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51. Awake

Immolation Zebra stared at Davy with apparent apathy. “He took longer than the others,” she said in a flat voice. “The revelations of his personal sojourn may likely prove the most fruitful.”

Davy looked around him. He was sitting on a chair in the front room of the Institute of Mind. Lady Gut Possum had been right in his face when he woke up and had since backed off. To one side stood Olivia, Steve, and Connie. Immolation Zebra and Consecration Tony peered at him with curiosity on the other side.

“Your mind has been awakened,” Consecration Tony stated. “Share your experience!”

Davy rubbed his forehead. “Was I really out longer than everyone else?” he asked.

Steve chimed in. “Yeah dude,” he said. “We woke up after about twenty minutes. You’ve been asleep or whatever for almost two hours.”

“So the rest of you guys went inside of your minds too?” Davy asked.

“You bet,” Olivia chirped. “And it was awesome! I got to hang out with Admiral Moustachepants and Sunglass Butt! Like, the real Admiral Moustachepants and Sunglass Butt, or at least the ones that exist in my own head. We played board games, and I won all of them! Though I think Admiral Moustachepants let me win a few. She’s such a noble lady.”

“That sounds pretty cool,” Davy replied. He turned to Steve and asked, “What about you? What happened inside your mind?”

Steve hesitated for a second. “Uh, nothing all that weird,” he muttered. “I was just a pig for some reason and a bunch of clowns were throwing rocks at me and laughing and the clowns were also on fire the whole time.” Steve’s face went blank as he recalled the experience. He snapped back and gave Davy a forced casual grin. “Nothing that crazy or anything. I’m good. We’re all good.”

He quickly turned to Connie. “What did you see?” he exclaimed.

Connie shrugged nonchalantly. “Not much,” she answered. “I just sat in front of my TV and watched a cooking show. I learned a nice recipe for chicken kebob with a serrano chimichurri. We should try it sometime. My brain said it was great for a summer barbecue.”

“Your brain is acute!” Consecration Tony interjected. “It knows the correct ways of food!”

Lady Gut Possum ignored him. “None of that sounds helpful for your current situation,” she said, worried.

“Well what about you, buddy?” Olivia said to Davy. “What did you see?”

Davy thought back on everything he had experienced in his mind. He decided to give the condensed version. “Well my penguin-dad told me I needed to believe in myself,” he replied.

“A penguin-dad is almost always a source of sage advice,” Immolation Zebra stated. “Its teachings should be taken with optimal seriousness, like azure water from a dilapidated cistern.”

“Okay sure,” Davy responded, brushing off whatever that was supposed to mean, if anything at all. “I also was pointed to that tent the Iron League was hanging out in. I think we’re supposed to go in there.”

Steve didn’t appear happy to hear this. “Why?” he asked. “Won’t they just beat on us again?”

Davy thought back to when he saw the tent in his mind. He remembered seeing the moon above him.

“In my head, I was there at night,” he continued. “I think, maybe if we sneak in there in the middle of the night, we can find whatever it is we need while they’re asleep, or doing whatever it is they do in the middle of the night.”

“A revamped sneak attack,” Olivia said. “I like it.”

Lady Gut Possum looked surprised. “Tony’s therapy usually doesn’t provide epiphanies on such concrete terms,” she said. She smiled at Davy. “You should consider yourself lucky, I was expecting the answers you were looking for to be far more abstract. Was there anything else?”

Davy didn’t want to bring up the words he saw in the white space just before he woke up.


He figured sharing this message would do little to inspire confidence with the rest of the group.

“No, not much else,” he said. “I got stuck in a hole for a while, I guess. And I saw a sea monster or something, but none of those seemed as currently applicable as seeing the tent.”

Davy felt that Lady Gut Possum could tell he was leaving something out, but she didn’t push the issue. “Very well,” she replied. She addressed Davy and his companions as she began to head for the door. “I believe your path has been illuminated for you. I wish you luck in your next steps.”

Connie followed Lady Gut Possum. “It should be fun,” she said, grinning. “I bet we’ll find something in that tent that will take down the Iron League. They’ve had their fun long enough.”

Olivia followed as well. “They’re about to finally taste the sweet scent of justice,” she added. “For real this time.”

Steve helped Davy off his chair. “I don’t know about you, but I’m really feeling like some ice cream right now.”

“No ice cream for now,” Lady Gut Possum interjected, glaring at Consecration Tony. She paused a tool a breath before addressing the lizard who was smiling back at her.

“Consecration Tony,” she began reluctantly. “Thank you for your help. You have likely been instrumental in helping the Steward save this world.”

Consecration Tony tilted his head. “Mind therapy is always an answer!” he exclaimed. “I appreciate the recognition you have given to the mind. Always pay it heed!”

Lady Gut Possum nodded as she ushered Davy and the others out the door. “Again, I am thankful for your help,” she said. “And for both of our sake, I hope these four never see you again.”


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50. Gary

Davy couldn’t tell how long he had been in the tunnel. Was it only minutes, hours, or maybe even days? Davy figured that the natural flow of time may not even apply to the inner realm of one’s mind, but Davy also conceded that he didn’t know all that much about the mind anyway, so maybe this idea was nonsense. In any case, it felt like he had been there a long time.

Was he supposed to reach an epiphany here? Maybe if he reached an epiphany, then he would be able to get out. Davy racked his brain for possible epiphanies

“Okay, I’m stuck in a hole,” he said to himself. “Maybe the hole represents something. I’m stuck. Like I was stuck on how to handle the Iron League. Maybe how I get out of here is supposed to show me how to beat them. This is good, I’m getting somewhere. How would I get out of here? I can’t push myself back up, and I can’t go forward any further. Am I supposed to find a non-traditional solution? Think outside the box?”

Davy tried to wrangle his lateral thought process.

“Okay, I just need to reexamine the parameters. Is there some factor I haven’t considered? Is this really stone? Maybe I can actually dig through it.”

Davy scratched at the tunnel wall with his left hand. The tough stone cracked one of his fingernails.

“Okay, that is definitely stone. I cannot dig through that. And also, that hurt.”

Davy struggled to come up with something. He noticed his eyelids getting heavy as his thought process seemed to slow down. He felt like he really needed a nap.

Davy noticed this and started to slightly panic. He knew that suddenly feeling like you are going to fall asleep was not at all a healthy development when you’re stuck upside down in an tight, enclosed space with little oxygen.

Davy wondered if it was possible to die in your own mind, because that would suck. Davy then remembered that he was in his own mind. He should be able to exercise a little more control than this. He wasn’t expecting god-like superpowers over the space around him, but he should at least be able to create some way out of here.

His eyelids continued to grow heavier as he concentrated on getting out of here.

“I will get out,” he said to himself through clenched teeth. “I will get out. I will get out.”

Davy scarcely noticed a slight tug on the tip of his left shoe. He continued to chant to himself. It was getting increasingly difficult to maintain his consciousness.

“I will get out. I will get out.”

The tug grew stronger, now coming from both feet. Davy was pulled upwards, not back through the tunnel, but straight upwards. Davy’s body loosened as the stone walls of the the tunnel slowly appeared to fade from existence.

Davy didn’t notice any of this as he continued to rise. His eyes were shut tight as he continued to chant to himself. The chanting eventually slowed and then finally stopped as Davy fully lost consciousness. The world around Davy had turned pitch-black as he continued to rise.


Davy awoke to the crackling of a fireplace. He opened his eyes and saw he was inside what looked like somebody’s living room. Warm red wallpaper with wood paneling surrounded him on every side. He was lying on a soft brown couch next to a window. Davy looked at the night sky through the window. It was snowing.

Davy sat up and saw the fireplace on the other side of the room. In front of the fireplace was a massive armchair, facing away from him. Davy looked down at the couch he was sitting on and was struck by how large everything in this room was. He wasn’t a short guy at all, but he noticed that even when laying down, there was still a couple of extra feet on the couch that his body didn’t cover.

A deep, almost soothing voice called out to Davy from the armchair. “I’m glad to see you’re okay,” it said.

The armchair began to rotate to have him. The armchair had four short, wooden legs, so it didn’t exactly make sense that it was able to rotate, but Davy wasn’t focusing on that right now. Davy was instead focused on who was sitting in the armchair, greeting him.

It was Gary von Jackolantern.

Or at least, it looked mostly like Davy’s old plush penguin toy. He somehow looked to be about ten feet tall, and had a strangely humanoid body. He was wearing a red smoking jacket and holding a pipe in his right hand that was emitting bubbles. He held a newspaper in his other hand. His legs were crossed, and causal loafers hung from his feet. His head, however, looked exactly like the stuffed penguin head Davy remembered from his childhood.

Gary looked down at Davy with a warm smile. “I know it’s been a long time, Davy, but I just want to say that I’m so proud of who you’ve become.”

“Uh, thanks,” Davy said to the unusually paternal penguin in front of him. “I guess I’m still inside my mind,” he continued.

Gary nodded. “Indeed you are, sport,” he said. “If I understand it right, it seems you might have lost your way.”

“Yeah,” Davy answered. “There is this evil group that likes reference humor that we’re acing trouble defeating. I don’t know what to do.”

Gary rubbed his chin. “That’s okay,” he said. “Everyone loses they’re way sometimes. The important thing is that you don’t give up when things get difficult.”

“Sure, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing,” Davy said. “I agreed to this mind therapy to help me find the answers within or whatever, but I’m don’t know what I should be looking for.”

Gary leaned forward to Davy. “Well, what have you found so far, son?”

Davy looked up at the penguin in front of him. “Well, that I clearly have some unresolved issues with my father or something,” he stated. “But I don’t think I’ve found much more than that.”

Gary von Jackolantern chuckled. “I think you may be selling yourself short there. If I saw it correctly, you were able to escape from that hole all by yourself using nothing but your own willpower.”

Davy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, this has all been in my own head. It’s not that big of a deal to escape from my own mind.”

This seemed to amuse Gary. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you there, sport,” he said. “In my experience, I’ve found that one of the most difficult things that a person can break free from is their own head. We have a tendency to hold ourselves down harder than any tangible weights.”

Davy tried to get his thoughts together. “So you’re saying Im holding myself back?” he asked. “Are you saying that I should stop being afraid and believe in myself and stuff?”

Gary folded his newspaper and placed it on an end table next to him. “I think that it’s not my place to tell you what to do, son,” he answered. “But I do want to ask you, why do you think you were chosen for this quest? Why were you chosen to be the Steward of the Endocrine?”

Davy scratched his head. “A prophecy and poor plotting?” he answered hesitantly.

Gary have a hearty laugh. “Davy, you are far more capable than you know,” he said. ” There’s a reason this prophecy chose you. You have a quality that will prove essential in the time to come. I believe that you will find what it is, and once you do, you can prevail over any adversity that comes your way.” Gary stopped to blow to his pipe, sending bubbles out in to the room. “All you need to do is recognize this quality within yourself.”

Davy nodded. “Okay, so I have the power within me already?” he asked. “I just need to believe in myself?” Davy sighed. Steve was going to have a field day with the generic advice he was getting.

Gray have another warm chuckle. “I know what you’re thinking, Davy,” he said. “I know what I’m saying is probably the kind of thing you’ve heard in millions of movies and books before. Some might even call it cliché. But Davy, sometimes it’s the most obvious advice that we tend to forget the easiest. I don’t want anyone calling me insightful or clairvoyant, because none of what I’m saying is new. But I do believe that remembering the power you already possess can sometimes be a considerably underrated notion. Try it out sometime, and let me know how it goes. Maybe we can play catch afterwards.”

Davy figured the penguin may have a point, but he was also feeling ready to go. “Okay, I’ll do that,” he stated. “I have the power, and believe in myself. Got it.”

Gary smiled. “Don’t worry, Davy. It’ll come to you. But I understand your apprehension. You want to get back to your friends.” He pointed to the wooden door to his right. “This door will take you out of here. Follow the path that will appear in front of you and you will wake up soon enough. Who knows, maybe you might find something that will help you with your current situation.”

Davy got off the couch and made his way to the door. “Thanks, Gary,” he said. “It was good to see you again.”

Gary von Jackolantern chuckled. “It was good to see you too Davy,” he replied. “Come back any time. And when your quest is over, I’m looking forward to taking part in your detective adventures with you and your friend Olivia. Tell her hi for me.”

“Sure Gary,” Davy said. He opened the door and saw nothing but blackness in front of him. Davy took a deep breath and stepped into the darkness. Gary and the living room appeared to immediately dissolve around him. As the last traces of the room faded away, Davy heard one faint final line from Gary.

“Never forget, Davy, that I am so proud of you.”

Davy looked around in the darkness. He saw a faint light in the distance.

“This isn’t much of a path,” Davy said to himself, as he began to walk towards the light.

As he got closer, he could make out the faint shape of a building. It looked like the light was coming from a window. As he got closer, Davy saw that it he building was a house. It was three stories, the light coming from a window on the top floor. Davy realized that he had he had seen this place before. And that this wasn’t a house. It was a tent.

Davy saw he was standing in a ghostly version of that campground where he had been beaten by the Iron League of Reference Humor. A spectral moon hung over him in the sky. Davy looked at the tent again. There was a light shining through the translucent canvas. He approached the tent and unzipped the entrance flap. Bright light splashed out of the entrance onto his face. Davy shielded his eyes, but the light was so bright he couldn’t see anything inside. He slowly took a step into the tent.

The world around Davy dematerialized once more, and Davy found himself in an empty white space.

“Great,” Davy muttered. He was really getting tired of seeing so many empty spaces inside his mind.

Some massive black letters appeared in front of Davy. Davy scratched his head as he read the words they formed.


“Huh,” Davy uttered. That didn’t seem reassuring.

Some more letters appeared out of the air, they began forming the same phrase all around him.




Davy groaned. He had just had this pep talk from Gary von Jackolantern telling him how capable he was and now his brain was insisting how incorrectly Davy was going about his quest?

“I’m kind of getting some mixed signals here,” he whined to the words all around him.

The black letters continued to materialize. They filled up the white space more and more until the white was almost gone. Davy was getting really fed up as blackness filled the space around him. He was about to complain very loudly about having to deal with yet another empty space, but all of a sudden, he saw Lady Gut Possum’s face inches away from his own.

“He’s awake,” she said.

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49. Mind

Davy opened his eyes and was greeted with the color gray. It was in every direction. He was no longer seated in the chair in the Institute of Mind. He was instead standing in a vast, open gray space.

He looked down. There wasn’t even any sort of ground below him that he could see. He was just standing on the same gray that he saw in every other direction.

“Where am I?” Davy asked himself, not particularly expecting an answer.

He got one anyway. “Your mind…” a faint voice rang out through infinity.

Davy sighed. “Okay, I’m not really thrilled to see my mind being represented as a vast, empty space,” he said to himself. “There’s gotta be something here.”

As he said this, it seemed his mind had suddenly remembered the laws of physics exist and that Davy was apparently standing on nothing. Davy’s stomach rose as he began to fall into the total emptiness below him.

Only is apparently wasn’t total emptiness. Davy shut his eyes and felt a rush of cold as he broke through the surface of the water. He continued to sink down, further and further. After a few moments, Davy opened his eyes again. There was somehow enough light permeating into the depths of the water that he could see into the distance. It looked like he was in the middle of a vast ocean that was just as desolate as the gray space he was just in. Davy could not see an ocean floor or any other object in any direction.

He felt like he was continuing to sink for some inexplicable reason, but he also felt grossly disoriented. He had no idea which way was up or down. Davy realized he he needed to breathe; he had been holding his breath since he went underwater. Strangely enough, it he felt more and more like he needed air, but at the same time, he didn’t feel like he was drowning. He was just sort of floating in this empty ocean.

He felt the water quake around him. The quaking was shortly followed by a low rumbling noise. Davy noticed a dark shadow far off in the distance coming from below—or at least what he thought was below. The shadow grew larger and larger; it eventually began to form a vaguely humanoid shape. Davy was struck by just how gargantuan the shadow had become. He felt like a helpless speck floating in the presence of this shadowy figure. He wanted to swim away, but he also knew that he was small enough compared to the figure that no distance he could travel would likely put him out of its reach. Davy simply had to hope that this creature wouldn’t notice him.

The creature looked directly at him. It was still nothing more than a silhouette to Davy, but. Ow there were two glowing yellow dots on what looked like the creature’s face. They were pointed directly at Davy.

Davy wondered why his mind would make him out as a feeble speck, drowning in the middle of an endless, empty ocean while being stared down by an ambitious monstrous shadow. Davy realized there was probably all sorts of subtext here that he was resisting addressing. If this was a high school English class, Davy could probably sit down and work his way through this symbolism. But before Davy could ruminate on this any further, the creature began to swim away. It looked presumably upwards towards the surface, spread its arms and soon enough, it was gone.

Davy was alone again.

Maybe I feel lonely, Davy thought. It feels like that’s the subtext I’m getting. I’m lonely and have a fear of the unknown? That sounds like a strong takeaway. Or maybe I’m just subconsciously scared of sea monsters.

Davy noticed that he was getting pulled by a current. He felt his body move in a circle. After a second, he felt like he was also slowly dropping, and Davy realized what was happening. The ocean was draining.

He would have figured that a body of water that appeared to extend infinitely in every direction would take a long time to fully drain, but in no time at all, Davy found himself lying down on a cold stone floor, small puddles of water scattered around him.

Standing up on his feet, Davy also noticed he was completely dry. He took a look around him. There was this dark brown stone floor, which was a welcome development, but nothing else. The floor extended indefinitely into that same grayness in every direction. Davy was getting tired of this perpetual emptiness, when he spotted a hole in the ground a few feet in front of him.

He approached the hole and looked down. The opening was fairly narrow, just wide enough for him to barely fit through. The hole went straight down a foot or so and then turned about ninety degrees, running parallel to the surface of the floor he was standing on.

Davy stood looking at the hole in front of him? Was he supposed to go in there? He didn’t particularly want to go in there. He looked around him in every direction again. There was still nothing. Davy sighed. I guess this is all supposed to be in my head, Davy thought. None of this is supposed to be real. Worst case scenario, I find something bad in there and I just wake up.

Davy paused. Or worst case scenario, whatever I find down there drives me insane.

Davy sighed. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he had a growing suspicion that nothing was going to happen until he crawled into the hole. He looked up at the blank gray sky. “You’re the worst, mind,” he muttered to nobody. He got on his knees and stuck his hands into the opening. Arms out in front of him, he began to crawl headfirst into the hole.

He saw a narrow tunnel in front of him. “Okay, maybe this won’t be so bad,” he said with cautious optimism. He began to shimmy through the tunnel, the wet stone felt slimy, but also helped propel him through the right space he probably would have otherwise struggled to fit through.

The tunnel seemed to get even narrower as he continued to move forward. He felt like was starting to get a good rhythm going when he slid over a drop. It was only a few feet; the tunnel took a ninety degree drop straight down, his feet directly above him. Davy found himself upside down. On the plus side, his head had landed on his arms, cushioning his fall. On the downside, Davy found his arms were contorted against each other and could barely move them. The palm of his right hand was smushed up against his face, covering his eyes.

Davy wiggled his feet around. With his right foot, he could barely feel the ledge he had just fallen off of. He had dropped far enough that there was no way he could lift himself back up the way he came.

Davy struggled to move his arms to feel if the tunnel continued in any direction. To his dismay he only felt the cold, slimy stone on every side. Davy took a deep breath and exhaled.

He was stuck.

Stuck upside down in a dark tunnel with solid stones reading against him on every side. Unable to move virtually any part of his body. Unable to see anything, since he had a hand pressed over his eyes.

It was not a great situation.

Davy felt an itch on his nose. He was able to extend the pinky finger of his right hand and scratch the itch.

“Well, at least I was able to do that,” Davy mumbled to himself, trying to focus on the one silver lining.

Davy felt another itch on the bottom of his foot.

“Shoot,” Davy added.

Davy began to wonder what insanity would be like.

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48. Therapy

Davy heard screaming through a door he passed on the way to the therapy room. Davy could barely hear it, but he could make out the words “The Burning” come up repeatedly.

“Ignore her,” Consecration Tony snapped, still maintaining his goofy smile. “Her screams are unending, and she is thoroughly unpleasant to talk to.”

Davy went up to Steve and whispered, “Are you still feeling good about this?”

Steve’s stomach growled. “Honestly, I’m more focused on how badly I want more ice cream,” Steve whispered back. He gestured towards Consecration Tony. “Was this guy really putting brain stuff in there?”

“That’s what Lady Gut Possum said,” Davy replied. “And now we’re letting this guy access our brains directly.”

“But it’ll probably look so funny,” Olivia cut in. “Big, goofy, smiling, lizard poking at our brains and stuff. I want a poster of that to hang on my wall!”

“But what about the risk of going insane part?” Davy asked.

“Pssh,” Olivia replied. “I only grew myself a brain pretty recently. I can always grow myself a new one. Besides I went along for however many million years without a brain at all and did just fine.”

Steve’s jaw dropped slightly. “However many million years?” he said incredulously. “How old are you.”

Olivia realized she may have said too much. “Don’t worry about it,” she said quickly.

Connie came up behind them with a sly grin. “Davy’s got a point. He’s a sharp guy, just like the rest of you. But sometimes, it feels like life’s really too short to worry about whether or not you have gone insane as a result of indeterminate brain therapy conducted by a two-legged, smiling lizard.”

“You’re an awfully relaxed person, you know that?” Davy chimed.

“I just like not having to worry,” Connie responded casually.

They had arrived at the end of the hall. Consecration Tony stood in front of a black door and opened it. He beckoned to the group. “Enter this space,” he ordered. “Begin your mind opening.”

The group proceeded into the room. It was dimly lit from blinking fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Rows of metal chairs with worn-down leather padding stood in front of them, arranged in rows like in a movie theater. In the front of the room was a blank white screen hanging down from the ceiling.

“You must sit,” Consecration Tony declared. He pointed at the chairs.

Davy and the others looked at each other and shrugged as they shuffled to four chairs next to each other in the front row.

After they say down, Consecration Tony went up to Connie. He pointed to an armrest on the chair she was sitting on. “Your arm goes here,” Consecration Tony said, still smiling.

“You got it, boss,” Connie chirped as she placed her arms on the armrests.

Consecration Tony pulled out a leather strap from the right side of the chair and fastened Connie’s right arm down to the armrest. He did the same thing with her left arm. He then bent over and pulled out leather straps from below the chair that he fastened to Connie’s legs. She was now completely constrained.

Connie wiggled her arms and legs. The restraints were tight enough that she couldn’t break free. “Heh,” she laughed. She looked down the row at the rest of the group. “Looks like I’ll see you on the other side fellas.”

Davy ruminated to himself about how weirdly relaxed Connie had been about this whole thing. He wondered if this was unusual for her, before he realized he knew nothing about her. Davy noted that maybe he should make more of an effort to get to know his prophesized companions. Of course, that all depended on whether he was going to still have a functional brain an hour or so from now.

Consecration Toby moved on to Olivia. He pulled out the straps and restrained her the same way he restrained Connie.

“You know I can shapeshift, right,” she asked with a grin. “Like, I could get out of this chair easily if I wanted to.”

Consecration Tony looked directly at Olivia with his wide smile. “You have the ability to escape,” he admitted. “But you will not exercise this option. Mind therapy is engrossing. Remember this fact.”

As Consecration Tony finished restraining Olivia and began to restrain Steve, Steve looked to Davy. “Okay, I admit, I am getting a slightly bad feeling about this,” he said, visibly worried. “I don’t like leather straps,” he continued. “They chafe.”

Consecration Tony finally reached Davy. “How exactly does this kind therapy work?” he asked nervously as Consecration Tony applied the restraints.

“You will watch and then you will see,” Consecration Tony answered. “You will see the mind and all its acute fabrications, a laser light show of resplendent implications.”

This dos nothing to answer Davy’s question. Davy would have asked for clarification, but he figured any furthers answers would be just as nonsensical as the one he just received.

In another moment, all four of them were restrained to their chairs. Consecration Tony proceeded to the space right in front of the screen.

“Prepare your brain for abject penetration,” he stated. “Direct your eyes to the images; do not deviate from this course. You will be interwoven into the heart of your mind. Seek the truths from within; do not make a failure of your life.”

He held up a small electronic device and pressed a button. The lights in the room went off as Consecration Tony walked to the side of the room.

Steve’s voice meekly rang out in the dark. “Uh, so I just realized that I kind of need to go to the bathroom.”

Consecration Tony did not respond as the first image appeared on the screen. It was a blurry, black and white photo of a tree, sunlight pouring through from between the branches. Davy didn’t have time to soak in all the details, because the image of the tree was promptly replaced by a new blurry image, also on black and white. It was a small dog sitting on the floor looking up at the camera. Was it a poodle?

A new image promptly appeared on the screen. A fried egg sitting on a frying pan. Then a new image, then a new image, all in black and white and equally blurry.

A solitary basketball sitting alone on a concrete floor.

A dirty toothbrush lying in a grimy sink.

A tarantula crawling through the dirt.

The images began to cycle through more and more rapidly, almost rhythmically. Davy noticed what sounded like a bass drum, heavily distorted with what sounded like feedback from a poorly functioning speaker. The drum was barely audible in the back of his perception, pounding away in time with the flashing images.

A plastic chair sitting in a landfill.

A tornado ripping apart a wooden shed.

A crying baby.

The drum was getting louder. Its tempo picked up as the speed of the flashing images continued to escalate rapidly. Soon, the beating was too loud for Davy to handle. He wanted to get up and leave, but the restraints held him in place. Davy heard a new sound over the drums, a cacophonous roaring as if a running jet turbine had been placed right behind his head.

Davy clenched his eyes shut. Whatever was happening, or whatever was supposed to happen, it wasn’t working. The drum and the roaring were even louder now; Davy felt like he was about to snap. He couldn’t take the noise any longer.

And then it stopped.

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47. Tony

Davy looked closer at the lizard standing in front of him. He was scaly and brownish-green colored. He wore the top half of a sky blue medical scrub with loose-fitting black rubber gloves. Over the scrubs was a black medical apron. He was not wearing pants.

Davy found himself feeling uncomfortable at the sight of the lizard’s face. His mouth was wide open in a toothless, unnervingly wide smile. His eyes were large and round, almost looking like they belonged to a cartoon character.

Steve was similarly perturbed by the lizard. He didn’t look like the short lizards that ambushed them the day Davy first received word of his quest. This lizard had a shorter snout, and scales on the top of his head gave the appearance of small horns.

Steve sidled up to Lady Gut Possum. “What kind of lizard is that?” he whispered.

“The kind that can shoot blood from behind his eyes,” Lady Gut Possum snapped back. “So I suggest you remain silent and allow me to do the talking.”

The lizard spoke to them in a declarative voice that was accompanied by an unusual static sound, as if he was speaking from an old radio. As he spoke, his unnerving smile never faltered.

“This is the Institute of Mind,” he said. “What is your purpose?”

His gaze turned to Davy, who didn’t immediately respond.

“I am Consecration Tony,” the lizard continued in the same declarative voice. “Explain your presence.”

Lady Gut Possum came up to him and gave him a thwack on the head with her parasol. “What did I tell you?” she said angrily. “I said we need to keep a low profile while we’re in this world. And you go and open an ice cream establishment that surreptitiously serves your mind drugs or who-knows-what to the human populous!?”

“But no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” Davy, Steve, Olivia, and Connie chimed in simultaneously.

Lady Gut Possum looked at them then glared back at Consecration Tony. “What were you thinking? This is the Steward and his companions that you are drugging!” she exclaimed.

Consecration Tony looked back with his smile. “Their minds are untapped and ice cream is a magic food. It is an after-hours moonbeam in a corporeal state.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “That doesn’t make any sort of sense,” she replied. “You will stop drugging these people,” she declared. “I do not care if you continue serving food, but it shall not be laced with anything nefarious.”

Consecration Tony tilted his head. “I accept with reluctance,” he said.” You deplorable hard-boiled egg tart.”

Lady Gut Possum seemed too frustrated to pay any heed to Consecration Tony’s insult. She looked at Davy.

“Davy, this is Consecration Tony,” she said in a considerably softer tone. “He is going to help you.”

“Um,” Davy answered. He was already feeling some reservations about this.

“I am aware of your trepidation,” Lady Gut Possum acknowledged. “Consecration Tony is a constant source of consternation. But his methods have a knack for bringing about epiphanies in his subjects. Perhaps he can help you four come to discover what is needed to defeat your current foe.”

“So Tony will help us find out how to defeat the Iron League?” Connie asked. “Sounds good to me.”

Davy still wasn’t quite convinced. “Is there any downside here?” he asked.

“There is a small chance his methods will drive you to incurable madness,” Lady Gut Possum admitted.

“I like those odds,” Olivia chirped.

Davy looked at the rest of the group. “Are you all okay with this?”

Connie shrugged with a laid back grin. “I have a tendency to just go with whatever if presented to me, and it usually turns out just fine. Besides, you’re a sharp individual,” you can probably handle whatever Tony can throw at you,” she answered. “I wouldn’t worry.”

“Yeah,” Steve added. “Besides, my mind is an impenetrable fortress. I’ve never gone mad in my life, so that means it’s, like, statistically impossible for me to go mad today.”

“I mean, yeah, the brain lizard guy who drives people mad should be a giant red flag,” Olivia chimed in. “But look at his face! It’s so goofy and happy. I kind of want a stuffed toy of him that I can make my best friend.”

Davy looked back at Consecration Tony’s face. Maybe he was still in a good mood from the delicious Franklin Del-Mango RooseveltTM ice cream he had just eaten, but the adorable smile and wide, cartoony eyes put Davy at ease.

“Okay, I guess we can try this,” Davy relented. He turned to Lady Gut Possum. “But please don’t let us go insane.”

Lady Gut Possum nodded then glared at Consecration Tony. “Go ahead and prepare them for your mind therapy,” she said. “But you heard the Steward,” she continued. “If any one of them descends into insanity because of you, I swear I will raze your institute to the ground with my bare hands.”

Consecration Tony blinked then held his left hand in the air. “I swear to unlock the secrets in their brain space,” he said. “And that no one will be intentionally driven to madness. This time.”

Lady Gut Possum appeared to find this acceptable, she looked at Davy and the others. “Go on with Consecration Tony, he will get you ready for his therapy,” she said. “And remember if any of you goes insane, I will still love you.”

“Huh?” Steve interjected.

“Nothing,” Lady Gut Possum immediately replied. “Go on with Tony. I will wait for you here.”

The smiling lizard beckoned them to follow him down the hallway leading out of the entry area.

“I have a good feeling about this!” Olivia declared as they followed him down the hall. “Mind therapy sounds exciting!”

Consecration Tony beamed as he led them down to the therapy room. “Prepare for the opening of your mind!” he exclaimed. “Endeavor your brain might! Fail to be a cretin!”

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46. Institute

Institute of Mind

Those were not the words Davy was expecting to see as the elevator doors opened. They were in another cave, but this one was brightly lit. The words were engraved on a giant, futuristic, stone arch in front of them. The arch went over a wide path leading out directly in front of them. Extravagant fountains shot streaming water into the air on either side of the path. At the end of the path was an incredible building. It was mostly made of stone painted white. Massive glass domes came out of the building at different areas. It looked like a state-of-the-art science museum or the headquarters of the latest trending technology company.

“Follow me,” Lady Gut Possum beckoned.

As Davy went under the arch, he looked back up at the sign. The words were written in smooth, appealing typeface. In the center of the words was a graphic of a brain. There was a splash of vibrant yellow behind the words, made to resemble light illuminating from the brain.

The group continued down the path towards the framing glass doors of the building.

“This place looks awesome,” Steve remarked. “I gotta send my resume here.”

Olivia beamed at the fountain nearest to her. “I kind of want to swim in that,” she said. Her hands became webbed for a moment as she said this.

Lady Gut Possum huffed. “This is not a place where you want to be,” she stated. “This place is a trick. Unfortunately, I believe it is also what you need at this point in time.”

They walked through the glass doors. The interior was just as pristine as the outside. Upbeat, almost adventurous music—like what one would hear at a science exhibition—was playing over the speakers. Davy saw a cool green carpet at their feet, marble walls, and another fountain in the center of the room. There was a stone statue of a brain in the fountain, with water elegantly spurting from the top.

Lady Gut Possum approached the reception desk and began to angrily tap the bell. An empty dark doorway sat behind the desk. Lady Gut Possum did not receive a response.

She continued to ring the bell. “You know I’m here, Tony,” she grumbled. After about a minute, a zebra floated up through the empty doorway and behind the desk. She stood upright on two legs, like Lady Gut Possum. Or rather, she floated. She appeared to hover a few inches off the ground. She was holding her hands in the front pockets of her glossy black jacket. A matching black beret sat on her head. To Davy, her face, for lack of a better word, was bizarre. It almost looked like the living embodiment of what you would get if Pablo Picasso ever tried to pain to a zebra. Its features were cubic and distorted. Most notably, the zebra’s large right eye hovered off to the side of her face, not actually connected to the rest of her body.

The zebra looked squarely at Lady Gut Possum. “His name is not Tony,” she said.

Lady Gut Possum scowled. “You are not serious, are you?”

The zebra did not change her gaze. “His name is Consecration Tony. Just as I am Immolation Zebra.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “Fine. I need to see Consecration Tony,” she mumbled.

Immolation Zebra raised her hands. “Sight is but an illusion, sailing on the eternal winds of uncertainty.”

Lady Gut Possum held her hand to her face in exasperation. “I do not have time for your insipid euphemisms,” she stated. “I need to see Tony. Consecration Tony. It is about the Endocrine.”

Steve turned to Davy with a smile. “I am so confused right now,” he whispered.

Immolation Zebra continued to stare at Lady Gut Possum. “Consecration Tony is currently in the middle of an extraterrestrial fever dream, and must not be disturbed. The balance of his secondary neural dynamos needs realignment.”

“None of what you just said means anything, and you know that,” Lady Gut Possum retorted.

Immolation Zebra ignored her. She set her sights on Davy and began to float towards him. Davy was not happy about this development.

“You said you had a matter regarding the Endocrine,” Immolation Zebra said. “Am I to presume that this figure before me is the Steward?”

She came right up to Davy, her face inches from Davy’s face.

“Hi,” Davy stammered uncomfortably. She looked even more unsettling up close.

Immolation Zebra did not seem to hear him. “Your perception is a barren wasteland, devoid of purpose. Your supposed quest is merely a blanket in the void, a small comfort that will not protect you from the reckoning that will come to make slaves of us all. Or have you arrived at the unpalatable truth that we are all slaves already?” She somehow leaned in even closer. “Tell me, Davy,” she whispered. “What is it that you most fear? Because you are almost certainly wrong.”

Davy heard a thwack. Immolation Zebra backed off as Lady Gut Possum began to beat at her with her parasol. “You keep your nonsense away from the Steward!” she exclaimed. “Now go and bring me Tony!”

Immolation Zebra retreated to behind the desk. “Very well,” she replied, seemingly unfazed by the parasol. “But whatever shall transpire from this moment forward is shall be on your hands and your hands alone. No one can deny the colors of inevitability.”

She went back into the doorway. Lady Gut Possum brushed herself off. “Brace yourself, Steward,” she told Davy. “Immolation Zebra is but a taste of the insanity that is to come. Nothing good comes from this institute.”

Connie laughed. “Looks like we’re in for something real interesting,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Olivia replied. “That zebra gave me some major bad vibes. At least four or five too many.”

Steve laughed along with Connie, though his laughter was significantly more unnerved. “Yeah, if that Zebra was just a taste of insanity, can you imagine what Tony is gonna be like?” he asked.

Davy didn’t have to answer. He just nodded as he looked at the six foot, bipedal, horned lizard that had just appeared in front of them.

He was not excited about what was probably coming next.