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The world is full of obvious things.


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 helping others enjoy life are great joys. Been RPing for over a decade, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. Ready for some fun? Let's make something spectacular together.

Like my words? Maybe you'll like my pictures. I'm pretty new, but I hear the exchange rate's good.

Most Recent Posts

Actually, right now I don't think either of your characters are in a position where a collab is necessary. I'd say you're good to go on either front and get your guys up to speed with their respective groups.
Yes. I would recommend reading the IC to catch up and get an idea of what's up with everyone.
Big Band

Level 3 Big Band (1/30)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Yoshitune's @Rockin Strings
Word Count: 1106

Though a visitor in Al Mamoon for less than a day total, Band had already learned just how intolerable standing out in the light of day was, especially in the early afternoon. Especially in a trench coat fit for a king. His internal regulators were being overclocked before five minutes went by. Dry heat or no, he had to go.

After a quick detour to let Hunnigan know he thumped back down a street a short way to the Coffee Spoon he’d patronized once already, with its relieving shade and the life-saving flowers that shrouded the place with a cool mist. The feature made the multi-floor cafe a popular one, but with a chill atmosphere that Band could really jive with. There he gingerly seated himself on a sturdy-looking stool at the counter on the second floor, and when the place’s barista (and owner) came by to take his order the detective requested one of the same. With a sigh he removed his hat to fan himself with and chase off the last of the midday desert heat so that the mistflowers could work their magic.

A few minutes passed before his drink arrived. The barista placed it on the counter in front of him with a smile, and Band gave an appreciative nod before the man went on his way. Served in a tall glass that glistened with droplets of condensation, the Thai iced tea came as two layers. On the bottom sat the full-bodied black tea, expertly mixed with vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise. Atop it rested the rich condensed and evaporated milk with pillows of smooth ice and a single protruding straw. With utmost delicateness Band extended a spindly robot arm from his coat to grip the straw in its padded pincers, and once he had a hold of it a few good stirs was all he needed to mix the disparate colors of the drink into a soft pastel orange. Then he brought it to his lips and drank deep, enjoying the creamy sweetness. In the midst of a sandswept sky, a little slice of heaven. Made him want to make some music.

The Thai iced tea went all too quickly, after which a much refreshed Band retired to a seat on the shop’s misty balcony to relax, wait, and watch. Below him burbled a steady stream of the population, humans and creatures of every stripe whose traffic swirled and flowed, riverlike, simply going about their business. The variety on display so outstripped imagination that Band felt like people-watching could become a national pastime. He, however, wasn’t keeping a look out for his enjoyment.

Unless he missed his guess, the people nearly responsible for the destruction of the Commissions Office and the murder of at least one innocent person, just trying to do her job. Though an old soul who’d seen more than his fair share of atrocities, he still burned up inside imagining what might have happened had he not intervened. Of course, that thought only brooked further worry. Similar things could be happening all over the city for all he knew. So while he searched the crowds for the three faces he’d seen in the Hound Pits Pub, he also kept an eye out for his allies. They needed to know what he now knew--that even if Validar and his Grimleal were corrupt, the Resistance was scum, and it needed to disappear. No wonder, he thought with a wry chuckle, That fine rabbit lady was scowlin’ like stormy weather.

He spotted the others long before they saw him. They numbered five, including royals large and small, the partially mechanized samurai, and the mismatched pair. First they stopped by the Commissions Office, led by the Twilight Princess, where Hunnigan pointed them in the right direction. Big Band watched like a hawk as the group made their way over toward the Coffee Spoon, but he didn’t have eyes for his comrades alone. Something was fishy, and his birds-eye view gave the detective a pretty decent idea what. Band stood, eyes narrowed, and retreated into the cafe away from prying eyes.

A few moments later the others reached the second floor, and Band rang a little triangle to steer their eyes though the mist and to the table he sat behind. “Just in time,” he told them by way of greeting. In just a few moments he’d gathered enough chairs for everyone to join him, regardless of Sectonia’s ability to do so. “But we’ll have to save the happy talk for later. Things’re a lot spicier around here than you might think.”

For perhaps the first time since they’d known him the others could get a look at his face for the first time. The pain of many years was etched onto his features, but for everything he’d been through, he still radiated a sense of confidence and tranquility. At the moment, he bore a serious expression that lent gravity to his words. “For starters, you got followed. Don’t look now, but I spotted a li’l senorita in purple not too far behind ya. Appeared from nothing, then vanished just as quick. Might be she can go invisible, and if that’s true, there’s no tellin’ how long we been tailed.”

Instinctively he glanced at the stairs. “I’m positive she won’t come in here, what with it bein’ all misty. Still, there ain’t a lot of time. Things could get ugly any minute now, ‘cause whoever tried blowin’ up the job office ain’t gonna be happy it’s still around. There were three of ‘em. A guy with glasses, white hair, and a big red coat off the shoulders. A woman with bright pink hair. And a tiny blonde girl in red. But keep an eye out for anyone actin’ shifty, ‘cause they’ve got friends. They were talkin’ ‘bout someone called Chicken Legs.” He scowled. “They used a little girl to plant the bombs. Told her to bury her ‘treasure’ like it was a game, then rewarded her with pizza. The cognitive dissonance that takes...I seen a lot, but that riles up all of me.”

“So what friends do?” Tora asked him, a determined look on his face.

“Do nothin’ ‘til you hear from me,” Band instructed. “Grab a drink, bump gums, whatever. I’m gonna go out an’ see if I can grab their attention. Try an’ get ‘em to follow me. Might be a minute, but when it’s time I’ll bust out a good, flat note with my sax, and when that happens I need y’all to come runnin’. Sound like a plan?” The detective stood ready to put his scheme into action, unaware of the similar plots brewing nearby.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (53/40)
Location: The Maw - the Belly
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1350

Bongo Bongo’s percussive onslaught quickly stirred things up in the final stretch of the Belly, threatening to snatch away the chance at escape that the children in its domain had been struggling to reach. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and before things could go to hell the biggest and most mobile of the Seekers decided it was time she pulled her weight. Blazermate jetted around the outer rim of the great junk chamber, giving the shadow beast’s tantrum a wide berth until she dove in to assist the now stranded Geralt and Mirage.

With the monster’s position and movement dashing any clever plans they could come up with short-term, the boys opted for the Hail-Mary solution Blazermate offered. One after another the two entrusted themselves to the throwing arm of a medabot only a couple feet taller than either who didn’t specialize in strength. They got some impressive air, with Mirage providing himself some in-flight entertainment by pelting the phantom with a few totally ineffective darts, but soon it became clear that Mirage would fall short of the target. He fell smack dab into a big section of brown shoes in the ground layer and sunk up to his waist, the impact not too bad but his movement impeded. A moment later Geralt joined him, and both were left to flounder as they tried to wade through the shoes toward the sofa.

The sight of it sent Nadia’s heart into her throat. She knew all too well what awaited her friends in the ground layer down there, but in a twist of fate it wasn’t even the unseen monster that provided the most immediate threat. Behind them, Bongo Bongo continued to slam down on the junk, left left right, left left right, and each beat with its right hand caused a shock wave that popped the boys out of the shoes, making movement almost impossible. Nearby the others were making their way through the quake, including Peach, Sakura, Link and a boat using the combined rowing power of Bowser, Ace, and Bella. Would any of them be able to help the fallen in time?

Nadia couldn’t assume so. Her mind raced for an answer, any answer, and her cat eyes landed on the streamer wound around Mirage’s shoulder. She could use it to pull them in, like quicksand in a movie! “Throw me the rope!” she called to Mirage, reaching out from the sofa cushion toward them. Once she got it, Rika and Junior could help pull her up, although Junior seemed worryingly fixated on plans far too intricate for the mess they were all in. Bongo Bongo swerved to face the noise, ready to pounce on the dead giveaway, but Mimi’s Shadow Sneak struck its right hand, and Rika's tiny shells burst against its head. The thing grunted, and for a crucial moment its heavy beat stopped.

But before anything else happened, Blazermate dropkicked the fan’s central reactor, smashing both the red light and the engine within. Immediately it let out a deep BZZZT and started sparking, accompanied by the hideous noise of metal grating on metal. Gouts of flame burst from the mechanism, but instead of coming to a stop the fan started accelerating out of control. It started wobbling on its hub, throwing itself further and further out of whack, its blades sliding against the vent rims with such fervor that they glowed with heat. Then, with a terrific wrench, the fan tore free of its housing and leaped, flaming, from the wall.

Blazermate dodged in time to save her own neck, but not so fast to avoid one twintail taking a catastrophic slash from the rampant fan. Bongo Bongo, however, wasn't able to dodge at all. The fan carved into its body like an immense buzzsaw, nearly cleaving it in half before it lost momentum. It let loose an abominable wail that chilled the blood of each and every soul and, gushing shadowy essence, disappeared into the darkness. Its beat had stopped. Everything was still.

Everything except the thing that lurked below, of course. It powered toward the fallen children, throwing up shoes in its wake. Nadia had helped Sakura onto the sofa but she could not let her rest. “Here, help me pull!” Once those already on the sofa had a grip of the streamer they worked together to haul Geralt and Mirage away from the unknowable grasp of their remaining foe and onto the sofa. Nadia let go a moment before the others to get into position herself, lying on her back with her fan on her belly and her finger on the trigger. Bongo Bongo had reappeared a ways off, and despite its grievous wounds its searchlight was fixed on the crowd of kids on their sofa. There was no time to waste putting up darts. “C-come on, jump over my fan! I’ll boost you up, hurry!”

As the most exhausted Bella went first, and with a push of the fan’s button she went sailing up to land on the fan duct. One after another Nadia sent the others, Sakura, then Rika, then Kamek, with Peach pausing to give her a brief but portentous pat on the head. The Shadow Beast was getting closer; its hands reached from the blackness. Nadia sent Geralt, Link, Ace, Junior, and finally Bowser, trusting Blazermate to make the climb herself despite her damaged pigtail. Then the feral hopped to her feet and found herself alone before the face of death, awash in the crimson of cursed blood. Things slowed down. This is it. This is the end, she thought, but as she bared her teeth the corners of her mouth twisted up in a smile. In her mind she saw her family, waiting for her with arms outstretched.

Then something dangled in front of her vision like a fishing line, bringing her back. It was the streamer, hanging from above. Her friends were going to bring her up. Nadia grabbed the steamer, stuck it in her fan, and turned it on. It wound around the blade as it spun, and with the other end held firm, it pulled her up instead. The next second Bongo Bongo’s hands clapped together where the kitten had just been, but when the monster opened its hands it found nothing inside.

It shrieked and lifted itself upward. Its hands gripped the edge as it rose in front of the vent to see most of the children fleeing, Nadia among them. It did not expect to find one child directly in front of it, weapon clutched in his little hand, to finish things once and for all.

Nadia didn’t know how long she sprinted through dark vents and cramped, metallic confines, but eventually she followed the others through a hinged grate into a poorly-lit room. Though stark it seemed normal, and contained no monsters. Light came through a doorway mostly blocked by furniture and boxes, and through the opening the feral could hear the sound of water.

She came to a stop and collapsed, barely feeling herself hit the floor. Every inch of her hurt in some way or another. Right now she felt more gassed than she could ever remember being. “Guh...huhh..hahh…” she gasped, curling up into a ball. “Ohh...hohh...kuh…….man. I never...ran out...of energy.” One somewhat delirious laugh escaped her before she calmed herself, breathing deeply. Truly, she’d felt better. A little loopy from both mental and physical exertion, thirsty, and...surprisingly hungry.

A growling noise filled her ears and her eyes blinked open, brows lowered. “Why the I so hungry? Did it...did the demon magic just...rewind the lunch right out of me?” In her formative ears foraging alleys for scraps she’d led what many would call a meager existence. Hunger had been a constant companion. But as she looked around and heard from the others she became aware that everyone was hungry, even those who as children should be well cared-for.

Strange, but she could think about it once her everything stopped aching. For the moment, before they needed to come to grips with whatever lay beyond the door, the little Seekers could have a well-earned break.
Yellow Team's Just Rewards

Location: Al Mamoon
Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Yoshitune's @Rockin Strings Tora and Poppi
Word Count: 8947 (+9 EXP)

What should have been a trip straight to the palace got sidelined by the myriad smells drifting from kitchens, restaurants, and food carts. Wonderful and enticing aromas of all kinds wafted to Tora on the slight breeze that filtered through Al Mamoon’s streets, and it wasn’t long before they provoked a longing cry from the Nopon’s stomach. “Meeeeh,” he groaned as his stomach rumbled. “All fighting in cistern make Tora very late for lunch! So very empty inside…” He made a piteous expression, holding his belly with both wings. “If poor Tora die of starvation, send body back to Torigoth.”

“Masterpon worry friends needlessly with dramatic exaggeration,” Poppi sighed. “After we get reward from palace, everyone have good meal together.” That said, even she could not keep her optics from wandering over to the nearby stalls and lingering on the luscious arrangements of meat, sauce, vegetable, and pastry. With the city’s lunch hour well in progress her olfactory sensors had to work overtime taking everything in, and what she smelled kept her from chiding her creator too harshly. If she possessed the ability to eat and enjoy food, Poppi imagined that she would be hard-pressed to keep food off her mind, too. “Let’s go double-time,” she suggested. “Faster we get there, faster we go to lunch.”

“Very true, meh meh!” Tora agreed, suddenly wondering why he was limiting himself to a brisk walk. Without a moment’s delay he sped off, moving with an alacrity Poppi didn’t know he had, and with a smile his companion took off behind him. Her hair and scarf fluttered wildly as she ran, giving Red and Laharl a good frame of reference even if they fell behind. With the highly motivated Nopon somehow maintaining the lead, the team of successful exterminators cut a roughly diagonal path from Al Mamoon's waterworks to the palace, ignoring the momentary glances of various citizens. Under the watchful gaze of the Ruin Sentinels Tora charged up the steps and through the palace doors, then down the grand hallway. Sparing not a glance for the slumbering queen in her titanic bed he made for the royal court, where he imagined the the Vizier's skeletal secretary waiting to dole out a chest of hard-earned gold for all his valiant efforts. He burst through the doors with Poppi right behind, singing, "Job done, job done, where's the gold that Tora won~?"

The Nopon slid to a stop as Midna, Sectonia, and Braum turned his way with curious looks, but Eva's glare stopped him cold. Her complete and utter lack of amusement chilled him to the bone, and in a tone just one degree of annoyance away from anger she snarked, "Get in line, pal!"

Looking mortified, Tora cleared his throat and queued up behind the others. "Erm. Ahem." He turned to Poppi as she tried not to smile, his eyes saying give me a break here, before he tried to strike up more subdued conversation. "Hello, friends. How'd jobs go?"

sion "Fine" Sectonia said, the bite marks of the mimics she was fighting still visible, although looking far better than they were wen she got them and healing slowly "I was quite miffed at how little the townspeople seemed to know about the bounties in the town though. So many complainers...." Sectonia continued, shaking her head. "And now this...." Sectonia could only shake her head at the wait that everyone had to do. Tora and the others could see the two mimic spirits in her hand if they looked hard enough.

"Turns out 'strange noises' " Midna did the full air-quotes as she floated next to Sectonia "meant the horrific singing and dancing of a bunch of goddess awful monsters. So i took care of that. Got some extra cursed gear out of the deal too, plus some machinery stuff that I was hoping yo might be able to tell me how they worked" she said, before summoning the two technological masks she'd gotten from the demon's spirits and showing them to the furry engineer, before adding "and don't need to worry about me taking up a slot in the queue, I've already got paid for my job, plus a 'doing the right thing' bonus. I'm just here to bless queeny here, and also yourselves now, with my lovely company while you wait to get paid for your jobs. Speaking of which, how did yours go?"

"I helped catch a scam artist but I had to split it with someone else who helped out," Yoshitsune spoke up. "We should probably take a chance to find somewhere to spend the night as I won't have my swords back until tomorrow." Looking around at the others, he took notice of a bit of their loot. "Who has the least amount of coin right now?"

Made both curious and unsettled by what Midna's description of what she encountered in the course of her assignment, Tora guess his wasn't the only job that turned out to be more complicated than it seemed. "That sound rough, meh. But even so, Mid-Mid return triumphant and receive much reward for trouble! And Tora glad for Mid-Mid lovely company, as always. Here, give Tora masks." He held out his wings to take the loot from her for a closer look. He turned each one over in his grasp, giving the mechanisms of each apparatus a close examination from both sides. After a few moments he returned them, confident in his assessment. "Hmmeh...both seem made for breathing. Spiky one have rebreather, make possible to brave hazardy environment if given air supply. White one have only filter to clean up incoming air, but also have rapid intake. Maybe for huffing chemicals, like big pig man have back in first area. Also, both pretty tough and offer decent protection. Shame neither built for Nopon face, meh."

Poppi recalled the visage of the masked mercenary all the way back in 1-1, who alongside his grenade-happy companion accompanied the heroes for a brief period. She was surprised that Tora remembered Roadhog in the first place, let alone his equipment, given the Nopon's propensity for just forgetting anyone who didn't interest him. Then again, both occupied the same sort of niche--defending others not through heavy armor or barriers but through sheer rotundity and constitution.

"As for job, it actually much different from killing rats in sewer," Tora reflected after handing back the masks. "First off, underground very nice, with clear water, flowers, lilypads, even giant statue. Second, infestation not rats at all. It awful smelly goopy-mold that barf out goopy monsters, and just when we think we burn it all away, it hide inside big goopy rock man!" In dramatic fashion Tora threw his wings wide to approximate the golem's sheer size. "Meh-meh-meh! Tora and friends have to bash and smash over and over again, nearly getting crushed whole time! First thing after Tora get paid, find place to stuff silly."

"Yeah that thing was huge actually. And I got to cut the damn things head clean off!" Red added that last part very triumphantly.

A moment later a few skeletal assistants arrived with the rest of the reward money for everyone, and Eva approved their payment. She directed her underlings to divvy it up, while she sat down to answer an incoming phone call. With relish Tora seized hold of his earnings, only for Poppi to remind him, "That not all for you. Red and Laharl also help. Four hundred split between four make one hundred each."

"Aww..." Tora shot a furtive glance at the petulant demon child. "All he do is one punch before get knocked out." When nudged by Poppi, however, the Nopon reluctantly split it. He did not begrudge Red any, given how much she helped, but capitulating to Laharl felt like an injustice.

"Ah. I had to deal with monster treasure chests. Sadly All I have to show for it are bite marks and their spirits. " Sectonia said, further explaining what she had to deal with after Midna handed the mechanical objects to Tora. "Considering they are spirits of chests, I'm curious to see what crushing them would give, but before that best get the gold first." Sectonia said, observing Tora overlook the rebreather devices. Sectonia didn't know who this 'pig man' was, but considering the words Tora used, even if the nopon was a bit verbally challenged, it didn't sound like he was a good looking person. Not many here were.

And considering what happened to him, it kind of made sense how he'd be reminded of a pig man wearing those masks as his story sounded dreadfully unpleasant. "Its good you brought beauty to an area by smiting such foul things." Sectonia said, giving a, not being as rare now, compliment. Absorbing Count Blech really helped her say her mind when someone did her proud, although the Nopon could probably use a bath after all of that. He did not, unfortunately, register her words as praise.

"As for my gold...." Sectonia said, grabbing the bag offered to her by a skeletal assistant. "I will need to shop around to see if anything is worth it."

"Ah so that's what the ports are for," Midna said appreciatively upon having the two explained "Not sure if huffing chemicals is a great idea, but i might use that one to deal with the sandstorms i can kick up. After some heavy modifications that is. Some of us appreciate that having good aesthetics can be a pretty big deal" and she wasn't the only one. Sectonia had already rejected the demon mask before this group arrived on the basis of it's unsightly appearance. That hadn't stopped her from helpfully testing it out, which had revealed the mask ability to triple someones magical firepower, at the cost of making said firepower an uncontrollable nightmare, with the shots whizzing this way and that with strange and unpredictable flight patterns. That had certainly been interesting. Nothing was simple or untainted with the gear she'd gotten from the temple, that was for sure.

After finishing up with counting the gold she had earned, Red also took a look at the masks that Midna had discovered. "You never know when chemicals could be useful with that sort of thing, there's plenty of things like that with a lot of potential use. Healing or buffing as an example." Not that she really expected Midna to really utilize that aspect but she didn't want her to dismiss the idea entirely just in case it'd help in a dire situation. It seemed like everyone had a productive time as well while they were cleaning out the sewers. "Maybe I need to go shopping too, I've still got a little gold burning a hole in my pocket too." She agreed with Sectonia's idea.

"I guess I/we could keep an eye out for any useful ones. it just doesn't sound like the healthiest thing to be doing is all" Minda replied, still a little skeptical but not as 100% against the Idea as she had been a few moments ago.

As the Seeker's heads filled with things to buy, be they equipment for the road ahead or dishes of local cuisine piled high, they prepared to hit the tracks. Before they could get underway, the drawling voice of the secretary hailed them from her desk. "Hey, hold ahn a sec. Just gotta cwall from the foahce. 'Parently the jahb ahffice down the road neahly got blown up by the Resistance, but ya pal in the trench coat saved the day." She didn't look too elated, but the event was nothing if not good timing. Aware of Validar's directive, she added, "Paints the so-called freedom fightas in a pretty bad light, don't it? Guess ya oaghta check in when ya get done spendin' all the city's gold."

Poppi raised her eyebrows, surprised but impressed. "If Big Band already learn enough about Resistance to foil sabotage, it good day for everyone."

"Meh, meh!" Tora agreed. "Guess being detective really pay off for solving crimes. Friends should definitely pay Band visit and hear what found out." He winked, grinning. "After trip back to market, of course! Money not spend itself!"

Midna made a disgusted sound and then complained "The more I learn about this place the more I feel it's a shiny facade rotting from the inside out" upon hearing about the resistance's target. During the brief encounter with her Midna had found she rather liked the person staffing that office, which added extra bitterness to her reaction to the information. Why, she thought, couldn't there just be a simple delineation between good and evil, rather than this murky pool they where wading through.

After another moments thought she asked Sectonia "Do you remember how much that wolf amulet Prim mentioned was going for?"

"Not that much. We have more gold with us than we had when 'trading' with the jeweler." Sectonia said, affirming Midna should have enough with her reward.

"Sadly nothing there was usable by me, so I will be touring the rest of the town." She said. "And yes, I agree, there is something off here. Although I am not sure who would be the one to deal with even with that amulet." Sectonia said, agreeing with Midna's frustration as to the town, although more just out of her own frustration of how silly it seemed both sides of the town's conflict were being. In that way her and Midna probably agreed that it is easier in their kingdoms where things are quite simple.

"I will take any minions who wish to go shopping with me." Sectonia said as they all headed out to go shopping before investigating the resistance stuff. Seeing as she had her gold and they didn't need the spirits themselves, Sectonia crushed both mimic spirits to see what they would yield.

"Shopping does sound like a good idea," Yoshitsune smiled softly as he watched Sectonia crush the mimic spirits. "I may be able to find a temporary weapon to borrow until tomorrow." As Sectonia began heading towards the shops, Yoshitsune followed behind, as much to act as a bodyguard, though the queen didn't need one, as to join her in shopping. Sectonia was happy to have someone follow her, although they were all her minions, most were quite willful. Still they were useful so it worked in the end.

"Okay!" Tora sang, too happy at the prospect of reckless spending to be annoyed at Sectonia called him a minion again. "Friends get going already! Poppi, lead way!"

With her Masterpon's infectious spirit putting a little pep in her step, Poppi retraced the steps she'd taken before midday to steer the group from the domain of the Grimleal back toward the marketplace in Al Mamoon's eastmost district. Tora practically bounced the whole way, spurred onward by the elation of one who seldom got the chance to throw some cash around. Having been in the train station while his allies visited the bazaar before, he was taken aback by the sheer visual overload of it all as he walked beneath the lavishly decorated archway and into the western court. Everywhere he looked were peoples of all shapes and sizes, not all of them human, and an even greater variety existed among the various stalls, carts, and stores. Each one offered an eye-catching array of products.

There was Dungeon Plunder, with its stat-changing potions, enchanted trinkets, and unique weapons. Its more successful competitor Rock Solid Deals offered a greater variety of useful equipment. Vera's Arsenal, meanwhile, specialized in conventional if high-quality armor. Tucked away in a corner Hee-Ho Mart offered a wide variety of consumer goods. Exotic foods like lizard meat and glazed worms were on display at Rhon Ron's Eatery, while appetizing aromas drifted from Raj's Curry Pot. And that was just the first of the grand bazaar's six courts, with the classiest of them all shaded within the temple of commerce, out of view. "Wow..." he breathed, giddy with excitement.

Poppi rubbed his head affectionately, trying to rein him in. "Don't get too carried away. Only have two hundred between us, so still need be mindful of purchases." Still, she understood him completely. Even if she'd been here before, being here as a customer rather than an entrepreneur cast it all in a whole new light. Her eyes fell on a fellow in a memorable hat, who she recognized from her earlier visit. "Although, friend Panther say earlier that we can use Gomi's Pawn Shop over there to sell things we don't need."

"Oh!" Tora pulled out the Seer Stone and the collapsed Jet Boots from his bag. "Tora not understand how this technology work, so stop caring. And not figure out what this rock does, either. Maybe get little gold for them. Come quick, so we find place to eat after" He and Poppi headed off, leaving the others to go about their business.

Sectonia and Yoshitsune were interested in the Dungeon Plunderer and the Rock Solid Deals, moving into said stores to see what they had for sale. She would buy when she had a full list of options, and seeing as there were 6 different bazaars to look at, she wouldn't pull the trigger on something unless it jumped out at her, unless she had a complete list. Either way, she had no use for this gun item, and seeing as no one else seemed to have much use for it, she sold it like Tora did his treasures, alongside that Capture Scarab she had collected for more gold to get better items. The fleshy weapon got her a respectable eighty-five gold, but since the unknown insect would warrant only the five gold junk fee, she held onto it. She kept the mimic head, as, although it was hideous, she could sense what magic was inside it and what boons it offered, and that would be far more useful in the long run. She'd just have to get one of her minions to use it instead of her when the time came to start using it. While curious about the items Sectonia was selling, Yoshisune elected not to ask as he had no use for them personally. His eyes never seemed to stop in one place for long.

Midna popped in to the pawnshop along with Sectonia to sell the Death Scissor Mask (for fifty gold) and the Daredevil Mask (also for fifty) both of which she, and she was fairly sure no one else, had any use for. The other two could stay. The filter mask could be useful modified, and the omen mask's magic tripling effect was frankly to interesting to let go off. Maybe Prim would like it, Midna thought or she herself would see if she could develop/relearn some magic that would synergize with it

In a very typical fashion Sectonia told the shopkeeper to reserve the potions for her while she explored other options, but the stocky man behind the counter did not seem to recognize her authority. He grunted that gold was gold, and whoever was actually willing to pay him for his goods would receive them. The affront helped speed the insect queen on her way, and Sectonia wasted little time conducting a search of the entire bazaar for any magic emporiums that might be open for business. Even with efficiency on her mind, however, the search took her a rather long time. There were simply too many eye-catching things to be distracted by. Yoshitsune was also not conducive to the search, getting easily sidetracked by the weapons he saw and a few people passing by too closely who looked like threats.

Meanwhile, Tora had set his sights on a less high-brow prize: Raj's Curry. As he waddled up to the cart, eyes sparkling at the prospect of sampling the source of that oh-so-tantalizing smell, Raj greeted him warmly. "Welcome, friend! What can I get you for?"

The Nopon jumped up an down in excitement. "Mehmehmeh! Tora very hungry and ready for lovely-lovely meal after big payday! But first Tora want ask, what is curry?"

"Oho, a neophyte! Do I ever envy you!" Raj joked with a winning smile before launching into explanation. "It's often said that one's first curry experience is a memory that can never be replaced. To answer the question, my curry is a dish made of sauce serviced over rice. The sauce is a concoction of exotic spices, finely ground and expertly mixed. Tumeric, cumin, coriander, ginger! Add to that meats and vegetables, like pork and onions, plus coconut milk, and you've got an unforgettable melting pot of flavor! Will you be having any this fine day?"

He scarcely needed to ask. "YesyesyesyesYESYESYES!" Tora sang, both hands full of gold. "Tora take whole pot!"

Raj laughed good-naturedly. "Ohohoho, I love the enthusiasm, believe you me, but if it's not to your taste I'd hate to see it wasted. And what of my other customers?" He put his hands on his hips. "How does two bowls sound? One for you, one for your lady friend."

"Actually, Poppi not need-" Tora cut himself off. "OH yes, sorry, two bowls just fine, meh! Here is enough for two, according to sign." He forked over twenty gold pieces, then watched as Raj folded together two hard paper bowls, spooned in some rice, then finally ladeled in some curry. The sauce-soaked meat and vegetables glistened in the sun, and the smell was simply phenomenal. He took his bowl as gingerly as his burgeoning enthusiasm would allow. A spoonful of the food disappeared into his gullet, and as he took in the taste he voiced his delight. "MmmmMMMMmmmm!"

Popi gave an apologetic bow in his behalf and steered her Masterpon away so that nobody else had to watch him eat. "Thank you, Mr. Raj!" she called, waving, and the vendor cheerfully waved her off.

Midna for her part briefly went along with the pair just long enough to get an overview of what was on sale and what they where buying, before heading out and hunting down the jewelry shop Primrose had sold their various jewelry at to see how much the evil detecting wolf charm was going for. Weapons and gear where all well and good, but when it came down to it, she could already fight. Sure, upgrades where nice, but for her, right now, gear that offered utility was taking priority for her. She could always go back once she knew how much of a budget she had left. Plus, while she wasn't sure if the bone charm counted as jewelry, she imagined the seller of enchanted accessories might still be able to figure out what it did, or know someone who would do that kind of work.

The Gerudo shopkeeper of Starlight Memories, Isha, withdrew the wolfs-head medallion from its cushion beneath the glass display case. "This the one?" she confirmed, figuring that her new customer had heard about it through a third party. "An excellent work of art, masterfully crafted in a magic forge. Its sturdiness, heft, and ferocious appearance make it a popular choice for men, but it suits anyone who seeks to not be trifled with. It will vibrate in the presence of sorcery and magical creatures, and mutually repels monsters, giving wearers a crucial warning. Six hundred gold is our asking price."

Midna did her best to avoid cringing at the asking price and giving away that that was a fair way out of her raw cash price range at the moment (she briefly considered trying to see how much her new earnings and bracelets would get, but found she had an emotional attachment to them that wasn't worth breaking unless she really needed the money. Besides, aesthetics where important after all, and being a princess who had to pawn of all her jewellery was a bod look) and instead focused on the qualities of the amulet itself. In hind sight magic that could detect evil on a moral level sounding to good to be true had turned out to be exactly that, though only because of a misinterpretation by her of the earlier simplified explanation. As for what it did do... it seemed like it would end up giving a lot of false positives considering the company she kept. Especially considering she didn't know what it counted as a 'monster' for the purpose of the repelling and warning effect. A brief mental image of Red and the amulet reacting poorly to one another put the idea of trying to find a way to afford it in the grave.

"While it is nice looking it looks like I misinterpreted the functionality of it when I heard about it, sorry about that." she apologized for wasting the woman's time, "but while I still have your attention, do you know anyone in town who is able to appraise or identify the magic effects of items? A charm and a sword specifically."

Isha recognized the sort of reticence that came with a hastily reconsidered purchase at a glance, but she did not mind. "No need to worry. Perhaps we another of our wares will catch your eye." Reconsidering her potential customer's price range she prepared to recommend a different item, but Midna had something else in mind entirely. "Oh? Hmm..." she crossed her arms as she considered the question. "Down in the fourth court there's a place called the Melding Pot. The Elder Melder practices alchemy there. She's a wyverian scholar who's lived a very long life, and she's got an exceptional amount of experience with rare objects and strange properties. She may be your best bet." Even when asked about a different store, the keeper of Starlight Memories remained courteous.

The princess did indeed have a brief additional look around at the other wares, particularity a rather fetching pair of amber earrings that she made note of how much they went for for later, before thanking the woman for her time and heading round to the fourth court to find this 'Elder Melder' Isha had told her about.

When Midna arrived in the fourth court and took a cursory look around, there could be little doubt as to what exactly the jeweler meant by 'Melding Pot.' An entire corner of the marketplace was occupied by nothing less than an actual super-sized urn, decorated with what amounted to a monster bone necklace and surrounded by craters and lesser pots stuffed with various reagents. Above it all the Elder Melder resided, standing atop a few planks across the pot's rim that allowed her to stir the contents of what amounted to a gigantic cauldron. If the word 'wyverian' had prompted the Twilight Princess to picture a dragon, she would find her assumption mistaken. In fact the Elder Melder looked like a very old Hylian if anything, what with her long if droopy ears.

It certainly explained the elder part of her name, that was for sure. The princess took another little look around and then, seeing that she wasn't just going to be noticed, floated up in-front of the cauldron and announced her presence with a polite, "good morning. Are you the Elder Melder? I was told you'd be the person to see about discerning the powers of a few magical items?"

"I'll be upfront about the fact that they probably aren't the, ah, nicest ones, but I'd like to see if they might be useful, be the kind of thing you cover in warning labels and shove in a vault or alternatively are the kind lock away in a at the bottom of a dungeon to make sure no-one ever gets their hands on them." She added, wanting to be entirely honest and open about what she was asking right now rather than have things get complicated later.

The wyverian nodded her assent, just happy that a client had come to her rather than obliged her to climb down from atop her pot. "Oh, that's quite alright, dearie. Whatever gift you might have for me, Granny's happy to tell ya what it is." She let go of her stirring spoon, which given its size really was more of a stirring oar, and let it rest against the rim of the pot. She clasped her hands together. "Now, since this is your first time, there are a few things you should know. I do charge a fee per appraisal, but it's only ten gold. Just enough for poor Granny to warm herself with a bowl of curry when the night gets chilly. " She helped paint the picture by crossing and rubbing her arms for a moment, as if she were shivering. "That said, I don't mean to toot my own horn when I say you won't get a better appraisal in town. Whatever makes it tick, I can tell ya. And I can write it down for ya too, so if you want to sell it, you'll be sure to get the right price. As the Elder Melder my word is my bond, and it's as good as gold." She extended a wrinkled hand. "Now let's see what you've got, dearie."

First she took hold of the bone charm, getting a tentative feel for it before determining it was safe enough to handle. Then she felt it all over, taking in every detail, and when she finished her initial assessment she began pulling out tools from her belt, starting with a magic spyglass. In surprisingly short order the old wyverian came to a conclusion. "Well, this is quite the fascinating little doodad. Made of human bone. Possessed of a strange kind of magic, otherworldy, just on the edge of the darkness. This charm offers, yes. Against swords, knives, axes, anything with a blade. Should one touch you the charm will enact vicious retribution and shatter the blade, but be comes at a price." A dramatic flair crept through her voice, the sort of theatricality she might use to entertain grandchildren. "Every time this happens, one of your teeth will rot and fall out. So think carefully, dearie. While one's life is more precious than one's teeth, it wouldn't do to rob such a pretty young thing of her smile." She cracked a grin, revealing a few missing teeth herself. "Eehee, see?"

Next she inspected the sword. From moment one it was clear to her just how dangerous this thing was, and she treated it with an appropriately painful seriousness. This appraisal took more than twice as long as the other, at the end of which the Elder Melder handed it back wrapped in a cloth. She shook her head vigorously. "This is a truly cursed object. I can scarcely believe it myself, but as far as I can tell, if you were to take a blow -any at all- while wearing this, you would be instantly killed." She shivered, intensely disturbed by the foul sorcery. "I must admit that it seems capable of dealing extraordinary amounts of damage, but never have I beheld a more self-destructive object. I would advise you to get rid of it, or..." With narrowed eyes, she glanced in the direction of the temple court. "Maybe the shopkeeper of Hero Needs would buy it."

A shiver visibly ran down the princess spine when she found out what was so wrong with the sword. She'd used that to fight the demons. She'd been but a scratch from dying that whole time. She had to take a moment to take a deep breath and compose herself after that.

"Goddesses. This was more than worth the asking price. Thank you Elder. Both for the appraisal and for the advice." it was very good advice too. "Even if my teeth weren't at risk,using something made of human bone is. urgh" an appalling proposition to say the least.That she was going to bury or burn or something to put the person to rest.

As for the sword "Defiantly a warning label one, that is for sure. As for selling it..." on the one hand people would know what they where getting into. On the other, in this town, she would not put it past either of the factions to arm some schmuck with it. Plus could she live with herself knowing some cocksure fool might be running around and getting themselves killed because of her? No. No she really wouldn't be able to. "That doesn't seem ethical. In the slightest" she decided, before carefully attaching the note the Elder Melder provided with the details on it to the blade and then tapped it with a finger.

"That can live in the twilight realm till i find somewhere secure to put it. Throwing it away for someone else to find would be just as bad. Worse maybe?" she explained/justified her decision to both the woman and herself as the sword was sent to live in her personal storage area in her home dimension, well away form everything else in there for good measure, which being a physical location meant she could carry it around without, well, carrying it.

"Thanks again. You're a life saver and, I imagine, someone who's services will come in handy for both me and my... allies in future." she said in closing.

"You're very welcome!" The Elder Melder replied, bowing her head. "I also perform melding, which is melting down materials into 'points' that can be used to craft other materials. So please do come again.

"I'm sure I will. Have a lovely day mam" she said, bidding the woman farewell and then being left to try and think of what she was going to do.

"Guess I could check out this 'the shopkeeper of Hero Needs' is selling?" she said to herself, before heading round there and finding several of the others had also sought out the famous merchant selling all sorts of wonderfulness wares.

The short trip reunited Midna with Sectonia just as the wasp queen's long search was coming to an end. She and Yoshitsune had eventually found just the sort of item purveyor the queen had sought inside the temple of commerce itself, at the largest and most popular store of them all: Hero Needs. Trinkets and baubles, arms and armor, clever contraptions and conveniences of all kinds, and in the center of it all the famous green-clad shopkeeper, perennially wearing his characteristic smile as he effortless accomplished deal after deal. It stocked a wide variety of mundane goods and equipment, so much that anyone without too much to spend could find good gear for under a hundred gold, but of special note were its unique artifacts.

As the pair stood before the store, the sound of a loud slurp happened to catch their attention. A glance over towards the inner court's central left revealed none other than Tora and Poppi seated at Cromdo's Fountain, the upscale bar run by the lovably churlish Cromdo Face. Judging by the ice-cold Nuka Cola clutched in Tora's wing he'd elected to wash down his lunch of curry with a sweet refreshment. When the two groups spotted one another the dynamic duo waved cheerfully. The Nopon's happy waving was earnest enough to nearly spill the drink of the woman in purple beside him, and with a huff the stylish lady moved farther away.

Midna waved back and, having had her fill of the fascinating and expensive items on display, and having made several mental notes about ones she'd like if she could afford them, which she could probably do if she sold the cursed items that she was most certainly not going to do, decided to float on over to them. "Hi you two. Hows the market been treating you?"

"Very good, meh!" Tora replied, not at all trying to hide his good spirits. "First have yummy spicy sauce called curry, now have super sweetydrink called cola. Tora knew coming here was right choice! How about Mid-Mid? Get anything good?"

As much as he preferred interaction with Midna the Nopon did glance over at Hero Needs. Yoshitsune had his eyes on the Follower Torch, while despite seeing a lot of interesting things on offer Sectonia was obliged to focus on the subset she could afford, namely the Moon Shard. After checking the torch out, though the swordsman's stance was rather odd and not suited for single sword use, he decided to purchase it with some of his home coins.

"Lots of interesting things, on sale here, that is for sure. Gonna head back and buy this ice shield in a bit. Maybe you should have a look, there's some stuff that'll make you tougher in the Hero's shop you might like Tora." She said, taking a little sit next to them and a break from floating around the market.

"In less good news, turns out this sword I found is supposed to be very deadly, but it also makes it so that anyone carrying it dies if they take a scratch. Also the charm I found is made of... well, not something talk about while you are eating. Also it makes your teeth fall out as a side-effect of destroying weapons that hit you. So both of those are gonna sit around in the twilight realm till i find a good way to get rid of them. But the Elder Melder who I got to identify them for me was very helpful. and cheap. Nice old lady that one." She explained, mostly as a result of wanting to vent the knowledge, but also as a way to inform the group about the very useful appraisal service of the Elder Melder.

Although he wanted to give Midna (and her woes about cursed treasure, but mostly Midna) all the attention they were due, Tora couldn't stop wondering what the princess meant when she suggested that he might find things to make him an even better tank in Hero Needs. With a minor sugar high already in progress thanks to the ridiculous saturation of the Nuka Cola, he couldn't stop imagining all sorts of shields, armors, and who knew what else. As such his wandering eyes spotted a certain insect the moment she appeared.

Sectonia looked at Tora as she came out of the shop having bought and used the moon shard, adding its beauty and power to her own. What she saw made her face twitch a bit before she composed herself. She did have an inkling that he was a glutton and she could appreciate him throwing a bit of decadence but it wasn't what she expected. Even so, that soda did look good... "How has your shopping been. I see Tora is acting like a noble."

"Good," Tora repeated, without any attempt to go into the same detail he did for Midna. Turning away from Sectonia he grabbed Poppi's shoulder, saying, "C'mon, meh! Let's go see what in store!" After a nod from Poppi he quaffed the last of his soda, set it down, and pushed off the stool. The two then went the way Sectonia came, passing a torch-bearing Yoshitsune, and got busy with the item shop's inspection. It didn't take long for the Nopon's eyes to land on the Centaur Heart in all its healthy glory.

"Ooh!" he fawned over the thing. "Twenty-five percent? Tora going to be strongest toughiepon in whole world!" His mental math determined that the purchase would cut the pair's current funds exactly in half, nice and clean. In fact, it would also spare the whole hundred that was technically Poppi's share. Although he'd been planning to spend the funds for the both of them, Tora realized that since he didn't need to, he could earn some points by leaving the rest for his Blade to use as she pleased. "Meheh! Perfect!" he declared, handing over his gold to the shopkeeper. "Tora have just the right amount!" Following the attached instructions, he smacked the Centaur Heart against his chest and absorbed its power, then looked at Poppi with a big smile. "Poppi want anything? Have whole hundred to spend!"

Poppi smiled at his enthusiasm, thinking. Although she didn't really care about shopping or material goods in general, it was also true she'd never really gotten the chance to try. As such she swept her optics across the store, noting both the mundane and extraordinary products on offer. Of course, any purchases were contingent on her means. "Well, everything else else that special in here too expensive. But if fine, Poppi not need weapons or armor anyway. Ether allow Poppi build everything Poppi need!"

Shaking his head, Tora wrapped his wing around her and squeezed. "That wrong line of thinking, Poppi! Even if have everything Poppi need, is there anything Poppi want? Anything that seem interesting or fun?"

"Want," Poppi repeated. Not something she often considered. Normally she just wanted to help people, to do a good job, and to be around Tora. She liked seeing new places and smelling food, as well. But none of those things could be bought from atop the stopkeeper's tables or inside his shelves. Her optics fell on the Myrmidon Bracer. "Are sure, Tora? With that, could be even tougher in battle."

The thought had occurred to Tora, but he shrugged. "Meeh, we not have enough money anyway."

"Could ask for some from Midna or Sectonia?"

In an instant the suggestion reduced Tora's willpower by approximately ninety percent. He glanced out at his royal allies with upturned brows, knowing it would be so easy, but somehow the Nopon managed to clear his throat. "Ahem!" Forcing himself to look away, he faced Poppi once more. "Tora want Poppi get something Poppi wants."

"Oh!" Knowing what she did of Nopon greed, Poppi counted herself mighty impressed that her Masterpon managed to pull such a stunt off. If he just wanted to virtue signal he could have accepted her generosity after offering his own, but it seemed he'd committed to gaining nothing, except perhaps seeing her smile. She searched the shop again, different mission parameters in mind. For a while she browsed in silence, but eventually she found something and brought it to the shopkeeper to buy. It cost a heavy eighty-five gold for an item that nominally didn't do anything, but when Poppi approached Tora with the Lunar Tear glowing softly in her hair, they shared a moment of joy that neither would soon forget.

Having been left with her cursed item woes by the duo Midna sighed, shrugged, and then, after taking a bit more of a break, scooting of back to Rock Solid Deals to make her purchase, the Arctic Shield, which turned out to have a blessed secondary effect of being wonderfully cool in the desert heat. That meant that rather than pop it away into the twilight realm till later she decide to start wearing it straight away, strapping it on her left arm while hugging it close with her right. This might have looked a little strange but felt oh so good. It did leave her with a grand total of 5 gold that she used for a light lunch consisting mostly of a salad. Was it the most exiting or filling meal? No, but it was what she could afford and she wasn't about to beg for food money when she'd just spent so much and refused to make more selling the two cursed items. Also if she needed it she could always dip into the rations her jewelry had helped pay for.

Her shopping done, she headed back to rejoin the group, interested to see what they had ended up buying.

The group ended up coming together back in the first court by the bazaar entrance, meaning Midna didn't have too far to float to reunite with them. The insect (with her own refreshing Nuka Cola and a jar of delicious glazed worms from Rhon Ron's Eatery), the swordsman, the Nopon, and the Blade had come from the temple of commerce together. With the Phantom Thieves as well as Primrose absent for the moment, and both Laharl and Red nowhere to be found, it was a rather small group. She saw Tora examining Yoshitsune's purchase, a war torch that seemed to be able to ignite just by equipping it, with both intrigue and confusion. In the end, though, it just made for another in a long line of things that didn't really make sense and could be chalked up to the all-encompassing 'magic'. It certainly wasn't enough to bring him down from where his fine meal left him. And with a lovely white flower in her lavender hair that somehow complimented the horn-like protrusions in her headband, Poppi looked to be in even better spirits than her Masterpon. "Everyone ready? We should not keep Mr. Band waiting any longer," she advised.

"What are we doing again?" Yoshitsune asked, being pulled from his thoughts about his swords.

Figuring that her torch-bearing ally might have gotten distracted by everything on offer in the bazaar, Poppi happily explained. "We go check in with Big Band, who by job office on Al Mamoon main street. He in proximity to Resistance bomb plot, so chances good he get intel for us so we can make decision on what do next."

Yoshitsune nodded, following her to where they were supposed to go. "Let's hope this job is more fun than catching a con artist."

"Don't know about it being fun, but that sounds like a plan. I've been there already, and the fastest way there should be through there I think," Midna said, pointing a way out of the market that would take them back to the job office by what she thought would be the quickest route.
Hey there. Just as an update the collab is still in progress. It shouldn't be that much longer.
Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (50/40)
Location: The Maw - the Belly
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 2000

When Bongo Bongo finally decided that the flower pot couldn’t possibly get any more smashed, its gaze moved on once again, but this time Nadia noticed what looked like a change in the monster’s behavior. Already the repeated provocations were wearing on the shadow beast’s nerves, perhaps knowing that it wasn’t striking at the root cause of the various disturbances. Leaving behind its methodical, reactionary strategy from before, the scarlet searchlight started to move faster and more erratically, making its gaze much harder to predict and hide from. Even Nadia, whose middle name might as well be ‘Levity’, had a tough time taking the situation lightly. She made a mental note to praise Mirage for his pun later as her brain raced to come up with a solution to the predicament before her.

Her traveling companion beat her to the punch. Nadia looked on as he extracted a nearby tire from the rubble, and when he began to outline his plan she absorbed every detail, her tail swishing around as the gears turned in her head. Someone possessed of an excess of sanity or perhaps a particularly well-developed intellect might have found fault with his plan, but given the feral’s attempt to jury-rig a paraglider mere minutes ago, it was perhaps unsurprising that Mirage’s idea sounded like the bees’ knees to her. In New Meridian and even the Little Innsmouth itself it wasn’t too strange a sight to see a few pint-sized street rats playing with whatever refuse came their way, tires included. The classic combination of tire and hill could keep a kid riding high for the whole day. “Okay,” she whispered, more excited than scared by the prospect. “Let’s do this!”

Together the two got a tire into position, and after bunching up the remains of her bedsheet parachute and stuffing it inside, Nadia climbed in herself. With her fan clutched between her chest and her knees as extra support she fit snugly inside. At that point movement to her right alerted her, but luckily it turned out to be Geralt, nigh-unrecognizable as he was in his current state. “Hiya,” she whispered, keeping things casual despite the ambient threat of the monster turning them to paste. “Mirage can use his darts to make a kind of ladder up the wall. Then we can climb up into the vent. We were just about to get down.” From inside the tire she pointed a clawed finger in the approximate direction of the junk mountain’s foot. “We can use tires to roll down fast. Our target…”

She cleared her throat as she realized, again a little sheepish, that she hadn’t thought about an actual destination. Carefully she got out of the tire, glanced to make sure the phantom’s searchlight wasn’t about to roll over her, and then peered down through the darkness toward the vent that would be her salvation. “There,” she whispered. “Can you see it? Look for the little metal shine. There’s a couch with red cushions pretty much right below it, about halfway between us and that boat.” She pointed to the houseboat currently commandeered by the Koopa Troop. No doubt they’d be reaching the exit at about the same time, which was great news. “Let’s aim there.”

At that point she heard a voice from down somewhere. She skittered to the edge of the metal platform to look and found Sakura down at the base of the mountain, sending up encouragement and high fives. Too pure and innocent for this world Nadia recalled as she clenched her teeth, looking to see if the little street fighter had alerted Bongo Bongo. Luckily the phantom seemed otherwise occupied at the moment at the other side of the Belly, venting some of its frustrations. Nadia waved down at Sakura with both hands, making the universal keep it down gesture. They might be near the end, but it was way too early to celebrate.

Still, she resolved to give Sakura some high-fives when they got through this. First, though she needed to get through this. With a deep breath she re-entered her tire, while Mirage re-adjusted his aim. “Well, if I get mulched, remember me fondly. Adult me, preferably.” She got as comfy as she could and braced herself for adventure. “Okay, I’m ready. Send me!”

Her friend complied, and the next second she was rolling. Her heart instantly leaped into her throat as the tire hit the junk and started to pick up speed, but pretty soon the dizziness set in and flushed everything else from her mind. The poor kitten could do nothing but hold on for dear life as her tire bounced, rolled, and bounced again down the slope of junk, each impact sending items clattering down the mountain. Normally the phantom might have passed the noise up as nothing more than the typical shifting of junk, but with its dander up Bongo Bongo wasn’t going to let a chance slip through its fingers. Its gaze flew across the Belly to the slope of the junk mountain, but by the time its hit the spot the noise came from Nadia’s tire had moved on. As the disturbances continued it tried to keep up, but for whatever reason it didn’t sense the pattern of her movement and attempt to intercept her, and only grew more frustrated.

Maddened by its continued tantalization, Bongo Bongo started smashing. From the shadows its mottled mitts dropped again and again, flying over one another in a line in a horrific game of leap-frog, destroying the junk in Nadia’s wake in an immense racket. If the monster even heard the sound of Mirage’s thrown glass over the hubbub, it flat-out ignored it. It picked up speed, and only a moment after the kitten’s tire ramped off the car door a hand reduced it to broken glass and scrap metal, hurting itself in the process. A strangled, guttural OOGH came from up above, where the searchlight originated, and both hands ceased their raging as the damaged one flashed blue.

Nadia’s tire, meanwhile, sailed through the air and landed on the bottom layer. It rolled a short distance, hit the edge of a buried nightstand, and toppled over. Only after a moment did Nadia’s tousled head poke up from within, looking incredibly dizzy. For the moment Bongo Bongo seemed to be recovering, but there was no mistaking the trail of tossed objects that heralded the arrival of the thing that lurked below. Even if she couldn’t see straight, Nadia could hear the noise that terror etched in her soul from earlier, and she struggled to pull herself from the tire. The sofa was close, painfully close, but still too far. It’s going to get me. It’s going to get me!

Then a pair of scaled hands wrapped around her arms and pulled her free. She mewed in fear, but rather than up into the darkness or down into the junk she got hauled onto the deck of the mostly-buried houseboat, and once her head stopped spinning she realized that a Koopa had come to her aid. “Junior! Oh man, you really saved my skin” she breathed, still too dazed to stand up straight. Her bright eyes turned just in time to see her tire get pulled beneath the junk, along with the blanket she’d left behind. At least she hadn’t let go of the fan.

A crescendo of clashing noise turned her attention back the way she came. Bongo Bongo’s wanton destruction of the mountainside had destabilized the terrain, and now the mountain was coming down. The piled-high items came sliding, tumbling, and clattering down in a landslide, taking the car hood that Geralt and Mirage stood on with it. Balancing for their very lives the two rode the hood down the mountain, eventually coming to a stop past where Nadia’s car door ramp had been. No other way across lay before them, but thanks to the landslide a box containing a set of welcome streamers among other things had been exposed, offering a perceptive dart-shooter the very sort of rope he’d been looking for.

At the same time the others took advantage of the noise to close the gap. Nadia spotted Sakura and Link pillow-stepping their way across the miscellaneous expanse, the latter having gained a strange companion that was not at all the green-haired lad the kitten had been expecting. Peach kept hopping along in her shoe, slow enough to not cause a scene. Though Bella looked exhausted she kept on trucking, rowing her toy boat toward the red-cushioned finish line. Bowser’s own little vessel picked up a passenger in Ace Cadet, who Nadia was overjoyed to see alive and well after he fell behind at the start. With the cover of the landslide Blazermate would have no trouble blazing her own trail over the junk to where the others were coalescing. Behind her, Rika and Kamek emerged from the houseboat’s interior wielding the split halves of a magnet, and the boat’s prow was only a hop, skip, and a jump away from a couple picnic tables and lawn chairs that led right to the sofa. Nadia’s heart surged with hope; somehow, despite the helplessness and terror, they were actually about to make it!

Of course, that notion smacked of confidence before the fall, and in anticipation of a problem Nadia turned her cat vision of the exit. Sure enough, there she spotted a problem with the vent beyond its height off the ground: there was a fan inside it. It spun at a good clip, remarkably quiet, but its edges looked sharp, and it promised to make escape difficult. At the hub there appeared to be a softly pulsing red core of some kind that looked important.

Her observation got interrupted by another noise from the shadow beast. As she watched its red eye began to descend, until its hanging form floated only a couple dozen feet above the final stretch of junk, hands at the ready. In anger and desperation at the intruders’ imminent escape it started to beat the ground layer, twice with its left hand and then once, stronger, with its right. Each impact sent a shockwave through the terrain, making it harder to balance and move, and all the while its eye continued to rove around. The final stretch had become a crazed game of red light, green light for those not already at the finish line, and Bongo Bongo wasn’t playing fair.

Those in the middle would have a hard time getting to the sofa, so it fell to those with a clear path around the sides to clear the way as much as possible. That meant Mirage, Geralt, and possibly Blazermate coming in from the left, and the remaining Koopas plus Rika on the houseboat route to the right. And, of course, Nadia. She grabbed Junior’s shoulder and tilted her head to the others, pointing the way with her ears since her other arm held her fan. “We’ve gotta go. Let’s get into position on the couch, so we can climb up. If you’ve got any ideas for dealing with the big fan, now’s the time!” Leading by example she scurried across the deck of the houseboat and hopped across the outdoor stepping stones to the couch, where she prepared to stage her getaway. She watched out for any signal from the others, any chance to put her own fan to use.
Museum of Vanity

Location: Al Mamoon
Primrose’s @Yankee, Jesse’s @Zoey Boey, the Phantom Thieves
Word Count: 3338 (+4 EXP)

Jesse was on the back foot when the Phantom Thieves managed to come to her aid. She was fast and some well-timed projectiles kept it away, but it wasn’t hurting it at all. She figured it had some kind of weakness, but it was hard to think or puzzle solve with a giant monster bearing down on her. Primrose was doing some magic that made Jesse a little more confident that this thing wouldn’t just splatter her with one hit.

When even their impressive maneuver bounced off, Jesse knew the name of the game was slowing it down until her allies could find the weakness. That divination ability would come in clutch. While they did their coordinated attack, Jesse drew forth the Tool Gun.

“I’ll buy time.” Jesse announced.

There were a few things she could try, but a lot of them were probably out done by its sheer brute strength and odd anatomy. Nonetheless, she switched it to Deflate and fired off a few beams at its lower appendages, focusing on the same ankles and knees the brave Mona was pelting. It’s left leg would become Jesse’s target.

In the moment she adjusted her settings the Shambler nearly got her, but in desperation Mona called upon Zorro to whip up an even stronger whirlwind than usual. “Magaru!” His Persona’s rapier cut a gleaming rune into the air, then sent forth his magic with a flourish. A horizontal cyclone that raked across the gallery blew the Shambler up and away, but not nearly as far as it should have, and when the creature fell it descended slower than gravity would typically allow. “Grr!” Mona grit his teeth. “This thing isn’t reacting normally!” He watched Jesse zap its leg, but the monster brushed off the bolt of electricity just as it did the fire before, and its effect didn’t take.

“Yup.” Jesse dead panned. (Time to come up with Plan C.)

While Jesse and Mona dealt the thing and the remaining thieves scattered, Primrose considered her options. Since she didn't wield any wind or ice, she wasn't confident that her magic would be useful at holding the creature back. For her, directly confronting the monster was obviously a no-go. She would leave that to the pair already engaged.

So, Primrose did what she did best in battle: support her teammates. She focused on Mona this time, performing the Peacock Strut to boost his elemental attack. With a stronger wind, hopefully they'd have an easier time pushing the shambler into a corner while the others searched for the weapon that was apparently it's weakness. Midway through the steps she seamlessly reached into her clothes and drew something out, not her fan but her own dagger. The blade in her hand flashed as she danced, reflecting the flames around them.

Once her empowering twirl was completed she took a steadying breath. Mentally Primrose called the Makami out, could feel it's giddiness at being deployed so soon, and she wasted no time giving it it's first mission. She showed it the dagger in her hand, and with a finger she quickly drew a spiral down the length of it. "A bone dagger in a helix shape," she repeated to the wolf spirit, "fly up and help them find it."

The dancer was aware this wasn't the usual kind of job one might give a hunting wolf, but the spirit accepted it nonetheless and floated upwards towards the gallery's ceiling, trying to catch any hint of the mentioned weapon.

While the Thieves pored over the displays in the less damaged half of the gallery, Primrose’s Makami pointed its snout in the direction of the struggle with the Shambler. Like a kite caught in Mona’s wind it fluttered into the heat of battle, skirting just out of the horror’s range to come to a stop over the remains of a shattered display case, one that Jesse had thrown. It turned back to its new master as its body dangled downward and gave her a hollow howl to signal its find. Then it disappeared, its time spent for the moment. Primrose's eyes flickered over at the noise. So the Makami had succeeded in finding something - she could only hope it was the dagger. "There - try there," she said, calling attention to the wolf's fading form.

A voice reached the Phantom Thieves through their masks, that of the flying saucer Necronomicon. “Hey, are you guys alright? I’m getting some strange readings from in there.”

“We’re fighting this weird monster that doesn’t get hit like it should, and it’s not a normal immunity!” Mona yowled. “Need you to scan it, fast!”

“Oh! O-okay!” Necronomicon stammered, suddenly energized. “Well, uh, it’’s pretty darn weird. Almost like a liquid? Whatever it’s made of can’t be from this world, and it doesn’t follow our laws. It’s immune to energy, but I bet it reacts to matter. Like...the opposite of a non-Newtonian fluid. So slower stuff with more surface area will have more effect.”

Though his stamina was beginning to run dry, Mona sent forth another twister to keep the monster at bay. He kept it slow and watched it carry the Shambler with it rather than move it as it passed through. “No wonder it touches the floor and furniture just fine.” He snuck a glance at Jesse. “Maybe you can pin it down with something?”

Jesse’s reserves of Energy were recharging, and she was managing it as best she could. It always came back, but if she ran empty at a crucial time, it would be bad news. Mona posed an idea. “Maybe.” She responded.

“I need something that won’t break.” Jesse scanned the room. Just keep throwing things at the wall, see what sticks. She ripped the concrete base of one of the statues right out of the floor and hovered it infront of her. She hipfired her Tool Gun, firing several Thrusters at it. She Launched the concrete object at the Shambler, the Thrusters still facing her. Then she activated the Thrusters on the concrete base, looking to push the monster backwards.

Though hackneyed and rushed given the circumstances, Jesse’s scheme paid dividends. Her well-placed thrusters sent the stone slab sliding forward across the ground without tipping forward and smacking into the ground. The Shambler lashed out with its cruel talons when the barrier drew near, but to no avail, and like the plow of a bulldozer the wall swept the monster before it. In only a moment the jet-propelled wall pinned the scrabbling horror against the door. “Nice going!” Mona cheered, but the Shambler’s claws sought purchase around the edges of the slab to make its escape, so he did not sit on his laurels. As he called forth another burst of wind to keep the slab tamped down, his big eyes locked on where the Makami vanished. “Did it find something? We need to act fast!”

“Then leave it to me!” Skull declared with a grin, crouching down into a runner’s stance. Energy welled around him, charging up, and after a brief moment he burst into a headlong sprint across the gallery. He zoomed to where Primrose’s striker signaled its find and slid to a stop amid splinters and shattered glass. Without fear he scooped up the helix dagger from the debris, then barreled back the way he came.

As if sensing something, the Shambler locked its claws around the edges of the slab. It pulled itself free and leaped, grabbing hold of the ceiling. Like a spider it crawled at terrifying speed in pursuit of Skull, who for all his training was only human.

"No you don't," Primrose hissed. Pulling her arm in to conjure her dark magic, she then flung it outward towards the Shambler. Using her BP to empower the spell, she willed it to knock the demonic thing off course, if only for a moment to allow Skull the chance to get the dagger to where it needed to go and end this. Primrose was already in the midst of preparing another spell to back up the first, face determined.

“What’s the dagger for?” Jesse asked, noticing the Shambler’s reaction. The Shambler didn’t have time to destroy the slab completely, so Jesse was free to grab it and throw it at the monster as it was hit by Primrose’s magic.

"With luck, killing it," the dancer replied, getting as close as she dared.
“No shit.” Jesse said wryly. “Skull, what are you doing with that thing?” Jesse shouted across the room to him, jogging forward and chucking another piece of concrete at the Shambler.

Skull screeched to a halt, suddenly second-guessing where his adrenaline and instincts were taking him. “What? I was- that thing’s- they’ve gotta be…?” He’d been headed back toward the painting where Joker’s Third Eye revealed the knife to him, assuming that he needed to bring it back there. But Jesse’s commanding yell made it seem an awful lot like it should be expressly delivered to the Shambler itself instead. Both made sense, paralyzing him with choice, and if not for Primrose and Jesse’s efforts the Shambler would already be upon him. Even as he idled, however, a shimmering darkness spread out from the FBC director’s wounds. Skull looked around with frantic, panicked eyes, his fingers raking through his dyed hair. “J-Joker?! What do I do!?”

The leader of the Phantom Thieves stood by the horrific painting, brows furrowed, the difficulty of the situation plain to him. He couldn’t say what the answer to this puzzle was. He could only trust in his comrade. “Ryuji,” he called, using his best friend’s real name. “It’s up to you. Whatever you feel is the right move, do it now.”

Skull exhaled sharply. “Ri-hi-hight. Well…I’ll…” He clenched his teeth as he looked around, the dagger clutched in his vice grip. Maybe this weird looking knife was the only thing that could hurt it. But maybe the fact that Joker’s Third Eye got the hint from the painting meant something. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Skull tensed his muscles and sprang forward, gunning it for the back of the gallery. Behind him the Shambler shrieked and sprang forward. It twisted unnaturally, as if it had no bones, to avoid incoming projectiles. Mona’s eyes went wide as the monster closed the distance. “Zorro!” he yelled, but his Persona did not appear. He was out of stamina. A vile mitt swatted the cat like a fly, sending him smashing into the broken remnants of a statue, out like a light. It swung at Jesse as it flew by her in pursuit of its fleeing quarry.

Mona was down. Jesse swore and dove out of the way as best she could. The Shambler wasn’t exactly obscuring its intentions on where it meant to go. If the Shambler wanted the dagger so bad, chances were it needed to be kept away from it. The dagger needed to go somewhere else. “Don’t let it grab the dagger!” She shouted.

Jesse extended a hand out, past the Shambler, and ripped a chunk of concrete right out of the wall. She pulled it toward herself, and thus, into the beast. It toppled over, rolled one, and regained its footing to continue its mas dash. Once every five seconds she could smack into the creature. Not exactly the most effective but it was the best she could manage at the moment.

Primrose's spells were much too slow to hit the monster now that it was contorting itself in desperation to avoid anything that would stop it's movement. She let the magic die in her hand. The Shambler was fast, so they needed to be faster. Primrose backed up a step and then spun in place, throwing herself into a dance. She went through the movements as fast as her body would let her, nearly stumbling despite her years of practice. It was fortunate that the Panther Dance ended with a low sweep, as after the speed boosting magic took effect on Skull, Primrose let herself lie for a moment to catch her breath.

The much-needed speed boost snatched Skull from the jaws of defeat as the Shambler leaped for him. Like the wind the thief closed the distance between himself and the painting, but his abominable pursuer would not relent. With Jesse’s power and Primrose both recuperating, Joker and Panther breathed deep and stepped in to buy their friend the moment he needed. “Arsene!” Joker cried, his desperation more clear in his voice than he would have liked, and the apparition appeared. His Persona kicked through the legs of a display table with a roundhouse, then on the backstroke delivered a side kick that sent the furniture flying at the Shambler. Panther used her whip to grab hold of the wing of a draconic, squid-faced statue, and after Carmen appeared to crack the stone with a stomp, the carving flew like an axe blade to strike the horror as it smashed through Joker’s case. And still it kept going. With one blow apiece it struck aside Joker, then Panther, then turned to sink its teeth into the last thief standing.

But Skull had already reached the painting. “Get…” The dagger held in both hands and pointed downward, he leaped into the air. “WRECKED!” he half-bellowed and half-screamed as he plunged its bizarre blade into the painting. To his surprise the weapon carved through a material much thicker than paper, one that quivered like jelly -or flesh- as dark magic eked from the wound. Behind him he heard the Shambler howl, and the monster turned as if to flee, yet it could gain no distance. As the wind seemed to rise, something pulled it toward the painting. It clawed at the ground, scrabbling for purchase but as though someone was dragging it by its legs it slid down the floor. Finally it could hold on no longer and flew, with bone-chilling shrieks, into the painting. Its body disappeared into the semisolid surface, but before its head could sink in its claws latched onto the picture-frame. For a brief moment it fought back, pulling itself out.

(That works.) Jesse reached for the Tool Gun, and adjusted it to No Collide. “Go on. Get.” She lined up a shot and fired it at the picture frame. It’s brute strength shouldn’t be able to save it, now. Sure enough, the frame lost its ability to be touched, and with a final shriek the Shambler was gone.

With it faded the green haze that permeated the shadow gallery, restoring its ordinary light and atmosphere. So did the wounds the nightmare inflicted, allowing the injured interlopers to pick themselves up. Skull’s shoulders sagged in relief as he let out his breath. “Ho-ly crap...” The lead pipe he’d had at the ready to whack the Shambler into the next dimension if not for Jesse’s quick shot descended, and he after wiping his brow Skull moved to the center of the devastated gallery to meet up with everyone. Though bruised and exhausted Mona seemed to be okay, and Panther and Joker fared well, all things considered. Still, Panther did not hesitate to summon Carmen to help patch everyone up.

“Good job, everyone,” Mona told the group. “All things considered, we did about as well as we could have.”

With a groan, Panther rubbed her shoulder. “Agh. Sure hope we don’t run into any more where that came from.

“Yeah, all these changes are total bull,” Skull grouched.

Primrose let out a deep sigh of relief. She stood on somewhat shaky legs and picked her way through the ruined gallery to where the thieves and Jesse gathered. "Damnable thing," she muttered after glancing at the painting the Shambler had disappeared into. Sure that it wouldn't be worming it's way out anytime soon, she looked over the others. Glad that they'd taken no major injuries she offered them the only thing she could while Panther healed them - an encouraging smile.

Uninjured, she leaned against one of the few displays still standing and finally cast her gaze towards the door the monster had been guarding when they first arrived. "How many floors do you think we have left to go?" she wondered.

“It’s hard to say, unfortunately,” Joker told her. “Our objective today is different from last time, and we don’t have a lot of hints. This place’s bigger on the inside, too.” Despite the ordeal the team just went through, and the uncertain road ahead, there was no frustration to be seen on Joker’s face or heard in his voice. He nodded his head at Skull. “Good job back there. You made the right call.”

His friend rubbed the back of his head, smiling. “Aw, it was nothin’. I mean, it was pretty crazy back there, but I thought the picture and that monster had to be connected. That said, I thought that, uh, cuttin’ the painting would cut the real thing, or somethin’. Wasn’t expectin’ the whole whoosh-reeee deal.”

“Yeah. Well done. We straight up banished that thing.” Jesse said, kicking the loose stones of a statue she had shattered. “I think you guys could work on your callouts. If I knew that was your plan I could have moved the painting towards you, or you could have tossed the knife over to me and I could have launched it at the painting. But, hey, we survived, and it was pretty fun.” The Director commented off-handedly. Jesse glanced over at the door, vanishing the Service Weapon. She got out her tool gun and prepared to No-Collide. “We can catch our breath for a bit, if you want. Before we move on to find that friend of yours.”

“Fun?” Panther seemed incredulous. “I mean, normal fights are pretty fun. That, though…?” She let the thought trail off. Primrose echoed the girl's thoughts, raising a single brow behind her mask at the Director.

Joker nodded to Jesse. “You’re right about the callouts. We’re not used to working with others I’m afraid. Normally we would take a moment to talk, but it was a little hectic in there.” The casual manner with which Jesse treated the whole thing made her seem a lot more experienced than he thought. “Let’s take another minute to rest, but our Persona magic doesn’t replenish itself, so there’s no use sticking around any longer than that.”

“Fox’s gotta be here somewhere,” Skull murmured. “If only we had a clue.”

Though her mask obscured them, Panther’s eyebrows went up. “Wait, what about our navigator? Maybe she can tell us!”

“Oh, good idea! I’ll call her.” Skull put two fingers to his temple, although he didn’t actually know if that did anything or not. Joker watched, but he didn’t exactly look hopeful. “Uh, Necro? Can you scan the place for Fox? Necronomnom? You there?”

“It’s Necronomicon, you moron!” Panther hissed.

“Yes!” The modulated voice responded. “I’ve already run a scan. Unfortunately the place is really big, and there are too many lifesigns to narrow it down. I’ve been going one by one trying to recognize him, but no luck so far. But he’s not in the treasure chamber, and there doesn’t appear to be a basement.”

Mona considered what he remembered of the palace. “So, where would captive artists be held…? Although there are a bunch of places with security lasers, I don’t remember any holding area.”

“Maybe the distorted Escher area,” Joker suggested. “It’s basically made to prevent escape. If we’re about halfway up, past the area with the walk-through paintings, it must be nearby.” The Thieves nodded their collective agreement, and a few moments more were ready to follow Jesse as she no-collided the Shadow Gallery door.

“Okay. Sounds like a plan.” Jesse said. Deeper and deeper, into a labyrinthine complex that defied spatial sense, and was full of horrible monsters? All in search of a missing person? (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) The Director No-Collided the door, and this time she was the one who stuck her red-haired head through.
Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (47/40)
Location: The Maw - the Belly
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1546

At a steady, methodical pace the shadow beast’s fell beacon roved across the miscellaneous landscape. With so much ground to cover it spent only a second or two on any particular item of furniture or clump of debris, lingering here or there for a moment at a time, and occasionally sweeping from one area to a farther one without focusing on anything between the two. As Peach’s distraction showed, it would lock onto any disturbance and retaliate with needless brutality, but as fearful and threatening as the monster was, it wasn’t unstoppable. Mirage’s tentative footsteps, taken well away from the phantom’s baleful gaze, proved that it couldn’t hear well enough to prohibit movement. Its glare passed over the extra-large shirt in which Geralt swaddled himself, but it did not penetrate the cloth to discover the boy hidden within.

Even after the danger moved on, Nadia stayed still for a good few seconds, fighting to get her breathing under control. After holding her breath she needed air but couldn’t risk hyperventilation, and regulating her breath with the added bonus of ribs bruised from the impact with the television turned out to be surprisingly hard. Nevertheless she managed, and once she’d craned her head around to make sure the pillar of red light was far away, she gingerly hauled herself on top of the TV. She pulled at the parachute that covered her, mindful of every swish, until her head poked out into the open air with ears twitching.

Immediately she spotted Mirage beneath her, seated on the stand her television rested on. Given the haphazard way everything in this place seemed to fall she was a little surprised to see the device and its platform still reunited, but maybe they were bolted together or something. Either way, that was the least of the concerns. She could see the crimson spotlight wandering around still, never so distant that she could afford to ignore it, and at the peak the sight of the shadow beast’s eye, suspended in the utter darkness up there, sent shivers down her spine.

As she watched, the phantom’s gaze swerved toward the bookshelf Geralt fled from once again, drawn by the sound of the Blazermate’s jet turbines. Following in Peach’s footsteps she flung a book as a distraction, but the imitation proved shortsighted. A book made for a lot less stimulation than an alarm clock, and a bit less than a noisy, flying Medabot, and it bought her only a second to make her escape. Then its gaze sped after the noise, following a short distance behind and forcing Blazermate to race to stay in the concealing darkness. An enormous hand hurtled from the darkness, silent as the grave, and slammed down only just behind her with a tremendous crash. Its twin followed, close enough that Blazermate could feel the wind of it rushing past. She zoomed over where Sakura climbed into and hid inside a washing machine, narrowly avoiding getting her ally found out. A few seconds later she reached the bed. Blazermate dove beneath the blanket and stopped cold, while the beacon in hot pursuit overshot her to the junk beyond and stopped, no noise or movement to guide it. For a tense moment its hands loomed to either side of the bed, but the shadow beast had lost sight of her. The hands lifted away into the pitch like marionettes, and the monster resumed its search.

Nadia groaned. She was afraid to go and terribly worried for everyone (with a VIP badge for Sakura in particular), but there was nothing she could do and staying put was even worse than going forward, so she couldn’t stick around any longer. “Psst!” she whispered down to Mirage. “You alright there? Jeez, can you believe this crap we gotta deal with?” With a beleaguered sigh she wiped her brow. “Well, whatever. Don’t want that thing givin’ us a peer review, so ‘eye’ guess we’ve gotta stealth mission on our hands.” She couldn’t help but feel annoyed that her plan had been scuppered already and her not-at-all-silent fan rendered useless. Even her parachute wouldn’t serve its intended use, since it probably wouldn’t unfold before she hit the ground even if she jumped from one of these junk-mountains. But it wasn’t worthless. She surveyed the terrain ahead briefly. “I see a painting leaning against the TV, a long dresser, and a rolled-up rug. C’mon, let’s go together. Stick a dart on the screen and climb up. Once we both grab onto the painting we can kick it and ride it to the other side.”

She and Mirage got underway using the feral’s strategy to get to the dresser with only a minor clatter, then ran across without falling into the holes left by missing drawers (more than once apiece, anyway).. When they got to the rug it took some effort to quietly extract and unroll it, but once they did it lay ready to offer a smooth ride down. “Wait, wait!” Nadia whispered urgently, her bright cat eyes staring through the dark at the junk mountain’s base. “There’s some kind of pit. It’ll be hard as hell to get out of.” She took another look at the pit, evaluating the stuff around it. “It...looks like there's a dishwasher beside the pit. If you can dart it, we can jump from the rug right before it gets to the pit and use it as a platform to get across. We’ll need to circle around a little for a straight shot.” With furrowed brow she looked at the party streamers strung between nearby gardening poles and fake plants. She took a running start and leaped for an artificial ficus, which her claws helped her climb until she could reach and cut through the streamer knotted at the top. Its end clenched in her teeth, she slid down, then offered the makeshift rope to Mirage. “Here. You’re a good shot, right? Think ya got what it takes to nail the washer while swingin’ around?”

While he got busy she crouched down under her sheet, on lookout for the monster’s beam getting too close. She caught a glimpse of the others making their way through the Belly, wary of Bongo Bongo’s gaze. The Peach had found herself a peculiar shoe and was using it to hop across the surface of the junk, but the tendency to hit something that made a clatter forced her to hide under her parasol a few times when she provoked the phantom’s ire. Way on the other side the Koopa Troop plus an enlightened Rika had managed to get out of the ball pit. Between them and the other side stood two distinct zones: an area littered with everything one could find in a garage plus the instruments of an entire garage band, and then an actual houseboat half-buried in the junk. Good luck with that. Link made his way with a deftness none of the other children could match, needing nobody's help to progress across the Belly; in fact, he went out of his way to give a trepidation Glenn a hand. Nadia was also glad to see Sakura, fresh from her stay in the washing machine and up to her old tricks again. Not far away she spotted Bella in a toy boat complete with oars, using the strength of her leviathan tail to row her one side at a time across the ground layer after Sakura, and relying on a bucket to shield her from the evil eye.

In short order Mirage managed to prove himself a hotshot gunslinger still, and with the dart in place there was nothing for the kids to do but crouch on top of the rug and edge slightly forward in anticipation until it finally overbalanced and started to slide down the mountain.

The end came quickly, a yawning void in the junk. Whether or not it had a bottom Nadia didn’t want to find out. “Now!” she cried through clenched teeth, as quietly as her overworked heart would let her. She sprang, her arms and legs flailing for balance as she soared over the drop, and the next second she landed on the dart. Its suction held, and she bounced right off and over the rest of the pit to land in what looked like a well-used dog bed on the other side. Fwop. Though it smelled of four-legged friend, Nadia didn’t seem to mind, and allowed her head to plop down as her thumping heart worked itself out.

Her rest came to an end when the shadow beast’s searchlight drew near, forcing an emergency hunker down below her sheet. When it passed, Nadia wasted no time in getting going. The next and biggest mountain seemed to have a lot of mechanical parts, and a mixture of tires, bike frames, and car doors took them to the top. There, however, their shared journey hit a snag. There seemed to be no furniture nor methods of conveyance available to get down the mountain and over the final stretch to the far wall, where they could now see Peach’s vent exactly where she said, sure as sugar. “Drat,” Nadia snarled. “I’m not seeing anything. And we’re so close…'' She kicked a tire in frustration only for it to roll halfway down the mountain and crash into a flower pot, which Bongo Bongo was only too happy to annihilate. When a trembling Nadia pulled her sheet off a few moments later she was wearing a sheepish look. “Sorry…”
Big Band

Level 2 Big Band (18/20)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Word Count: 1259

With a heavy heart, and an even heavier slam onto the ground, Big Band realized that he still seemed to be missing some core functionality. His first idea, and far and away the most effective, had been to engage his afterburner and soar off into the wild blue yonder, but his systems refused to listen. “So it’s like that,” the big man grumbled, picking himself off the ground with one pneumatic arm and holding his volatile plunder with the other. Even in dire straits, however, he took a moment to dust the sand from his coat as part of his efforts to keep cool and collected. With steady breath he shut out the worrisome hissing noise of the explosives inside the treasure box and weighed his options.

In a way, Band felt grateful that the bombs appeared to be magical, so that defusing them wasn’t even something he could try. Someone versed in any of the many arcane arts this world appeared to foster might know how, but the detective lacked both the slightest idea where one might be found and the time to actually get there. That left just one possibility: mitigation. As much as he prided himself on the strength of his big bell, he wasn’t willing to bet that he could soak a blast meant for a small building. Stashing it underground could be even more disastrous, with the sheer potential for collateral damage. Band reckoned his throwing arm could hurl the payload high enough into the sky that the detonation would do no damage, but that would take precise timing. His best shot? Getting it out of Al Mamoon entirely. But speed was not his forte.

“Salt...peanuts,” Band groaned. Suddenly he felt the absence of any nimble companions a lot more. To reassess the situation he opened up the oh-so-innocent treasure box once again to check on the bombs. As he feared their pulses had already gotten faster, and with the innocent little faces drawn on them they looked like round little rabbits squirming together in a nest. Band felt as if they were mocking him, saying whatcha gonna do about us? But watching them together turned on a lightbulb above his head. Using a padded pincer he plucked one bomb from the box and set it in the hole he pulled the box from. If a dozen of the fruit-sized explosives could take out the commissions office with a chain reaction, he reasoned, one couldn’t be that bad. From beneath his coat he extended his saxophone and clamped it down over the hole. He took a deep breath, tensed his joints, and blew out a single flat note.


A muffled explosion went off in the saxophone’s bell. Some smoke rose from his mouthpiece, which he avoided inhaling, but Band saw no visible damage. “Alright, looks like I’ve got you under my skin. Gonna need a hell of a tune-up later though.” One by one he repeated the process, moving with mechanical precision. Place, cover, blow. Place, cover, blow. As the remaining bombs pulsed faster he pushed himself into overdrive, keeping at it even as the internal damage to his precious sax began to mount. By the time the last cheerful bomb vanished beneath his instrument’s bell his eyes were watering, and not just from the stinging smoke. He smoothed over the little crater, replaced the tile atop it as best he could, coughed a couple times, and stood. Crisis averted.

Only after he turned to stomp off did he realize that a bespectacled woman had been watching him with crossed arms. He’d been so intent on his task he didn’t notice her arrival. His eyebrows shot up over widened eyes. “Oh! Uh. Hello, Dolly.” He glanced down at the pile of sand, soot, and chipped tiles, more than a little embarrassed. “I ‘s’pose this looks a little odd.”

“Yeah,” the lady replied, “What were you doing? You with the Resistance?”

Band straightened up and shook his head. “No, ma’am. I’m a detective from out of town.” Not quite the truth, not anymore, but good enough for his purposes. “I tailed a trio of suspects to this office. Saw them come down this way, then leave a while later. When I dropped by to take a look, I found this.” With a tilt of his head he indicated the homemade treasure box laid on the ground. “Stuffed with bombs, cheek to cheek. I couldn’t let ‘em blow up the surroundin’ buildings, so I detonated ‘em one at a time.”

For a moment the woman considered his story, but it took her only a few moments to give a stiff nod. “In that case, I guess I should thank you for saving my life. I work right in this building.” She slapped the side of the commissions office.

With a smile Band bowed his head. “No thanks necessary ma’am, just doin’ my duty. But you’re welcome all the same. I just appreciate you believin’ me.”

Hunnigan shrugged. “It just makes sense. If you wanted to do some damage, you could have let them go off together. Or just run into the office yourself, I guess. Wouldn’t have taken much. I did see a few other people head in and out of the alley in my peripherals, and there isn’t much of anything here anyway, so it was a little unusual. What’s your name?”

“Me? I’m the last of the most real. They call me Big Band.”

His new acquaintance gave a thin smile, although for someone who looked as if she hadn’t smiled in years, it still made an impression. “Do they now? Well, most people call me Hunnigan, but Ingrid works too. Would you be willing to give a report of everything you saw to the peacekeepers?”

Band glanced out of the alley. “More than willing, ma’am, but right now I’ve got a slim chance of trackin’ the suspects down before they’re miles beyond. The trail’s cold, but it’s not dead yet. But you better clear out, ‘cause when they come to see their handiwork and realize everything’s still in one piece, they might try an’ finish the job.”

Pursing her lips, Hunnigan took the warning seriously and gave back some advice of her own. “Believe me, it’s important to demonstrate to the Grimleal that you’re on their side. What we should do is call them here anyway, but not to guard the building. Instead they could lay low in the area and wait for the Resistance to show up and spring the trap. That way you can both give your report and stay on the case.”

“Hm,” Band murmured, pleasantly surprised. “You know your stuff, Ingrid. That makes sense to me. Go ‘head an’ make the call, and I’ll stand by.”

The two made their way to the front of the office, where the secretary slipped inside to use the phone. Band looked out over Al Mamoon’s thoroughfare, pausing on each face. None of the suspects seemed to be around, but who wasn’t to say their compatriots hadn’t already lined the street? Without even meaning to the one-man band had gotten involved in the desert city’s shadow war, and in just a few minutes he would be standing on its frontlines. The detective treated himself to a wry smile. “Never could just stand on the sidelines, could ya, Ben?” A tiny mechanical arm rose from his coat with a handkerchief to dab the sweat from his brow. If things were hot now, they were going to get a lot hotter, and real soon.

Al Mamoon - Museum of Vanity

@Zoey Boey @Yankee

Overwhelming Fear momentarily relieved the Phantom Thieves of their senses and put them to flight, their legs running as if they had minds of their own. As they sprinted away or dived behind cover, however, Jesse held strong. Rather than waste time wondering why this puny creature could resist it, if it was even capable of such, the Shambler lurched forward with raking claws at the ready. In the stygian blackness the flash of Jesse’s power seared into her mind a grotesque vision of a wrinkled, eyeless face, singularly dominated by a gaping, fang-toothed maw.

Then she hurled one of the soapstone deities at it, bowling the creature over backwards as the carved statue shattered against it, and lit it up with her Service Weapon’s muzzle flash. The monster glet out an uncanny shriek as it regained its feet, the limbs on its back like featherless wings as they flared out behind it. It howled up a storm, giving vent to its otherworldly fury, but in the split seconds that Jesse could see it the thing she could make out no injury on its contemptible frame.

The Shambler moved forward. Relentless and implacable it staggered Jesse’s way through a hailstorm of gunfire and an avalanche of unsettling antiques. Though its body only absorbed part of the physical force delivered to it, it never once evidenced any injury. No matter how much she punished it, the unstoppable Shambler kept coming toward her, forcing her to back up. Twice it got too close just as she hammered it with a carving, but luckily the scrapes of its cruel claws received mitigation from a recovered Primrose’s defense-boosting enchantment. After only a few moments Jesse’s supply of throwables began to run dry, but to cease her onslaught in favor of an alternative would be to give the horror the moment it needed to pounce on her. Bit by bit it forced her back, stepping blindly through the darkness, each flash illuminating its ghoulish mockery of a face, nearer, nearer, nearer.

Then gunfire to either side of Jesse broke out, joining their cacophony to her own. The FBC director had bought the time she needed. In her peripherals Jesse found Panther keeping up a steady bombardment with her submachine gun, Skull unleashing more infrequent but brutal shotgun blasts, and Joker targeting probable weakpoints with his pistol. Even Mona stood at Jesse’s feet with his slingshot, terrified but determined, peppering the Shambler’s ankles and knees with projectiles. “Going in three!” the cat yelled. “Two! ...One!”

“GO!” The Thieves cried as one.

Mona leaped forward, transforming into a full-sized bus. With his pedal to the metal he bulled into the Shambler head-on. A second later his forward momentum smashed the Shambler into the doors behind it in a bone-pulverizing impact, but neither the doors nor the monster gave in. When Mona turned back it left the Shambler plastered against the door for a moment, providing just the opportunity Primrose needed. The dancer’s fireball blazed through the air and crashed against the horror in a scintillating follow-up, and now that she was out of ammo, Panther followed her example. The thief snapped her whip taut and the weapon burst into flame, lighting up a face of frantic courage. She lashed out over and over again, striking the scenery as much as the Shambler, proliferating the fire Primrose started. Thanks to all the flame everyone could focus on putting out damage rather than light, and as the horror pulled itself from the doors Joker called upon Leena to plant a One-hit Kill shot straight into its mouth. The magic bullet drilled into the flesh between its teeth, but even that evidenced no wound of any kind.

“It’s freakin’ immune to everything!” Skull growled.

“Then there’s a gimmick somewhere!” Panther yelled in reply. “Dormina!”

Carmen manifested to unleash a wave of sleeping magic, but predictably the Shambler shrugged it off. Shaking his head, Mona called, “I’ll stay here and help push it back with wind. You guys try to find a lead!” He pulled out his scimitar, and by his side his Persona appeared with rapier extended. “Show them your might, Zorro!”

No longer worried about miscellaneous curses, the rest of the Thieves scattered. Their search lasted only a moment, for the hideous portrait of a monster the thieves now knew to be the Shambler itself was prominently displayed at the shadow gallery’s opposite end. Going out on a limb Joker slashed at it with his knife, but its edge slid right off the paint. “This must be the answer...” Holding his hand over one side of his face, the leader of the Phantom Thieves activated his Third Eye, and in his mind’s eye a clue took shape. “I can see it...a dagger of bone, shaped like a helix. It’s somewhere in here. Find it!” The Thieves ran between the exhibits and display cases Jesse had yet to destroy, wildly searching for the weapon Joker mentioned as fast as they could while the director and the cat struggled to keep the monster at bay.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (44/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1337

Even though a small part of Nadia (smaller than the rest, at least) still wanted nothing more than to dive beneath the pillows and hunker down until this nightmare was over, it was time to make the best of a bad situation. It helped that her new friend Mirage was practically chomping at the bit to get back into pint-sized action, emboldened by his newfound toy. Though a gun that could create platforms without needing ammunition certainly seemed more useful than her fan at first blush, she didn’t mind. If anyone was equipped to make the most of an unconventional power set, it was someone who fought by pulling her own body apart.

After hearing Mirage’s plan Nadia watched him set off, scaling a sideways table to get atop a nearby ‘hill’. His new tool made the conquest of vertical space easy, but the minute he tried to wade through the junk up there there came the commotion that Nadia had already learned to fear. The unseen monster tunneled through the ground layer like a shark through the water, with only the objects it kicked up marking its frightfully swift passage. “Get off the ground!” she called up in panic, but luckily Mirage was a step ahead of her. He clambered back on top of some furniture well before the horror reached him, a few foraged items in his hands. Rather than forge onward busied himself with his loot, and though Nadia’s lower angle blocked her sight, she guessed he must be crafting something. When he did press forward he was in for a fun journey. For whatever reason the chutes on the left side of the Belly seemed to be the most used, which led to a chain of junk mountains arcing along that side to form the ‘high road’ laid out before him. A number of floor lamps, flags, thin cabinets, and other tall, narrow items stuck out between the mountains. It looked like one hell of a tricky path to Nadia--good thing he had that dart gun.

While he went off on his own adventure, Sakura kept her ambitions in check and went for a far more pragmatic approach. Her methodical strategy gave her a slow but straight, and most importantly safe, shot all the way to the other side. If something got in her way, she would simply go around it. The simplicity of the plan made Nadia smile, and it was one that everyone could do too, what with Mount Pillow behind them and all. Still, the fact she went alone (much to Bella’s chagrin), and how isolated it left her set off warning bells in the feral’s head. Sakura would be fine if nothing weird happened out there, but given everything that happened so far, Nadia felt a little uneasy. Peach watched the future street fighter with similar worry, and worked to follow as close a path to Sakura as she could by climbing, jumping, and gliding with her parasol.

Next up was the koopa troop plus Rika, whose welfare Bowsers Junior and Senior seemed committed to look after. They also chose a straightforward tactic, even simpler than Sakura’s really, that relied on their throwing and jumping power. “Hey, if anyone’s cheatin’ it’s definitely you guys!” Nadia teased. “The rest of us can’t chuck like baseball players or jump like rabbits.” Even if she could have gone along for the ride, however, she would have passed. In a way, she needed to forge a path of her own. To prove that she wasn’t useless. Still, one thing Kamek said ignited her imagination. The feral examined the bedsheet, getting a feel for its thickness, then tested the weight of the fan. For being so strong, it managed to be incredibly light. As she looked between the two objects, an idea coagulated in her mind, dumber and cooler than any she’d had so far. “Okay. Okay! This is gonna be good. Gimme a meowment.” Her little claws flashed, making the first incision, and she got to work.

A brief but furious session of slashing, arranging, twisting, and knot-tying ensued, and in only a short while a final knot completed her project: a bedsheet parachute. Two other twisted lengths of cloth went into makeshift straps that allowed her to carry her fan like a backpack, and after a quick test to confirm that her parachute could catch the air, Nadia felt ready to fly. She pulled up behind Blazermate and Geralt as they coordinated their jump, and a moment after they leaped into the air Nadia turned her fan on and followed in their footsteps. Her parachute billowed open as the fan whirred to life, and with a squeak the kitten lifted off her feet. Heart pounding and beyond giddy, she sailed up, up, and away. For a moment she could see everyone, from Sakura with her pillows to the Koopas in front of a toy dump to the sad little boy back at the start.

Then she, along with the other fliers, realized their mistake.

From the pitch-black center of the Belly’s cavernous ceiling, there shone a dreadful crimson light. Nadia looked up, frozen, to see a dot of yellow at the center of a vivid red orb, surrounded by a ring of similar yellow beacons. From the shadows emerged a hand of massive proportions, disembodied, floating like the angel of death come to take her away. It came too late to snag Blazermate, who landed safely with her passenger, but now it bore right for Nadia. Reflexively she tugged on one of her parachute’s cords and banked to the left, brushing right by the loathsome thing. When the back of the hand made contact with the cloth of her parachute the hand snapped shut, just a few feet away from crushing the kitten mid-flight, but Nadia’s momentum carried her out of the way. She drifted left and smacked belly-first into a television set on top of the one the junk mountains in Mirage’s path, where she clung like her life depended on it as her parachute settled softly atop her, hiding her from view.

Then the red-and-yellow spotlight shone down on her position, but its glare found nothing out of the ordinary. A moment of absolute, agonizing stillness passed, Nadia’s breath held. Then the baleful gaze slid on, headed back toward where Blazermate and Geralt stood in the open, exposed.

Peach moved quickly to retrace her steps. She hopped back across the set of speakers she’d just navigated and sprinted along the fallen ladder that formed a bridge over the junk where Sakura was making her way. From the pool table at the other end she slid down the ramp of pool cues onto the caved-in nightstand. From its bowels she retrieved the alarm clock she saw just moments prior, which she then wound up and threw with all her might. The clock hit the junk a few feet away and shattered the tense quiet of the Belly with a terribly alarming clamor. Instantly the spotlight locked on, and as Peach got clear, a mammoth hand smashed the whole area flat.

It took a moment for the echoes of the impact to die and the smothering quiet to return. The clock was no more, but whether not satisfied or simply curious, the monster wasn’t done. Its fingers curled, gathering a clump of junk before the hand floated upward again, silent as the grave but for the couple loose pieces falling to the heap. As the hand went up the body descended. The hand turned upward with its payload, and in contemplation the scarlet eye regarded it. In that moment the children below got their first -and only- glimpse of its outline--a colossal hanging torso with mottled, veiny flesh, near-human musculature, severed wrists, and a head like an alien flower. Then Bongo Bongo brought his other hand around to smash the clump of junk in a mighty clap, and as the shreds and splinters cascaded to the floor its eye resumed its search.
An update on the plan, since I didn't post yesterday. A collab is in underway and we're making progress. It should be enjoyable when done!
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