FR EN ES PT

The boat glided swiftly across the sea. Pandiego held out his chin like a Dauge outside the window of a carriage. With eyes closed and wearing a smile, he was enjoying the fresh morning breeze on his face. How nice it was to feel the wind slip through his mane! Like a sweet caress, well earned after everything he had just endured…

All the months spent without taking a bath. Twenty-eight in total, during which he'd not seen his family… Pandiego had no doubt the reunion would be intense and emotional. The young Pandawa had decided to set sail just as Ogrest's Chaos was acting up again. It was the journey of his life: a trek across the entire World of Twelve, and a spiritual retreat, as he called it. Pandiego had suspected the experience would leave him transformed. Likewise, the World of Twelve continued to be transformed, day after day, by the disasters which had become part of Twelvians' normal life…

In the distance, a thin strip of land started to take shape through the fog. He hadn't seen it for ages, but could still easily recognize it: his beloved Pandalucia. Its verdant lands. Its truly unique bamboo crops. It was like he had never left. And he would always say, a bamboo tree never left its grove! He couldn't wait to see his family…

He lightly smacked the side of the boat to tell his friend to speed up. The Enutrof at the helm shifted into higher gear, making the boat shake; it then chattered and splashed salty water on the Pandawa's face, before resuming its course with renewed vigor.

He had so many things to tell them. And he longed to hold them. He even missed his bratty little sister. While his boat cut through the sea, he saw them from far off, all occupied in the bamboo grove. Or rather, he saw their silhouettes: A blanket of fog separated him from solid ground.

"End o' the line, everybody out!"

Pandiego threw his pack overboard, then embraced his friend somewhat emotionally.

"Aw, don't make a fuss, lad! Keep huggin' me so hard, and you'll break these old bones!

- I'm going to miss you, old friend…

- The feeling's mutual… Who'm I gonna go bar-hopping with now?

- Don't tell me you don't have a woman or two waiting for you in each port. A handsome fella like you!

- Pfft, not so much… The flood carried 'em all away… Either that or they're trying to ditch me!"

Pandiego wore a sad smile, full of empathy.

"And you oughtta ditch these bad habits!" replied the Pandawa as he took the butt lodged in the corner of his friend's mouth and tossed it in the water.

With a grunt by way of agreement and a little wave of his hand, the old man set sail again already. Pandiego watched him drift away and get smaller and smaller, more vulnerable… Until he was nothing more than a black speck in the middle of the ocean. He'd only met the sailor at the end of his voyage. And yet, it was like they'd known each other forever.

With a heavy heart but also much excitement, he walked forward. It had been so long since he last set foot on solid ground that it made him dizzy. He lurched. It felt like the ground was giving way under his feet. Stranger still: The fuzzy shapes of the other Pandawas looked oddly bent and shaky as well. Perhaps they had somehow learned of his impending return and had already begun the celebration? This possibility made him chuckle.

"I see nothing's changed around here," he thought, amused.

Pandiego wanted to take his time. He wished to savor every second leading up to the reunion with his family, so that he might remember it ever after. He would share this touching moment with his children, grandchildren, and perhaps even great-grandchildren! He could already see them, an extensive tribe seated around him in the warm den of his little cabin, up on the top of the hill. He imagined their wide eyes as he recounted his adventures.

The closer he got, the more distinct the figures became. He could start to make them out. He was relieved to see so many of them there.

The air was heavy. Thick and clammy. Almost palpable. He couldn't tell if it was his long absence or something else, but this time, he was especially struck by how humid the area was.

Pandiego could now see the outlines of their faces in sharper detail. But he wondered about something. Had they drunk so much fermented bamboo milk that they didn't notice his arrival?

The bamboo crops, which seemed to be withering, as it happened, might have obscured him from their view. After crossing them, Pandiego waved his arms.

"Hey now, friends! You couldn't wait for Pandiego to arrive to start drinking?" the young survivalist joked.

No reaction. His peers remained stone-faced. Those with their backs to him were practically immobile. The others had almost worrisome expressions…

"Oh, I see… Very funny!"

Still no reply.

"Well… the shortest jokes are the best ones! You two-bit jokesters!"

Silence. Pandiego grew impatient and upset with them. He knew Pandawas tended to appreciate dry humor. But for them to ignore him after he had been away for so many months… It was hard to take.

Suddenly, one of the figures, still turned away, stood out from the rest. That long head of hair, which he would pull on whenever they fought. That dress she always wore, which he used to say looked like a burlap sack to tease her. It was her. Pandiego approached the girl and put his hand on her shoulder.

"I missed you so much, sis…" he whispered while softly teasing her hair.

An almost beastly grunt. The girl spun around.

"AHHHHHHHH!!!"

Her eyes were bloodshot. Her skin was greenish. Her hair oily and pale. And that raspy voice… Either she hadn't slept since Pandiego left the island, or she had fallen victim to a terrible curse. The Pandawa's entire body shivered in fear. Stepping back, he tripped over a bamboo root and nearly fell on his butt, but at the last second, he grabbed another of his people, who also turned to look at him. Same story: With a waxy complexion and blistering skin, his childhood friend hadn't aged well at all. Pandiego once again screamed in terror, causing all the other Pandawas to turn around. Or at least… what was left of them.

His peers moved slowly toward him, their bodies partly emaciated, their backs hunched, moving in a sort of convulsive way.

Pandiego was petrified. "A Pandawa should never leave their bamboo grove," he thought…

Those creatures beset by a mysterious illness are back! Will you be able to eradicate them for good? "The Return of the Thirsters" will come soon!