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Level 2 - (9 -> 25/20) EXP (LEVEL UP!) ---> Level 3 - (5 -> 8/30)
Location: Peach's Castle
Word Count: 1282 (+3 EXP)

Kid wasn’t sure what to expect as far as her findings upon bursting through the doorway at the top of the stairwell, but it certainly wasn’t the overtly lavish bedchamber she found herself in, undoubtedly fit for royalty. Speaking of which, her ‘objective’, as it turned out, was none other than the room’s occupant; a (relatively) brightly dressed woman in crown and frill, planted in an oversized chair in the far corner absentmindedly crocheting away. She might have all but blended in with the rest of the gentle pink scenery if not for the telltale signs of influence that afflicted the child earlier, along with just about everyone else she had encountered (save for her squadmates) since her arrival. How this was at all going to help with the battle against MegaDragonBowser, as she was hoping for, she had no idea. Her mind quickly raced to the conclusion that she was yet another captive of greater importance and relevance similarly in need of rescue, from both her condition and situation, but as far as the former was concerned, how? She didn’t possess the same power as the others to ‘free’ the ‘hearts’ of others, and they were a little busy handling more critical concerns to be bothered with another right now. As Hat Kid pondered what to do next, she was interrupted in the middle of her thoughts when a soft, cleansing shadow swept over the castle, restoring its former life to it and everything in it. The regal woman, having broken from her trance, immediately honed in on the realization of what had just transpired and took off in a hurry downstairs to confirm her intuition, not even so much as acknowledging the presence of an adolescent stranger her room before rushing past her through the doorway.

“Wait!” Hat Kid called to the princess to halt her to no avail. Last she checked, there was a heated battle going on downstairs, so her working assumption was that it probably wasn’t safe for the princess to venture down there to see for herself, as she seemed so eager to do. It didn’t occur to Kid that, being just that: a kid, one might similarly object to her involvement in such perilous goings-on. Regardless, she felt the need to catch up to the princess so she could pull her out of harm’s way if and when needed. With a sourceless chime and a puff of smoke above her head, a winged red visor cap took the place of Kid’s top hat as she sped after the royal at now twice her natural speed. Considering that she was going downhill, it might not have been the best idea to suddenly accelerate as she did; a fact that hadn’t crossed her mind until she reached the bottom. At the last dozen or so steps leading onto the throne room floor, she clipped one of her toes on a misstep, sending her tumbling forward for the last few feet to fall flat on her face against the marbled tile.

Kid looked up from her prone position only to have to shield her eyes from the colorful incandescence that drew all eyes to the center of the room. She could have almost mistaken the glow for that of the boss if not for the variation in hues that coalesced into a whiter, brighter light, that the fact that all the others were more calmly congregated around it, in stark contrast to earlier. She slowly rose to her feet and uncovered her vision as the flames began to die down, and her eyes and mouth widened in curious awe at what she beheld. Amidst the dissipating fires stood--in new form--the knight, now harboring distinct features of MegaDragonBowser. He bore a demonic visage, displayed initially by his new horns, his already exceptional muscle mass swelled, filling out his armor, and a smoldering orange glow burned itself into the chroma of his eyes, piercing through the dark of the ocular pits in his helmet. Hat Kid concluded that this transformation was not too dissimilar to the one underwent by the commando moments ago when infusing himself the soul of the assassin; only this time with a much more potent spirit. Thankfully, this radical change did little nothing to diminish his boisterous demeanor or alter his perceptions of who his allies were, as he cheerfully called for them to join him in a celebratory toast to their hard-earned victory, co-signing on the princess’ invitation to join in a hero’s feast.

On that note, the princess gave her sincerest thanks to the party for her and her kingdom’s emancipation from the infernal usurper before offering them food and fancy as a show of her gratitude. Even through her smile it was easy to see, but hard to imagine just how difficult it must have been for her to live under the tyrant in forcible matrimony for as long as she did, however long that was. The heroes only spent the duration of the short time since Hat Kid’s crash landing dealing with him, which was somewhere under an hour, and already it felt like most of the day had passed. To say the least, it was a relief finally be met with a period of respite from the day’s tribulations. Even if there was some sudden following commotion brought about with Bowser and a suspiciously apologetic newcomer, the real fight was over with… one of them, anyways. The hooded figure made casual mention of there existing a dozen more bosses just like the last--if not worse--along with a commanding name she hadn’t heard before. It was clear to her that he knew a great deal more than everyone else about what was going on, yet he expressed as much in such a confidently nonchalant manner, as if he didn’t worry for the outcome. She would have to make a point to pry at him for answers later.

For the moment, Kid’s attention went elsewhere. She wasn’t ready to sit down and join the others for dinner just yet. She didn’t get a good chance to search Peach’s room for anything of use or interest earlier, as she initially intended to, so she had the mind to run back and follow through on her intentions proper, now things had calmed down a bit. No, she wasn’t planning to STEAL anything! It just stood out to her just how out of place most everyone and everything was in this world, so it wasn’t unreasonable to suspect that certain things might inadvertently end up where they otherwise don’t belong, like in the possession of one to whom it may be unbeknownst. In other words, one could argue--with torturously stretched rationale--that Hat Kid was simply making sure the princess hadn’t stolen anything… accidentally.

At any rate, Kid gave a perfunctory, shifty-eyed glance about her surroundings before quietly sneaking off back to the upstairs bedroom to begin her investigation. She would look behind and beneath the furniture, atop the roof of the bed, behind the paintings (if there were any), maybe inside of a hidden wall or trap door; she would come the room thoroughly anything out of the ordinary that might be worth the effort to find. Her Relic Badge would have made this much easier for her, if she still had it. Alas, she was left at the mercy of educated guesswork this time around. Once again, she didn’t know exactly what she hoped to yield from her search, but her instincts, intuition and earlier reasoning (the more sensible, logical half of it anyways) told her that she needn’t leave the place untouched. Untarnished, however, she would at least try for, but made no promises.

Level 2 - (6 - > 9/20) EXP
Location: Peach's Castle - Throne Room
Word Count: 788 (+3 EXP)

As expected, the heroic troupe wouldn't be able to keep the king on his back, and not for lack of trying. Virtually every available ally present relentlessly pummelled and peppered the downed tyrant for as long as his predicament and temperament would allow, which wouldn’t give them long. After a moment of uninterrupted punishment, the doppelganger decided he had enough and explosively unfurled his burning wings, propelling himself back upright and forcing his attackers off and away from him. Luckily for her, Hat Kid was already positioned far enough outside of the blast radius to not get caught in the fires, but was still thrown from her feet and back towards the broken entryway from the force. She managed to right herself onto three points as she slid to a stop, picking her head back up to look upon the rapidly redeveloping scene. The usurper beckoned them forth to their deaths; few answered--some to his satisfaction. What the child witnessed next was, if she was being honest, horrifying.

The pet killing machine: scrapped; it’s teenage master: pulverized; her friend, the assassin: bisected. All so suddenly--in spite of their best efforts--they met brutal, violent ends. Kid’s eyes went wide and her mouth agape with shock and the sudden and gruesome turn of events that she just bore witness to, powerless to do anything about it. It was then that it truly started to set in for her just how grave, perilous, and unforgiving this new undertaking that she inadvertently found herself a part of was. Less than half an hour she had been in this world, and already, she saw to comrades die in vain for a common cause that she wasn’t even aware of yet. She never even got the chance to properly meet them, which did precious little (none good) to make any of it any easier to watch. For the time being, however, whatever her thoughts or feelings on the matter, she would have to harden herself to it. The cowboy and commando, having reclaimed and assimilated what looked to be the life essences of the now deceased, seemed content to do as much, so she would do the same.

Then, it occurred to her that between the commando’s retrieval and the assassin’s assassination attempt, this made twice in under a minute MegaDragonBowser had been snuck around. This meant that there were places where he wasn’t looking; places where SHE wasn’t looking. If the onyx supports in the room made for an obvious solution, perhaps there was a less obvious one elsewhere. Her train of thought was momentarily interrupted as she braced herself a second too late for the shallow tide of tile that threatened to roll over them, only to be saved yet again by the wing-eared-armed(?) shield warrior when he somehow, to her amazement, managed to divide the earthen wave around everyone behind him. Luckily, that included her. With a moment bought back, the child resumed her musings. With her eyes closed and fingertips to her temples, she bore the appearance of one trying to think in a hurry, which she was in fact doing, but also, she was checking her hat to see if it could find something, ANYTHING nearby that could be of use. Whether it be at the back of the room, along the sides, at the top, directly outside of it, or wherever else, she was all but certain that there had to be a better answer somewhere...

Then, as if arriving at an epiphany, her hat picked something up. An imaginary waypoint directed her to an objective that lay out of the battle, at a door on one side of the throne room that lead -judging by a nearby cylindrical bulge in the wall- to a spiral staircase leading upward. She spared not a moment more of hesitation as she beelined for the stairwell, taking advantage of the ongoing chaos to stealth her way to the other side of the room. In the unlikely event that any of her allies notice her leaving, she hoped they would understand that she wasn't abandoning them, but simply trying to find a better way. After all, she wasn't much good to them in the fight as she was. Whatever it was she expected to find that would somehow help, she would hustle her way up to find out in a hurry so she could return in time to aid the others.

Level 2 - (4 -> 6/20) EXP
Location: Peach's Castle - Throne Room
Word Count: 589 (+2 EXP)

The corrupted Bowser clone was becoming understandably infuriated with the inundation of munitions, magic and muscle being thrown his way from every angle, and why wouldn’t he be? It was a as good a sign as most that the group was starting to wear him down, even if appearances and facade didn’t betray that fact. Still, he was a ways away from going down, and showed no signs of letting up. Even with the overwhelming degree of firepower he found himself faced with, he still managed to toss aside the mightiest of their number with relatively little trouble, going so far as to disrupt their sideline offense while he was at it with a well-placed pitch of immolated scrapbot aimed for the sentry turret and its operator. In the midst of all the activity, Hat Kid managed to stand out to him with her intentive mockery, drawing his (negative) attention and proving her suspicion correct. His obvious ego made him easy to manipulate, but doing so immediately made her a target for an immensely powerful draconic behemoth that could casually run her over or stomp her into nothing without feeling it. She understood this to be a risk when she made her move; she could only wait in anticipation for him to make his.

Luckily for her, and everyone else directly in his way, MegaDragonBowser was momentarily stalled, blinded by a burst of arcane degeneration and racked with yet another deafening round of sniper fire to exacerbate the spells effect, extending their reaction window by one or two seconds before he started up his next attack. The instant the enraged tyrant receded into his shell. Kid spang upward into the air as high as she could manage, spending her second jump for good measure to clear herself of DragonBowser's path as he slid recklessly along the tile at alarming speed and smashed head-first into the onyx structure, violently upending him from the force of the impact. With a propulsive tap of her feet against the pillar behind her, Kid transitioned her back tuck into a forward tuck, unfurling at the crest of her flip, and forcing herself into a descending dive for a Homing Attack into the overturned overlord's exposed underbelly. Chances were that the hyde thickness was even throughout, so she wouldn't stress precision. A good hit anywhere would do, so long as damage was dealt.

She bounced off of her foe like a trampoline and touched back down to the floor, her landing leading her into a light skip. On her third step, she pirouetted mid-stride, turning back to face MegaBowser, and lunged forward once again with her trusty rainshield to fire a weaker, but quicker blue laser blast at the top of his head before he could get back up. (She could tell already that she would be getting a lot more use than usual out of this particular feature today.) The admittedly uncoordinated wave of capitalistic punishment brought down on the boss would not likely do him in, but it was sure to put a noticeable (at least for him) dent in his constitution. This being the result of his hubris and the child’s gambit, chances were he would remember as much and not make the same mistake twice. The party would have to adjust their strategy for when the hyper-temperamental demon turtle recovered, because he would most assuredly be angrier when he got back up than he was before he fell. Whatever would come of that they would have to be doubly ready for.

Level 2 - (1 -> 4/20) EXP
Location: Peach's Castle - Throne Room
Word Count: 730 (+3 EXP)

Success! The chains holding the cages aloft snapped loose at the points of contact with the beam, sending them crashing to the floor to shatter asunder against the marble. Hat Kid, unable to open her umbrella quickly enough after firing with it, landed just before the cages did, sunshade still in hand and knees bent from absorbing the shock of a slightly higher than usual fall. She was left stunned for about a second after the impact, but she otherwise sustained no real damage from it and was quick to regain herself. Luckily for her, she was closer to the ceiling when MegaDragonBowser threw himself into a reckless, whirling charge aimed for those directly before him at ground level, incidentally putting her out of the way of his unstoppable assault. Had she touched down a moment sooner, or fallen prematurely, she might have been made much thinner.

Incidentally, the now freed captives shared her fortune in timing, for in their present conditions, they weren’t good for much other than being out of the way; not yet, anyways. Lest they be promptly relieved of their exhaustion, injuries, ailments, influence, and whatever else, or, failing that, removing them safely from the fight somehow, the efforts made to rescue them would be rendered vain. Kid, being neither a healer nor “strong of Heart”, was outside of her means of seeing to any of that, so she would leave that to those who were while trusting the emancipated to keep out of harm’s way. Most everyone else set to bombarding the boss with whatever they had that could be thrown out him, even if that meant themselves.

Kid took note of the damage sustained to the hall's grand entryway from the boss's last attack, having completely splintered the doors into nothing. The entire room quaked from the impact, nearly knocking the child from her feet and causing her to stumble a step into one of the black columns for support. It was then that she noticed that they were the only structures about to be unaffected by any of it. If there was anything that she knew, it was that when something so conspicuous was placed in the environment in such a way, it usually served some intended purpose, however contrived it may be. This gave her an idea, but she wasn't entirely certain that it was the right one. Though, for lack of a better one, what harm could there be in trying it out? Well... other than maybe getting run over by a gigantic rampaging dragon turtle, that is.

The child placed herself directly in front of the pillar to be between it and DragonBowser, lightly gripped the tip of her weapon with her off hand for stability, and took aim for his face. The ongoing chaos he was currently preoccupied with gave her all the time she needed, which wasn't much, to get off another fully charged blast. The king loudly beckoned for another challenger after throwing aside his doppelganger, and as if to answer him, Kid jabbed her umbrella forward in his direction to fire off a vibrant red beam that fell in-sync with the startling report of a high-powered rifle. The latter of the two was undoubtedly more powerful, but less visible. How the boss responded would depend on what most caught his attention, and being noticed was all she was really counting on. Her plan was to goad the titanic overlord into charging headlong down the aisle once more, but this time into something far more solid. If he was anything like the allied Bowser (as he had thus far proven to be), his excitable temper meant it would take little else apart from directed aggression to provoke him into doing exactly that, but the possibility that he would fall for it was anything but guaranteed. In the case that he did turn his gaze toward her, she would put her left thumb to her ear and wave at him mockingly with her tongue stuck out blowing raspberries. Childish as her taunt was, the gesture would send a clear, if only somewhat feigned message to the king's ego: that she didn't entirely take him seriously. Since she was bold enough to prod him like this, however, she would have to ready herself to swiftly step out of his way for whatever he decided to do next in retaliation.

Level 1 - (8 - > 11/10) EXP (LEVEL UP!) ---> Level 2 - (1/20)
Location: Peach's Castle - Bridge -> Throne Room
Word Count: 927 (+3 EXP)

Power (Equip): Projectile Badge

Kid was surprised to see the Courier respond the way he did to his first use of an umbrella (an idea with which he was unfamiliar); initially with interest and relief, followed swiftly by a sudden onset of frightful aversion. She didn't expect or mean for it to frighten him however it did, but moreso, she was confused as to how this grizzled wastelander, who just got through being blown up twice within the last minute or so, and has no doubt seen a lot prior to that, would be alarmed by something so innocuous as a child's sky blue, star-patterned parasol. Who knows? Maybe some who have seen things always see them. Unable to draw any rational conclusions from inspecting the underside of the simple weathershield and finding nothing, the child dismissively shrugged to herself and stored the device away, taking her leave of the waking Lombax to give him some space while he returned to his senses. She came upon a battleground all but cleared, calmer than when she had left it, save for last ongoing battle between two summoners and an archer that was probably best left uninterrupted, lest anyone be in the way of friend or foe. Anyone , if their newly bolstered ranks were anything to go on, they were all more than capable of taking care of themselves, so those remaining wouldn’t be far behind the rest of the party once they mobilized. Of course, despite having the most stake in it, their objective didn’t seem so urgent to the demonic bull tortoise--their self-appointed leader--that he couldn’t take a moment to bluster about how well his “plan” that he didn’t have worked, no thanks to him. Kid simply rolled her eyes at the boastful remarks and made her way into the castle alongside the others.

They were greeted in the castle foyer by the cacophonous wailing of panicked mushroom men, no taller than Kid (marginally shorter, perhaps), scurrying about in a disorganized fashion; a likely contrast to what was intended for them. Closer inspection would reveal them to be under the same spell (or whatever it was) that afflicted a few of those present mere minutes ago, but the more obvious fact was that they clearly posed no threat to any of them. The group thought the better of wasting any time trying to beat it out of them one by one. Even for those who really wanted to help them, there was a better, if astoundingly more difficult way for them to do that: by dethroning their oppressor. The company pressed on past the agitated servantry and through a set of giant, ornamental doors leading into a lavishly renovated throne room. At its end sat their enemy, Bowser’s more fearsome doppelganger, who wasted little time trading egos with his perceived lesser, pointing to the iron enclosures containing more tranced heroes in need of saving dangling overhead. Bowser (the good one) made the first move (well… command, actually) to free the captives with the intention of adding them to their fighting force, starting with the Herculean simian. This was all the excuse MegaDragonBowser needed to begin the battle proper.

Before anyone else could act, MegaBowser shot a sphere of incendiary breath to the ceiling that exploded on impact, scattering into a hellish rain of embers that set fire to every article of the scenery that could catch it, and threatened to do the same to any careless enough to not heed it. As a share of their number promptly set to rescuing the captives, Kid took off to do the same, keeping her senses about her as she sidestepped several beads of burning hail on her chosen route. She ran as many climbing steps up the wall as she could manage before having to grasp the adjacent drapery and shuffle hand over hand to keep her momentum going into an angular ascent as she lept from one set of curtains and banners to another, repeating this process until one came loose from its bearings from having a substantial portion of its material already burned away. In a moment of startled reflex, she propelled herself of the wall, releasing the falling remains of freshly singed-off fabric as she sailed with an arm outstretched towards the cage containing a stocky ursine and compact avian, and caught a hold of one of the bars by the bottom end.

Her motion carried through with a sudden uptake of force that just about jerked her arm out of socket, causing the cage to both spin and swing in circles. She would attempt to add as much as she could to it with her, frankly, meager strength and weight to build up more inertia until she was satisfied with its trajectory. She dismounted the cell at the height of is swing into a gaining tuck, turned to face the row of cages, whipped out her umbrella, and held it at her side as if ready to joust with it while she lined up her aim with her open hand. Her intention was to shoot the chains from as many cages as she could reach with a single, fully-charged shot, or at least attempt to create some kind of chain reaction (pun not intended) with just the one. While airborne, however, it wasn't entirely guaranteed that she would get even much of a good shot off, but without an otherwise adequately elevated foothold or suspension, it was worth a try. After a three count of energized whirring, Kid thrust her parasol forward, producing a wide torrent of red energy...

Level 1 - (2 -> 5/10) EXP
Location: Peach's Castle - Bridge
Word Count: 2,428 (+3 EXP)

This lot that Kid found herself mixed up with was already starting to send some seriously mixed messages. First, she was pulled to shore and treated by the first two to see her. Now, no more than a moment or two following her arrival, one of the more menacing of them marked her as an enemy with alarming prematurity and wanted her dead, while another stood between her and him with talks of “freeing” her. What did he mean by that? Wasn’t she already free? In a greater sense, no, but as she was, a prisoner within her own form, she hadn’t a sufficiently lucid conception about her own existence to be dialed into the fact. Regardless, her reception thus far had her mentally closing on a much easier fight or flight decision, favoring the latter. That was until she noticed the KING take his unexpected leave back into the castle to attend to what he considered to be more urgent matters. Taking his place was a great disembodied hand, who proceeded to lecture the heroes on the supposed folly of their ways. To exemplify this, he summoned seven distinct figures--lost souls like Hat Kid, bearing the same cosmetic symptoms (with the behavioral yet to be seen)--who were all familiar in some way to certain members of the party, and provided them with a simple, but harsh ultimatum: surrender themselves to rejoin their loved ones, strike them down for the sake of their quest for multiversal restoration, or die trying.

The anthropomorphic alien feline didn’t hesitate. Clearly fraught with despair at the idea of having to fight, let alone kill who he cared for most in this world (or any other), he decided it best to take the right hand’s offer, meeting his hollowed out familiar halfway in an embrace, and turning the opposing septet into an octet in a (literal) flash. This impulsive self-sacrifice prompted the hooded enigma to point his weapon intently at Kid, who, having been fearfully taken aback by the rash gesture, started to slowly back away from him in trembling steps. Was this what he meant; to “free” her not from the nullifying shackles that bound her spirit, but from her very life, believing that she could not be saved from it? From her limited perspective, it was difficult to tell, but judging by his nervous, unsteady aim and stressfully subdued speech, he was no more looking forward to whatever he was about to do than she was. But then, a vibrant heart sailed over the Master and struck the child in dead center of her chest, and a burst of warm fuchsia energy swelled and erupted from the point of impact as the revitalizing force lifted her off the ground. Her color started to replenish itself, saturation fading back in from the source...

With the blinding white clearing away, the ship’s colorful, roomy interior came into focus. Kid unshielded her eyes upon realizing were she was, and looked around the living/control room littered with recovered Time Pieces. It didn’t take her long piece together what was going on, but she went over to open the door in the window (which was no longer boarded up) and leaned out for a second look just to be sure. It was just as she expected; the planet was restored, its denizens saved, and all was returned to normal, just as it was when she first arrived… all except for Mustache Girl. She lay unconscious on the brickwork, exactly the way she left her after their battle. Kid let her pensive gaze last a couple of seconds longer before reaching for a Time Piece, but stopping herself from doing anything with it without taking the chance to think it over once more. Glancing thoughtfully back and forth between the hourglass levitating in her palm and the little red-hooded girl down below, she pondered on whether or not to lend her a single Piece--enough only to cause a little trouble and give her a better chance against the Mafia without inviting an apocalypse.

On one hand, it was her who abused stolen Time power to unmake the world into a treacherous planetwide hellscape where its inhabitants were nigh invariably judged by her to be evil and punished accordingly under her self-imposed, absolute rule, thus proving Kid right in withholding the Pieces on the basis that no one else could be trusted to use their power responsibly. That, and they were hers to reclaim to begin with. She needed them back if she expected to get home, which is why she went through so much trouble to recover them, and now, she ran the risk of potentially cutting herself one Time Piece short of making it back to her homeworld for the sake of carrying out an act of spontaneous, unconditional charity that she previously would not have considered. And yet, from a philosophical perspective, it was hard to deny that her perceived selfishness, however justified, may have partially contributed to driving the delinquent Girl to acting out so dramatically, having been convinced that she was utterly and hopelessly alone in her cause. Come to think of it, Kid had no idea what Girl's upbringing may have been like under the oppressive Mafia (or in general) that could explain her moral outlook, and if she did have any insight on her origins, she may very well have been inclined to feel sorry for her. In a way, even if she wouldn't openly admit it, she already did. Still, it had to be more than mere pity forcing her hand, and something greater than simple necessity staying it. What lesson, if any, did she stand to learn from her adventure? One about understanding? Selflessness? Second chances? Finding better ways? Whatever conclusion she came to on this would ultimately influence her decision.

After deciding one way or the other, Kid placed herself in the driver's seat and excitedly vacuum sealed all of the strewn Time Pieces back into the vault in preparation for takeoff. With her good work finished and the planet's reality reset, she could finally leave this world behind for the one she belonged to, and no would ever notice, let alone care that she was ever there once she was gone… as was probably for the best. At last, she was set to be homebound once again. With a full-forward push on the throttle, the spaceship's engines began to wind up, energy coalescing around the afterburners, and within an instant, the ship… abruptly stalled out. Something--or someone--was on the ship that didn’t need to be… again. Kid stood upright in her seat and shot a look to the door that emphatically said “What now?!” and then cutely stomped her way over to the door in frustration. What she found when she peeked out for the second time surprised her--a line of now ex-antagonists turned friends clinging to the window’s ledge, begging their beloved savior not to leave. Alas, as much as they might miss her, it was time for her to go, so she swept the stowaways from the window seal (literally, with a comically oversized broom) and waved them goodbye before returning to her seat. She couldn’t help the sentimental water from lightly welling up in her eyes, for as hectic as her experience was, she, too, would miss this place--and the people in it. She quickly dried her tears and reengaged the throttle once more, this time disappearing off into the cosmos at warp speed, a blue starry glint in the distance signifying her departure. Not but a few seconds after, a magnificent river of light washed over the entire planet, reducing it in its entirety to phosphorescent ash, dissipating into the calamitous everbright.

It had been an especially long and irregular day for Hat Kid, and she was already beginning to feel the effects of its labors creep up on her. The child's exhaustion was more of a mental one than physical, but for her, it was as good an excuse as any to retire to her room and write what would turn out to be a disappointingly vague diary entry before passing out. After letting out a tired, heavy sigh, preceded by a yawning stretch, she pivoted and dismounted her chair to head for the bedroom, only to be stopped at the first door by yet another round of alarm soundings, to which she rolled her eyes with an irritated groan. To think that now, of all times, she would be deprived a deserved moment of respite! Though, what she discovered upon rushing back to her station to observe the situation critically warranted her attention. At the speed she was travelling, she could only faintly make out the details, but what she beheld would have still been hard to miss. She reeled back in shock at the sight of celestial bodies being destructively overtaken in rapid succession on all sides by winding golden beams of burning polychroma. Coming up in the ship's peripheral view, Kid noticed a divided cluster of the same photonic masses beginning to surround her. The ship sporadically bobbed and weaved about at her behest in a series of unguided evasive maneuvers while trying to find some way, ANY way, to overboost the vessel to wring just a little more velocity out of it, desperately determined to outrun the encroaching wave of hostile radiance that pursued her, but to no avail. Her trusty spacecraft was working as hard as it could for her, and could give no more. Even as the realization of hopeless futility set in, and the ever-intensifying incandescence gradually closed in around her, narrowing her field of view, Kid couldn’t look away. Her eyes remained wide open and constricted with fear up until the very end, when the light finally washed her away.

Fear--a sensation seldom experience by her--would be the last she felt. Fear of never having the chance to her friends--both old and new--again. Fear of never getting to share her stories, or ever living to tell another. Fear of never making it home. Fear of everything being in vain. Fear of no longer being…

...and then… she no longer was.

When she was lowered back to her feet, Kid reopened her eyes, coming into consciousness as if waking up for the first time today. With her life force renewed, and her being restored, her memories followed, flooding back to her in short order. Save for a few anomalous blank spots in memory--like how she got here, the events leading up to now, and whether or not she actually gave Mustache Girl a Time Piece--she remembered everything. Her previous adventure, her new friends, the light; ALL of it. Her prolonged journey now inexplicably lead her here, lumped in with a band of definite misfits facing down a faction of corrupted guardians summoned by a giant hand attempting to persuade them into the eternal forfeiture of their lives. Of course, they weren’t having it. The ellipsoidal mammalian creature with wing hands for ears (presumably the same one to revive Hat Kid) was the first to offer up a rebuttal, grounding his speech in hope and inner strength and all that stuff. Others followed with their own version of a personal pep talk to psych themselves up for the impending battle to save those they cared for. It was all very inspiring, to say the least. The rest opted to dispense with the theatrics, formalities and bolstering and set themselves directly before their chosen opponents in reluctant anticipation of what came next.

As if to signal the combatants, shots went flying the instant the Master Hand blinked itself out of existence, the ensuing chaos causing some of the pairs to scatter so as to engage their respective frenemies with little interruption. The activity overload made it difficult to select a target, but after taking a second to assess the situation, Kid managed to pinpoint a place on the battlefield where she might be useful. She could only hope so, anyways. The giant draconic tortoise (the ‘friendlier’ one in the tuxedo) seemed to think so, else he wouldn’t have unceremoniously conscripted her into his “army” of “baddies”. Yeah, whatever. Last she checked, she wasn’t one of the “bad guys”. What bad guy would go out of her way for the second (or so) time to lend heroic aid where it is so obviously needed when she could just as easily be well on her way to anywhere else doing as she pleased? She may not have had any idea what was going on just yet; all she knew was that it was too important to sit out or bail on.

Kid shrugged at the de facto leader’s declaration before running up the broad side of his shell, bouncing off the flat of his hat like a buoyant stepping stone, and springing high into the air, soaring in the direction of the Lombax, his companion bot, and the cowboy. The moment they finished their conversation, Ratchet peered upward through the sun’s glare to spot the child aggressively rocketing towards him in a controlled dive. He instinctively arced his wrench overhead in a defensive swing to parry her reckless charge, the force of the impact sending her into a reverse midair tumble. She deftly touched down on three points, brandishing her umbrella (having pulled it from seemingly nowhere), and darted forward to take two more swings at the commando. Ratchet responded in kind, deflecting the first, then catching the second between the prongs of his weapon, briefly locking parasol with wrench. In Ratchet’s (and Clank’s) empowered state, Kid was nowhere near strong enough to hold a deadlock with him, let alone prevail in one, so a mildly forceful thrust of his Omniwrench was all he needed to break their clash. Kid slid backwards on her feet against the masonry beneath them, stopping just parallel of the Courier to his left. She quickly regained her bearings, shot the rugged man a curious look, then gently smiled and waved at him. “Hey,” she offered casually to her new battle partner, blissfully unaware of his standoffish nature, or that, in general, he might not receive the aid of a child with the warmest of acclaim, writing it off instead as an interference at best. It was entirely possible that she wasn’t taking the whole affair as seriously as she should right away, and that she was already enjoying herself more than she should have been. As far as she was concerned, it was just good to be her (real) self again.
@CAWs For AlarmSee you in battle, bruv! Have fun fighting us.

Level 1 - (0 -> 2/10) EXP
Location: Scrapyard - Endzone
Word Count: 1193 (+2 EXP)

How did she ever arrive at this? What happened leading up to the present moment for this cute, stylishly behatted adolescent to find herself being chased down by a digitally corrupted semi-chelonian dragon king who had sent her space-worthy glorified clubhouse (which one could technically refer to as a “mobile home”) on a downward collision course towards an already wreckage littered knoll outside of what looked to be an apparent house of royalty? Had she any recollection of her previous exploits, this might not have sounded like such a strange start to a new adventure; just a more dramatic one. She wasn't exactly sure what she did to make herself an enemy to the terrifyingly powerful aberration that was the MegaDragon, but given her circumstance and the creature's obviously malevolent nature, it probably didn't make much difference to either of them.

The hasty pressing of buttons on the console and clumsy attempts to steer from the seat of a swivelling chair in a ship on an uncontrolled descent, unsurprisingly, yielded no favorable results. The force of the vessel’s impact against the castle tower closest to it caused the child to be violently flung from her seat and left at the mercy of the careening spacecraft to tumble haplessly about its interior. As she fell forward from the back wall of the cabin, Rumbi, her trusty, overworked vacuum bot/unwilling mobile pedestal, was helpless to stop himself sailing through the air and striking his master in the forehead like a projectiled hockey puck, knocking her end over end. She bounced face-up against the ceiling then off the floor before finally planting cheek-first into the glass as the ship crash landed straight into the waters below. Fortunately, its wooden build kept it from remaining submerged, and the windshield, while cracked, managed to somehow stay intact well enough to keep most of the water out and prevent further interior damage. For the window to have survived everything it had just went through, it would make one wonder about the strength of the last guy who broke it.

The battered child peeled herself off the window as she reached for the handle to its door and swung it wide open, collapsing to the floor from dizziness with her motion. She then pulled herself up over the lip of the open glass and out of the cabin, unable to do much more than daintily fall forward into moat with naught the energy to so much as doggy paddle her way to shore. For all of her outstanding traversal ability, she already wasn’t the most proficient or long-lasting swimmer to begin with. Thankfully, a young, kindly ranger who just happened to be nearby rushed to lend her aid, towing the child from the blue onto land and tending to her as best she could before summoning help. To answer her question, no, she wasn’t okay; not really. She lay just outside of her now wrecked ship soaked and concussed on her side coughing up a faceful of water, all the while not even being present within her own mind to give her volunteer caregiver anything resembling an answer. Appearances would suggest as much about the latter part, for if the scarlet shine in her eyes and desaturated colors everywhere else were any indication, she was still under Galeem’s influence… whatever that may entail.

All things considered, though, she was still alive and healthy, even if she didn't quite feel like it. Her condition, however manageable, was relieved somewhat when a medical/repair droid showed up to administer some minor healing, which rejuvenated her at least enough to help her senses readjust more quickly, if nothing else. She sat up and began to survey her surroundings, but she could scarcely get a half decent look at anything before being alerted by the sudden, thunderous appearance of her draconic aggressor making good on his declaration of dominance. It was made abundantly clear in no time at all that he didn't see anyone in attendance as an honest threat, but if that was the case, why did he bother taking her ship down? Was that simply his idea of a demonstration, or just added flair for his grand entrance? Talk about demeaning! To make matters doubly confusing, it turns out there was two of him, only he was (slightly) less imposing and dressed more sharply (or at all)--adorned with a nice hat not much unlike her own. Of course, he seemed no less shaken by the occurrence than any of the others, and who could blame them.

Needless to say, Kid wanted nothing to do with any of it. For all she knew, one of them may very well have made ready to offer her up as tribute in accordance with his demands for possible lack of having any better ideas for appeasing or subverting him. Had she retained her sense of rational thought, she would have outright dismissed the notion as unlikely. However, her mind wasn't her own here, nor was her body, soul, “heart”, nor any other aspect of her being. In essence, the foundations of her very existence were utterly compromised, leaving her hopelessly at the dominating whims of blind instinct with no reliable sense of guidance in an unfamiliar and seemingly unforgiving world, where she was now but a hollow, lesser facsimile of her true self.

Understandably frightened by the prospect of all but certain doom that the encounter looked to promise, Kid started to back away from the scene, crawling in reverse on the flats of her palms as however fast (or slow) her her tiny limbs would move her in her seated position before righting herself to her feet to take off in a proper run. She barely made it three steps intp her retreat before stopping herself mid-sprint from almost bumping into a short, portly, red and overall clad Italian man (also with a nice hat) to observe him curiously as he passed by, heading in the opposite direction towards the threat. He bore a countenance and demeanor of bold intent that betrayed no sign of fear or intimidation, and chances were that he was the only one among them who actually meant it (initially, that is). If there was anything that might compel the rest of them to try something heroic, it would probably be whatever he decided to do first.

Normally, Kid would look at this and second guess if it was something she really wanted to bail on, but normally, she was still herself. She had no clear objectives or priorities at present beyond self-preservation, and was conflicted with the possibilities presented to her. Fight, or flee? Band together with the ragtag group of heroes to take down a tyrant, or leave them to their devices and escape with her life while none would notice? Both options hosted fairly equal odds of success or failure, so there really was no “better” option in here eyes; it was just a matter of which chance she'd rather take. Either way, she would have to come to a decision now. Into the fray, or out of it…

Which way would her hat lead her?

Level: 6
Day/Time: Day Three; Mid-Morning -> Evening
Location: Unknown airspace; In pursuit of the Halberd
Tags: None
Mentions: Rosalina @Holy Soldier

Having been preoccupied with the Major's safety and all other matters that ran concurrent to it, Rosalina's telepathic response (or whatever intrinsic means she had by which to communicate) hadn't registered Fox's departing transmission until some time after he had sent it, which meant he was already well out of reach by the time she voiced her objections that would go unheard and unheeded by him. In his haste, he hadn't time or the presence of mind to clarify his intentions--not that they were all that extensive or well-planned, as they seldom were. He meant simply to follow the Halberd to its destination, not intercept it. Though, he wasn't shy about engaging it, he would only do so when (not if) it became necessary. It wouldn't be the first time he's had to--or the second--so save for maybe a few additions, upgrades or surprises, he had a fair grasp of what to expect in the event of combat. For now, his interests lay in postponing the inevitable and ill-advised rematch, so he would try to keep a manageable pace and distance behind the battleship, hoping to stay off its sensors and exploit its limited field of view as well as their size disparity to go undetected for as long as those factors would allow.

Of course, Fox had a bad habit of not thinking things through before acting on such bold impulse, and this time was no different. He had no clue where his pursuit would take him, how long it would take, what he hoped to find there when he arrived, or what he would do afterwards. If he was being honest with himself, past experience told him that he stood little to no chance in Hell of successfully facing down that level of opposition on his own; it just wouldn’t stop him from trying if it came down to it. On that note, whatever reinforcements were being sent would have some serious catching up to do if they were to be of much help while it still mattered. Fox made sure to leave his communication channel open to HQ while live transmitting his coordinates so as to make himself easier for them to find. Hopefully, that wouldn’t somehow, conversely, tip the enemy off to him giving chase, but he wasn’t exactly expecting he would be able to keep them blind to him forever anyways, even if it would be preferable. As was the order of things for him, he anticipated that they would eventually catch on to him sooner or later, and battle would shortly follow. Whatever may be the case, he would be ready for it.
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