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I guess my comfort zone is "eccentric side character."

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Level 3 - (19/30) + 3

Word Count: 1355

Location: Limsa Lominscuttle Town ~ The Bismarck Restaurant

@Yankee@Dark Cloud

Ace may not have been the most subtle of people but compared to Cia he was a golden grifter god when it came to hiding his intentions. The very moment he had made his presence known, interrupting a description of the hero riding a gutsy Zora prince into battle that she found particularly riveting, she fixed him with a gaze that promised red death if he didn't desist.

Link, by contrast, regarded him with some confusion for a few moments before sudden recognition wiped it from his face. "Yes, lots of work. Thank you for reminding me." He said, springing to his feet as the Cadet pulled him up. As the Cadet did Link swept his eyes back and forth across the restaurant, seemingly only now realizing exactly where he was and how many innocent people were around them. "Can we pick this up another time?" he said across the table. "After all, we don't want to cause a sce-"

She shut him up with a snap of her fingers, dark power snaking its way across her fingers as Link went rigid and planted his feet to resist all attempts by the monster hunter to move him. Scowling, the witch turned her attention back to the Cadet. "I don't know who you are, but you are interrupting a very special occasion." She said coldly. She sat up, reaching down to her side and pulling up some kind of war scepter she began idle playing with much like Link had been with his silverware earlier, the crystal at its head giving off a faint and eerie glow. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this, boy. This world undoubtedly has many Heroes to choose from." she continued, a playful sadism creeping into her voice. "Allow me this one for now. I swear I won't harm a hair on his precious head. Otherwise, well, I have no problem bending you over my knee in front of all these nice people."

If anyone watching were to glance down from this confrontation onto the floor behind Cadet and Link, the astute would notice something odd about their mingling shadows. Link's real hand was empty, but at some point his shadow had drawn a blade.


Merge Rate: 21%

Location: Frozen Highlands - Dragonspine Mountain

Level 8 - (62/80) + 3

As Linkle continued on down the coastline the first thing she spotted were the delightful flocks of birds the scampered across the sand. They regarded her curiously as she approached them, but once she started getting to close they let out a chorus of squawks and made for the water. Linkle ran after them, diving into the middle of the group and wrapping her arms around one of their bellies, lifting it up into her arms as it continued to flap its flippers and kicks its stumpy legs. "You're a big girl, aren't you?" she said over its protests. It was the first thing that came to mind. This bird was twice the size of the average cucco, and apparently not nearly as loyal or deadly judging by the way the others left this one behind and escaped to the safety of the water like the bird version of a Zora. What it was, though, was warm. So unbelievably warm. She felt the birds warmth spread through her chest, a oasis in the middle of a freezing desert. Like a traveler lost in that desert it was a hard thing to abandon. She didn't know how long she stood there holding it, but it was long enough for the bird to decide that it was either safe or dead already and stop struggling against her. By the time she resolved to put the bird down and continue on her way of few of the others had even come back to observe her from the surf, and the released penguin eagerly ran back to them as Linkle waved goodbye and felt the cold start to seep back into her bones. As she pressed on she wondered if maybe you could domesticate them, and thought she should definitely come back and get a few for Rick once she got in contact with everyone again.

The tower she had been following was, as it turned out, smack dab out in the middle of the ocean. It didn't look like their was any way forward from where she was either, unless she wanted to freeze a trail out to that monolith and she didn't want to risk that without being able to swim. Who knew what else lurked in the water around here.

She did find the weird light though, coming out of a strange floating thing that she peppered with a few arrows just to make sure it wasn't an enemy. Confident she walked out and began studying the smooth surface of the thing. She started to reach out and touch it, but jerked her hand back at the last second and regarded it warily. "You want to offer me a wish?" She asked, but the thing just floated there silently. That probably meant safe, right? Nodding to herself, she reached out and laid her palm on the surface. She didn't know what she had expected, but the thing popped open like it had been waiting for her revealing a host of treasures inside. So these were treasure chests. That was great to know. She pulled everything out to examine and jumped back when the thing folded in on itself and plummeted onto the beach.

It was a pretty good haul. The Pokeballs she put in her pouch with the others, more eager than ever to try using them considering how alone she was. The sealed contained she opened immediately, steam wafting off the still warm food as the freezing air hit it. At the same time the smell hit her and she couldn't help herself. She sat right down on the beach and tucked in. It was funny how hard it was to notice that you were hungry when you felt empty all the time, but she took comfort in the fact that she still got hungry at all. Warmth filled her again, however briefly, as the steak and what she realized was potatoes settled into her stomach and gave her concrete proof that her stomach was still in fact there. It didn't make her feel whole, but it did make her feel full. That was probably the best she was going to get.

Patting herself on the stomach she turned her attention to the last two items. The lootbox she recognized from back in Lumbriged, and she would have to carry it to someone who could open it for her. The other prize was designed to do exactly that, a set of instructions for what she quickly figured out was a basic man-powered sled and a bunch of sticks and twine. She set to work, lashing together the sled as instructed and placing the lootbox onto the fruits of her labor. After an experimental drag across the sand and finding the weight to her liking she looked around and tried to figure out where to go next. The village obviously wasn't anywhere around here, so maybe she should try and get a better vantage point and find it again. She had a pretty good idea of where that cliff she had been dropped off was, she could make it back there. Grabbing the sled she took off back the way she came to find that cliff again.

After a single short stop to try (and fail utterly) to get the penguins to ride her new sled she set off again, away from the beach. She weaved around rivers and streams, plowing over browned leaves and snow like a reindeer prancing across the tundra. Of course, she missed the fact that every step carried her further and further from the mountain until suddenly she was making her way across a vast icefield and spotted, in the distance, the smoke that had been her original destination. "Would you look at that." She said happily. "I must have missed it earlier on the way to the beach."

She did a quick course correction and made a beeline for the village, hoping that monster she had seen earlier wouldn't get in her way. It had probably moved on by now, right?
Link's Terrible FateDate

Link, Ace Cadet, & Frog

Feat. Peach and Cuphead

Word Count: 1713 (+3 EXP)

Level 3 - (19/30)
Level: 6 - Total EXP: 35/60
Level: 1 - Total EXP: 8/10

Location: Limsa Lominscuttle Town ~ The Bismarck Restaurant

Waiters scurried to and fro across the floor of the Bismarck Restaurant, the gentle sea breeze blowing through the open air dining area carrying no hint of the deadly navel battle happening out in the open sea. It was cool, refreshing, and as it blew it mixed the scents of the various dishes laid out on the tables into a delectable symphony of flavors that would tempt any patron simply walking by. Dining out here at night, by the flickering light of the candles under the star studded sky, would be nothing short of romantic. As it was, though, it was good enough for Cia.

They sat across from one another in the center of this atmosphere, steaming cups of tea waiting in front of them as they awaited their meal. She leaned forward over the tables, cradling her face in her hand as she rested an elbow on the table. Her mask sat to the side of her tea so she could watch and listen to him unobstructed, a dreamy look on her face. He sat up straight, stiffly, and every once in a while shifted his weight as though he could not possibly get comfortable. His hand constantly fiddled with his silverware, fingers running over his fork and flipping it over occasionally. Despite this Link spoke casually. Friendly even, though if one were to look into his eyes they would see that he wasn’t quite looking at anything as he talked.

“...It was so strange. They knew me. Not as a Champion, or the hero that failed, they knew me.” He told her. “There were Zora there that had known me since they were children. Even after a hundred years they still remembered things we had done together. They knew more about me than I did.”

“My poor hero.” Cia cooed.

“No, it wasn’t bad. It was proof there was a time when I was...normal. I had a childhood. I hadn’t spawned out of the ether just to be the hero. It was nice. They’re part of the reason I chose to come out here when we...split….into…

Suddenly his eyes flashed into sharp focus as he scooped up the fork he had been playing with and stabbed it right at the women. Just as quickly she raised her other arm from the table and held up a single finger in its path. The fork stopped short just in front of it, as though the arm had been wraped in invisible chains. “Tsk tsk tsk tsk,” Cia clicked her tongue as she lowered the finger and swirled it. Slowly the focus faded from her hero's eyes, and she reached over and used that same finger to push his arm back down onto the table.

She quickly scanned the restaurant, but it didn’t seem as though anyone had noticed the quick murder attempt. No one she could see was watching their table. She shook her head. Why was that everyone she placed under her control strove to betray her so?

“How many times are you going to try that?” She said mockingly. “What are we going to do if you cause a scene?” Situation back under control she let herself relax. “Now, why don’t you continue your little story for me?”

Obediently, Link began to speak again as though nothing had happened.

Unfortunately for Cia it turned out someone had been watching them, and had seen the entire thing. Of course she hadn’t noticed him. Nobody notices an abandoned cup in a restaurant except maybe the wait staff, and as a busy waitress sautered by the pick it up a gloved hand rose up from under the table and waved her away. “Keep your hands to yourself, toots,” came a whisper, eliciting a small yelp from the poor girl as the hand grabbed the cup, placed it on its body, and dashed out of the restaurant while the witch was still absorbed in Link’s story. Cuphead had thought finding Link was tough enough, he wasn’t about to take on a hypnotizing witch without some backup.

The cartoonish cup zipped, zagged, dipped and ducked his way around Limsa's busiest districts. He was small and quick, and so avoiding the crowds was easy for him. Cuphead twisted out of the way of oncoming people, noodle-like limbs curling around any obstacles in his path. The landing where the group had initially saw the Atomos off was still empty, which left him with few options for reinforcements. With everyone else away at sea, the only ones of his group left in the city besides the one that needed rescuing was Peach, Hat Kid, and Ace Cadet.

Cuphead slipped out of the masses and sprinted up one of the short spires on the edge of the city's center, wrapping his arms and legs around it while he surveyed the area, searching for any splash of familiar colors. There, he spotted a bright red against metallic and green - and just as quickly as he ascended Cuphead ran down from his perch, making a bee-line for the monster hunter.

"Acey!" Cuphead ran a circle around the Cadet before he skidded to halt in front of the man. The Cadet, having quickly excused himself from the Sky Hatchery after being filled in by Hat Kid, was happy to see the little guy - but his smile was quickly slipping away after seeing the unusually serious expression Cuphead wore.

"What is it?"

"I found Link - but he's with a dangerous looking dame in some restaurant close by! He's acting real funny too!"

"What?" Cadet looked up from Cuphead, glancing around the area like Link would just magically appear there. Despite how warm and inviting Limsa was, they could never be too careful, huh? The whole of Blue Team probably had a reputation in town by now, but the hunter didn't expect anyone to run into trouble here. "Where?"

"A place called The Bismarck. C'mon, I'll take you there! We gotta put the kibosh on this quick!"

Bismarck? Cadet's new frown twisted even further as a coldness crept into his stomach. He was just at the Bismarck! Could he have passed right by Link and this dangerous woman on his way to the Hatchery? Was Link in trouble this whole time, and Cadet didn't even know he was so close by?

He caught Cuphead's arm before he ran off. "Wait, I know where the Bismarck is. You go tell Hatty and Peach, I'll meet you guys there."

Cuphead looked as though he was going to argue that with the two of them they could handle one lady, but after a second he nodded and took off in another direction to get more back-up, or at least let the others know the situation. Cadet turned to the frogman next to him, all but forgotten during Cuphead's arrival and explanation. "You go on ahead to the cove," he told Frog, giving him brief directions before he separated from the warrior, shoving through the crowd in a hurry.

As Cadet pushed through the crowd Frog called after him "Prithee halt I say," he said calling for his companion to stop "Shouldst thou really charge forward without a fellow to watch thine flank?" he asked.

Stop the Cadet did not, but he did glance back at Frog, eyes darting from his face to Masamune. Despite the situation with Link, the hunter really wasn't one to mistrust strangers - and Frog had gone out of his way to help the Cadet find his way around. "You've got a point. Come on then!" Cadet said. Expecting Frog to catch up quickly, he broke into a run as soon as the roads opened up, heading back towards the Culinarian Guild.

The amphibious warrior nodded curtly happy to aid Ace Cadet, in fact Frog had become quite fond of the redheaded warrior. Ace Cadet seemed like a capable warrior much like Cyrus, whom had been Frog's mentor many years prior to Galeem's invasion but even the greatest hero can't survive without others watching their backs. That had costed his friend and mentor's life, but Frog wouldn't let anyone suffer such a fate. Not now and not ever again.

Frog broke into a sprint quickly gaining on Cadet almost without effort as his strong legs carried him forward, matching his companions pace with ease and as they ran down the street Frog's mind raced with thoughts of what may happen and how they could handle a fight as he hadn't seen Cadet fight yet but he believed the warrior was experienced.

"Peach! Peeeeeeeeeeeach!" Cuphead called, waving his gloved hands with dramatic urgency. Across the disused harbor set aside for the unscrupulous by name and reputation his voice carried quite clearly, rousing the princess from where she dozed aboard Brineybeard's living vessel. Casting aside faintly chiding urges of propriety to flounder the ship's railing and initiate a shouted conversation, Peach demanded, "What is it? What's going on?"

Cuphead pointed back the way he came, as if his finger could pierce countless obstructions of stone, wood, and flesh to make what was going on quite clear. "It's Link! I spotted him in a restaurant called the Bismarck. There was this strange broad with him, and she's holdin' him captive or somethin'!"

"What!?" Peach replied, taken aback, only to have to cut her comrade off after he assumed she didn't hear him and started to repeat himself. "Nono, I just meant...that is strange. To capture the hero of time is no mean feet." She planted a hand on the wooden railing and vaulted straight over, her coat-dress sliding cleanly across. Rather than splashing into the water below she somehow halted her momentum midair, floating across the gap to where Cuphead waited on the wharf. "We'll be back, Captain!" she called to Brineybeard, running after the finger-gunner back up toward the city proper. She didn't miss a beat when Cuphead told her that the others were on the case already, including Hatty and a new amphibious ally, both found by the ever-reliable Ace Cadet. "Still. The more the better, especially if we're fighting a magician, and they might need someone with authority in case things get messy." If a brawl in a bistro was unavoidable, getting messy was probably a foregone conclusion.

Merge Rate: 20%

Location: Frozen Highlands - Dragonspine Mountain

Level 8 - (59/80) + 3

Word Count: 2020

Linkle was surprised. Maybe it was just her circumstances, but what she had expected was a frost-blasted wasteland. Ice, rocks, maybe a few scattered piles of bone. Instead there were trees and animals and rivers babbling along through the snowy landscape. Frozen, and yet alive nonetheless. There was something comforting in that.

Her eyes were drawn to the sounds made by a gargantuan beast stomping around the distant ice field and the warm columns of smoke that signaled a village farther off behind it. That was even better! A village meant people. People meant information. They could tell her where she was, point her in the directions she needed to go. Maybe they even had a way to get in contact with Alcamoth. Of course, she would have to get past the big monster. If that thing was at all aggressive there was no way she could cross the ice field without it seeing her. She had dealt with big monsters before, though, and that one didn't seem as big as King Dodongo anyway.

"Yosh." she said, pointing out across the icy plains toward the village. He first stop should definitely be there. She turned around and headed back off the cliff, to find a way down this mountain.

She found a steep, snow laden path that lead down onto the tundra and inadvertently slid down half of it in a way she would have found thrilling under better circumstances. Standing and brushing herself off she wondered if she could still catch cold from doing things like that. Her grandma had always been worried sick about her catching her death simply from staying out too late on a cold night. Sure, she didn't mind the cold but did that mean she couldn't freeze out here?

Walking the rest of the way down she pulled her hood down as far as she could and made sure to wrap herself in her cloak, just in case, before making her way across the tundra in the direction she was sure she had seen those smoke trails. She crunched across the snow and the dead leaves that had fallen from the trees around here until she reached one of the many icy streams and wandered alongside it for a bit until she came upon one of those cute mouse like animals crouching on the rocky bank to drink. It suddenly perked up and looked her way as she approached and she stopped short in front of it. The thing was much bigger than it had looked from way up high, coming up almost to her shoulders, and looked tensed up to run as it stared her down.

She put up her hands appeasingly. "Whoa, it's okay. Um, are you a people?" She figured she may as well ask. This thing was about as cute as Tora, for all she knew this was the local population. In answer the thing tilted its head and let out a series of short, quick "ooks." That seemed like a no. "Are you a pokemon?" She asked, reaching slowly to her pouch. The thing made the noise again, eyes wide, and quickly dashed away down the riverbank. "Wait, does that mean you are?" She said, starting after it before she heard the real reason that the creature had run off. A distant howl resounded across the tundra.

You would think that the first thing that would come to Linkle's mind, hearing this, was the Legend of the Twilight Princess and the hero transformed by magic into a noble wolf. This wasn't the case. The howl blew past the heroic dreamer in her and spoke directly to the farmgirl portion of her psyche. She spun around, sweeping the area, and spotted them. Not wolfos, but they elicited the same scowl. A group of wolves ran across the snow toward her, evidently thinking her to be easier prey than the large horned animals she had seen from the cliff. Four of them, wooly coated and BIG. Like the rodent they much bigger than she had anticipated, each at least the size of a small horse with the lead wolf slightly bigger than that.

There was no way to outrun them. She glanced back at the stream behind her momentarily. It looked like she could ford it, and if she could so could they. Nothing to do but draw her crossbows and fight. "Imani!" The sniper appeared in her cloud of smoke and Linkle breathed a sigh of relief. She was so glad the woman wasn't a skeleton. "The big one."

Imani was already lining up her shot, her instincts telling her exactly which target was the most important. With a cool exhale she let loose her bolt. It crossed the distance between the groups in an instant, burying itself in the eye of the lead wolf and punching through directly into the brain. The creature died mid run, its legs falling under it as flipped forward onto its head and settled in a heap on its back. They had both hoped the the death of their leader would drive the rest to abandon their attack, but there was no such luck. The rest of the pack pressed onward, one leaping the body of the fallen to press the attack.

Imani lowered her bow. "Damn. All you, love." She said as she dissolved into smoke. Linkle stepped forward into the space she had left. The lead two wolves were speeding up, running together, probably indenting to split up and surround her once they got close while the one behind them attacked directly. As they came into range she threw out her bows and unleased a pair of bomb arrows right between them. One wolf was slightly more keen than the other one and broke of early with only a singed coat for its trouble as it circled around to her left. It's slightly slower partner, however, caught the resulting explosion with its entire side. The wolf tumbled over, its left size significantly charred but still alive.

The last wolf ran around the fallen and stuck to the plan, leaping at Linkle with a snarl. Linkle ran literally toward the jaws of danger, dropping at the last second and sliding like a baseball star underneath the beast. She stopped her skid, rose, and spun to face both wolves in one smooth motion just as the one that attacked her landed. Right there, in the moment it was slightly off balance from landing, Linkle spotted her opportunity. She shot forward with an electric kick right at the back of the creatures knee, breaking its balance and guard completely. She ran forward, kicked off the wolf, and launched two more bombs that engulfed it and launched it into the river where it dissolved.

As she landed she looked at the last one that hesitantly pawed around trying to find an angle of attack. Behind her she could hear its partner whimpering as it tried to drag itself off the ground. In any other scenario they would have probably stopped fighting, but the red in their eyes drove them far past the point where they would normally break. Finding weakness, another predator pounced.

Battles to the death are just par for the course in this world. You don't have to feel bad.

"You're not going to make me feel guilty for this!"

I'm not making you feel anything.

"Shut up."

The wolf charged forward and Linkle placed her hands on the ground. Long shoots of ice exploded from under the animal, catching it one after the other and lifting it into the air. It was pierced over and over as it was carried away from her, until Linkle lifted her hands up and the wolf was dropped in a bloody heap on the back. It began to dissolves almost immediately. She turned around to check the last wolf, but all that was left was a spirit floating in a pile of soot.

Magnificent. You see how simple things can be when you surrender to your nature? Why worry about them?

"I don't." She replied a little to quickly, walking down to collect the spirit of burnt wolf.

Is it because you know you could have let the last one go? Is it because chose not to?

"It was a monster. It attacked me as soon as it saw me. If I let it go it would have eaten a goat, or somebodies pet, or a kid." She replied, taking the spirit left behind by the spiked wolf.

Then why feel bad about it? After all, it wasn't worth saving.

"Because it had had no choice but to keep fighting." She replied, searching the bank for the wolf she had thrown into the stream. "Because it wasn't fair or natural. Even though she had done the same thing a hundred times before Galeem always had to throw a wrench into something...


Linkle stopped.

Galeem did nothing. You complicated things. You think to much. Though if you really feel so terrible, you could correct this tragedy. You could bring it back. This entire foolish pack could ride again, at your command.

Linkle looked down at the collection of spirits in her hand, and scoffed. "That's what you're doing? Trying to guilt me into using you again?"

Just making you aware of your options.

Linkle got the uncomfortable feeling that someone was giving her a patronizing smile, so tried to ignore it as she approached the furry form lying a ways off in the snow and focus on a new mystery. The lead wolf was still lying here, tough the bolt Imani had used to slay it had vanished with the striker. What was this body still doing here? After a few exploratory prods with her foot she watched the thing dissolve like the others. Shrugging, she collected the last spirit deposited all four in one of her bottles. She didn't want to end up like she was in the End again if Peach wasn't around to fix it, and she had no clue what things this big would turn into once she crushed them. They would keep for a while in the bottle, in case she needed them.

The latter leg of her journey was uneventful. Linkle did her best to ignore the hollow feeling in her chest and the occasional interjections of the Skull Heart. Instead she focused on more pleasant things. The feeling of the ground under her feet. The taste on the salty breeze. The low, pleasant rumble of the ocean. She had hit the beach after following the river for a while, and the surprise had almost delighted her. She had never been to a beach before, and the dour look of the water did little to dispel the wonder she experienced on seeing the open ocean for the first time. She'd wondered what the ones that had gone to the Blue must be doing right now. They were probably having a lot of fun, if he stories she had heard about beaches were of any indication. Sun, surf, pirates and buried treasure, otters that ran carnival games. The Blue probably had it all.

She had been walking for a little while when suddenly a thought occurred to her. She looked suddenly out over the black water. "Wait a minute." She started, putting her hand on her chin. "If the ocean is over here, then..." Her eyes went wide, and she slammed her fist down into her palm. "They're probably a fishing village! I'll bet they can run a boat to the Blue!"

It was just her luck, too, because she could already see a landmark poking its way up over the trees. It was some kind of tower, one that must have been enormous given the general size of the trees dotting the coastline, and a ways to the side of it a light shot high into the sky. It was funny, she hadn't seen anything like that on the way to the village but maybe it had been hidden by some kind of snow mirage. Linkle redoubled her efforts, headed right for it.


Location: Someplace Cold ~ Nowhere Near Good

Level 8 - (56/80) + 3

Word Count: 1422

She realized it had been a Linkle Idea the moment the Skull Heart had spoken the word "Almost." In had been the Linklest of all possible ideas, a thought that sped through her brain just before she felt the hateful thing implant itself somewhere in her chest. At first she felt as though she had been punched in the chest strong enough that it should have forced all the air out of her lungs, but that was impossible because she could hear herself still babbling. A cold, nauseous wrongness settled into her core. Her nerves exploded, sending pins and needles dancing across every square inch of her body inside and out as her blood stopped in her veins. She was saying something, but she couldn't understand what it was. She tried to look up at her friends, but all she could see was red. She had fallen, but the feeling of it was swallowed up in the agony building and building in her chest. It felt like parts of her were falling away, sucked down into some endlessly deep pit in big nasty chunks. It was coring her like an apple.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, everything stopped. Nothing moved. No sound came from her throat, even though she new she must be screaming. Was it over? Was she dead? Was that what dying felt like? No. No. The pain was still there, it just wasn't growing. It grew so fast, so exponentially, that even this one moment of agony where it had leveled out was relief to a body that was dreading each coming second.

She heard footsteps. A voice. An laugh. That was all she could process. A hand rested on her shoulder, and the red she saw was swallowed up momentarily by flowing darkness. She felt herself cast into the cold of the snow, but it did nothing to numb her. Like an orchestral performance, the dip in intensity right before the end only served to make the crescendo hit all the harder.

If inflicting pain was an art then the scream the echoed across this snow laden land was a masterpiece.

The next time she could hear it wasn't a comforting voice the greeted her. She had been hoping for Bowser, Blazermate, even weird Miss Dante or one of those nice skeletons would have done, but when she turned her head from where she lay crumpled in the snow her eyes cast a bloody red trail across the white towards him. It was with some surprise that she realized she could see again, but regretted that the first thing she saw was one of those black cloaks. Regretted that the first thing she heard was his mocking encouragement over the howl of the wind. She had a lot of power now, did she? She didn't feel powerful. She felt awful.

To her horror she realized that was the only thing she felt.

She was trying to come to terms with that as the black cloak bid her farewell and vanished in that cloud of darkness before she could even decide whether she wanted to kill him or beg him to stay. Left alone on the icy cliff she dragged herself over to one of the walls and sat up against it, tucking her knees into her chest and pulling her cloak tight over them. She didn't know why she did that. She wasn't cold. The drifts of snow around, the biting wind blowing across the mountain face, the snowflakes landing on her face, she couldn't feel any of it. She wasn't sore. She wasn't cold. She wasn't cold!

She didn't cry. Heroes didn't cry. They shed tears. They wept with heroic dignity. They did not cry. Somewhere, in some far off corner of her mind, she thought to thank that black cloak the next time she saw him for dumping her somewhere isolated like this. Somewhere no one could see what she wasn't doing.

"I even broke my promise..." she said, voice hollow as her chest. Twice. Once when she had gotten herself shot up, and once again when she had make her Linkle wish. "Idiot." She said bitterly, burying her face in her knees. "Idiot, idiot, idiot...," And as she said it over and over again she noticed another voice, saying it in tandem. A dark voice, like the kind you would hear lurking just beyond the light of a dying fire. Idiot. Idiot. You are thinking so much. This is what happens when you think too much. Why think? The battlefield is where your legend grows. Your heroic deeds are in the slaying of your enemies. Idiot.

That...made a lot of sense. She had never been good at solving puzzles or finding creative solutions to problems. When she'd fought the big cannon robot she had overthought things and ended up on her back for it. When she had tried to help the bird robot she had just ended up murdering it. When Din had been taken by Galeem she pussy footed around when the correct answer was just fighting her. When an evil glowing skull had offered her a wish she had though she was smart enough to outsmart it. Maybe All she was really good for was killing.

Maybe her greatest heroic deed would be killing this rotten world?

"Idiot." Linkle said, shaking her head. "Idiot. Idiot."

She suddenly raised up one arm and slammed it hard into the center of her chest. "Idiot. Idiot!" Again and again she slammed down. She didn't feel a thing, and was honestly surprised that it didn't beat like a drum. "Idiot! Stupid stupid skull heart! That's what you want? That's what the big deal curse is!? You put me through this and then ask me to do something I was already doing!?!" It was odd, it wasn't the slap slap of flesh on flesh either. Instead it sounded like the tink tink you get when beating metal. What was that? Was she a skeleton now? Or, what, did it make armor for itself to keep her from trying to dig it out with her fingernai-

Oh. Oh no!

She threw open her cloak and desperately clawed for the thing she couldn't even feel she'd been assaulting. She wrapped her finger around the string, pulling up the compass that hung around her neck and pressing her nose to it before heaving a sigh of relief when she realized her hadn't accidentally damaged it. Her compass. Granma's compass. She stared at it for a long while, grasping it like a baby as she watched the needle sway this was and that. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you? You would never lie to me." She said, not entirely to it.

The needle swayed slower and slower, finally coming to a stop to definitively point in a certain direction. It wasn't north, but she didn't know what. All she knew was that it was a direction.

Linkle nodded, took a deep breath she didn't even think she needed anymore, and rose unsteadily to her feet. As she did so the fire of her mind flared up, pushing back the creeping voice of the Skull Heart at least for a time. It was the fire of a dream, an ideal, one clung to with the strength and conviction of a madman. She was going to destroy this world, but not the way this parasite wanted. She was the Hero of Hyrule. She had never heard of any other falling to evil and she didn't intend to be the first. That wasn't her destiny. Her destiny was to kill the sun, and then Ganon. She didn't have time to be a spooky skeleton monster or whatever, she had a job to do!

All you're good for...

"Shut up." She said coldly, done with this dumb voice. As mentally prepared as she was going to get for now, Linkle wiped her eyes for absolutely no particular reason at all and got her first real look at her surroundings. Snow, trees ruins, nothing really interesting. The floating rocks made her wonder whether she was anywhere near Eryth Sea, but, no. Black cloak had told her this place still had a guardian, and that she was alone here. Did that mean this was a new region?

She walked to the only real landmark she could see, the big glowy thing on the edge of the cliff that looked like it had been encased in ice, and tried to get the lay of the land from where she was. It occurred to her that, if this was a new region, she was ahead of everyone for once. Maybe she couldn't beat this areas guardian on her lonesome but she could definitely prepare the way for when the others got here. Maybe she would even find a way to contact everyone.

Boy, wouldn't they be surprised?
Matthew took the Van in, a slow smile slowly creeping its way across his face. It looked terrible. It probably was. He flinched at the sound of something falling off as the breeze caressed the old girls body. Still, he didn't underestimate her like the others seemed to be. His old car had been only slightly better than this and he had put it through some flat out abuse in the time he'd had it.

He poked his head in through the open door and took a deep breath of that old car smell, coughing a few times from the duct flying around. "I wouldn't worry." He said to Angeline. "Nobody who owns a car like this doesn't know how to get her moving again in an emergency." He pulled himself inside and slid in beside Angeline, conveniently placing himself directly behind the drivers seat in case someone needed to suddenly grab the wheel. "What's that saying? 'The oldest horse knows how to run' or something?"

Of course, he'd have to actually feel her run before he was 100% confident in that assessment.
"Excellent work, pipsqueaks." Penny said as the peasants carried the girl down from the tree, leaving it vague whether she included Jessica in the compliment lest her head explode from how big it got since her sappy solution had worked. When they got close enough Penny put her sword under one arm and reached up, taking the girl around the armpits and lifting her the rest of the way down down as the peasants let themselves fall like hairy coconuts to the forest floor around them. She gave the kid a quick once over, seeing if she was hurt in any way besides the evident exhaustion of the ordeal. Up close their rescuee bared an unmistakable resemblance to the teacher from the beach, which meant that now all they had to do now was track her down. In the middle of the jungle. Great.

Everybody was turning to head back to the beach when Mark asked whether they would be carrying the bubble machine with them. "Of course." She said, snapping her finger. The peasants lifted up the bubble machine as it looked like Penny was going to be stuck carrying the kid. With an uncomfortable glance down and a terrible attempt at a reassuring smile she set out after the other two. Luckily for her they hadn't even started back yet when a girl emerged from the woods.

Jessica fielded her questions, thankfully. She made a questionably believable attempt to establish her evil cred, but trying to say that with a stammer and a blush was just eyerolling. To be fair, though, it felt like a compliment from her could make anybody blush. Penny wasn't good with compliments anyway, especially when they were this genuine. "Yeah, we're gonna prove her wrong by reuniting her with her loving daughter." She added, just in case either Erin or the kid got any weird ideas from how Jessica had described things. As she did she smacked her lips at the mention of the sweet taste that must have been hanging in the air.

@Octo@Rockin Strings
The middle of the outback, early in the morning. As Matthew listened to the others talk and answer questions he had to agree with the well tanned lady, they were probably more likely to encounter drug dealers, one of those outback murderers he'd heard about, or be harassed by a pack of mangy dingos than be swarmed by the FOE. So really, it was more like one of his normal deliveries back home than not. That was pretty comforting in a weird way.

He had his own reservations about bringing along a teenager for this sort of thing, but what the older gentlemen said really put things into perspective even if the notion of the FOE rounding up and murdering children made every single muscle in his body tighten all at once. So getting them involved early at least made a certain amount of sense from a practical point of view.

Speaking of getting involved, he stepped forward to answer Ellen's question as best he could. "My name's Matthew. Hey all. I can turn normal stuff like that coffee maker into grenades, I can fuse stuff together, I can make fog, I think. Not really sure, I did that a while ago and haven't messed with it since because the other stuff seems more useful. And, uh..."

He stopped, struggling to think if whatever Black think he felt he could do was really relevant if he didn't intend to touch it with a 12 foot poll. "Well, it's not really important. What is important is that I can drive real well, so if we have to go all Mad Max out there you guys can count on me."

"As for questions..." He said, turning back to Mr. Simon. "I got tons, but they're not about this. After we've done this for you do we mind if we talk? I don't want to take up your time without at least doing something in return."
Hyrule Warriors

Level 3 - (14/30) + 3

Level 8 - (53/80) + 3

Word Count:1360


Location: The Dead Zone, Argent Tower

As Linkle back up toward the teleporter to get a little more breathing room Bowser literally threw himself into the breach, batting away the big monster that had smashed a hole in her wall like a children toy before getting thrown himself and isolated. Monsters swarmed him and Linkle was about to respond to his call for aide when Blazermate, almost casually, beat her to it and floated across the room to give him the full attention of her healing beam. The urgency of that situation instantly plummeted, and was replaced with another.

The tell tale crack of gunfire and the the familiar, bee sting like pain of buckshot in her shoulder brought to her attention the fact that some of the gunners were now making their way around or over the wall. To add on to the bad news the melee forms that were still closing on her seemed to find her arrows more of an annoyance than anything, driven forward by the unrelenting will of the wrigglers buried in their bodies. The little guys drove the big ones like you would drive a kart, and the big ones that hadn't been blown to bits by bombs or incinerated were getting new drivers all the time.

She sprang forward as one of the melee forms did, ducking under its claw and pumping a few useless arrows into as she passed before jumping at the one behind it. Her foot erupted in fire as she delivered a high kick to the parasite in its chest, scooping it out as it was engulfed. Bereft of its driver the body of what was once a man fell down, and as he did Linkle put her boots on his back and ran down him toward the nearest group of flood.

The gunner leveled his weapon at her as she closed the distance, but the shot went over her head as she dropped, skidding across the tiled floor on her knees and placing one hand on the ground. She'd used ice as a barrier, and ice as a projectile. What about barrier as a projectile?

The gunner fired again as Linkle swept her hand upward, a thorny tower of ice erupting as she did. The shot scattered the ice into diamond dust. At least, it did the first one. Linkle was surprised to see another erupt from the ground in front of where the first had been. This one shattered as well, but not to any sort of attack. It seemed as though it shattered to make way for the next, then the next, then the next. In a matter of moments the ice reached the gunner, springing up directly under it and lifting it into the air impaled upon the crystal thorns before that ice, too, shattered and dropped the monster to the ground. It never reached earth. In the instant it began to drop Linkle had already sprung up and closed the distance, leaping into the air and delivering a spin kick to the creatures chest that froze the parasite solid where it had burrowed into its victims body. It tumbled through the air, slamming into the flood behind it that as Linkle landed. A wet pop threw more of the little wrigglers into the air as one of the carriers exploded from the impact. They swarmed the body, desperately prying the frozen one from the chest cavity so one could resume control when they were obliterated in a spray of bolts.

The arrows of course didn't do so much damage to the melee forms behind them, but that was why Linkle was already moving. She reached the body as the flood were springing up and wrenched the shotgun from its grip. One started to swing at her, but she jammed the weapon into its chest and pulled the trigger. A explosion of greenish gore erupted from the monsters chest even as she dodged back from the retaliatory strikes of its fellows, a grin on her face. Like she'd suspected, this weapon seemed much more effective on the things.

Perhaps sensing all the fun Linkle was having a armored kart picked that moment to shatter her ice wall into a million pieces. The teleporter they had all used to get here suffered the same fate as the kart through as arc of electricity at it, forcing her to dodge out of the way lest she be caught up in the destruction. The hooded man made a valiant effort to kill the driver before teleportation over where they had gathered, his hood falling down and delivering his assessment of these monsters, the Flood. That they would not stop.

Linkle shook her head, blasting another combat form as it got close. "Daxter is right, we just have to kill the boss of this place." She said, looking around for the sort of root monster the little furry guy had described. "It'll show up if we kill enough of these guys. I haven't even broken 500 yet."

Linkle, however, seemed to be overruled. Jak, his new friend, Blazermate, even Bowser all opted for the tactical retreat though the latter two had decided to retreat in style by stealing another of the enemies vehicles. Linkle supported that plan, blasting at the Flood forms that tried to interrupt the big turtles wrestling match with the car for as long as her shotgun ammo lasted her before switching back to her crossbows and harrying them with bombs. When the car finally reversed out the door into the unknown and Bowser hacked his last two parting shots past her at their enemies Linkle hesitated to leave. She felt sure that these guys wouldn't stop bothering them until they took this place, but the boss said retreat.

She felt power welling up in the pit of her stomach, a dam bursting inside her. "I could have gone all day!" She shouted at them as she spun, fire and force exploding out of her popping the smaller forms and sending the large once spinning through the sky engulfed in flames. She surveyed the blast radius for just a second, satisfied that she'd bought at least a little more time to breath, then sprinted off after the others.


So, it seemed this was all disturbingly literal after all.

Link listened intently to the reactions of the others. Some dismissed the idea outright, other wanted to modify or poke holes in it, some wanted to find a way to avoid riding it at all. All the while, everything the woman said stoked the fires of Links exploratory spirit. Dangerous places like the Maw didn't hold any terror for him. Indeed, the more he heard the more drawn to the place he felt. He truly wanted to ride it, to see inside, to meet this mysterious dark lady that commanded it and, if it were truly spiriting its guest away never to be seen again, to put an end to the vile thing.

"I like the Prince's plan, personally." He said. "Conquer the Maw. Though we could stand to be a little more subtle than charging up the deck and picking a fight. Thank you for the information." He bowed his head respectfully to the woman in black before turning and heading up the gangplank to the pirates ship, taking his cues from the little girl and saluting the captain when he saw him. He'd had the pleasure of boarding one sea worthy vessel in his entire post-amnesia life, and that one had been small and tied up at dock. This one, though? This one was big enough to make for a fine house.

At one of the girls questions he shrugged. He didn't really know what a pirate was, and found no reason to be intimidated by the giant scalawag. "It's good of you to carry us to Limsa, sir. From what our friend in black told us it's not very safe waters. You must have fought off a few terrible sea monsters in your time. Any tales to tell?"

If they were going to Limsa to find facts and, perhaps, strong allies then there wasn't any reason not to start early.


Bak worked diligently, her needle and thread punching in and out in the smooth robotic rhythm of an expert tailor. Every time it slid through the tarp in her hands crinkled as it was pulled taut to the tablecloth she had found. It was mindless work, a pure and beautiful thing that didn't require her to think at all especially about how nervous she was to be attending this party or whether the friends she'd had no luck getting in contact with even now were even still all right. It was okay. Everything was okay.

Focus on the needle. There was no way you could mess up with the needle. In and out. In and out. In. Out. In. Out. InOutInOutInOutinoutinoutinoutinoutKNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

Bak's head jerked up toward her door, the trance she'd been in for the past hour interrupted. She stood at the far side of the room, in her sewing corner, and started to lay the costume she had been working on atop the actual sewing machine when Yuuto's voice came though the door. She started stomping toward the door to let him in, halting at the threshold momentarily to suffer two thirds of a heart attack between the words "go together" and "as friends." She sighed and got her breath back, at least that all was still right with the world, and cautiously opened the door.

"Yuuto! I did not know you would be well enough to be going." She said, surprised. The only reason she wasn't outright dismissing this as some kind of joke was that Yuuto always seemed so stoic about everything. "D-da, if you would like too." She was still pretty uncertain as to why, but maybe he was onto something. If this turned out to be some kind of St. Laural's trap it was better to buddy up anyway. Rational that jelled with her worldview sufficiently established she nodded twice more with more obvious enthusiasm. "Da, Da, is very good idea I think. Could be very fun."

"Ahhhhheeeeeeeeee, looklooklook!" Bak squealed to Yuuto, pointing up as best she possibly could at the explosions going off high above the Rhean Center. The look of childlike wonder in her eyes as she stared directly at the fireworks. You would have to have seen it in her eyes, because you couldn't see anything else.

Bak was covered from head to ankle in what looked like a large white sheet, the only parts of her body visible through the eyes holes she had cut into the face and the clawed metallic feet that peaked out beneath the six layers of ruffles she had sewn into he bottom because this was a fancy costume party. Of course under under facade of this sheet the was the steady, reassuring weight of the tarp to keep the costume from being pulled off or blown away so easily. They were attached to one another by expert stitching that ran along the outer edge of he costume, hidden beneath the folds of the ruffles. Above the cascading ruffles a series of merry little ghosts were embroidered, dancing with one another under a series of moons that waxed and wained as they circled her. Two of the little ghosts had wandered up to Bak's face, reaching out with fingerless hands so it appeared as though they were grasping the stiching round her eyes and holding the holes open like you would the curtain on a stage. The last addition were the two "chains" that crisscrossed on her chest and back, the links made from leftover cloth and sewn into the costume itself.

Underneath in all, in the safe and private world of the costume, Bak dressed the same as she always did save for two things. The first was actual chains that swayed back and forth as the hung from her arms and neck, the favorite accessory of tortured souls bound to this earth through unfinished business. They gave off a fun ghostly "Klink-klink" sound whenever she moved that served to overpower the far less ghostly "crinkle-crackle" of the tarp. The other was also the accessory of a tortured soul: Vittorio's ring was wrapped around her finger.

The spell the fireworks cast on her came to an end as the last of them winked out of the sky, and as the door began to actually open a case of jittery nerves gripped her. As people began filing in to the hall she felt acutely aware of how many of them there were. So many. Not like at a tournament, where they were far away faces in a crowd. Not like at school, where they generally tried to stay out of range when they could. She reached out and grabbed Yuuto's arm, feeling more confident with contact so long as she was covered in her costume and worried a little that he might disappear in this throng of people. "Is, I think, your job to lead me in?" That seemed like a fancy party sort of thing to do, right?


In the time leading up to the ball, Katherine had her own struggle to go through. Harder than picking up a costume. Harder even than recovering from the wound in her chest.

It was late. Christine was already in bed but here she was, leaning against the wall in the hallway. Mirthlessly she turned her head and looked at the phone. She expended a hand out to it, felt the coolness of the receiver with her palm, groaned, and dropped her hand to her side like it was made of lead.

Premiere at the ball. It was a simple plan, just make your grand reintroduction at the ball. Stick to the plan, make a laugh out of it. Hey everybody, Kath's back. Everybody laugh, jump in the air, freeze frame, roll credits. Status quo successfully restored. No need to get all weird about it.

She looked back up at the phone. Yeah, in her dreams maybe. There were people she owed better than just showing up out of the blue.

"Damn it!" she said, ripped the phone off the hook like you would a band-aide, and dialed his number. It rang once. Twice. She bit her lip. Three times. Then went to voice mail, which caused her to sigh in relief. "Heyyyyyy firebuddy." She started awkwardly. That was about as far as she'd decided on what she was going to say. What could she say to Cassius? "I got your messages. Thanks." Good start, don't mess it up. "Just calling to let you know that I'm fine. I'm okay. I know I've been out of contact for a while but," Should she lie? Why would she lie? Probably for the same reason she'd been hoping to get his voicemail. "I've had a friend helping me recover, hiding me in case of...assassins. Gods, that's still so weird to think about." Off topic, off topic. "Um, anyway were you planning on going to Lise's big ball? We are, me and Chrissy. She thought it would be fun, a way to get back to normal. Can we meet up there? I know it's a masque, but I'll be the girl..."

The girl with the big sword scar in her chest from where you watched a dude try to kill the shit out of me before I became a demon and flew off like a bat out of hell.

"I'll be dressed as a snowflake princess." She said. "It'll be real obvious." She held on that for a few seconds, wracking her brain for anything else she could say but didn't find anything that didn't deserve something face to face. "See you there. Good night."

She hung up, her feet feeling heavy as she made her way to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a hell of a day...

"Alrighty then!" she said as the door began to open, pointing her childish baton at the doors as though she were forcing them open magically. She had to hand it to the princess, this place looked pretty swanky. She grinned at Christine as they started filing their way into the lavish ball room, but her eyes kept scanning the crowed for anyone she recognized. "Let's blow the roof off this place like we're rockstars that just out out of rehab!"
Hyrule Warriors

Level 3 - (11/30) + 3

Level 8 - (50/80) + 3

Word Count: 3585

Location: Smash City Alchamoth

After registration had been completed Linkle spent most of her time remaining before departure sitting by one of the big fountains in the atrium talking with Link. With the rule Link had established between them about speaking of their different times the topic focused on their time in the World of Light, though really it wasn't so much a conversation as Linkle regaling him with everything that she had experienced since she had been freed a few days ago and Link listening patiently while occasionally stopping her when he needed something clarified or to enter a log into his Slate. Together they traced the path Linkle had taken during her journey with the help of the picture Link had taken of the map earlier, a map that Linkle had seen for the first time today. To the best of her knowledge she described every place they had passed, every battle she had fought, where members of the group had been found and where they had parted ways.

Just the story was illuminating to Link. It heartened him to know that the star of hope that Peach had spoken of during her speech was in fact a fellow Smasher, and if Kirby had somehow managed to elude Galeem's light that meant he might not be the only one. Perhaps even this Master of Master, the man that had made his presence known at the end of the presentation, who Link wasn't surprised to hear they had known almost since the beginning given how casually the man spoke to them though Linkle insisted he just talked that way to everybody. She laid out how the man could see the future and they were supposed to be on the lookout for his eye, along with his masked apprentices. He added that to his list of objectives, tapping the quest into the Sheikah Slate and making a note to keep an eye out.

His expression shifted into suspicious curiosity as the word "Persona" passed her lips, and he pressed her to tell him exactly what it was beyond a "big monster you summon that's really tough to beat." The crash course he got on what they were and what it was like to battle with one was derailed slightly when she described the devices used to summon the creatures ``like a gun, but it doesn't kill you,’’ and her further elaboration led to her repeating Micheal's lecture on guns and gun safety and pointing out the big rifle the Courier had carried into battle as an example. To Link that certainly gelled with the sound he heard before stumbling upon the dark haired boy. He asked if she knew where a Persona came from, if someone could become a Persona, and this time it was Linkle's turn to ask what he meant. He described the dark haired boy and the strange scene he had stumbled on in Lumbridge, sharing his reservations about what he'd witnessed. This led to a large disagreement, Linkle insisting that Ren was a good guy and even if he hadn't come along to fight the dragon with them like he'd agreed to she hadn't gotten the impression he was a bad guy. She told him Ren was still hoping to save an enemy that had betrayed him, hoping he was lost somewhere in this weird world, and someone like that couldn't possibly be bad. Link countered that he only seemed to consider his friends real people, so that fit with Link's impression of the boy. Linkle told him he was worrying over nothing, that maybe just agreeing to be a persona made you a persona, and he was messing up the story besides because they hadn't even made it to Lumbridge yet. He backed off at that, seeing that if he pressed too far he was headed for a real fight, but the both of them agreed to learn more about this Persona stuff when they had the time.

Back on track, he enjoyed her description of the race track junkyard and how they had pulled a bunch of karts together to cross the wasteland. It reminded him of when he had first met Bowser, Peach, and the residents of the far flung Mushroom Kingdom that had appeared and invited him to take part in what they called the Triforce Cup. He distinctly remembered the feeling of speed, the wind blowing through his hair as he wound around the corners of an expert recreation of the Hyrule castle town in it’s prime. Zelda, of course, had loved the picture's he'd brought back from the experience. She'd spent hours looking at the town that had been built around the racetrack, but more than that marveled at the technology in the karts. Those he had made sure to lovingly photograph from every possible angle just because he knew she'd have such fun dissecting them in her mind and theorizing on how they worked.

This part of the story led to another stop as he recognized the description of the bike she had ridden and it’s ultimate fate chewed up under the tires of the enemy that now inhabited Peach. “He crushed my Mastercycle?” he asked, aghast.

“That was yours!?!” Linkle said, equally aghast. “I am so sorry. I left the parts with a man in Hammerhead, right here. See.” She pointed out a rough area where she thought Hammerhead Garage was, a little closer to the Land of Adventure than Peach’s castle. “If we go back he might sell it to us, but first I have to pay off the damage I did to his shop.”

“What happened to his shop?” Link asked.

“Well, after the monster kart tried to kill us…”

She went on, describing the split in the party and the further splitting as they arrived in Lumbridge and each headed after a different quest. The battle with the fish creatures and the eerie night on the hilltop caught between an earthy monster and a decidedly unerthy one. The prophecies they had been given, and the fall of her friend Din back into Galeems hands.

“That can happen? How?” He asked urgently.

“I’m not sure.” Linkle said. “It just sort of happened. She’s okay now though.”

“You freed her?” He asked.

Linkle started to speak, but she couldn't find any words that she wanted to say on the matter. She looked away, down toward the Cucco’s milling about near the water. Not long ago they had been under the influence too, and Linkle had just been willing to let it sit. If they hadn’t been freed when they beat the dragon they’d still be trying to attack Bowser, and with the bubble popped a whole swarm could have been called down. They would have attacked until there was nothing left, one way or the other. That grim though forced the words she didn’t want to say out of her mouth. “No, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to fight her, even when I was mad. I thought if we beat the boss that would do it.”

Link thought back to his time in Lumbridge and the red eyes of the people there. “Well, that wouldn't have worked.” He said plainly.

“I know, I know.” She said quickly, trying to get off this topic. She knew it wasn’t a matter of strength that had staid her hand back then. If she’d wanted to she fully believed she could have beaten Din easy. Led her away, to somewhere no one could see the short fight, or even just acted like it was a friendly duel like with Ryu. She just hadn't been able to work up the courage to strike her friend, even if it was to save her. “I won’t let it happen again.” She said somberly. “Anyway, when I woke up the next morning…”

The Guildmaster, apparently the secret owner of a prominent Casino where Link was headed and a traitorous blowhard to boot. A group of people dressed in black, apparently free, with an agenda all their own. The trip out of Lumbridge, and their encounter with the snipers. Link requested a play by play of the encounter, nodding grimly as Linkle described every action she had seen him and the team placed on that tower by the Master Hand take. He found one thing odd about the encounter, though.

“It sounds like some people would have died if Master Hand had given us real weapons.” He said. The trophy shooters seemed good in theory, if you outnumbered the group were shooting at. In practice they turned kills into something you could recover from. He tried to picture using it to face down a group of moblins, just a half-dozen of the things, and found another problem. “Why announce what you’re doing?”


“Imagine you’re shooting at a group of monsters.” He continued. “You don’t walk up and tell them you’re going to start shooting at them now. You’re going to hide and pick off as many as you can before they realize what’s going on.”

The look Linkle gave him when he said that was disquieting to say the least, a mixture of judgement and disbelief that told him at a glance that she had never once considered that you shouldn't fight your enemy head on while screaming. He decided to spell it out for her.

“Imagine if we had already been hidden in the canyon, waiting for you guys to show up, and the moment you came into range we all fired on you at once with no warning.” He said. “Now imagine that we did that while using weapons designed to kill you.”

He watched as that scenario played out in her head, her face growing more and more nervous by the moment. “That would have been really bad.” She said, sounding slightly sick. “Whew, good thing he’s a bad guy. They love to gloat. He was probably planning to put us all up on a shelf in his house. Or his glove. Maybe a pocket? Whatever a hand lives in.”

Link, for his part, leaned back and stared out of the giant windows of the atrium at that burning bright ball of light in the sky. “Maybe.” He said. He didn’t believe it though.

All fighters, please make your way to the atrium. Vandham will be selecting three teams from the reserves for scouting missions. The advance teams will depart in five minutes.”

“Yosh!” Linkle said, hopping up and stretching. “Just in time, too!”

“Yeah. Thanks for catching me up.” He said, standing next to her. “There is one last thing before we part ways.”

“Sure, name it. Just make it fact.” She replied, glancing at the people already gathering with a jittery energy.

“Call out your striker for me.”

Linkle nodded. “Imani!”

In a burst of smoke the cyclopian sniper suddenly appeared before the two, a scowl of disappointment shooting Linkle’s way. “I didn’t think I’d need to tell you twice, love, but-”

“Imani.” Link suddenly cut in with a loud, clear voice that drew the woman's attention immediately. She stared the boy down, no recognition in her face. It didn’t surprise him. For his part he had also never seen this woman before, even though they had fought alongside one another but a short while ago. Still, there was something he felt he had to say. “I’m not sorry that we lost, but I am sorry that I let you down.”

Imani and Linkle both looked at him in confusion, but something familiar in the boy's eyes spoke to the old verteran. The snipers expression softened, and she inclined her head slightly toward him as she vanished. This did nothing for Linkle, who understood the context of his actions but not the emotions that prompted them. Instead she shook her head and pointed at him, “Okay, now you have to do me a weird favor.”


Location: The Dead Zone,Argent Tower

Linkle, go getter that she was, practically jumped into the teleporter to the fabled Dead Zone she had heard so much about and it immediately surpassed all her expectations. The first thing that hit her was the smell, a putrid mixture of brimstone, rot, and mildew filled her nostrils and made her want to gag.

It was easy to see where the smell came from. The welcoming committee was nothing like they had gotten anywhere else. Grotesque little plant monsters rused at her the moment she stepped through wiggling their arms eagerly, the vanguard of a force of much larger creatures. Linkle stepped forward to meet them, intent on clearing out some space where the others could enter the room semi safely. The tips of her crossbows flashed green as she held them forward and poured a stream of bolts into the oncoming horde. The sick little things popped like balloons as bolts bored into them, exciting those around them into exploding as well in a chorus of sick, organic ruptures.

They weren't the only ones hit by the stream of bolts. Behind the initial rush of wigglers came fat, bulbose sacks that trundled forward into the stream as though it wasn’t there. Bolts buried themselves into the skin of the creatures as they advanced without a care until they could take it no more, skin ripping under their strain as they exploded. This wasn’t a victory though, as with their death they shot more little wigglers at Linkle as her stream of arrows began to die down from over exertion. She jumped before they landed, twisting in the air to look straight down where they had landed and firing again. The bolts fell like rain, forcing another string of organic pops as the group was obliterated.

As she fell back to earth she rolled in the air, her hair flashing blue as she holstered the bows in midair and landed palms to the ground. From the floor erupted a long sparkling wall of ice, jagged and sharp, that might slow the flow of the larger forms of whatever these awful plant things were. She heard the familiar crack of gunfire as well as the cracking of ice as the shots slammed into her defensive wall, but the monsters were already trying to clamor over it despite how it sliced into them. She jumped back, reflexively throwing out her hands toward the monsters and seeing shards of ice shoot out and bury themselves into the creatures Some fell, but not all, and she could hear the clamor of them coming round the side of the wall. It was working as intended though. It worked as a delay.

Then there was a heavy cracking sound as a large tentacle smashed its way through and came whipping at her. She tried to sidestep but got clipped and thrown back even then by the creature's sheer brute strength. She rolled back as she hit the ground, popping back onto her feet as the thing widened the hole it made by just stepping through it. It’s head, it’s entire upper body in fact, looked like a cauliflower made of human faces. It was the biggest of the things, and the lesser creatures were already pushing between its legs or climbing over it in their eagerness to get at them. One, that looked like it had been a man once but was now a garden for these things, lunged at her with an arm that looked like a tree root. She dodged to the side, spinning and bringing her heel around toward the man’s head. As she spun, instead of catching fire, frost covered her boot as a thick ace head of ice formed at her heel. As she slammed it into the man’s head the ice shattered like glass, sending shards flying with the force of a shotgun blast and taking the man’s head with them.

She had taken out the man, but that didn’t stop the monster. She realized that the man's head probably didn’t matter all that much as the thing took another swipe at her. She ducked it, but another thing had gotten close in the meantime and slammed down at her with a deadly axe handle from the side. She rolled past the first monster as the second slammed down and dented the floor in.

She spun, drawing her bows as she did so. The tips flashed blue as she unleashed a pair of ice arrows into the fleshy bits of the pair of them, the ice spreading out from their tips until most of the creature's bodies were covered in it. Nodding, she turned her attention back to the hole in her wall. It had widened significantly as the big one swung its arms and marched forward, the smaller pouring in like water through a broken dam around it. Linkle scowled as her hair returned to normal, her bow tips now flashing red as she swung her arms forward and rained a series of four bomb arrows around the giant creature, mulching monsters in a series of firefly explosions. It still didn’t seem like enough.

Things only got worse as the noise of the fight drew the attention of monsters outside. A giant burning beast stepped through the doorway and charged at them, but a stroke of good fortune came out of the blue as there was a sudden flash and that particular problem stopped dead in its tracks. Or maybe it wasn’t good fortune, as a figure in a black cloak revealed himself.

“Master!” Linkle called out angrily, more as a warning to the others than anything. It was the first word that came to mind. After all, the other two guys she’d seen dressed like that were both masters. She didn’t have time to dwell on his presence, though, as more of the lower forms launched themselves at her while she was distracted. She jumped forward to meet them, landing feet first on one of their chests and backflipping off of it to get back to a safer distance. As she fell back she peppered her pursuers with bolts.


Location: Inkwell Isle Three, The Edge of Blue

Linkle’s “weird favor” had been twofold. First, since he had to go by the Guild Castle to get to the Casino, he may as well deliver something for her. Linkle knew that the dead zone was full of diseases, and cucco’s certainly couldn't tell you if they were sick or how bad the sickness was. Besides, the girls seemed tuckered out from their hard day’s work and deserved a rest as much as anybody. That was how Link ended up carrying three jittery, flapping birds in his arms through the warp point Jr had created earlier and handing them off to a short, bespectacled young man who immediately began fussing over the burn marks on the things like a mother hen.

The other was also bird related. Linkle had reached into a sack and shoved some foul smelling green leaves into his hands, telling him that there was a very patient chocobo waiting at one of the gates for his reward and warning him to be careful to find the right one because Lumbridge had over two dozen gates. Just from his short time there Link didn’t believe that to be true, and that was only confirmed when he excused himself from the team for a moment and found the place within a minute. The bird was big, the biggest non-person he had ever seen, and as he approached it looked up eagerly from where it had been scratching at the ground. It looked even happier as he produced the greens.

All birds accounted and cared for Link hurried back to the Guild and joined the others in the lift.

As they crossed to the right side of the tracks and down the roads of this lively village to the wharf Link, almost unconsciously due to some royal guard instinct carved deep into his soul, stuck close to Princess Peach as she surveyed the island and the continent beyond. He also tried to commit the geography of this area to memory, mentally comparing it to the map to try and pinpoint exactly where they were just in case that had to make their way back without the convenience of fast travel. That stopped when the woman in black appeared, and he focused all his attention on her.

He only knew what Linkle had shared about these people in black, and some of that was just stuff she’d been told after the fact, but the way she kept talking made it clear she was probably the mysterious woman that had shown up to finish the battle with Gneidxick. If she were the one he’d heard about then she had already aided this group once, but she didn’t go out of the way to make herself trustworthy the way she talked. Gather a group of sacrifices to draw some kind of evil ship that they then had to stow away on? Could it be a metaphor, esoteric instructions on summoning some kind of giant sea creature to ride across the turbulent ocean to where the guardian was waiting?

“Couldn't we just slip aboard when it comes for the usual guests?” He asked the strange woman. “If they’re as monstrous as you say they should stick out like a sore thumb. Do you know where to find them?” He fully expected them to be seals or some sort of big fatty fish.
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