4's voice in her ear, cheering her on. "Great! Now get up there!"
Stumbling, she turned to face the Octo boss again, to see that this time he couldn't get up so easily - or wasn't getting up easily. This was supposed to be 'training', after all - maybe he was giving her a break? Either way, she saw the path up Stompy's side was clear, and she rushed at it, firing her weapon in a straight line up him, and flung herself into the ink and swam up.
She clambered onto the 'top', his back, his tentacle exposed and vulnerable. Whew, just a bit further...
"Remember, Five - hugs!"
Five glanced over to where Agent 4 was, off in the distance, and nodded.
Then, before Octostomp got any ideas about getting up and throwing her off, she sprinted across his back and flung herself at the tentacle. She caught it in a tackle-hug, wrapping her limbs around it as best she could.
Once again, the tentacle froze. Lily, once she was catching her breath and realising she'd 'made it', considered he probably didn't expect her to hug him quite that roughly. She let herself just cling to it for a moment, letting the adrenaline wear off, letting the fear of death fade.
She realised, once more of her critical thinking had returned, that she would have respawned if she had been crushed or ground up. And she would have bet that no squid (or Octo, she reminded herself) would have had the same instinct, the same feeling that they only had one 'life'.
Agent 5 finally let go of Octostomp's tentacle and let herself fall onto his back, taking deep breaths. Slowly, she reached for her transmit button as she saw the tentacle curl down toward her, and gently caress her body in ...appreciation?, causing her to tense regardless. "Agent 4... I know you and Callie mean well. And even this guy," she added as she pet the tip of the tentacle brushing her. "But I had some strong human self-preservation stuff kick in with all that. Making me feel like I was gonna die and stuff..."
Agent 4 was silent for a few seconds. Then she replied, "You did well for your first time, Lily. I'm sorry that we put you through that..."
"No, I... I mean I'm committed to this work. This training is... a good idea. It's just gonna be a while before I can... before I can break those human habits. Before I don't have to remind myself that I'm just more resilient than I used to be." She sighed. "As I said... old habits will die hard, Four. But thank you. And you, 'Stompy'," she said as she finally got up, giving the tentacle another pat before she jumped down from his body, letting him get back up. "I'm glad we could do this in a controlled environment at least..."
"Yeah... same here. That's why I'm so glad Callie managed to organise this."
"You're welcome!" A new voice called in over both their headsets. "Five, don't worry. You know we'll all be here to support you."
"Heh... thanks, Callie. Welcome to the party. Where are you?" She looked about the place as Stompy launched back onto his feet, and then gently followed her over to the side of the arena where Agent 4 was Super Jumping over to.
"Back at the Hideout! Me and Marie just got in."
"Morning, girls," Marie's voice joined the party. "You done with your training? Sheldon tells us you had an encounter on the way in, and I'd like to talk about that."
"Ehh, we could be for now I guess," Agent 4 responded. "Lily only got one point in, but she seems shaken enough that it's probably a good idea to stop it there, and maybe go again another time." Taking her finger off the transmit, she asked Lily and Octostomp, "You guys are OK with that, right?"
"Yeah, I'm happy with that," Lily nodded. Turning her head to the massive box beside her, she smiled. "We mightn't have gotten to know each other too well, but that was a good session. Thanks for not doing me in." She patted his frame, yet again, in appreciation.
"Cool, then we'll see you up here soon, then!" Callie said cheerfully over the radio. "One and Two, out!"
"Five out." Lily moved her hand away from the headset, and sighed. "And this stuff just becomes normal eventually?"
Lorne made a sort of 'ehh' gesture with her hand. "It's not so much that it becomes normal, but you sorta... adjust. I mean, by the time I took on this guy myself, I was kinda used to the job. Apparently he's also fought against Agent 3. I suppose in a way, it makes sense to have him face you as well." She chuckled softly, and gestured back to the platform that would contain their way out. "Well, shall we get going, then?"
"I guess so." Lily turned to Octostomp, and bowed respectfully. "It's been a pleasure. I hope to train against you again soon." It was mostly a lie, Lily knew, but she wanted to be nice.
Octostomp bent his legs, and his structure tipped forward slightly as a kind-of bow in response.
Then both girls Super Jumped toward the platform, waved at him from there, then took the Launchpad home, speeding off toward the surface.