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Level: 8 - Total EXP: 102/80
Level: 7 (63 -> 70/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Kosm’s Beach; Where All Things Must Come
Word Count: 1561 (+6 EXP)

Hats: Sprint, Ice

Success never tasted so bitter. The Orphan took the bait and began rushing towards him, but only after throwing down it's explosive viscera and scattered the heroes surrounding it, including whatever remained of Delsin. The Ace Cadet channeled his frustration into the pull of the bowstring and let fly. The arrow hit it's mark, and though it wasn't able to rip through Galeem's Guardian it momentarily stopped it's approach, giving the monster hunter enough time to stash his bow and get gone. Or try anyway, the Orphan was always right on his heels. Ultimately the chase lasted only a few seconds, but every moment was harrowing as the placental blade smashed down inches from the Cadet with every swing. After it's latest miss the monster paused, giving the hunter another chance to prepare. If he was going to go toe to toe with it again he needed a melee weapon. He caught his breath, reached for the hilt of a blade with intent to go for a punishing draw attack, and opened his mouth. "So close, but—"

Another explosion, this time destroying the rock face he'd been standing on. The eruption spread and sent the Cadet flying into the air, banged up and a little charred by the force. He was dazed too, until he felt someone catch him and blinked himself back into awareness. It was Nadia - well, a hydro mimic of her anyway.

"Heheh, my hero-ooooooo?!"

He was flying again, rapidly toward the ground toward the real Nadia and another mimic, plus a safety net of their innards waiting for him. If it was anyone else that would be very disconcerting. Because it was her, the Cadet let himself fall into the net and flashed her a smile. "Yes ma'am!"

Bounding in a long, low stride, Hat Kid skipped forward onto the hydro-fibrous trampoline, formed and manned by two feral copycats that weren’t prepared for one more passenger, and even less for the sudden addition of weight to the payload that they weren’t expecting to take on in the first place. They would be forced to ready themselves on a second’s notice for the child to suddenly take her Ice form as she fell upon it to make use of the Hat’s weight-triggered ‘springboard’ function to bounce her away after Ace, intently inbound to crash into the Orphan mid-flight.

The Orphan was happy to meet Ace halfway, already soaring in to intercept him. With weapon reared back and readied in both hands to collide with the Monster Hunter for a gruesomely uneven exchange, the staggering impact of blue ice that sailed past the Cadet to meet it first disrupted its attempt as Hat Kid’s dense sculpture form rocketed into and over the fiend, providing the Hunter with a momentary opening.

Though he was initially surprised by the kid-shaped chunk of ice hurtling by him, the Cadet wasn't about to let the opening provided slip by. He used the momentum that Nadia granted him, turning himself into a human spear. The Sharq lance once again made an appearance, and as satisfying as it would have been to skewer right through the monstrosity the weapon couldn't get all the way through. It was a fearsome stab, and then the Cadet dropped down onto his feet and prepared to follow up.

At this point the Orphan was well used to the lance's attack pattern however. It screeched and bent its body to avoid the first follow up, and then swung it's massive blade to parry the lance. The Cadet's eyes widened as his weapon's thrust was thrown off course.

Seeing Ace with the lower hand in a duel with the fearsome fiend spurred Hat Kid into gear, Sprinting around behind the Hunter as his lance blow was deflected backwards. In a spur of the moment, she closed in, lept upward at the weapon’s head, inverting to shoot her feet above her as she passed through its jaws, transmuting herself into her icy form once more, and using the suddenly accumulated momentum to correctively bring their collective weight down base-first in an arc onto the Orphan’s head, driving the creature halfway to the dirt with a mournful moan. Knowing their enemy by now, neither Hunter nor child would have longer than a second to be surprised by or proud of innovating an improvised greathammer into being, however surprisingly satisfactory the results may have been. Though having now realized the possibility by way of happy accident, they were now aware that they could more evenly equip themselves on the fly to contend functional power with the Orphan, provided they continued with care in their approach.

With the lance practically transformed, part of the careful approach was using the right method of wielding it. It was heavier now with Hat Kid attached to the end of it, so the Cadet forgoed the shield to take the weapon's handle in both hands. This way he could maneuver it more easily, and keep it's icy head out of danger whenever possible. It might open him up to some in return, but he'd much rather test the Orphan's strength against his armor than the Kid's ice encased body. The thought of wielding her frozen form against the monster seemed to be at complete odds with the thought of keeping her safe, but if there was anywhere that someone would be safe on this beach it was in the hands of an ally. Literally, in this case.

”Nice save,” he said to his little companion, though he was unsure if she could actually hear him in the state that she was in. Rolling out of the Orphan's range, the hunter popped back up with the weapon held as though it were a Greatsword. At the same time a pink glow emanated from his chest. "Get ready Kid!" As soon as he spotted an opening he moved in, the Crush Shot bursting forth. Then he swung the weapon back over his shoulder and then brought it down heavy onto the Orphan, ice side first. The hit-and-run tactic had been working well for the other Seekers so far, so it was about time to give it a try.

As a side effect of maintaining her Ice form for the sake of weaponizing it, so too did its native effects remain active. The Ace Cadet soon found this out when next he brought the hammerhead sculpture down, and the concussive ice quake launched both him and the Orphan up to their own heights off their feet. If he acted quickly, he could take advantage of the effect and carry his force over into a follow-up blow, fall or reel himself away to retreat from the Orphan’s retaliation, or whatever else he decided to do with it. He now knew that the option was available, and he could mix up as needed. It was a neat trick, and one he would be happy to take advantage of when the time came. The hunter grinned. "Cool move."

At the moment he used the little launch to put some distance between them and the monstrosity again, watching as the others came in for their own melee engagement. It was also the first time he noted that he seemed to fall a little more slowly back down to the sand. There wasn't much time to ponder that though. He moved out of range of the Orphan's wild swings as soon as he was able, making space for other Seekers to move in.

During their break in direct combat, afforded with space and occupying activity by others, Hat Kid popped out of her Ice form to perch upon the nose of Ace’s Sharq Lance for a second’s rest. She couldn’t hold the form indefinitely, after all, but with a split-second default cooldown rate, she didn’t feel as if it was imperative to share as much. Satisfied with the results thus far, even though they were just getting started with it, she winked and smiled Ace’s way as an expression of shared approval for their discovered team combo, then darted her eyes back to the scene of battle in a gestured question of readiness for another round. In response the Cadet tightened his grip and returned the girl's optimistic smile, in spite of the dismal battle they were currently embroiled in. "Snow problems here, ready when you are!" Upon receiving his (obvious) answer, she nodded, ‘snapped’ the Black Mage into being beside them - at which the Cadet startled and actually averted his eyes - to drop another Ice spell on the monster, bolstering her Umbral Ice one level before ‘trust’ falling back into the clamping jaws of the Sharq’s likeness (of all things), reassuming her Ice form and slotting back into place. Feeling the lance's weight increase again the hunter turned his eyes forward, taking some time to shake off the wariness of Hat Kid's summon. With the Orphan's attention divided again he waited as long as he could before getting back into its reach. He focused on ducking and dodging whenever it's blade got close, measuring their distance to each other. Now they just had to find an opening and smash into the thing. If he timed it right he could probably even get it into the air for their street fighter to move in with her aerial combos. Timing, and a lot of luck.

Level: 6 (51 -> 54/60)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Inner-Mountain -> Graveyard of the Peaks
Word Count: 1319 (+3 EXP)

The silence settled upon by Yellow Team as they waited for physics to finish out the remainder of their legwork reaching the summit made for either an expectantly tense or needfully calm and peaceful one, depending on how each member of the party directed their thoughts, and the primitive means by which their ascent was made possible assured them nothing but time to think and focus accordingly; however they so chose to. For Fox, his mind went forward, as always. Rather than review freshly thwarted foes as some had, he spared his thoughts for enemies that still lay ahead of them, for there would surely be more on the way to their main target. He tried to imagine what they might be; what enthralled or incidental minions this region had left to throw at them, that might try to offer them resistance before they pushed through to reach the boss. He imagined what form or shape that boss might take; what it would be capable of; what it could and would do to try and defeat them, all in the name of protecting and serving their omnipresent master that lay dormant in the heavens above them, even at the lofty heights this one awaited them at…

He imagined how it would eventually fall…

The biting chill of the air crept back into the atmosphere the closer they came to the top as the mountain gradually opened up to the outside once more, serving as its own uncomfortable sign of progress, as did the number they had among them still making the trek compared to how many they began the climb with. While their collective number remained at a healthy margin, comparable to that of their last boss raid, and just as many waiting for a beacon’s call to rejoin them at the end, the thought and feeling of more potential drop-offs before then couldn’t be helped. The issue for the entire trip had been something of a question of how many they could risk propping up versus how many they could afford to leave behind for later. A new question arose at this late leg in their journey of if any of them could feasibly turn back at that point, should any more find themselves unable to continue, and every subtraction made their destination seem just a little bit farther, the closer they came to it.

Their luck would have it that no surprise obstacles presented themselves that just happened to require a greater number of attendants. That was the only merciful consolation they would receive, made up for by the frigid, buffeting winds that answered them when the two powerhouses among them forced the doors open. Fox buried his snout in his elbow and clamped the white parka that Band had supplied him earlier shut by the collar with his other hand as he tried to hold firm against the initial hit of the elements until they relieved enough to push on through. In daunting fashion, they received a prelude of what was to come further on, and a bitter reminder that no help or relief would come to those who dared press onward.

Another stone keep, what could only be the remnant of old civilization, lay on the safer side of the wall at the end of the bridge, bordering the hellish plateau just beyond it. Another distraction at worst, a sheltering checkpoint at best, and home to a nebulous solution of questionable likelihood. Whatever purpose this place served—in the ancient past or the present day—it was a definitive last chance for anyone else to stop that wanted or needed to. They were now almost certainly at a point of no return.

Beyond the passageway stretched a seemingly endless tundra wasteland littered with scattered, inscrutable monuments, eroded by indiscernible parts weather and time, which could only have been graves in a time before ceaseless winter fell upon the land. What gravekeeper could otherwise brave it? The blizzard-veil that erased the horizon from view parted just enough at the clouds to grant them a beckoning glimpse of the illuminated finish line at the truer summit, the apparent distance to which resembling that of the one they now stood on from where they first set eyes upon it in the desert landing whence they arrived days before. Truly, it seemed, their journey would go on forever; without end. Yet, it was to be made still, for an end had to be.

As if to taunt them further with the otherwise redundant elucidation of their woefully unpromising odds, the Master Hand, all but camouflaged by the blistering ever-white that had claimed so many an unfortunate traveler before them, waited to meet them, mere steps beyond the gates. Could only glare through this long-acquainted adversary as he half listened—more tolerating him than anything—as he prattled poetically in his practiced, accustomed manner about their efforts and progress made, those yet to be made, and what was left for them to face. Even the off-hand mention of progress by their allies from Blue Team on the opposite end of the World didn’t go unheard, nor was it missed that he said only enough to prevent from framing it as good news. Of course, from him they could expect none; only empty praises and vain portends supposedly intended to deter them.

There came a peculiar exception to his visit this time in that he came with no surprises; no additional threats to face them with; nothing extra, for even he himself deemed, in his own words, for them to be unnecessary. He believed the natural obstacle before them to suffice. After everything the adventurers had accomplished, and how much of it the Hand had borne firsthand witness to, it was almost insulting of him to profess, as if he truly believed in it, the idea that weather and terrain would be enough to defeat them. Even more so was the ever so patronizing manner in which he made his parting declaration of certainty in their stubborn will to advance in supposed futility, even to their certain deaths; to never give up in spite of it all…

He was right.

Fox and his like had risen to answer every challenge this entity had ever presented them with, without fail, and everytime, they came out ahead. This time would be no different, for however boundless his creativity appeared to be, he had nothing left to scare the Veterans with. He could succeed only in spurring them onward anymore, and if he truly wanted that of them, whyever he would, then so be it. It wouldn’t end well for him. He will have chosen the wrong side for the last time.

As if he had been patiently waiting simply for the Master Hand to say his piece (and make his peace, as he saw it), he let one more brief moment of silence pass in the wake of his disappearance, and, in more defiance of than compliance with the Hand’s prediction, began quietly marching forward, the gentle flattening of powder beneath his feet in steady, even steps being the only sound issued from him. The presented motion of a potential suicide march gave him no pause, nor did his pace break for even a second as a better idea failed to meet his ears, try as his comrades understandably might. If they happened to find a better way, they were welcomed to meet him along the way with it, or leave him where he lay if they should pass him by on the road ahead—whichever it came to. In any case, his mind was set, and no amount of fear or doubt would dissuade him from it. Should he fall or fail, his resolve would no sooner falter, and he would regret nothing.

He would go alone if he had to, but he would go all the same…

...for it was the only way he would know.

Level: 7 (57 -> 63/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Carcass Isle - Where All Things Must Come
Word Count: 1336 (+6 EXP)

Hat/s: Sprint, Terry’s Cap, Ice
Stress: 50

Apparently content to ignore the Koopa King’s prodding, the Orphan of Kos fixed its harrowing gaze on the more proper, direct challenger it found in the Hero of the Wild. A practically tangible air formed between them as the two started to advance on each other at an equal, deliberate, measured pace. The tension was cut like a taut cord with an opening strike from the Orphan, flying headlong toward the Hylian with a disarming shriek, and bringing the grotesque, organic, bladed mass that it wielded for a weapon forcefully down where the warrior once stood. It ceased barely a moment in its continuous onslaught, howling in layered voices of raving madness with every frenzied exertion as it swung at every still-living thing around it with absolute abandon. Fewer than a handful of moves from it was all it took for them to recognize the strength and ferocity commanded by their frighteningly vicious adversary.

The Orphan was absurdly agile and inhumanly mighty for what appearances and first impressions would suggest, and terrifyingly savage to boot. Even Link, boasting the keenest reflexes and thickest nerves out of all of them—and possibly anyone alive—may have found himself at least somewhat surprised by the way it initially dove at him. They all might have, if not for the preemptive assist provided by Ace for a much needed speed boost to be put to best use dodging. It was no wonder the entire village ecosystem of dark-dwelling monsters lined the cave hall in prostration to it. They were afraid of it, and with every right to be. Somehow, even without seeing it for themselves they had an intrinsic insight on what it was they were bowing to, and why. Hat Kid found herself wishing she had the same prior knowledge, but with different feelings and intentions that wouldn’t have changed regardless. In fact, she suddenly felt far less sorry for the Orphan, seeing now what it was capable of, but what she lost in pity (if not entirely) was made up for in cautious respect gained for its abilities and a poignant realization for what it truly was—a fiendish, Eldritch abomination, and their enemy.

Though she started slightly outside of its effective range, Hat Kid dodged away for distance as the Orphan began slinging its weapon in wide rotations to extend its reach. Between the brutal damage it visibly inflicted on far more durable fighters than her (Bowser, of all people), and the sundered defenses of others otherwise, it became rapidly apparent to her that she couldn’t fight this thing. At least, not directly, physically, and certainly not alone. Out of a squad of dedicated melee and ranged fighters alike, with some hybrids, she fell squarely into no particular category, so if she was to make any difference in the fight, she would have to try playing what few feasible roles she could, making use of everything she could with the correct timing and a little creative thinking.

To start, she summoned her newly bound Spirit to her back to unleash Fire upon the Orphan as soon as a scant moment of opportunity where her allies were clear of it presented itself. Then, once it was occupied again with single combat, she engaged Sprint, leaping for the monster's exposed back, Homing in on the glowing weak point at the nape of its neck. Kicking off in a layout by the foot that made contact, she shot back down with a crashing, flaming fist just as the creature dropped forward to plunge a placental landmine into the sand, bouncing from the back of its head with another successful hit, only to be caught midair by the bright blood eruption that followed. Against the likes of this wild Guardian, it seemed even playing for just one extra hit proved to be a fallably greedy tactic, one that very well stood to cost more than it was worth.

She rebounded to her feet as her back made passing contact with the sand, drawing the attention and ire of the Orphan for having recovered directly in front of it. She sidestepped the first slam attack aimed at her, flipped over the second strike as the weapon was dragged in a corrective horizontal sweep, then was forced to a hasty halt by an uncomfortably close blade slam that caused her to stumble and fall as she attempted to right herself, and slipped by the last hit with a desperate side roll, the tremor and proximity of impact just about lifting the lightweight child from the ground. Evasive acrobatic finesse turned to an imbalanced scramble with every successive near miss until she found herself shuffling backwards on all fours for a few steps as the Orphan menacingly continued its advance at a walking pace, heaving the organic great weapon overhead in preparation for a heavy downward smash. As a hurried flight response, she blindly aimed her Hookshot behind her, anchored onto the rocks, and winched herself away for a narrow escape as the club fell, drawing her Ray Gun to take a handful of parting shots at the Guardian’s head as she went.

Hat Kid took her turn at a distance while the Orphan went between the melee fighters, carefully squeezing off three more Ray bolts at it, and missing all of them. The Orphan’s constant, borderline erratic movement and her lack of proficiency with ranged weapons made for an unproductive attempt, never mind the meager sum of damage success would have amounted to. When the fiend went airborne to assail Jr, the child saw a need and chance for her to assist, grapnelling up and onto the Clown Car with him, aiming down over the rim, and quickly firing a blue umbrella beam at the Orphan from point-blank. She followed suit in abandoning ship, leaping upward instead of outward, stepping even higher still by using the Black Mage’s Ice spell as a footstool where it formed high overhead. She wouldn’t be far behind in following the arcane cryobomb down to crash on top of the monster, first exhausing the last of her Ray Gun shots in a falling dive before righting herself and assuming her vastly heavier Ice form to drop the rest of the way.

A second or two behind the Ice spell, Hat Kid’s crystalline form, petrified in pristine blue ice, came slamming down between the Orphan’s shoulders, the cold quake of impact traveling through its feet to spread the concussive effect through the ground in a radial five to ten meter space around it. Yet, for all the weight packed into her lethal terminal drop, the Guardian remained largely unmoved, failing even to break its posture beyond its natural hunch. Throughout the battle, even their heaviest hitters had barely managed to so much as make the monster flinch, and her heaviest attack, specifically intended to crush or launch enemies, stood as no exception.

Trembling furiously with effort, the Orphan threw its head back with an agitated scream, launching the still frozen Hat Kid skyward once more. As it bounded up after her with its weapon reared back, she dared not drop the form just yet, for the dense coating of ice was all that would shield her from the likely fatal blow heading her way. The wizened fiend swatted her away like a tennis ball, shattering her defense instantly. She survived the hit with a hard landing, thankfully sustaining significantly less damage than she otherwise would have, but consequently setting her entire assortment of superpowered headwear on a universal reboot timer. For the next ten seconds—in a fight where every one of them counted—her Hats would be good for little more than fashion statements. While she had a moment to spare, she turned her sights intently back to the action, popped a Honeycomb for a small but helpful hit of vitality, holding it in her cheek like hard candy as its rich contents worked to restore her, and crouched to a runner’s start onto the Mage’s Lay Lines that formed beneath her…

Level: 7 (41 -> 51 -> 57/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Carcass Isle - Where All Things Must Come
Word Count: 1564 (+6 EXP)

Hat/s: Default, Brewing
Stress: 25 -> 50

For Hat Kid, mortal time trials were nothing particularly new; even failing, dying, and retrying them was strangely familiar, in the sense and to the extent that it could reasonably be. In this case, however, she bore the weight of permanent failure and its promised consequence on her mind, knowing not only that she wouldn’t be entirely at fault should they fail, but how many she stood to be at fault for—that she wasn’t solely responsible for herself this time—as the final seconds of the outgoing challenge ticked away to zero. Their miraculous buzzer beater finish, it seemed, was enough to constitute not just a successful challenge completion, but a “new record” for completion time. It must have sucked to be the last guys who tried. After such a close-cut, stressful ordeal, a called for moment of rest was very much in order.

Even with the tendency to occasionally idle, she wasn’t typically one for mid-mission breaks, or more specifically catnaps. Minutes before a major boss fight seemed as good a time and excuse as any to make an exception. Tucking her arms and leaning back against a kelp-lined incline with her hat pulled down over her eyes, she managed to get as comfortable as she could expect to, given her surroundings, just enough to blissfully tune out for a minute or two. Nadia sprawled out on the kelp bed next to her some moments later, having come back looking prettier and more elegant than before. The child put together how when she peeled an eye open to check after being roused from semi-consciousness by the feral contentedly stirring in her sleep. She couldn’t resist her childish urge to pet Fortune on the back of the head and gently scratch behind her ears, or help but softly cat-smile as she purred and curled up in response. For perhaps the first time since they set sail, she, too, felt momentarily content.

In that moment of contentment when she ceased petting Nadia to resume her own rest, she opened her other eye to gaze curiously at a single unclaimed Spirit she noticed where there once lay a pile, the round of claims and calls having mostly concluded by then. She popped up from sitting and strolled over to inspect it, taking it in hand after a cursory inspection for a closer look, wondering what about this Spirit in particular caused her typically eager cohorts to skip over it. Nothing about the figure represented within struck her as inherently unappealing by appearances. Was there any chance they simply forgot about it against those they wanted? Maybe they just had their fill with change left over? Or did they assume by their hat that Hat Kid, specifically, would be interested in it and left it over as a gift, despite previously foregoing Spirits for the most part? Either way, it was hers now; no takesies backsies! The question now was, what to do with it?

Her instinct thus far was to simply itemize Spirits she got a hold of, but those mostly came from enemy mobs. This, as far as she knew, could have been a more notable (thus powerful/useful) figure, and to simply destroy them—or to attempt fashioning a hat or outfit from them—may prove little more than wasteful. Spirits, as far as she could tell, weren’t renewable resources, after all. The prospect of fusion she still found to be similarly unappealing, from a standpoint of practicality and vanity alike, for she wasn’t within her knowledge or means to control, stabilize, or otherwise revert the process or its results—not independently, anyway. She couldn’t quite stomach the possibility of her appearance altering in ways she didn’t approve of without her say so, or changes to her personality regardless. Even less did she care to rely on anyone to fix that for her, provided their cooperation or agreement from an affecting Spirit. Lastly, the Spirit (and its departed owner) were wholly unfamiliar to her, in character and capability. It wouldn’t make sense to blindly, boldly overcommit to that.

That left only one other option…

Recalling the little Spirit seminar the Master of Masters conducted for them (who, come to think of it, was curiously more educated on the matter than any who shared his predicament), she made her first attempt at… “binding” it to herself, which she remembered involved entreating them somehow.


She whispered to the Spirit of the Black Mage, offering them a chance to make themselves useful by showing what they can do. They would still be more or less themselves, albeit manifest in a limited capacity, she assured. Rather than absorbing or rendering them into a tool, the proposal was, as said, “really the best I can do.” For that, she apologized, not being a fan of compromise herself. Regardless, her offer to the Spirit was made.

For all the tension, anxiety and dread the Seekers were meant to feel (and no doubt still did) on their passage through, Hat Kid actually found the last biome leading into the boss lair to be the most aesthetically and atmospherically pleasant, save for its inhabitants. Considering everything that led up to it, and where it led to, that wasn’t saying much. Even without being subjected to direct hostile engagement (though ever-presently threatened with it), they were surrounded the whole way through the caverns with living (and perhaps half-living) reminders that they were still not welcomed there. Still, there was something about the Stygian, but colorful subterranean biome that registered to the child as comfortably familiar, reminding her distinctly of Subcon Forest. Were it only so easy to forget the problems around and ahead of you, and reminisce more fondly on older problems that you no longer have…

After helping (as she best knew how) to clear away the soil blockage with an explosive vial, the path terminated at yet another putrid shore much like the one they arrived at initially, only calmer. Possessing an open sky despite being underground (maybe undersea), as was loudly observed, this non-Euclidean space featured a single celestial body prominent amidst the gloomy, foreboding overcast. Her best guess as to what it could be: the faintest indicator/reminder of the Galeem’s presence and agency in this domain; a lingering beacon for the Guardian over which it presided, tasked for life with its unwitting protection. If anything was made certain with what followed, it was that the Lord of Light was most certainly not watching over it in kind.

All eyes went to the deathly white alien carcass that lay at the center of everything as it started to writhe before spilling out its still warm (but hardly fresh) inner remains. These dead leavings turned out to contain the singular living being native to the area from the beach to the horizon. Those who knew the signs or were at least conceptually familiar with the process could tell: this wasn’t one creature living within another, but having just begun its life. Tragically, the first thing this wretched infant would ever learn in its life was just how alone it was, and how little its life seemed to matter.

Hat Kid placed a hand to her mouth, equal parts emotionally shocked and physically disgusted, fighting back the urge to get sick. She was far too young to know or care either way, but this was no way for one to learn of the miracle of new life, if one could still call it a “miracle” afterwards. It made for just another among many sights seen throughout their voyage across the Bottomless Sea appallingly ill-suited for such young eyes—or any mind capable of comprehending it for that matter. Neither her relative ignorance of the biological fact of birth nor lacking grasp of the existential implications of being birthed from a long-dead mother to a grim, rotten, uncaring world of nothing availed her not to allay the intense, overwhelming horror inspired in her from having been among the handful unfortunate enough to witness this horrid genesis. This, if anything, served as a crash course on the subject matter, one replete with lessons she already wished she could unlearn.

Hat Kid gains 25 Stress.

Gazing as if to plead to the obscured, nigh-vacant heavens, the ghoulish newborn did as perhaps anyone would in its circumstance, and had begun morbidly weeping. That, she understood. She could only pity the sorry creature, for it was not evil, but sick; a victim. Like them, it was a slave to the whims of an indifferent god, and it boar the additional misfortune of drawing the ‘Guardian card’. it didn’t deserve to die; it had to. That much would have been true even without its station. To be slain would be the greatest (and only) kindness it could ever know.

Hat Kid’s eyes welled with sympathy that she typically reserved, expressed or even felt for almost none before quickly drying them with mustered resolve. She knew what they had to do, and for this thing, it would come as a favor. Tightening her grip on her Umbrella, she brandished it forth in one hand, and pinched the brim of her Hat with the other, ready to swap them on a second’s notice. She would not, however, be making the first move, as per her standard practice. Instead, she would start by prioritizing defense and evasion, patiently waiting for the Ophan’s first move, then finding an opening…

Level: 6 (50 -> 51/60)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Split Mountain - Redstone City -> Baur’s Reach -> High Hrothgar
Word Count: 742 (+1 EXP)

The trek up the mountain following the Redstone racetrack proved to be somehow comparably less taxing or eventful, though not without its difficulties. With the literal biggest of their obstacles being a giant sleeping bear in the midst of hibernation, Yellow Team barely stopped for anything else that followed, be it the odd hostile flora/fauna ambush, the tribe of polar savages they were content to ignore for time, and of course, the terrain itself. Fox lent his hand to casually gunning down the insectile swarm at the start, managed to keep up with the Thieves on every jump and climb made, albeit with marginally less ease, and if the cold bothered him at all, he hardly showed it, neglecting even to roll his sleeves down—at least until the weather picked up the higher they went. Lastly, of the of the tortured prisoner entombed in a withered tree of frozen iron, he made little, electing to close himself off from the pitiable man’s suffering and moving on, rather than entertaining any sympathetic impulse that would compel one to indulge his dying request. He wouldn’t blame anyone who had, though, but as far as he was interested, it would be over for all of them when they were finished. Only the mission mattered.

Their eventual ingress into the quiet stone keep upon the cliffs bore them relief from the elements, the past hours of accumulated chill they felt dispelled by the gentle firelight within. The looks they drew from the temple’s devoted denizens highlighted an already inferrable infrequency of visitors, but that they just as soon returned to their own business despite the occasion meant they weren’t terribly worried either way. Only one among the elders saw fit to attend or address them at all, providing them just about all they needed in directions, advice, precautions, and time for the Team to decide once more if everyone still wanted to make the full trip. Those who didn’t had the option to cruise back down and wait for a call to the top. Just as well to ease their burden in numbers, but Fox, as always, wouldn’t be among them, electing to press on with the rest.

True to the attendant’s word, the mountain’s interior path failed to entirely insulate the party from the frigid atmosphere that permeated this upper region of what they could have almost forgotten was a desert. The cold and dark, thus far into their new route, happened to be the only inconveniences presented to them, remedied easily with what they already had on hand, and proceeding otherwise fortunately unmolested as they did. It got ever so slightly more interesting for them when they arrived at a wider cavern opening, ambiently lit by what could have been ever-thinning walls of ice giving way to daylight, featuring a perilously narrow zig-zag bridge likely slick with ice, and a frozen giant looming directly over it.

This presented little still to be immediately concerned about, as it posed no apparent threat in its current state, assumed threatening simply by appearances, naturally. The demand for quietude during their crossing thus made little sense to Fox. If it spent as long as it presumably had dormantly encased in ice and stone, noise wasn’t going to disturb or awaken it—doubtfully enough to make a difference, at least. It didn’t seem to stop the young psychic Raz from having questions about it regarding their objective, answered summarily by Midna with conclusive citations of precedent about the constants of the World. It would have been too easy for him to be right, besides.

“It doesn’t matter. We’re not here for him,” Fox reminded at an appropriately measured volume. “Our problem’s up there. Let’s not lose track now.” In so saying, his own choice detractions from the course on their journey through the Sandswept Sky hadn’t escaped him, hence the emphasis on focus on the main objective. If there was a time to be single-minded—and a worse one to be distracted or sidetracked—it was on the last stretch before the main event. No one needed to get any more ideas now.

Rather than bypassing the bridge in one or two moves skipping ahead to the end, as he was certainly capable of doing, Fox matched pace with his cohorts, carefully marching along the trail a step at a time. He would prefer to be in their midst, should any (more) of them need assistance, or in critical event, rescue.

Level: 7 (39 -> 41/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Carcass Isle - Trial of Purity
Word Count: 999 (+2 EXP)

Hat: Default -> Sprint
Item: Necro Smasher (Loan)
Stress: 0 -> 25

Look at them… fighting like they didn’t just escape from a big, scary nightmare ship… (You’re welcome for that, by the way.) As if this trip hasn’t been long enough already! Couldn’t we just skip this part? Don’t they want to get home?!

While her comrades eagerly entertained the interruption, seeing it as a welcomed excuse to let out their frustrations pent up from a horrifying voyage of powerlessness, Hat Kid thought to herself about the situation overall, and began more consciously considering her feelings on it as she watched her allies have their thinly disguised fun with a fight she probably should have been helping them with. She just… watched, all but paralyzed at first into brooding inaction, then before she knew it she was sat cross-legged at the edge of the well that she knew would take them to their target destination, cheek in palm as if bored; frustrated rather. Not in the same sense that she was looking for something to take it out on like some of her teammates were. Rather, she started to ask herself: What was she even doing with these people?

While she had come to their timely aid on the Maw, the experience as a whole put things in perspective for her, if only for a moment, and leading only to questions. Questions that mostly began simply with ‘why’. Like, why did they need her help at all if she managed her entire end of the voyage on her own, as she had with all things before it? And in that case, why did she need their help? Was theirs just a partnership of convenience simply for the sake of dogpiling the World’s rulers into oblivion, which she was quite literally a very small part of? Why did she go back for them considering she would likely never have ended up on that vessel if she hadn’t tagged along with them to begin with, instead of deciding for herself where she would rather go?! But most of all, why did this suddenly matter to her?

So lost was she in her melancholic musings that she hadn’t noticed the conjoined, chimeric crawling its way up and out of the well until it just about brushed past her, startling her out of her stupor to stumble from the well’s edge and rear-first onto the rain sodden soil. Luckily, it didn’t seem to notice or pay her any immediate attention versus the likes of her companions, nor did any of them seem to notice her embarrassing pratfall or catch her in the dejected slump that led up to it. She might have sooner spotted the creature coming—perhaps before it arrived, thanks to her Lens—had she been paying attention to the situation before her and saving her questions for later. Consequently, to behold such abominations of the like came more harshly as affront to the senses, her perception of them now marginally more vivid than before; a curse of knowledge and sight one might say.

(Hat Kid begins at 25 Stress)

Thankfully, that particular monster made itself someone else’s to take care of. Elsewhere on the battlefield, her thus far absent support was needed. Her’s, specifically, it seemed, for the now oversized Witcher was struggling with, of all things, a small, agile pest that might have troubled him less prior to his transformation. Taking the hint to answer the mostly coincidental call for her skill set, she got to her feet, ‘wiped’ her cheerful facade back on her face, and lept into action, making herself useful just in time for the encounter to wrap up…

Now that their collective attention was free, the party could heed the child as she directed them. In fairness to them, even unaccosted, she wasn’t exactly the most vocal type, nor of the most assertive presence. Delayed or not, what was important was that they were putting steps behind them. Steps taken along a driftwood pathway over a veritable river of what may as well have been saltwater maggots through an infested tunnel, but they found their way to the end of it quickly enough without issue to call it a plus for progress made. The end of that path marked the start of four others, with one obviously correct answer among them given away by the solid veil of unnatural fog that obscured it, as guessed by all present even before she confirmed it for them. Those among them who understood the mission they were on could feel, unmistakably, that their last great challenge at this end of the world lay just beyond.

In case there had been any doubts otherwise, the Master Hand appeared before them to stall their advance, making this, for some of them (Hat Kid included), the third instance of intervention by him. Hat Kid could only cast their disembodied nuisance an ineffectual glare in the wake of impulse attacks that fell upon him to likewise fruitless effect. What even IS his role, she wondered. Did he honestly expect to deter them with ‘challenges’ comparably paltry to what they had ultimately set their sites on? Was this all just nothing more than a game to him? Or was it, perhaps, that this was more of a test? With a pattern now definitively established by a three count occurrence, it might in time come to be a test of their patience, if nothing else.

This time, it called more for a sudden sense of urgency, as made clear by a strict timer tattooed into the skin, scales, and whatever else of every attendant member in Blue Team+. With a reverberant command, the Hand snapped out of space, and the countdown to death had begun for all of them. In tow with Nadia and Geralt, Hat Kid Sprinted through the second path, bounding over the water and Hookshotting in, releasing her line to slingshot onto the central platform and rolling to a stop, eyes up and ready to meet their chosen foe that awaited them…

Level: 6 (48 -> 50/60)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Tostarena Town -> Redstone City
Word Count: 1200 (+2 EXP)

When the suggestion of downsizing their collective unit for ease of management on the mountain ascent was brought to attention, Fox quietly sat out any debates of attendance that followed. He expected he could trust each party member to individually assess themselves and their capabilities and make their own judgements about their ability to make the climb unhandicapped. If they had any doubts about making it to the top, or otherwise suspected they would more burden than benefit the group trying, it was up to them to speak up and opt out for their own safety and that of their fellow Seeker, for which no one would blame them. They each knew themselves better than any, and could best be their own judge on the matter, as he saw it. All he knew for certain was that he would be going regardless, and whatever may happen as a result, he would accept responsibility for.

Between the Heavy, Medic, BP, Ciella, and Sly (whom almost no one else on the team knew about), they accounted for a total of five stay-behinds out of their crew of two dozen, with Yoshitsune tentatively recommended for reserves as well. One of the town’s resident guardians assured them that they wouldn’t want for activity if they stayed behind, prospectively cutting into the idea of having a reserve force, but Fox couldn’t pretend to mind. Were he among the staying, he might oblige the town and its people however he could, and among those making the trek, he was confident as always that they could prevail with what they had. At any rate, he saw no means of expediently summoning reserve aid should they need it anyhow, which brought to mind a couple of vital concerns of planning and contingency.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” he began by weighing in on the frankly ludicrous notion of luring the Guardian down from its nest on the mountain peak. “We’ll be fighting it and the mountain on the way down if we try.” If they (rightly) thought scaling the mountain would be difficult, coming down from it with one of the World’s dozen apex entities right on top of them the whole way would make for a hellish exercise in task management they might regret considering, never mind the collateral threat it posed to the town (and possibly beyond) should they hypothetically succeed. Fox almost preferred the idea of turning the Railway Gun on it from where they stood if he honestly thought it a viable option. Range, accuracy, altitude disparity, risk of causing avalanche/rock slide, and attrition least of all were just a few among several conceivable impediments to an artillery-based approach. “We’ll be fighting on its territory either way. We may just have to accept that and make the most of it,” he concluded, simply to keep expectations reasonable.

As it happened, the luchadora was able to bring them directly to a passable solution, one that would conveniently allow the climbing party to beam the ground team directly to the summit with them if they so choose. Fox, however, did have one suggestion: “We should leave one down here,” he said, referring to the recieving portcrystals, naturally assigning an adjoining ferrystone with a climber. “If anything happens, we’ll have to be able to get someone out; someone who can get word home if we don’t make it back.” This was essentially the same plan going the opposite way to serve an alternate purpose, and if enough stones were available to keep a two-way option open, potential volunteers could work that out amongst themselves prior to the team setting off. They had then to figure it out, and later to make good on their options.

Tostada, apparently having done this no small number of times, was glad to lead the Seekers up on the first stretch of their ascent, and Fox contentedly fell in behind her. She forewarned them of the first obstacle of reckless joyriders they would encounter on the way, assuring them that wouldn’t pose too much of a threat, and certainly not intentionally. Be that as it may, if said obstacle, the first and least of several to come, felled or gave hard pause to any of them, that would confirm for any in doubt whether or not it would be better for them to push on with the rest or stay behind and wait for them to clear the peak.

Anyone who could or cared to appreciate it had enough time before the initial challenge to take in nature’s splendor as they passed through one of its fine examples; a welcomed, pleasant reminder that deserts weren’t always so barren as to be devoid of value. A veritable peak range in itself, the graduation of burnt red spires tightly formed together almost as if by design gave the impression of having once been settled—or meant to be—and would have almost come as a surprise to find out that no one was taking advantage of it by making there a home for themselves. Surprising, if not for what it was being used for.

The first bike crashed headlong into Tora, putting his improved defensive reflex to work right away, with utter disregard by its rider for their own safety, demonstrably for lack of need. The perpetual reset autoroutine allowed them to forego caution to focus expressly on building and maintaining speed and momentum, though at the expense of those who weren’t part of the race. The group responsively made their own haste setting up a defensive front against all manner of oncoming hill traffic that threatened to run them down. Along with Tora came Jesse, Braum, Midna and the Queen to establish a protective front line, revealing also just how many more ‘shields’ they turned out to have. Of course, they would get nowhere fast by simply staying behind it, as Razputin had realized aloud. Him and Midna both were right, in a way. The line had to end somewhere, and all lines for sure ended at the start. To get behind them, rather, would see them past this.

Rather than sit tight and wait to see if they stopped coming, Fox decided to put his theory to the test by timing hard presses forward against traffic, moving from cover to cover between passes. The various riders were comparatively easy enough to sidestep or bound over, but the dense, rotund golems and seals of stone skin and thick white fur respectively that rolled and bounced downhill in tandem tacked on an unneeded layer of complication to their effort, as well as posing an evidently greater inherent danger to the health of bystanders. Though not without a share of near misses, Fox was soon able to get a cursory read of their trajectories based on the difference in how they moved, pivoting around pillars and hugging walls to slip by the Gorons, and ducking low in his sprints to pass under the Shiverians, taking special to flatten his profile for when they hit the banks, diving and sliding as needed. If there was an answer to their predicament at the top of the foothill, he was putting himself at risk to reach it.

Level: 6 (45 -> 48/60)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon; Outbound -> Tostarena Town
Word Count: 2675 (+3 EXP)

Ahead of the final boarding call, Fox made his way to the front end of the train deck to get a leading view of their destination, the divided peak highlighted by the morning desert sun as it came into view, and Al Mamoon began to shrink from it. At no point during the initial stretch of their departure did he bother to look back. Whatever problems they may have left behind them they would have to leave there; to entrust them to their comrades elsewhere. The apparent exception to this was the Grimleal archer, Ciella, coming unexpectedly aboard with them at the last minute before takeoff, which he hadn’t failed to notice. It would have been hard not to on account of her stature alone, as she occupied already limited space on the train. Whatever the reason for her involvement, that was her risk to take, for she would soon be well past the point of safe return. Perhaps after getting a good look at their “noble goal”, she would come to her senses and see the truth of the matter, but that may have been expecting much. Either way, her best chance was with them now.

Moving on from the thought, Fox proceeded down the length of the train to find a place to settle in, conducting a cursory rather than thorough examination of its workings to familiarize himself. He had contended with weaponized locomotives in the past, and could figure out easily enough how to make a giant gun work, knowing the extent of what one could be good for. Common sense sufficed to fill in the blanks on that, its utility obvious enough to place some of them seemingly under the impression that all of their work thwarting the Resistance was to secure it. In his mind, they actually did it to save one of their own. The Railway Gun was simply supplemental to that; a welcomed asset to aid them on their journey, to be sure. He was just glad to have the right people on it with him… and then some.

While they had an apparent surplus of time to do little else, Fox thought to make rounds checking on the team individually, starting, by request, with Tora. The Nopon proposed an open challenge to anyone and everyone to hit him with whatever they had in an impromptu training session aimed at sharpening his defensive acumen, for which a majority of the team’s worth of takers almost immediately formed a queue. This proved to be beneficial for just about everyone in attendance, be they participant or observer, affording them all a good look at the abilities and tactics of one another while Tora got hands-on lessons in dealing with them. Casters, supports, and variable heavy hitters got their turns before Fox eventually tagged in between rounds, and as much as Tora was clearly learning from it all, there was a simple, more specific, yet critical point he wanted to help get across while he had the opportunity.

On Tora’s mark, Fox advanced swiftly on him with a two count of advancing Impact Shots to provoke his guard while he closed the gap between them. Quick as Fox was, Tora now had a few rounds of fresh practice behind him to prepare him for an aggressive rushdown assault. Even attempting to get around his guard proved difficult, to say the least, as the Noponic defender was able to move his guard accordingly to fend off a ceaseless series of varying foot blows that fell ineffectually upon his shield. A satisfied smirk threatened to form on Fox’s face, admittedly pleased with the result. That Tora could defy appearances and expectations by being able to respond evenly with an overwhelmingly faster opponent in single combat made for a commendable showing of situational awareness and threat response on his part.

There was just one problem…

With both feet planted firmly against Tora’s shield, Fox kicked off to go airborne in a back layout, readying and squeezing off a Charge Shot aimed directly at the Nopon from point blank before his feet hit the floor again. Again, the shot hit nothing but metal, amounting to little more than a mild concussive stagger at most. However, it was enough to buy Fox a literal second to do what he really meant to, which was to blurdash in, push past the shield with one hand, grap Tora by the collar (or the base of his wing-hand) with the other, and drive a hard right hand into his sternum--or where he approximated it to be. He continued forward, following through with a pivoting reverse leg sweep to force momentous leverage that allowed him to toss Tora bodily over his shoulder at the end of his rotation. From there, he stayed on top of him for the remainder of the round, allowing him no space or time to recover. Their bout ended with the last hit of a juggling kick flurry that kept them both airborne for its duration, whereafter Fox softened his stance to ‘at ease’ at the realization that their exchange had reached a natural conclusion.

Big Band, having clued in to the purpose of the demonstration by way of shared experience, was keen to verbally break down the lesson for Tora that Fox attempted to illustrate for him in action, as he was content to leave to one more eloquent than himself. Any point worth making was worth making clearer, and in Tora’s case, it was that he couldn’t block everything. A straightforward defense, no matter how solid, could only combat a straightforward offense. The lesson: Be flexible, adaptable, and remain dynamic! To settle into a complacent combative routine is to become predictable, and is a simple recipe for defeat. If you allow your opponent to mentally download you in full, then you've already lost. Never exhaust your every option prematurely, and always have a new answer ready.

Of course, part of this lesson--that Tora couldn't afford to get locked down into his own defense--started setting in for Tora just before Fox decided to step in. Though, it was seeing the prior performances that made him, specifically, want to apply the lesson in person. Fox was hardly the mightiest or most versatile among their troop, or even the fastest or most skillful any of them would ever meet. If he could pry open his guard, then just about anyone could, and he didn’t need bypass-capable magic, augmented brute force, gimmicks, gadgets or otherwise to make that point. All it takes is a swift, strong, steady, or sure free hand.

Fox’s turn was up, and it was time to let someone else have their go at Tora, as soon as he caught his breath. He would take this session as a reminder to humor Joker with marksmanship lessons later, as per their verbal contract. That would have to wait for after he was finished answering a call that he stepped away to take, and turned out to be more imperative than his default composure and subdued register betrayed. The ensuing rounds of one-way sparring served as suitably distracting spectacle for most while Fox went below deck into the hold to attend whatever business drew him away.

A narrow walk through a dimly lit hallway of extraneous cargo and supply crates stacked to the ceiling on both sides led him to nothing of immediate note or import at first, until a moment of searching took him further into the back, toward the greater concentration of the clutter, to find one such crate with its top left conspicuously ajar, offset just enough to give away that it had been opened previously. Peeking into what turned out to be a shallow crate of munitions and small ordinance, he found that it was nowhere close to being at capacity--less than halfway at most--but curiously, the sides, bottom and cargo had been lightly stained crimson with what could unmistakably be identified as dried blood. It appeared that they had a stowaway among them, only Fox both expected and welcomed this one. He turned his head to look and listen for them practically before he felt a blunt point gently nudge his shoulder from the shadows right next to him.

“I was starting to think you forgot about me,” joked Sly, wearing a casually confident smile and a tattered pancho he no doubt lifted from an unattended stall managed by an unsuspecting vendor to better keep his profile down.

“Took you long enough to call,” Fox responded flatly. “Thought you might have missed us.” Looking him up and down, he gestured to a stray splotch of red that all but compromised his stolen cover and gave way to injuries it may have been intended to conceal. “What happened?” he asked calmly, honest, dutiful concern for an ally lacing his tone.

Lifting open the drab garb to reveal amateurish, self-applied bandaging work and the wounds that bled through it, Sly responded, “Let's just say that the mark had some teeth… literally.” That was just one in a series of details about his quiet heist that he would rather not leave out, should any of them ever return for more.

Nodding, Fox called through his headpiece, “Morgana! I need you down here below deck, in the cargo hold. Bring Primrose as well. Quietly. The emphasis on subtlety came as more of a precaution than a necessity with a Grimleal lieutenant aboard, uncertain if it had anything to do at all with their resident gentleman thief (however doubtful), or how far they saw fit to extend their jurisdiction otherwise. Her turn taken with Tora would make eluding her notice easy enough in any case. “Did you get it?” he asked simply following a short pause.

Obligingly, Sly rummaged through an unseen inventory of contraband and stolen goods to fulfill part of a private exchange that seemed to be entirely between these two, and pulled out, of all things, a Spirit to hand to Fox. He gingerly took the Spirit in hand, examining it to confirm that it was in fact the one he was looking for: that of the slain Assassin, cut down in an unfair act of spiteful recompense by the vindictive Azwel. Unsurprisingly, THAT particular detail of the Resistance case never once came up, during yesterday’s hearing OR the morning’s demonstration. Even after learning everything they had, he doubted it would have changed anything in the eyes of the court, other than worsening their already tenuous relationship with the crown right after having reached a resolution. Now, they had a witness, nay, victim who could testify in the unlikely event they ever had to, and more importantly, they had a valuable new asset; an new ally, perhaps.

“There’s plenty more where that came from.”

Fox simply nodded in reply, gratefully presenting the Spirit back to its retriever as an expressive gesture of approval and gratitude.

“Sorry I put you up to this.” Sincerely, Fox hoped and expected the Devious, Thievious Raccoonus to come away from the task he evidently charged him with unscathed, and was more remorseful still about being unable to personally compensate him at the time, knowing he would likely owe him back later. As a mercenary, he understood that such assignments didn’t come for nothing. Then again, thieves, especially of Sly’s calibur, didn’t usually take jobs, as far as he knew, so he had to have a reason of his own. “Glad you’re alright, though. I hope you got something out of it for yourself...”

“Don’t worry,” Sly began with a chuckle. “I’m not in the business of leaving anywhere empty-handed. Buuut... that MIGHT just depend on what those are good for,” he clarified, pointing to the Spirit in Fox’s hand with his cane. “Care to let me in on that?” Of course. He was curious, as he should have been. He was owed that much at least, to know what he risked his own hide for. It seemed a demonstration was in order, and what better time for it than while they waited for Morgana and Primrose to come down and provide him with needed medical attention, whereafter they could explain themselves to one another.

Fox regarded the Spirit with a discerning eye, considering what he might do with it now that he had been presented with his first opportunity to do so. It belonged to Ezio Auditore da Firenze, legendary master Assassin, founder and mentor of the Brotherhood, storied enemy to the Templar Order, and far more. He, too, came from murdered kin, tragedies that propelled him irreversibly into a lifetime of adventure, discovery, personal loss, and fighting a shadowy faction war for the fate of the world that would far outlive him, and would never see public mention in recorded history, despite its profound effect on it. This, in short, was the legacy of a man who proudly embraced his family heritage.

While he couldn’t intuit any of this, Fox could almost feel a similar ‘Kindred’ energy radiate from it that him by an unseen towline to Sly before. It was a pure shame, he thought, that someone like this would be executed in their prime in unwitting service to a false cause, lured in sympathetically by the idea of it. This was precisely what he didn’t want to happen, and part of why he saw fit to intervene to begin with. In this World--in all worlds, really--the uniquely gifted were precious, and they couldn’t continue to lose them fighting among themselves while ‘God’ watched unappeased. There was only one suitable option he could see for rectifying such a wrong…

“It wasn’t your time...” Fox began softly, head hung somberly, gazing at the Spirit as he spoke to it. “You deserved better than to die in a crypt, taking orders from some imp that got in your head.” Had he only known Midna’s history… “You only wanted to fight for what you thought was right, in the best way you knew how. I would know...” He paused at the thought, blinking with a sigh, then continued. “You still can!” he started, his tone tightening ever so slightly with a renewed sense of focused determination. Our fight’s not over yet; far from it, and we could use more like you. Come back! Take up a real cause. Help us take down a real tyrant, the one responsible for all this, and once this is all over… you can finally rest easy.”

Redemption. THAT was his answer. Take back what you can of your life, and dedicate it to freeing the World. It was the best one he could come up with. He hoped the Spirit of the Assassin would accept it...

Just a few hours into their trip, the Railway Gun came to its final stop at a quaint, festively themed adobe village situated near the foot of the mountain, small enough that the train they rode in on could have run over it. This would be their last stop for supplies and respite for any who wanted it before getting in a full day of leg time, Fox himself even electing to savor what he could of it along with everyone else on a relatively relaxed walkabout through the town. Not long after disembarking did the question of provisions for the long, arduous march up the frigid peak ahead of them come up, for which some wondered if the town could provide. As a point of almost pure curiosity, Fox wondered the same. Did they get visitors to the mountain often enough that they were prepared to adequately supply passersby for a journey? They had only now to make good on it if so, so he decided to accompany his teammates to the directed storefront/s to see if they had anything he thought he couldn’t live without. Although, chances were he would have to, being frustratingly still outside of his means to afford anything on his own (on not looking to be any further in debt, as it were), and he wasn’t exactly the best at haggling.

Level: 7 (38 -> 39/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Bottomless Sea -> The Maw -> Carcass Isle
Word Count: 572 (+1 EXP)

Hat: Default
Item: Necro Smasher (Loan)

If there was anything worse than deliriously waking up shipwrecked on a storm-sodden beach facedown with a mouthful of wet sand, it was shortly finding out soon after your senses adjusted that the mouthful of sand you just spat out had been blackened and saturated with a visibly long history’s worth of decay. Hat Kid practically retched to clear her lungs of salt water and mouth of putrescent earth before the realization fully reached her, thereafter prompting further involuntary expulsive response. The good news, considering, was that she had a none too generous supply of rainwater to wash the rest of the fouled, muddy grit from her tongue, palate and cheeks with, going so far as to submerge her face agape into her flooded top hat after the first couple of spit rinses failed to suffice. Better still was that she managed to escape the Maw with life and limb intact, with psyche being a matter of probable debate that perhaps time alone would warrant. Naturally, the story of her time aboard the nightmare vessel circumstantially differed from that of her travel companions as a consequence of their separation early on into it, and she wasn’t sure if it was a story she would ever care to tell. What was another Diary entry left blank?

Lucky enough to be afforded a chance at having more days ahead of her, hopefully far better than the one she was having (for it would be hard to make for one worse), she couldn't complain. Well… at the moment she could, actually. Things were, frankly, terrible, but who among them could stand to hear it, even if she cared to voice their shared discontent? Beaching the colossal submarine of horrors on a desolate isle of death and rot was her 'brilliant' idea, after all. Though, she didn't have the best track record of safely guiding ships over sea, thus didn't trust herself to venture it back after coming this far, or trust the Maw to peacefully dock anywhere. So the only conceivable outcome happened to be the closest to ideal, for what that was worth. Where better for something like THAT to end up than where things go to die? Neither it, nor any culpable body aboard it, deserved a fate any better.

The last forlornly pensive gaze she cast upon the Maw held a sense of triumphant vindication for having personally seen to it meeting its ultimate end. As if to say her good riddances, she spitefully spat her last swig at the ground facing the ship's direction before turning away to take her first steps ashore away from it, on her way to anywhere else. To find out exactly where that would be, she needed the internal waypoint finder provided by her Hat, minding not the near gallon of water she emptied on her head donning it. It wasn't like she could get any more soaked than she already was. Still, that was no reason she had to linger in the lighter (but still monsoon-esque) portion of megahurricane weather, so she took her place among the survivors of Blue Team beneath the first patch of shelter they could find. She would sit for at least long enough to (try to) relax, regain her bearings and confirm their heading while they were out of the rain, all the while playing a soothing, familiar tune in her head in a quiet effort to ease her nerves.

Level: 6 (44 -> 45/60)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Word Count: 465 (+1 EXP)

Of all the people Fox could have expected to find the night before, he hadn't counted Big Band's apparent ward or the crew they had lost in the sandstorm to be among them, having apparently been rescued, courtesy of said ward. It then fell to him to see that they were taken care of, which was the least he could do after being the quickest to press on without them before, so he spent the last hour or two of his night seeing to the recovered team’s health and accommodations by way of whomever could provide. Even less had he expected the morning demonstration/hearing to go over so smoothly, or to be held on agreeable terms. Contrarily, he anticipated previously that their team would end up having to jailbreak the Resistance and overthrow the Grimleal in response to a predicted move for execution. Judging by the “researcher’s” actions following yesterday’s raid, he still wasn’t entirely sure they could rule that out once they left--that they wouldn’t look for whatever excuse suited them--but it was a problem to be put behind them for now.

Today, they would be moving out to confront the real boss of the region, and any now ex-criminals--amnestied or not--looking for an out were welcomed to join them, as Fox took a little extra time out on his own to let them know. He would meet anyone interested with the rest of his team at the station, or he wouldn’t; that would be up to them. Either way, even if the overall endeavor and turnout was less than ideal for everyone, Yellow Team would still be leaving Al Mamoon with a net positive gain, and every ounce or ton of that they could get mattered.

Fox would arrive late for once, solely on account of his attendance at the court-held event, and still managed to beat a few to rendezvousing at the train, spending not a dime he didn’t have or minute extra on additional last-minute preparations. In his own mind he was already set, always. Still, he would rather everyone else be as well.

“They’ll catch up,” he assured in passing, responding to Band’s comments. “If anyone else wants to do the same, now would be the time,” he reminded the group as a whole. “The rest of us should settle in. I doubt our ride there will be short--or easy--and where we’re going will be even more dangerous. Use our ride time to gather yourselves on the way.” Whether that meant changing gear and equipment, developing potential strategies, or simply psyching up, Fox’s recommendation all but went without saying, and he would make good on it himself by finding his place aboard the train (likely somewhere at the helm) ahead of their departure, and then tending to more thereafter.
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