“Where… are we?” Little Monster asked.
“We are… home.” Black Lotus said.
The pair had found themselves in the Unamusement Park after their journey across the Multiverse. Black Lotus’s machine let out a low hum as the two looked around their surroundings. Neither had been to the clown cult’s base before, but there was something unsettling about it.
“Are you sure we’re back in our home, Helmethead?”
Black Lotus tilted their head. They seemed to be considering the question, when laughter suddenly came from behind them.
“Well, well, what do we have here, Sawtooth? Looks like the boss was right!” Icebringer said, his voice sounding like it was coming through a speaker.
The two turned their heads. There, standing behind them were the machines of Stingray and Icebringer but…these didn’t look like THEIR Stingray or Icebringer. Their faces were split into manic smiles. Black Lotus placed their hand on Little Monster’s shoulder. A convoy of clown cars flanked them.
“Course he was, Brainfreeze. Looks like we have new members for the circus right here! We just have to bring them back to the boss.”
“We must leave.” Black Lotus said, pulling Little Monster back to their machine. This was their original world, their home, so there would be no fleeing this time. They needed to fix this somehow. As the two started to drive off, Twisted Herald’s two henchmen followed after in their own machines. Little Monster looked behind them to keep watch, and caught sight of a trail of balloons rising to the sky behind the two corrupted carnies.
Black Lotus drove through the cluttered Unamusement Park, drifting over the ruined pavement to avoid the game booths. They phased through the rides to try to lose their tails. ‘Mr. Brainfreeze’ and ‘Mr. Sawtooth’ were forced to split up, trying to circle around, when Black Lotus did a one- eighty degree turn, heading back the way they came.
“Looks like they caught on to us, Helmethead!” Little Monster shouted, looking behind them as the two generals turned back around to continue the chase.
“We are faster.”
They raced through the Unamusement Park, moving beneath the rails that supported the roller coaster, around the carousel, and through the bumper car park. No matter how much Black Lotus tried to evade the two generals, they could not seem to shake them.
“Hey! It’s Fire-lady!” Little Monster pointed to a machine pulling to a stop in front of them.
Wildfire was grinning as she hopped out of her machine, holding what looked to be a hand torch, ready to let loose a stream of fire. The Flametamer, standing out in her colorful checkered and striped patterns, pushed the button as flames sprouted from the head. She proceeded to draw a large ring of fire right in the path of the two. She held a fiery whip in her other hand, cracking it through the air like she was calling a lion to jump.
“Wait, Helmethead, what if it’s a trap?”
“Then we’ll go through–”
Over the park’s public announcement system, they could hear a chuckling voice cackle. “Let’s give it up for Rampo, ladies and gentleman, he puts the Loco in Locomotion!”
The giant bulldozer slammed right into their machine, sending Black Lotus and Little Monster spinning off the track into the wooden platforms of the coaster. There was a loud crash as the coaster came down. Black Lotus were forced to use Karma, grabbing Little Monster with them as the car drifted to a stop. As they returned to reality, they were trapped, buried in the rubble.
“Hahahahaha!” A dark laughter surrounded them.
Black Lotus pushed Little Monster out of their Machine. They ripped off their rearview mirror. For a second, it glowed in their hands before they passed it to Little Monster. “Go. Run to the Arena. Keep this. Deliver it to the Clown. He must receive it.”
“What about you, Helmethead? I can’t–”
“You can and you will. Now run.”
Little Monster didn’t argue again, taking off as she started to run from the wreckage away from the park. Black Lotus had no doubt the little girl could manage herself. For now, they had their own concerns to worry about. As they threw off a plank of wood, they could see the ringmaster of this circus appear: the Twisted Herald himself.
“Welcome home. I must thank you for bringing me to this wonderful world, Lotus. I’ve already had the opportunity to blend in with the locals. You don’t really think that girl will be able to stop me by herself…So you must just hope you are enough to hold me back! Is that it? And they say I’m the funny one!” The Twisted Herald leaned forward, his grin growing wider. “I think you have a future in this circus.”
Black Lotus grabbed the steering wheel and stepped out from their car. The laughter made it impossible to focus on the hum of the engine. There would be no running. They stood their ground as the Twisted Herald’s dark powers washed over them. They could hear the laughter filling their ears, like an endlessly looping track. A mirror dropped from the sky in front of Black Lotus. They smashed it with their steering wheel. More mirrors rose from the earth. Black Lotus tried to run, kicking and shattering the mirrors before they could see their reflection, but there were too many. They could see their reflections chasing them from the corner of their eye. Soon, the mirrors surrounded them. They ran into the glass and it didn’t shatter.
The Twisted Herald laughed in joy as the colors of Black Lotus’s clothes changed from their usual scheme to one of blues, purples, and pinks. “Now answer me this, Riddle Rider. What struggled and struggled, but in the end still failed? Hmm?”
The Riddle Rider remained silent.
“Oh, fine, it seems that there are some habits that persist. Your penchant for infuriating mysteriousness transcends timelines. Come, the chrysalis is nearing its completion.”
Little Monster had not stopped moving until she had reached the Metal God Arena. It had changed since she had last been there. From the earth, it seemed that a rollercoaster had emerged, its rickety rails surrounding a massive iron chrysalis. A demonic clown head poked its head up to the sky, sticking out its tongue in defiance. Every way into this thing was blocked off by bars.
The young girl looked down at the rearview mirror that Black Lotus had entrusted her with. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do with it, but Helmethead had thought it was important, and they seemed smart in ways most adults weren’t. That meant that, even though she didn’t want to, Little Monster had no choice but to climb to the giant tongue to deliver the mirror to the clown.
Even she wasn’t able to slip into the mouth. It was too tight a squeeze. “Hey! Hey! Is someone down there?!” The only answer as a growl.
“Whatever you are…Here! This is important! So don’t break it!” She tossed the rearview mirror through the bars, listening to hear it clatter, before scampering away. That should be enough for what Helmethead wanted with such vague instructions. She had to go get her machine.
Inside the abominable structure, a furry claw reached out and grabbed the rearview mirror with another growl. The chains jingled as it moved. Mindless, it waited for its purpose. The dark powers had twisted its form into something new.
It had no name. It did not need one.
But it did have curiosity. Carefully, it raised the offering from the world outside. It did not know what it was. It looked down and it saw its reflection. It stared deeply, finding itself falling into its own image.
And it remembered its name.