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Chapter 58: Skull Castle
Chapter 58: Skull Castle
Stinging bits of ice torn up from the landscape bit Link in the face. The snow speeder was doing a good job of propelling them through the icy desert, but Link was the only one suffering through this bumpy ride. Robots didn't feel anything, so they probably weren't experiencing this. No thermal shield this time either, but he didn't really need one. They had provided him with a very warm parka, colored in light blue with furry trim around the hood, and big goggles that made everything seem orange. Plus he was sandwiched in between Mega Man and Roll, with the male driving through the light storm.
The speeder took a sharp bump over a snow drift, hurting Link's posterior. No one had said anything so far, not just because of the incommunicable wind, but they were so focused on their task, it was the only thing in their minds. There was only one thing to do now, only one thing they could do: stop Wily.
Mega Man took the speeder up an incline of snow, and stopped it at the crest of the hill, skidding it to the side, so they all could look down into the valley, and the accompanying structure.
"There it is," he said, "Skull Castle."
Link pulled off his orange-tinted eyemask to take a look. It was much grander in person, like the castles of his world. But strangely twisted so it would fit here, full of technology and machinery. Large spires with satellites, blocky, smooth architecture, comprised of metal instead of brick. The colors and patterns resembled something a madman would make - vivid, unconventional, untrackable, insane. And a giant deadly skull comprised the foundation of the citadel. "It's not invisible anymore," Link asked. There was no beam of sunlight projecting onto the fortress anymore. "I thought only sunlight revealed hologram."
"He probably turned it off," Roll said.
"It doesn't need to be anymore," Mega Man added, "He's been found, there's no point for him to maintain the cloak."
He revved the engine, and Link replaced his goggles. With a quick turn of the handlebars the robot dropped the speeder off the peak of the hill and they zoomed swiftly down the slope.
"How do we get in?" Link shouted above the engine roar.
Mega Man responded, "Various ways. Sometimes there's an access port, or a sewer pipe, or underground."
Guard robots were starting to come out of the woodwork, vaguely humanoid soldiers carrying laser guns. The three of them made short work of the minor enemies. Mega Man held onto the handlebar with one hand and shot with the other, Roll fired her guns, and Link pulled out his ice rod.
"Chill," he said to one approaching guard and fired an icy blast. The surrounding cold intensified the gust and froze the robot through to its core, coating it in a pallid frost.
Once the surrounding robots were eliminated, they sped up to the front of the castle. The skull now loomed over them too large to be seen in one eyeful. In front of them stood what looked like a doorway, shaped as a large arc, and made completely of smooth, pure metal. Mega Man ran his hand along the partition, and it was solid as a rock. "It looks like a doorway. But there's no keypad, no access card, no retinal scanner, not even a doorknob."
"This was meant to keep people out," Link said, "Not let them in."
"Then we go around?" Roll asked.
Mega Man knocked on the door, resulting in filled metal sound. "Maybe not. Link, how hot does that fire thing get?"
"Hot," Link smiled.
"Can you fire a concentrated stream at the edge of the door?"
Link flipped the already produced fire rod in his hand and shot a continuous fiery blast at the doorway. Lava-like material streamed out from the red globe, like a geyser of water. Link aimed it at the bottom of the door, and slowly traced the outside edge. Where the volcanic fire had been, the metal was left glowing red. When he was finished, the entire doorway was trimmed with ruby, the surrounding snow melting into water.
"Okay, now do the same thing with the ice rod," Mega Man commanded.
Link smiled and did so, delighted his magic was working usefully. He fired a steady stream of blistering hoarfrost out of the diamond pendant, overwriting the extreme heat he had just developed. You only needed to have a basic understanding of metal-smithing to know what he was doing. The heat expanded the metal, making it malleable, and exposure to the extreme cold would destabilize the structure, making it brittle.
When he was done, Mega Man approached the door. "Kiai!" he yelled as he thrust his big boot at the door. The frail doorway broke apart at the rim, cracking straight through, and fell down with a thud inside the dark castle. The three of them entered. The furnace like heat billowing out from the fortress forced Link to shed his parka and goggles.
When Mega Man had called it a castle, Link had expected a castle, and on the outside, that was what it looked like, albeit twisted to this world's quirks. In the front entrance, he was expecting what all castles had - a large receiving hallway, meant to impress and humble visitors to the kingdom. Sometimes they were plaqued with trophies and mementos of past conquests or tapestries of the royal bloodline.
This was a horror.
There was darkness all around him, nothing ahead. But when he looked up, he saw it. The factories and machine plants he had seen so far were busy, but organized and well kept. This was chaos. Robots were everywhere and working like insects, serving their specific task only. Flying robots zipped from one end to the other, spider robots crawled along posts, click-clacking their little legs, searching around. Pincer robots picked up objects and moved them from one conveyer belt to the other. Robots attached to zip lines moved back and forth unendingly, carrying parts and objects from one end of the factory to the other. Helicopter robots zipped around manufactured objects, welding and fusing sections together. Robots grabbed parts and did nothing else but hold them while other activities buzzed around. Robots with nothing but heads, robots with shields, robots with arms, robots with legs, disjointed body parts who only did only what their part let them do. Hundreds and hundreds of robots all working.
They droned around every possible factory implement there was. Gears, tubes, plugs, wires, girders, beams, pipes, hooks, gauges, levers, cranes, coils, cogs, sprockets, wheels. There was motion everywhere. Sparks flew off the welders. Tarred smokestacks puffed vile ashen pollution into the towers of the castle from the darkness. The thrumming sound of motors and the crackle and screeching of metal works was almost too much to bear. It was like someone's techno nightmare.
"They're everywhere!" Link said, holding his hands to his ears to dampen the sound. "We can't take them all on."
"They won't fight," Mega Man shouted over the horrible ruckus. "They're not meant to. They're meant for building. That's all their programs will allow. They won't fight us." He stepped further into the citadel. "Wily's castle is like a giant robot factory. That's all it's meant for, that's all that's in it. Just building enough robots to take over the world. Robots that build robots. He's the only human who lives here and he's usually hiding out in some obscure corner of the fortress."
"What's the way through?" Roll asked.
Mega Man scanned the area. He found a ladder far out of reach at the other end of the tower, hanging from another unseen floor, and pointed to it. They ran under the terrorful beehive of disorder and headed for the ladder. Mega Man leapt in the air and caught it by the bottom rung. Link skidded to a stop just as Roll leapt over him and followed under her brother.
"Wait," she called out as she ascended, "Link can't jump that! We have to help him."
"He's fine," her brother said, still climbing.
Concern spread across Roll's face, and she stopped to look back down. Link had pulled out a device that looked like a wooden arm cannon and aimed it up at the ladder. The grappling hook shot out and cleanly latched onto the ladder's rungs. With the release, Link zipped up to the ladder and caught it, climbing immediately. Roll shrugged at her brother's justified indifference and continued up. Apparently, he was right in believing Link was a capable battler.
And capable he was. Mega Man often had to take indirect routes, traveling up and down dangerous passageways lined with hazards and robots galore, trying to reach Wily without having to withstand an onslaught of robots and taking the slow way. With the three of them, they mopped up the floor with Wily's haphazard army. Mega Man provided fire at the front lines, blasting his arm cannon at incoming robots. Roll kept watch at the back, using her deadly accuracy to fire her twin pistols. It took a few more shots to bring down a robot then her brother, but the double firepower helped out. Her targeting scanner could see incoming robots in the darkness before her brother could. They both kept Link in the middle to protect his fleshy armor. Which was fine with him. He helped out with his magic implements, touting his ice rod and fire rod. The magic had returned to his boomerang as well, and he was able to stun enemies like he was supposed to, giving the two robots more than enough time to blast them to vapor. The icy blasts could freeze robots in their tracks, or drop fliers to the floor. And the scorching heat could crispify exposed wires or components. With his friends' protection, he didn't even need his absent shield, which would have been useless anyway. He finally felt like he was equal.
They traveled up and down spiked passageways, dangerous pits, and robot enemies, heading right for the center and up, past level one, level two, level three, level four, level five. Wily's forces flew at full intensity, but the combined effort of them all wiped out any resistance. They headed steadily up, climbing many ladders, crossing over platforms, and twisting through towers. Finally, they arrived at the legendary door. The door they all knew. The sectioned metal gate.
"We're going in?" Roll said.
"You bet!" Link and Mega Man said. It was the only way to get to Dr. Wily. As they approached, the door slid up, offering them access. Once in, the way was shut, and they had no choice but to brace themselves for whatever could come, and move forward through the darkened corridor.
"Is everyone ready?" Mega Man asked.
Link gripped the scepters in his hand, holding onto them tight.
Roll cleaned off her visor and brought out both of her laser pistols. "We're ready."
Mega Man stepped forward and the gate rose up in chunks. They proceeded through.
The room they were now in was shaped in a wide cylinder, like a carousel, trimmed with copper moulding on the ceiling and floor. The walls were made of some sort of smooth dark blue-green material. In the middle, there was a giant tower-like hub, but it didn't fit with the rest of the surroundings. It looked like a gigantic copper coil around a green pillar spoked out with panels and buttons and lights.
"You recognize that?" Mega Man said with delight in his voice.
"It's the conduit coil!" Roll said. "Wily's got to be around here."
"Destroy it!" Link said.
"You don't have to tell me twice." Mega Man pulled out his arm cannon and fired.
In an instant, a glass case shot up around the pillar, encapsulating it. The plasma burst bounced harmlessly off the exterior.
"Litanium glass!" Mega Man said incredulously.
"Wily knows we're here," Roll said.
At that moment, confirming Roll's guess, a floating platform high above appeared behind the conduit. They could see the two smooth metal disks lined with purple providing the necessary magnetic lift to keep it aloft. Over the edge peeked the face of the copy of Mega Man, Wily's clone, down to every exact detail.
"Stand down!" Mega Man shouted at him, aiming his arm cannon.
The clone responded with a charged blast of energy. The three of them jumped away as the blast exploded around them. Mega Man and Roll returned fire. The Mega Man clone steered his platform so it shielded him from the assault. He rained down plasma blasts on the two. Mega Man and Roll scattered around, making themselves scarce. But the clone was paying no attention to Link. Good for him.
Link pulled out his magic boomerang while attention was focused elsewhere. He hurled it as hard as it could, spinning around and around and around. Without looking, the Mega Man clone caught it in mid-air just inches from his head, his eyes still focused below. With a sickening crunch he crushed it with his fingers. Link's eyes widened.
Roll, meanwhile, was scanning the area for weaknesses. Several different visual acuities flashed across her visor, pointing out different characteristics. Nothing was catching her attention as a vulnerability. "This isn't working," she said to her brother.
"Well, when one weapon doesn't work..." His color wiped to red and gray. "Try another." Mega Man shot his magnet missile in the air. It homed in, drawn in by the magnetic hoverpads, and exploded. The platform tremored from the detonation, rocking to one side. Mega Man fired more and more missiles. He didn't even need to aim them, the magnetic forces drew them in and blasted the platform. The Mega Man clone swayed back and forth from the blasts, until his vehicle couldn't take anymore, soared down into the floor and crashed. Yellow sparks spouted outward. The clone jumped off before the crash landing but found himself surrounded by three heroes pointing their weapons at him.
"You're through doing Wily's dirty work," the real Mega Man said.
The clone looked around, then glowed blue for an instant and transformed into a shooting comet that rocketed up through the ceiling.
"He teleported!" Roll exclaimed.
"To the floor above," Mega Man said. He looked to his human friend, "Sorry, Link, time is of the essence."
"Oh, sure-" Auras enveloped the two robots as they looked skyward, and they soared up though the ceiling in the same manner, before Link could finish his sentence. "No problem... not."
Link put his rods back in his bag, left alone in this auditorium. To have come so far, fought so hard, just to be left behind at this crucial climax? He didn't think so. He understood why Mega Man and Roll did what they did. Their enemy went someplace where he could not follow. At least not as quick. And that stupid robot wouldn't even acknowledge he was there, he focused all his attention on the two and didn't pay the human a passing glance, only to break his boomerang. Well, he sure wasn't just going to sit here and wait for Mega Man to come get him after it was all over. He wanted to see Wily's face person-to-person. He wanted to see the man who caused so much strife in this world. Link already had someone like Wily in his world, who always kept coming back, who had infinite power and delusions of supremacy. He was gonna make sure it didn't happen in another.
He ran his hand along the smooth obsidian that walled the room. It was a perfect curved loop. Nothing was around it, nothing could penetrate it. There wasn't even a light switch anywhere. The copper moulding wasn't moving either, it wouldn't even be pried off. Link made three trips around the room before he gave up on finding anything around the perimeter.
He crossed his arms and stared at the center of the room, looking up and down the conduit coil shrouded in the glass case. This was that giant pillar that Wily had taken in the first place. It probably stretched several floors up or down and was obviously an essential part of his experiment. Therefore, Wily would be very interested in keeping this room accessible. Thus there had to be some way out of here. Assuming the roboticist wouldn't take the toll of teleporting in here, something that would probably wreak havoc on an old man, he would have put in some way in and out. Not via the gate, that wouldn't give access to the pillar. He needed to be able to operate the pillar so it would do what he wanted it to do. No doubt he needed all the panels and lights on it configured in such a way to allow whatever was going to happen happen. And since it was so big, he would have some way up and down its massive length, like perhaps an elevator. Of course, Link hadn't seen any of the like on their way here, so it had to be hidden somewhere. It had to allow travel through the length of the coil without letting others in. So it had to be locked. But they didn't use locks with keys here. They used... those things... oh, what were they called again? Passwords?
Of course. A lock involving the Computer. How else would a scientist lock something?
"Computer?" Link said. "I'm going to unlock the door with the password."
"Please input correct password."
"Uh..." Oh, what were those ones Mega Man said in the desert? Those ones he said were common. Link tried to make himself remember. He started mumbling to himself, hitting his brain, "Come on, password, password..."
"'Password' is the correct password. Access granted."
A section of the glass litanium opened up before him, big enough for a doorway. A section of the conduit coil lifted out, rolled off of its surface, and inclined down until it touched the floor, like a tongue lolling out of a mouth.
"Well, that works," Link mused. He stepped onto the ramp and entered into the conduit elevator. The door closed back up, shrouding him in the blackest darkness. He hadn't realized this was hollow, although he supposed it needed to be this big in order for people to perform maintenance on the inside. It sure wasn't for comfort, as he was afraid to put out any extremities for fear of them being shredded off. In fact, he wasn't quite sure he was moving. The deep humming thrumming of the coil dampened any noise he might hear from the lift taking him up. He could feel vibration under the soles of his boots, but that also could have been from the low frequencies. The only indication was that light was somehow scrolling down in pinprick holes and seams around the column. Also the air around him felt like it was moving, but that could have been ventilation fans. He kept his arms and fingers tucked in.
If he was moving, he could feel himself slowing down. Perhaps he was reaching the top. The light seams in front of him faded, and the majority of the humming was now down below him. His ears were popping from the pressure, as if he were in the mountains. He must have been quite high. A hole in the ceiling opened up and the lift pushed him on the roof of the coil, on a flat surface. The outside air hit him like a refreshing splash of water. But it was still pretty dark. He turned around and saw Mega Man pointing his arm cannon squarely at Link. He knew this wasn't his Mega Man, but Wily's clone. It was not by the fact that he saw Roll holding her real brother supine in the background of the platform they were on, nor by the surprised look on either of their faces. But it was the cold murderous look the Mega Man in front of him had in his eyes.
Wily's Mega Man fired his arm cannon into Link's chest.
Link saw the plasma blast rip through him before he felt it. It tore through his flesh like a hot rock through snow, coming out his back, leaving a gaping hole where the shot went through. Time slowed down. Link stupidly dropped his head to marvel at the fresh puncture in the middle of his torso, cauterized from the super-hot plasma, swallowed. Then the world faded to black.
Link's eyes glazed over, and fell back up into his head. His knees buckled out from under him, with no more strength to stand. They collapsed on the metal grating and the body flopped over on its side.
Next Chapter: Final Boss