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Current GM of World of Light. When it comes to writing, there's nothing I love more than imagination, engagement, and commitment. I'm always open to talk, suggestion, criticism, and collaboration. While I try to be as obliging, helpful, and courteous as possible, I have very little sympathy for ghosts, and anyone who'd like to string me along. Straightforwardness is all I ask for.

Looking for more personal details? I'm just some dude from the American south; software development is my job but games, writing, and trying to help others enjoy life are my passions. Been RPing for over a decade, starting waaaay back with humble beginnings on the Spore forum, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. If you're down for some fun, let's make something spectacular together.

Most Recent Posts

Midgar - Hermits’ Hideout

Level 5 Goldlewis (126/50) Level 4 Sandalphon (38/40)
Karin’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate, Roland, and Susie’s @Archmage MC, Geralt and Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man
Word Count: 3682

As the Hermits took up arms and positions to attack, Goldlewis stared them down with an incredulous anger in his eyes. Were these people deranged, picking a fight like this just for fun? It occurred to the southerner that this might be a test, since by all accounts this organization was one that respected (and indeed, seemed to be predicated upon) strength. But whatever the reason, scraps were nothing to joke about in the World of Light, where Galeem’s influence pushed everyone to extremes the moment their aggression got triggered. As the leader of a militia Kyle had to know this. Deranged or not, however, he and his cohorts appeared to be serious. Goldlewis scoffed, gripping his coffin by the chain. They didn’t have time for this; beyond the murky cloud cover, the afternoon sun hung high in the sky on the day when the Seekers should be storming Midgar’s depths to find the Guardian. Unfortunately, it looked like he had no choice. He started his stopwatch, and the battle began.

As the de-facto leader of this group of Seekers, the veteran planned to take on Hermits’ leader, leaving the rest of both groups to sort things out between themselves. To that end he retrieved his Skyfish minigun from his coffin, with which he took aim at Kyle. No matter how little damage it did, one bullet would be enough to secure the swordsman’s attention. As always, though, his plan did not survive contact with the enemy–specifically contact with Mudrock’s hammer. The Hermits’ designated tank had charged forward immediately, putting her heavy-duty frame in between Goldlewis and his target, and she managed to counterhit him with the slab-like head of her sledgehammer. He staggered backward with a grunt, more surprised than hurt. Though this masked defender packed quite the wallop, it didn’t actually do a ton of damage. As she raised her weapon to smack him again, he backdashed out of range with a hop, taking Skyfish with him. “You fixin’ to start a war there, hoss?” He adjusted his aim as his minigun’s barrel spun up. “You won’t win this arms race.”

He held down the trigger, locking Mudrock down in hitstun. Right away he noticed problem number one: a shield in the form of a softly shining gray-white barrier around his opponent’s form. A barrage from Skyfish, even at max Security Level, wasn’t enough to break it. “Hmph.” His foe moved in, and he dropped his gun back into the coffin before lifting it up. The crushing force of a back-down-forward Behemoth Typhoon caught Mudrock before she reached him, doubling her over but not knocking her down. She recovered quickly and advanced with a heavy slam that he blocked crouching, allowing him to punish her with a low kick into crouching dust to sweep her off her feet. Only when the defender hit the ground did her shield actually pop, accompanied by a burst of green energy. Healing? Goldlewis thought, perturbed, as he moved to pressure her on wakeup. Right now she shouldn’t be missing any health, so why would breaking her shield heal her?

He caught her with a couple meaty crouching elbow jabs, and though he knew it wouldn’t combo, he went for an overhead up-forward-down Behemoth Typhoon anyway. “Crumble!” It connected, but for a moment the lackluster damage it did made him think that Mudrock actually blocked it. She shrugged the strike off and nailed Goldlewis with a pommel strike that led into a wild horizontal swing, nearly turning her adversary sideways. Still, if that was the best she could do, Goldlewis could keep this up for a while. He performed a forward jump and fell with an inverted slam, but Mudrock actually blocked this time, and when the veteran hit the ground, upside-down and vulnerable, she unleashed her first skill. Her Crag Splitter smashed the ground in a burst of sparks and concussive force, doing 240% damage and not only stunning Goldlewis for a split second but also restoring 6% of her own health.

“Gyah!” Goldlewis spat, rolling backward and climbing to his feet, a little woozy from the blow. Mudrock struck again moments later, hammering against his block until he used Faultless Defense to push her off a little, allowing him to clip her with a dissuasive backhand. He followed up with a tremendous backward-up-forward Behemoth Typhoon that pounded the floor just like Mudrock’s Crag Splitter, but the defender in question backed off out of range. As he called out a Thunderbird drone, indicating his foe to the UMA with a curt jab of his thumb, he noticed something ominous: that the stony sheen he’d destroyed earlier had reappeared around Mudrock once more. Goldlewis impulsively checked his watch and found that it had been about nine seconds since that shield last dispersed. That ain’t good. Mudrock used her Ward of Fertile Soil to soak the Thunderbird blast and burst from the embers with another Crag Splitter. It guard broke Goldlewis, prolonging his blockstun. Put in a bad spot, he tried to use his 6p to low-profile Mudrock’s next attack, but he just ended up trading with her horned headbutt, knocking both back a couple steps. Digging in his heels, Goldlewis lashed out with a coffin swing at maximum range, but when the hit broke his foe’s shield again, the burst of healing undid all his work and left her at full health one more.

The veteran took a deep breath as he reigned in his coffin. This juggernaut didn’t hurt much except for Crag Splitter, but her defense and sustain were off the charts. To actually make a dent, he’d need to do a real combo. Putting together a strategy, he allowed Mudrock to push him all the way back to the wall. Then he checked her assault with a crouching elbow and launched into a down-back-up Typhoon to launch her up and over into the corner. From there he smacked her into the wall again and again, landing a shoulder charge, upward Typhoon, shoulder charge into upward Typhoon again, and finally Down With the System. The last mighty blow would’ve launched a lesser tank through a lesser wall, but Mudrock wasn’t done for just yet.

When she slumped down from the wallsplat, she immediately activated Bloodline of Desecrated Earth. A demonic red energy swirled around her as the floor beneath her shook, but she seemingly just stood there, not attacking. When Goldlewis moved to take the initiative, though, he found his move speed more than halved, and when he landed his backhand he did no damage whatsoever. This continued for a whopping ten seconds, giving Mudrock’s Ward of Fertile Soil ample time to reappear, until the onslaught began. A burst of concussive feedback left Goldlewis seeing stars, stunned and nigh-senseless for five whole seconds, during which Mudrock attacked like a woman possessed, landing an unnaturally fast flurry of amped-up hammer blows. When it finally concluded Goldlewis bursted instantly, letting loose a blue wave that hurled his foe back. “EAT SHIT!”

When he landed, though, he sagged down to his knees. “Ugh…” he panted, covered in bruises. While he couldn’t make out Mudrock’s health thanks to her suit, she seemed more or less fine, which really rubbed salt in the wound. “That kinda crowd control…it’s cheatin’, plain and simple.” Luckily, he could cheat too. “Sandalphon!”

In a blink the Seekers’ combat coordinator appeared, bathing his wounded body in the soft glow of her resplendent halo as she stood over Goldlewis like a guardian angel. Her brows rose ever-so-slightly as she observed his condition. “My, my,” she murmured, raising her staff. Ether radiated from it, and when it came down the divine waters of Angelic Praise healed the big man with a rippling pulse. “I did not anticipate that you’d be so hard-pressed.”

Goldlewis raised an eyebrow at her. Was the emotionless archangel making fun of him? “Yeah, well, this sumbitch don’t quit!” he said, rising to his feet. Mudrock descended on the two, not fast enough to stop Sandalphon healing him, but determined to put both out of commission. “Real tough cookie!” Goldlewis growled as he blocked. “Eats knockout blows for breakfast and then heals up afterward!” Of course, with Sandalphon here neither combatant would make any progress, and Mudrock knew it. She unleashed a Crag Splitter, guard breaking Goldlewis and forcing the archangel to retreat with a long backward step. Like any good fighter Mudrock knew to take out the medic first, and she attacked relentlessly, not giving Sandalphon any room to breathe or time to set up. Without any real means to defend herself point-black the archangel found herself in a tough spot.

“Hold on, I’m comin’!” Thinking quickly, Goldlewis dropped his coffin, then kicked it to slide it across the floor. It struck Mudrock in the back of her legs, tripping her, and she fell over backward onto the coffin’s lid. The next second, the lid rose up from beneath her and a half-dozen arms reached out to clamp down around her neck, middle, arms, and legs, pinning her. Struggle as she might, she couldn’t get free, and after a moment the squeezing broke her Ward of Fertile Soil. Goldlewis jogged over, seized his foe’s helmet by the horn, and ripped it off. He meant nothing more than to create an opening so he could knock his opponent out, but when he saw a lovely face and a head of white hair crowned by dark horns, he was momentarily taken aback. “A woman?”

He only reeled from the realization for a moment, but it was enough. Mudrock thrashed her head and sliced the veteran’s hand with one horn, then finally overpowered the UMA’s arms. Just as she broke free, however, Sandalphon dropped Mudrock’s own sledgehammer down on her head. Though the archangel barely had the strength to lift the weapon up, let alone swing it, gravity did the job. The Hermit was out cold.

Mudrock’s sustain had prolonged her fight, so by now everyone else had already finished. Once the UMA set the tank down, Sandalphon went ahead and healed her so as to ward off any permanent damage from her concussion, though it would be about seventy seconds before Mudrock stirred anyway. Goldlewis stopped his watch with a sigh, a little annoyed. Normally his overwhelming offense would break down even the staunchest defenders, but it looked like his opponent played by different rules. When he snuck a glance at her, he noticed the dark crystals that marked her skin like blotches of ink. Another infected person.

Over toward the training room’s exit, Kyle dragged himself to his feet, panting. Though Geralt’s friend heart undid his wounds, he’d still been floored by the fathers’ collective efforts. “Haah…hah…you’re incredible…you’re amazing!” His toothy frown turned back into a smile, and he sheathed his nodachi. If his returning memories troubled him at all, he gave no sign. “Haah…aaalright, I’ve had enough fun to say you held up your end of the deal. Well then, I’m a man of my word. I’ll tell you whatever you wanna know. ” He paused for a moment. “But what’re we standing around down here for? We’re friends now, after all. C’mon, follow me.” He turned to go, leaving both the other Hermits and the Seekers to regroup.

For a moment, Hal just watched him limp off. “Uh, are we sure this isn’t another trap?”

“Perhaps, but we’ve already demonstrated our strength,” Sandalphon reasoned. “We should follow. Still, I believe I’ll stay with you for the time being.” Though happy to have helped return that young girl’s lost dog, she couldn’t allow herself to be distracted any longer.

On his way out, Goldlewis paid a brief visit to Mudrock. “Sorry ‘bout that, ma’am. Hope we didn’t rough you up too bad. You were a tough nut to crack, that’s for doggone sure.”

“It’s nothing,” the Sarkaz replied succinctly, not meeting his gaze. “You shouldn’t hesitate on the field of battle. No matter who your opponent might be.”

Goldlewis gave a noncommittal grunt. Ironic that she should tell a career soldier like him that. At the end of the day though, she did almost get him.

“You guys comin’, or what?” Everyone followed Kyle through the Hermits’ hideout. As they went, walking through the cluttered, dirty halls and up several flights of stairs, he kept talking. “Don’t blame me if you get lost down here. Not like you know your way around.

Hal still seemed fretful. “We’d better stay sharp. Who knows what kinds of stunts he might pull?”

“Now, now, that’s no way to talk about a friend. You could hurt somebody’s feelings that way.” At the end of a corridor, he took a right turn directly into a solid wall next to a barrel that a Hermit was loitering on top of, revealing it to be a hologram. On the other side was a large, curved room, with shuttered floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the rest of Zone 09, rust-orange and full of long shadows cast by what little daylight made it through the stormy, dark sky over Midgar. Sandalphon supposed that this must be one of the tallest buildings in all of Quarantine Valley. She’d probably seen it while scoping out a spot to turn into a sniper’s nest, never imagining that the Hermits were actually inside. Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, as they say.

“This is it, our lovely home,” Kyle announced. “Make yourselves at home.” There were plenty of couches around (not to mention Hermits) and Kyle sat on one in front of the back wall, where at least a hundred green-tinged surveillance screens were arrayed. They weren’t just snooping on Zone 09, either. Sandalphon saw areas that looked like Detroit, Zaun, Piltover, Sector 07, and more. Eyes all over, she mused. To the Angel of Information, this was an incredible, invaluable asset. What I wouldn’t give to have free access to this. After a moment, Kyle’s voice tore her attention off the screens. “There was something you wanted to ask me?”

Goldlewis nodded. “We understand your Hermits are involved with Reunion. Some sort of drug deal.”

“Drugs, huh? You get right to the point, doncha? Ah well, a promise is a promise.” He leaned forward confidentially, resting his elbows on his legs. “It’s called Blue Evolve. Take enough of it, and it makes you strong enough to kick a chimera’s ass, let alone an Other’s. And yeah, we know about chimeras down here. Blue Evolve even lets us see them. You saw for yourselves downstairs.” He paused briefly, looking between those present. “Unfortunately, we can’t take all the credit for Blue Evolve. We just get it delivered.”

“By Reunion?” Sandalphon asked quizzically, her pupils in the shape of question marks.

“...Yeah, by Reunion. You really did your homework, huh?” Behind him, several of the screens changed to display the image of a dark-haired woman with glasses, a white coat, and a silver mechanical arm. “Her name is Iron. She doesn’t offer much more than that, and we don’t ask.”

Goldlewis furrowed his brow. “Why the hell not? Reunion’s a bunch of bloodthirsty anarchists tryin’ to tear Midgar down. Ain’t ya worried they got some kinda agenda?”

“They’re a rowdy bunch, I’ll give you that. But at the end of the day Reunion’s looking out for the little guys. The poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. Same as us. Either way, if you want any specifics, ask Iron yourself. But there’s one little catch: nobody has any idea where she is.” He leaned back, crossing his arms. “That’s bad for you, bad for us, and horrible for the human race. But you know what? You seem like good detectives. If you found your way in here, tracking Iron down should be a piece of cake for you.” He looked over at a nearby coffee table, which had a gray bag on it with a red stripe. “The only trace of her we’ve found is that bag over there. Take it, if you think you can use it.” Kyle shrugged. “We’ll keep looking, but for now, the only trace of Iron I can give you is that bag. Anything else is up to you guys. Come back here when you find Iron.”

With that, he turned the Seekers loose. They had free reign to move through the Hermits’ hideout as they pleased and even use some of their supplies, though a number of doors remained locked, and there could easily be more holographic walls around. The team reconvened around Hal. “Alright, looks like our best bet is to find this Iron,” he summarized. “She’ll lead us to Reunion, maybe Anderson herself if we’re lucky. Let’s start by getting out of here.”

As they headed back outside, Sandalphon considered what the team knew. “Sector V is a tight-knit community, and the Hermits have the run of the place. It’s highly doubtful that she’d go missing around there.” Going back the way they came, the team exited out of the bridge tunnel and back onto the platform with the ladder that led back toward the colony and the bridge that led toward the unexplored rooftops. “From atop Sector V I had a good view of that area. It’s unpopulated and dangerous, with reports of aberrations and chimeras. It’s our best bet to begin looking.” Holding up Irons’ bag, the archangel narrowed her eyes at it. “I don’t suppose anyone has any means of tracking her we could use this for?”

“Left my bloodhounds back home I’m afraid,” Goldlewis replied a little gruffly. “We might have to clear out these rooftops one at a time ‘til we find somethin’.”

“In that case, I will resume overwatch from the roof of the Hermits’ base,” Sandalphon told everyone. “If I spot anything, I will let you know.” She fixed her unblinking gaze on Hal. “Perhaps you could join me. From such a position, you’d be able to scan anyone’s area for redshift and I could relay your findings.”

“That makes sense!” Hal piloted his drone over toward the archangel, then turned to face the rest of the team. “Good luck out there everyone. Be ready for anything!”

Among the perilous rooftops, a handful of Others -mostly Rummies, Pools, and Paws- could be found scattered around, as well as small Machine bipeds and aberrations, none of which posed much threat on their own but could be dangerous in a dang, especially if an unwary hero wandered into an ambush. Nowhere was this more true than the spacious top floor of a large building, accessible via a heavy, rusted door that would take some serious strength to slide open. Within one could find over two dozen people, sprawled in chairs, bedrolls, or against the wall, but the faces that lurked within the hoods of those colorful jackets weren’t human. This squatters’ den had become a huge nest of Aberrations, eager to eviscerate their visitors with blade, bow, fist, and claw. “Be careful entering what looks like a shelter,” Sandalphon advised the team using her communication power. “Hal is reporting manageable, but still elevated red matter levels inside.”

Seekers who stuck to the open areas around the labyrinth’s upper levels, working through the enemies strewn about therein, might eventually stumble upon a valuable find: a crashed FICSIT freighter. Common sense would dictate that the futuristic orange-and-gray wreck would’ve already picked clean by Quarantine Valley’s more daring salvagers, but it had protection in the form of a prototype DespoRHado Unmanned Gear: the Tyrant. Though damaged and in sore need of repairs, the hippo-sized metal monstrosity still possessed crushing strength and a handful of missile launchers. Still, its menace made the promise of a weapon made from its spirit -not to mention the contents of the freighter- all the more tempting. Sandalphon pointed it out for everyone. “I’ve got eyes on a supply cache of some kind and a bipedal war machine guarding it. I have an angle, so you’re clear to engage if you choose.”

If one took the low road through the clustered buildings, they might find Ny’agai Street in the shadows. There a boy from Sector V, the young scholar Aurele, could be found crying for his lost brother Verut and their friend Lovi, insisting that they had been tricked into a game of hide-and-seek with a ghost and refusing to go home without them. As absurd as that sounded, within the dark corners lurked the spine-chilling suggestions of strange, ghostly figures, fancifully dressed but deathly pale, humming along to the soft, surreptitious song of a still more nightmarish threat deeper within. “I have no vision of the lower areas between the buildings, so if you descend through there, be cautious.”

Finally, on one of the rooftops not far from the squatters’ den, surrounded by abandoned construction equipment, lay the traces the Seekers were looking for. Freshly spilled blood, shorn-off locks of dark hair, and a broken vial half-full of glowing blue liquid. The moment someone showed up, however, he or she would be attacked by a strong invisible foe: the chimera known as Laius, wielding shield and lance in its merciless campaign against mankind. Sandalphon shot a bolt toward the rooftop in question to mark it for the others. “Hal has a red matter reading on top of this highrise. Possible chimeric or Reunion presence. Investigate but stay alert.”

Suoh - A Sparkling Red Metropolitan

Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Pit’s @Yankee, Roxas’ @Double, Luka

Using the last of Crenshaw’s Transport power, the detachment of Seekers and their Psych-OSF friends arrived safely in Suoh. True to their sender’s word, they’d appeared a good ways off from the city center where Main Street and the Otherlobe lay, though they could still see the eerie red glow of its giant artificial brain from here, reflected off the glassy faces of nearby skyscrapers. No such highrises, office buildings, and superstores could be found this far out; these were residential boroughs, with five to six story apartment buildings, lofts above mom-and-pop restaurants, and small businesses. Still, these streets were pretty interactive, especially on a day like today. The sky seemed somehow darker even than how Luka remembered it before the team disappeared underground, even though the time widget in his Psynet connection said it was two-fifty in the afternoon. Those thick, murky gray clouds hung low and heavy in the sky, ominously iridescent thanks to the Extinction Belt. No matter how much he tried to reason it away, he could shake the feeling that something bad was in store.

His merry little band couldn’t waste time, though. They’d made a promise to get to the bottom of the Psych-OSF conspiracy, to find out who was responsible for atrocities like metamorphosis and personality rehabilitation, and take them to task. Once they got their bearings, everyone set off at a brisk jog down the sidewalk, past wary citizens in techwear and storefronts full of Vision displays. In theory Luka could use his Teleportation to take everyone the rest of the way one at a time, but given the multiple jumps involved per person that would take a while, and given what they were consciously going up against, they needed to stay together. Security camera clusters were prominent out here and would only grow more common the closer everyone got to the city center. The minute Luka used his power, both the starting point and the endpoint would be known to anyone observing.

Still, after only a couple minutes, Luka stopped suddenly on a street corner and pulled up a Vision of his psynet inbox. “I just got a Brain Message…from General Fubuki Spring?” Anyone who recognized the name of Psych-OSF’s Septentrion Second Class would know just how big a deal a message from him was, and how good -or how bad- its contents could be. Luka read it at record speed, then forwarded it to his squadmates, Yuito, and Hanabi.

Good afternoon Luka. I hope this message finds you well. Unfortunately, you may not be for long. Every platoon leader in the OSF just received an APB on Luka Platoon from the brass. No further details given. It’s nonsense, I’m sure. How many years have we known one another, after all? But this is as serious as it gets. I haven’t the foggiest idea why anyone might have it in for you, but someone at the top of the food chain clearly does. I’ll do what I can to find out more without raising suspicions. In the meantime, stay as far away from Suoh as you can.

“It looks like someone’s gone and made us public enemy number one,” Luka said wryly, partially for the sake of Midna, Pit, and Roxas. “Any Psych-OSF squads we encounter might be gunning for us from here on out.”

Hanabi crossed her arms, a furious look on her face. “It was Brain Drain!” she fumed, turning to the Seekers. “You know, the psychic in the lab? While you went to find the Doctor, we had a peek into his office. He’s got connections in Psych-OSF, powerful ones. They send him people to rehabilitate if they have further use for them, or to recycle if they don’t.” She curled her lip in disgust.

“There was a jar of super-sneezing powder in there,” Yuito explained. “I would’ve sneezed my brain out if Luka didn’t warn me before I opened it. That explains all those brains, though. Brain Drain takes the mind, and the Doctor, the body.” He shivered in horror, then cleared his throat. “We got his personal records of what he’s been up to, though.” He produced a flash drive from his pocket. “He must’ve figured we’d clean him out and went running to his friends the first chance he got.”

“Little snitch,” Hanabi added angrily. “Still, we’re not going anywhere. Right, Yuito?”

He nodded emphatically. “Right!”

“Of course,” Luka chimed in. After a moment, he blinked in surprise. “Oh…I just got a response from Raz! He made it out of the hospital, said he’s sorry for leaving us but he got a panic attack. He also says that he saw the truck with Dexio and Sina arrive once he got outside, who he assumed were there to help. He also saw the man who drove them there: Morceau Oleander.”

“Morceau, as in Septentrion Seventh Class?” Hanabi asked, turning to Yuito. “As in, leader of your platoon?”

“I…guess?” Yuito looked worried. “I have no idea what he’s doing though. He just told us he’s out on a training exercise today. That’s why we had time off to join you guys for Beacon.”

Luka was wearing a grave look on his face. “Apparently when he saw Raz, he took off, so Raz hopped on. Morceau managed to shake him off near the city center though, and he’s hurt. He’s currently hiding out in Musubi’s at the end of Main Street and wants us to come pick him up.”

“Then we’ll grab him on the way,” Hanabi confirmed. “Let’s go!”

Fate had other plans in store for the Seekers, however. Less than a minute later, a loud alarm blared throughout Suoh, and the psychics of the group could see all the visions scattered all over the streets and buildings change into bold, bright orange warnings. “An Other attack!?” Yuito yelped, instinctively reaching for the hilt of his sword. “I know the Extinction Belt’s low today, but the forecast was clear!”

“This can’t be coincidence,” Luka murmured. “We’ve gotta move!”

Everyone took off running in a mad dash toward the city center. Before too long, they got their answer. Above Suoh were flying two large blue buses suspended beneath hot-air balloons, handfuls of Others pouring out of their doors and windows to plummet down to the city below. As the Seekers watched, a third descended from the oily-looking clouds, its glass quickly shattering as a fresh crop of Others burst from inside to join their brethren already assailing Suoh. An anti-air battery from somewhere near the Otherlobe sent up a torrent of red laser blasts to shoot it down, and after a couple seconds it hit home, bursting the balloon to send the bus and its remaining passengers hurtling toward the city below. Other sources of anti-air fire were concentrated on downing the other buses and shooting monsters out of the sky, but plenty reached the ground.

“Just got word from my squad!” Yuito yelled as he ran. “Morceau’s nowhere to be found, so Nagi, Lili, Norma, and Poo are all joining the fight against the Others. I sent them our location so we can link up!”

When the Seekers rounded a corner and skidded out onto an avenue that would connect to the end of Main Street a block away, they found a small army of Others rampaging through the area, attacking everything that moved. OSF forces were fighting in the distance, but even if some of them wielded weapons or weak psychic powers, these citizens were in grave danger. There were Pools, Paws, Pendus, Rummies, Ruts, Yawns, and Sabbats of all varieties, and as if that wasn’t enough, a six-armed, orange-gloved Dispen Perry with a huge water tank on its back like a howitzer.

For the moment, Luka wasn’t thinking about the conspiracy. He hefted his Weight Hammer and teleported forward to bring it down on a Bile Pool, crushing the slimy Other in one mighty blow. “We have to help them. Fight through!”

The Under - Crypt of the NecroDancer

Level 12 Nadia (76/120)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Artorias’ @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 3016

As expected, Primrose put on a stunning performance. Though intimidatingly large and gruesome, Frankeinsteinway turned out to be little more than a brute, and though his little jig made Nadia giggle when she first saw him, that was the extent of his dancing ability. Primrose defeated him handily, not just dazzling the audience with her captivating beauty and grace, but revealing some important information about the Floorbosses and the nature of the contest against them. Nadia tried to file it away, but there was a lot to think about. Besides, who knows what might be waiting in the next room?

“You KILLED it!” she congratulated Primrose once the dancer made her way over. “I mean, I knew you were a great dancer already, but that? Wow! You really Prim-rose to the occasion!”

One thing was for certain: that would be a tough act to follow. Now that it was her turn, Nadia found her way to a fresh dance floor. Though surrounded by walls of timeworn stone like the rest of the Crypt, this particular room looked more like a modern club than most. Of course, this was lost on Nadia, who hailed from a time roughly a century before the contemporary definition of ‘modern’, so everything seemed new and amazing to her. From the vivid blue spotlights to the soft, pinkish glow of the private alcoves, a surreal, dreamlike light suffused everything. At the bottom of a few sets of stairs lay the checkered dance floor, half of it immersed in ankle-deep water, and as the squares flashed aquamarine the ceiling lit up with beautiful, refracted caustics. In fact, the theme of this whole room seemed to be water, judging by the streams lit from beneath that flowed around the floor beneath panes of glass and the elaborate falling water features. Plenty of dead could be found here, either relaxing in the booths or grooving on the dance floor, and there were, the typical skeletons and zombies supplemented by drowners, drowned, and Undyin. Over the dancers loomed the DJ booth, where an instrumental monstrosity mixed it up. That, Nadia assumed, must be this room’s Floorboss. While the average cat might shy away from this venue, Nadia had overcome her dislike of water long ago, and was eager to prove herself the freshest thing around.

Before going big, however, she felt compelled to start small. Planning to test what she’d learned on some hapless undead, she approached a skeleton on the periphery and tapped his bony shoulder. “Bone-jour, mon ami!” she greeted him with a toothy grin, putting her hands on her hips. Spanish might be her natural tongue, but the lick of French she’d gleaned from Bella had its merits. “Couldn’t help but notice you had no ‘body’ to dance with. Wanna give me a spin?”

“Oh, we got a joker here, huh?” The skeleton pounded his knuckles into the carpal bone of his other hands. “You’re on, kitty, but don’t assume I’m free points! I was ‘bone’ to be wild!”

As if on cue, a new song began, and Nadia’s eyes sparkled in the brilliant teal light from below. “Purr-fect.”

The dance-off was on. First things first: adjust to the beat. This music, energetic and produced by no instruments known to Nadia, offered an easily identifiable but unusually fast beat with hills and valleys of musical accompaniment, largely repetitious in nature. Nadia stamped her foot just like she’d practiced, moving her hips and her shoulders in time to the beat. At such a speed, she couldn’t keep her composure quite as well, so she leaned into the frenetic pace, putting her arms above her head and moving them opposite of the flick of her tails. As the seconds went on, the music turned out to be even stranger than she first expected, unpredictable and without any real sense of progression. Nadia didn’t know where to take the dance, so she settled for just dialing the energy up and down based on the song, going from chill to hyped from moment to moment.

While the music and environment left her feeling just a touch worried, Nadia quickly realized that she had nothing to worry about the moment she looked at her opponent. Despite the skeleton’s bravado, he possessed no skill or rhythm whatsoever, just wildly thrashing around, swinging his arms and clanking his bones with no regard whatsoever to the beat. After discovering this Nadia dialed down her energy a little, but by the end of the song she still won handily. A snap of her fingers confirmed that she’d risen to two hundred points, while her opponent sank deeper into debt. “Wow, free points!” she grinned cheekily, leaving him to sulk. That was too easy. If she meant to test her skills, let alone get all the points she needed, she’d have to set her sights a little higher.

Still, no sense letting her victory go to her head. One wrong move could put her back to square one, or worse. Nadia took on another undead, but found her just as disappointing as the first. “C’mon, I thought this was supposed to be a challenge?” she taunted as the song wound down, so far ahead in terms of score that she didn’t even bother dancing for the last few seconds. Her eyes settled on a huge, burly skeleton standing at the sidelines with his arms crossed, whose glowing white eyes had been on her the whole time. “What about you, tough guy?” She beckoned him over with a smirk. “You look like you’ve got some backbone.”

Without saying a word, the big skeleton stepped out onto the dance floor. Standing over two feet taller than Nadia, he stood directly opposite her as the Floorboss started up the next track. That song, however, took Nadia completely by surprise: instead of more EDM, it was a cheerful, upbeat, and supremely catchy melody: Cinderella Step. As the dance-off began and Nadia overcame her surprise, she found herself vibing with it immediately. Though slow, it had a rhythm that she couldn’t help but groove to, with a beat played out by what sounded like a xylophone. At first she swayed and stepped from side to side, leading with her head. When the song turned a little more wistful and bassy around the thirty second mark she started up a slow spin, one arm looping over her head while the other rested on and accentuated the movement of her hips. Still impressed by the song, she was grinning ear to ear, and when the beat dropped at the thirty second mark she went all-out, bouncing up and down on both feet with both hands above her head, her heart alight with joy.

As the feral danced she glanced over at her opponent. To his credit, the big skeleton had some rhythm, but his only dance move seemed to be stamping his feet in alternation while he moved his fists around in a horizontal circle. “Might as well give up,” Nadia sang. “I got this in the bag!”

“...I know,” the skeleton said in a rumbly sigh, barely audible over the music and clamor of bones. “I really just wanted to dance with a pretty girl one more time.”

For a brief moment, Nadia’s heart sank. She realized that she was being cocky and mean. These undead had nothing on her, true, but that was what they’d been reduced to, trapped in this purgatorial rave for who knows how long. As the song continued, Nadia composed herself and bounced over. She took the surprised skeleton by the hands and stretched them out, then started dancing together with him, both of them jumping around in a circle facing one another around the center point where their hands met. The skeleton’s astonishment quickly gave way to something like joy. For the rest of Cinderella Step they danced together, sometimes in circles, other times facing one another. As Nadia grooved, either from side to side with her hands on her hips or above her head, sometimes drumming her fists on one side or the other, her partner went along with her as best he could. All too soon the song came to an end, with Nadia the victor (and by a lot), but the defeated skeleton seemed happy. Nadia blew a kiss his way, not as a taunt but as consolation, and as he returned to the sidelines she looked for her next opponent.

Her next opponent, however, found her. A pint-sized, fox-eared necromancer confronted her suddenly. “You big meanie!” she began, crossing her arms in a fierce manner. “You’ve been bullying the skeletons! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!”

Amused, Nadia crouched down to talk to the kid face-to-face. “That supposed to be you, teensy? Got a bone to pick with me, do ya?”

The necromancer bristled. “Dance-off. Right here, right now! When you lose, I’m gonna add you you to my skelepals!” She then lowered her gaze, seemingly addressing Nadia’s skeleton directly. “Hold on pal, Reva’s gonna free you!”

That’s…weird. Nadia stood up, a little creeped out. This kid Reva must be a contractor. Well, she was literally asking for it. “Sorry kiddo, my skeleton’s mine. Make no bones about it!”

Right away the next song started up, and it was more fast-paced EDM, albeit with a somewhat whimsical, otherworldly feel about it. Nadia got going straight away, trying something new with a plan in mind. Rather than go at an uncomfortably fast pace that didn’t leave her any time to think like with the first track, she timed her dance to every other beat, giving her more freedom while also staying on-beat. Now that she’d gotten warmed up, her dance came easily to her, so she could spice things up a little with new flourishes. Reva, meanwhile, was doing her best. She was kicking her legs with good timing, her staff held in both hands and raised over her head, but there weren’t any more layers to her dance. It was as straightforward as the song, with childish simplicity. When she realized that she wouldn’t win like this, though, the little necromancer had an ace up her sleeve.

“Where are my skelepals!?” Reva cried, summoning a bunch of skeletons from the crowd. They formed up around her, facing a rather intrigued Nadia. “Rattle ‘em, boys!” she squeaked.

The jewel in her staff lit up, and the skeletons began to dance, mimicking Reva’s movements in perfect sync. Their moves might not be any more complex, but the spectacle of the skele-gang dancing was definitely winning them points. “Quantity over quality, huh?” Nadia muttered, another Great Idea forming in her head. “Well, I can do you one better!”

She tucked her hands beneath her arms and detached them, then pointed her stumps upward. From them issued six blasts of blood, three apiece, and as they descended they became crimson Copycats to back Nadia up. Reva watched in dismay as the sanguine squad went to work, dancing with renewed energy to steal the show. All eyes quickly turned from the skeletons to the catgirls as they dialed their charm up a notch, their dance even more enchanting than Reva’s necromancy. As the little girl’s focus dwindled, so too did her hold on her skeletons, until her crew was little more than a bumbling mosh pit. Any semblance of a fighting chance Reva had got quickly drowned out, and when the song concluded, Nadia was the winner.

“Sorry, fellas!” The feral grinned, absorbing her copycats as the disappointed skeletons began to disperse. It was hard to tell if she felt lightheaded from blood loss or the thrill of victory. “Betcha you’ll feel that one to-marrow, eh?”

Reva just stood there, pouting and fuming. Though she’d only lost the three hundred points Nadia earned so far, the wound to her pride hurt a lot more. “J-just you wait, you big bully! I’m gonna go find more skelepals, and when we get back you’re boned!”

As she stormed off, Nadia sauntered off the dance floor to take a one-song break. When she checked her points, she found that Reva had been worth a decent chunk; her total now rested comfortably at 4600. “Guess that gimmick really works most of the time,” she murmured, her eyebrows raised. Still, she had a ways to go before she got to ten thousand. Her eyes narrowed as she looked up toward the Floorboss of this room, which appeared to be an octopus with a variety of instruments in its tentacles. If this was a musical competition she might have been afraid, but how well could an overgrown mollusc really dance? When the current song concluded and she got her breath back, Nadia stepped onto the dance floor once more. She put one hand on her hip, pointed the other at the eight-armed DJ, and raised her voice. “Hey, cephalo-clod!” she yelled. “Your music stinks. I’d rate it a solid sea-minus! You’d be better off as seafood, but even then, you’d be tako-yucky!”

The records scratched as the room went quiet in a chorus of gasps. Immediately, the leviathan sank down behind the DJ booth and burst from the water-filled side of the dance floor, causing the tiles to break and expose a pit of dark water. Some bystanders fell into the water and sank into the deep as the crowd hurried to vacate the dance floor, but though her heart rate quickened, Nadia wasn’t worried. A new track began to play, jazzy and exciting. “Let’s dance, dumbo.”

When the battle began, Nadia got back into the swing of things fast, but things took an unexpected turn. Two of Coral Riff’s arms, the ones with violins, retracted beneath the water and then erupted near Nadia’s position. She looked up at them as she grooved, one eyebrow raised, and promptly one arm swung its instruments right into her. “Oof!” Winded and on one knee, the feral didn’t recover in time to respond to the other arm, and with a slash from its bow it sent her flying back. Nadia slid to a stop at the edge of the dance floor and struggled to get up, blood flowing from the big slice on her cheek. “That’s sea-sharp,” she groaned, wiping the blood off with the back of her hand as the wound began to close. Her teeth flashed in a dangerous grin. “But nothing major.” As much as she wanted to strike back, she knew she couldn’t, so Nadia got back to her feet and resumed her dance. Coral Riff, meanwhile, sent out its drum arms to attack her. She leaped out of the way and landed with a flourishing spin. So that’s how it’s gonna be. And here I thought I might actually have to dance.

Her adversary had taken her by surprise, but once she knew the score, the cat burglar knew what to do. Even without risking the use of a Charge that could electrocute the water and count as fighting, Nadia had plenty of mobility. Coral Riff’s limbs just couldn’t keep up with her, especially since they needed to dive down and emerge elsewhere to reposition. As the song went on the tentacles tore up the dance floor literally, but unfortunately for the seabeast Nadia could completely nullify its gameplan as Massachusetts’ power let her float on the water. If anything, sliding across the surface made the feral’s dance moves even more elegant and fluid. Try as it might to crush its foe, it quickly became apparent that Coral Riff didn’t have anything else up its proverbial sleeves. Nadia dodged each strike without missing a beat; all that crushing force went to waste. “Wow, if Reva was here you coulda had a-flat minor,” she snarked, gracefully evading yet another drum slam. “Me though? I’ll never b-flat!”

After just over two minutes, the fun came to an end. Out of time and thoroughly out-performed, the giant octopus could do little but sulk and sink down beneath the water, chased off by the cheers of the audience for Nadia Fortune. After cruising to the edge of the pool, Nadia stood triumphant among the hyped-up skeletons. “That was a bad joke,” she announced, grinning. “If an octopus wants to make me laugh, you’ll need at least ten tickles!”

The skeletons around her chattered with laughter. One of them, though, crossed his arms. “But Coral Riff only has eight limbs?”

That thing’s called Coral Riff? This place is a pun paradise. Turning toward the skeleton in question, Nadia wiggled her eyebrows. “That’s true. The first two are just test-tickles!”

Uproarious laughter greeted the off-color joke, and Nadia was loving it. She was tired, wet, and more than a little bedraggled, but it seemed like she’d managed to earn the adoration of the crowd, and as the dance floor magically repaired itself, they gathered around her demanding an encore from the kitty as witty as she was pretty. More than that, though, the feral had earned more than enough points to take on the NecroDancer. She could proceed at her leisure to the NecroDancer’s private club to challenge him alongside Bowser, Junior, Kamek, Rika, Sectonia, Primrose, and Therion. But since Coral Riff was spooling up another song anyway, she couldn’t possibly let down her adoring fans. Once more dance couldn’t hurt.

Once the irate Chairwoman stormed off, red with embarrassment, the atmosphere around the table returned to normal. Sinmara neither launched into another bombastic anecdote about her past exploits nor voraciously tore into the remains of her meal. Instead, she pulled her chair close and slouched over the table with her jaw resting on her fist, cushioned by her glove, and her elbow on the table. In such a manner she picked at her food and sipped her water, her boisterous and larger-than-life attitude somewhat muted.

While her pride wouldn’t let her capitulate even when directly reprimanded, Sinmara wasn’t a mean-spirited or spiteful person. She didn’t want to be the center of attention all the time, and she didn’t actually want to cause trouble. Sure, the huntress might be a little ditzy, but she’d have to be downright oblivious to not realize that she didn’t exactly fit in around here. Glitz and glamor, peace and plenty…compared to her usual lifestyle of wandering through the wilderness trying to scrounge together enough quest rewards to keep her muscles fed, this was the lap of luxury. When she finally tracked down that scraggly, mustached fellow with a rustic cowboy hat and a cheap corduroy suit the color of brown mustard who’d been petitioning monster hunters with a look of desperation on his droopy face and a golden envelope in his hand, she’d practically begged him for it. Mom told her to join this campaign, of course, but who in their right mind would turn down free food, not to mention the company of powerful combatants?

So naturally Sinmara had come here intending to enjoy herself. Wasn’t that what parties were for? But as much as she loved being a big deal, she didn’t want to cause such a scene that she got thrown out, or worse, thrown in jail again. Though never for more than a night or two, she’d been in and out of a number of small prisons across the continent ever since her grand debut. She’d been charged with stuff like brawling (serial offender), petty theft (if meat speaks to me, I listen), drunkenness (things got out of hand), barfighting (bars can be dangerous, just ask a lawyer), disturbing the peace (it was SO boring), destruction of public property (those were all accidents), unauthorized possession of a deadly weapon (it’s literally part of me), indecent exposure (how’s it my fault nobody makes anything my size?) and so on. Of course, the ability to obliterate solid matter meant that she never needed to stay anywhere longer than she wanted to, but who’d turn down a free bed? The stockades were less comfortable, but still. Besides, some of those ancient, small-town sheriffs, dozing their days away in the shade of their porches, hadn’t seen action in decades. They’d welcomed the chance to feel important again, and when all was said and done Sinmara often ended up making some friends. Of course, in a big city like New Anton, people were more likely to clap her in irons, leave her to rot in a dungeon, and so on. Better not to risk it. So for now Sinmara just sat here, bored and disappointed. If stuff didn’t start happening, she might start to disassociate again, and boy howdy would she not enjoy that.

Luckily, Sinmara wasn’t the only odd duck around. As she sat there, daydreaming about epic fight scenes, an unfamiliar voice stirred her from her reverie. A well-groomed man with the slender, waifish prettiness one might expect of an elf, juxtaposed strongly against the industrial artifice of his sophisticated augmentations, was saying something. Sinmara neither registered what he’d been doing nor the first couple things he said, but when the elegant engineer introduced himself, the huntress lit up. Even if he didn’t ask her to return the favor, which he did, she’d eagerly jump at the chance to get her name out.

“Wow, everyone’s got a super long name today. Fae it is!” she laughed, standing. Assuming that his bow was a cultural norm of some sort, Sinmara copied the gesture as best she could, although she had a little trouble holding her hands to her chest in exactly the same way. “I’m Sinmara!” she introduced herself before she sat back down. “Not-so-humble earth-shakin’ prizefighter and slayer of mythical beasts! That’s right, THE Sinmara, so if you want an autograph, you’d better ask now before folks start lining up! And if you wanna spar, dandy man, you don’t even gotta ask! I’m ready to rock any time, day or night!”

On the heels of her introduction, another woman rolled up, offering her own name and an invitation. For a moment Sinmara just blinked at her, wondering if she’d heard Marissa correctly. This wasn’t just wishful thinking, right? RIGHT? After a moment Sinmara lit up, springing to her feet with her heart racing and a wild grin plastered on her face. “You wanna take this outside!? Fine by me! Fair warning though, you’re gonna be the one who ends up gettin’ smoked!” After a moment though, her eyes narrowed, and she heaved a heavy sigh. “Crap, I almost got carried away again. I’m actually tryin’ to stay outta trouble for now, so I can’t afford to bust loose just yet. But uh, hold that thought, will ya Rissy? Once we’re outta here, you’re on!”

Right on cue, an enigmatic individual put in a surprise appearance. Sinmara watched, highly amused, as the Jester performed an acrobatic stunt and landed next to Rissy. “Nice to see you too, I could really use a laugh!” She put her hands on her hips, her brows scrunching up as she tried to put together a summary of the situation. She was a little short on the specifics herself, though not quite as short as Marissa. “Uh, I think they brought us all here to find the seven weapons. Right? That’s just about all I know though, I dunno how to find ‘em or where to look. It’s all been pretty hush-hush.” She shrugged in resignation. “Honestly though, I could just skip all the explainin’. Just point me in the right direction and let me punch something!” With a jocular smile she pounded one gloved fist into the palm of the other, allowing everyone present to see their helpful labels of ‘left’ and ‘right’.
Midgar - Zone 09

Level 5 Goldlewis (115/50) Level 4 Sandalphon (27/40)
Karin’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate, Roland, and Susie’s @Archmage MC, Geralt and Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man
Word Count: 618 / 3038

Though more expansive and developed than Sandalphon first expected, the rooftops of Sector V weren’t large enough that the archangel had a hard time finding the young girl’s lost dog. She discovered him in a pile of dirt and refuse that had gathered in a corner on one of the lower slopes, a little close to some coils of barbed wire for comfort but in no immediate danger. He was an agreeable-looking fellow, medium-large, with short caramel-colored fur and dark patches around his muzzle and rose ears, which bounced around in a delightful manner as he sniffed around in the pile. For a brief moment, Sandalphon’s pupils turned from power symbols into bright green hearts. Capturing him, however, proved to be far more of a challenge.

True to his owner’s warning, Buggy was a playful pup with an extraordinary amount of energy. When Sandalphon approached, he looked her way and immediately started to wag his tail. Taking another step in his direction elicited a play-bow, and one step more set him off. He ran a short way in a burst of speed, then craned his head around to stare at the tall woman expectantly. He clearly wanted to be chased, and with no better options springing to mind, Sandalphon obliged him.

She started to run. Buggy did too, and he wasted very little time in showing his pursuer just how ungovernable he was. Though Sandalphon possessed much longer legs and therefore a much longer stride than the average woman, she was not an athlete, nor even someone who regularly exercised. Her outfit wasn’t exactly suited to strenuous physical activity either, especially the heels. The lost dog, meanwhile, ran like the wind. She chased him up and down the roof for several minutes, trying to corner him, but even when Buggy dashed within arm’s reach he slipped out of her grasp like sand between her fingers. It quickly became clear that the question wasn’t whether or not the archangel could catch him, but whether she could keep him going long enough to tire him out.

That’s not happening.

After a somewhat pitiful amount of time spent running around, Sandalphon was forced to concede. She fell to her knees, more than a little lightheaded, and her pupils turned into x’s. Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath through a throat that felt painfully raw. Leader of the Apostles. Foremost among angels. Vanquisher of demons, she thought ruefully as she stared up at the bottom of the Sector 01 plate. Defeated by a dog.

As the seconds dragged on, however, she realized she wasn’t the only one hyperventilating. Sandalphon turned her gaze downward and found Buggy standing there in front of her, panting as he stared at her. Wondering why his playmate had stopped, he’d come over to check on her. Slowly the archangel closed her breath, her unwavering pupils fixed on the friendly canine as they became crosshairs. Then she lunged, locking her arms around his body. He struggled, but try as he might, Sandalphon would not let him go.

“You caught him!” the little girl yelled in delight as she came running up. “Yaaaaay, thank you!” She wrapped her arms around Buggy’s neck in a hug and he started licking her face, so Sandalphon let him go. After a moment the girl looked up at her. “Wow, you’re super pale. I thought you were gonna die or something. Are you okay, miss angel?”

As she stood up slowly, Sandalphon tried not to let her legs shake. “I…am well…my child. Please consider…getting your pet…a collar.”

The child gave a sagacious nod. “Okay. Do you want some water, miss angel?”

“...Yes, please.”

Wind Chimes ended up taking a quite a few minutes longer than Goldlewis would have thought, almost enough to make him start doubting the faith he placed in her. Her somewhat prolonged absence provided enough time for the Seekers she left behind to get a start on their assignment from Hal and tease out whatever information -or material goods- they could get from the locals.

While the situation here in Sector V might remind Geralt of certain slums from his past, this cyberpunk shantytown was pretty different in practice, so he didn’t make much headway. Zenkichi managed to cozy up to one citizen through a casual game of cards, learning a bit in the process. The nature of Hermitonic and the Hermits’ willingness to accept strong recruits might not be pivotal information, but any little detail helped in case it happened to prove critical later on.

Apparently someone attempted to hack into Susie’s systems, but her security measures stopped that outright, allowing her to nonchalantly bandy words with Roland about corporations in their world while Blazermate floated around. Since the directions she received from the injured lookout only led her as far as Sector V’s side entrance, she didn’t know where in the rust-coated colony the Hermits might actually be. The three started asking everyone they ran across where the Hermits were, straight up, but their questioning met with mostly cold and cagey responses. Either the people here didn’t know, didn’t want to say, or both. Maybe they were afraid of the attention the three might get carrying on like this. It quickly became clear that without putting in more effort, the three wouldn’t achieve much. By the time Susie might think to try and trace her would-be hacker’s signal, it had long since disappeared.

Karin found her way to a certain old man with a long beard, cowboy hat, and vest over faded green flannel. She quickly found out that he was a lot more genial than the average person around here. “What can I do for ya, friend?” When she asked to peruse his wares, he happily showed her his collection of otherworldly imbibables, from brews that could be mistaken for normal like Dark Cider and Mudtooth’s Tonic, to bizarre substances like Xenoplasm and Dark Fluid in alien, technological bottles. “Lucky for you I got plenty. Good ones, too!” Karin quickly made her selection, but before the old man could launch into a story about where she got it, his customer quickly steered him in a different direction.

“The Hermits, huh? Well missy, you came to the right place, ‘cause my name’s Mudtooth, and ain’t nobody been around longer or seen more than I have. Only three reasons why folks come to see me, and that’s my stories or my stew. And boy, I could tell you ‘bout them Hermits ‘til your ears fall off. They’re good folks for the most part, I reckon. Most of ‘em are Quarantine Valley born and bred, with roots round here what run deep. We’re all one big family down here, and you can bet your britches they take good care of it. They’re whatcha call tech-no-logic-ly gifted. Anyone who can fiddle with them beepers good enough or fight worth a damn ends up joinin’ in sooner or later, and they’re the ones who go out into the rest of the city to try and make things right for folks here. Gettin’ ‘em what they need, or takin’ down sumbitches who got it comin’ to ‘em. They’re our community’s guardian angels, I tell ya. Ain’t nobody else watchin’ out for us down here, that’s for doggone sure. Just the other day in fact, we got a strange kind o’ prep…particip…pre-cipi-ti-tation, y’hear? The ‘Other’ kind. A whole bunch of ‘em rained down just a couple blocks north o’ Sector V itself, and the Hermits, hoo boy, they weren’t happy. Turned out in force and whooped those monsters’ keisters but good! But lemme tell ya, that ain’t got nothin’ on the time…”

If permitted to do so, it seemed like Mudtooth would ramble on indefinitely.

While the others went about their business, Goldlewis waited for Wind Chimes in the covered market area. He selected a seat in the dining area that put his back to the wall behind him, and sat watching the citizens of Sector V go about their everyday lives. From here, he could smell the congee, and it was by no means appetizing. Even if he didn’t have a bite to eat a couple hours ago at Seventh Heaven, he might have passed it up. Yet the people here seemed to think of the porridge as manna from heaven, and the congee seller’s cauldron, a pot of gold. It occurred to Goldlewis that this might be the only ‘restaurant’ in the whole colony, where people could go to enjoy a hot meal with friends and family. As the townsfolk passed by, many threw suspicious, even resentful glances the veteran’s way. He couldn’t fault them for it; if he were in their shoes, he might’ve done the same. Goldlewis Dickinson might very well be the first overweight person they’d seen in their whole lives, and dressed in a suit to boot, however rustic his fashion sense might be. Being here reminded him just how lucky he really was.

A little later, Wind Chimes finally jogged into view. She spotted Goldlewis immediately and headed over. Judging by the fresh sweat on her brow, she’d been running the whole time. “Whew, hey. Sorry that took so long.” Putting one hand on her hip, she pointed her thumb at the far end of the market, where it narrowed back down into a footpath between ramshackle buildings. “Good to go?”

“Once we wrangle up the gang, I reckon,” Goldlewis grabbed his coffin and stood, hoisting it over his shoulder. A quick circuit of Sector V would be enough to gather the rest of the Seekers so they could proceed to the Hermits’ hideout. As he and Wind Chimes walked, Goldlewis raised an eyebrow at her. “Folks ‘round here send a lot of letters, miss?”

She shook her head. “Not exactly. The Uppers here don’t have a lot of loved ones topside or anything. Those envelopes were actually full of money–this week’s income for the movers and shakers of Zone 09.”

“Money?” Goldlewis echoed, his tone implying that he wanted to know more.

Wind Chimes adjusted her shoulder bag as she nodded. “Mhm. This might come as a shock to you, but Quarantine Valley isn’t quite as sealed as you might think. There’s ways to get in and out, if you’re in the know. And as it turns out, a place outside the law can be pretty valuable. Sector V is home to tons of tiny, illegal businesses. Workin’ without licenses, taxes, safety and hygiene regulations means folks can make stuff dirt cheap. Noodles, crops, clothes, hardware, counterfeits. Once they’re made, couriers like me put ‘em in our Attache Cases and take ‘em topside, where all kinds of shops and restaurants buy ‘em up and resell ‘em at a huge markup. Then we bring the money back down. It’s fucked, but it’s what we got.”

Perturbed, Goldlewis ran a hand through his hair. “That’s for doggone sure. Go-lly. I sure wish I could help.” Spotting Roland and Susie, he waved them over. “What about red matter contamination? Ain’t that a factor?”

“I guess. But you’d be surprised how much cheap labor sweetens the deal,” Wind Chimes replied with a shrug. Despite her casual, almost resigned tone, Goldlewis couldn’t help but think she sounded terribly ominous.

Once everyone reunited, Wind Chimes led them to the old train bridge out back. They came to a stop behind one of the converted train cars, where they could see the sentries standing out in front of the barricade at the bridge’s far end. Goldlewis crossed his arms. “I guess we’re makin’ an entrance?”

“You’d think so, right?” Wind Chimes smiled slyly, her hands on her hips. “The Hermit symbols are a dead giveaway, practically screamin’ ‘here we are!’ And there’s only a couple guards, so few that anyone lookin’ to break in would probably think they can just force their way right in.” She shook her head. “But that barricade’s a trap. Once you’re in, it slams shut behind you, and you’re toast. Follow me.”

She took the group over to the gap in the barrier on the far side of the bridge, then descended from the overlook via ladder. At the bottom, a shaky metal platform anchored to the bridge’s support strut extended out over the open space, with only flimsy metal railings between the Seekers and a deadly fall. A catwalk bridge extended out to an abandoned lower rooftop, but Wind Chimes directed the team’s attention backward. Behind the ladder lay a barrier of flat metal bars, but between it and the side of the bridge there was a slight gap that everyone could slip through, though Goldlewis needed to suck in his gut a little. The hidden path opened up into a small, squared recess in which an unmarked door was set.

“The trains used to run up top, but inside the bridge itself is a special maintenance passageway,” Wind Chimes explained. “This is where approved visitors like me come in.” She grabbed the handle and tried to turn it, only to find that try as she might, she couldn’t budge it. “Huh?” Frustrated, she put her shoulder to the door and banged against it, but the noise it made sounded so solid that Goldlewis wondered if it was barricaded. When Wind Chimes upped the force, the doorknob came off in her hands. “Damn it, what the hell?”

Hal’s drone projected a holograph of himself, a young man with a mop of blond hair and a technological blindfold, dressed in an equally futuristic outfit. He had one arm crossed, the other stroking his chin in contemplation. “Maybe they don’t want visitors today,” he murmured. Something to do with Reunion, maybe Goldlewis mused.

“Well, I don’t go back on my word.”

Wind Chimes braced herself, then raised her leg to kick the door down. Just as Goldlewis advised against it, she delivered such a mighty kick that the immediate area shook slightly, leaving his mouth ajar. Stronger than she looks, he noted. “Here, lemme help.” He and Geralt both joined in, the Witcher also kicking and Goldlewis using his coffin as a battering ram. With the three of them together, they managed to bash the door open with a tremendous racket, at which point they realized that it had been barricaded with a handful of metal beams. No alarms went off, and no guards came running. “...Not bad.” Putting a hand to his head, he called Sandalphon on his magic glyph. “We found a way into the Hermits’ base. Proceeding inside.”

The archangel replied immediately. “Roger. I won’t be able to support you from out here, but I can warp in if you need me. Proceed carefully.”

With their guide in the lead, the Seekers proceeded down the tunnel. Another thick door stood at the far end, explaining the noise insulation, but this one could be opened. On the other side lay the bottom floor of what seemed to be the Hermits’ base, a large, square loading dock converted into something akin to a training room. A stack of metal crates blocked the veteran’s immediate view, but right away Goldlewis heard the sounds of fighting. He and the others crept to the edge of the stack and peered into the open area. Its floor was plastered with white paint to form a giant Hermit symbol, but that wasn’t what took Hal’s breath away. “Look!” he gasped through his drone. “That guy’s fighting a chimera…w-wait, that means–they can see them!?”

Goldlewis could see the ‘guy’ he mentioned, dressed in a demolitionist in a thick, full-body suit with a horn like a rhinoceros beetle, adorned with the holographic eye of the Hermits. She wielded a hammer, and though she certainly seemed to be fighting, Goldlewis couldn’t see her opponent. He could only trust Hal’s red matter detection systems, though Wind Chimes quickly confirmed it. “Yep, same as me. Given how she’s fighting though, maybe even stronger.”

Movement in the hall at the makeshift arena’s other side drew Hal’s attention. “Look, here comes someone!” Sure enough, Goldlewis could see four people approaching: an angry-looking gray-haired man in a ragged coat and lots of belts, a menacing man with paired hook-swords, and a demihuman in a dark biohazard suit, all masked and following a large man in a big, dark coat and baggy pants. Their leader wore a black helmet with a number of cables sprouting out of it like the hair of a wildman, a futuristic nodachi slung across his back, and a holographic face with x-shaped eyes and a toothy grin. “Well? How’s our latest sample looking?” he asked as the fight continued. His voice was low and smooth.

“It changes a little person to person, but generally one dose is enough to get them fighting fit,” the scowling man replied.

“Great. Now our missing associate’s our only problem.” The frontrunner crossed his arms as he observed the battle. “Any new info on that?”

“We’ve got everyone on the lookout for intel, and still we’ve come up with nothing,” the demihuman replied in a somewhat smarmy-sounding female voice.

Her boss snorted. “Hmph. Ten zenny says he went through a gate then.” The fighting Hermit jumped and performed a spinning sweep, which seemed to create a burst of chaotic red-green-blue energy on impact with his invisible target. An inhuman groan echoed through the room, and the fighter eased up. Victory was his.

“Whoa,” Hal breathed, still watching from the team’s hiding place.

“Hm, too easy. We won’t get any results with a weak-ass chimera like that.” The boss sauntered into the arena. “Still, though. This batch is legit, no doubt about that.” He inhaled deeply, his voice gaining an edge of gleeful eagerness. “The days of cowering in fear are over! Soon…we can strike back! I’d like to see those Administration bastards do THIS!” He whirled around, looking at his men. “Whaddya think boys? Feel like savin’ the world!?” He then turned toward the hiding Seekers, turning his holographic face in their direction. “Cmon, make sure our audience over there hears it!”

Hal’s drone flinched. “What?”

“C’mon, what’re ya waiting for? Come over here and let me give you a proper welcome!” The boss beckoned them over.

“You don’t suppose he’s talking to someone else, do you?” Hal ventured nervously. “Hey, let’s get outta here before-”

Taking a deep breath, Goldlewis stepped out from behind cover. Wind Chimes stayed behind, not wanting to be exposed. As the Seekers approached, the Hermit crossed his arms. Behind him, his men stood in silence, their brows furrowed and their teeth gritted. Their boss only grinned however, holographic decor flickering all over his outfit. “Hi. I’m Kyle. I’m the leader of this little charitable organization.” As he spoke, his ‘mouth’ opened and closed. “There we go. Now, rats crawling around in tunnels, that I’ve heard of. But the Special Operations Unit? That’s a new one.”

Goldlewis’ frown deepened. “You recognize us?”

Kyle nodded slowly, clearly relishing the chance to ham this up. “Of course There’s no Administration in Sector V. No state. No real economy. The most valuable thing we’ve got is information. And you’re looking at a very rich man. Quarantine or no quarantine, if it can be known, we Hermits know it. It just so happens we’ve been watching you–ever since you first set foot in Detroit on Saturday afternoon.”

“Then I reckon you oughta know why we’re here,” Goldlewis said flatly. “You gonna talk, partner?”

“Now, now. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Kyle admonished him, his smile turning into a more neutral expression and his x-eyes narrowing. “I’m more than happy to talk. But what will my Hermits think if I give away their hard-earned intel for free?”

Hal gave a wry laugh. “If it’s a bribe you want, forget it. We’re broke.”

Grinning again, Kyle turned away. “It doesn’t take an extensive intelligence network to figure that out, eheh. But I have a different proposal. My men tell me you’re strong. Inhumanly strong.” He took a few steps to stand alongside the other Hermits. “I’d love to see just how strong you are up close and personal, if you catch my drift.” After looking up at the massive Hermit banner hanging from the wall, he turned around. “And I’m afraid that’s my final offer.” The other Hermits began to spread out. The scowling man drew his custom kukri dagger, the Peacemaker, ready to take shadow form and unleash follow-up dark attacks by activating Trailblade. One fully-suited woman hefted her hammer, soon to become a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut, and the other prepared to launch canisters (and mines) of foul-smelling, poisonous, and very flammable chemical gas. The other man drew his hook-swords, poised to confound his foes with superhuman speed. Goldlewis set down his coffin and loosened his tie.

“Should’ve expected an ambush,” Hal fretted. “K-Kyle? When this is over, we get our info, correct?”

The boss of the Hermits crossed his arms. “See, I knew you could be reasoned with. You’ve got my word, I’ll tell you anything you want. Buuut there’s one little thing you should keep in mind. You’re on our turf now. The only law here is what I say. And I say kill, kill, kill!”

So saying, he drew his nodachi and leaped into the air. He hurled it downward, burying it several feet deep into the arena, then flipped midair and landed on the hilt. Goldlewis backdashed just in time; when Kyle landed he triggered burst of sustained lightning, arcing across the area as he crouched there, grinning. The other Hermits yelled; the battle was on.

Deep-Paris - Supernatural Life Research Facility

Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Pit’s @Yankee, Roxas’ @Double, Luka

While nobody doubted that the stygian depths of Beacon Mental Hospital harbored yet more hidden secrets and horrors, neither the Seekers nor their friends from Psych-OSF wanted to linger for very long. The revelations brought to light in the eerie glow of the Brainframe were not the kind that could be easily swept under the rug and dismissed, out of sight and out of mind. They demanded action, and everyone had something to do. Once Luka whisked them all away, Gemma would personally see that Dexio and Sina found a safe place to rest and recuperate, not just from their harrowing ordeal down here but also the physical and mental reset that ensued once friend hearted, as well as their irrepressible memories of Galeem’s apocalypse. Thanks to Crenshaw’s cooperation, however, everyone else would be delving even further into the unknown. Pit, Roxas, Sakura, Midna, and Luka were determined to find Peach, and find out what they could do to help her.

By the time everyone reconvened, ready to travel, Crenshaw and his compatriots had amassed a small stockpile of brains taken out of the Brainframe. They had been individually packed into cuboid black boxes with red lights on top, one apiece, and then stacked in the area where Crenshaw would be using his Transport power. “Are you ready?” He asked the others.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Luka ventured to say. His tone was muted and low, and he did not disguise his stress with his expression. Giving an equally serious nod, Crenshaw activated his power. A rectangular field of orange energy began to take shape around the group, and with a bright flash, the Stem Chamber was silent once more.

Click for music

When the light faded, the Seekers found themselves in a new room, larger and much more brightly lit, with metal floors but stone walls of an almost classical style, the sort one might expect of an old governmental building or museum. Conveyor belts connected a number of large, sophisticated processing machines. If anything, this place looked like a factory, or perhaps -judging by the large cylindrical tanks partially filled with dark, pinkish red fluid- a distillery. Immediately after arriving, Crenshaw’s associates began cooperating to load the boxes onto the nearby belts.

Yuito watched them work, his brows knitted together. “What are they doing with them?”

“You’ll understand soon enough,” Crenshaw told him. “This way, please. Your friend isn’t far.” He gestured to everyone to follow him in the direction of a set of doors between the two tanks.

Hanabi started after him tentatively, unable to take her eyes off the machines. There was a strange smell in the air, foul enough to make everyone somewhat nauseous. “I..I thought this was a research facility?”

Rather than proceeding through the doors, Crenshaw first stopped at a terminal attached to the base of one of the tanks. “It is. Here, a few dedicated scientists from Spring Pharmaceuticals are supporting the effort to research and cure Others.”

“Spring, as in Arashi and Fubuki Spring?” Luka asked for confirmation.

“Yes, their family company. This is where they make the medicine used to treat the victims of metamorphosis.” Carefully taking an empty ampoule from a carton, Crenshaw attached it to a port on the terminal and flicked a switch. Once enough liquid poured down from the tank to fill up the ampoule, the machine switched off automatically, and Crenshaw decoupled the ampoule from it. “Here. If you’re going to visit her, you’ll need this.” Luka accepted it gingerly, and stared through the glass at the murky substance within. His countenance seemed subtly horrified.

The others pushed through the doors quickly, eager to be away from the noise and noxious, unwholesome odor, though Yuito’s gaze lingered on the machines a moment longer. This new area, however, took their breath away in another manner. It looked like a typical hallway that one might find in a mansion, with wooden doors on either side and wooden wall panels beneath yellowed wallpaper with paintings, as well as marble tile and a red carpet atop it that extended the corridor’s length. Except that this hallway was ten times normal size, with doors that were thirty-five feet all at least, complete with unreachable doorknobs high above any human’s heads. Hanabi couldn’t even see the paintings when she craned her neck up. Set into the wooden doors were metal ones of a normal size, looking like cat flaps. Once the doors to the processing plant shut, the whole place was deathly quiet except for the newcomers’ muted steps on the carpet.

Before Crenshaw could provide any connection, the psychics on the team heard something. A slight murmur on a meager wavelength, barely indistinguishable from the subtle but still-unsettling psychic noise that permeated this place.

”Who’s there?”

Out of Yuito, Hanabi, and Luka, only Luka would recognize it. Sakura would recognize it better though. Even with that strange distortion.


“That’s voice…” Luka whispered. “It’s her!”

He took off running. Yuito and Hanabi went after him. They sprinted all the way down the hall to the immense door at the very end. ”Peach! We’re here to help you!” he called out through Brain Talk.

The voice he heard back was stronger. She was close. ”W-wait, you shouldn’t…!”

Once the team reached the door, they couldn’t unseal it fast enough. As it finally unlocked and slid open, everyone rushed inside. Beyond the giant door they found an equally absurd, equally giant bedroom, every bit as fancy as the hallway itself, from the windows (which seemed to be light panels) to the bed. And in its center, slumped on the floor like a tired dog, lay a huge Other, with hanging heads, green pinecone flowers, and spiked ribbons that writhed restlessly in the air.

”You…you guys…I…”

The Under - Kingdom’s Edge

Level 12 Nadia (68/120)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Artorias’ @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1708

For a tense few minutes, the unmistakable feeling of bone-deep dread had settled over Nadia Fortune. The loss of her soul, something vague and intangible but nonetheless quintessentially important, weighed upon her, and the hollow sensation that ensued left her unnerved. Add to that the sheer sensory overload of the dark yet vibrant Crypt, filled with shambling undead dancers and unfamiliar music so powerfully strident that the catgirl could feel it thrumming in her bones, and it was like something out of a nightmare. Even Kosm’s beach, in all its eldritch horror, didn’t leave her feeling so overwhelmed. At least that was something she could fight. Here, she scarcely knew where to begin.

Chowing down on some pizza in the relative tranquility of the Crypt’s central nexus really helped, though. When offered some by her fellow thief, the feral accepted it gratefully. “For me? You shouldn’t have~!” That lava eel she snacked on down in the Hive had been nice, but it really only whetted Nadia’s appetite, reminding her just how hungry she really was. By now it had to be well past lunchtime, about two in the afternoon if she had to guess, and when one exerted as much as Nadia did one tended to work up an appetite. Once she savored some cheese and pepperoni, she felt much better. “Ahh. I’m not a golfer, but I know a good slice when I see it!” At one point, she visited that strange jukebox, Leitmotif. It didn’t seem to feature any means with which she could select songs, but when Nadia turned it on, a little eye opened up and scanned her, much to her surprise. After a moment, the words ‘Now Playing: The Fish Man’s Dance’ appeared on the screen, and an energetic tune began to play, filling the nexus with its mostly-jaunty, sometimes-eerie strings..

Huh. At first Nadia wasn’t sure she liked it, but the more she listened, the more she felt that it somehow suited her.

The Koopa Troop also helped turn things around. Kamek, who she thought had been left outside, somehow managed to show up without having to sign away his soul, and that wasn’t the only ace the family had up its sleeve. As it turned out, both Bowser and Junior could dance as well, and if the young prince’s mortification was anything to go by his dad’s assertions might not be bravado for once. Sectonia pointed out something poignant as well: that the NecroDancer, as the Crypt’s undisputed boss, might possess another all-important mask shard. That one possibility turned this whole affair from a potentially deadly detour into a roundabout opportunity.

Bowser and Kamek went off to find out more about the current situation, namely by accosting the first normal-looking person they saw. They returned a few moments later with some important, if not exhaustive, information. It looked like the Seekers would be dancing it out in a bid to reclaim their souls. “So, he’s more or less holdin’ our souls hostage to make sure we do what he wants. But if, I mean when, we win ‘em back, they’ll be nothin’ stoppin’ us from makin’ him the Necro-deader!” She winced. “Oof, heheh, uh, gimme a second, I can do WAY better than that, I swear…”

Before she could, Therion departed to track the person that the Koopas mentioned. Primrose got a move on as well, but she had a different destination in mind. Everyone had been idly watching the instructors and their pupils here while partaking in pizza, but the team’s resident dancer didn’t intend to remain a spectator forever. Despite Bowser and Junior volunteering, it went without saying that Primrose would be the Seekers’ best bet when it came to outdancing the competition. But would she be enough? It occurred to Nadia that only those who won their souls back could chance actually fighting the NecroDancer, and the feral didn’t imagine that a mask shard would be given to someone who couldn’t actually fight. Nadia quickly looked around. Since Ganondorf, Jesse, and Rubick, refused to sign and evidently didn’t find a loophole like Kamek, the team was down a few members. That left Primrose, Therion, Bowser, Junior, Kamek, Rika, Sectonia, Artorias, and herself. That should be plenty in theory, but only if everyone qualified to take on the NecroDancer.

Therion returned after a bit with the specifics of the Crypt’s challenge, relaying Tingyun’s explanation of how everything worked. He also revealed a loophole that exonerated at least one person present. Nadia grinned at Junior. “Sweet, that means you’re off the hook! And you…” She glanced at Rika, furrowing her brows. “I’m…not sure, honestly. Definitely not me, though. I’m twenty, unless fusion changes how old I am.” She scratched her head. “Huh, that’s kinda weird, come to think of it. If that’s how it works, does that mean you could live forever by fusin’ with younger spirits?”

When Primrose extended an invitation, Nadia looked her way for a moment, thinking. From the moment the two first crossed paths in Twilight Town, the catgirl had harbored a slight, gnawing envy. Primrose seemed more sophisticated, composed, capable, and mature than herself by a long shot, with talents and hidden depths that went beyond just hitting things. She also had Therion, a good friend (maybe more than that?) following in her footsteps, a quiet but loyal companion who just so happened to be a better thief. Nadia didn’t even have Ace yet–hopefully he was doing okay, wherever he was now. She and Primrose got split up back at the Crossroads and didn’t reconvene until the Home of Tears, where again they worked separately, Primrose fusing with an intoxicating songstress and herself fusing with a scruffy alley cat that had a TV for a head. But then they met at the Terminal, where the two women got the chance to share a quiet heart-to-heart. Nadia knew that she didn’t need to be jealous of Primrose, not when they could just be friends. Besides, the catgirl knew she had her own charms, and if she felt unsatisfied, she could work to improve herself rather than envying others. And this was just such an opportunity.

“I’ll take that dance!” she replied, springing to her feet with a smile. Leaving the Troop to keep Sectonia company, Nadia joined Primrose in crossing through the nexus from the stairs that the Seekers colonized to where the instructors were. A lot might be resting on the senior dancer’s stronger-than-usual shoulders, but Nadia didn’t intend to let her shoulder that responsibility alone. Not when she just so happened to wield a secret weapon. “I’m not bashful or anythin’,” she began. “But I was wonderin’ if I could take you up on those lessons. Don’t get me wrong, whatever that is looks super cool…”

She fell silent for a moment as she looked over at Areshi and his brothers as they gave a quick demonstration of breakdancing. Their moves were downright awesome, full of zany, daredevil energy that made it nigh-impossible to look away as they stood on their heads, whirled their legs, and spun around in a series of unpredictable, high-momentum power moves. If anything it looked almost like an unorthodox fighting style, and Nadia could easily picture herself delivering flurries of kicks in such a bombastic manner.

After a moment though, she tore her attention away from the breakdancers and put it on Primrose. “Heh, sorry for the ‘paws’. Honestly, I really do wanna try it, but right now I’m bettin’ on you. See, back in Limsa Lominscuttle Town I ended up killin’ a couple hours with this purple-haired gal named Shantae. I was a little nervous at first, but after she showed me the ropes, dancin’ turned out to be real fun. Maybe I even got a knack for it. The way you two dance is purr-etty similar, so if you’re down to help me out, you’re probably my best bet.” Grinning, she gave her friend a wink. “Besides, two gorgeous gals like us workin’ together? Once we’re on the dance floor, we’ll knock ‘em dead.”

As the two crossed the nexus to get themselves ready for dance battle, one of the instructors passed by them going the opposite direction. It was the ribbon dancer, and he approached the spot where the other Seekers rested and gave them a formal bow. With his slender frame, makeup, flowing pink robe, and long purple hair done up in a ponytail, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a girl even after he greeted them in a soft, cordial voice. “Good afternoon. Pardon my intrusion, but I couldn’t help but overhear the words ‘ribbon dancer’ earlier, and I must confess that my interest was piqued. It is a rather rare style, after all. Unless I’m mistaken, you’re new here, so as a seasoned veteran I’d be happy to give a few pointers, if you’re so inclined. My own style has a few eccentricities you might just find useful. For instance…” With an elegant flourish, he formed one of his own ribbons into a drill, then launched it upward. It spun with supernatural speed and power, seemingly strong enough to pierce stone, before unfurling and returning to him. “This kind of Spiral, if used correctly, can do more chip damage to an opponent’s guard than it would if it actually hit. Not that we can fight here, but who knows~” He looked around to gauge the Seekers’ interest. Though Junior was the ribbon dancer, Sectonia -who lacked legs but could definitely manipulate a ribbon- might be intrigued as well.

Regardless, once everyone warmed up, it would be time for them to earn their keep. Going from one hundred to the ten thousand points necessary to challenge the NecroDancer would be difficult, but the newcomers could go about it in different ways. It would take a hundred dance-offs with the dead (not to mention hours) to farm up enough providing nothing went awry, but other contractors were more tempting targets. If the Seekers were confident enough, they could even challenge the Crypt’s various Floorbosses to a bevy of points in one go. Either way, the clock was ticking.

Contractors, accrue ten thousand points. Non-contractors, help out however possible.
Undead and other contractors can be from any rhythm or dance game, or dancers in general, preferably indies and/or non-humans if possible. The tomb’s rooms are decked out like clubs/raves with Halloween/spooky decoration/theming.


Finally, today was the big day. After what felt like a lifetime of planning, research, scheduling and rescheduling, allocation of funds, requisition of necessary supplies, and exhaustive efforts to track down suitable candidates, this grand inaugural gala had successfully materialized. It was no mean feat to organize such a large-scale, fancy event in such a high-profile location without any compromising whispers getting out, but thanks to the careful selection of personnel and generous expenditure for silence, it had been achieved. To the average courtier this might have seemed like an impossible miracle, but in truth, it was just another day for the Unity Organization’s illustrious Comité D'événement, for which no act of logistics or coordination, no matter how immense or discreet, was impossible.

For her part, the Chairwoman could not be happier. Not a single magitech bulb flickered or shone too strongly, instead casting down the perfect amount of light to illuminate the rich colors of the Great Hall’s tapestries and sculptures. The vivid, voluminous rugs of exotic make were luxurious enough to make feather beds look like army cots. Some might call her choice of music antiquated, but those crystalline chimes, reverberant strings, and sonorous piano notes carried the gravitas of bygone glory days, giving this affair the atmosphere of grand importance it deserved. The mosaic tile floors, practically works of art in and of themselves were so polished that one could eat off them, though when it came to eating one need look no farther than the immense dining table, laden with pristine cloth and spotless cutlery. Though today its aged wood wouldn’t creak beneath the weight of a decadent feast, given the limited number of attendees, the kitchen staff were still hard at work to make sure the guests wanted for nothing. The Chairwoman had seen to that personally, only just now emerging from the kitchen so that she could stand at the end of the hall, clasp her hands behind her back, and survey her dominion with pride.

It took a lot to satisfy a perfectionist like herself, who ran such a tight ship that even New Anton’s garrison seemed lax in comparison. Of course, her own appearance was no exception. Her vermillion hair, expertly curled and parted to be half across her face and half behind her ear, shone like the setting sun. It perfectly suited her rich burgundy dress, done up as it was with elegant white ruffles and dark purple accents. Even a wealthy noblewoman, she expected, would turn green with envy at the sight of her. Right now everything was perfect, just as one would expect for the long-anticipated commencement of the hunt for the Seven Weapons.

At the height of the Chairwoman’s satisfaction, however, a loud, metallic slam echoed through the hall, followed by the sound of shattering china and a burst of loud, raucous laughter. Though shocked for a moment at the disturbance, her mouth slightly ajar, she quickly composed herself and hurried toward the source of the sound at a dignified yet urgent pace. A cluster of people had gathered about halfway down the dining room table, enough lingering around that the Chairwoman couldn’t immediately see what had transpired. “What happened? What’s going on?” she demanded as she drew near. At her approach the attendants and loitering Unity Organization members shrank back, revealing a scene that left her momentarily dumbfounded once more.

“Sheesh, that’ll teach me to get too comfortable, haha! What’re these made of, aluminum foil?” An unusual woman was just now picking herself up off the floor. Around her lay scattered the partially-crushed remains of her metal chair, the fragments of a plate, and a whole lot of splattered food that must have been stacked high upon it. At the woman’s place sat several more plates, most picked clean, but several featured multiple exquisite dishes piled together into an indiscriminate heap, blending flavors and textures never meant to go together–an affront to the culinarians’ craft! As if that wasn’t enough, her place had been left almost as messy as the floor, with blatant disregard for proper dining etiquette.

Only after being appalled by the woman’s wanton destruction of property and lack of basic manners did the Chairwoman really begin to observe the culprit herself. She looked like some kind of barbarian, an overgrown meathead stuffed into a cheap, ridiculous purple suit barely held together by black straps, its sleeves rolled up and its front left undone in an act of shameless public indecency. Even more bizarre was the musculature in her stomach–was that some sort of condition? Surely it couldn’t be natural. The Chairwoman had seen men with musculature like that, but never a woman. For several seconds she just stared, her mouth agape, until the woman glanced her way. “Hey there. Somethin’ up?”

Her words snapped the Chairwoman out of it, and she met the culprit’s eyes. The other woman had a curious look on her face, one eyebrow raised, as she put her sunglasses back on. Being inside, she put them on her forehead, nestled in her striking black-and-white striped hair that seemed to stretch all the way down to her knees, kept in check by a series of red bands. More unusual, though, were her tall, scarlet horns. Those didn’t look like accessories. Overcoming her shock, the Chairwoman held her arms wide. “W-what is the meaning of this!?”

“Oh, sorry! I just went to put my feet up and tilted over backward, haha.” Flashing her pointed pearly whites, the woman offhandedly shoved the debris under the table with her shoe.

“You tilted…? Wait, stop, don’t do that, just…” The Chairwoman lurched forward almost drunkenly, her peace of mind shattered by the disaster unfolding before her eyes. It was taking a lot of mental effort to keep her panic suppressed. “L-let’s just start over, shall we? What are you doing here, how’d you get in?”

As she finished brushing away the evidence and dragged out another chair (which gave a startling metallic shriek) to plop down in, the stranger gave the Chairwoman a quizzical look. “Hey, hey, one question at a time, huh? I’ve just, well, been eating and telling everyone stories. Uh, you guys brought me here, didn’t you? To help find the weapons.” A wide smile spread across her face. “I sure hope so, ‘cause I’ve been goin’ wild on all this free food! Great stuff by the way. Could use more protein though, haha! D’you mind getting me another plate of wings? They told me I’m not supposed to eat off the floor.”

Her flustered host blinked in astonishment. “I-I’m not a servant! Don’t you know who I am? I am Alexandrine Beausoleil-Brillant, head of Comité D'événement! This whole event’s my doing!”

Now the guest’s eyebrows went up. “Woof, that’s a name and a half! How about Lexi? You look like a Lexi. My name’s Sinmara!” With a grin Sinmara crossed her arms beneath her chest, leaning perilously far back in her chair again. “Monster hunter extraordinaire, heavyweight champion boxer, and the strongest woman in the world!”

“Do NOT call me that!” Lexi reddened, her lips curling in anger. She tried taking deep breaths, convincing herself that she could handle this. “Urk…so, you’re a monster hunter? We did reach out to your Guild. Never heard of a ‘Sinmara’ though.”

“Well, my legend’s just getting started!” Sinmara cut off a big hunk of steak and stuffed it in her mouth. “I’ve had a bunch of sick-ass fights already. Just ask these guys, I was tellin’ them all about it before you showed up!” She gestured around to the bystanders, who unanimously tried to avoid Lexi’s accusatory gaze. After a moment her irate stare settled on Oliver, her second-in-command. With a glare she took him aside, and Sinmara started up right where she left off. “Uh, where was I? Oh yeah, the hydra! Well, I wasn’t about to let it finish off the town’s livestock, so I followed the trail of blood all the way back to its lair in the swamp. This huge nest of twisted vines and bones. So it came at me, right? That scaly bastard tried to bite my head clean off. So I waited for just the right moment, then WHAM! Decked it with my killer right hook! Knocked it clean out, so I used my chainsaw to return the favor and carve its head off instead! But that wasn’t the halt of it, because the next second two heads grew right back! They grabbed my legs and pulled me through the mud, until…”

Lexi shut the story out to focus on admonishing Oliver. ”How could you let this happen?” she hissed.

“Well, technically she’s on the list,” the balding fellow replied. “When we contacted the Monster Hunter Guild, nobody showed any interest. Saying that the hunt’s a fool’s errand, and that only an idiot would agree to join. Sinmara’s the only one we got. She may be a bit coarse, but…”

“She’s ruining the party!” Lexi whispered back. “She’s probably just some yarn-spinning oaf who showed up for a free meal, and she’s making a laughingstock of us!”

Oliver furrowed his brow. “Everyone seems to like her. She’s clearly strong, and if even half of what she says is true, she’ll be a worthy addition to the team. And…well, look around, Alexandrine. We didn’t even get half a dozen. We need her.”

He’d been looking back at Sinmara as he spoke, and Lexi followed his gaze. She took in all the people gathered around the monster hunter, hanging on her every word and drowning her in attention. None could take their eyes off her, and after a moment even Lexi realized she was staring again. Jealousy coursed through her. Is THAT really all it takes? Turning red again, she snapped her fingers in front of Oliver’s eyes. “Hey! Are you sure you need her, or do you just ‘want’ her? Don’t fall for it. People can’t help but stare at car accidents, but that doesn’t mean they should. I’ll handle this.”

She approached Sinmara again just as the huntress was finishing her story. “...with my heart ablaze, my chainspear was burning at full throttle! With it slowed down from all the heads, I landed on its back and went to town ‘em, one at a time! As I cut through the necks, my Heartbreak’s red-hot teeth seared the wounds, meanin’ they couldn’t regrow! I took ‘em down one at a time, until finally the beast was slain! Sinmara thirty, hydra zero!”

“It took you thirty tries to figure out how to stop the heads regrowing, and you just kept doing it?” Lexi questioned, crossing her arms.

Sinmara chuckled as she drained her glass. “That’s right, hahaha! A riddle for the ages. Betcha not even a hundred men coulda solved it! Lucky the townsfolk had me on the case–the smartest woman in the world!”

Genuinely amazed by the monster hunter’s delusions, Lexi shook her head. “Why did you agree to join the search for the weapons, Sinmara?”

“Hm? Oh, ‘cause my mom told me to,” Sinmara replied matter-of-factly.

Lexi hung her head. “It truly is a sorry day that the Unity Organization has resorted to relying on someone like you.”

In the hush that followed, Sinmara only smiled. “Oh yeah?” She stood up, noisily bumping the table as she did, and approached her accuser. Intimidated, the Chairwoman backed up against the table, looking around for help. For now though, none of the onlookers dared interfere. “Don’t think I got what it takes, huh? You wanna piece of me, Lexi? Then let’s fight! Put up your dukes!” Her orange eyes gleamed with excitement. Grinning, she leaned forward and turned her head sideways, exposing the scar on her jaw. “C’mon, first one’s on me! X marks the spot!”

“L-like I’d ever debase myself with such a…a barbaric act!” Red as a beetroot, the Chairwoman slipped to the side to beat a hasty retreat.

After a moment Sinmara turned away with a sigh, shrugging. “Aww. You people are no fun.” With a dejected groan she plopped back down and pulled into her place at the table. “But hey, as long as there’s food, I’m not complainin’!” With the momentary disturbance over and the jovial mood somewhat ruined, the bystanders drifted away, and Sinmara resumed her meal.
Looking forward to getting started, as well as anyone else who might check us out. I'll write up Sinmara's intro either today or tomorrow!
Quarantine Valley - Sector V

Level 5 Goldlewis (111/50) Level 4 Sandalphon (26/40)
Karin’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate, Roland, and Susie’s @Archmage MC, Geralt and Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man
Word Count: 2407 (+3) (-3 (Goldlewis))

With Wind Chimes blazing a trail, and Hal keeping him company rather than flying ahead, Goldlewis made quick work of the Quarantine Valley rooftops. She moved through the rusty, perilous labyrinth with certainty borne of familiarity, leading her new acquaintance on a number of side paths, clever shortcuts, and hidden shortcuts. Time-saving alternate routes that newcomers like the Seekers would have obliviously passed right by were just part and parcel of a skilled courier’s repertoire, suggesting that Wind Chimes made this trip a number of times in the past. In fact, the veteran suspected that her combined familiarity and fitness would be making mincemeat of her well-traveled route, challenging Goldlewis to keep up with an attitude of friendly competition, if not for her rather concerning ailment. In addition to the dark crystals that protruded from her midriff, which caused visible discomfort whenever the muscles in the area took action, Wind Chimes looked rather feverish and sick. Able to airdash across gaps that his guide needed to swing across with her mountaineering equipment, Goldlewis managed to keep pace with her despite being quite out of shape. She didn’t exactly relish the big man being right on her heels, but when she pushed herself a little harder to pick up the pace, the veteran’s proximity turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

After sliding down an inclined rooftop and jumping onto a billboard, her foot caught in a twisted section of its corroded catwalk. “Agh-!” she grunted, losing her balance. She tripped and fell flat on the weakened metal, which not only vibrated dangerously, but actually bent beneath her. The moment she fell, she began to slide toward the edge, where a deadly drop all the way to the Quarantine Valley streets awaited her.

Goldlewis acted fast. “UMA!” Stopping on a stable section of the walkway above a supporting girder, he slung his coffin off his shoulder and dangled it over the abyss by the chain. The lid popped open, and from the swirling aquamarine cosmos within erupted three spindly arms of superhuman length. Just a fraction of a second after Wind Chimes went over the edge, the arms seized her by the ankle, cutting her freefall short.

After a moment of terrified hyperventilation, Wind Chimes managed to get her pounding heart under control, and with a shaky smile she looked up at her savior. “...Shit. Can…can you pull me up?” Gritting his teeth, Goldlewis began to haul the coffin up with both hands, trying to ignore the protesting creaks of the metal beneath him. Hal lent a hand (or more accurately, four pincers) with his drone, and once they got the coffin onto the catwalk, the cryptid lifted Wind Chimes the rest of the way. They couldn’t celebrate just yet, though; all this stress was too much for the walkway to handle. The moment the alien retracted its arms, Goldlewis tucked the coffin under one arm, Wind Chimes under the other, and took off running like a football player to the endzone. At the last moment he leaped from the collapsing billboard over a chain-link fence and onto the rooftop adjacent to Sector V’s. Breathing heavily, he turned and watched the derelict structure crash noisily to the streets far below, where it landed with a terrific slam in a cloud of dust and red matter.

He dropped his coffin with a thud, then set Wind Chimes down more carefully. “You okay, ma’am?”

She looked somewhere between resigned and frustrated. “Yeah, yeah. Man, I can’t believe I made you save me again. Sorry.”

“You must’ve been worse off than I thought, even before your abduction into the Astral Plane” Hal’s voice sounded fretful as his drone drew close for a new scan. “The more redshifted people are, the sicker they get. It’s sapping your strength and clouding your mind.”

Wind Chimes sighed. “I guess…I’m not long for this world. Should’ve known better than to push myself. I knew it’d come to this eventually, but…still, feels pretty awful.” She gave Goldlewis and Hal a sad look. “For now at least, I can make sure we’re square. You don’t need to be around for whatever happens after that.”

Taking a deep breath, Goldlewis stood up straight and put a hand on his heart. “I ain’t gonna let that happen.”

“What are-?” Before Wind Chimes could continue, the veteran slammed a Friend Heart into the messenger’s head. She reeled from the impact, furious and surprised, only to find herself completely restored. Her injuries and redshift evaporated like morning dew, and she blinked, her mouth agape as she held a hand to her head. “Whuh…I feel…amazing! Like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders! What was that?”

Hal seemed just as astonished, but Goldlewis brushed them both off. “It’s nothin’. Least I can do for a fellow human bein’. Whatever you remember, just take it nice and easy. One step at a time.”

Wind Chimes looked thoroughly confused, but her befuddlement quickly gave way to determination. “If you say so, mister. I owe you my life…what, three times over? I’ll bring you to the Hermits if it kills me. C’mon, this way.”

She led Goldlewis and Hal the remainder of the way to Sector V, unknowingly following right in Geralt’s footsteps. They spotted him and Zenkichi ahead and went to join them, passing by a woman in a hooded green jacket leaning against the wall of the passage on the way. Evidently this ‘hidden entrance’ was something of an open secret. When Goldlewis raised an eyebrow at the civilian, she gave him a nonplussed stare in return. “I like it here because it’s out of the way,” she said simply. “Careful you don’t poke around too much. You don’t want the Hermits interested in you.” Part of Goldlewis reasoned that he actually did want the Hermits to take notice, but he gave her a stiff nod and went on his way. A couple seconds later he, Wind Chimes, and Hal stood with the others inside the rooftop colony called Sector V.

“Good work reaching your destination, everyone,” Sandalphon hailed them. “I will relocate to the upper floor of Sector V and seek vantage points from which to support you further.” Nobody had run into trouble as of yet, instead finding ways to help and earn the trust of the locals. So far, so good. The statuesque sniper stood up from her lookout atop the old water tower, banished her gunstaff, and took a graceful running jump. After taking hold of her golden halo, she began to glide through the open air above the Quarantine Valley rooftops, approaching Sector V.

This scavenged settlement took the form of a ramshackle shanty town. Since resources were scarce, the people here made the most of every little thing they got, from building material to pilfered or reclaimed technology. A single meandering street, just wide enough that a couple people could walk abreast, ran the entire length of the colony, starting at the main gate and weaving around the buildings. The people here lived in tiny apartments made from cargo containers, many of which formed Sector V’s outside walls, and inside them were hidden the denizens’ beds, furniture, and all their meager belongings. There were plenty of makeshift storefronts selling all kinds of useful bits and bobs from weapons and tech to daily essentials, and there were even some vending machines, although the ‘Hermitonic’ they offered featured an absurd price tag. A tipsy woman standing near the machines could be found singing its praises. “Mmm…this flavor…I can’t put my finger on it, but it tastes like…power.” When she noticed Goldlewis staring, she clutched the canister in her hand against her chest defensively. “Hey, eyes off my Hermitonic! This one’s all mine!”

Goldlewis gave her a dubious glance. “Did you actually shell out for one of those things?”

“Of course I didn’t pay full price,” she said, almost affronted by the notion. “This drunk came through and let me use his Hermit card. Lucky, huh?”

Not so lucky was a man in an orange coat nearby, down on his luck and sitting on the dirty floor. “Sure wish I had a nice, warm blanket,” he muttered aloud. “I wonder if the Hermits would hook me up with one….ugh, but who’m I kiddin’. They’d never let someone as weak as me in. And I don’t even really wanna live with ‘em either…”

In some areas where the gaps between the buildings widened somewhat, it took on the appearance of an open market, sheltered beneath a sheet metal canopy. A crude ‘outdoor’ food court of tire seats around barrel tables surrounded a cookfire where a lone culinarian stirred a vat of steaming congee, passing out the warm, filling gruel to anyone who could cough up some zenny. A standoffish tippler lounged around at a table, wishing muttering about needing a Hermitonic to sober up. Not far away, a couple old-timers sat on real chairs around a real table. These respected community elders sold consumables and concoctions, respectively, though the gray-bearded Mudtooth would just as happily share fantastical stories to anyone who might care to listen. Indeed, the whole place possessed a certain vitality that somehow overshadowed its bleakness. There were plenty of people here, and while they seemed distrustful and tough, they didn’t look miserable, not even the fellow urgently scrounging for something in a corner. There were children laughing and playing.

“I’ll be right back,” Wind Chimes told the group, patting her delivery bag as she turned around to face them. “Just gotta drop these letters off. Then I’ll be back to take you the rest of the way, promise.”

While she was gone, Goldlewis stopped a passing man to ask if anything strange had been going on. The bearded fellow paused for a moment to think. “Not really!” he piped up after a moment in a gravelly voice. “The Hermits run things around here, and nobody really dares to step to ‘em. I’d watch out if I were you. They’re crazy strong. I hear they use a drug that powers ‘em up somehow. They’re goin’ all out to stop redshift, man. It’s wild!” He seemed interested in the veteran’s coffin, but he soon went on his way, leaving Goldlewis to think. A drug? Was that the ‘little bonus’ that Wind Chimes mentioned? If it meant that she could see and even fight Chimeras, then that probably held true for the Hermits. But how was such a thing even possible in the first place? Did it have something to do with Reunion? Goldlewis couldn’t help but get a bad feeling about all this.

Past the cluttered marketplace, a final few descending twists and turns around the colony’s hovels brought the team to Sector V’s back exit. It let out onto an old concrete bridge that hadn’t seen a running train in years, though a couple stranded subway cars on the tracks had been turned into shelters with the aid of tarps. Even here people could be found milling about, sitting in their chairs or standing around barrel fires. Walled in by Sector V on one side and tall barriers on the other -save for an opening that provided a view over the back half of Quarantine Valley-, the bridge led nowhere. One end was shuttered, and on the far end slabs of concrete were piled up around a sideways tram car to create a huge barrier. A handful of men and women stood or sat around it, all dressed alike in heavy black clothes, boots, and jackets with pronounced collars and orange accents. Black balaclavas completely hid their faces, but each featured a single holographic white eye projected on the front. These stern and well-armed sentries hung around the barrier, evidently guarding the entrance within.

“Okay, it looks like we’ve got our run of the place,” Hal told everyone. “Just as a reminder, we’re here not just to find the Hermits and ideally talk with them, but also figure out what their connection to Reunion is, especially this supposed ‘deal’.” Until Wind Chimes got back in a couple minutes, everyone could look and ask around to find or collect whatever they could.

Up above, Sandalphon softly alighted on the roof. The topmost level of Sector V was a settlement in its own right, with walls and barbed wire sheltering a handful of shacks arranged around the colony’s open-air space. Its haphazard construction made it a collection of uneven up-and-down slopes, with plenty of gaps and holes that someone could easily fall through into the town below. There were tarps stretched out into, clotheslines, and piles of trash, but also a few beach chairs, grills, and even umbrellas. This was where the denizens came to get some air and sun without leaving the security of Sector V, although on a day like today there wasn’t much sunlight to be had. The few people up here gave Sandalphon curious and wary glances, as if she were an alien. Only one person rushed up to her, a young girl of nine or ten. She gawked up at the tall woman with an open mouth. “Are you an angel!?” she gasped.

Sandalphon stared down at her, unblinking. “Yes, my child.”

“Then, can you help me? Everyone says angels aren’t real, ‘cause if they were, they’d come down and help us, so if you’re an angel, you’ve gotta help me!”

Gently, Sandalphon knelt down and put a hand on the girl’s head, stroking her hair. “Then it would seem that I must help you. What can I do for you, my child?”

“My dog Buggy! He got out and I can’t catch him, he’s too fast!” Jumping up and down, the little girl pointed to another section of the roof. “He’s running around trying to get everyone to play with him, but I’m worried he’s going to fall! Can you catch him for me? Please!?”

Sandalphon stood up to her full height. The others could still call her if they needed her, but for now they’d need to do without her direct oversight. Not that she doubted them or anything. “Of course.”

Suoh - Beacon Mental Hospital, the Brainframe

Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Pit’s @Yankee, Roxas’ @Double, Luka, Gemma, Yuito, Hanabi

Though furious, the fights in the Stem Chamber didn’t last long. Though Painwheel, under Brain Drain’s control, managed to deal with Midna’s summons and strikers quite effectively, the Twilight Princess found better help in the form of Roxas, Yutio, and Hanabi. Working alongside them, she managed to lay low the facility’s arrogant psychic director, and without Brain Drain to direct her berserk energy, Painwheel and her rage subsided soon after. Though much worse for wear, their opponents were victorious.

Meanwhile, one Seeker and one Psych-OSF soldier challenged the rogue physics apiece. Though Luka supported Pit when he stood up to Sina, the gung-ho angel ended up doing the lion’s share of the work, sparing his psychic ally the anguish of bringing his Weight Hammer to bear against his own subordinate. As luck would have it, Pit certainly put his best foot forward, taking the fight to Sina despite her slew of cryokinetic tricks and roughing her up. Dexio, meanwhile, faced off against the potent tag team of Gemma and Sakura. He might not be a slouch in the raw power department, but both his foes were expert hand-to-hand fighters with physical strength to spare. Taking turns, they disarmed and then dismantled him, forcing him to make his escape. Put on the back foot, Dexio and Sina activated Brain Drive, but both Seekers knew they had an alternative to facing off against the rogue psychics’ second phases. Rather than go the whole nine yards, they made doubly sure that their opponents were past the requisite damage threshold, then unveiled their trump cards. Both Pit and Sakura managed to deliver their Friend Hearts without issue, but what happened next took them by surprise.

Rather than being instantly cleansed, Dexio and Sina exhibited some sort of adverse reaction, convulsing for a moment as prismatic light built within them. Then, after a tense moment, the lightshow came to a stop as suddenly as it started. With a loud pop, as if some sort of blockage had just been forcefully cleared, the two were thrown to the floor and restored to normal–a normal that neither their squadmate nor their captain recognized, lacking their former bulk and all inhuman features. Though still recognizably themselves, both looked like completely ordinary people. Dexio, with his short, rounded blonde hair and blue glasses, wore a yellow v-neck t-shirt and ripped blue jeans. Sina, with fluffy dark purple hair and pink glasses, had on a white tank top, and ripped dark blue jean shorts. They were, for the first time in a while, themselves. Next to them lay one spirit apiece: a sturdy, slate-blue, spiky Metang, and a stout, long-haired, purple-skinned Jynx.

Instead of gawking or questioning their sudden restoration, Luka rushed over, kneeling between them. “Dexio? Sina? Are you two okay?”

The young woman rubbed her shoulder, looking herself over. “I’m…normal again. I feel…and look, just how I used to!”

“That goes for me, too,” Dexio confirmed. “We’re how we were before joining Psych-OSF.”

Luka looked down at the prismatic motes beside them. “Those spirits…you were fused with Pokemon to gain psychic powers?” Sina looked toward Dexio, who after a moment nodded sheepishly. The confirmation made Hanabi furrow her eyebrows as she remembered what Roxas had said the other day. It looked like the divide between those with and without psychic abilities had led some people to take drastic measures.

“Just like Armstrong said last night,” Gemma pointed out. The big man was standing nearby with his arms crossed, a stormy look on his face. “That doesn’t explain why you attacked us, though. What happened?”

Sina winced, as if dredging up those memories was painful to her. “We were…here before. After what happened to Peach yesterday, we were trying to find out what happened. Telling everyone who would listen. Nobody believed us, not until the Chairman showed up himself. He said he’d show us everything, and sent us with some of his men to come here.”

“Then…that man! The brain with the robot body! After the Chairman’s men told him to ‘fix’ us, he pierced us with those needles. I remember blacking out…then it’s all a blur. Did we really…attack you guys?”

Luka shook his head, clasping a hand on both their shoulders. Though still cold and wet from his attempted drowning, he had nothing but compassion in his heart. “Well, whatever happened, it’s over. You’re safe with us now, and you’ll be alright.”

Gemma, meanwhile, looked over toward where Midna knocked out Brain Drain. “It sounds like…like personality rehabilitation. It’s supposed to be a treatment for mental problems, but it’s been banned for years because of the potential for brainwashing.”

Before anyone could do much of anything else, an orange psychic field began to appear in an open spot in the room. Yuito’s eyebrows shot up. “A Transport power? Someone’s coming!”

“Like we didn’t have enough to deal with!” Hanabi snarked, hefting her staff.

When Transport went off, however, the man that appeared was one most people here recognized. Tall and lanky, with dark green hair and purple skin, Crenshaw stood flanked by a couple men. Together, they looked almost exactly like the group that spirited away Peach yesterday morning. “It’s you,” he said aloud, astonished. “The new recruit I graded…and a number of you from the old subway tunnels yesterday.” Shaking his head to clear his surprise, he clasped his hands together in a businesslike fashion. “Ah, pardon me. I can explain–everything.”

“Crenshaw…” Luka crossed his arms. He looked deadly serious. “Go on.”

The psychic obliged. “I’m a member of the OSF splinter faction, the Seiran Garrison. We’ve been watching this facility closely. Relieving Brain Drain here of his excess, well, brains.” He glanced up at the Brainframe. “When our man staking out the place reported another faction on the premises, I came as fast as I could.” He held up his hands placatingly, as if physically weighing his options. “Back in the tunnels we wanted to avoid involving you if we could. The fewer people who know, the better, and if word gets out, the conspiracy will take steps to make sure that word is silenced. But it seems like you’re all willing to take the risks, determined to reach out and grasp the truth.” He clasped his hands again, holding them against his chest. “We took your friend for her own safety, and for yours. But if you want to see her, we can take you there too. To the Supernatural Life facility, hidden away in the depths of Deep-Paris.” He turned his gaze upward. “Just give us a moment to take as many of these brains as we can. You’ll find out why we need them soon enough.”

While they went to work, the Seekers got a chance to recap, regroup, recover, and explain. If they looked for Brain Drain, they’d find that he’d already awoken and absconded to save himself, leaving his lab -and Painwheel- behind, no matter how much that must have stung him. After conversing with Gemma, Dexio, and Sina, Luka teleported each of them out, then returned. “Gemma will take them to safety,” the captain explained solemnly. “But I want to see what’s become of my cadet for myself.”

“I’m coming too,” Yuito announced. “I need to see the true face of Psych-OSF for myself. The suffering it has caused…Hanabi, you don’t have to-”

His friend shook her head, her burgundy ponytail whipping from side to side. “Wherever you go, I go.”

Once the Seekers wrapped everything up here, the journey could commence.

The Under - Kingdom’s Edge

Level 12 Nadia (65/120)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, Ganondorf’s @Double, Rubick’s @Scarifar, Artorias’ @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 2621

After leaving the Organization girl to be inundated with questions by the others, Nadia walked over to the newly-summoned jumping puzzle, stopping in the center to stare upward with her hands in her pockets. Above her floated an array of fluffy white clouds arranged haphazardly from just above the cavern’s floor all the way up to the powerfully luminescent lightroot that dangled from its ceiling, spread across a horizontal range a couple hundred feet in diameter. It was a lot to take in, especially considering that she needed to follow in that odd-looking quadruped’s footsteps and get all the way to the top in order to keep progressing forward. That meant a very, very long fall if she missed a jump, and as her predecessor demonstrated, a cloud would vanish once touched, meaning that she couldn’t just idle in place as if bouncing on a trampoline. Once she set off, it would be go, go, go from the start line all the way to the finish, but as intimidating as that sounded, Nadia couldn’t help but be excited. This would be a true test of her agility, and between her double jump, airdash, and Charge, she felt pretty well-equipped to take it. The thought of asking Kamek for a mount didn’t even cross her mind. With an eager smile she crouched down, waved her tails as she built up blood pressure in her legs, then cannoned skyward with an exultant yell. “Nyaaaaaahooooooo!”

In short order she realized that this was even more fun than she anticipated. Each soft, springy cloud bounced her up about a dozen feet no matter where or how she landed on it, making it so easy to gain altitude that she left the ground behind in a matter of moments. From there, she could reliably double jump by somersaulting in any direction at her leisure, exchanging her upward momentum for greater maneuverability. If she needed to cover more distance, a blood-propelled airdash worked perfectly, but at the lower reaches of the cloud formation the puffy white pillows were so plentiful that she seldom needed to. While landing on a cloud would bounce her up, she could pass straight through them from below, sometimes allowing her to scale several at a time without even needing to move. Her fears that this would become a monotonous, methodical chore were dashed the moment she first encountered a coiled spring lying atop one of the clouds. When she brought her new Mantreads down on it, the spring launched her upward in a burst of speed that made her ears, hair and tail whip in the wind. “Whoooooo, yeah!” she yowled, a huge grin plastered on her mug as her heart raced. Each spring sent her quadruple the height of a regular cloud, but things didn’t stop there. Rarer still were the actual trampolines that rested on the occasional cloud, bright red with a yellow dot in the center, and landing on those hurtled her even farther upward. Aiming for these sped up the catgirl’s progress dramatically, allowing her to make quick work of the jumping puzzle.

As Nadia climbed higher, the going got a little tougher, though for the adventurous feral that just kept things enjoyably interesting. Clouds became more spaced out, and false platforms that would break the instant she or anyone else touched them showed up. With her speed and agility she mostly avoided the bugs that belabored the the Koopa Troop, but some Booflies did meander into her airspace. At one point Nadia hit a spring that launched her into a Boofly’s underside faster than she could maneuver out of the way, and the hefty blow knocked her off course, threatening to fling her out of the cloud column altogether and into freefall. That was the only time Nadia ended up needing to use Charge, blitzing back to safety as a bolt of lightning to resume her climb, and a few moments later the feral got her revenge by bouncing on top of the offending Boofly until her Mantreads ruptured its bulbous body like a water balloon. “How’d you like that shoe, fly? Hahah, serves ya right!” Nadia called down after it as she resumed her climb.

Not long after her near-disaster, she chanced upon a stroke of good fortune instead: a funny-looking propeller hat, complete with colorful stripes. When she snatched it from the cloud it rested on, its propeller spun up immediately, carrying Nadia with it as it soared upward for hundreds of feet. It really got her blood pumping, and though the joyride ended far too soon, Nadia quickly realized upon discarding it that she’d almost reached the top. Not too far away hung the lightroot, its glare blindingly bright at this range, but by averting her gaze the feral spotted what looked like her destination. A large, rocky overhang hung out from one of the cave walls on the same side as the recess that harbored the protruding top of Pizza Tower, which she hadn’t even noticed passing. Once she got high enough, all it took was a final push consisting of an airdash into diagonal Charge to seal the deal.

The overhang took the form of an upward slope in the direction of the cavern wall, very much like a hill with a coating of soil atop of the stone and even patches of grass somehow nourished by the lightroot’s glow. Nadia landed at the foot of this ‘hill’ on all fours just to make absolutely sure she didn’t fall backward off the edge before rising to her feet. Her heart beat like a drum in her chest and her throat felt a little raw from all the exertion, so after a moment she sat down to rest until everyone had reached this spot. It took practically that entire time to comb out and untangle her long hair, whipped as it was into a frenzied mess by all the gymnastics she’d done during her ascent. “Not that this hasn’t been fun, but I could’ve really used a short cut,” she muttered aloud. The sooner she got her locks trimmed again, the better. As she took a better look at the overhang, though, she felt less confident about encountering a barber -or even a mirror- in the near future. This hill featured dozens of tombstones, and at the top the stone of the cave wall had been carved into the somber facade of a mausoleum. That kid did call this next place ‘the Crypt’, she thought offhandedly as she collected her hair into a ponytail with the help of a strand of muscle fiber. I guess we’ve got a grave matter ahead of us.

Once everyone stood reunited, they proceeded to the top of the hill. There, inside the mausoleum facade, they found a room of aged stone brick dimly lit by black candles that burned with an eerie blue flame. On the far side were a set of heavy stone doors, enchanted and sealed tight. In front of them sat a heavy stone desk with a number of papers on it, whether loose or in ledgers, as well as an inkwell and feather pen. Nobody sat there, but a bell sat near the edge, tantalizingly shiny, next to a small, neatly-written sign that read ‘ring for assistance’. Though a little wary, Nadia went ahead and tapped the bell. Ding!

The instant the bell’s hollow peal rang out, a field of swirling purple clouds surrounded the room. “Gah, I knew it!” Nadia yelled, more annoyed than surprised. From behind the desk, a purplish shadow sprang up and loomed over documents and Seekers alike, his eyes and smile a brilliant yellow.

“WHHHHYYYYYYYYYY HELLO THERE!” the Snatcher greeted the heroes enthusiastically, his voice suitably slimy and ethereal. “Hello and welcome, esteemed visitors, to the Crypt! Will you be interested in entering this fine afternoon?”

Though tensed up and ready to fight, Nadia kept her hands off her weapons as she looked up at the Snatcher’s leering face. “Uh, yeah actually. Can you get us in?”

“Of course! The Crypt offers free admission year-round. All you need to do is sign the EULA.”

When she heard that word, Nadia drew a blank, her brows scrunching together in confusion. “The…eula?”

“The end-user license agreement!” Summoning a thick sheaf of paper, the specter offered it to Nadia. “Think of it as a legal contract that one must consent to and abide by in order to enter and enjoy the Crypt. You know, terms and conditions, rights and restrictions, all that jazz. Don’t worry about the details, just sign right at the bottom, and we’re good to go!”

When Nadia took the contract and held it up to read it, the paper unfolded, reaching all the way to the floor and then some. After suppressing her astonishment, she narrowed her eyes and tried to read it. All the complicated, impersonal legal jargon quickly made her head spin after just a couple paragraphs; she wasn’t absorbing any of it, and she actually yawned. “Holy moly. How does anyone actually read this thing!? What kind of stuff’s in it?”

“Pretty much nobody does, actually!” the Snatcher told her cheerfully. “It’s more of a formality than anything. It’s just limitations of use, prohibited activities like smoking and fighting, waivers, legal penalties for breaking contract, yadda, yadda, yadda. Nothing fine upstanding folks like yourselves need worry about, I’m sure!”

At that, Nadia’s ears perked up a bit. “Oh, well, yeah, sure. We’re just passin’ through anyway, I won’t do anythin’ bad. Cat’s honor!” While she meant that, she ultimately didn’t care all that much about whatever stipulations she was supposedly agreeing to. As far as she was concerned, it was all superfluous legalese that didn’t practically mean anything. And what was the worst the monsters here could do if someone broke contract anyway? Attack them? The Seekers were no strangers to fighting their way out. Nadia went ahead and signed the EULA given to her, using her not-so-legal name of Ms. Fortune. Immediately the contract rolled up and poofed away, and the stone slabs leading into the Crypt began to slide open. They would smash together to crush anyone who stepped inside illegally, but as a contractor Nadia had nothing to fear.

She and the Snatcher both waited for signatures from everyone else who was willing. Only when the last Seeker signed did the Snatcher clap his hands together. “That seals the deal, we’re in business! You’re all free to enter. Let me just grab this real quick…” As the mausoleum doors closed behind everyone, a flurry of purple lightning came out of the blue and struck them repeatedly. Though Nadia flinched on reflex, she barely felt the lightning at all, and rather than deafening thunder she heard nothing more than a series of weak slaps, like someone getting smacked with a crumpled up paper. After a moment, though, strange, wispy motes drifted up from each of them, like ghostly facsimiles of themselves. Suddenly, Nadia felt exceedingly empty inside. “And there we go! As per the terms of your license agreement, your souls belong to the NecroDancer for the duration, by which I mean ‘eternity’, and if you leave before your contract is up, he will definitely ‘end user’, ahahahahaha!” Welcome to the Crypt of the NecroDancer. Dance ‘til you’re dead!”

Nadia groaned and hung her head, laughing dryly at herself for getting fooled so easily. Although she could pretty much predict how it’d go, she halfheartedly tried throwing Athame at the Snatcher anyway, and naturally it bounced right off. “Sorry, ‘Ms. Fortune’, you can only hit me when I turn blue,” the specter explained. “But blue doesn’t suit me. So if you’re feeling blue, take it up with the NecroDancer! No fighting though, or your soul’s on the menu, ahahahaha!” As he dove back into the ground, his voice echoed through the catacombs. “FOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooools…

With a sigh Nadia went to retrieve her dagger, crouching down by the doors. “Y’know, this is good, actually. I was just thinkin’ that things were a little too normal today.” As she stuck Athame in her belt, her ears flicked. “Hey…you guys hear music?”

When the team advanced, they soon found the Crypt to be a sprawling dungeon tomb, but it was far from dead silent. In each vaulted chamber, all with their own spooky themes, the checkered floors flashed alternating colors in tune to the beat. Speakers and boomboxes outnumbered the tombstones The skeletons, zombies, and ghosts that crowded this place were completely non-hostile, perhaps also bound by the terms of their contracts even though their ends had already come. Instead they held up bones coated in luminescent mushroom juice like glow sticks, partaking in a never-ending rave, or boogieing out on the dance floor. Even floating Sargassos (some with trumpets) and Plenty of other monsters and people seemed to call this place home as well, but even though tempers might run hot, fights never broke out here. Nadia did see a couple dance battles and rhythmic showdowns, so furiously competitive that she couldn’t help but wonder if the participants were dancing for their very lives. At some point the place looked less like a crypt more like a Halloween-themed club.

A little overwhelmed by all the stimulus present in the supernatural party atmosphere, Nadia stopped in the Crypt’s central nexus, a roughly cylindrical chamber of stairs, arches, and obsidian. Though it connected to many rooms and received a taste of the music in each, this seemed to be the only place without any active partying, where a number of dancers and celebrants were relaxing on break or just sitting in crestfallen silence. Skeletons seemed to be the majority here, so a young blonde woman with a shovel stuck out like a sore thumb. Nadia also spotted a few people that seemed like instructors, some in the process of giving dance lessons. One, Nashmeira, instructed in the use of a dancing art that made use of chakrams, while an elegant young man in pink taught ribbon dancing with cloth that furled like drills. A fox spirit would’ve been teaching a fan dance if he had any students, because he happened to be near the most popular trainers, a trio of short men in tracksuits who evidently taught combat breakdancing. There was even a magical-looking jukebox called ‘Leitmotif’ with the slogan ‘Discover your theme’ emblazoned on it.

“Sheesh. This place must get ‘rave’ reviews. Everyone’s just dyin’ to get in.” Nadia sat down on some steps, not sure where to even begin. Had she really lost her soul? If so, how was she going to get it back? Who was this NecroDancer, anyway? And maybe most importantly, did this Crypt place serve lunch? “Maybe we oughta break out the pizzas,” she told the troop, only half joking. “I dunno what to do, but whatever we end up doing, we can’t do it hungry, eh?”
<Snipped quote by Lugubrious>
I'd say Marissa and Sinmara are sufficiently different! Their fighting styles and overall vibes are total opposites. Even if you took away their signature weapons and magic, a fight between them would be a Ganondorf vs. Captain Falcon situation, I think (and for what it's worth, I think Sinmara would win the straight brawl). That said, we probably don't need any more beefcake melee fighters with these two on board.

Sinmara's origin story is some real food for thought too. Like, what form would Marissa's Heartbreak take, assuming she still has a heart to break? Would she cast away her pride and her humanity for a power boost? Maybe! Good thing Sinmara doesn't seem all that interested in doing her actual job as a Scion. I should probably work on giving Marissa an actual backstory that isn't a writeup of the wounded warrior trope.

I appreciate the appraisal, and the more I've thought about it, I definitely agree. While they may have some commonalities, they're pretty much night and day as characters. I think you've got a point with the hypothetical winner of a 1v1, as well. Sinmara has a lot of power that she seldom gets a chance to actually use against cleverer, more imaginative opponents, so against someone as straightforward as herself, she could actually let loose. Of course, Marissa would definitely still give her a run for her money.

The thing about the Mother Goat's corruption is that it's not really a trade of humanity for power. I tried to put a spin on the idea of 'demons' and 'deals with the devil'. The kind of person who joins the family is one who's essentially given up completely, who's so brokenhearted, beaten down, or consumed by desire that his or her own life no longer matters. Though the transformation does give a substantial power boost, it prevents further growth, and it also essentially erases the original person, creating someone brand new. Sinmara's Heartbreak doesn't reflect her past self (whose name is lost to history) but her current one, and if Marissa accepted a Heart of Darkness, it would not be 'her' that could call forth a Heartbreak.

Sinmara would do what her mom wants if she could, but she just so happens to be completely inept at any kind of manipulation or guile, and since her own Heart of Darkness can't be given by force, she's essentially powerless to corrupt anyone else. Someone would have to fall in love with her so hopelessly that it hollows that person enough to be able to accept her Heart of Darkness willingly.
I could do Discord. Just out of curiosity, what do you figure will be the update frequency for the RP?
Alright, here's what I've got so far. I added a couple parts that I really wanted to codify just for my own reference. The sheet is narrated in part by her 'mom'.

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