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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

Sector 06 Hublink

Level 4 Goldlewis (64/40)
Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Karin and Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate and Susi’s @Archmage MC, Geralt and Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Pit’s @Yankee, Raz’s @Truthhurts22, Roxas’ @Double, Benedict and Partitio’s @Dark Cloud, Tora, Giovanna
Word Count: 2507

More or less as expected, the Seekers’ reunion was a terse one. Pretty much nobody had much of anything friendly to say, even in greeting. Goldlewis was no stranger to nonchalant professionalism -the curt nod he exchanged with Giovanna was proof enough- but this reception seemed almost frosty. No doubt the loss of two of the group’s longest-serving members was a factor, and the veteran couldn’t blame them, but at the same time he hoped that wasn’t the extent of it. Considering the stakes at play here, it would be a miracle if there weren’t more losses before this campaign was through. Goldlewis hated it as much as anyone, but he understood it–such was the nature of war. More likely, the reason lay with the time spent apart. It had only been about half a day since the two subgroups first parted, even if everything that transpired during that time made it feel like three months. Still, a team was only as good as its communication.

Once the Seekers got down to the task at hand, though a solid suggestion came from an unlikely source. “That’s a mighty fine idea,” Goldlewis told Blazermate. While the team had gone over to a small lounge area after seeing the checkpoint and the sight of such a large group casually deterred passers-by, he still kept his voice down to make sure none of the security bots could listen in. “In fact, I’d go so far as to call that idea a hole in one. You’ve got my vote. Let’s work together to find a good spot for both ends on both sides.” He surrendered one of the press passes to her gladly. Unlike Susie, who’d foisted the responsibility of solving this conundrum on everyone else while offering nothing in return by taking a pass, this Medabot was earning her keep.

Midna offered a suggestion of her own once Blazermate and Goldlewis finished talking, and though prudent in its own right her idea ended up being a little redundant. Remembering the portal she placed in the hideout, he stroked his whiskers, thinking. “I reckon tech stands out less than magic,” he mused. “Let’s save ‘em for now. I betcha six ways to Sunday they’ll come in handy later on.” The Twilight Princess then brought something else up that the veteran hadn’t considered. Suddenly a little self-conscious, he looked down at his apparel with a frown. “My suit fits the bill, but after bustin’ my butt all mornin’ it’s sure seen better days. If we see an outfitter I oughta pay ‘em a visit.” He looked around at the others, examining their own appearances. Partitio’s garb might’ve been fine if he hadn’t rolled up his sleeves and gotten his hands dirty outside the city. Sakura and Raz still wore their Psych-OSF uniforms. Even those like Benedict and Karin who were well-dressed didn’t exactly ‘look the part’, Midna said. At least Giovanna looked presentable, having gotten the chance to change after the battle at HQ. Wait…that’s it! Goldlewis snapped his fingers. “The spare button-ups back at the office! They ain’t fancy or nothin’, but any metropolis worth a damn is drownin’ in white-collar workers. Y’all can blend right in.” Normally returning to the SOU headquarters would be an impossible detour at this juncture, but with Midna on the team, nothing was impossible.

Zenkichi recommended that Goldlewis take a pass, and he nodded in agreement. “I’m with ya on that one. I was thinkin’ ‘bout it anyhow so I could help Blazermate hunt down a good spot for her teleporter. Folks may recognize my face, but no-one’s got a reason to be lookin’ for me. Unlike you, Mr. Hasegawa…” He narrowed his eyes at Zenkichi, not accusatory, but concerned. “If I were you, I’d lean towards keepin’ a low profile.” Benedict echoed the same sentiment.

When Sakura gave vent to her annoyance, Goldlewis almost let out a wry, humorless laugh. Giovanna actually smiled. “You’ve got a lot to learn about the world, kid,” she chuckled. Even if it turned out she wasn’t much older than Sakura, the girl’s naivete made her feel positively mature in comparison. Her companion was right to focus on the matter at hand; the teleporter should wrap this obstacle up in a nice neat package. A grappling hook, huh? That, Giovanna hadn’t expected from Karin. Sounded like a nice thing to have.

Goldlewis found himself wearing a genuine smile, though, when Partitio introduced himself. Though he positively dwarfed the other man, and their backgrounds could scarcely be more different, the veteran felt like he’d happened upon a kindred spirit. “Howdy. And that’s Dickinson,” he corrected, reaching out his hand to shake. “Goldlewis Dickinson. And likewise. You joined up just a couple hours ago, right? Glad to have ya along for the ride, partner.”

With the meeting over with a plan of action decided upon, there wasn’t anything else to it but to do it. First, the team found a secluded spot in the parking garage nearby to build the teleporter entrance, which everyone without a pass would hang around. If Midna created a portal back to SOU headquarters, they could do whatever they needed there as well. Then Goldlewis, Giovanna, Susie, Blazermate, Karin, and Partitio would end up taking the six press passes and head back into the Hublink, though they weren’t the only ones queuing up at the security checkpoint. Midna tagged along in the group’s collective shadow, while a very glum Tora waddled along at Giovanna’s side, his hammer and toolkit stashed safely within the extradimensional space in the veteran’s coffin. After taking off their shoes -if they had them- and putting their things on the conveyor through the X-ray machine, they proceeded through the metal detector. Laden with metal accessories from cow skulls to horseshoes, Goldlewis had to take off his jacket, both belts, his gloves, and even his tie, and he still got subjected to a pat-down by a somewhat nervous-looking SBR unit. Grumbling, he put everything back on and collected his coffin as fast as he could. Giovanna, meanwhile, got stopped as she tried to go through security with Tora.

“Hey,” the SBR unit said as it stood in front of her, narrowing his optics at the Nopon. “What’s this?”

Giovanna maintained a completely straight face. “This…is my emotional support Nopon. You know, like a service dog?”

“Irony of statement have profound sting for Tora,” the morose engineer muttered beneath his breath.

The SBR unit looked down. “Did it just talk?”

“Uh, no. Are you stupid?” Giovanna nudged Tora with her foot, then patted him on the head.

The SBR unit crossed its arms, an annoyed look on its face. “Emotional support, huh? What’s it for?”

“You’re not legally allowed to ask that question,” Giovanna told him sharply. “And I’m not legally obligated to answer. Patient confidentiality.”

After a moment, the SBR’s composure broke, and it stepped aside looking sheepish. “Uh…right. Sorry ma’am. Carry on.”

One look at the group’s press passes seemed to be enough to convince the robots here that they were approved for entry, even without a fully-functioning GridLink. Once on the other side of the checkpoint, the Seekers moved quickly through the rest of the Hublink. As Goldlewis pointed out, there was no rush to find a spot for the teleporter exit that might get compromised, so together the eight boarded an outbound monorail. Soon the doors slid shut and the train began to pick up speed, quickly leaving the Hublink station behind and zooming out into the City of Glass.

The moment the view opened up in front of the train, Goldlewis couldn’t help but be impressed. In the wake of the rainstorms of that morning, the rays of sunlight piercing the clouds had opened up into whole swathes of radiant sunshine, and all of Sector 06 glittered beneath it. For starters, it boasted a unique feature no other plate had: a body of water, running all the way from the tip of the pizza slice to the ‘crust’. In fact the Hublink hung out over it, so the minute the trail left the station it was flying along a tall, single-rail bridge above the blue. This was made possible, in turn, by the defining feature of the Sector 06 undercity, Deep-Paris, it being a solid block of earth all the way from ground level to the plate with the underground slums inside it. Taking up about a third of the plate’s total surface area, the body of water wound around as a huge river as the plate itself expanded, culminating in a bay near the plate’s far end.

Occupying the lion’s share of Sector 06’s solid ground seemed to be the City of Glass proper. The view of it from here, witnessed by countless newcomers over Midgar’s lifetime, was no less striking for the Seekers than it had been for their predecessors. It was a metropolis of towering buildings, quite possibly the tallest in Midgar save the skyline-dominating Shinra Building itself, and every one of them stood proud in spotless, marble-white majesty, clothed and crowned with vast arrays of reflective crystalline glass. Tastefully sparse, geometric splotches of primary color could be glimpsed here and there in its different districts, but on the whole the place radiated an atmosphere of unadulterated ‘purity’.

On the flipside, across the water lay the other one-third of the City of Glass, a vast and colorful campus of sprawling factories and offices beneath the watchful dominion of the second-biggest skyscraper in Midgar, shaped like a colossal ‘V’ rising out of an enormous glass globe. Those who had spotted it on the helicopter ride to Sector 07 or any of the car rides since -and it was hard to miss- could finally see it in all its glory.

Goldlewis whistled. “Boggles the doggone mind,” he said, describing the view succinctly. Tora stared at the scenery, unmoved. Sure, it was pretty, but to him it just felt like a waste. This was an experience he should have shared with Poppi. After a few seconds, Goldlewis continued. “Dendenmille Showcase Theater oughta be somewhere ‘round the base of that big ol’ V, so that’s where we’re headed.”

Well before getting there, however, the monorail pulled into and stopped at another station. After making their way out, the Seekers found themselves at the waterfront overlooking Regatta Bay. Even one of the most remote parts of the City of Glass, well removed from its beating heart, was the richest-looking part of Midgar any of the newcomers had seen so far. State-of-the-art luxury sailboats and multi-level yachts -some with onboard pools- were moored at the piers by the dozens, all pure white except for the stripes and stripes of singular colors, and many more were already sailing around the bay to make the most of the afternoon sunshine. All menial tasks, from emptying trash cans to sweeping and polishing the ghost-white walkways, were accomplished by androids. There were a lot of security robots scattered around, too.

Plenty of fancy-looking people could be found milling around or attending to some manner of business, all buried in their phones and laptops as they sat in open-air cafes and restaurants. As Tora watched, four dwarves -evidently drunk already- in fine if somewhat disheveled suits skipped by, arm in arm, chanting, “We’re rich! We’re rich!” It wasn’t just formal or office wear around here, though; there was also elaborate, futuristic techwear. That produced a whole host of different looks: lady in an iridescent parka sort of thing that looked too fancy to be a raincoat, a beanie-wearer with a transparent plastic jacket, a man with green shades and even greener lipstick, and a pink-haired fellow who happened to be casting a judgmental look toward the Seekers, and more. Suddenly, Goldlewis didn’t feel quite so confident about the quality of his suit. He could only imagine what Pit, Roxas, and the others felt like. Luckily, there were plenty of boutiques around, too. The only obstacle to obtaining anything that anyone might want would be the price–which Goldlewis could only guess would be egregious.

Tora approached the railing at the water’s edge and laid his wings on it. He listened to the lap of the water against the piers, and the whisper of the wind. His eyes drifted across the bay, all the way down to the other side of the plate where Vandelay Campus lay. Among its its vast and varied edifices loomed one building in particular, not anywhere near as tall as that V but noticeable nonetheless: the Cyberlife Tower. Detroit might be the home of industry, and Night City the home of cybernetics, but this was doubtless the home of robotics. If there was anywhere he could achieve his goals, it had to be here.

“Alright, enough gawking,” Giovanna piped up after a few moments. “Let’s hurry up and find somewhere to put the teleporter already.”

This task was easier said than done. In terms of surveillance cameras, the City of Glass gave Suoh a run for its money; there were clusters of them everywhere. But Giovanna, pragmatic as ever, soon found a place where even their gaze couldn’t reach: a public restroom. She and Blazermate went inside to wait for the occupants to leave, while Goldlewis and anyone else remained outside to discourage others from entering, though luckily this area wasn’t experiencing a glut of pedestrians anyway. In short order the teleporter was constructed, and everyone else could warp through and then file out of the restroom one at a time. Before too long, Geralt, Zenkichi, Benedict, Pit, and Roxas had all joined the others to marvel at the breathtaking City of Glass.

“Alright!” Goldlewis echoed Giovanna from earlier. “Now we’re all back together, there's just two problems. Gettin’ to Vandelay Campus over there, and not raisin’ any kind o’ ruckus while we’re at it.” At this point, it was almost four o’ clock. That meant five hours to cross the City of Glass, and accomplish whatever else the Seekers wanted or needed along the way.

Tora had wandered back over to the water’s edge. He could think of no better way for the team to reach their destination than by boat. “...Maybe friends convince boatypon to give ride,” he offered sullenly. With all the people around the piers, there had to be at least one well-to-do waverider the team could solicit help from. Whether or not there’d be a price to pay, though, was anyone’s guess.
Since it's been a couple weeks since the defeat of Consul P and we are not leaving the Home of Tears yet, I figured it might be a good idea to draft some quests (available via any commissions board found in the city) that members of Purple Team could use to occupy their time. Take a look:

Midgar - Sector 07 Slums

Giovanna, @Yankee, Susie’s @Archmage MC, Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Partitio’s @Dark Cloud, Pit’s @Yankee

After the news about Peach on top of what happened with Poppi, the mood among the Seekers was grim just about to the point of being disastrous. Zenkichi only felt more morose, probably finding a way to blame himself. Even Pit couldn’t offer words of encouragement this time. Susie, if she cared, said nothing. Roxas had gone off by himself to wander, and Giovanna doubted she could’ve stopped him even if she tried. With him out of the picture, Bo taken away to recuperate at the nearest clinic, and Tora unresponsive, things felt pretty bleak between the five who remained. The secret agent waited in deadpan silence until she received her drink. This is exactly why I’m not a leader, she thought. Managing people and morale is just too much work.

Fortunately, in the course of the morning’s ill-fated expedition, the Seekers had picked up someone who made it his life’s mission to lift others out of whatever hopeless depths they found themselves in, whether emotional or financial. When Partitio spoke up, trying to rouse the glum heroes’ spirits, Giovanna flashed him a grateful smile. Even if he sounded cheesy, he wore his heart on his sleeve. Though it felt kind of like a eulogy for someone nobody wanted to believe was dead, she joined in Partitio’s toast, and took a good long drink from her glass. For better or worse, this man was the genuine article, and if he planned to join the Seekers for the long haul she wouldn’t say no. A never-say-die attitude was just what the team needed right now.

Of course, more than anything they needed to get their minds off the day’s losses. Rather than be allowed to wallow in their misery and sink even deeper, they needed something to do. As long as these hero-types could see the light at the end of the tunnel and strive for a happy ending, they could probably forge onward. With that in mind, she excused herself after finishing her drink, and made another glyph call. She called up Goldlewis with low expectations, only to receive a one-two punch of critical information out of the blue. It hadn’t been half an hour since their last conversation, but as it turned out, a lot could change in a short amount of time. And this time, it had changed for the better.

After a couple minutes she returned to the others, a sense of purpose in her stride. “The situation has changed,” she announced, carefully lifting up Tora. Roxas was back, which was good. Simplified things a little. “We’re heading topside. We’ve got an appointment in the City of Glass.”

“City of Glass?” the Nopon asked suddenly. “As in high tech city of super-richypons where androids get made?”

Giovanna nodded. “That’s the one. We’re meeting Goldlewis and the others there, so let’s get a move on. We don’t wanna be late.”

Midgar - Sector 05 Seiran Hideout

Level 4 Goldlewis (61/40)
Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Karin and Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate’s @Archmage MC, Geralt @Multi_Media_Man, Raz’s @Truthhurts22, Benedict’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1717

Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the others could really offer an answer to the question posed by Goldlewis. Despite all they’d been through, they were still very new to Midgar in the greater scheme of things, and the city -practically a nation unto itself- was both overwhelmingly vast and complex. When it came to the Seekers’ quest for answers, the needle-in-a-haystack similes wrote themselves. Still, the events of last night and this morning offered a couple clues, and where to go next was a question predicated on what the heroes wanted to do, so Goldlewis cast his mind over everything they’d learned in an effort to put any twos that had fallen through the cracks together.

Before he could get anywhere, a couple more guests crashed the Seekers’ party, but at least these new arrivals were welcome faces and eagerly anticipated. “There y’are!” Goldlewis exclaimed the moment Midna and Raz arrived from the princess’s portal. Normally he’d be madder than a wet hen that two teammates had hurtled off into dangerous, uncharted territory with neither plan in mind nor means of communication, but for the time being he decided to count his blessings. “I ain’t about to say you’re a sight for sore eyes, but we missed you somethin’ fierce. Where in sam hill did y’all run off to?”

Both of them could scarcely wait to spill the beans, and what beans they were. What they’d listened in on in that truck helped fill in some serious gaps left in the Seekers' understanding by the rapid-fire turn of events back in the underground nexus. The troopers’ candid conversation revealed that the entire operation -ordered, planned, and carried out in such a short span of time- hadn’t just been a PR stunt to boost Shinra’s approval ratings during election season, but a method of suppressing internal dissent, as ruthless as it had been efficient. Icing real Others had only been icing on the cake when it came to neutering the rebellious Seiran Garrison. By now almost everyone had heard rumors about the lasting contention between the upper and lower halves of Sector 05, but this turn of events escalated the conflict higher than Goldlewis could have ever guessed. “Sweet mother o’ pearl,” he murmured. “This is gonna get ugly. Travers, you damn fool, if you’re on the side o’ justice why’d ya have to waste time talkin’ riddles?”

After a little thinking he cleared his throat. “I was just about to recap what we know, so y’all dropped in at just the right time. Let’s add all that to the mix and go over everythin’ real quick.”

“So,” he began, his arms crossed and his brows knitted together in thought. “Since yesterday, we done tangled with all three parts of the Ever Crisis between our two groups. The Others, the Chimeras, and the Machines. We also ran into all three branches of Midgar’s defenses, that bein’ Psych-OSF, DespoRHado, and Neuron. To stop the Ever Crisis, we gotta figure out what’s causin’ it, and why the people here ain’t able to turn the tides.”

He held up one finger. “First, the Chimeras. Simple enough, they come from the Astral Plane, another dimension fulla all kinds of strange matter. Gates can open anywhere, and once they are, red matter starts corruptin’ everythin’ in its path, like we saw with them awful Aberrations. The Chimeras are the main problem, ‘cause spread a shitton o’ red matter with their attacks, and abduct poor folks back to the Astral Plane, where they turn even faster. Neuron fights back usin’ Legions, which’re Chimeras they somehow turned to their side.” He sighed. “Doesn’t seem like there’s any concrete way to stop the Gates openin’. But maybe Neuron knows more.”

Goldlewis held up another finger. “Second, the Machines. Buildin’ huge armies out in the Valley of Ruin from their hidden factories, they invade Midgar in a more conventional sense, relyin’ on firepower and sheer numbers. Now we know they got a virus o’ some kind that can turn our machines against us. But that don’t make sense, ‘cause DespoRHado uses nothin’ but cyborgs and androids to fight ‘em. Makes a man wonder…how’d the hell they get some kinda immunity? Did someone at DespoRHado crack the code?”

Finally, he held up finger number three. “Lastly, the Others. Well, we already went over how they come from the Extinction Belt, but now we know humans can be metamorphosed into ‘em too. Not just that, but it’s Psych-OSF that’s doin’ it, or…at least a small part, anyway. I wouldn’t guess most of the soldiers know about it, just those in the scoutin’ team the rebels mentioned and whoever’s callin’ the shots. Which normally would be the top brass, but we met the top brass and he ain’t havin’ none of it, which leaves the people even higher up the chain.” He frowned deeply. “Grand Head Zanotto, PubSec boss Konoe, and Shinra himself.”

He stroked his beard. “I dunno ‘bout y’all, but I’m startin’ to see a pattern. All three ‘kinds’ can turn people or robots into monsters, or at least make ‘em lose their minds. And all three ‘branches’ seem like they have somethin’ deeper to do with their respective ‘kinds’ than just fightin’ ‘em. Its almost like they’re all usin’ their enemies against ‘em, or against other people. Maybe I’m just spoutin’ out nonsense, but….ya gotta wonder. Is the ‘source’ that Organization mentioned out in the Valley? Or…” He stared through the hideout's window.

Soon enough Goldlewis got another call. It hadn’t been long, but he had a lot to catch Giovanna up on, and when the two put their heads together they came up with a plan. When Goldlewis returned to the others from the other half of the hideout, he seemed more animated than before. “Listen up, folks. It’s time to hit the road. In case y’all don’t remember, Sector 06 is the City of Glass, the most restricted sector in the whole doggone city. Home to titanic corporations like Memorize, CyberLife, and Vandelay. And Dendenmille Showcase Theater, which ain’t just where tonight’s debate is, but also smack-dab in the middle of Vandelay’s campus. Giovanna said Tora’s highly suspect o’ CyberLife on account o’ their tech, and since we’re headed there anyway, might as well use the extra time to get as close a look as we can.” Grabbing his coffin, Goldlewis pulled open the hideout’s door. “So let’s mosey.”

Midgar - Sector 06 Hublink

The two halves of Black Team set out at approximately the same time, Goldlewis and his crew up from Seiran to Suoh and then along the same path they’d taken out of Sector 05 last night, while Giovanna’s retraced its steps up to the Sector 07 Plate and toward the same destination from the opposite direction. While the journey took a few hours, it could’ve been a lot worse; maintenance and law enforcement had evidently moved at breakneck pace since last night, either repairing or rerouting around a lot of the Chimera-induced damage to keep Midgar’s interplate traffic flowing. Thanks to a call put into the SOU headquarters, the team’s tech consultant Mr. H was not only able to forge a fresh GridLink for Partitio to ensure his safe passage, but also update those of Sakura and Raz to make sure their identities reflected their new status as Psych-OSF soldiers. With no major issues at security checkpoints, the two halves both succeeded in ascending from undercity to plate, then traveling from their respective plates’ hubs to Sector 06’s via hub tunnel, all by bus. It was only when they both reached the Sector 06 Hublink that things got difficult.

The City of Glass did not permit traffic from outside–of any kind. It all came to a stop at the Hublink, a sparkling, airport-like travel nexus of polished white floors and glittering glass domes. Past the parking garages and renting lots for commuter vehicles, and the pickup and dropoff lanes for public transport, lay the semicircular superstructure.

Before dealing with anything else, the two halves of the team met with something of critical importance: one another. Goldlewis, Giovanna, Blazermate, Susie, Geralt, Zenkichi, Sakura, Karin, Pit, Roxas, Benedict, Partitio, Tora, and Raz all met in the vast open space of the HubLink’s atrium, dappled in myriad colors refracted through the magnificent, towering glass sculptures that stood around the spotless tile like museum pieces. Given the circumstances there wasn’t as much rejoicing as one might expect from a grand reunion, but it was good to see everyone else again, even if it highlighted the two who weren’t here. Anticipating a better working environment, Tora had dried his tears and stowed his equipment in his toolbox. Without the Drill Shield, Mech Arms, or Variable Saber on his person the Nopon looked almost naked. Only his hammer remained; though their hearts went out to him, both SOU members knew that the team’s best tank wasn’t fit for combat.

That led straight into the matter at hand. On the other side of the atrium from the transport hub lay a massive security checkpoint. An extravagant, almost needless abundance of Cyberlife robots could be found throughout the place, and not the humanoid service androids popular throughout Midgar, either. SBR, GNR, and AIR-1N units were the most common, but there were also a number of ES-101s and hulking BA-B00s. Over all of them stood an impressively well-armed duo: the mighty pairing of HG-0M and HG-0G. That was a problem for one simple reason: so far the team’s forged GridLinks had worked a treat, but the buck stopped here.

“We got enough press passes to see six of us through,” Goldlewis explained, well out of earshot of security. “But that leaves eight of us left over, and the GridLinks we got ain’t gonna cut it with real security like this. so we’re gonna have to get clever. No causin’ any big scenes and gettin’ us in trouble, y’hear?”

Home of Tears - Terminal Cafe

Level 10 Nadia (201/100)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, Ganondorf’s @Double, Rubick’s @Scarifar, Ichiban’s @Truthhurts22, Artorias’ @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1998

Like all of Nadia’s spur-of-the-moment harebrained ideas, or at least a majority of them, her scheme to get the Koopa Troop’s attention went off flawlessly. Oh, and Sectonia was here, too! With the big bug in tow, the curious quartet began to make their way into the Terminal, and they soon queued up at the main counter to place their drink orders. It wasn’t just coffee and snacks on offer, though, and Junior’s curiosity drove him down a detour that involved petitioning the help of one of the cafe’s skeletal customers. Rika, meanwhile, couldn’t help but take in the unique, cozy atmosphere of the latest stop on her journey of non-stop wonders, going strong ever since her defection from the Abyssal Fleet opened her eyes to the world beyond the waves.

Between the two of them, and Bowser requiring some shrinkage, it would be a couple moments before the new arrivals joined Nadia and Primrose at the table, but she didn’t mind. With its cozy atmosphere, the soothing ambiance, and plenty of good company readily available, this place invited all its patrons to take their time. Nobody could stay at the Terminal forever, but it was a lovely place for people to linger as long as they could. In fact, many of the people here seemed reluctant to move on, grasping for every second as they wished that ‘now’ could last forever. As she nibbled her last scone, Nadia thought about what Primrose said before. Isn’t this who we are, now? Everyone changes… It wasn’t just reassuring; it was true. None of the changes she’d gone through so far felt a fraction as drastic as those that befell her on that fateful night. And yet, even after all that, she’d still been the same Nadia deep down. Hopefully nothing in this world could change that, either. Compulsively she tried to brush back the hair that now lay across her left eye, but it stubbornly slid back into place.

Soon enough the Koopas arrived, starting with Rika, and the girl did not hesitate to tell the team all about her misadventures in Crumble Caverns. Hearing her describe an entire underground biome of cheese left Nadia slack-jawed for a moment. “You’re kitten me. That’s crazy! I’ve gotta go see that sometime.” A toothy grin spread across her face. “Fair warnin’ though, once I do it’s open season on cheese puns for, like, ever. You cheddar brie-lieve it!”

Rika’s comments on jobs also got an approving nod. “Yeah, exactly! Why bother earnin’ anythin’ for yourself when you can just steal from someone else?” The lack of sarcasm in her voice made it that much harder to tell if Nadia was joking.

The conversation shifted toward the journey yet to come, and what the new information everyone now possessed meant for it. Nadia didn’t particularly care to contemplate the whole subject of Lifelight and how it related to the Flame Clocks, since it hadn’t seemed relevant to the Seekers’ campaign up until now, but the way the others described it reminded her of something from her not-so-pleasant at the Sanitarium. “This Clock thing almost sounds like those weird bags they had at the hospital,” she mused. “When you’re hooked up to one, it pumps ya fulla blood and stuff ya need to live, but the bag needs someone else’s blood to fill it. Then once you’re taken off it, you’re good all on your own.” She shrugged and popped the last bit of her scone in, then talked with her mouth full. “Course, my blood jusht refills itshelf, sho what do I know.” She washed the crumbs down with a drink of coffee, wondering about the implications of the demise Sectonia attributed to P. Dying without even leaving a spirit sounded kind of terrifying. Like a final death.

As the conversation continued, Rika suggested going deeper into Crumble Cavern. That suited Nadia just fine; both of her brain cells were already working overtime on cheese puns. Kamek, however, suggested staying in for the night. “Huh? You wanna be done for the day?” Looking bemused, Nadia reached a hand around to scratch her back. “I mean, I get wantin’ to sell your stuff off and all, but it ain’t even dinnertime. The night’s still young! Can people even sit still that long?” The hair brushing her cheek tickled a little, but when she tried blowing it away it settled right back down into place. “I sure can’t,” she continued. “Just call me a me-owl, ‘cause I’m always up at night!”

She found herself looking at the map while the others talked about selling things, and after a little more studying her eyebrows suddenly shot up. “Oh, hey! Sectonia, you said you’re looking for a king or somethin’, right? Well, lookie here!” She tapped a spot in the corner of the map of the Home of Tears: King’s Station. “It’s your lucky day! Why not just go there?” Unfortunately, it really seemed like she wasn’t joking this time.

At some point Therion had arrived, his natural stealthiness helping him blend in until he helped himself to baked goods and started making suggestions. He mentioned a previous train ride he’d taken alongside Jesse and Raz and the place it deposited them in the Under, which according to the map seemed nearby. Heading there sounded about as sensible as any other suggestions thus far. Nadia just wanted to get a move on from the Home of Tears before the rain started wearing out its welcome. “Might be nice to go somewhere dry for a change,” she piped up.

Her ears swiveled at the sound of well shod footfalls, and Nadia turned to see Ichiban a moment before he asked his first question, which left her a little confused. They were drinking coffee, reading maps, and chatting, what else? The broader scope of his question quickly became apparent, though. She shifted her chair to make room for him at the table, mulling over his words. Honestly, she felt pretty inclined to brush it all off as the typical disorientation that followed someone’s ‘awakening’, and his usage of unfamiliar jargon didn’t help his case. “I dunno what some of those things you mentioned are,” she admitted. “Things are bound to be confusin’ though. Given just how many worlds got caught up in this mess, coincidences are gonna happen sometimes, right?” Shrugging, she leaned back in her chair. “Heck, when I first saw Limsa, I thought for sure it was Little Innsmouth. That’s where I’m from,” she added proudly. In regards to Primrose’s question, she very much did not want to explain things to Ichiban. Someone else could do it, probably Kamek. Old guys love explainin’ stuff, she reasoned.

Rubick showed up, followed shortly by an unfamiliar knight whose acquaintance the magician had evidently made. “Oh hey…you!” Nadia greeted him. This table wasn’t nearly big enough for everyone, and the group was beginning to attract attention.

Well, so far the party ten had neither reached a consensus nor fallen in line after someone’s insistence, so the team stood at an impasse. Plus, even if they did make a decision, that still left a number of team members in the dark. Jesse, Ganondorf, and Omori weren’t here, and Nadia didn’t have the slightest idea where the boy might be. Whether he intentionally left the others or just got lost was anyone’s guess, too. “Ever since we fell down here we’ve been gettin’ separated nonstop,” she thought aloud. “I mean, did anyone even see where that ‘Adventurer’ guy went? It’s a miracle we all made it to the city to begin with.” After looking down at her nearly-empty cup, she sighed and downed the rest of her coffee. Then the feral stood up. “Well, if you guys are plannin’ to stick around here sellin’ loot and whatnot, I’m gonna go stretch my legs.” Stretching one arm and then the other, she grinned at Sectonia. “I’ll go check out King’s Station and see if I can find one to rule this place for ya. If I do, it’ll be a ‘crowning’ achievement, right? Nyahaha~” With that, she folded up her map, pulled her hood up to shield against the rain, and went to leave, waving goodbye as she did. If anyone wanted to come with, she certainly wouldn’t object. “Smell ya later!”

Luckily, the map put King’s Station directly adjacent to the Downtown district of the Home of Tears, so it wasn’t a long journey, especially by water. After heading to the waterside Nadia airdashed to and commandeered one of the city’s many self-piloted giant paper sailboats on its circuitous journey from Fountain Central to the station landing and back again. Once back on terra firma, Nadia did not hesitate to step inside, though the first impression she got of the place once in left her a little let down.

Contrary to its name and perceived prestige, King’s Station looked pretty derelict. Threadbare banners hung in tatters over a rubble-strewn floor with entire sections of it torn up and the earth beneath clearly visible. A once-austere wrought-iron bench lay broken in half, and the station’s lower sections were filled with water. In front of the closest flooded track, a brass bell rested at the foot of the post it once hung from. Nadia crouched down to lift it up in hopes of putting it back, but she found it cracked and useless, so she discarded it again just as quickly. “What a dump,” she muttered. “No way any kings are hangin’ out in a place like this.”

Unless they were waiting deeper in. Something about this place told Nadia that there was more to it than met the eye. She stood and jumped over the flooded track, heading further into the decrepit station. All around hung tablets scrawled with arcane-looking white runes, and the echoes of dripping water resounded through the pitch-black tunnels. If not for her experience in the Soul Sanctum, she would have found this place pretty creepy. After another minute or two of exploring, she hit a dead end in a pretty big room full of all kinds of crabs. Mud crab, king crab, even a magic crab. At one point Nadia almost got nipped by a statue that turned out to be a Rock Lobster. On the other side of one last channel lay a large, important-looking doorway labeled ‘B’ by a nearby sign, the way tightly shut by interlocking metal bars. Even if she detached all her parts, Nadia didn’t think she could wriggle her torso underneath or between them.

It intrigued her less than its surroundings, though. Unlike the other flooded channels that ran through this place, the one here seemed deliberate. It not only featured a stalled waterwheel with a dry channel poised above it, but flowed at an appreciably fast pace toward the right side of the room, where it then proceeded into what looked like a pitch-black abyss. A sign there read ‘Danger - bottomless pit’, which earned a scoff from Nadia. “No such thing as bottomless,” she snarked. The Bottomless Sea sure hadn’t been, what with all the rocks and even an island that she’d seen rising from it. Upon further inspection, the flow of the water seemed to be blocked. With furrowed brows, Nadia scratched her chin. “This seems like a puzzle,” she mused, her tails swishing restlessly. There had to be something good in here to go to all this trouble for it. A king’s ransom, perhaps? Enticed by the prospect of riches, she set about trying to figure the puzzle out.

∞ Activity

By just about anyone’s account, it was a stunningly beautiful day. The sun smiled down across the countryside, its radiant rays of light bathing it in a pleasant warmness perfect for dozing, yet a refreshing breeze blew through the leafy boughs and rolled across the grassy plains. While stormclouds churned far to the north, casting the regions west of the Sandswept Sky’s border mountains in a heavy rain shadow, the sky over the Land of Adventure couldn’t be more blue. But the land that sprawled out beneath it was not the same as yesterday’s. Gone were the bountiful fields of gold that surrounded Morgensloft farm, the lake of Pelagics where the Watertop Land of Fantastication floated, the forest temple with its baffling puzzles, the gorgeous-yet-alien Coral Highland, and the blighted pastures of the Ancestral Farmhead. The Hamlet, with its amicable porcine population, never stood a chance. Even Lumbridge, robbed of the World Anchor that sustained it for so long, was no more. Only Haven remained, its own World Anchors left untouched by its ruler. Other than that, the past -the very land itself- had been scrubbed away.

And yet, that was only the beginning of the loss that today had seen.

For Alcamoth’s survivors, not even a stunningly beautiful day could lift their spirits. Only the fact that some survived gave them solace–yet the guilt that haunted them, like vengeful spirits left behind by the dead, hurt some of them worse than death. Still, the fact that they still lived endowed them with a responsibility. If the Consuls believed that all of Alcamoth’s people had been destroyed alongside it, they were off their enemies’ radar. Though Smash City’s desperate struggle had ended in catastrophic loss, their sacrifice bought the survivors some time. Time enough, hopefully, for a new beginning. Within one week, before the Land of Adventure re-generated again, they would need to find a new foothold in this new, different country.

And how different it was. Rivers cut through the landscape like the strokes of an artist’s brush, dividing in into chunks, and only some even remotely resembled the rich green countryside of yesterday. Vast sections of the region appeared to be woven from wool, yarn, and canvas, including their foliage and many of their inhabitants. On their trek west from the button-speckled wood on the central island where the teleporter left them, the survivors stepped over a rich two-dimensional tapestry of life knitted into the ground itself. Its two-dimensional denizens went about their business with one another as if they didn’t even notice the survivors ‘above’ them, traipsing around in a dimension beyond their ken. By the same token, though, tearing into and altering their fabric of reality was so easy that some of the travelers did it accidentally. Quickly and carefully they hurried on their way, journeying southwest over taffeta tropics, felt fields, textile tech, and tweed treats. At great length, however, the cloth landscape gave way to ordinary dirt, grass, wood, and rock. There the trek finally stopped, at a city lodged in the mountains: Markarth, the City of Stone.

Upon arrival, the survivors dispersed through the city, looking for food, lodging, or just a place to rest. Despite their fatigue and misery, Vandham urged each and every one to be on their guard. Far removed from Alcamoth’s resting place Markarth might be, but at the end of the day, it was all still the Consuls’ domain. Then, rather than follow the others into town, he seated himself in the shade of a leafy tree on a cliffside overlook, next to the man who’d saved his life.

“I really am grateful, y’know,” he began after a few moments in his characteristic Australian accent. “I thought ya robbed me, at first. Of my chance to make a difference. I was ready to sacrifice myself, thinkin’ that if I could save even a single life by layin’ down my own, it’d be worth it. It woulda been a ‘elluva lot easier than dealin’ with the grief, and pickin’ up the pieces, heh, ‘specially knowin’ ‘ow cruel this ‘ere World o’ Light really is. But I thought about it long’n ‘ard ‘bout it on the way ‘ere. The Seekers are still out there fightin’. As long as there’s a chance we can set things right, I’m gonna keep fightin’ too, and I en’t gonna throw my life away just to go out like a ‘ero’.” He held out a fist to his savior. “So. Thanks, mate.”

After a moment, the other man bumped his fist, but his face was anything but happy. “I scarce deserve your thanks,” he said, his Indian accent thick with anguish. “Twas my folly that helped bring about this tragedy in the first place. My regrets, my sins…they weigh upon my soul, heavy as the mountains old, more numerous than autumn leaves. I’ve turned a blind eye to it all for so long, the depravity and injustice. How far I have fallen from those glorious elden days, before I resided in the now.”

Vandham put a reassuring hand on the shoulder of the man’s grape-purple suit jacket. “I can’t say I understand your situation,” he told him, “And I en’t gonna pry. But I do know we all make mistakes. Long as your ‘eart’s in the right place, you can work to make it right. I sure ‘hope ya do too, ‘cause we could really use more o’ that ludicrous ‘ealin’ goin’ forward.”

The healer gave a wry smile. “A stouthearted sentiment, Vandham. One worthy of a hero, and a mentor. I can see why you meant so very much to him.” After adjusting his gray tie, he stood to his feet.

“Him? Y’mean Rex?” Vandham raised an eyebrow. “Oi, where you goin’? You en’t leavin’, surely?”

“Hm? Oh, no.” The healer shook his head. “I thought only that I might better acquaint myself with this place. We have much and more to do, and time is not on our side.”

Vandham left to check in on the others, and the healer descended to the bottom level of Markarth, observing everything that he could. As with every location in the World of Light, this city existed as a fused-together mishmash of shapes and ideas from various worlds. Its unifying theme appeared to be medieval fantasy, which suited him just fine. There were humans, beastmen, dwarves, and even elves, so with his own long ears the man fit right in. He passed by a row of grocers with various unusual wares, from vegetables like the Humming Cabbage, Razzle Basil, and Juicy Steakplant to fruits like the Heart Peach, Spicy Banana, and Dance Apple. Were it a better day the sight of cube-shaped strawberries and upside-down upgrapes -not to mention the fuzzy pink Nopon selling them- might have brought him a smile, but he soon moved on. Fresh meat sourced by a local hunting party could be found at the butcher stall of surly Hogni Red-Arm, and Blurberry’s Bar dispensed all sorts of gnomish grog, but the healer passed them by. The city’s elaborate, almost ceremonious forge, recessed into a mountain where it could utilize both molten-hot lava and snowmelt water, caught his eye for but a moment, and he didn’t bother to look into the tailor–he knew he’d never replace his purple suit. He only lingered at the ‘Petpet Shop’, where a variety of heart-achingly cute little critters caught his eye. It made him miss his Opo Opo. Soon enough, though, he found himself at the riverside.

He stood there a short while, just breathing in the crisp highland air as he tried to clear his head, until he happened to catch a whiff of a tantalizing smell. A jolt of nostalgia hit him like a Landslide to the face, and appropriately enough it nearly sent him tumbling over the river’s edge. He managed to catch himself in time, however, and after a moment he tentatively sampled the breeze. “No…surely not…” But after a second sniff there was no mistaking it. The healer took off at a run, sprinting along the riverside past confused and startled Markarth citizens. In just a few moments he arrived, his mouth ajar as he took in a hauntingly familiar sight. It was an outdoor restaurant situated on a raised wooden platform by the crystal clear pond where the Markarth’s two rivers joined together before spilling out through the sluice beneath the city walls. Above it stood a very high trellis, with patterned rugs stretched across their lengths, as well as hanging brass planters and lanterns. With square tables and stools beneath all the dangling plants and such, it gave off a rather naturalistic and outdoorsy touch, perhaps befitting a garden luncheon on some noble’s grandiose estate. The healer ran a gloved hand over his slicked-back, dark-brown hair, breathing slowly despite the rapid beat of his heart. “Even if it is,” he reasoned, “Surely it cannot be the same…”

No harm in trying, though. He seated himself at a vacant corner table and perused the menu. Some of the dishes on offer he didn’t recognize, but he quickly locked in on one item in particular, and he knew in that instant he could accept no alternative. When the waitress arrived, she found the classy-looking gentleman practically tripping over his own tongue as he tried to place his order, apparently from excitement, though he quickly simmered down once he stopped to remind himself of the circumstances that brought him here. Still…even if this came about as the result of random chance, it felt like fate. His first order did not take long to prepare, and after just a moment the waitress placed his plate down before him. For a few moments, the healer just stared, moving only to wipe his glasses as they began to fog up. There they were, in all their shiny, purple, angular glory: crystal grapes. Carefully he slipped off his black gloves, raised the polyhedron to his lips, and took a bite. Sweet. Juicy. Tart. Like grapes, but crystalline in shape. Every bit as good as he remembered them. “Ohh,” he sighed, his brows upturned above closed eyes. “How I’ve missed you, silly grapes.” He took another big bite and relished every bit of it, flavor and texture alike. “Truly, absence makes the heart grow…”

The moment he opened his eyes, he’d frozen, still as a statue. He’d locked eyes with a woman a table away, who’d just sat down herself. She had short white hair with point cat-ears, blue eyes, tan skin, and red streaks on her cheeks. Her garb was a modest affair for her world, though still complex by conventional standards for a white jacket and blue pants. She even had that stupid twig at her waist. No. Not again. In contrast to the man’s utter shock, this woman seemed amused by his reaction, raising an eyebrow with a smile. After a moment, the healer realized he’d accidentally dropped his grapes into his lap.

“Godsdamn,” he muttered, quickly placing the food back on its plate before dabbing at his pants with a napkin. When he looked up again, he got another shock, for the woman he’d seen before now sat directly opposite him. “Ah! Oh, goodness. Er, my apologies, madam.”

“Are you quite alright?” she asked, her lovely English voice playful. “You looked at me as though you’d seen a ghost. Or is it love at first sight, perchance?”

Swallowing, the healer instinctively worried at his soul patch, clearly uncomfortable. His dark eyes were “Forgive me. You just so happened to remind me of…of someone I used to know.”

“Ah, a classic,” the catgirl smiled, though after a moment she tilted her head. With a slight squint she rested her head on her hand. “You know, though…there is something oddly familiar about you. Are you sure we haven’t met before, mister…?”

A tense second passed. Though it pained him profoundly, the healer shook his head. “I…think not, madam. Loathe though I am to admit it!” He gave a nervous laugh.

“Again with the ‘madam’. What am I, an old lady?” the young lady chided jokingly. “There is something about you…but I suppose not. I’m rather good with faces, so I daresay I’d remember.”

The man put on a wry smile. “One would hope.” He bowed his head in apology. “Again, sorry for the interruption. Please enjoy your meal.”

“I shall,” his acquaintance said, standing to leave. “There certainly isn’t anywhere else around here I can, by the Twelve.” The white-clad catgirl went on her way and, not wanting to distress the man further, headed past her original table to one farther off.

Meanwhile, the gentleman slumped down in his chair. A waitress stopped by, asking if everything was alright, and after assuring her he put in a new order. “One cheeseburger, please.” Once she left he removed his glasses, set them down, and rubbed his eyes with his palms. “Such illimitable torment,” he moaned after a few moments.

“What is?”

Startled for the third time, the man opened his eyes to see another familiar face. Dirty blonde pigtails, pinned-back bangs, camo atop a black jumpsuit. “Ah, Shania,” he muttered, putting his glasses back on. “It’s nothing.”

“Sure it is. Who was that?” When the gentleman didn’t reply, the young woman huffed and walked around the table.

“Just…someone I used to know,” he told her, his expression thoroughly morose. Shania raised an eyebrow as seated herself across from him, and he gave a dismissive wave of her arms. “It’s a long story.”

Shania crossed her arms, her expression a little annoyed. “Try me.”

The healer took a long, slow breath. This had never worked before, but why not? “Well,” he began, clasping his hands as he placed them on the table. “I first awoke in this world from darkness, finding myself imprisoned in a strange, ethereal gaol. After a time, however, I was freed to wander, anchorless and alone in this strange, new world.”

“I had but one thought on my mind,” he continued. “To reunite with my companions, with whom I had shared many an adventure, overcome countless ordeals, and even saved the world. With them by my side, I knew I could do anything. And yet, when I finally found one, I experienced soul-rending horror.” He narrowed his eyes, as if in pain. “He did not remember me. Nor did the next I chanced to meet, nor the one after, nor any of them. Not friends, nor even passing acquaintances I encountered. They recalled a face, a name, a history, but they weren’t mine. It was as if I had never existed.” Muscles going slack, he stared up into the sky. “I wandered the land like a ghost, alone and in despair. Trying in vain to rediscover and reforge all that I had lost. Everything I had ever known, or loved, or achieved, all those precious memories, even my very name… dust in the wind. I tried, and tried, but it was all for naught. Nothing could fill the void. Until the last I lived in fear of death, a broken man scrabbling for every second. Praying for more time.” A hollow, rattling laugh escaped his lips as his voice dropped to a whisper. “...If only I had known.“

Shania stared at him, her face a mix of surprise and bemusement. “Didn’t expect you to actually reveal anythin’. Guess everyone’s got a sob story, huh. Real cryptic, too. Can’t help ya, but I hope ya feel better gettin’ that off your chest.” She crossed her arms. “Now I’ve heard you out, maybe you’d like to return the favor, eh? You owe me, after all.”

“...Hm? What do you mean?”

“Look, jackass,” she said suddenly, curling her lip. “I risked my sparkin’ life tryin’ to get all those people out. We walked all day, and my feet are one more cetri from fallin’ right off. When’re you gonna fulfill your end of the snuffin’ bargain?”

The healer sighed again, annoyed by the girl’s lack of gravitas. “I’m afraid I cannot keep my promise.”

Shania blinked twice, taken aback. “You what? Ugh, I knew it, you double-crossing mudder! You promised you’d-!”

“After that bloodbath, do you really think you deserve-” he cut in, only to be interrupted himself.

“SHUT UP!” Shania yelled without warning as she stood, drawing looks from all around the restaurant. She looked around angrily, as if daring anyone to speak, before focusing her ire back on the healer. “You think I care? Whatever happened, you put me up to it! You came to me after those sparkin’ Seekers destoried me, then told me the only way out was to help you. You’re the one who brought those Consuls down on us! Don’t blame me just ‘cause you’re feelin’ regretful!”

The gentleman stared at her impassively, his grief replaced by stoicism. “I made a critical miscalculation. The shame of that truth weighs heavily upon me. Yet you lack even that, and still you shirk your complicity. You knew from the outset that you were selling them all out, but that did not matter so long as you got what you wanted.”

“We had a deal, and I did my part!” Shania gritted her teeth, seemingly on the verge of tears. “The spark do you know about me, anyway?”

Her acquaintance frowned. “This world is full of records. The Spirit Board was but one source. I know that you hate yourself. But that you also dread the thought of a futile, meaningless, permanent death.” He stared Shania right in the eye. “That you would do anything if it meant you got another chance at life. Was I wrong?” He then leaned back in his chair. “Twas a gamble, but you did it before. So I believed you’d do it again. ‘Tis the extent of it.”

That left the girl speechless for a few moments, but then her fire burned again. “That’s crap!” she spat. “How could you know that? You tricked me! I…I wouldn’t-!”

“Do you believe in destiny?” the man asked suddenly.

When Shania didn’t say anything, he took a deep breath and continued. “Every one of us has a path laid out before us. Or…perhaps I could better liken it to a river. Not a road we walk of our own volition, but a current that carries us along. We may believe we have agency, but we do not. Every choice, predetermined. Every outcome, ordained. Like it or not, believe or disbelieve, we are all helpless against the flow.”

He looked around at the other restaurant patrons, back to minding their own business. Their eyes all gleamed with the blood-red glow of lifelight. “Some more than others, I suppose. Most are as sheep, the wool pulled thick over their eyes. Yet there are those who can struggle against the currents–the destoried. Like you. Those from Alcamoth. And…hopefully, I.” Exhaling, he hung his head. “I truly do sympathize with you, Shania. How blissful ignorance would be. But I haven’t that luxury. I don’t have another life to live. I must achieve my goals -or get as close as possible- with this one. Before I get what’s coming to me.”

Shania took deep breaths. Though not extinguished, her anger had subsided. “So…what? Thought you’d rope me on in it? That we’re the same? ‘We’re not so different, you and I’, is that your game?”

“A foolish thought, maybe…” the gentleman grimaced, his eyes falling to his half-eaten grapes. “But…should we not choose life? We can do better. Be better. Rather than turn our backs, saying ‘next time’, ‘next time’, should we not seek the future we desire, starting today? With these lives?” His expression was pleading. “Only those who start today have a tomorrow.”

A quiet moment passed. Then Shania replied through gritted teeth. “There is no ‘we’. There is no ‘our’. You’re just projecting,” she snapped at him. “All I ever wanted was another go. You can stuff your ‘records’, I didn’t do anything until you used me.” Turning up her nose, she crossed her arms. “The life I have isn’t enough. Now, are you gonna kill me, or what?”

The man put his hand to his head. “Shania…I am sorry. If only you could remember. My dilemma comes down to this: I am loath to take the life of an innocent, and if you are guilty, you too must earn that release. You deserve better than this cruel reality, I know. We all do. So even if the light hurts us, we cannot wallow in the comfortable darkness forever. Not when that light may yet illuminate a future–a future that’s in our hands.”

Groaning, Shania plopped down onto her stool, then laid her head on her crossed arms on the table. “Spark’s sake,” she croaked. “I just can’t have anythin’, can I? I’m just not allowed. Why’s it always me?” Tears began to form in her eyes. “Standin’ here on my own?” She sat up in her chair suddenly, her face twisted in fury, though not helpless anger. “I’ve had it,” she snarled. “I’ve had it up to-!”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” a venomous, sardonic, drawling voice interrupted her. A pointy-eared man in black swept in, his garb streaked with pale gold and neon green, and seated himself on one of the stools at the table with the two survivors. His green-scaled tail curled up behind him; both his bejeweled horns and wingtips shone like emeralds. “To think you’d be so cruel as to keep the poor girl awake against her will! Surely you didn’t think any of these insects could ever relate to you? It’s even more sad than it is cruel–I’d laugh if it wasn’t so pathetic.” His look of utter condescension quickly morphed into one of glee. “Oh hell, I’ll laugh anyway. Bahahahahaha!”

In an instant, the atmosphere had changed. Goosebumps raced across Shania’s skin as she eyed the newcomer, a scowl on her face as she kept her hands hidden beneath the table. The gentleman, meanwhile, fixed the newcomer with a baleful stare. “...M,” he hissed after a moment. “I must confess, I’d rather hoped I wouldn’t see you again for a good while.” He pushed up his glasses, then put one arm on the table, wearing an imperious frown. “Is that really your true face? I must say, ‘tis a most fitting visage. Precisely how I envisioned you.” He stroked his chin, thinking. “An irredeemable, egotistic, vulgar arsewipe.”

“Ooh, aren’t we frisky today? That’s not like you, do I sense a crack in that stone-cold facade of yours? Hehehe…” M chuckled nastily. “I do like this look though. Once I saw you dressing down, I figured I might as well join in. And don’t you look dandy in that lavish purple getup!” he snickered. “Though I think red suits you better, S.”

Shania, her tears quickly dried, turned her wary gaze on the man of many promises. Unfazed by the namedrop, S simply snorted. “Then you truly don’t know me, M. Why are you here?”

M’s grin turned into a deadpan stare, as if S were ruining his mood. “Y’know, you really baffle me, S. All this time, I’ve watched you try and get close to these…things. You know they’re not people, right? They’re our food. Our playthings. It doesn’t matter if one thousand die, or ten thousand, or ten million. You pick your favorites, sure, but you don’t really care about them. And now you’ve gone and, well, basically gotten a ton of ‘em killed. How can you keep pretending after all that? All this make-believe really do it for you? I just don’t get it.” He shrugged, shaking his head. “Why play at being good? None of it matters. This world is a cage for the strong. A mind-numbingly boring prison. All these toys are here for just one thing: our entertainment. My entertainment. Maybe these flimsy bonds and fantasies of heroism are how you ease the tedium of existence. But not me.” M stood to his feet, spreading his arms. “So, to answer your little question, I’m here to entertain myself. I want to know how you really feel, ‘partner’. So let’s start with the look on your face…”

As he raised his hand, a vortex of wind energy began to form. Then he lunged at Shania, a miniature storm raging in his palm. “As I clean up your MESS!”

The air became a maelstrom of whipping, cutting windblades. They sliced through and bashed apart everything in their path, from the restaurant’s wooden furniture to the structure itself. Its patrons screamed in fear and as they were flung from their seats, streaks of blood flying from deadly gashes. For a moment everything was chaos, but just as suddenly as it arose, the squall subsided. The Last Stand had been reduced to kindling, and the innocent bystanders lay whimpering and bleeding on the ground. That included the cat-eared conjurer from before, and the waitress, who’d been on her way to the table with a giant cheeseburger that now lay in halves on the ground.

But when the dust cleared, Shania was still standing. While she had a high-tech revolver in hand, she seemed just as surprised as M. Around her shone a cube-shaped barrier of shimmering blue light in angular shapes, a pink glint sliding across its ethereal surface. After a moment it faded, and the four strange, bladed instruments that projected it from its upper corners floated back toward their owner. He looked at Shania, then across the remains of the Last Stand, his gaze finally landing on the burger. His burger. His eyelid twitched, and he took a deep breath, as if surfacing after a long time.

“I suppose congratulations are in order,” S declared, his voice loud and clear. He raised his hand, his catalysts faced upward as they began to rotate around him, and a wellspring of blue-green light rays bloomed upward. “I rather pride myself on being an even-tempered man. It takes a lot to get under my skin.” The light washed over every person in the area, instantly healing them to full. “I’ve long suspected your aim in tormenting me so,” he confessed as the catalysts moved in to place themselves on his back in a neat, diagonal stack. “With no mountain left to climb beyond ‘power’s peak’, you couldn’t help but wonder. If another Moebius might give you the rush you’ve longed for. So, well done. You’ve made up my mind for me.” He tightened his fist and held it over his heart. “I’m done waiting. Today’s the day. Though sunken deep into the sands of time, I may yet claw my way to the surface. You wish to discern my true nature? Then ready yourself. I shall elucidate you.” His catalysts sprang into the air, their blades faced towards his enemy. “M!”

M’s grin had only grown wider. “Heheheh. Finally,” he chuckled. “I’m going to enjoy this. Snapping your bones, squashing your hope, and slicing your idiotic bonds to ribbons. By the time I’m through with you, it’ll take this city’s entire Flame Clock to patch you up, heheheh-!”

He grunted suddenly as a bullet struck him in the forehead, snapping his head sideways. He looked back the next second, the wound barely more than a scratch with just a rivulet of blood trickling down, to see Shania standing next to S. That wasn’t all, though. Drawn by the chaos, a massive shape leaped from a walkway higher up, crashed down next to them with hand scythes drawn, and a looming raptor at his back. “Oi!” Vandham grunted, taking a fighting stance. He shook his head, but kept his eyes on M. “It never ends, eh?”

“...It may yet,” S replied, suppressing his surprise. “I will have need of your strength to finish this–this fell dragon’s reign of terror.” He assumed a stance as well, his catalysts dancing around him. “But you need not fear. My name may be dust in the wind, but I am a Sage, and so long as I stand, no ally of mine shall ever die.”

Shania gave a wry laugh and took aim, her revolver held tight with both hands. “We better sparkin’ not, or I’ll wring that long neck of yours myself.”

“A sage, hm?” A stone suddenly struck M in the chest, and he treated the conjurer who cast it to an annoyed eye roll as she ran up to join the group, her twig in hand. “Room for one more?”

For the first time in a long time, S smiled. “Now it’s a party.”

M flapped his wings and took to the air, his hands in his pockets as his tail thrashed behind him. “Send in however many weaklings you like,” he told them with a mad grin. “You think having friends makes you strong? I’ve got mountains of bodies behind me, rivers of blood fed by whole kingdoms, and I sure don’t mind adding a few more to the pile!” He held out his hands, and the air itself began to hum with power. “Show me a good time…S!”
Midgar - Sector 7 Slums

Giovanna, Susie’s @Archmage MC, Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Pit's @Yankee, Roxas' @Double Partitio’s @Dark Cloud

For the scrappers, militiamen, and citizens of Sector 07, this was a day worth celebrating. The Machines had come for them, the forces of DespoRHado seemingly hung them out to dry. Yet they triumphed, and without a single casualty to boot. People would probably be partying late into the night, already making the most of the peace they’d earned, for however long it lasted. With that peace came a bounty of new material, carved from the wrecks of the fallen by the salvage corps. Later on, they could motor on over to the battlefield outside Detroit as well, where plenty of loot no doubt awaited in the aftermath of that much larger-scale struggle. While Susie soon found that these Machine parts were almost unilaterally a lot lower quality than her own, they would suffice for the cityfolk down here just fine. For them, things were looking up.

For the Seekers, however, it was a hollow victory. They might not have known the two fallen members of the Rust Crew all that well, but the death of any brave soul fighting for the sake of others hurt. The loss of Poppi, however, was a different story. Tora’s partner had been there from the very beginning, preceding each and every member of this team by a long shot in their quest through Galeem’s dominion. She had been an indispensable ally, sometimes an indomitable protector, sometimes a breathtaking force of nature, but always a friendly, helpful face. Some of the others took the news hard, especially Zenkichi, who seemed rather close to despair for a moment. Of course, even compared to everyone else combined, Tora was crushed. The Nopon refused to speak to anyone, accepting no sympathy and offering no information about what happened to her. That duty fell to Pit , and he recounted the events of their pursuit as best he could for Susie and the others. Though they wove a grim tale, it ended on a positive note: Tora’s stated intentions to save Poppi. His plans to create a cure for the logic virus, find Poppi again, and fix her up offered a ray of hope, but the clouds that hung over the assembly of heroes were terribly dark and thick. To Tora, it felt like the weight of the world.

Before much longer, Giovanna decided to make an executive decision. Victory or no victory, this border-line boneyard was a miserable place out in the open, cold and dreary, full of foul, industrial smells and harsh noises. Everyone was tired, sore, dehydrated, and wounded to some extent, either in body or soul. She couldn’t forget about her soaked clothes either, and the combination of stares and shivering were beginning to get old. They all could use a warm place to rest and, should they be of age, a stiff drink. Something she’d seen just that morning seemed like just the ticket.

“Let’s blow this joint already,” she announced to everyone, raising her voice. “You treating us, Clarke? How about Seventh Heaven?”

The engineer waved. “Good choice. I’ve got work to do, though. Just tell the boss to put it on my tab.”

Giovanna nodded. “Sounds good. Let’s move, everyone.” As the troop started to get underway, bound through the rest of Scrap Boulevard into the slums proper to reach the bar, she noticed one member failing to move. “You…coming, Tora?”

He did not respond. One hundred percent of his focus lay on his computer as he struggled furiously with the profound intricacies of the Logic Virus. Giovanna sighed; she couldn’t just leave the poor guy here. “Can someone carry him?”

As they prepared to move on, Pit’s mention of the Walkie Talkie spurred her to finally do something she very much didn’t want to know. “Don’t know if it’ll reach,” she muttered. “But I’ve got a way to get in touch with them.” On the way to Seventh Heaven, with the team’s situation settled for better or worse, she made a second call. This time she contacted Goldlewis, and they exchanged a few minutes’ worth of terse conversation catching one another up. Her expression had not gotten happier by the end of it, and as the group neared the bar she steeled herself to spill the beans.

Once inside, the Seekers were greeted by a jovial atmosphere. People here were happy that Sector 07 had lived to fight another day, and as with any good celebration, alcohol was a hot commodity. Some of the defenders who helped hold the robots off at Breaker were here, and among them Giovanna spotted Tifa of all people behind the bar. The black-haired young lady looked every bit as stunning and composed as she did when the team spotted her that morning, as if she hadn’t just spent a solid half an hour crushing machines like beer cans with her bare fists in a fearsome display of martial arts prowess. She filled up the patrons’ beers and crafted their cocktails with well-honed expertise, serving with a smile, and when any eligible Seeker approached for a drink they received a warmer smile than most. While Seventh Heaven didn’t feature the biggest menu, it did offer some simple foods, so the team could indulge in some late lunch after their hard-fought battle as well.

Uninterested in anything and everything but his work, even food, Tora sat himself down in the corner by the jukebox. Once everyone else situated themselves, Giovanna relayed what she’d heard. “We’ve got some bad news,” she told them flatly. “Goldlewis and his team met Sakura and Raz in the tunnels outside Sector 05 during the Psych-OSF operation. However…” The secret agent lowered her voice a touch. “By the time they arrived, Peach had been transformed…into an Other. They didn’t realize at first and fought her for a while, but people from Seiran teleported her away. Then they ran into Karen Travers -the biggest name in the OSF- who said the Psych-OSF is to blame and Seiran might be able to cure Peach.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Goldlewis also said Karen warned him not to tell any non-Seekers about Peach’s ‘metamorphosis’. So…y’know, take that how you will.” If Giovanna had been on the fence about getting a drink before, she sure wasn’t anymore. Losing Poppi hurt, but Peach was the de-facto leader of the entire operation. Key word ‘was’. After what happened, was she gone forever? Could the Seekers bounce back from this? Well, they didn’t really have a choice, she supposed. What a shitty day, she thought, waiting in grim silence for her drink.

Seiran Hideout

Level 4 Goldlewis (58/40)
Karin and Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate’s @Archmage MC, Geralt @Multi_Media_Man, Benedict’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1663

Once the sandwiches had been distributed, Goldlewis took a seat in the kitchen-slash-dining room. With the windows beside the table, the presence of warm light versus the other half of the former clinic’s harsh technological blue, and the bedroom just an open door away, it formed the hideout’s most liveable space. After all that running around through both the Stilt Village outside Seiran’s reservoir and the labyrinthine tunnels themselves, not to mention the constant fighting, the big man was plumb tuckered out. He seated himself at the table for a much-needed breather, although he didn’t take any sandwiches himself. While he’d be the first to insist that the others needed to eat to keep their strength up, he ironically didn’t feel very hungry at all himself. Tempting as it might be to go out and buy a case of beer for the team, the veteran needed his wits about him to tackle the matter at hand, so he settled for nursing a cup of coffee as the Seekers began to grapple with the day’s events.

Blazermate launched the discussion with a flurry of questions. She seemed pretty overloaded by what happened, and Goldlewis couldn’t blame her. That collapsed parking garage -or whatever it had been- had been mayhem from start to finish, even when it had just been a fight with a big Other. Sina’s revelation forced the Seekers to switch gears right in the middle of a dangerous battle, with almost a dozen competing voices piercing the monster’s smokescreen as it continued to attack. Then the thing that had been Peach was suddenly spirited away, by members of the OSF’s Seiran garrison no less, and the Septentrion First Class showed up to drop a cluster bomb of poignant information that, in the end, just led to more questions. It all happened so fast, and Goldlewis could barely keep it all in mind himself.

Benedict summed it up, though. This wasn’t just random criminal or terrorist activity, no way. Something big was afoot. Luka’s analogy back in the underground nexus had been spot-on: Goldlewis felt like a fisherman aboard a boat in stormy waters, stricken by fear at the vague sight of something massive stirring beneath the surface. And right now, that something looked like Psych-OSF, although maybe not quite in the way Benedict described. “It ain’t the OSF actin’ independently from the Administration,” he pointed out after a slurp of coffee, nodding at Geralt. “It’s Seiran, and Travers it seems like, goin’ against the rest of Psych-OSF. An internal division…” That realization invited all sorts of conjecture, and none of them good. If the Scarlet Guardians, arguably Midgar’s mightiest armed force, were splitting into factions, that could mean a whole lot of trouble, with a whole lot of crossfire for innocent people to get caught up in. Like Peach. “Travers seemed mighty pissed about what happened. Maybe it’s the OSF proper that’s behind this metamorphin’ business–and why Seiran’s goin’ rogue in the first place?”

The reality of what Karen called ‘metamorphosis’ was one that deeply unsettled everybody. As Geralt pointed out, the ability for any faction -much less agents of a corrupt Administration- to permanently turn people into Others out of the blue, meant that anyone could be a target. The only question was how they did it, but only Sakura, Sina, and maybe Raz could even begin to answer that. The possibilities didn’t end there, either. Geralt even offered an outlandish hypothesis that this metamorphosis might be the Origin of all others, and Goldlewis quickly stepped in to set him straight before that could inspire any terror.

“Unless they’re somehow flyin’ thousands of folks all the way up to the Extinction Belt, turnin’ ‘em, and throwin’ em out across the city on the regular without anyone noticin’, that can’t be it,” he declared, pretty confident in his reasoning. That said, when it came to explaining the difference, he drew a blank. Other biology was an utterly foreign field to him. “Ain’t got a finger-lickin’ clue,” he admitted to his chagrin. So far he’d assumed the Extinction Belt was the source of the Others in the same way the Astral Plane was the source of the Chimeras, but the eyewitnesses' testimonies -and even the word ‘metamorphosis’- implied a transformation. “But if Others come from the Extinction Belt, maybe ‘they’ reverse-engineered the process?”

Some guesses were made about the motivations behind both sides. Even as the former Secretary of Defense, Goldlewis couldn’t say. With Shinra at the helm, his hand-picked cabinet on the job, and Konoe in particular as the veteran’s replacement, this Administration was a far cry from Vernon’s. One thing Geralt mentioned did seem like a certainty, though: that Karen Travers planned to act. “That man’s the strongest doggone psychic in Midgar, and a candidate for strongest, period. If anyone can get some kind o’ ball rollin’, I’m guessin’ it’s him.” He looked over at Blazermate. “That’s who the masked man was, by the by.”

External conflicts weren’t the end of the Seekers’ problems, though. Geralt had done some reflection, catalyzed by the spirit-suppressing light of the Cleansers in the subway, and spoke about his experience. “That ain’t good,” Goldlewis remarked when he was done, aptly -if a little offhandedly- summarizing the situation. “I never messed with one o’ them spirits myself, but Giovanna did. She didn’t change all that much, but she changed, and I noticed. Both the differences, and the fact she didn’t notice herself.” If these were changes Geralt didn’t anticipate, Goldlewis could only hope that the team could get a better idea of what they were getting into with fusions going forward. “Y’are whatcha eat I guess, so I reckon y’all oughta be careful,” he added unhelpfully.

When Karin thanked him for the food, he nodded absently. “You’re welcome, miss.” While some of the others were devastated by what happened to Peach, Goldlewis was no stranger to loss, and only a little less than a stranger to the princess herself, so he viewed her loss through a more practical lens. One casualty wasn’t that bad in the greater scheme of things, but the loss of a leader was a huge blow, and as Karin pointed out, losing defusion was a big deal too. In fact, he couldn’t help but wonder if Peah’s metamorphosis wasn’t a coincidence. How this happened didn’t seem as important as why. Sakura wanted to know as much as anyone, but her plan to find out more from the perpetrator had one fatal error: a detail she overlooked.

“...You mean, this one?” Goldlewis placed the spirit of the sniper on the table. When Karen threw it at the Seekers’ proverbial feet, likely as a peace offering, the veteran had been the one to pick it up. “We ain’t gettin’ much outta her like this, sadly.” He tugged at his whiskers. “...Still, the fact she’s with Psych-OSF is a start. No way in hell she was actin’ alone. ‘Why Peach’--that’s the million-dollar question.” Hopefully, Karin was right, and as long as the Seekers kept pushing forward, they’d find the answers -and the Guardian- they sought.

Before the conversation went any further, Goldlewis heard a magical tone, and reached up to answer his communication glyph. “It’s Giovanna! Scuse me a li’l bit while I take this.” He pushed up from the table and strove powerfully past the kitchen table, farther into the hideout. The SOU members engaged in a quick, concise relay of facts, with no time spared on sentimentality. After a few minutes, Goldlewis returned. He stood by the table, arms crossed, and gave his report to the waiting, expectant team.

“Good news is that Gio, Zenkichi, and the rest of ‘em succeeded in drivin’ off a Machine invasion. Workin’ with the locals, they managed to keep Sector 07 safe.” He took a deep breath through his nose. “Bad news is…well, they had a casualty, too. Poppi got infected by some kinda Machine virus. Flew deep into the Valley of Ruin, fell into a lake or somethin’. Details ain’t exactly clear. Tora’s beside himself, of course. Gio says he won’t do anythin’ but try and crack the virus to find a cure. The others are fine, and they picked up a new feller named Partitio on the way, but they’re takin’ the loss pretty hard. Headin’ over here after a stop in at a local bar, Gio reckons.”

A few minutes after that, something else confronted the team. They heard a knock at the door, but when they answered it, nobody was there. Instead, they found only a nondescript, honey-yellow shipping envelope Given the day’s events, even a sight as mundane as that got Goldlewis’ heart racing. “Careful!” he warned. “Could be anythin’ in there. Let’s do this right.” With utmost caution, and Goldlewis standing by with his energy shield ready, the package was felt. Nothing seemed to be in it other than a handful of plastic cards, similar to credit cards, and possibly some cloth. Given the unlikelihood of some sort of weapon, Goldlewis went ahead and opened it. Inside he found six plastic press badges, already imprinted with pertinent information. “Shinra v. Armstrong Final Presidential Debate,” he read aloud, both eyebrows raised. “Date, today. Time, nine o’ clock. Location, the Dendenmille Showcase Theater, Sector 06.” He turned a badge over in his hands, noting the bar and QR codes. “Sounds like someone wants us to be there.”

He put it down on the table beside the others, then tried to gauge the thoughts of the team. “I had half a mind to go myself some way or another, owin’ to who’s gonna be there. This just makes it easy. It’s a risk, but one I think we oughta take.” If the others had opinions on that, he’d be happy to hear them.

“Still, it’s a good seven hours ‘til then, at least,” he mentioned at the tail end of the discussion. “Surely there’s somethin’ we can do in the meantime.”

Underground Roadway

Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Raz’s @Truthhurts22

Hearts raced and chests heaved as the soldiers’ black armored truck got underway, burning rubber as it raced to leave the scene of the collapse -not to mention the Other’s metamorphosis- in its dust. Even as today’s extractions went, this had been an especially dangerous one, with plenty of confused, angry combatants on hand, and that barely scratched the surface of its abnormalities, or the day’s horrors in general. The back of the truck buzzed with conversation, totally oblivious to the presence of any stowaways, as it rumbled down an underground highway in a vast subterranean space beneath Midgar.

“Mercy me, did you see the size of that thing!?” One of the soldiers exclaimed in a husky female voice. She reached up and removed her helmet, allowing a huge amount of thick hair to fall down all the way to her thighs, a sky blue to cotton candy pink gradient. Her skin was pale, almost gray, and narrow white pupils stood out against black sclera. “Biggest one so far today for certain, the poor soul. You going to be alright, Crenshaw?”

The tall-headed man who banished the Other with his Transport powers lay sprawled against the front wall, his head lolled back. “...No,” he gasped after a moment. “I’m…completely wiped out. Can’t do any more. The rest…are on their own..”

“Damn bastards, how the hell can they do this to anyone, let alone their own!” snarled one of the brawny men who’d helped grab the one called Crenshaw. His scarred lips were curled, and his fists shook with anger, as if he couldn’t wait to tear the ones responsible limb from limb. “At least we have our answer. If they’re so scared of a Seiran rebellion they’re willin’ to go to lengths like these to put us down, we’ve got no choice. We’ll give ‘em all-out war!” The others voiced their vehement agreement in reply.

Another man had removed his helmet, his long, well-kept, gray-streaked hair complimenting a trimmed, point beard. “We can’t do anything just yet,” he cautioned them. “Especially after today. We’re scattered and broken.” He gave a dry smile. “Got to hand it to them. They’re every bit as well-organized and ruthlessly efficient as we feared. A massive operation like that, called in and set up in what, two days? Didn’t even give us time to pack.”

“How much do you think, Angelo?” the pastel-haired woman asked quietly. “Our losses, I mean.”

The patrol captain sighed. “Aside from the subway system itself? It’s impossible to say.”

“It’s terrifying,” a small female soldier piped up in a squeaky voice, clearly shaken. “The whole thing. We came down here in the first place because the Others would keep people away, but once they realized, a ‘clean up’ was the perfect excuse.” She held her head with both hands. “First the scouts to metamorphose entire squads, filling the tunnels with even more Others. Then the main platoons for extermination. God…”

Angelo put a hand on her shoulder. “Easy, Bennie. We saved as many as we could.”

The big man from earlier closed his eyes, leaning against the truck’s wall. “We shouldn’t be fooling ourselves, what we’re doing isn’t saving them. Alive or dead, they’re still Others at the end of the day. That isn’t livin’. We’ll have to step up shipments to even keep ‘em lucid, for pete’s sake.”

“Then we’ll find a way. The least we can do is keep them as safe and comfortable as we can until someone finds a cure,” the first woman murmured sadly.

Stern-faced, Angelo crossed his arms. “We’ll get there, no matter what it takes. Instead of doom and gloom, we should be focusing on what we have, which is all thanks to Crenshaw here. If he didn’t defect too, we wouldn’t even have a glimmer of hope.”

“It’s nothing. After seeing for myself what Suoh was becoming, there was no choice.” Finally recovered somewhat, Crenshaw hauled himself up onto one of the benches, holding on tight as the truck went around a corner. “I just hope none of the poor initiates from last night got caught up in all this,” he sighed. “First day on the job, and faced with their own allies turned into monsters. What a nightmare.”

Bennie glanced at Angelo, her eyebrows squeezed together. “Are…is Bruno taking us to Supernatural Life, then?”

He shook his head. “No. There’s no telling what people the OSF has snooping around, and we can’t take even the slightest chance of accidentally compromising it to the enemy. We’re regrouping at an emergency rally point to take stock of the situation, then dispersing. They need to believe they squashed us.”

The long-haired woman smiled bleakly. “Good, since that’s exactly what happened. If half of the survivors haven’t deserted by tomorrow morning, I’ll be shocked.” The comment elicited a nervous titter from Bennie.

“Patience, Luminita,” Angelo said, trying to keep a stiff upper lip. “We still have Karen. Once he makes his move, we’ll have all the people we need. The truth will set them free.”

After a while longer, the truck came to a stop at the rally point at the edge of the huge hollow, a collapsed expressway fortified into a sort of outpost on the borders of the Sectors 05 and 06 undergrounds. There were a number of Seiran garrison members there, and more would trickle in over the course of the next few hours -many on foot- before heading upside through secret, roundabout passages, mostly to their homes. At one point, a trooper arrived with a half-conscious Booger Sabbat suspended in the air by Aerokinesis, claiming it was his brother. Crenshaw, who had stayed behind with Angelo to recuperate while the rest of the squad dispersed, set back his recovery with the Transport of another Other. Then he laid back down to rest again, even more dispirited than when he started.

Home of Tears - Terminal Cafe

Level 10 Nadia (198/100)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, Ganondorf’s @Double, Ichiban’s @Truthhurts22, Rubick's @Scarifar, Artorias' @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1244

While at first the atmosphere of Terminal seemed more creepy than cozy with all the dead around, Nadia quickly got used to it. Though a little dim in here, it was warmly lit, with hanging lanterns and lightbulbs suspended inside urn-shaped baskets. The skeletons and zombies in here seemed to be friendly. For most of them, the coffee seemed to be an afterthought to the simple act of conversing; eager to chat, they talked with the eagerness of people eating their last meals, or perhaps saying their last words. All these living dead, the sort of monsters that a typical hero might kill without a second thought, just seemed like…ordinary people. Well, give or take a few unnatural eccentricities. Still, Nadia couldn’t help but be interested, both in the dead and whatever stories they might have to tell. Her eyes shone and her ears pointed every which way as she looked and listened in.

An undead blademaster recounted old war stories with a long-dead king, while nearby a a soft-spoken, purple-robed skelevangelist engaged a smart-mouthed skeleton in a friendly debate about the gods. Colorful Mariachis occupied most of the bar seats, downing espresso like tequila as they joked and laughed. A trio of zombie siblings, Rottytops, Abner, and Poe Cadaver, sat together on the second floor regaling anyone who’d listen with incredible tales about the lands they’d seen from their family caravan as long as they got coffees in return. Nadia spent a while listening to them, often smiling at the trio’s dynamic of energetic-but-mischievous, rough-but-responsible, and polite-but-weird. Two unusual zombies, the good-natured, huge-clawed Hsien-ko and the wise-cracking, guitar-strumming Lord Raptor, seemed to be on a date of some sort. Even Sargassos and Skuskets floated up by the lights around the second story, listening to the Cadavers or chattering amongst themselves.

The constant drone of the voices from all over melded together with the ever-present roar of rain outside, creating a shroud of peaceful white noise that Nadia found very relaxing. On top of that comfortable ambiance played the music of an old gramaphone, the soft, wistful, and hauntingly melodious voice of the singer, and her long, slow guitar notes, floating around and through the silent feral. Sitting there, with a warm coffee in her hand and the sounds of calm filling her, Nadia felt wonderfully at peace.

”We’re not dead
Suspended in a place of hush, not upset
Just puzzled by the sense of bemusement
It’s amusing losing all of our direction, now we’re lost…”

Nadia wasn’t sure how long she spent sitting there in Terminal, her tails gently swishing and curling behind her. She didn’t bother to count the seconds, and she did her best not to worry about P, or his powers, or the other Consuls, or the long road ahead. When the time came, her spirit would be shining bright, her smile fortified and made ever-present by moments like this. Her underwater siesta in Heaven’s Edge, had been one of these too, and the time she just stood there on a high-up boardwalk in Little Innsmouth, just feeling the heartbeat of humanity. Just the ambient feeling of life around her -even from the dead- filled her soul back up whenever anything got her down. This was what she was fighting for.

Of course, everything was better with company. At length Nadia found herself joined by a lady of stunning beauty, and at first the feral really didn’t recognize her. Only after a couple seconds did things click, enough commonalities gleaned from the woman’s appearance to hazard a guess. “Oh, Primrose!” she exclaimed with a slight laugh. “Eheh, I…I mean, you look good!” Having never seen the dancer before they made one another’s acquaintance in Twilight Town yesterday, she’d never gotten the chance to think of Primrose as anything but a brawny, primarily brunette street performer, clad in bright red, white, and gold. The sight of a high-society socialite, the pinnacle of elegance in a murky red dress and black feathers set against ginger-blonde hair, had therefore thrown her for a loop. “How’s it goin’? Since we last met, I think I became a cof-feline!” Primrose’s new changes brought Nadia’s mind back around to something she’d been considering earlier, and once the dancer received her coffee, she engaged her in conversation.

“I’m purr-etty sure I used to hate water,” she began, propping up her head with her arm. “Y’know, like a cat? But ever since fusin’ with the Oceanid and Massachusetts, I’ve been all about it. When I’m in the water, it’s like I’m in my element. Just feels natural.” She narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brows slightly. “But I know it ain’t. Makes me wonder, how much else about me isn’t…well, me? I can’t tell. Even havin’ three tails only felt weird for, like, a minute. There’s…uh, I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure there’s a word for not feelin’ right in your own body. But it’s like this fusion smooths everythin’ over. Better than feelin’ weird about it, I guess, but we don’t wanna lose sight over who we are, right?” She shrugged, smiling. “Right meow though, the thing I’m mostly losin’ track of is everythin’ I can do. My powers are already super open-ended, and now I’ve got a couple different Strikers on top of ‘em, plus these new weapons, and don’t even get me started on the Copycats! Whenever I gotta coordinate somethin’ with ‘em it feels like my poor brain’s gonna combust.” After a hearty chuckle she took a swig of coffee. “Gonna need to sort my shit out if we’re goin’ after more bozos like P, right? Can’t be satisfied with the consul-ation prize”

Eventually the Koopa Troop happened to pass by. Between the music, the rain, and all the undead talking in here it was pretty loud, so rather than chase after them, Nadia took aim and launched one of her arms on a rocket of blood. It sailed past the Koopas and plopped down on the ground in front of them, then turned around to point behind them. When they looked in the indicated direction they found the feral waving them over, and motioning for one of them to collect her arm for her on their way over. “Hey, guys!” she hailed them. Though grateful for some one-on-one conversation with Primrose in the cafe’s tranquility, she didn’t mind more company. Hopefully Bowser wasn’t too big for this place, and the kids didn’t make a scene. “Some of you went explorin’ or somethin’ earlier, right? Well get this: my map got bigger!” She spread out an updated map of the Under on the table for everyone to look at. If her break was coming to an end, then it was time to plan out the team’s next steps with its self-proclaimed leader.
Sector 07 - Breaker

Level 12 Tora (70/120)
Giovanna, Susie’s @Archmage MC, Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Partitio’s @Dark Cloud, Pit's @Yankee, Roxas' @Double
Word Count: 1085

The ride back to Midgar was a tense and solemn affair. Of the ten who set out on this trip, hours ago, only five remained. Two thirds of the Rust Crew were dead, and only Bo remained. The big man sat with a soldier’s composure, so stiff that his features may have just as well been carved of stone. He betrayed nothing, but his eyes said everything. Poppi had fled, her fate uncertain, and after her went Tora, Roxas, and Pit, their young hearts filled with determination. Yet this world was so big, and so dark, and its weight hung heavy over them, threatening to snuff out even the brightest sparks. Would they be okay? How would they even get back? Giovanna’s expression was grim. She’d have her answers once the storm was over. For now, she needed to focus on the road ahead.

Through today, Midgar had been the one constant. It loomed larger than any ruins, constantly visible from just about anywhere in the Valley of Ruin, and returning to it meant facing its unfathomable vastness head-on as the truck rumbled closer and closer. Though its manmade heights reached up towards the heavens, like a majestic mountain, Giovanna fixed her eyes on its base. Sectors 06, 07, 08, and 08 formed Midgar’s southern half, and of those Sectors 07 and 08 were the closest to the Eternal Apocalypse. Even from a distance she could hear the echoed rattle of gunfire and the percussive thumps of high explosives, and when she drove closer she could see the action itself. A robot army one thousand strong, just as Tora said, had taken an alternative route and now attacked the Sector 08 undercity. Hundreds of Bipeds, Fliers, Goliaths, and others marched through the wartorn wastes just outside the city limits. Shooters like the ones seen near the crane formed a large part of their ranks, too, and above them all towered the gigantic Tsar Runner, its huge guns, fists, and wheels able to tear and smash through city defenses like cardboard. But Detroit raged against the Machines. DespoRHado’s androids, both doll-like and blindfolded, fought with a variety of weapons alongside heavily-armed cyborgs and Unmanned Gears like Gekkos. Even the Tsar Runner found its match against a gigantic Metal Gear Ray, with wings like colossal blades.

Sector 07, though, had no PMC to stand up for it. Giovanna brought the team back to the Slums, pulling the truck to a stop among the undercity scrappers and militia rallying around the gutted hulk of a long-dead starship at the edge of Scrap Boulevard. Dubbed Breaker by the locals, it was their last line of defense against attack from the Valley of Ruin, and for good reason. The walls that still stood here could take one hell of a beating, and through the very center of the boneyard ran a deep gorge with lava at the bottom and a huge laser suspended from a track above, able to cut through any enemies trying to jump the gap. That meant four total positions to secure: the open center, where sharpshooters reigned, the right-side lower tunnel, the narrow right-side high crossing, and the left-side middle crossing where grenades worked wonders. Militia members had unveiled secret machine gun turrets, makeshift battle gear, and cobbled-together vehicles outfitted with whatever weapons they got their hands on. Once Giovanna’s truck ramped over the gorge, the laser blazed to life, and the slum defenders were ready to rumble.

Fortunately, the efforts of the Seekers had paid off. When the Machines came for Sector 07, their ranks were sorely depleted. The rain turned Breaker’s sand to mud, and while the defenders were ready for it, the Machines were not. Partitio, Zenkichi, Giovanna, and Susie all pitched in to mop the robots up. They fought alongside Isaac Clarke, who wielded an unassuming cutting tool to expertly part the Machines from their limbs with lethal efficiency one wouldn’t expect from your everyday engineer. Even Cloud and Tifa put in an appearance at the right-side tunnel, dispatching any rogue machines that attempted to sneak below with the help of a brawny gunner. Within half an hour, the steadfast efforts of everybody involved meant a decisive end to the machine threat. A round of victory cries, borne of a result that went better than anyone could have expected, quickly gave way to a mad scramble as the scrappers scurried to haul away the spoils of war through Breaker and back to the Salvage Depot.

After the fighting died down, Giovanna and the others regrouped in the forward command center. Though only a little better protected than average as far as areas inside the starship wreck went, it was the spot where the defenders kept their medkits, equipment, ammunition, power cells, and other supplies. Believing lives to be more valuable than hardware, Isaac wasn’t too bothered by the loss of one truck, especially when he learned what it had been used for. “Sounds like Sector 07 is in your debt,” he told the Seekers. “I can’t say you’ll be treated like kings or anything, but if you’re up for a round of beers sometime, they’re our treat.”

Giovanna nodded. “No sweat,” she told him breezily before addressing her teammates. “Scuse me while I make a call.”

She left the others to their own devices as she used her glyph to contact S.O.U. HQ. Tora, Poppi, Roxas, and Pit needed extraction, and she reasoned now -while the Machines’ forces were depleted- was the best time to send Mr. U and his Cargobob helicopter out over the Valley of Ruin. Just before noon, the chopper returned with the three boys, no Poppi, and a sorry tale to tell. Tora refused to speak to anyone after his arrival; he just hooked his toolkit up to a mechanical arm in his possession and started hammering away at his keyboard, muttering feverishly to himself. It was up to everyone else to decide where to go from here.

Abandoned Subway - Underground Nexus

Level 4 Goldlewis (55/40)
Karin and Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Blazermate’s @Archmage MC, Geralt @Multi_Media_Man, Benedict’s @Dark Cloud, Raz’s @Truthhurts22
Word Count: 2201

Though the fight against this monstrous thing had been a mad scramble in its own right so far, the introduction of billowing dust clouds to the subterranean parking garage turned everything to chaos. It wasn’t just that Goldlewis could barely see; he could scarcely even breathe. Every time he strove to fill his voluminous lungs, the cloud of heavy particles hanging in the air filled his mouth or coated his mouth, turning his tongue sandpaper-dry and his throat scratchy. Dust on his skin and clothes wasn’t nearly as much of a problem as the grit that quickly caked his glasses, turning the already-bad visibility downright awful.

True chaos, however, came from the sound. There were voices coming from every direction, both the effort noises of attackers and the pained outbursts of those who got hurt. Naturally, the worst offender when it came to din was the Other itself. Its screams were incredibly loud, so loud that they reverberated off the walls in here and made it hard to track the beast down. The metallic scrapes of its ribbons as they burrowed underground were the only warning the Seekers got before they erupted from below. Blocking skewer after skewer, Goldlewis wheeled around in the gloom, trying to find Sakura. Right now, killing this thing wasn’t as important as ensuring her safety. Not even a seasoned fighter could shrug off hits like that. But where was she? “Damn it kid, where are ya!?”

His shouts only added to the commotion, though, for the Seekers were in uproar. Their voices pierced through the haze in a wild tumult, chiefly concerned with the bombshell that a panicked Sina dropped on them moments before: that this monstrosity was Princess Peach. Blazermate confused herself into inactivity, first conflating Others with Chimeras and then likening this dangerous situation to a problem she was supposed to solve, but at least she managed to find and then focus on healing Sakura. After yelling back at her, Midna filled the dust-choked air with poignant questions nobody could answer, even if she did specify who she meant to ask. She fell back and began to call out suggestions, which Benedict promptly overruled, announcing the team’s options but providing no methods.

When Raz tried to read the Other’s mind, his brain suddenly filled with a terrible cacophony. It sounded like screaming, distorted as if by television static, but still woefully assignable to a familiar voice. Almost instantly he suffered a splitting headache. Suddenly, entering this thing’s brain -if he could even get the psycho portal on- seemed like a very bad idea.

Goldlewis could barely hear anything over all the noise. While looking around for his allies, he took a spiked ribbon to the back, eliciting a grunt of pain. Not far away Dexio, overwhelmed by everything going on, took one to the leg as well. He fell next to Sina, and with them both vulnerable Goldlewis stomped over for the sake of safety in numbers. “We got a man down!” he yelled hoarsely, though at this point he couldn’t even hear himself over the ruckus. These people needed to wait to run their mouths until after the Other was done impaling them. He sucked in as much air as his lungs could carry. “COULD Y’ALL SHUT UP A MINUTE AND HIT THE DAMN THING!?”

By now, the disturbed dust was beginning to settle. Midna was the first who managed to make it to the Other during the smokescreen, and she attempted to rinse and repeat the same strategy she used before. Summoning her Darknut upward right next to the Other, however, left it completely obvious -and wide open- to the nightmare as it emerged. The Other did not hesitate to rear up and slam its giant head down on the Darknut with the full force of a small building, as many times as it took to crumple its metal armor and bodily shove that undead juggernaut right back where it came from. Doing so, however, meant stopping its ribbon attack, and Midna’s palm strike helped keep its focus on her. It raised its backwards arm, contorting and cracking it into an unexpected position to strike her, but in the nick of time Luka blinked in. He brought its hammer down on the joint the Other just dislocated, and it let out a roar of pain as the material shattered compromising the already-damaged limb. “Stay back!” he told the others. “Let me handle-!” Whipping its head suddenly, the Other caught him with one of its antlers, slashing him across the chest. “Ugh!” He hit the ground, looked up to find its other fist descending on him, and blinked away not a moment too soon. In his place came Geralt, backed up by a mob of Strikers, who viciously mauled the Other with the bloodstained blade of the Orphan of Kos in a fit of unadulterated rage.

He dealt a ton of damage, but between himself and his Strikers he took a lot in return, and he’d need some serious backup. “Aw, hell.” As the others continued to attack, Goldlewis quickly let go of his coffin so he could reach down and help both Dexio and Sinah up. The former winced, and the latter took a moment to find her footing, but Goldlewis clamped one giant mitt on both their shoulders. “Listen, you two. Whatever happens, I ain’t gonna let anyone else die. There’s no way that thing’s Peach, it just ain’t possible. So let’s work together, knock that thing down, and figure this damn mess out. Okay?” He squeezed them. “Okay!?”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Dexio clenched his teeth, then pulled the ripcord on his jacket. Sina, silent and stony-faced, did the same. Their hoods popped up as they activated Brain Drive, their heads insulated in dark shrouds save for matching radial symbols in vivid crimson: a nut for Dexio, and a six-pronged snowflake for Sina. When Goldlewis ran in to help Geralt and the others, the two Cadets were behind him. He and Dexio closed in and joined the melee, with Sina running support. Working with the others, they laid in damage while blocking or avoiding its mighty but telegraphed blows. After a few moments, the Other slammed its arm down, then swept it across the floor at Goldlewis to trip him up. He jumped, airdashed over the sweep, and battered the creature’s chin -now at the top of its ‘head’- with an aerial coffin pound canceled into upward Behemoth Typhoon. As the Other leaned back from the blow, Sinah formed an icicle from the palm of her hand, then shot it at the upside-down chair in the monster’s gullet, shattering it. It reeled, and Dexio, mindful not to cause another cave-in with his Seismokinesis, instead forced a stone outcrop from the ground below its jaw to bend it even further backward, exposing the basket of pinecone flowers where its stomach should be. Luka warped in and whirled like a hammer thrower, building up momentum. Ice from Sina’s borrowed Cryokinesis grew around his weapon’s head, increasing its size threeful, until with a final shout Luka smashed the huge mass into the flowerbed in an explosion of icy chunks.

It went down, sprawled on the floor. Goldlewis instinctively took a step forward, coffin in hand, but Sina stepped in front of the fallen horror. “That’s enough!” she announced. “This Other is Peach!” Suddenly an orange light fell upon Goldlewis’ face, cast from behind her. Sina whirled around to see an energy field forming around the Other, a huge box formed of interlinking triangles. “Peach!”

“A transfer power?” With his Brain Drive used up, Luka stood with his hood off again as he lowered his hammer. “You need strong abilities to move something that size.”

Before most of those present even had time to process what was happening, the field shone, then disappeared. In a flash, both box and Other were gone. Goldlewis blinked a few times, then noticed some uninvited guests standing at the mouth of the paved northwestern tunnel. One, a masked man with a distinctively tall head in familiar red and black stood with his arms out, his chest heaving as he gasped from extreme exertion. He collapsed, and the soldiers to either side of him grabbed him by the arms to haul him into the back of a waiting truck. The sight left Goldlewis stunned–when did that show up? During the smokescreen? “H-hey!” he belted out, charging forward, but the driver put the pedal to the metal and the truck sped off.

“Wait!” Sina ran after the truck too, shooting and missing several ice blasts. “Where did you send Peach!?”

There came a greenish-blue flash. The familiar skittering sound of teleportation. But the person who appeared beside her wasn’t Luka. He stood at around six feet, dressed in gray, with pointed silver boots, and a long black coat with white fur trim, his hair and long jackal ears white as well. A silver mask adorned his face, and a triangular ruby hung from his neck. “Where are you going?” Major General Karen Travers asked her as he took her by the wrist. “You can’t run off during a mission.”

Sina attempted to wrench free, and the man let her. He turned to face the others as they approached, removing his mask. “Karen?” Luka asked, taken aback. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to protect you,” Psych-OSF’s first-class Septentrion replied. “You, and Peach.”

Goldlewis breathed in sharply. “You ain’t sayin’ that really was her?”

“What happened to her?” Sina demanded.

“She metamorphosed,” Karen replied simply. “She can’t change back. Not like this, anyway.” He slipped open one of his pouches and tossed a multicolored mote of light onto the ground. Pictured within was a Psych-OSF soldier, the same one Sakura saw moments ago, but with her helmet off–revealing the face of the raven-haired sharpshooter, Anya, that she saw yesterday in Anistar Gym. “This was the culprit,” he added.

Furrowing his blow, Goldlewis considered the situation without loosening his grip on his coffin. When Karen appeared his first impulse was to assume that he was somehow in league with the people responsible, but now he wasn’t so sure. “What’s goin’ on, Travers? That woman meant a lot to us. You better start spillin’ some serious beans, partner!”

“If she remains here, or is taken above, she’d be killed as an Other,” he told the Seekers evenly. “The only way to make her human again is to entrust her to the Seiran Defense Force. They won’t kill her. I can guarantee that.” He crossed his arms. “I can also guarantee that if you tell a single soul about what happened here, your safety is in jeopardy.”

Goldlewis bristled. “You sayin’ you’ll try to kill us?”

Karen shook his head. “Not me. Them. And they won’t ‘kill’ you.” From the way he enunciated it, it seemed unlikely he was referring to the Seiran Defense Force. “You must report that Peach was killed in action. Think hard before you act. And don’t trust the Administration. You’ll regret it if you do.” He took one final look around at everyone. “...It makes my blood boil, you know. It won’t be long before things start boiling over. If you’re the same…wait for my sign.” He held a finger to his lips, reminding everyone to keep quiet, and teleported away.

After a moment, Luka took a deep breath. “We have a lot to think about,” he said. “I feel like I just dipped my toe in dark waters. Without the slightest clue of how deep they go.” He looked around at the gathered faces, his misgivings plain to see on his own. “We should disperse. This op has no designated endpoint, and so everyone’s making their own way back. Psych-OSF won’t expect the troops back for hours. Be careful, everyone.” With that he, Dexio, and a shell-shocked Sina all began to make their way to the nearest rally point to get topside.

Goldlewis tugged at his whiskers, clearly agitated. “Guess we’ll debrief back at base? We got a whole lotta figurin’ to do before we decide what we do next.”

The direct route to the surface through the holes in the ceiling made the return journey to the Seiran Reservoir a lot simpler than the subway system would have. Light rainfall made the trip a wet one, but it was otherwise uneventful, and within the hour the Seekers had returned to base. Thanks to the efforts of Bridges, their hideout had become a home in its own right, with reasonably comfortable cots, medical supplies, training gear, water to drink, and some groceries. After what happened, Goldlewis knew that some of the others might not have much of an appetite, but he used the cold cuts to make ham and turkey sandwiches anyway. At this point, people had been bottling up their thoughts for a while, making their own connections and conclusions. He was waiting for -and perhaps dreading- someone to finally speak.

Home of Tears - Gallo Tower

Level 10 Nadia (196/100)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, Ganondorf’s @Double, Ichiban’s @Truthhurts22
Word Count: 1544

As bone-tired as Nadia was, nothing got the adrenaline flowing like a good freefall at terminal velocity. Her hair, her jacket, and especially her tails whipped in the wind as she plunged downward from the hole left by Ganondorf in Gallo Tower’s crimson clock face, which seemed to be a lot farther up than she would have guessed, come to think of it. Walking all that distance rather than climbing it must have led her to underestimate it. Would hitting the surface of the basin in the tower’s courtyard be much better than hitting the ground at this point? Not that the cavern’s ambient darkness and the fungal garden’s colorful but rather gentle glow made seeing the basin a piece of cake in the first place, either. Not my smartest idea, she was forced to admit. All these factors combined to wake Nadia up plenty quick as she plunged down through the rain, and with her train of thought chugging along full steam ahead, she hatched a scheme.

First, she steered herself toward the biggest darkest spot in Gallo Tower’s courtyard as best she could. Those luminescent mushrooms might not be bright enough to illuminate the water, but she could at least tell where they weren’t. Then she dispersed her blood limbs, and after pumping out a little extra, coagulated a trio of friendly Copycats to lend her a hand. Twisting around in the air beneath her, they grabbed hold of the blade case on Nadia’s back in order to plant their feet against it. “A-one, a-two…” It was a little tricky -coordinating a maneuver this complex with her clones made the feral feel like steam ought to be wafting off her cranium- but by the time she gave the signal, all three Copycats extended their legs together as if performing Fiber Upper. “A one-two-three!” Their combined power launched Nadia’s limbless body upward just prior to impact, and her momentum not only stopped, but even reversed a little. Still, gravity took its course, and as it did the doppelgangers promptly exploded into blood to fly back toward Nadia. She soaked it back up gladly, and the next second plopped gently down into the water.

Once underwater, though, she met with a different problem. She sank like a rock, and her copied limbs weren’t doing a great job of swimming. In fact, being submerged was causing her blood to diffuse into the water. It being shockingly cold didn’t help, either. For a moment Nadia’s mind filled with panic–she didn’t know if drowning was one of the kinds of death the Life Gem could prevent, having never cared to test that. Then a pertinent detail came to mind, and after rolling her eyes, Nadia rocketed toward the surface. She burst up from the basin, repelling the water beneath her legs of blood with the water-walking ability gained from Massachusetts. “YEESH, that’s cold!” she yelped, crossing her arms around her shoulders. As her breathing normalized, she slapped her copied palm to her face, which left a smear of blood. “My bag of tricks is stuffed so full I can’t even remember what I got half the time,” she sighed. Oh well. All’s well that ends well. She skated over to the edge of the pool and hauled herself onto terra firma. If nothing else, she was wide awake now. At least the water out here was refreshingly pure.

She took a good long breather, but eventually Nadia got to her feet. Ever since P stole her limbs back in the fight, she maintained feeling in them, and though she initially despaired of ever seeing her real arms and legs again something was telling her that they were close. By the time that the doors of Gallo Tower were thrown open and the Seekers emerged from within, Nadia had plundered the dumpster where P had unceremoniously tossed his stolen goods, and piled them up near the door. “Hey guys, look!” she called, hopping over on one leg with only her right arm reattached. “I found all our stuff! You’ll never guess what it cost me, though.”

“Oh, an arm and a leg? I get it! Thou art most humorous.” Barnabee said as he approached Though the battle against the Consul hadn’t been his fight to pick, he still possessed a vested interest in the Seekers’ continued existence. “It gladdens mine heart to see thee hale and hearty.” He squinted his black eyes. “...Though rather weary, truth be told. Didst the Consul truly pose so great a challenge?”

“He attacked us with a bed. But we made it.” After a giggle Nadia stuck her last arm and leg back on, then took a long, deep breath. No matter how hard she and the others tried to be ready for anything, nobody could have expected a fight like that. Though P’s high-density bedframe offered a full-on boss battle in its own right, the real fight began the moment that Consul showed off his special ability. The power to rewrite the past in order to change the present…terrifying. How did it work? Surely he couldn’t have just, say, gone back and killed them in their sleep? But it looked like the secrets of P’s power had died with him. It wasn’t just the heights team that returned, but the depths team too. While Junior, Kamek, and Ichiban looked a little worse for wear, they were here, and P sure wasn’t. “Dead?” she asked simply. When she received her answer, she gave a curt nod. “Figured. Sorry, Ichi. Either him or us, y’know.”

With a sigh she turned her attention to the group at large. “Everyone okay, more or less?” Gallo didn’t show up to see everyone off, but Nadia didn’t really care about him anyway. Even after severe poisoning, bug bites, stings, and a whole host of different wounds from the bedmech, everyone else still seemed to be alive and kicking. The good news didn’t stop there, though. Kamek’s crew came laden with a metric crapton of loot from P’s private stash, including a heap of geo for everyone present. Nadia was all smiles as she got to relish her favorite sound: the clink of coins that belonged to her as she slipped them into her pockets. Or in this case, her magic wallet. “Aw, you guys!” She dabbed at her eyes as if the raindrops streaking down her face were tears. “You’re makin’ me all cent-imental. We should throw you a cere-money!”

“Good fightin’ in there, everyone. Man, what a little bastard that kid was, right? Not to mention some kind of monster. I sure hope the ‘rest’ can’t pull sheet like that. As for me, you can just call me roadkill, ‘cause I’m dead-tired. I’ll feel a lot bedder once I crash back at hotel.” She vaguely remembered Jesse saying something about ‘sleep schedules’, but was that really a thing? It sounded like some fancy-shmancy baloney parents tell their kids to make them go to bed on time. She needed sleep now. It was always dark underground anyway. “What time’s it now, lunch or somethin’? Let’s meet back up around dinner and figure out where we’re headed next. Got two more masks to find, and a whole Under to find ‘em in.”

True to her word, Nadia crashed the moment she got back to her room in Habbo Hotel. There was some sort of big kerfuffle in the lobby -Nadia heard snippets of conversation about ‘food poison’ and ‘hospitalization’- but she couldn’t bring herself to deal with it before having a nice long snooze. When she awoke, her bedside clock said quarter to five. Groaning, she tossed and turned in bed, but ultimately decided to get up. Not even close to a full eight hours, but it would have to do. At least she could be pretty confident that she didn’t miss anything -in addition to being pretty in general- since even if the others didn’t sleep, they couldn’t possibly do anything substantial in the state P left them in. Maybe someone found a clue about the next boss on the Seekers’ list, though, or a better way to traverse the Under than surfing through giant intestines. Only one problem: how was she going to find everyone?

After thinking for several minutes straight, Nadia left the hotel and headed toward the bridge linking Home of Tears’ downtown to Fountain Central, though she didn’t cross it. That point was one that everyone going in or out of Downtown would need to cross. As it happened, a cafe had been erected right there to take advantage of the foot traffic that came as a result of that very fact, and Nadia could think of no better place for an exhausted Seeker desperately trying to stay awake to go. Called the Terminal, this cafe seemed very popular with the undead in particular if its clientele was anything to go by, but they welcomed the living just as well. With plenty of moolah to spare, Nadia ordered herself a coffee with plenty of cream and a plate of scones, then sat near the front to keep an eye on the comings and goings nearby. Hopefully this wasn’t just some harebrained scheme, and the others should pass by sooner or later.
We've already had some dealings with the Royal Waterways down there and they're not that spooky, but we could say that Artorias wandered up from a lower region beneath him like Riverdeep. That would cut down on the waiting and give us the chance to meet him sooner. Who knows, maybe Rubick could run into him or something.
Done ×D

The sheet's good. Partitio isn't quite the level necessary to start playing him yet, but we can think about where to put him. You wanted him to go into the Under, right? Once we're done with Gallo Tower we'll also pretty much be done with the Home of Tears, and King's Station stands ready to take the Seekers to a variety of locations throughout the Under afterward. We could put him Artorias in one such location that might better suit him than the Home of Tears.
Road to Ruin

Giovanna, Roxas’ @Double, Pit’s @Yankee, Susie’s @Archmage MC, Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Partitio’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1544 (+3)

Drawn by the commotion, Pit kicked high off the robot he was currently tangling with to glide toward the overturned truck. Poppi shot off through the air, and as Pit touched down he looked from the direction the artificial blade was heading to the petrified Marshall, then to Bo, Tora and Giovanna with confusion plain on his face.

Roxas spotted Pit in mid-glide and decided to follow after him, reasoning that the angel had a good idea of where he was going thanks to being higher up. When he got there, he heard Giovanna calling for him and he could immediately see why. One of the scrappers was in bad shape. But at the same time, there were still machines around and Roxas wasn’t sure it would be a smart idea to go into another battle without any of his magic. But he did have something else.

”Here.” Roxas said, jogging up to the downed Bo and holding out one of his two Hi-Potions, ”Try this, it should help you out.” The soldier didn’t think twice before accepting the aid, sighing in relief as his health was restored.

"What's going on?"

Out of the new folks present, only Big Bo could really offer any sort of an explanation. "The Machines have infected her," he told the others, his expression grave. "She's losin' control of herself. Y'all saw what happened to Cain, poor sonuva bitch. When it finishes she won't be your friend anymore. Just another mindless, bloodthirsty Machine!"

"No!" Tora yelled, beside himself with worry and anger. Why weren't these people helping him already!? "Even if Poppi sick, Tora can fix for definite! Just need get to her, fast as Tora can!" Tears pooled in the corner of the Nopon's big, dark eyes. "Please!"

Having been called over by Tora, it took a bit for Susie to make her way there as she had been overseeing most of the battle, having been raining down artillery fire from afar. Thanks to this however, she saw Poppi fly away, and when she got to the group, she could hear some of the talk about what had happened to her. ”Hm… A corrupting virus that turns robots into servants of this Ever Crisis? Thats concerning…” Susie said.

So that's why she'd flown off? If something was wrong with Poppi, they needed to help. Pit nodded, on Tora's side.

"We have to go after her!" Though saying that, there were a large number of machines still heading toward their destination. When that fact suddenly occurred to Pit he hesitated to head toward the Tallneck, turning to look at Giovanna with wide eyes. "But what about the people in Sector 7 if the rest of the robots reach Midgar?"

With lips pursed and eye narrowed, Giovanna brushed strands of wet hair off her face. Right now the unflappable secret agent didn't look so self-sure. "DespoRHado might be too busy with their own robots -or too negligent- to help them." She jogged over and pressed her shoulder against the overturned truck, trying to right it, but she wasn't strong enough on her own. "We can't just leave all those people to fend for themselves."

Without a word the simple merchant had taken a spot by the agent needless to say anything but exchange a look of understanding "Ummph…" Partitio's face scrunched up as he pushed with all his might against the truck, he was sweaty and his clothes were no worse for wear after fighting more machines than he could count on his fingers and toes but he still was as hale and hearty as the day he was born. Though even with his help the truck only budged slightly no matter how much elbow grease he put in it.

After staring for a moment, Tora shook his head and took off running for the Tallneck by himself, his wings flapping like scarves behind him. "Meh meh, meh! Tora not care!" He cried. "Tora nothing without Poppi. Not in fight, nor as friend. Poppi only reason anypon care about Tora at all!" He splashed off into the rain, intending to climb the towering machine lifeform by himself if nobody helped him. "World not mean anything to Tora if Poppi not in it!"

"Tora!" Roxas shouted, but to no avail. He started to run after him but paused to shoot a quick glare at Giovanna, "I can't believe you'd just abandon her like that!" and then took off after the little mechanic without even waiting for anyone to respond. In doing so he missed the secret agent’s exasperated expression, but she made no reply–the last thing the team needed right now was more drama.

Roxas was a lot more spry than Tora, so it didn't take long for him to catch up. When he did, Roxas snatched the little guy up and let him hang onto his shoulders, "You won't get there in time on your own, so hang on!" And then he picked up the pace, pointing one of his Keyblades forward and firing a Blizzaga spell. The ice projectile shot forward, leaving behind a thin line of ice for Roxas to grind on, propelled forward by flowmotion with Tora still in tow.

The merchant paused a moment to wipe the sweat off his brow with the cuff of his sleeve but it was enough to try and call after the engineer and the boy "There…Are lives at stake kid, we can't just run off willy-nilly-" Partitio tried to call after them but his words fell upon deaf ears, sighing he looked to the agent "Someone should go with those two, try and talk em' down afore they get themselves hurt…Unnnnnngaah!" the merchant slammed his shoulder against the truck along with Giovanna's strength to budge the vehicle just a little more.

Zenkichi, having followed after Partitio, still in his Phantom Thief attire but much less visibly frenetic than his Wolf persona, helped join the group attempting to right the vehicle, groaning exhaustedly as he pushed.

Pit went to the truck, helping everyone to get it upright with strength belied by his figure. Once it was back on all four wheels he stepped back, panting and wiping the rain from his face.

He didn't think they were abandoning Poppi, as Tora and Roxas seemed to believe. They'd come out there to protect Midgar, and their mission wasn't complete yet - that was all. They were fighting for the greater good and all knew the potential danger.

But Tora's words resonated with the angel. If he was in the nopon's place and Lady Palutena was in danger, he'd do the same whether anyone helped him or not. Pit clenched his fists and turned away from the truck.

"I'll go after them," he said, but it wouldn't be to dissuade them. "We can't just leave Poppi alone if she's hurt. Tora said he can fix her!"

He darted off after Tora and Roxas, making use of the ice path the latter left behind.

”You do that!” Zenkichi waved after him, not at all sarcastic despite the word choice. Turning to those who’d remained, he sighed. ”Damn kids. Always so…sure of themselves. Not that I blame them,” he quickly added, ”But there’s more at stake. And somebody might need to talk to Tora about that uh…unhealthy codependency, I think the kids call it nowadays?” Shrugging, he gave his shoulder a good turn and looked back on the remaining Machine horde.

”We should, uh…probably do something about that.”

”Yes. The horde was cut down to 10% of what it was though, so the rest of us should be able to handle it. ” Susie said, taking a look through the battlefield rubble and taking what she thought might make for some decent parts before joining the team that would finish off the rest of these robots.

After Roxas scooped him up and paved the way to the Tallneck with a pathway of magic ice, Tora reached his destination lickety-split. Flowmotion proved as effective scaling the mechanical creature as it did reaching it, too, so with minimum possible downtime he plugged his toolkit back into the Tallneck’s processor and assumed control. Though this beast was made for measured, lumbering strides, the Nopon had managed to coax it into a run earlier to keep up with the truck, but right now nothing but a gallop would do. Once his upload reached its system, the Tallneck took off as fast as it could go, or perhaps even faster. Tora wasn’t afraid to sacrifice this machine for the sake of his own. With Roxas and Pit aboard as backup, the three headstrong youths charged off into the rain, their ride’s massive strides making up for what it lacked in raw acceleration. Whether the others retreated to Midgar to head off the Machines or attempted to destroy the rest right here was their prerogative. It fell to these three to be Poppi’s saviors.
Vs Moebius P

Location: The Home of Tears - Gallo Tower
Bowser and Rika’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, Ganondorf’s @Double, Ms Fortune
+3 EXP

Moebius P did something. An abundance of bug bites and stings appeared on his enemies’ bodies, itching, burning, and hurting. Bees, mosquitoes, ants, spiders, all had apparently gotten a piece of the Seekers at some point in the past. “Hahahaha!” he cackled. “And that’s just a sneak peek. Let’s play another round, worms.” P slammed his fists together, then put up his dukes. “And this one’s for keeps!”

”Yeah it is, because that’s your third phase, and that means it’s your last! Probably” Bowser retorted his scales again letting him shrug off minor pains and wounds. Rika, not so much.

”Itchyyyyy! Itchy itchy itchy I hate him so much!” the ship girl cried out in frustration and anger as she tried in vain to scratch all the bite wounds she had on her, something made rather tricky by her remaining gauntlet. ”Less talking, more sinking him!” she demanded, before adding a belated ”Please!”

”Hmph. Power over time wasted…” Sectonia said, able to tough out the numerous itchy bug bites much like Bowser. While big, the two royals were also tough, so little things like this wouldn’t be as much of a bother.

Gritting her teeth against the itching and pain, Nadia forced a grin. This goon really had played his best trick first. “...That your true face, P-brain? Sucks to be you then, ‘cause you look like a chump!” She sprinted towards him, dragging her boxcutters’ blades behind her along the stone in a shower of sparks. “And you’re about to lose like one, too!”

What did P do? One moment Nadia had leaped toward him, and the next she wheeled wildly in the air, all four of her limbs, gone. She blinked. “Huh?”

“You saying something? Hahaha! Good luck hitting me with no arms or legs!” As the feral flew toward him helplessly, P wound up his arm for a massive punch.

Instead Nadia blasted out blood from her stumps, speeding through the air in a corkscrew of blood. “You really haven’t been payin’ attention!” With larger-than-life Copycat arms of blood she executed an enormous Claws for Concern cross slash, then landed on top of him. “B-negative all you want,” she taunted him, holding his face with one copied hand as she manifested a Purrge of Vengeance with the other. “You’re in for A-positive beatdown!” With a slightly crazed laugh she planted the orb in his face. The ensuing bloody explosion sent her flying and left P momentarily blind.

That made him a sitting duck for a flurry of shells launched from three of Bowser’s shell turrets (the king taking a broadside angle to unleash this fire power) and Rika’s two rigging ones, which between them unleashed a veritable coastal bombardment of firepower … right up until P did something, and the next volley of the barrage launched confetti instead of warship ordinance.

“Nice party poppers, losers!” P gleefully hollered at the pair.

”You! Why! I just bought that ammo you whoreson!” Rika cursed him, the brat’s antics getting her every time, before demanding ”Give him the spikes Bowser!”

”Language!” Bowser chided her, even as his belly hit the deck, and sent the spikes on his shell flying up in an arch to rain down on P like rocket artillery. He raised his arms above his head to block them, mildly annoyed.

Jesse strafed along the back lines. Her Health was strong enough that the effects of stepping on plastic bricks and getting bitten by bugs were minimal. With the big mech down, they just had to power through Consul P’s final form and his time distortion shenanigans. She didn’t want to lose the Tool Gun, and Rika and the others had helpfully demonstrated it was trivial for Consul P to disarm the Seekers. Fortunately, Jesse didn’t have to worry about losing her Service Weapon. It was bound to her. Not only did it spend most of its time in the Astral Plane, even if he could get his grubby hands on it, it wouldn’t go well for him. Staying on the ground to draw less attention, she began charging up a Pierce Shot while he was distracted. Then she aimed it, took a moment or two to line up the shot, and fired one his way. A superheated punch to shut him up for a second. The sniper shot blindsided him, knocking him over and forcing him to struggle back to his feet.

While the other Seekers put on a show in front of P, in true rogue style Therion slipped around behind him. He flipped his new dagger Bronllavyn in his hand and then dashed forward. He struck P a few times in quick succession, scaling his large body. The dagger attacks were meant to distract from the frisking that Therion was doing, his ability to "Steal" mid-battle being utilized to try and put an immediate stop to the demonic Consul's time-travel tricks. Therion backed off as soon as he'd nicked something, but glancing down at his hand while P turned toward him it was clear that this was not the time displacer he'd been seeking.

Therion stashed the Friend's Yo-Yo he'd stolen by habit as a sudden pain lanced through his back and one side of his body. One leg crumpled beneath him and he fell to the ground, gritting his teeth. Stupid little bug bites were nothing compared to this familiar pain.

"Feeling at the end of your rope?" P snickered, raising a foot to squash the downed thief.

So what, he'd followed Therion down into the waterway and cut the rope he'd used to climb down into the Junk Pit earlier? Frankly the thought incensed Therion. He summoned the junicorn in front of him to block P's attack, the iron ball demon standing firm and then firing the lance in its head point blank at P. With P pushed off balance and left flailing thanks to the armored critter’s intercession, he took the metal rod right to the belly. “Ooooogh!” he groaned as he grabbed hold of it with his hands. With a pained whine he went to pull it out, only for it to vanish along with the junicorn. Not willing to beat around the bush any longer, he raised his fist to smash Therion flat.

Sectonia then intervened, using her swords and chaos shield to protect Therion from being punched into oblivion. Consul P was quite the hideous creature, and hideous things had no place in her kingdom. And for something like this to control time? Well, putting this one down was a goal. Perhaps even prevent him from teleporting? With a parry of his fist, Sectonia then struck him with a mighty thrust from her rapier only to find… it did nothing? No… What was this? When did she make a rapier out of balloons?

“Have fun with that, you circus freak!” P sneered, turning his attention to Sectonia. His breathing was heavy, almost ragged, but when had he been exerting himself?

”Hmph, most troublesome…” Sectonia said, putting away her balloonified sword to throw a void globule at Consul P. The time she took to stash the replacement gave P a chance to get going, however, and though he took the void globule head on as he leaped at her, Sectonia took a brutal punch to the head right after. If only P was in good enough condition to follow up on that. Still, it was effective enough to get the bee queen off him, Sectonia’s size making her an easy target.

Despite having been rescued by Bowser’s striker spirit, that didn’t stop Ganondorf from being incredibly winded and even a bit stunned by the experience of being launched as he had been. Despite having been back in the tower, he had to spend several moments catching his breath and getting reoriented. And then his anger rose, and rose, and rose some more. To say he was absolutely livid would have been a massive understatement. He reached up his hand to wipe sweat from his brow. Then he clenched that hand into a fist and the Triforce began to violently glow bright. He’d had it with this. He was going to end this, one way or another, even if he had to bring the whole goddamn tower down to do it!

P wasn’t the only person here who could transform. The King of Evil’s body began to swell and grow until it dwarfed even Bowser in size. A snout grew from his face and massive ram horns grew from his head. A reptilian-esque tail appeared behind him and his booted feet became bovine hooves.

Ganon announced his presence with a rumbling roar and then used Dark Breath to aim a beam of energy from his mouth squarely at the transformed Consul. And just like that, all hell had broken loose.

“Eek!” With a surprised cry, P threw himself out of the way of the beam. He hit the ground hard, clipped by the warlock king’s ray of oblivion, then rolled over onto his back, panting as smoke rose from his body. It wasn’t just Ganon facing him down, either–after each of the heroes gave the Consul a piece of his mind, they’d gathered up into a semicircle to back him into a corner. Primrose, Sectonia, Bowser, Rika, Therion, Jesse, and Nadia closed in with their weapons at the ready and their magic alight, ready to finish this. The collective looks on their faces, stormy and glowering, all told the same story: that whatever semblance of leniency they’d been planning to offer him had been expunged by the boy’s shameless stream of dirty tricks. Their merciless scowls convinced P that they wouldn’t even give him time for a final monologue, let alone an appeal to their better natures. And that bloodthirsty boar monster? If he even had a better nature, he was well past the point of reason. It was now or never.

So P did something.

In an instant, Seekers one and all were gripped by a terrible, all-encompassing fatigue. Their energy -and their fighting spirit- drained from them like water into sand. It felt like weights hung from every limb, their eyelids begged to close, and just standing became a chore. It felt like none of them slept so much as a wink the entire night.

“Ha…ha…ha!” Across the weary bunch rang out gloating peals of laughter, although the Consul’s mirth sounded a little infirm. Wobbling like a sleepy toddler, P held up a taunting finger only with great effort. “I…went back. Stomped on the floors. Banged pots and pans. Drums, horns…kept you all up all night long!” Grinning, he balled his fist, only to drop it again in a limp, pitiful swing after an unsteady half-step forward. It took a moment for Nadia to reach the obvious logical conclusion: that the Seekers weren’t the only ones who stayed up all night.

She sank to one knee for a quick breather, fixing the Consul with a gleeful grin. “You really are a P-brain!” she told him. “You…we…I’m too tired…for anymore puns.” Gritting her teeth, she seized her boxcutter and prepared to move. “So say goodnight!”

P staggered backward, slumping down against the wall. Wildly he looked over at the beach, but the machine had already disintegrated. No Mecha-Porkies remained, and Those Who Slithered in the Dark had never appeared. Everyone might be bone-tired, but he was grossly outnumbered. So P did the only thing he could do.

“...You didn’t win!” he cried, and he disappeared.

A moment passed before Nadia let out a great big sigh. “Ugh. Right.” With a yawn she put away her boxcutter blades, then stood there for a moment, trying in vain to rub the sleep from her eyes. Her hand being made of blood at the moment didn’t help. “Guess it was always gonna end like this,” she muttered, remembering the plan. “Up to the others now.”

Jesse disappeared her Service Weapon with a victorious nod and pumping of her other fist. “I must admit,” Jesse said with a yawn. “I’m impressed with his dedication to do that all night. Wonder what that was like. Did he have to do it individually for everyone, or just..?” She shrugged, too tired to entertain the hypothetical.

“Eh, whatever. Now, it’s been a while since I haven’t slept all night, but I’m pretty sure it’d be best to avoid the instinct to take a midday nap, and just power through to the next night? Otherwise your sleep schedule’s fucked.” Jesse advised.

With a mighty yawn, the queen held her hand to her mouth to stiffen it, ”If we are going to power through a restless night, I would suggest we find some coffee.” Sectonia said, weary of P. ”If the other consuls are this petty, they all seem like they will be sheer annoyances to deal with.”

Therion handled a sleepless night better than most, but he remained where he was on the ground while the other decided what to do now. He shifted into a more comfortable position on his uninjured side, looking much like he was just lounging there with his cheek propped up on his hand while Jesse's infectious yawn passed to Primrose. The dancer tried to stifle it with her palm before she said her piece. "A rest would be good at least, but it doesn't feel right leaving the tower before making sure the plan succeeds... and that Kamek and Bowser Jr. are okay." It went without saying that she didn’t even want to attempt to rest while still inside the tower either.

”Unfortunately rest would be a bad idea for me for a different reason. If team B needs support, I’ll probably be summoned… Although I wonder what information we could even get out of Consul P with how childish he is…” Sectonia said tiredly, rubbing the spot on her face she had been punched.

”ARGH!” came the sudden bellow from Ganondorf. Whatever that miserable cretin had done it somehow undid his transformation! No! There was no way that form could be stopped! How?! How had that brat done it, especially without wielding the Master Sword? It didn’t seem possible that Ganondorf could be fuming any harder, and yet somehow he found a way to be even angrier.

”Where are you, you little creep?!” he shouted, unwilling to accept that the Consul had escaped, ”Moblins!” he barked, glaring as his five moblin archers assembled before him. Somehow all five had managed to avoid being killed by the transformed Consul, probably because he had been so focused on the other Seekers. ”Search for him! Tear this tower apart and burn it to the ground if you have to. I don’t care what you have to do, but FIND! THAT! CONSUL!” And at that they scrambled and scattered into the tower to begin what could very well be a fruitless search.

“Relax, Ganondorf.” Jesse said with a suppressed laugh. “This was always the plan, remember? The others can handle the rest. And If you’re having trouble choking down humble pie, just remember that everyone in the world- every world- got obliterated by Galeem.” She said. “That’ll make you feel better...?”

There was a barely suppressed snicker from the poncho clad thief from where he lay, having made use of one of his potions of healing and now waiting for it to kick in.

Whether or not the others put up a fuss, Nadia was more than ready to call this place quits. Just walking back down to the entrance and getting outside again sounded like a lot more of a hassle than dealing with Moebius P in this condition. Plus, her blood limbs could give out any second, and though getting carried all the way sounded pretty nice, even she wasn’t that selfish. Eyes bleary, the feral glanced up at the crimson clock face, through the hole left by Ganondorf’s bedspring-assisted defenestration and into the rainy dark. It occurred to her that the basin in the fungal garden in front of Gallo Tower had been pretty deep. Some fresh water would definitely perk her up a bit.

“...Goin’ down.” With a grin, Nadia blasted off like a bloody rocket, and disappeared into the Home of Tears’ eternal night. Whether the Seekers meant to meet up with the other crew, take out frustration upon Gallo Tower itself, or get some much-needed rest, the first step would be much the same for everyone: getting out of here.

Edinburgh MagicaPolis

Level 8 Big Band (78/80)
Ace Cadet’s @Yankee, Red’s @TruthHurts22, Mewtwo’s @Double
Word Count: 1922

Not knowing the manner in which Red planned to ferry the team to the Aether Resort, Band readied himself for anything when the Seekers gathered at the icy lakeside railing once more. He did remember how the superhero got everyone up to the twenty-sixth floor of that absurdly large library the Noumenon, but without a solid way for Red to himself across this lethally-cold water, just forming everyone else up into a giant hand couldn’t possibly suffice. Luckily, Red had another trick up his sleeve. All of a sudden, waves of pressure began to radiate from the masked man’s position. They were as penetrating and palpable as amped-up bass through a concert hall. The hell’s this guy doing? he thought, sighing as he steeled himself. “Feet, don’t fail me now.”

The next moment all four shot into the air as if fired from a circus cannon, surrounded in multicolored light as they sailed through the frigid arctic air. “Hoo-ly smokes!” Band yelled, his words lost in the wind. It took two mechanical arms to keep his hat from flying off to kingdom come, and he felt his breakfast turn in his stomach as he watched the ground recede beneath him. The real trouble, of course, came when it started to approach again. “Red?” As the group’s majestic arc turned to freefall, just a little bit of panic set in. “Red!?” The detective’s eyes went wide as saucers as the team hurtled toward the Aether Resort’s helipad, no signs of slowing down in sight. “RED!?”

They landed safely, and in Red’s case, stylishly. He came pre-packaged with snappy poses and an inspirational mission brief, while for Band, it took a moment longer for him to collect his breath–and his wits. He quickly realized that he didn’t have that moment, though. Following L’s arrival here, her Galaxy transport ship remained parked on the landing pad, and even after ten minutes a few Aether Foundation employees remained here, either as technicians or just guards. They’d watched Red’s stunt the moment it started, and now here the four stood right in the midst of five white-clad personnel, all stock-still and staring at the newcomers with a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and alarm on their faces.

Band straightened up, clearing his throat. “Ahem…mornin’, folks.”

“Intruders!” one of the employees shouted. He hurriedly reached into his pouches, rummaging for a familiar red-and-white capsule. “Prepare for a Pokemon b-!”

Band’s giant brass knuckle made contact with his chest before he could send out a Pokemon. He fell in a heap and went sprawling, eyes wide and mouth agape, and his pokeball rolled across the ground. The others either froze, flinched, or fell over themselves, utterly shocked by the breach of etiquette. “Keep it down over there,” the detective told them. “We don’t got time for playin’ around. So why don’t y’all do yourselves a favor and clock out early? Unless ya want your clocks cleaned too.” To make his point he deployed his excessively large drum pedal and unleashed Giant Step, knocking all of them to the ground. That only served to remind him, though, of Galeem’s influence in the world of light. “Oh, alright,” he groaned. “Let’s get this over with.” While nominally a four-versus-four, it was anything but a fair fight. The Seekers had places to be.

Not even winded by the time the scrap came to a close, Band took a look around. While the facility dead ahead of the team looked like the Aether Foundation’s main facility, it didn’t take a genius to reason that the organization’s base occupied this entire artificial island, so that overblown greenhouse would really only be the tip of the iceberg. That meant lots of places for L to hide, and lots more employees to tangle with. While searching the area, however, Band noticed something out of place: a much smaller, connected island at the back of the Aether Resort, home to a luxurious mansion of white marble and blue latticed glass. Though bizarrely out of place, its architects had clearly taken great pains to try and recreate an authentic homestead, down to its fake lawn, as well as the coniferous trees, and streetlamps that lined the road leading straight to the mansion’s double doors.

“Hmm,” Band hummed. “Somethin’ about that villa screams ‘executive privilege’. If I just get back from a long trip, achin’ and tired, I know the first thing I’d wanna do is put up my feet at home and take a load off.” He began to cruise toward the mansion, sliding across the ground with the power of sound. “How’s about we take a look?”

Only after the detective’s giant metal busted in the front door did he find that it hadn’t been locked. Not that a locked door would have stopped him, of course. The manion’s interior proved even more lavish than the exterior, with every conceivable surface, wall nook, and cranny packed full of abstract art, pictures of Pokemon, pictures of two children, or pieces technology. Countless smart devices and high-tech doodads littered the place, their functions niche, needless, or downright inscrutable. Once inside the Seekers began to tread a little more cautiously, wary of any hidden traps or security measures. They moved through the corridors and cleared the rooms in relatively quick succession, proceeding until they became aware of two voices down the hall, one male and one female, in what sounded like a heated discussion.

“...And I’m to understand you let them get away? I’m astonished you call it a victory. This doesn’t just reflect poorly on you, you know? It makes the rest of us look bad by association.”

“You make yourself look bad enough all on your lonesome! What, might I ask, have you been doing in my absence? It sure doesn’t sound like you’ve disposed of our little skeleton problem yet. If we don’t start staging real battles again soon, the city’s damn Flame Clock is going to run dry!”

“All things in time, my dear. And consider this: if you’d lead regiments of Edinburgh mages against Alcamoth instead of feeding your not-so-secret army at Eisa, it wouldn’t be running low to begin with…”

“Oh, and I suppose you’d have them fly to the other side of the continent on broomsticks? You sneering simpleton…”

The Seekers reached the double doors the two voices issued from. The plaque on the wall read ‘Ballroom’, and the handles were stylized silver knobs made to resemble Pokeballs. After a quick check to confirm that everyone was ready, the team burst in.

The first thing Band noticed was the temperature. It was cold in here. Really cold. As one might expect, the Ballroom was a wide-open, grandiose affair, with plentiful floorspace and one wall composed entirely of two or even three story glass windows, with a dazzling chandelier hanging overhead. In one corner lay a bar, in another a piano, and before the glass stood a few sofas arranged in a square to form a lounge. There, the Seekers spotted two persons of interest. One was L, reclining on the most plush and well-cushioned of the couches with a cold compress in one hand and a glass of what looked like brightly-glowing wine in the other. The other stood nearby, and this one Band also recognized, though only after a moment. Though very broad-shouldered he sported rather spindly limbs, and his bucket-shaped helmet rose at least twice as high as his head, with two forked spikes up at the very top above a clock face recessed into the headgear’s front. Both his helmet and his armor features the same cherry-red shade as L’s, confirming him as a Consul, and not just any Consul. Band remembered that look from yesterday; this crook was the one who sicced the Metro Cats on the Seekers, splitting them up to all corners of the World of Light. Based on all that, plus the snippets of overheard conversation, this could only be the long-awaited, much-anticipated, Consul N.

Before examining the Consuls further, however, Band found himself distracted by one other not-insignificant detail about this room. Along its walls were life-size decorative displays of Pokemon of all kinds, carefully arranged into dioramas by type, habitat, and theme. There were grass-types posed in a field of flowers, fighting-types arranged in a series of one-on-one or two-on-two matches, and both water-types and flying-types suspended on wire from hangers in front of appropriate oceanic or cloudy backgrounds. The more Band looked at these Pokemon, however, the less he felt sure that they were models, or statues, or even ice sculptures, despite their pallid coloration and the frosty coatings that covered them. No…these looked more like real Pokemon, frozen solid, and put on display like taxidermies. He blinked a few times, swallowed, and fixed his gaze on Consuls L and N.

L clicked her tongue, then sighed, her shoulders sagging. “Rather rude to barge in uninvited, no?” she drily remarked.

Band snorted, stowing his brass knuckles beneath his coat as he began to walk forward. “I knocked. But nobody came.”

“Oh, my sympathies. You just can’t get good help these days.” After giving N the stink eye she settled her gaze on Mewtwo, prompting a gratuitous eye roll. “Oh, you again. Fabulous. So much for out of sight, out of mind.”

“Why, it’s what you get for not cleaning your plate.” N tented his fingers together as he eyed Red, Band, and Ace. “Well, well, well. The ones who got away. What a pleasant surprise.”

“Hardly a surprise,” L snarked. “They’re why you’re here, after all.”

“Hm? I don’t follow” N glanced at her.

His counterpart shrugged. “Oh, since you were having trouble finding them, I thought I’d bring them right to you. Figured you could use a break after three fruitless days. Nothing sweeter than a little revenge, after all, and here they are. Like flies to honey.” She laughed smugly through her nose. “Now there’s nothing for the Master of Time to do but swat them. Or can you not even do that?”

N took a half-step toward her, clenching his fist. “Why, you conniving…!”

“Hey!” Band shouted. “If you goons are done gabbin’, we got your asses all wrapped up and ready to hand to ya.”

“Urgh.” He pinched the bridge of his helmeted nose as he hung his head, more for show than anything. “We’ll have words later,” he hissed at L. “But for now, our new friends, I suppose.”

As L sat up to watch, N turned to face the Seekers. “So, here you are at last. S seems to think rather highly of you lot. He does so love to prattle on about ‘heroes’.” He made sure to add the quotation marks by hand as he spoke. “Me, I prefer any and all annoyances dealt with once and for all. So let’s see if you’re up to snuff...” When he held out his hand, a polearm reminiscent of a giant tuning fork appeared, and as he came to a stop he struck its butt on the tile floor with a resounding clack. “...Shall we?”

Just as things seemed ready to heat up, L called out from behind him, cutting the tension. “Can you take this outside?” she asked languidly. “I’d rather you all not ruin my collection.”

“The only thing being ruined is the moment,” N growled beneath his breath.
Road to Ruin

Level 12 Tora (63/120) Level 12 Poppi (73/120)
Giovanna, Roxas’ @Double, Pit’s @Yankee, Susie’s @Archmage MC, Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man, Partitio’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 2721

An intrepid Large Biped challenged Tora’ new weaponry right away with a charge into melee range, a section of rebar partially encased in concrete held like a greatsword. It swung the crude slab down at the little inventor, but Tora caught it in the upturned palm of his Mech Arm. Of course, the force it absorbed hurt his wing a bit, but with teeth clenched he held firm and pounded the Biped's torso with punch after punch. A roundhouse kick from Poppi QT swooshed over his head to knock the Biped's off after the second punch, and a third for good measure blasted it away, half its arm still attached to its weapon as Tora tossed it aside. A Multileg scuttled in with two Medium Bipeds in tow, surrounding the Nopon from the front as a Small Flier took potshots from above. Thinking quickly, Tora staggered them with an explosive ground-pound from the Mech Arms and threw himself into the air. Taken by surprise, the Flier missed its last shot before Tora put his oversized gauntlets together and dunked it with an overhead smack. It fell to earth and blew up in a burst of flame that knocked the other three machines to the ground. Poppi grabbed the Multileg's cutter arms, planted her foot against its body, and pulled the limbs right off. In quick succession both Bipeds found their comrade's cutters buried in their chassis, one apiece, and the next second Tora dropped down right on top of the disarmed Multileg, splitting the robot's pill-shaped body like a spent casing.

Without giving the pair a moment to breathe, more machines pressed in, and a Legpower reared its ugly head. Poppi narrowly snatched Tora out of harm's way in time before the upside-down goliath's stomp squashed the doomed Multileg flat. "Going up!" Not missing a beat, Poppi whirled around and hurled her Masterpon up, out of the crowd and straight into the Legpower's body. Tora put his Mech Arms' hands together like a diver and was promptly embedded into the machine chassis, where he proceeded to open it up and dig right in. Scrabbling uselessly at its torso with its little arms, the Legpowder could only spin its wide-eyed head around in horror as fiery blasts punched out of its body in all directions, one after another. After a moment Poppi boosted up out of the destruction and rocketed forward in a flying kick, straight into the hole in its chest and then out the other side, picking up Tora along the way. She remained airborne as the Legpower fell, not hindered by the weight of Poppi Alpha's armor, and held Tora beneath her so he could rain down missiles on the horde in a sort of makeshift bombing run. After a few seconds the two found themselves faced by a bevy of pink orbs cluttering up the airways, courtesy of a whole battalion of Fliers. "Hold on tight!" Poppi maneuvered as well as she could through the blistering bullet-hell of projectiles, hunting down Small Fliers one at a time until Tora's punches built up enough power for a level three Blade Art.

Tora flipped around to his companion's back and passed her the Mech Arms. "Let's show cruddypons what real engineering look like!"

"My pleasure!" Channeling a vast amount of ether, Poppi threw wide the Mech Arms' missile pods and filled the sky with fiery missiles. In a beautiful dance they rained down on the machine lifeforms, earthbound and airborne alike. "Noponic Destructiooooooooon!"

Elsewhere, Giovanna paused for a moment to wipe her brow. It wasn't just the rain; these hunks of junk were making her sweat. Around her lay the wreckage of an entire pack of Reverse-joint goliaths, their knees kicked out, their heads caved in, their circuits lightning-fried, and their cables Rei-chomped, but still they kept coming. Those wrecks weren't dissolving, which intrigued her somewhat, but she focused instead on the Quadruped that leaped onto and then used one Reverse-joint like a trampoline to try and bulldoze her beneath its bladed front legs. She dodged back and took out both legs in a revolving sweep, then raised her flashing fist and smashed it down with Seismic Hammer to launch its fallen body back up into the air. As it fell a well-timed heavy Thunder Knuckle to the dome spiked its head into the ground, finishing it off. A moment later, however, an orb struck her in the back. Wincing, she turned around to see a Medium Flier hovering a few dozen feet ahead, its gun trained on her and more projectiles in the air, which almost distracted her from the Multileg lunging from the same direction. She blocked two slashes and a final cross-slice from its cutters and went to counterattack, only to fall victim to a frame trap as the Multileg launched into a spinning spiderleg blow. "Agh!" Caught in a flurry of strikes, she hit the ground a moment later, and rose a little wiser. "...Damn." The Multileg repeated the same strategy, but this time she pushed it off with Faultless Defense, forcing its final strike to whiff. The next second her Trovão kick crushed its spin attack on start-up. As it reeled she climbed on top of it and unleashed an EX Seismic Hammer, blowing the Multileg into the air with her atop it. Springboarding off the wreck, she somersaulted through the air toward the Medium Flier with EX Burning Kick and, legs wreathed in fire, melted through its body like butter.

As it spiraled away to crash, a Goliath loomed. She dashed toward it, Rei swirling around her to rip through two marauding Bipeds with her teeth, then unleashed Trovão again to blow through its left knee. It toppled, unable to support its weight, and Giovanna turned her attention to a trio of Large Bipeds with weapons. The one with a spear lunged; she went low and snapped the shoddy weapon in half with an upward kick, then rammed her leg through its torso. The other two pincered her, and when she avoided a killer slash from the one with an axe, the one with dual blades slices through her raincoat and into her skin. "Ugh." The secret agent ripped it off and flung it at the offending machine, disappearing from its sight. Its wild slashes tore the coat to ribbons, only to realize Giovanna had seemingly disappeared. By the time it realized where she'd gone she'd already wrapped her legs around its neck. Electricity crackled around her gloves as she prepared to electrocute the dual-wielder, but at the last second she launched herself off it instead, and the axe-wielder's weapon cleaved its comrade in half. Giovanna's eyebrows rose as she flipped through the air, sparks and scrap metal flying, and a moment later she descended on the culprit with Burning Dance. Her fiery divekick drove it across the earth straight toward a fresh gang of machines. Giovanna ended the ride with a blazing flip kick and landed on her hands to send the newcomers packing with upside-down whirlwind kicks. For the grand finale: a skyward jump straight toward a Goliath, past the punch that would have creamed her were she a split second slower, and into its face for a high-voltage cross chop. With a yell of effort she took it to the ground, frying its systems all the way.

When the titan fell, she came to a rest lying on its chest and in sore need of a break. Drenched by the rain and heavy of breath, she knew this wasn't her finest work. How many of them was it now? Fifty, sixty? In the background lightning crashed, thunder roared, and her allies destroyed machines by the dozens, but still hundreds upon hundreds remained. Everyone knew from that outset that this wouldn't be a walk in the park, but their foes' sheer numbers were taking their toll. Part of the problem lay with the Seekers themselves; a few of them just didn't have the damage output for a slobberknocker like this. After pushing herself into a sitting position, her eyes fell on the Rust Crew's truck as it continued to speed around and through the enemy ranks. All three of those guys would need to take on a hundred each to make ends meet, which included the driver. Did they even have that kind of ammunition? The fact that they seemed to be using their pistols struck her as a bad sign, and as she watched, things suddenly went from bad to worse.

A Legpower planted itself right in front of the truck, and when Cain tried to swerve around it, it swerved to. When its gigantic leg slammed into the truck's front the whole vehicle flipped over, sending both Marshall and Big Bo off its top and into the mud. The mob of machines surrounded them, and they disappeared from Giovanna's view. "Oh no." The secret agent got up and took off running, her pawprint shoes pounding through the puddles as she made her way toward the wreck. More enemies appeared in her path to obstruct her, and she grit her teeth. "No time for you!" Thunder Knuckle decked a Medium Biped. She flipped over and then nailed a charging Quadruped with Sol Poente. She decapitated and then used the body of a Large Biped as a shield against a shooting Reverse-joint, then beaned the shooter with the body and dunked its head into the muck with Burning Kick. Jets of wind from her shoes propelled her through the air to grab a passing Small Flier, which she grappled and then electrocuted to careen in the direction of the Rust Crew. A Golith swatted the Flier like a bug with a massive punch, but Giovanna bailed just in time to flip off, run along its arm, and Seismic Hammer its head straight into its chest cavity. Panting, she paused there a moment to try and get a view of the truck, and when she did she squinted at what she saw. The machines had beaten the men bloody, but they hadn't finished them off; instead, they were forcibly holding them still, and those strange bug-like drones she saw earlier were crawling on their bodies. With their stingers they seemed to be extracting some sort of strange substance from them that glowed bright blue.

"Leave friends alone!" she heard Tora cry.

From atop the staggering Goliath she watched as Tora and Poppi descended on the scene, the latter with the Mech Arms and the former with his hammer. Much more angry than they were hurt, they pounded the Bipeds into the dirt and scattered the drones. Those with tanks full of that blue stuff flew off into the distance, while the rest continued to buzz around while Tora and Poppi mangled the other machines. At that point, Giovanna couldn't spectate any longer. The headless Goliath reached up to grab her, and more machines swarmed. She plunged down into the hole she'd created and burned through until she burst out through the Goliath's underside, then left it to die as she charged into a squad of three Multilegs. The first fought defensively to give the other two a chance to take potshots, which made her growl in frustration. "Out of my way!" In a flash she merged with Rei, overcharging her gloves, then blitzed through the irksome machines in a green lightning blur. The Emergency Combination left all three a fried mess, and she sped onward, still brimming with power. Bipeds, quadrupeds, and even a Legpower all crumbled before her. She dashed through the air from flier to flier, popping each one like a balloon. With shocking speed she took a Medium Flier down with her, crashing to the ground only to find herself just a couple dozen feet away from the crashed truck. As the power faded she hurried the rest of the way to join Tora and Poppi as the last of their enemies fell.

Marshall, the first to succumb and with less vitality to give, was dead. His body had somehow calcified after the drones finished their work, turned to a stony statue. Big Bo was in awful shape, laying there on death's door. "Medic!" Giovanna called, searching for the team's only healer, Roxas. "Kid? Where are you!?"

Tora was holding his head in his little hands, his wings hanging limply. "Meeh-meeh-meeh! Am so sorry!" he moaned. "Stupid Tora got so caught up trashing machines that Tora forgot to protect friends!" He gazed up at his partner imploringly. "Can't we do anything, Poppi?"

Almost as anguished, the artificial blade shook her head. "I can't...look out!"

She pushed Tora just in time to avoid the pistol shot. Furious, Poppi looked up to see Cain halfway out of the sideways truck's passenger-side door, a pistol in his hands as his eyes gleamed red. "Cain?" she gasped, her shock turning to outrage in an instant. "What are-!"

As he adjusted his aim, Poppi abandoned words in favor of action. She burst upward and closed one Mech Arm around his head, yanking him out of the truck. With her thrusters at maximum burn she flew up, then down in a spectacular izuna drop that ended with a fiery explosion.

"Meh-meh!?" Taken completely aback by the suddenness of what just happened, Tora pitter-pattered over as the smoke cleared. Poppi stood a few feet away from Cain's body. "What going on? We thought him friend!"

Big Bo seemed just as baffled as him. "No idea," he gasped. "The hell's gotten into you...Cain?"

Suddenly, the robot moved. He rolled over onto all fours and looked upward, red eyes blazing from the nightmarish mangle left where his faceplate had been. With a wordless cry he launched himself at Poppi. Unyielding, she finished him off with a red-hot uppercut, scattering his parts far and wide.

The whole thing left Tora beside himself, close to panic. "Wh-what in the world just happen, meh!?" he stammered. "He turn into scary monster all of sudden! Tora not understand!"

Giovanna shook her head. Even she was a little horrified. "I...don't know. Black Tech is almost totally alien to me. In fact, that was like something from a horror movie." She furrowed her brows. "I know Midgar is extremely strict about what androids are deployed outside city limits. Could this be why?"

Tora swallowed nervously, the gears turning in his head. Nearby, the scattered machines were beginning to amass. Even with multiple Seekers working hard to fell over a hundred foes each, about eighty still remained. "Tora have bad feeling," the Nopon squeaked. "We should get out of here, meh. Fall back closer to city, get help to deal with rest. Come on, Poppi!" Reaching up with his wing, he tugged at her hand.

She didn't move. Her other hand was on her temple, as if she were suffering from a headache.


Big Bo’s eyes widened, and he drew in a sharp breath. “Shit. Shit, it’s a virus! Back away, little man!”

“Tora! Get away from her!” Giovanna called, tensing herself to run.

The Nopon glanced back at them, confused as to why they’d even suggest something like that, then back at Poppi as she turned. She was wincing in pain, and the light had vanished from her eyes. “Masterpon…” she rasped. “Please don’t…come after…me.”

Suddenly she pushed him away, then disappeared in a flurry of red ribbon and orange sparks. After a brief moment, Poppi QT Pi appeared, then sprang into the air. The thrusters on her back ignited, and she hurtled away through the rain, past the incoming machines and off into the distance.

Tora blinked, stunned. But only for a moment. “W-wait!” He started running, bouncing along the ground as fast as he could go. Which wasn’t that fast. “Come back! Poppiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”

He ran for just a couple seconds before he realized that he couldn’t possibly catch up to her like this. Smashing aside a Biped, he looked around wildly, then spotted the Tallneck waiting in the wings where he left it. “Susieeee!” he cried, his voice pleading. “Fly me to garaffypon, fast as can! Am going after her!” He furrowed his brows at Giovanna, and anyone else who might warn him against this. “And not take no for answer!”

Tally (Tora & Poppi):
Medium Biped x 88, Large Biped x 13, Goliath x5, Legpower x4, Multileg x16, Reverse-joint x13, Quadruped x14, Small Flier x18, Medium Flier x13
Total: 212 / 200

Tally (Giovanna):
Medium Biped x 34, Large Biped x 17, Goliath x3, Legpower x4, Reverse-joint x10, Quadruped x9, Multileg x9, Small Flier x5, Medium Flier x2
Total: 92 / 100

Tally (Rust Crew): 100

Tally (everyone): 909

Abandoned Subway - Underground Nexus

Level 4 Goldlewis (52/40)
Karin and Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Blazermate’s @Archmage MC, Geralt @Multi_Media_Man, Benedict’s @Dark Cloud, Raz’s @Truthhurts22
Word Count: 1103

The Other’s massive size made it an easy target, so even in the throes of confusion, anguish, and fear Sakura landed a flurry of attacks, her strength and meter usage unrestrained. Of course, each of her techniques hurt a lot more than individual psi-blasts, so after just a moment spent swinging at Raz the monster refocused on the girl now whaling on its body. Its maneuvered away just enough so that a sweep of its arm across the ground could knock her back in a spray of dust, dirt, and rubble. Then it took hold of its bizarre head with both hands, lifted itself up, and pounded it against the ground, each crushing blow as strong or stronger than the body splash of the Gunkin Fisher. Even with Raz running interference, Sakura couldn’t take this horror head-on by herself.

Of course, Luka had no intention of letting her go it alone. Pushed to the next level by Brain Drive, he struck the other like lightning and vanished just as quickly. His uncanny usage of gravity and momentum to leverage his hefty weapon made the hammer seem almost weightless in his hands, but when it fell on the Other it splintered wood, dented metal, powdered butterflies, and left craters in its flesh. Unfortunately, this freak had a lot of wood, metal, butterflies, and flesh to get through. With Sina still rooted in place, an expression of horror frozen on her features, Dexio focused on protecting her. But the squad wasn’t left wanting for backup. Out of nowhere a whole nother squad of Seekers arrived, and they wasted no time lending a hand.

Karin attempted to convince Sakura to withdraw from the dangerous situation she’d thrown herself into, then entered the fray herself. Rather than go whole-hog like her friend she kept some distance, daringly playing the spacing game with the giant Other. This thing wasn’t playing nice, though. Its punishments were a lot stronger than hers, and its limbs so much longer that landing a hit on its torso might as well be impossible. That left its head, and while the red flash of the pinecone flowers lining its bottom jaw indicated some sort of weak point, a head slam from this thing couldn’t be sustained. Still, Karin made it work. Goldlewis joined in, hammering the monster’s limbs with his coffin rather than risking its business end. After a moment spent crawling on its tiptoes and elbows, hits coming in from all sides, the Other let out a howl with such physical power that everyone in its vicinity got blown away.

“Gah!” Gritting his teeth, Goldlewis remained where the wave of force pushed him back for a moment, and riddled the Other with a barrage from his Skyfish minigun. Luckily Benedict had managed to escape before the roar came out, but the shallow cuts inflicted by his blade amounted to almost nothing. His forte lay elsewhere, and as he quickly demonstrated, one could always trust a strategist to come up with a plan.

He solicited the aid of Sina, although she didn’t respond with the snappy professionalism he might have expected. The girl looked shell-shocked, her eyes wide as saucers and her mouth agape. Dexio had been trying to rouse her gently, but after being shouted at she managed to come to her senses. What she said, however, was nonsense. “Wh-what are you people doing!?” she shrieked. “Don’t hurt her! It’s Peach! That thing is Peach!”

Dexio blanched. “Wait, what? What are you talking about? That doesn’t…!”

One of the Other’s ribbons whipped toward him. Luka appeared in a flash and tackled his squad member, narrowly preventing a grievous head wound. “We need to focus!” he told the team as he stood up, disappearing to continue his hit-and-run onslaught. “Even a second’s hesitation could mean death!”

“R-right.” Dexio hefted his cestus and prepared to join the fight, but despite Benedict’s orders Sina refused to fight. Only when Luka backed the tactician up did she reluctantly begin to use her Refrigerant Coil, but her arm was shaky, and not one shot hit its mark. Dexio joined Geralt and the other melee fighters in their precarious dance, getting clear when the Other attacked and striking back as it wound back down. Goldlewis joined them, able to stay in closer thanks to both his sheer fortitude and an effective shield in the form of his coffin. Midna’s strikers helped stymie the Other’s movement, and even without Sina’s help, when everyone attacked it together they dealt enough damage to its limbs to knock the Other onto its side. The one-two of Midna’s bludgeon and Darknut worked wonders, and a slab of concrete from Raz sealed the deal.

The Other collapsed for a moment, the heads on its roof lolling limply with their mouths open in silent expressions of pain. Luka and Goldlewis both paused, waiting to see what happened. After a moment it stirred, however, galvanized into action in part due to the shots from Blazermate’s new turret. Its wrists cracked and rotated around, followed shortly by its entire body, turned upside down. Now it stood on all fours on its feet and the backs of its hands, its heads dangling beneath its front. It gave a tremendous groan, then plunged its ribbons into the ground. They began to pop up all around the arena, bursting from the stone to skewer Seekers and Scarlet Guardians from beneath on their golden spikes. Their first casualty: the immobile sentry.

“Keep movin’, and watch your feet!” Goldlewis called out, taking off at a run as ribbons erupted behind him. Noticing that the Other wasn’t moving during this attack, he charged in and struck at its head with a Behemoth Typhoon spun like a lasso, battering the loosely-hanging statue heads like speedbags before a final overhead smash cracked its eaves. The Other withdrew its ribbons and leaped backward, then reared up. Its hands flailed around as if scratching at the eyes of a normal head that wasn’t there, its body contorting wildly, before it unleashed an even more terrific roar. Debris flew away from it in every direction in a heavy barrage, and dust billowed into the air. In mere moments the entire room was one big smokescreen, with no more than a few meters of visibility in any direction. “Damn it,” Goldlewis cursed, hearing more ribbons burrowing through the earth. “Where are you?”

Perfect. In a corner of the shrouded room, a lone, slender figure dressed in black leaped from a hiding place and began to run, sprinting through the haze toward the tunnel that Team Goldlewis came from.
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