Chaos v. Order is announced, and Lily celebrates her one-year anniversary in Inkopolis.
"Look, I'm not saying nothing should ever change... I just want to protect the balance I've found in my life."
As the crowd of people watched in Inkopolis Square, and many more tuned in over the radio or on TV, Pearl and Marina were getting themselves worked up over the topic of the Splatfest they were in the middle of announcing.
Two+ years of being on the air, of the continued success of Off the Hook, of being the representatives for this Splatfest season, was culminating in this coming month.
And boy, this one was a doozy. 'What kind of world do you wanna live in', indeed.
Marina took a deep breath, and uncovered her face. The discussion had brought up a few sensitive memories, and she had needed a few moments to collect her thoughts. "Don't... don't you think it's important to create a place where we can all feel safe and secure?" she asked her cohost, with a hint of concern.
"Not if it means living in a world where everything is predictable," was Pearl's immediate response. Pearl had a point, but it seemed more than any other Splatfest that the hosts were talking past each other. Not that most of the kids playing Turf War minded - they loved the drama that came with Splatfests.
"I mean, look," Pearl continued, adjusting herself in her seat. "I'm not saying I wanna watch the world burn. I just want it to change. Daily," she threw in as a hasty addition. "I wanna go skydiving one day, walk away from explosions the next, and chill at home in my jammies the next."
"Pearl, you can already do those things. Today."
"Heck no I can't!" Pearl spat. "It's always 'work' this, 'meeting' that! 'Social taboos'!" She had no idea where she actually wanted to go with this, knowing she was still beholden to the people that kept them on the air. "I just wanna do something new, every single day. Make something new, eat something new! Anything less is boring!"
Marina's eyes went wide, and she seemed to have been hurt by her words. "Sure but... 'make something new'? That could lead to Off the Hook breaking up!"
"Oh my cod! Are you squidding me right now?!" Pearl pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing deeply, taking a deep breath. Pulling out her phone to make sure she was thinking of the right article, she stated, "I'm so done with this. I hereby... (yep, okay) ...invoke Article 4 of Splatfest Law."
Marina's mouth dropped. Her hands snapped up to cover it.
"That means," Pearl continued with a smirk, "the losing side has to accept the world the winning side wants."
"...you wouldn't," Marina breathed.
It took a few seconds for Marina to parse what Pearl had just pulled.
She'd noticed Pearl checking her phone, and realised her cohost had been thinking about this for a while, since they had both known about the upcoming Splatfest topic for a just under three days, prior to announcing it today.
Where Marina had had her own thoughts about how to interpret 'order', it seemed to her that Pearl's idea of chaos was to literally change everything.
And that frightened her.
"...But..." Marina finally stuttered. "If... if your side wins, what's going to happen to Inkopolis?"
Pearl, incredibly, shrugged at her, making a vague "i'unno" noise. "I'll figure it out during the Splatfest."
She hadn't even thought about it yet?!
"And this last Splatfest is gonna be three whole days, so you'd better think about it too, 'Rina."
Marina let out a sharp exhale, turning away from Pearl, the camera and the teleprompters for a few moments. "Hoooo....boy..."
This had gotten real.
The octoling thought back to when she had first met Pearl, up on Mount Nantai all those years ago. Exiled by her former band, she had gone up to scream and vent her frustrations at the world. Marina, newly-escaped, could hear her powerful voice from miles away.
And throughout their working relationship, she had seen plenty of instances of Pearl wanting to 'burn it all to the ground' when things seemed particularly unfair.
And now the Splatfest shrine wanted to give her the reins to the city.
She loved Pearl, but she was certain that not a lot of people would enjoy Pearl's idea of 'chaos'... This couldn't stand.
...Well, I suppose that if I won, I could tweak things here and there in my favour...
But man... why put this in our laps, Splatfest shrine...?!
Marina took deep breaths, thinking hard.
"...OK." She slowly turned back. "I... guess then that I'm gonna have to start designing my perfect world."
"You get on that," Pearl nodded, still smirking. "We've got four weeks to prepare. And not just our plans for Inkopolis," she added, the smirk becoming a teasing grin. "Like some special gear?"
"...Oh! Right, um, yes!" Marina had managed to forget for just a moment that there was other stuff going on for this fest finale. "We are collaborating with two different labels to bring everyone some exclusive gear just for this Splatfest!"
"And Marina's handing me the reins for her final Shifty Station," Pearl grinned. "Everything aside, we're gonna bring y'all the best Shifty we can. Worthy of the finale."
"Oh! AND," Marina squealed, starting to get excited again. "we'll be bringing you all a very special Splatfest show, all three nights! We're gonna send off this season with a bang!"
"That's the spirit!" Pearl smiled. "We'll bring you more details closer to the big event, so all of you, go vote for your side, and next month, fi... play like the world depends on it!"
"...I can't believe you just did that."
"Wouldn't have had to if you had stopped taking it all so seriously."
"Pearl, you had it on your phone!"
Pearl and Marina, after the show, were bickering in the studio. Passersby glanced in through the windows with varying amounts of concern and excitement as Marina paced about the studio floor, having relapsed into anxiety while Pearl watched with some amusement from her chair.
"Well yeah, had to make sure I was thinking of the right law," the inkling said casually as her partner anxiously passed by her for the nth time. "Again, you're taking this way too seriously."
"You're not taking it seriously enough!" Marina gasped at her. "Splatfest isn't the time to enforce your anarchic anti-capitalist fantasies upon everyone!"
"It's not any of that! Besides, they'd tear me apart in an anti-capitalist society anyway cuz I'm still rich." Pearl shrugged. "Ya need to chill, 'Rina. We'll figure out what we want."
"But think about it!" Marina stopped and turned to face her, distressed. "The world might fall apart! We might fall apart!"
"...Why, though?" Pearl raised an eyebrow.
"Well what about Off the Hook?!"
"What about Off the Hook?" She tilted her head quizically.
Marina stared at her for a few moments. "Ugh! Nevermind..." She strode from the room. "I need a drink."
"Don't go too far!" Pearl called after her. "We've got that thing to go to, remember?"
Pearl wasn't sure if she'd heard. She sighed and flopped back in her chair. It was hard to calm Marina when she was like this. Sometimes it felt like she would get an idea out of thin air and run with it - like the many times she had had to try to convince Marina that, yes, Inkopolis still loved her, and no, everyone had not suddenly learned what Octolings were.
And Pearl appreciated that Marina was on Team Order because she didn't want to lose what she'd earned. But that was Pearl's point - if she didn't leave that bubble, even a little bit, she'd miss out on tons of unique experiences! She'd miss out on opportunities to reimagine herself, redefine who she was!
She freely admitted to herself that she had a bone to pick about her own past, though.
Sometimes she regretted her upbringing. It was only because she wanted to connect more with the people of Inkopolis than with the rich socialites and CEOs of Inkopolis that she had had her rebellious punk phase.
That phase had led to her exile from her former band, and the discovery of what she had heard called 'the voice to end all voices'.
That said she was amazed that her parents still did a lot to support her, even if sometimes it was simply financial support.
And they had supported her when she started Off the Hook with Marina, moreso than she had expected. Maybe they were just glad to see her become less of a punk and - well, more of a 'princess'.
They'd done this gig for a good while, and it had been wonderful, performing around Inkopolis in all the different clubs and stadiums and arenas. To Pearl, she just... felt it was time for a fresh change of pace.
And if she could help creativity bloom in Inkopolis at the same time, all the better.
Oof... Maybe I wouldn't wanna do anything too rash though. Don't wanna hurt my family after everything they've done for me.
That was gonna take some thinking.
The Inkopolis Botanical Gardens, for which the Inkopolis Gardens suburb is named, is a large park in a less dense part of the city in which all sorts of marine life can walk amongst nature.
Paths through the gardens gently wound around its many plants and flowers, and there were plenty of benches for walkers to rest, if they didn't want to sit on the grass, under one of the many trees that grew throughout the area.
The canopies cast much of the park in soft shadows, and as two particular inklings travelled down the paths, one of them thought to themselves how nice it was not to have the sun shining directly on them for a while.
Lily Sunden and Lorne Wye would have been together for a year in just two weeks' time, and this walk through the Gardens was partially to relax and chat about what they wanted to do for their anniversary.
Plus, there was a spot in the park that Lorne thought Lily would enjoy, and so - even if to Lily the reasoning felt suss - the former was leading them as they talked.
"I was kinda thinking, why don't we go to a later movie showing and have a fancy dinner before? There's that restaurant in Central the girls recommended."
Lily glanced over at her partner, thinking. "A night screening sounds like a fun idea, I've only been to one of those before. What kinda food do they serve at that place again?"
"Nuh uh, Lily." Lorne shook her head disapprovingly. "We're not doing this. I'm sure you can actually eat the stuff they'll serve there."
"But what if I don't end up liking it? I'll look like an ass if I just send it back or just pick at it!"
"You literally won't, Lily. Besides, you've got my tastes, and I don't have a problem with a lot of what's on their menu."
"...Mmm." Lily bit her lip. She tried to come up with a rebuttal, but she couldn't think of one, so she simply nodded.
She supposed she couldn't fight that.
Though Lily had recently cut her hair down to a more manageable length, and the two girls had different tastes in clothing, she started her new life as almost a clone of Lorne physically - transformed via submersion in her ink. She gradually made her own look over the course of the past year, but the most drastic change so far had been with the birth of 'DJ Neu Wave', a persona of hers. With it she'd changed her public look quite drastically.
On the inside she was still the same person she'd always been - shy, quiet, slightly obsessive. Few saw the moments when she lashed out - when she lost control of her emotions.
And only a select few knew that Lily wasn't born an inkling at all.
She had spent most of her life as a human, hailing from a time where humans flourished on Earth.
But she had started to distance herself from that life and embrace marine society, especially in the past six months. Now, she barely considered herself ex-human at all.
But elements of her old life still seeped through, such as her love of nature, which had led to today's walk.
"Hey," Lorne said, waving her hand in front of Lily's face. "Y'alright in there, hun?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry." The other inkling shook the thoughts from her head. "Just sorta thinking back on everything. This park is lovely, I can't believe we've never been down this way before."
"I've been a few times," Lorne replied, smiling. "I mean, not since you arrived, but I know where the best spots are."
"Follow me," she said, and took off down the left split of a fork in the path, headed toward a hedged area. Lily matched her pace.
"Okaaay," Lily acquiesced and stepped up to a jog. "I'm like, certain you have some ulterior motive now though. We've never been to this park before!"
"Chill, Lil'!" Lorne smiled back at her. "I just want to show you the thing. It's a real nice park, really!"
Lorne led Lily down the path for another minute, through a hedged sculpture and what seemed like a series of mazes happening around the park. She finally stopped when the path led up a slight rise in the terrain and a single locked gate blocked off one such hedgeway. This seemed to be a private space and a sign on the gate itself stated that penalties would be enforced for any trespassers. Anyone with the right key could get in, but they didn't have it, of course.
"Juuust gotta get in here..." Lorne examined the gate door closely - it was corrugated metal, with not much in the way of footholds to climb. The square poles that the door connected to, though... Lorne felt that perhaps she could use those to get up and over. That said... "OK, I have an idea. Lily, get up here, give me a lift."
"Lorne, what are you doing?" Lily asked with a raised eyebrow as she walked up to the gate.
"It's fine. C'mon." Lily reluctantly lowered herself onto her knees, and felt Lorne's weight as the inkling climbed up onto her shoulders. As she stood back up, Lorne also began to stand, and Lily glanced up as her partner was able to easily climb up and over the gate, leaving Lily on the other side.
Moments later, the gate opened on the other side, and Lorne was there. "Told you. Come on, Lil', it's just ahead."
Past the gate, more hedges lined a short winding path into the main area of the garden, where--
Lily squeaked, almost jumping out of her skin at the sudden noise as she and Lorne were suddenly greeted by a group of their friends.
Not just any old friends, though.
These people were the New Squidbeak Splatoon, of which they were a part.
They were all here, gathered and seated on the grass around a picnic rug.
Cap'n Craig Cuttlefish, the Splatoon's leader, smiled warmly up at the girls, next to a portable stereo and a few bags and boxes.
Callie and Marie Calamari - Agents 1 and 2, as well as the Squid Sisters - waved up at them, having been in the middle of talking with...
...Remo Redd - Agent 3 - who stood and nodded at them with a smile...
...and Agent Eight - er, Agent 8 - who approached them with a grin, embracing Lily and Lorne. "Happy anniversary, Lily," he said softly.
"Eh?" Lily blushed and glanced at Lorne as Eight hugged them. "A bit early, but uh, wow, hey guys, thank you..."
Marie shook her head with a chuckle. "It's been a year now since you arrived in Inkopolis, Lily."
"That's right!" Craig called, raising a bottle of what seemed like apple cider. "And why not have an overdue get-together to celebrate one of our Agents?"
"What? You guys kept track of that?" Lily blushed deeply, and turned to Lorne. "You knew, didn't you?"
"'Course." Lorne giggled, and hugged her as well. "We wouldn't forget such an important event, are you kidding?" With a smirk, she nudged her along into the group.
"But what about the key?? Are we supposed to be here...?"
Lorne, in response, grinned and produced the key from her pocket. "Yeah, Callie booked the place for a few hours. And I had to play the part, y'know."
"Hah. Well... you got me. T-thanks everyone..." Lily smiled, her face lighting up, as she took a seat with her friends around the picnic rug, next to Craig. The two shared a gentle fist-bump.
"How've ya been, kiddo?" Craig asked her as Lorne took her seat and began to talk with the others. He was wearing the green outfit he used to wear back in his time in the Deepsea Metro. "What's it been, a few months since I last got to hang out with you?"
"Something like that. Time flies, dunnit?" Lily replied back with a smile. "I haven't been too bad. Having a lot of fun with the shows I've been doing lately. Oh, would you please, Cap?" She took one of the paper cups that Marie was offering to the group.
"Of course." Craig opened the bottle of cider, smiling as he filled Lily's drink with the frothy liquid, then poured some into his own cup. "Would you, Callie, dear?" He held the open bottle toward his granddaughter.
"Sure, Gramps!" Callie took it and began to fill hers and the others' cups. "When're we gonna give her the stuff?!"
"Chill, cous'." Marie glanced over at Lily with a smirk. "Yeah, we got together to pick something out for you. I think Eight and Remo got you something too."
Remo nodded, glancing over at Eight and smiling warmly.
"We'll get to it," Craig smiled at them, nodding. "We're just waiting on someone."
"Ah, alright... Man, you guys didn't need to get me anything." Lily blushed and covered her mouth.
"Shhhh, course we did," Marie smirked. "We're basically family!"
"You three are family!" Lily grinned.
"Yeah, and we look after the four of you, so. Far as I'm concerned, we're all family. So nyeh." Marie poked her tongue out toward Lily, and before Lily could come up with a response, the conversation had already moved on.
As the group began to talk with each other and settle in, catching up with each other with everything that they had been doing over the past few months, Lily relaxed and drank with the others.
After talking more with Craig about what they had both been up to, trading stories, he began to talk with Lorne and Marie and Lily walked over to join Eight and Remo, who had gotten together about two months ago.
The two were an interesting combination, and she had thought when they had first hooked up that Eight would be too much for the inkling boy. After all, Remo had traded most of the time he would have spent exploring relationships and his sexuality to become Agent 3 and defend Inkopolis (and the Metro) with Craig - and as a result was shy and slightly timid in a relationship setting, which Lily found amusing in comparison to Eight, who as she discovered came from a more sexually casual society. Eight, however, had taken it in stride, and was gentle and caring with his partner, at least around Lily - not forcing Remo into even something as little as holding hands if he sensed the inkling felt uncomfortable.
Eight also happily chatted about his time in an all-octoling Tower Control team, and how they were practicing and climbing the ranks. Like Lorne and her Splat Zone squad - the West Inkopolis Warriors - he had gotten into ranked battle and was happily sticking with it. It seemed the skills he and his teammates had honed underground, and his own time in the Deepsea Metro - a nightmare he regardless wished he could undo - made them a challenge for anyone who opposed them.
Callie and Marie's new album as the Squid Sisters was going well, as they told it, if slow-going. It was a choice they had made after the events of last year - a recommitment to each other, and a decision to diversify, even if a little, from their iconic S-Pop style. As part of the production they had chosen to include two choice songs from their solo albums, and record a new song incorporating them both - Marie had told Lily that they had performed it quite accidentally last year in Octo Valley, and had decided to persue the idea further.
They weren't sure when the album would be done, though their producers were trying to push things along - but felt that they were close to a stopping point and hoped that the agents would give it a listen.
And as for Craig... though he dabbled in rap in his spare time, and had hung out with Off the Hook on occasion and chatted (and rapped) with them when they weren't touring, nothing really stopped his vigilance for the New Squidbeak Splatoon. A lot of that time was now spent in Inkopolis, keeping an ear out for gossip or rumors.
But for the time being, there seemed nothing to report. It had been the case for a few short months.
And that in itself was cause for celebration.
A few heads turned as two more girls approached the group from the gate - Pearl and Marina, as it turned out. Both of them were still in their iconic clothing from doing the news.
"Hi, everyone!" Marina gave a little wave as they both sat down with the group. "Morning, Lily! Happy anniversary! You doing well?"
"Good, thank you! Yourself?" Lily gestured for the cider bottle, and poured two more cups for the girls.
"Uhh - yeah I'm fine!" Marina nervously chuckled. "Just, y'know, Splatfest announcement day, things got a little heated..."
"Yeah, you guys see the news this morning?" Pearl took the cup that Lily offered and took a swig.
Lily shook her head. "No, sorry. I missed the morning bulletin walking out here with Lorne."
"We did!" Eight grinned up at them, and wrapped an arm around Remo's shoulder. "You two doing okay?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah we're fine, Eight. Thanks. It's all a show and all, hahah..." Marina's face was telling a slightly different story, though.
With Off the Hook joining them, Marie and Craig felt ready to give Lily's gifts, and begin the picnic in earnest. As the group unpacked the food from the various bags, Marie gestured toward Callie, who grinned excitedly and slid over a short but large box to Lily. "So, I know you told us not to go overboard, but blame our folks back home for most of this."
Callie, Marie and Craig watched intently as Lily lifted the lid on the box, greeted with a carefully folded and pressed sky-blue apron, matching Lily's ink color. On top of the apron sat a woven headband and wooden sandals. "What is this...?" Lily asked as she lifted out the headband and sandals. It seemed obvious to her that whoever had prepared it had taken proper care to maintain and present it. "It looks like an outfit of some kind..."
"It sure is!" Callie grinned. "This is a traditional garb that inkling cultures wore back in the day."
"Or still wear, for large ceremonies," added Craig, with a warm smile. "The folks of Calimari County still involve these old-fashioned outfits for their celebrations."
"Right... Wow." Lily was in awe as she carefully lifted the apron out, to find a traditional shirt underneath. The shirt was folded such that its black hem was prominent. "So which part of this is your parents' doing?"
"To be honest, pretty much all of it." Marie chuckled. "We told them you were interested in 'lifestyles outside Inkopolis', and asked if they would have a shirt made. They sent back, well... all of this."
"That's... wow, that's incredible. I'm gonna have to find some time to try this on. Thank you so much..." Lily smiled widely, and leaned over to hug the three of them, one at a time. "I promise I'll take good care of this."
"I'm sure you will," Craig nodded, smiling.
"Hey, We got something for ya too!" Remo smiled as Lily carefully put the traditional outfit back into the box. He grinned at her as she handed her a much smaller box, inside which sat a fishing lure, with pink, yellow and sky-blue feathers. "I know it's probably not much to you," Remo commented, "but when you asked us to get you something 'uniquely Inkling', this was one of the first ideas we had. The idea is, if I may demonstrate..."
He paused as she took the lure and hooked it into the belt of Eight's jeans. "So, the idea is that you would display it if you wanted to attract a mate. But, y'know, you've got Lorne 'n' all, and..."
"I feel like you knew about the colors. What they mean." Lily gestured at the colors of each feather.
"Yeahhh, Eight suggested it."
"Well, he's right on the money." She grinned and plucked the lure from Eight's pants, and tucked it into her own. "That's so cool! Thanks, guys!"
"Hey, what? You two gave her a lure?" Lorne had glanced over and seen the feathers hanging off of Lily's hip. "Whose idea was that?"
"It's a cultural gift, relax!" Eight chuckled. "I promise I'm not into her, Four. Although...~"
Lily's face went red, which was immediately followed by hearty laughter from Eight as she handed the lure to Lily. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding! Enjoy it, Lily!"
"I-I will, thanks..." Lily mumbled, still blushing.
After that, everyone sat down to eat. The gathering was relaxed as everyone shared stories, and there was a general feeling of excitement in the air as everyone hung out with each other as one group, something they had not done in months.
At one stage, after the meal, Callie was so eager to see Lily wear the traditional clothing that she convinced the other to head behind one of the hedges and change clothes - Callie assisting her in putting it on, helping her to wear it correctly as a matter of family pride.
When the two emerged a few minutes later, the inkling blushing hard but smiling and wearing the outfit well thanks to Callie, the others gathered cheered her on, and after Craig and the Calamari Cousins had had their photo taken to send back home, the rest of the gathering piled in for a big reunion photo to comemmorate the event. It was a photo full of smiles, none wider than Lily, who was thrilled to have been surprised for such an occasion - she hadn't even thought much about her arrival date being anything to celebrate, even if it had changed her life, like anyone else gathered today.
As the gathering started to lull, and everyone was stood and chatting in little pockets, Pearl and Marina arpproached her and Lorne as they chatted about the morning's surprises and their plans for the rest of the day. "Yo, Lily!" Pearl called out. "Pretty good morning, huh?"
"Yeah!" Lily smiled up at them. "Thanks for coming out!"
"Yeah, thanks for showing up, girls," Lorne smiled.
"No worries at all, thank you for having us." Marina smiled, leaning her head forward in a slight bow. "Sorry we didn't bring you anything."
"Psshhh, it's fine! I'm just happy to have everyone here." Lily bowed her head as well.
"Of course!" Pearl grinned and leaned in. "But, hey, while we were here, we wanted to talk to you about some idea we had."
Pearl and Marina glanced around despite themselves, and inched closer to the girls. Lily and Lorne inched closer so that the four formed a circle.
In a conspiratorial whisper, Pearl began, "Well, we have an idea for something we want to do for Splatfest..."