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Bloop, blub, blip-blap, blup! Little green bubbles popped and splattered at the surface of the swampy water, creating a strangely hypnotic melody. It wasn't often that Pandrowka left his bamboo plantation... and it was a much friendlier atmosphere back there, with a much lusher landscape than in this place. And yet here he was, for there was nothing he wouldn't do for his beloved.

"If you really love me, prove it! Go to the Salt Marsh and pick me a bouquet of the prettiest flowers you can find!" she had snarled at him during their latest argument... And the poor fool had actually gone and done it, not realizing that there were no flowers at all, let alone any "pretty" ones, in this part of Pandalucia...

The low blanket of sickly brown gas on the ground gave him a bad feeling... in more ways than one. It was almost like walking through a Bwork camp, the air was so foul...

"Ugh, talk about your silent but deadly... COUGH COUGH! COUGH COUGH!!"

Pandrowka gave a start. There at his feet, a brilliant red flower was coughing while using the tips of its petals to hold what appeared to be its nose.

"You're disgusting! Couldn't you just hold it in?"

Pandrowka couldn't believe his eyes.

"Where do you think you are, anyhow? Phew, you're worse than any of my Bwork friends by far!"

Taken aback, Pandrowka couldn't even find the words to defend himself.

"HA HA HA ! I'm kiddiiiing! Aw, don't look at me like that! It always smells like this here. But since you're the new guy... I figured I'd have some fun. You know, a joke? I love jokes. Funny stuff."

Faced with this unexpected blast of caustic humor, Pandrowka was speechless. His mouth hung wide open. That also spared him from having to smell the vile stench all around him. Then he remembered why he had come here. A flash of inspiration deep in his love-addled brain quickly turned into a wicked idea...

"My goodness, aren't you a cute one! I've never seen such deep red petals..."

The flower seemed flattered. It simpered, twirled its petals together, swayed about on its bulb, and batted its big eyelashes at the dizzying speed of a Scarafly's wings.

"Is it all right if I take a look...?"

As the Pandawa slowly crouched down, getting ready to grab it, the Bulbiflor spread out its petals in a ruff around its face, then blasted him with a rain of spores right in the eyes, accompanied by a terrifying cry.

"Aaaaaaaaargh ! Why you little... @#&%! I'll stomp you to bits next time I see you!"

Half-blinded, Pandrowka ran off in a rush. In his panic, he slipped in the swampy water, then slid down a slope on his tail. His long slide only stopped when his head smashed into a rock... Stunned, the poor Pandawa was seeing double. He didn't immediately understand what he was looking it. For a brief moment, he thought he'd found help from a lucky star and slid right into a field of flowers, just waiting to be picked.

But as the greenish mist of the Salt Marsh dissipated in a sudden gust of wind, the reality quite literally struck him in the face. A dozen pairs of eyes were locked onto him like spotlights on a cornered criminal. A line of Bulbushes rose before him, completely blocking his path. Their hollow eyes seemed to give a glimpse of the void...

The creatures advanced toward him at a slow pace that somehow made them even more frightening. They slid along the ground like Ghasts. His eyes wild with fright, the Pandawa scampered away backwards, too paralyzed by fear to even stand up.

Luckily, the swampy earth was unstable. The Bulbushes were too heavy, and sank into it like a hot knife through gobbutter, allowing Pandrowka to escape at the last second. With a massive effort, the Pandawa managed to make his way out of the Salt Marsh. Gasping, he ran on and on without looking back, through the shipwrecks, the abandoned shacks, and the few remaining bamboo stalks that were still upright. In the distance, he spotted a bridge that looked like the perfect escape route.

"Forget the stupid flowers! She'll just be happy to have me back in one piece when I tell her how dreadful this place is!", he thought.

Strangely, no matter how long Pandrowka kept running, the bridge never seemed to get closer. He felt something nipping at his calves: dozens of Bulbamboos were swarming at his feet and climbing up his legs, like insects on a tree trunk. The Pandawa realized he was running in place, rooted to the ground by the tiny sprouts that were as cute as they were terrifying. With a yelp of horror, he twisted and turned in all directions to get rid of the little invaders, but only managed a grotesque parody of a dance...

"Argh! Nyaaa! Nggggguh! Arrrggggnnnnyyyyuh! Let me... Let... me... nnnngg... GOOOOO!"

Pandrowka was about to be overcome. Within just a few seconds, not one inch of skin was visible, except for his nose. Was it really going to end like this? Devoured by an army of bulbs?

When suddenly… The Bulbamboos froze in place, then scattered as quickly as they had appeared. "Fwiiiip", and then he was alone again. Well… almost...

The ground shook... concentric circles appeared on the surface of the muck. At his feet, a shadow was spreading over the ground like a puddle, making everything that much darker. Pandrowka turned around and slowly looked up at him.

"I'm afraid this might sting a bit, my dear..."

***

There was a knock at the door. Outside, pouring rain and a thunderstorm loud enough to unravel Mummy Nova were raging and roaring. The young Pandawa rushed to the door, jumping with joy at the thought of seeing her sweetheart again and finding out what lovely bouquet he had brought her.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!"

The earsplitting thunderclap that struck at the same moment wasn't loud enough to drown out her terrified scream. Lightning struck close by her doorstep, casting her visitor's silhouette into sharp relief...

Stalks and branches loomed dizzyingly, a ruff of bamboo leaves, and those eyes...

Those hollow eyes that seemed to give a glimpse of the void...