Can't believe that World of Light is closing in on five amazing years of continuous operation! Thanks you, everyone.
1 yr ago
I'm so proud of everyone in World of Light for reaching 100 IC pages! Here's to 100 more!
2 yrs ago
The world is full of obvious things
2 yrs ago
A great first week of posts for my new Persona RP. Now's a fine time to join in!
Current GM of World of Light. When it comes to writing, there's nothing I love more than imagination, engagement, and commitment. I'm always open to talk, suggestion, criticism, and collaboration. While I try to be as obliging, helpful, and courteous as possible, I have very little sympathy for ghosts, and anyone who'd like to string me along. Straightforwardness is all I ask for.
Looking for more personal details? I'm just some dude from the American south; software development is my job but games, writing, and trying to help others enjoy life are my passions. Been RPing for over a decade, starting waaaay back with humble beginnings on the Spore forum, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. If you're down for some fun, let's make something spectacular together.
The further the heroes and their fuzzy new acquaintance descended through the hollow trunk, the more treacherous it became. Narrow and unpredictable organic pathways forced climbers to constantly second-guess or reposition themselves; there was no direct route. Wobbly or brittle branches threatened to bend or break beneath the newcomer’s weight, and animate toadstools waited patiently in the shaded recesses to sink their fangs into any unwary travelers hoping to find shelter or firmer footing, although it didn’t take long for any would-be ambushes went horribly south for the feral fungi as their prey turned out to be more than a match for them. Those who could float, fly, or glide scarcely got off any easier, since the air in here could hardly be called ‘open’. Branches and briars reached out like clawing hands to snare loose clothing and scratch exposed skin. Clusters of fungus suffused in noxious spores and bundles of loose moss that couldn’t hold an adult’s weight if grabbed formed just a few of the challenges encountered.
Still, this was all in a day’s work for seasoned adventurers. Everyone made decent progress, many of them profiting from the perilous descent on the way. Despite its secrecy this space had evidently seen its fair share of wayfarers, and no small amount of them had dropped bits of gear or inventory while struggling up or down this wicked wooden labyrinth. It wasn’t difficult to imagine some poor soul slipping off a notched branch or misjudging a difficult jump, nor the subsequent fall to the bottom of the hollow far below, their bodies and gear scattered far and wide by the many terrible impacts on the way down like balls in the world’s largest pachinko machine. The Seekers who felt confident enough in their abilities managed to scoop up and pluck out a few extra pieces of loot on the way.
In the end, the greatest challenges in their way were the Basilisks, few in number but nevertheless a big problem. Though slow and lumbering their six legs and sharp claws gave them good purchase even on completely vertical stretches of bark, so they could turn up in unexpected places, wherever they appeared they provided a dangerous obstacle. Without even getting close to the heroes, the Basilisks could cripple their stats and deal constant agony with their special gaze attacks. For Primrose and even the typically brash Barnabee, simply going out of their way to avoid them seemed like the best option. That said, Teemo did turn out to be more enthusiastic about killing the animals than one might expect, and the Koopa Troop jumped at the chance for a fight, taking on several Basilisks in succession.
Eventually, a little sore and splintery but not terribly worse for wear, the team could go no further–though to call it the ‘bottom’ of the tree might be a hasty assessment. Rather than actually end, the trunk just filled with sandy soil that prevented further downward progress. Compared to the stark, almost petrified upper reaches of the hollow, this spot teemed with wetland flora, including leafy creepers, milkweed, sneezeweed, and sedge. Toward one side, in the shelter of a cagelike tangle of gnarled mangrove roots, a giant fanged crab with a carapace of stone and trees upon its back slumbered in its nest, surrounded by eggs so large that grown bears could curl up comfortably inside. Luckily, the nest lay opposite a jagged opening in the bark, so if everyone felt disinclined to tangle with their second overlarge arthropod in as many hours they could exit without difficulty. That wasn’t the only reason to head toward that gap, though. Just one casual glance in the direction of the curious blue-green light that eked through it was enough to ignite the curiosity, for it suggested that the heroes stood at the threshold of something not just incredible, but downright impossible. In just a couple moments the Seekers stepped out from the hollow to stand before a remarkable vista indeed.
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Before them spread a vast and mystical space, maybe too expansive to even call a cavern, especially since it lacked any visible walls or ceiling. Instead it stretched away into the distance until the haze rendered all a murky bluish fog, and upward to a layer of pale green clouds. The trunks of countless other unfathomably tall trees just like the one they’d just emerged from, rising like the columns of some primeval cathedral up from tranquil dark waters through the cloud layer and into the roof beyond. That water formed an immense, glass-smooth lake, and the team stood upon a large ridged bank of sand that wound a serpentine path from this trunk toward another a half-mile or so away. Though it might remind the Koopa Troop of the other impossible shore they encountered underground in the bleakest recesses of yesterday morning, this place lacked that other beach’s pervading sense of wrongness and doom. Instead it possessed a quiet majesty, enough to make one feel small and insignificant, but not afraid.
There were signs of life too, although many as strange and archaic as this place itself. Clams with teeth clung to the bark of the tree trunk beneath the surface, while in the shallows of the sand bank organisms known as ganoderma grew like underwater flowers. Googly-eyed shellfish both large and small called this place home, weathering the glares of ornery barnacles as they trawled for food alongside oblivious trilobites. All those who braved the shore lived in fear, however, of the hostile five-legged clams that stalked these forlorn shores, their enormous maws laden with the slimy skulls of their past victims. Still, that probably beat consigning oneself to the dark depths, where all manner of spine-chilling sea creatures no doubt lurked. Out at ‘sea’ the heroes could spot a number of whirlpools, but they weren’t the only breaches that could be glimpsed in the surface, and if one looked too long into the depths of the lake frightful glimmers could occasionally be seen.
The only land in this place seemed to be sandbanks like this one, and even those were rare. At the base of the tree at the other end of this one lay a large tangle of roots and branches with what might be a clearing inside.
To Big Band, the feat of leaping out over a two hundred and seventy foot drop after a plummeting demon to deal a climactic ground-pound finisher at the very bottom was ambitious enough, so he did not at all anticipate what happened next. While he and Albedo descended through the stories of the Noumenon with their sights on Artemis, Red co-opted the bystanders he’d already incorporate into a blade to form a rocket-powered fist that not only caught up to the two -much to Band’s wide-eyed surprise- but also blazed past them to deliver a gigantic punch that drove the wailing demon downward like a meteor. A moment later the two made impact with the bottom floor, and a terrific explosion of shrapnel, scrap paper, and flame ensued that rattled the library from A to Z.
Band could only shake his head in disbelief. “Well, that’s that problem solved.” Not at all aggrieved to have the rug swept out from under him in such an impressive fashion, he turned his mind to slowing his fall. While Ace utilized his Clutch Claw and Albedo proceeded with his original plan to reset his descent with a plunging attack near the floor, the detective deployed and activated his afterburners. Thanks to them he reached ground floor safe, sound, and only a handful of seconds after the Monster Hunter did. It did occur to him that they left Frisk behind up there, but with the threat and the civilians on terra firma she’d have all the time she needed to make her way down to them.
Not that it would take the rest of the group that long to finish this. It was a mess down here, with a great deal of furniture and countless books in utter disarray. Hopefully the authorities won’t hold it against us, Band thought. Lying in a bed of shredded paper in the wreckage of a large table was Artemis, and to the demon’s credit it managed to survive the impact, but that’s where the good news ended for it. Red’s wonderfully brutal punch took out a chunk of its health, and after Albedo came down with his plunging attack to pierce a wing to the carpet, Ace pinned it down with a few well-placed arrows. Unable to position its wings and eyes properly, it could only unleash a smattering of pink rays, and in a fairly predictable manner to boot. Band suspected that the team wouldn’t have any trouble even if Red abstained from the end of the fight to make sure all the citizens he’d wielded were okay. He stepped forward, brass knuckles clenched, to shut this demonic songbird up for good.
Albedo held out a hand. “Wait. Just a minute.” Amidst the demon’s shrill cries, the alchemist tentatively stepped forward, avoiding the magic laser bolts. With narrowed eyes he fixed his elemental sight on the demon’s torso.
After a second, Band raised his eyebrow. “...Son. Surely you ain’t.”
“There’s something strange in there. Something inconsistent.” Rather than impale Artemis through center mass with his Cinnabar Spindle like he originally intended, Albedo used his sword like a saw to make a shallow slice. Artemis squealed, and sky-blue blood flowed from the wound, but as it opened up and the light seeped in Band could see for an all-too-brief moment moment a familiar countenance.
Startled, he instinctively backed away. “Sierra!? What the funk? Did it eat her or somethin’?”
“No,” Albedo murmured, his voice hard. “I think…”
At that moment a handful of lasers shot in from the side, striking the heroes with the guards down. Wincing, Albedo dashed away from the demon’s body and looked up to see a few of its turret pods, which had followed Artemis down from the original battlefield. The demon tore free of Ace’s arrows and floated up into the air, blasting out lasers indiscriminately to get its opponents away. Then the Noumenon seemed to darken as it rose higher still, except for a column of radiance like a theater spotlight around Artemis.
“That can’t be good,” Band grunted. “Look, y’all. The girl ain’t dust, so she’s still alive in there. That means we gotta take this down without hurtin’ her inside!” Artemis began to sing, its voice and the red glow of all its down-ward facing eyes growing louder as it made its last-ditch effort to let loose its ultimate attack. “And from the looks of it, we don’t got much time. Move those feet!” Albedo created a Solar Isotoma to elevate one person into the air in pursuit, and Band crashed one metal fist into his palm, preparing to take flight with Timpani Drive.
Though the disaster that had befallen the bus and almost all of its passengers left everyone shaken, the thought that there were more people they could save spurred them forward. Thanks to the Medicine Pit scrounged up Goldlewis was fighting-fit again, if not fully restored, and after he steeled himself he moved to follow in that policeman’s footsteps. Rather than go across the bus where the source of the red matter contamination once existed, he stepped over the cars on the left side of the elevated highway. Thanks to their inexplicably bouncy hoods and trunks he made good time, and in just a couple moments he and the team reached the other side of the blockage. From there they hurried past rubble and wreckage both big and small, the sounds of combat up ahead ringing in their ears. More police helicopters could be seen all around, and the Filthwings were in the air with them. Fresh knowledge of what was at stake pushed the heroes to travel all the faster.
After running around -or overtop- an overturned fire truck, the Seekers reached the impromptu evac zone. Two blue-coated officers were holding down the fort, both hurt themselves, and as many dark-blue police supply crates were on hand with first aid and energy cells. There were also four white stretchers laid on the ground with two medic drones apiece, ready to lift any injured persons into the sky for aerial insertion into one of the choppers, presumably so that they wouldn’t need to risk a hazardous landing. Goldlewis saw that one of the officers had lent a wounded firefighter his shoulder and helped him limp over to a stretcher, and once laid down in it the drones whisked it away toward an evac chopper a safe distance away from all the chaos on the highways. The cop looked at the newcomers, eying their weapons. “You…here to help? Hurry up ahead! The others are outnumbered!”
Goldlewis didn’t need to be told twice. His feet pounded the pavement as he hurried through the evac zone to the rescue in process. On the opposite side lay another pileup, used as shelter against any aberration incursions by the officers who set up here. Rather than try to squeeze through the narrow choke point, he clambered up the front of an abandoned semi, barely even feeling the heart of its burning engine, and thundered across the roof of its trailer. Down below, two officers -a heavily armored man with dreads and a spry woman with a long ponytail- were engaging a handful of aberrations. Two Filthwing archers and a Filthwing slugger accompanied three clawed hunters, two swordfighters, and a big axeling aberration with a huge cutting edge on the end of a terribly mutated arm. Goldlewis spotted the daredevil fro before running into join them as the man slid backward from a blocked axe swing, and as the woman backed up with her fists raised there was a brief lull as the three went back-to-back, nearly surrounded by aberrations. Their eyes were on the three civilians hiding around the area, saved by Galeem’s influence which demanded the aberrations fight the officers who hit them instead.
“You alright?” Atlas asked, his tone nonchalant. “We’re a man down, give us a hand.”
Juliette nodded, a brave smile on her face. “Let’s get ‘em!”
Then the monsters attacked; Juliette nimbly cartwheeled out of the way, Atlas intercepted a swordfighter with a mighty kick, and Hayato Howard opened fire on the Filthwings with his X-baton in pistol mode. No sign of any gates, so the battle was on. Goldlewis joined the battle in decisive fashion, expending the Tension he’d accumulated in the last fight to call down a satellite laser on the axeling. It didn’t deal a huge amount of damage, but it dragged the big aberration and two hunters it hit on the way toward the incoming Seekers. The veteran jumped down, coffin in hand, to help put these misbegotten monsters to rest.
From the moment the Turk set foot in this pizzeria, Giovanna figured some sort of interaction with him would be inevitable. Even if he didn’t recognize her and no word about her new allies reached the General Affairs division after that afternoon’s high-octane highway chase, the Seekers were a strange group made all the stranger by Benedict’s presence. This man might very well know the strategist personally, after all. Still, unlike the G-men who generally assumed ‘guilty until proven innocent’, their human overseers could be reasoned with. While not the best liar in the world, Giovanna figured she could throw Zenkichi off the scent and keep things under control so long as she didn’t do anything to cast her group with suspicion. In a whisper she urged Tora and Poppi to stay calm and act natural. So far, they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Sure enough, toward the end of the meal the detective decided to pay the other diners a visit. He sauntered over after sending his small retinue of G-men on their way, perhaps as a show of good faith, and he came to Giovanna’s team empty-handed. While he looked casual enough and completely unarmed, Giovanna knew better than to assume that this man didn’t have a trick up her sleeve. Lots of people could summon either weapons or additional fighters to their side in the blink of an eye, herself included. She might not know the specifics, but all General Affairs personnel were problem-solvers in their own ways. Zenkichi opened with a quick one-two punch, revealing that he not only knew Benedict, but Giovanna herself. Or he’d heard of her, at least. This man did have a clever and by-the-book look to him. He’d probably done his homework. No matter; Giovanna could handle it. Just play it cool.
“Evening, mister,” she began, lazily leaning back in her chair with an amicable smile. “Nothing too important-”
It was at that point that Benedict stole the show. Giovanna slapped her hand against her forehead. Damn it, you old fart! He’d no doubt spoken up because he thought himself best-suited to defuse any situation involving a colleague in General Affairs, but his choice of words implied -if not outright revealed- the existence of a ‘situation’ to begin with. He even assumed that the detective planned to perform an arrest, when the thought probably hadn’t crossed Zenkichi’s mind. In one fell swoop Benedict managed to turn a pretty ordinary inquiry into a standoff, making the team look suspicious if not outright criminal. Gotta salvage this…
The secret agent trampled over Benedict’s last statement with a burst of laughter. “Pff, hahaha! Oh, man.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “You’re a real card when you’re off your meds, old man! C’mon, joking around like that could get us in -real trouble-...” With her shoe she jabbed Benedict’s ankle under the table. “For -no reason-...” She kicked him again, then with a hearty sigh and roll of her eyes looked back at Zenkichi. Tora and Poppi had remained quiet the whole time, their eyes a little wider than they should be. “He called me and my friends in to help deal with some gangs in the area. Y’know, drug dealers, amateur demolitionists dressed like hockey players. I can give you the deets if you like, buuut it’s nothing too serious. Just taking out some trash. Gotta spice up my retirement somehow~”
“Speaking of…” At that point she stood, reaching over the table with her arm extended to Zenkichi to shake, making sure to lean forward enough to give him a good view as she did. “Now that your buddies are gone, why not join us for a drink? Any friend of Benedict’s is a friend of mine! Nice to meet you, Mr…?”
She hoped that by extending him an invitation, and reminding him that the G-men were waiting on him, that he’d politely decline and do the opposite. With how sketchy Benedict had been, though, she worried that it might take more than this to convince Zenkichi that nothing was amiss.
Party: Ms Fortune, Sectonia, Jesse, Omori, Ganondorf Extended Encounter Reward: +25 EXP Loot: Lots of stuff. Including Tetanus, Red Plague, and Creeping Cough (everyone except Sectonia). Abusive Affliction (only Sectonia). 1 Mask Fragment. It Lives spirit (Everything not explicitly claimed was left behind) Heaven Bonus: Therion Heaven Reward: Faith +1 Hell Bonus: Sectonia Hell Reward: Evil +1 Rubber Cement has appeared in the Basement!
With most of the Seekers in a sorry state, debilitated by disease and more or less emotionally destabilized by the Basement and its non-stop gallery of horrors, even a simple trip across a series of enamel stepping stones took some doing. That meant that when the team finally reached the jaw-like overlook on the other side of the bloody whirlpool and found no way to open it, everyone could only flounder in beleaguered disbelief. Its thick chitinous surface would not even begin to yield to the meager strength they still possessed, and no mechanism for controlling it could be found nearby.
Nadia sank to the fleshy ground, her breathing throat ragged from labored breathing. “No furrykin’ way,” she groaned. “We came all this way and it’s closed!?” She glanced over her shoulder at the giant gullet behind her, her normally-perky ears flattened against her head. “Surely we’re not s’posed to…I can’t do that! Isn’t there any other way?”
For Jesse, there was. Even if this situation looked hopeless, the others could always count on her to see things differently. To her, the concentric, perpetual-motion shimmer of Polaris could be seen superimposed over the doorway. Her guiding star meant for her to pass through, and the FBC director had just the tool (or in this case, tool gun) for the job. In a flash she could no-collide the massive shell that composed most of this otherwise-insurmountable gateway, allowing the entire team to limp, lumber, and bumble through.
Once she set foot beyond the seal, Nadia felt an instant change in the air. Gone were the sticky heat and absurd humidity that made one’s sweaty skin crawl, replaced by a cool crispness. She stood in a dimly-lit tunnel of dark stone and carved carapaces, similar to the masonry found in the crossroads of the Ruins, though less purple. Gone was the inexplicable luminescence that provided perfect visibility inside the gargantuan guts of that eldritch superorganism, so only little swarms of lumaflies provided light in this place. Nadia didn’t mind one bit though. A breath of fresh air outside those infernal intestines helped pull her back from the brink; though sick and tired, she could go on a little longer. The roar of torrential blood rapids faded into the background, replaced by a more comfortable white noise that Nadia couldn’t quite identify. Slowly the team made their way through the tunnel toward a soft blue light at its end. There, their weary procession came to a brief standstill, for in front of them lay the most immense cavern that any had ever seen, and within that vast underground space lay a city–a city awash in rain.
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The city sat upon the water. A vast lake of ink-dark water covered the cavern floor, and from it rose countless blue-black buildings of stone, shell, and steel. Great towers reached high into the air, their exteriors dotted with ovular windows of gleaming blue glass, but only the biggest one even got close to the cavern’s roof. From multitudinous unseen cracks in that vaulted ceiling issued the seemingly inexhaustible water that formed the city’s constant downpour, which fell in buckets upon every inch of this place. Intricate wrought iron lined every rooftop, bridge, and canal, forming fences, lampposts, signs, spires, and more. Sailboats crafted from what could only be gigantic sheets of newspaper sailed the city’s waterways in unaided perpetuity. Since the tunnel emptied out onto a small dock and there seemed to be no other way off that didn’t involve swimming, the Seekers waited for one of the paper boats to arrive, boarded it, and rode across the water toward the heart of the city.
Nadia laid flat on the boat near the prow, her eyes closed as the rain fell upon her. The gunge and drek of the nightmarish dungeon, and all that tension and terror, were all washed away, leaving the feral drenched but centered and clean. The water felt pure and wonderful, bringing her momentarily back to the beach from yesterday, and that short but sublime moment when all her worries and cares floated away into the ocean blue. While this cleansing rinse wouldn’t cure her sickness, she felt a lot better.
After a couple minutes spent sailing through the deluge, the paper boat reached the city center, ringed by buildings, where it slid smoothly from the bay into a stone-walled canal. Nadia sat up, looking around. While she couldn’t get a grasp of the city’s exact layout from here, she could really get a feel for its vastness, and its hauntingly beautiful bug-gothic architecture. It wasn’t abandoned, either. She could see a number of citizens around, almost all of them non-human, whether bugs or monsters. On the edge of this canal sat a bug in the rain, drumming his feet, and for a moment he and Nadia made eye contact. He waved as she passed by, and she waved back. A number of ring-tipped poles protruded from the water, and the boat gently nudged them as it made its way toward a central plaza. When the moment came Nadia hauled herself up and hopped onto a little dock. Nice as the rain had been, she was beginning to get cold. Colder, anyway. Shaky on her feet, she plodded up a handful of stairs to the plaza itself. More bugs milled around the wide-open circular space, holding umbrellas as they traveled through the rain and lumafly lamplight. At the plaza’s very center stood a tall fountain, and atop it stood a big statue of a crown-wearing child.
Nadia stood and stared for a moment in muted wonderment, not really sure where to go from here. The blue windows that surrounded this spot felt like eyes staring down at her. Shivering, she took a look around, her gaze naturally drawn to the lights around the plaza. Most were cast by ornate street lamps, but she also found a lantern inside a sort of gazebo that stood on an adjoining promontory from the plaza, and in its glow she spotted someone familiar. With a start she realized exactly who she was looking at. “Wait, Cornifer!?” Utterly bewildered by his appearance here, she darted off through the rain as fast as her leaden legs would let her, and into the shelter of the gazebo. “Cornifer! Hey” she repeated, greeting him. “Weren’t you just in the Ruins? How…” She broke down into a brief fit of coughing, then resumed speaking in a hoarse voice. “How did you get here before us? We were going a million miles an hour downstream through giant monster guts!”
Cornifer chuckled. “Trade secret, hmhmhm!” He looked around the Seekers. “It must be your first time here. Welcome to the illustrious Home of Tears! I’d happily sell you a map, but…” The bug’s brows knit together as he beheld the sorry state of his acquaintances, and he rubbed his proboscis in worriment. “Dear me, you all look terrible!”
“You should get to the Sanitarium straight away then! The Under is home to many maladies that are not to be taken lightly! Here.” Cornifer dug in his bag for a moment, then offered the group a map. “You can pay me back later. The city is divided into four districts, all accessible by bridge from Fountain Central.” One at a time he quickly pointed out different parts of the map. “The Sanitarium is in Downtown, where most ordinary folks live.” He pointed to the southern part of the city. “Over there is the Collection, home to the city’s markets and factories.” He indicated a sprawling harbor district of books and paper to the west, over which the letters blotted from the pages of history by never-ending rain floated like bygone memories. “Here is the Amusement Park, the city’s humble entertainment district. The Grimm Troupe is performing there, so pay it a visit once you’re well, it’s sure to lift your spirits!” He pointed out the brilliant carnival lights to the east. “And the Royal Quarter, where Consul P rules over all from the great Gallo Tower.” He indicated the northern part of the city, where enormous high-class buildings bathed in pink light crowded around the foot of the city’s massive clock tower. “Careful not to run afoul of that young fellow while you’re here, he’s got quite the temper! Now hurry, and get well soon!”
Nadia sighed. According to the clock tower it was quarter after seven, and the team could barely lift a finger. Anything to do with a Consul sounded like a problem for later. It was past time for an evening of rest, relaxation, and healing. “Nyeah, okay. Thanks, Cornifer!”
It was too hot, even with her winter coat off. The sun beat down mercilessly on Imogen’s tender Irish skin; she could practically feel it crackling into burnt red pork rind. Of course, her getting heated in a metaphorical way didn’t help either. Between the confusion, stress, and fiery anger she felt like her brain was melting. All around, barring Frankie, most of the others seemed nonplussed. They offered one another encouragement, and in Victor’s case, condescension. For a moment Imogen gawped at him. Had she gone insane? Was her reaction really so strange? She wanted to find somewhere dark and alone, away from these tranquil lunatics and that damnable scorching sun. More than anything she wanted to wash her face, to scrub the heat and coarse sand and emotion from her features to render her as clean and presentable as always.
Unfortunately, this beach offered neither shade nor solitude, and the water did not look okay in the slightest. So Imogen moved to the next entry on the list of things that might make her feel better.
“Don’t you recite all that rubbish at me!” Imogen snapped at Victor. “Oh, it’s ‘sink or swim’ is it? How about ‘we’re all in this together’ or ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ while you’re at it? Just sayin’ the things they say in movies when it all goes to shit isn’t gonna magically make everythin’ okay!” If she could see it properly, Imogen would have pointed out the island’s opposite shore on the other side of the trees at this point, reminding the others just how small this place really was. “Get ourselves out of this situation? Hah, come off it! We’re totally at the mercy of whatever stranded us here. You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about…”
At that point, Sofia flared up again like a bad rash, awakening with almost comical speed in total ignorance of the headwound she gave Daniel in the process. Perhaps an avid watcher of survival island shows, she straightaway began assigning people tasks, which at the moment meant sending most of the boys to find the weird girl who left earlier. For her part Imogen didn’t know who in their right mind would give this dumbass the time of day, considering what her dogged insistence on her social experiments had gotten them. She did not expect that Sofia’s pretension of leadership meant that the other girl would see Imogen’s breakdown as a problem to solve. In trying to solve it, Sofia immediately made one of the classical blunders: telling an angry person to calm down.
For a moment though, it actually seemed like it worked. With her eyes fixed on Sofia, Imogen inhaled deeply through her nose, filling her lungs to their maximum capacity. Then she let it out.
“AND WHAT PART OF ALL THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME CALM YOU FOCKIN’ EEJIT!?” she yelled with her eyes squeezed shut and her hands clenched into fists, quickly going red in the face. “What d’you mean survival? We’re stuck here! There’s nothin’ we can do! Might as well keel over and get it over with! Who the hell died and made you the boss anyway, huh? You’re the reason we’re in this mess to begin with! This whole bloody stupid Icebreaker shtick, read the damn room! Didja think we’d all just play nice and be friends? Maybe getcha some extra credit? You miserable-”
At that point, Maive’s bawling reached such a fever pitch that Imogen noticed it, and it stopped her train of thought in its tracks. She opened her eyes and whirled around to face the source, only to stagger and nearly fall down herself. All that yelling had made her lightheaded again, and in a flash the energy she’d put into being angry drained right out of her. In its place came a surge of guilt, propelled straight to her heart by the sight of Maive crying her eyes out. All of a sudden Imogen felt terrible. More terrible than before, anyway, which was saying something. Even if she did catalyze this bizarre turn of events, Maive almost certainly hadn’t meant to, and she’d been confronted with the exact same nightmare scenario as Imogen, only without the wherewithal to take it out on anyone else. Plus, now that Imogen had made someone cry, she probably looked like a massive jerk. If she didn’t already. Despite all her pent-up anger, Imogen never wanted or intended to be a bully. The thought that she’d hurt someone else undeservedly never even showed up on her radar. What an absolute mess.
“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered, taking an unsteady step away from Maive like she’d just dropped and shattered some fine china. “I didn’t…didn’t mean to…” Her leg wobbled out from beneath her and she sank into a sitting position, her head swimming. “Damn it,” she gasped, holding her head. “Why me…?”
Working together, Rubick and the Koopa Troop managed to put a quick end to what might have otherwise been a horrific outbreak. Though small enough to be on the more difficult side to hit, the Lightseeds possessed no survivability to speak of, and all popped into squirts of lambent orange juice with just one hit. Kamek’s quick thinking and magical prowess secured the foolish Migospel out of harm’s way as well, ensuring that the carriers couldn’t spread their infectious payloads. Without a living host or a thick membrane to keep it safe, the plague died out soon after its vectors did. The Ruins would be safe from infection a little longer.
“By the Queen, that was close!” With a sigh of relief Barnabee seated himself on a nearby rock, laying his splendid saw-toothed sword across his lap. “I must commend thou for acting in such haste despite thy ignorance. Any slower and the Infection would have surely spread.” The Hive Knight shook his head, his fuzzy face solemn. “It is a most virulent sickness. It creeps through the mind and body, radiant and alluring. Bugs seduced by its warm glow become mere mindless husks, puppeted by the corruption inside. All with their wits about them fear that orange luster, and guard closely against its spread. That light is nothing compared to the majesty of Her Majesty, of course!” He scratched his head, eyes narrowed. “Still. That a carrier would appear so close to the surface…I fear it bodes ill.”
He, Bowser, Junior, Kamek, Rika, and Rubick split into three teams of two for a careful look around the Dripstone Cave. Teemo lent his exploratory talents to the cause as well, perhaps as thanks for the rescue. If any other morsels of Infection managed to make their way here, they too needed to be extinguished. Fortunately, it seemed as if the plague-ridden Migospel had been a strange anomaly. Though the heroes circumnavigated the poisonous pools and skirted around the dangerously industrious Goams, no more traces of that infamous malady presented themselves. After a little over five minutes Primrose returned from her expedition to the Ancestral Mound, subtly foul-smelling but none the worse for wear. The others gathered around and received her news: despite this cavern looking like massive dead end for anyone not suicidal enough to brave the Goam burrows, there was a way out, invisible to the naked eye.
At the dancer’s prompting the team headed for the chamber’s swampy southern reaches. Even with the local mega-mosquito population culled, this subterranean mire was plenty inhospitable, being positively festooned with fungus, lily pads, and twisted tree roots. In one corner, however, lay the trunk of an enormous tree that in all likelihood extended from well beneath the floor to high above the ceiling, and one of its roots bent down into the swamp like a big, curved ramp. Flight, agility, or plain-old gumption would see the team to the root, which brought them to a slight promontory against the trunk where they found a patch of bark lighter brown than its surroundings. This, according to the Snail Shaman, was the secret passage the Seekers sought. Anyone who tried to touch it would instead put their hands straight through the bark as if it wasn’t there, dispelling the illusory wall in the process. Beyond lay a tunnel, dark but short, and at the end lay a chest.
Within the chest any prospective looter would find a bundle of rare Gorajian Mushrooms, which despite looking dangerous would heal ten percent of one’s maximum life when eaten, but that did little to distract the heroes from the fact that this dead-end tunnel didn’t exactly seem like a secret passage. Once the cleverest amongst them realized that the wall behind the chest looked just like the wall they dispelled earlier, however, an experimental touch would reveal that it was indeed another illusory wall, and behind this one lay the Great Hollow.
Though only a few dozen yards in diameter, this secret area extended a remarkable distance both upward and downward. The sight of what appeared to be daylight illuminating the whole area might draw the eye upward, but that dappled light filtered through an impenetrable mass of undisturbed thorny branches, so the only possible path taken by their allies had to be downward. Yet that route looked almost as treacherous, composed entirely of winding and in some cases very thin branches. To make matters worse, a number of mushroom people and reptilian basilisks. Even for those possessed of flight, it would be slow and tricky going to reach the exit at the very bottom. At the very least, there seemed to be the telltale glint of a handful of items along the way, ripe for the taking.
As crisis befell the grand library’s twenty-seventh floor, and the threat of the floor falling out beneath the heroes slipped closer and closer to a guarantee, Red made a split-second decision. The squat superhero took the trapped civilians he’d been attempting to evacuate into his own hands, or more accurately, sword. One and all were pulled into the relative safety of his Unite Morph, then immediately turned to face the luminous pink laser Artemis swept across the battlefield, a dangerous gambit in mind. His teammates scrambled to react, with Ace whipping out his handy clutch claw to grapple out of harm’s way. Frisk didn’t manage quite so well, however, and took a blast that sent her flying toward the edge. Stunned and smoking, it was all she could do to seize a broken railing and hold on for dear life as she dangled over a twenty-seven story drop.
“Frisk!” Sore and aching but still in the fight, Band dragged himself out of the bookcase he’d been slammed into, covered with dust and scraps of paper. He shook himself off and booked it back towards the heavily-damaged floor’s suspended central area. The bridge he slid across, already groaning under twice the burden it would usually be asked to bear, shuddered under his weight, but the detective had no choice. He clenched his teeth and soldiered on.
At the same time, Red made his stand. Though the destructive power of the demon’s brilliant beam turned chairs to splinters in an instant, annihilated candelabras, and burned books to cinders, Red’s giant swordblade managed to not just deflect it, but shine a light on Artemis herself. The reflected beam cut her swath of destruction short, and she reeled back with a shrill cry. Before she could compose herself, Ace lent some fireworks of his own to the mix. Flash bomb? As the projectile hurtled toward Artemis, Band averted his eyes just a fraction of a second too late, The bomb burst against the demon’s body, and as one might expect, an eye-searing coruscation ensued, and though Band felt like his retinas were on fire, Artemis got the worst of it by far. The flash bombs used by Monster Hunters were no mere parlor tricks; their agonizing radiance could send even fearsome dragons on the wing into helpless free fall. With or without the wings and voice of an angel, this demon was no different.
With a harrowing scream Artemis dropped like a brick. She hurtled downward, striking one of the bridges on the twenty-sixth floor one story down, and proceeded to plummet all the way to the bottom.
“Music to my ears,” Band chuckled with a shake of his head, still in disbelief that the flash bomb worked so well. He extended a mechanical arm and pulled Frisk up as if she weighed nothing at all. The detective then doffed his hat to the Cadet. “Hell of a light show, Ace! I bet that thing ain’t feelin’ too hot after a fall like that. Whaddya say we head on down and finish the job, folks?” So saying, he put a pincer on his head to keep his hat from flying off and leaped from his rickety precipice. Between his rockets and his shock absorbers he didn’t need to worry about fall damage, which meant he could focus on dealing this demon a reckoning from on high. As he hurtled after Artemis he deployed both brass knuckles so he’d come down on the fallen angel with a colossal double-fisted slam.
Surprisingly, Albedo followed right behind him, jumping out into empty space to descend at terminal velocity. For someone who could reset fall speed with a plunging attack, of course, no height was too high.
Weekly update made. Tomorrow will see the beginning of three collabs for the coming week: OSF Training for myself, Zoey's Sakura, and Truth's Raz, Hot Pursuit for myself, Zoey's Karin, Draco's Midna, Double's Roxas, and Yankee's Pit, and As Above - So Below for the team that's been doing the Binding of Isaac dungeons.
In the end, everyone had a good meal, though in truth Peach couldn’t call it an excellent one. She remembered her team’s excellent dinner at Rum for Ale just last night, and how wonderful a time that had been. It capped off a day of much-needed rest and relaxation in safety and tranquility of the Deep Blue Seaside’s tropical paradise, and it hadn’t just been the delicious Cuban cuisine that delighted her. The atmosphere of camaraderie that existed during that meal one day prior had been something she knew she’d treasure for a while. She’d both gotten more familiar with people she’d been fighting alongside for the better part of a week like Geralt and Sakura, and gotten the chance to forge a new friendship with the likes of Karin and Rubick. Even if the departure of fire-forged comrades like Link and Mirage made that night a touch bittersweet, an evening like that would be a rare treat.
In contrast, she couldn’t afford to relax during her stay at Musubi’s, and when the princess stepped outside into the cool of a technicolor Suoh night she felt both invigorated and alert. She was here not to make friends but an ally, and prioritized intelligence over anecdotes. Plus, the night’s festivities were hardly over. The groundwork had been laid, and now was the time to act.
After paying the checks the gang had been obliged to clear the way quickly for the next round of eager customers, and now stood at the edge of the parking lot outside. With the sun set over Midgar, Peach could see a Suoh lit even more brilliantly by Visions that it had been during the day. In addition to the various advertisements and news, a number of purely aesthetic Visions had come online after nightfall to contrast their dazzling colors against the dark sky. Atop the hydroponics facility bloomed a lush holographic forest, with leafy vines trailing down all across the building where make-believe birds perched and pretend koalas climbed. Many-tailed kitsune frolicked and spirits flickered around Sumeragi Tomb, weaving among the trees. Perhaps most splendid were the Visions that danced around the Otherlobe all the way down on the other end of Main Street. The giant brain at the building’s zenith hummed with streaking sparks as if in the midst of a massive brainstorm, its motes of light flying off to burst like fireworks in all manner of different shapes.
“Thank you all for joining me this evening,” Luka began. “I’m glad it seems like we all got to know one another better.”
“O-of course,” Peach stammered, trying to tune out all the pretty lights. “It was a great time, and you were very helpful.”
Luka smiled. “If you’re going to be staying in Suoh, you should all come and work out with me sometime. There’s no better place for strength training than Anistar Gym.”
Stroking his whiskers, Goldlewis replied, “I reckon I just might. For tonight though, we’re headed back to Sector 7. Well, those of us not headed to Psych-OSF HQ, that is.”
“I wish you a safe journey.” Luka crossed his arms, glancing at Sakura, Peach, and Raz. “Oh, but since I’m going there myself, why don’t I teleport you? No time to waste, right?”
“That would be wonderful! You’re too kind,” Peach thanked him, grateful that his offer meant nobody in her team would have to ask themselves. Any way in with a Psych-OSF veteran was bound to be smoother than a walk in the front door.”
Luka nodded. “Let’s go then.” One by one, he warped away with the three aspiring cadets. As he prepared to leave with Raz, he waved to the others. “Good night!” Then he was gone.
Goldlewis sniffed. “That went well.” After checking his watch, he pulled his keys from his pocket and began to head toward his hummer. “We’d better get goin’ as well. Don’t wanna be travelin’ cross-plate after curfew.”
With the group dwindled down to Midna, Pit, Roxas, Sakura, and Goldlewis as the driver, everyone could enjoy a whole lot more room inside the Patriot Mammoth than before as they retraced the path they’d taken earlier that afternoon. On the way Goldlewis informed them of what he’d gotten up to when everyone split up, which included a rather significant detail that concerned their operations in Midgar as a whole. While serviceable in its own right, the office floor currently occupied by the SOU wouldn’t work as well for the Seekers in light of their mission in Midgar. Not only was it under-equipped, its position in a sleepy Sector 7 borough meant that it was pretty far from anything important. In addition to not being on Midgar’s ‘pulse’, it existed in a well-kept area with few options if things ever went south.
All this informed the veteran’s decision to procure a new base of operations for the team, one not only a lot closer to both Psych-OSF and the Shinra Building, but almost completely off the grid as well. The transaction would be finalized and they could move into their new base in Seiran around lunchtime tomorrow, but until then they would have to make use of the SOU office. To facilitate this Goldlewis planned to stop by a Sector 7 department store on the way back for the team to buy sleeping bags, as well as whatever else they’d need to settle down in Midgar for as long as they needed to.
After explaining all this Goldlewis asked for silence in order to call Giovanna, which he did with the aid of a magic communication glyph he summoned on his ear. From their brief exchange he learned that the Detroit team was already on its way back as well, so everyone save the Psych-OSF recruits would be reunited in short order. Giovanna spared her associate the details, but it sounded like her crew had seen some action down in Detroit, so they’d have a lot to catch up on. It was about eight-thirty.
During and after the phone call, the other Seekers got a chance to talk in private and among themselves about what they’d seen and learned that day, their thoughts, and what to do about it. Out of the reach of visual and auditory surveillance, this ride offered a great chance to share information and make plans. Regardless of their individual conclusions, all could agree that things would probably be complicated and risky going forward. There were a lot of pieces on the board.
The conversation came to an and, however, as an array of lights came into view down the road. Traffic slowed, then stopped completely. Up ahead the team could see the red-and-blue flashing lights that denoted police activity glaring off the insides of the tunnel ahead, and with the right angle hastily-erected roadblocks came into view. There seemed to be a mixture of standard policemen around in royal blue jackets and white helmets, and then rank-and-file OSF troopers kitted out for Suoh perimeter defense. “This road is closed!” They were yelling. “Multiple gate openings have been reported on the other side of this tunnel! Keep calm and evacuate the area in an orderly fashion!”
Cars were merging into a single lane to pass through an opening in the highway divider and go the opposite way, but the process was excruciatingly slow. Goldlewis slapped his knee in frustration. “Consarn it all, looks like the damn road’s closed. Gonna have to turn back and find another way a-!”
VROOOOOOOOO! went the engine of a sleek white police motorcycle as it zoomed off an elevated rollway to fly through the air. It landed in the road ahead and slid sideways to a stop, giving the surprised onlookers the briefest of looks at a young daredevil officer before he kicked his cycle back into gear and shot off toward the tunnel, ramping off one of the roadblocks. A mere moment later, a handful of devilish creatures flew down after him in pursuit. Possessing only rudimentary wings, the crystal-pierced monsters floated through the air surrounded by red, pixelated particles, and though humanoid in appearance the red-eyed chasers were overgrown with chitinous corruption, with arms like organic crossbows.
“W-what in tarnation!?” Goldlewis could barely process all this before a lime-and-gray semitruck with the phrase ‘P.S.L. Line Megacarrier’ emblazoned on one side thundered through the opposite lane in the same direction, laden with more monsters and swerving dangerously. It smashed straight through the police barricade in a hail of gunfire from the OSF troopers, then roared through the tunnel after the motorcycle. As the peacekeepers called for backup, Goldlewis grit his teeth. “Damn it, we’ve gotta help!” A moment later his hummer burst through the highway’s center line, and with no time to waste the Seekers sped down the trail blazed for them by whatever these new enemies might be.
With no concrete plan in mind and only a vague directive to explore the surrounding area, the team of eight tentatively split up to peruse the Detroit undercity center. After one last look around the statue plaza with its political posters and unusual stone depression, Tora and Poppi headed up the street in the opposite direction of the Bunker, while Giovanna set her sights on that very building. After her words to the wise about Public Security (not to mention his revelation about Galeem) the secret agent wanted to believe that Benedict wouldn’t double-cross the Seekers, but in intelligence work one couldn’t afford to take chances on blind trust. Since her wolf spirit Rei could only travel so far away from her host, Giovanna insisted on the silver-haired strategist’s accompaniment as she advanced to scout out the massive and imposing DespORHado HQ. At the same time she noticed as Raiden slipped away into the city, which was less than ideal. Despite his comrades’ insistence that he not act on his vehement desire to take his old enemies to task, he’d been delivered their home base on a silver platter. Much to her chagrin, Giovanna could only hope he wouldn’t do anything reckless. Maybe his fusion with that Hoodlum Dolls goon changed him more than any of them thought.
Giovanna didn’t expect even discreet surveillance of one of Midgar’s most powerful factions to be easy, but as she and Benedict approached things quickly got bleaker still. Despite her casual demeanor she always kept at least one sky-blue eye out for trouble at all times, and the closer to the Bunker the two former administration agents got, the more androids she spotted. Gradually she became aware of an entire perimeter of doll-like guards hidden around the block in unlikely spots, of which the sentries at the bulky building’s door were only the most visible part. Add in the cyborg patrols and this whole area looked a lot like one big, carefully-placed noose, just waiting for any enemies to come along and hang themselves in it. Impressed by the level of security, she couldn’t help but whistle. While she didn’t have any criminal activities in mind that might warrant their attention, she could do without any extra suspicion, and elected to give the Bunker’s block an extra wide berth. Instead she led Benedict into a nearby bookstore, the Time Machine. Inside she found an elegantly antiquated interior, all dark wood and patterned lampshades and plush sofas, offering a atmosphere that Giovanna felt must be both very rare and charming in the acrid neon landscape of Detroit. Before she could head up to the second floor to peer out the windows she needed to act natural, after spotting a female employee at the front desk by the name of Lucina Horal the secret agent headed over for a chat.
Meanwhile, Tora and Poppi set out on their own for a second time. Compared to the more run-down part of this sector by Quarantine Valley that housed that haunting solid waste landfill, this area seemed a lot shinier, but the smells of oil, sweat, and exhaust pervaded it just as thoroughly. The Nopon’s nose stayed wrinkled practically the whole time he spent waddling around, and Poppi considered turning her olfactory sensors off as well. More than anything, this place just seemed inhospitable, both in terms of the populace and the environment itself, even in comparison to the other otherworld cities the two had seen so far. Alcamoth had been futuristic and awe-inspiring, maybe a little sterile, but wide-open and accommodating. Al Mamoon, while uncomfortably hot and busy at times, pulsed with a vibrant vitality even in the midst of its terrorist crisis. Though smaller than the others, Tostarena Town left quite an impression just with how colorful and fun it had been, and Radlandia had a weird but wonderful flavor all its own. Nyakuza Metro came closer than any of the others to the feeling of Detroit, but it boasted a certain sense of unity and charm. This was raw, gritty, and almost completely alien to Tora and Poppi both. A little overwhelmed, they just didn’t know what to make of it, or where to even begin when it came to scrounging up useful information.
So after a little while, they ended up inside Yoshida Batting Center. A couple busts on the way here left Tora a bit disheartened, but when he realized that this establishment hosted an entertaining minigame with prizes available for high scorers, the Nopon was all ears. Together the two spent some money to try their luck at bat, and though Tora’s physique was in every way at odds with the mechanics of baseball, he enjoyed swinging the bat around. He knew he could rely on Poppi’s powerful, precision engineering to score big, and his companion did not disappoint. She racked up the points with a whole host of home runs, then at her Masterpon’s urging exchanged a thousand for the Expert Bat to earn fifty percent more points on her tear through the Superhuman Challenge. In the end she hoarded enough points to cash in on Toughness Z medicine, a Luxury First Aid Kit, a hammer called the Star Crusher for Tora, and an anklet said to be used by fighting breakdancers for Poppi. Of course, the disgruntled manager then kicked them out and forbade them from returning, resentful of a machine that could make a mockery of the Batting Center’s challenges so easily.
“Meh-meh!” Tora complained as the two picked themselves up outside. “Crabbypons just jealous of Poppi incredible skill!”
After patting the dust off her creator, Poppi put her fists on her hips proudly. “If they let artificial people play in the first place, the average engineer around here must be a lot worse than Masterpon!”
“Meheheh. Even in city of machines, there no finer feat of engineering than Poppi!” Tora turned his smug expression on the Detroit city streets, full of people working so hard yet achieving so little. Then he scratched his chin. ”It occur to Tora that there big untapped market for using Poppi to clean out prizes.“
Poppi nudged him, pointing between the buildings toward the sunlight beyond the shade of the Sector 8 Plate, already starting to go orange. “You should think about scamming people later. We wasted so much time there it’s already dinnertime! Let’s go!”
Always happy for a meal, Tora agreed straightaway, and the two prepared to head to the Seekers’ designated meetup spot. Before they could make any progress, however, a couple soldiers came to a stop in front of them: a grizzled-looking man with a faintly amused expression, a bald-headed powerhouse with bulging muscles, and a white-plated robot with a red bandana. All were armed, which gave Tora and Poppi pause, but they lacked both the red-black livery of DespoRHado and any overt hostility. “Hey there,” the first man greeted them. “Don’t mean to stop you on your way to dinner, but it sounded like you’re someone who knows a thing or two about machines, so I was wondering if we could ask you something.”
Pleased to have his mastery recognized, Tora flapped his wings. “That Tora all right! How can help?” Poppi, meanwhile, facepalmed at the obvious use of flattery.
The soldier replied with a smile. “That’s great. I’m Daniel Marshall, and my friends here are Roy Boateng and Cain.”
“Bonjour,” the robot greeted, speaking with a pronounced French accent.
The big man cracked a grin at the little Nopon. “Evenin’. Most folks call me Big Bo.”
“We’re here looking for a special kind of machine.” Marshall produced a photo and handed it to Tora, who looked at it with Poppi. Despite the filter and blurriness, they could recognize what they were looking at, which left Tora confused.
“But this not machine,” he remarked “It just some woman, meh.”
Bo shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’s a Hollow Child. It’s a Machine that looks just like a human, and not only that, it’s programmed to think it’s one, too. Only way to tell is if you get beneath the skin. The Machines outside the city have been makin’ ‘em and sendin’ ‘em in as spies. We think this one got its hands on some classified intel and is tryin’ to make its escape outside, but got wounded in the process.”
“Which is why we’re asking you, not just as an expert but also as an inhuman who couldn’t possibly be a Hollow Child yourself,” the first man continued. “Have you seen this Machine?” Tora and Poppi shook their heads, and the soldier sighed. They must have been asking around for a while already, Poppi guessed. Marshall accepted the photo back in trade for what looked like a business card. “Unfortunate, but not surprising. Keep an eye out, and if you do see anything, please let us know.” The three continued on their way in a hurry, and left the dynamic duo to go on theirs.
A few minutes later, Tora and Poppi arrived at their destination: the aptly-named Detroit Pizzeria. It was about six o’clock by Poppi’s guess, and it looked like the others had already arrived. After a quick word to the people up front the two made their way to the table at the back where Giovanna was sitting. The secret agent flashed an apologetic expression at Susie, Poppi, and Blazermate. “Sorry to drag you three here when you can’t even eat, but if there’s one good thing about this undercity, it’s the pizza. Seeing as it’s about that time anyway I figured we might as well grab a bite now instead of when we get back to Sector 7.”
“It’s fine,” Poppi assured her. “Even if I can’t eat, my olfactory sensors are so fine-tuned I can enjoy good food almost as much as anyone else.” She glanced at Tora, who’d already started salivating at the smell of baked cheese and pepperoni, and smiled. “Not nearly as much as Masterpon, of course.”
Everyone sat down, and the staff wasted no time at all taking their orders. It looked like they were gearing up for the dinner rush, and trying to make sure as few blockages were in the way as possible. With a good idea of what sort of demand they’d get, the chefs had already been making different kinds of deep-dish pizza, so barely any time passed before the Seekers got what they ordered, too. This wasn’t about to be a protracted affair.
Of course, that just meant Tora had to stuff himself with steaming, savory goodness that much faster. As he and the other organics feasted, other people came and went from the pizzeria, but at one point a few unusual guests darkened the place’s doorstep. Tora glanced over to see a handful of G-men, causing him to freeze with his cheeks full like a hamster. Pocketing their various ‘disguises’ in a weary manner, the G-men made their way to a corner table in the back, and as they passed a startled Tora watched with the sole human bringing up the rear. He was a suit-wearing, spectacled man with neck-length black hair and a sharp goatee, his expression one of veiled curiosity aimed at Benedict. Tora swallowed slowly, and the fellow went by without a word to sit with his ’men’.
Benedict might recognize the man as an associate of his in General Affairs, and maybe the closest thing he could call to a friend in that organization–Detective Zenkichi Hasegawa. To Giovanna, however, he was just another Turk. “Keep quiet and act natural,” she hissed, not needing to say aloud that this man wasn’t someone to trifle with.
As we head toward the weekend, I figure I'd give a little more information on the Detroit Team. There's essentially a lot of stuff to do in the area near the Bunker, so you're free to take whatever action you feel like. This can encompass about an hour or more, and I can supply some info, collab, or offer or NPC action if you're looking to encounter anyone in particular. On Sunday, provided nobody did anything too drastic, we'll visit a Detroit-style pizzeria for a meal at about 6 o clock IC time and next week we'll head back to base.
While Imogen sort of expected to lay her concerns at the feet of Sofia alone, her being this weird event’s organizer and all, a handful of the other prospective ocean-goers seemed to rally to the ringleader’s defense. Maybe they took issue with the Imogen’s not-so-subtle derision of their mental stability for agreeing to take the icy plunge, or they just wanted as much reinforcement as possible to convince themselves that their commitment to this ritual wasn’t so foolish after all, but one by one they piled their goading on top of Sofia’s.
She naturally couldn’t help but glance at Victor as he prepared himself for a chilly immersion. It went without saying that he sported a pretty impressive physique for someone of his age, and he certainly didn’t seem ashamed about showing it off. To her chagrin he noticed her gaze, and while she rolled her eyes rather than turning beet-red or anything, he seemed to take it as a sign of interest, or at least a way to break the ice. He informed Imogen that she was wrong for not wanting to jump in the frigid water, and that doing so would aid in making her dreams a reality. The audacity of such a claim made her blink a few times in quick succession. Just what did this smirking Frenchman know about her dreams? Ah, but there it was. He went ahead and took his shot, saying Imogen could have his shirt once she got wet, so she might as well dive on in. This guy probably just wanted to see her soaked, show himself off, or both.
Another fellow quickly chimed in as well, even adding his own smirk to the mix, though he didn’t try to get as chummy as Victor did. Rather than try to poke and prod her, Orlando merely suggested an avenue for revenge if things went south, which actually sounded pretty great to Imogen. At least, in theory. If she did take ill, she’d miss a whole bunch of vital classes whether she got due compensation or not, and on the subject of money she doubted she could afford a lawyer for something like this. Plus, she didn’t know if she had the heart to throw down a gauntlet like that. Double plus, Orlando probably wasn’t serious about it, so why should she be? Way to overthink things as usual, Imogen.
In the middle of the pressure came Maive, Imogen’s fellow girl in glasses. She positioned herself to be the voice of reason, but the words that came out of her mouth didn’t make complete sense. It looked like her train of thought was chugging along elsewhere thanks to the boys’ eagerness to unveil their toned bodies, which to be fair was pretty distracting, but if anyone could hide her innermost thoughts it was Imogen.
Some of the others got to talking, but the girl in green focused on Sofia’s response. The upbeat girl didn’t attempt to cajole Imogen like she expected, but just said that a ‘light step in’ would be enough. That alone honestly beat out any other possible reasons to participate in this farce. If she could get away with just wading, she wouldn’t need to worry about ruining her clothes or suffering hypothermia. Probably. Okay, she thought. This whole thing is still ridiculous, but I can put my legs in. I’ll do it! Social skills, here I come!
And then Maive hurtled toward her.
All of a sudden, Imogen was falling backward. She froze solid, taken utterly aback. What just happened? Did that short girl push her!? Why? Some sort of switch flipped inside her, from zero to one one hundred. “FUUUUU-!” Imogen howled, venting everything she had in one mighty expulsion of rage, vehement enough to send spittle flying and make her see stars as she emptied her lungs
Rendered light-headed by the yell and unable to even try to stop herself, she went down, and just a second later, into the drink. As she went under, head-first and paralyzed by shock, the warm light of the imminent sunset disappeared in an instant, and pitch-black darkness closed in around her. Her wide-open eyes stung, and water filled her mouth. Imogen Reed was no stranger to fear or dread, her constant companions on the lonely road laid out before her in life, but it had been a long, long time since she experienced terror. The thought struck her: I’m dying. She began to struggle, trying furiously and in vain to right herself and stop sinking, but her heavy overcoat clung to her like a bodybag and hindered her movement, and she couldn’t tell which way was up. I’mdyingI’mdyingI’mdyingI’mdying her mind screamed as she flailed her limbs. It was so cold. Colder than Dante’s ninth circle. Cold as hell.
Stuck in this frigid void, she found herself quickly losing feeling, and in that numbness came a strange relief. Her senses were overloaded; they could take no more. Imogen’s thrashing gradually came to an end. Somehow, the water around her now swaddled her like a soft blanket, or a gentle embrace. As her consciousness slipped away, it felt like falling asleep, into a deeper, healthier, and more pleasant slumber than Imogen had known for a long, long time. Oh, she thought, scattered and barely awake. Dying’s not so bad, actually. Imogen relaxed, closed her eyes -not that it made any difference- and let the water fill her lungs. Her arms closed around her legs as she folded up into a fetal position. Take me, God!
Sure enough, Imogen got taken, although not in the way she expected. All of a sudden, she found herself in the sky, a foggy gray expanse above a murky sea. She didn’t know when she got here, or how, or anything, and she didn’t really try to think about it. This was well out of her hands now. With nothing in sight, the girl closed her eyes to await whatever came next. Her weary eyes glimpsed neither raft nor gentleman nor valet. Only when gravity very abruptly returned to normal did her eyes fly open, newfound terror pumping through her veins once more. It tore its way from her lips as she plummeted toward the ocean surface yet again, her peaceful acceptance utterly annihilated. Her hands covered her face, shielding her for impact as she screamed.
Then darkness. Again. More cold. Dammit. But this time, things felt a little different. Maybe a little better? But something was there. Something horrible and terrifying, yet intimately familiar. “Who are you!?” Imogen couldn’t help it; she had to know. She didn’t expect a reply, but it came, and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was a nightmare, after all.
“-UUUCK! OW!” Unable to breath through her mouthful of sand, Imogen jolted awake, and smacked her face into the spar of driftwood she’d come to rest against. Her glasses fell as her hands flew to her face in a fit of coughing that lasted for a few moments. With her mental composure completely broken, she couldn’t stop the tears that sprang to her eyes as she clutched her bruised nose. “Ow, ow, ow, damn it!” she moaned, but as the pain and panic subsided she began to realize that her aching schnozz might be the least of her worries.
She sat on the shore of an idyllic tropical island. It was beautiful, it was warm (especially in her plaid overcoat), and it was thousands upon thousands of kilometers away from the meager, desolate shores of the United Kingdom. Imogen looked around in stunned silence, trying to confirm the truth of what her senses were telling her, but without her glasses she couldn’t see very well. Using her hand as a shovel she picked up a bunch of sand, then let it dribble out between her fingers. Everything seemed as real as real could be. Except for the fact that it was impossible.
A scream rang out, drawing the girl’s attention. That dumbass Sophia was here, and it looked like she fainted. Others from the dock were awake and asking all sorts of frantic questions.
Imogen took a deep, somewhat shaky breath. She was afraid, but she was also very pissed at whatever circumstances led her here. Seeing others succumb somehow strengthened her own resolve. In the spirit of not letting herself be beaten, she decided to figure things out right here and now. I was drowning, she remembered. She must have lost consciousness, which meant just two possibilities. Either her senseless body got recovered, put on a plane, and sent all the way to the tropics before she woke up, or she was still unconscious, and this island wasn’t real. Imogen remembered stories about people in comas reporting all sorts of fantastical dreams upon awakening. Richard Hammond from Top Gear for instance–his story had been so existential and meaningful that it still haunted Imogen from time to time. That must be it, Imogen rationalized. She was unconscious and dreaming. But had she been fished out from the English waters and laid out in a hospital bed, or was she still sinking? Was her mind, in its frenzied dying moments, stretching out instants into hours as one last hurrah before its demise? Or maybe she was already dead, and this was purgatory.
Her head spun with horrifying thoughts. But what was she going to do about any of it? Could she somehow wake herself up and try to save herself in the real world? Did she even want to? Maybe this island was all she had left. Imogen kept herself breathing, trying to stave off the panic. One thing at a time. She was too hot, so she took off her coat. Beneath she was wearing a dark blue t-shirt and black leggings. She couldn’t see, so she felt around until she found her glasses and put them on. “Shit.” The lenses were cracked, which made her even madder, but at least they were there. Unable to sit still any longer, she stood, glaring around at the others. Her eyes landed on Maive, and she saw red.
“You MUPPET!” About one second after Victor tried to console the girl, Imogen thundered her way, an accusatory finger pointed right at her. In her mind, the others were just figments of her own coma-dream, and she felt no need to contain herself any more. “This is all your damn fault! Why the hell’d’you have to go and push me, huh? I was goin’ in on my own! Now we’re all gonna die!” A rattling breath shook Imogen, disrupting her offense. Her eyes landed on Sofia, who Daniel was already busy grabbing hold of and was not a suitable target for venting. Instead she pounded her fist against the head of the one most to blame for this predicament: herself. How could she be so stupid as to let this happen, after all? “Aaaaagh! This is un-fuckin’-believable!”
New Power acquired: Overdrive Once possessed of at least fifty percent tension, Goldlewis can unleash one of two Overdrives. The first, Down With the System, is his only ‘invincible’ technique and is a coffin uppercut of tremendous power. If given a brief window to wind up, he can make it even stronger, at which point the UMA will add copter grenades to the mix to chase down and blow up whoever Goldlewis launched. His second Overdrive is Burn It Down, in which he uses his glasses’ laser sight to designate a target for orbital laser. The laser is thicker than a barrel and very bright, but doesn’t actually do that much damage; instead, it moves toward Goldlewis, drawing anyone caught up in it toward him as well. It cannot be used indoors
During the first few moments of his mealtime meeting at Musubi’s, Luka received a variety of first impressions from his new acquaintances. One of the first opened with a comment about his apparent age, which earned a look somewhere between a wince and a smile. “I suppose I should thank the anti-aging drugs for that,” he joked in reply. “Or blame them, however the case might be.” If he made any assumptions about a sardonic nature on her part, however, she soon put them to rest with a formal introduction as the Princess of Twilight. “A pleasure to meet you as well, Midna. Or should I perhaps call you ‘my lady’? You’ll have to forgive me if I slip up, we don’t often stand on ceremony in Psych-OSF.”
Karin set out to establish an overall tone for the meal from the outset, but despite his solemn appearance Luka didn’t seem dead-set on formality. “Oh, I’d be happy just to enjoy a meal and conversation with you all,” he told her. “Truth be told, I’m not sure what business I could conduct on behalf of the organization, but if there’s anything I can help with, please be sure to ask.”
While Goldlewis and Peach made themselves known pleasantly and formally enough, Roxas followed them up by declining to extend so much as a greeting, let alone his name. Instead he seated himself in silence, giving a sullen air, but Luka wasn’t one to try and press any issue someone might have with him. In any case, Pit quickly compensated for Roxas’ disinterest with an extra dose of gregariousness. While not exactly the most eloquent, the angel made up for it with some good-intentioned flattery, and went on to mention the recruits straightaway.
“Oh? You mean some of you are interested in joining the Scarlet Guardians?” Luka set down his water glass, his eyebrows raised in an expression of mild surprise and/or interest, though that could just as easily be a polite affectation.
Goldlewis cleared his throat, loosening his tie a little. He hadn’t planned to broach that subject so soon, but there was no accounting for young folks trying to be helpful, he supposed. “That’s right,” he told Luka. “Miss Sakura here, Miss Peach, and Mr. Raz.” The veteran gestured to the prospective applicants one at a time, giving each a chance to wave, raise their hands, or so forth. Peach gave a peace sign and a cheerful smile when it was her turn. “In fact, we were gonna try an’ get ‘em enlisted today, ‘cept that business with the Others got in the way.”
“I see.” Luka nodded seriously. “Apologies about that. Otherfall in Suoh is a rare and unlucky occurrence. But I’m glad you all seem eager to join! A heart for humanity is a wonderful thing. Psych-OSF may not be desperate for new recruits nowadays, but they’ve always got an eye for talent, and if you’re already able to challenge Others as civilians I’m certain you’ve got promising careers ahead of you.” His eyes landed on Peach, full of understanding, and his tone was even. “That new look of yours is especially sharp. Just by looking at you, I’d half expect you were a cadet already.”
Peach offered a smile like sunshine. “Well, thank you! I, eheh, wanted to put my best foot forward!”
“The beginning of a great journey is in itself a cause for celebration,” Luka continued. He waved at a passing server, raising his voice slightly. “Oh, waitress? May I please order a selection of appetizers? How about this, and this?”
All around the Seekers, the atmosphere in Musubi’s was incredibly lively. Suoh citizens, Seiran workers yet to head home, out-of-sector tourists, and even off-duty OSF personnel were packing the place to the brim. A listening ear would find that Others, the Ever Crisis, and Midar politics were as popular subjects as entertainment and celebrities. With sake and other liquors available, many of Musubi’s patrons were having a rollicking good time, helped out by the puzzles and other gimmicks afforded by the Visions at the tables, but there were plenty more juicy morsels to be had than idle brainteasers if one paid attention. Still, the atmosphere managed to be jazzy rather than raucous, and a handful of couples on dates could be found. Among them was a familiar face from the battle against the others: Kagero Donne, in civilian dress very similar to his battle garb, all things considered. With him was a beautiful woman with a purple ponytail, who somehow managed to make an ordinary sweater and skirt look glamorous, and despite it being sundown wore sunglasses.
Soon, fresh orders of takoyaki, crab rangoon, and dumplings were delivered for the Seekers to sample as they pleased. By that time they could place their entree orders as well, which presented Goldlewis with a problem. In his massive mitts the chopsticks here were like toothpicks. What could a gargantuan American possibly get to eat in this place? He ended up going with a curry plate, a sushi roll, and some gyoza. Soon, the real meal and the real conversation could start.
Before the team got underway, Benedict offered his two cents on Poppi’s proposed plan of action. His disapproval of her idea made the artificial blade second-guess herself, since it was true that the others might not be feeling up for another excursion, especially at the rate Khamsin would be moving once he reached the road. In fact, she felt a little guilty for failing to consider the condition of her organic teammates, who unlike her didn’t enjoy the privilege of being able to simply increase their intake of atmospheric ether to compensate for lost energy.
Giovanna did not let herself be so easily cowed, however. “What, don’t want us fraternizing with your rivals, Turk?” she countered. “Well, we’re not planning to do anything untoward. Just a quick, casual peek from the outside. We might not get a better chance.” After finishing her braid, she tossed it over her shoulder in a flippant manner, then put her hands on her hips. “Even if the feds have my number, we’ll be gone long before they show up. You, meanwhile, were captured and compromised. You sure you still have friends in Public Security? This city’s full of criminals, but liabilities…well, they don’t last long, right?”
“Meh, friends?” Tora piped up. “Angrypon Khamsin about to get away!”
Sure enough, the Wind of Destruction had reached the street. Rather than continue to slowly lumber about, after reaching suitably flat and smooth terrain. he could dig in his war machine’s feet and began to slide down down the road. There was no more time to waste. Poppi scooped Tora up into her arms and took off, using her back-mounted thrusters to turn her steps into meters-long strides as she ran. “We’ll take point!” she called back to the others, not intending to leave them in the dust. This could work out just like the chase through Al Mamoon two days ago, with the Seekers in pursuit of the next fastest ally instead of the target. “Time to follow the leader! We’ll stay on Khamsin’s trail, so keep your eyes on us!” And if Blazermate could mark him, all the better. She wouldn’t be able to keep up with him for long, and even if she could, he didn’t seem to be in the mood for idle chatter.
As the Seekers rushed off, two figures watched from the roof of the factory where they’d stopped to get their bearings before the construction site fiasco began. Their faces were hidden, but on the fronts of their black balaclavas blazed white holographic eyes, like cyclopes of legend. They said nothing, but saw everything, and once the last living things left the scene below the two of them vacated the factory roof as well. In the undercities, information was one of the hottest commodities, and these two were about to be rich men.
Enormous military hardware plus busy city streets made for an interesting combination. When the way was clear Khamsin could rumble down the roadways like a freight train, much faster than the average Seeker could run, but he was hard to miss, and for all the savage strength and untreated mania the cyborg displayed earlier, wanton destruction appeared to be off the cards. Despite everything looking rather like a nail to a man with one hell of a hammer, he abstained from smashing through or stomping on cars in his way, and he didn’t attempt to take to the cluttered and narrowed sidewalks, either. This led to the rather amusing spectacle of a giant mech waiting in traffic, which turned out to be a saving grace for those tailing him. There were no convenient sky-lines around after all, with any that did show up just as likely to swerve away again the second anyone jumped on, and without foreknowledge of Khamsin’s route the followers couldn’t take shortcuts to shave off time. At least some of the more mobile team members could lend a hand to those in need, like Poppi for Tora, or one of the other lady-bots for Benedict. Still, the crew hurtled through the dark streets in a rather haphazard rush, drawing all sorts of eyes as they went. All except for Khamsin himself, who seemed not only unobservant, but crucially lacking in the peripheral vision department.
Before too long, the Seekers reached their destination. At that point even Giovanna could barely stand, her breathing ragged as she gasped for air. When she fell, plopping down into Rei’s cushioning fluff, the whole team basically followed suit and collapsed around a small plaza with a statue on display and an odd depression in the back to watch Khamsin as he returned to base.
DespoRHado’s famous Bunker was quite a sight. It took the form of an utterly massive building, big enough to have its own little city block all to itself, and it wasn’t just tall, but girthy. Completely unconcerned with aesthetics, the Bunker was an ugly, bulbous block of metal and concrete, several feet thick in places and bulging outward toward the bottom, with glass and other potential vulnerabilities kept to an absolute minimum. Up high, things were even stranger. From the top of the building extended an enormous radial panel, covering the nearby city in its shade like a giant parasol, but they couldn’t possibly be solar panels in an undercity where the sun never reached. Giovanna had expected a sprawling complex with high perimeter walls and patrolling guards, maybe just because that look lay fresh in her mind thanks to the brewery, but this was a citadel decked out in the logos and colors of DespoRHado, black and red. That said, it did have a handful of guards around the main entrance: doll-like androids with a variety of weapons from swords to axes to guns. From a safe, respectful distance up the street she watched a set of giant doors on one of the Bunker’s sides slide open, and Khamsin disappeared inside.
Tora was in awe. “Look like very tough nut to crack. Could probably shrug off direct hit from Red Eye! Good thing friends not have quarrel with DespoRHado, meh.”
Poppi agreed, but her search didn’t end with the Bunker. Her eyes fell on a brick wall near the statue where everyone came to rest, covered with posters. “What’s all this?” At one point a number of simple, striking black posters had been attached there, nice and orderly, but since then most had been either ripped up, torn off, slashed, or covered in paint. Now most of it lay buried under posters of blue and red, reading things like ’I have a dream’ and ’keeping war off our shores’, all featuring stylized depictions of a formidable, stern, square-jawed man with glasses. “Armstrong,” Poppi read aloud. “Khamsin mentioned that name, too.”
“He’s the current president’s biggest opponent in the upcoming election,” Giovanna explained, glancing over. “There’s a couple third-party candidates, but none of them even come close. He’s popular in the undercities and allegedly has DespoRHado backing him. Given what we saw with Khamsin, that might be true.” She took a deep breath and stood, dismissing Rei. “That means things could get ugly. Very ugly. Let’s take a look around this whole area, check out whatever catches your eye. Just don’t get too close to the Bunker.” Her pointed gaze suggested that she didn’t need to add ’looking at you, Raiden.
Although the Bunker dominated this area, bathing the area in shadow and bringing out all the glaring blue and yellow lights, it was also the heart of Detroit. It featured a number of other shops and businesses, from Chinese food to a bookstore to a batting center, any of which the Seekers could check out if so desired. There appeared to be a local Limb Clinic and Android Zone as well, though both had DepoRHado-affiliated branding. G-men seemed conspicuously absent, though in their place small patrols of DespoRHado cyborgs and androids could be found here and there, their optics kept sharp for any would-be threats. Thanks to their presence the people here seemed to be every bit on edge as in ones policed by G-men. Giovanna moved around to try and get a better look at the Bunker itself, being as discreet as possible.
Some quick thinking and expert use of power from Rubick quickly snatched the little Yordle away from the jaws -or proboscises, as it were- of parasitism and spirited him away to safety. The sorcerer’s heroism left the mosquitoes that had been poised to drain Teemo’s juices thirsty, angry, and faced with a whole new crop of bloodbags to suck from.
Unfortunately, the plus-size pests learned that hard way that the Koopa Troop weren’t about to part with a single sanguine drop. Kamek’s red-clad copies backed up Bowser in a tremendous display of firepower, lighting up the whole cavern with their fusillade of flame. Even the Koopa King’s slow-moving fireballs got some play, since these bugs weren’t exactly fast. They burned up and burst like oversized tomatoes, the rotten blood inside their bloated bellies sizzled into foul-smelling vapor as their bodies were obliterated. The commotion aroused more mosquitoes from their hidey-holes around the pungent poison swamp, but the reinforcements just buzzed straight to their demise as well, flash-fried by Koopa conflagration or flash-petrified by Rika’s cockatrice.
Once Kamek’s medic clone tended to Teemo, the little guy wasted no time joining in the slaughter himself. With his trusty blowpipe he zipped off darts with incredible precision, and even without any special coatings they pierced pest after rancid pest, oftentimes cutting them into pieces to twitch uselessly on the quagmire’s surface. While it might have been too dark in this cavern for such remarkable marksmanship normally, the flames of his newfound comrades provided more than enough light, and the Swift Scout provided what help he could in return. While his voice might seem silly, his callouts were useful, and suggestive of a long and storied career of hairy situations.
With a little extra strategy added to the mix, the giant mosquitoes stood no chance. In short order Bowser, Kamek, Rika, and Teemo managed to exterminate the whole swarm. Though dark and dingy as ever, somehow the area seemed a little brighter for their absence, and finding a new friend was surely a silver lining.
Back toward the entrance, in the less malodorous part of the dripstone cave, Junior was having bug troubles of his own. The Migospels just weren’t very helpful, but even still, the young prince couldn’t turn a blind eye to the plight of their party’s sickly member. After Primrose left to investigate the Snail Shaman he cast Cure to heal any wounds, then Esuna to cleanse the makeup-slathered insect of any negative statuses. Doing so provoked a response, but not necessarily what he expected. It jerked suddenly, looking Junior’s way. That orange glimmer in its eyes had not diminished whatsoever. In fact, it looked more active. Like cockroaches that skittered away to shelter at high speed when a light came on, or perhaps more like ants in a disturbed anthill, for the orange light in its eyes stirred violently, as if it sensed it were under attack. Almost like something was moving around in there, some sort of lambent collective for which this sorry Migospel was only a shell.
The bug jerked again, more violently this time, and its head lolled sideways. A crack appeared in its neck, and from the rupture more orange gunk leaked. It swelled into clusters of glowing boils, swollen like overripe grapes and connected by fungal-looking mycelia, all of which subtly pulsed as if to the beat of an unseen heart. As the Migospel shuddered, and took an unsteady step toward Junior, more cracks spread around its left eye for additional pustules to emerge. At this point the other Migospel took notice, and approached to see what was wrong with their friend. The unwell insect filled its cheeks, preparing to spit.
A black-and-yellow blur streaked behind the Migospel as Barnabee flash-stepped in. “ZAH!” With a well-aimed slice he carved through the legs of the would-be spitter with his saw-toothed sword, dropping it where it stood.. The other monsters jumped back, alarmed and ready to fight if need be, but Barnabee held out his hand. “Get back!” he roared. “Tis the infection!”
The body of the Migospel began to thrash around. Barnabee leaped backward as a bunch of Lightseeds erupted from the corpse, scurrying around as it turned to ash. While the Hive Knight made an enormous leap backward, the Lightseeds looked a lot like glowing balloons to the Migospels, and with delighted cries they ran around to scoop them up. “Fie, you fools!” Barnabee cried. “Thou musn’t touch it!”
Away from all the chaos, Primrose’s jaunt up through the misty, mask-laden path brought her to what seemed to be the humble dwelling of the curious creature she spotted before. She found him, sitting not on a carefully-assembled bench of fossilized insect legs, but on the steps of a quaint -not to mention grim- little shelter with an interior covered in masks, all hung so as to stare soullessly down at whomever might rest upon the cushions within.
It was tough to discern much from him in terms of expression, but his voice sounded intrigued, and maybe even amused when he replied to her greeting. “Oho! Who is that creeping out of the darkness? My, you look sleek! A soft, pale face and a strange, cloth-draped form! I can sense a majestic arcane power from you…” The Shaman fell silent and listened to the dancer’s questions. He turned them over in his head, then after a moment, shook it. “Alas, I’m afraid I have not seen any such visage. I was lucky to have so much as glimpsed you as your cohort passed by. A friendly face is a rare sight indeed, so filled are these ancient halls with beasts and scoundrels and far, far worse…”
After a brief pause the mystic tilted his head with a playful air. “Oho, but it wouldn’t be so strange if they did pass by, only to seemingly vanish from sight. For while that cavern may seem a dead end, there is a way to delve still deeper, hidden from view. Scale the root of the buried tree, and you just might discover a secret wall, through which you might pass as easily as any of the spirits haunting this place.”
“As for soft and round…” He took his hands in his staff and stood. “There is something that smells within this Ancestral Mound, although I would not call it nice! If you were to plumb the depths of this temple, you might find a putrid yet placid creature to carve a succulent morsel from, ohoho!” With his free hand he gestured down a passageway.
“Hmm…” The Shaman looked Primrose right in the eyes. “Something important has drawn you down into Hallownest's corpse, but I won't ask what. Perhaps the reason you've found me is because you need my help?” He chuckled. “Say no more, friend. I'm going to give you a gift, a nasty little spell of my own creation. It's just perfect for a mysterious one like you! Ohoho!”
He held out his hand and a white wisp appeared, its form flickering like flame. If accepted by Primrose, the Vengeful Spirit would be hers–as well as a spell of unconsciousness as its power temporarily overloaded her senses.
When the squad of visceral villains swarmed the heroes, Nadia took the chance while Scolex was burrowing to put some distance between herself and her allies. Not only did she not want to risk that crimson tapeworm sailing into a friend while she tried to fight it, but the feral didn’t want a piece of anyone else’s adversary, either. Besides, while teamwork sure made the dream work in that last fight with Mom and her eldritch cohort, these monsters looked like chumps in comparison. Grinning, Nadia skidded to a stop at one edge of the chamber’s central plateau, which was rapidly becoming an arena. “C’mon, ya big weenie!” she yelled at the walls. “Bring it! I’ve had worse than you on the Innsmouth boardwalk!”
Whether or not it understood her, Scolex obliged. It emerged from the sloped floor below Nadia and leaped toward her. She dodged early, but just as she saw during its earlier jump, the sinuous creature lacked any sort of air control. With Nadia’s heart racing from adrenaline, she felt like she had all the time in the world to wait as Scolex passed her by, then bring both anchors down in an all-out chop. “Franks for nothin’!”
Her makeshift axes bounced violently off its elastic skin, throwing her backward. “Whoa-oa-oa!” she yowled, staggering a few steps in a vain attempt to keep her balance only to plummet off the side of the arena. She dropped a couple feet and smacked down on the sloped flesh wall, then immediately began to slide down the slick incline. “Oh no,” she groaned, both at the possibility of getting stuck in a crevice at the bottom against the raised arena, and the mucus that now coated the back of her jacket. Thank goodness I have it on. Thinking quickly, she reversed her grip on her anchors and twisted around to embed them in the meat, bringing her slip-and-slide to a sudden halt.
She got to her feet and began to climb, aware that her foe could appear again at any moment. When it did she readied herself for a dodge, but this time Scolex only emerged partway, and from its grotesque sucker-mouth it unleashed a torrential shower of bloody tears. “The hell?” Nadia gritted her teeth, stashed her anchors, and despite her misgivings took off across the fleshscape on all fours, using her claws to gain traction. “If anything, I should be throwin’ up at the sight of you!” Scolex unleashed blast after blast, then curled back into the ‘ground’ to dig through it. With her hands against the flesh, much to her chagrin, Nadia could feel the vibrations as it got closer. In the nick of time she arched her back as Scolex erupted directly in front of her, missing its quarry by inches as she gracefully flipped back onto her feet. “Hah!” the thief spat. “Try all you want, you’ll never ketchup to me.”
Scolex arced through the air to dive back in, but as it did Nadia spotted something she hadn’t before: its flashing red tail. If its body was impervious, that had to be a weak spot–that or its loathsome head. A second later, that tail popped out from the same spot, and from the center the tapeworm launched a triple-barrage of much larger, flashing globules. “Hmm~” she murmured, her brows narrowing. The feral dug in her claws and began to climb, moving higher up the increasingly sloped fleshscape toward the point where floor became wall. Explosions went off one by one behind her, sending ripples through the meat and sometimes glancing off her legs, but even as her progress slowed Nadia kept on climbing. After a couple moments the blasts stopped, but by the time that Nadia remembered what that meant Scolex had already burst up beneath her.
“Agh!” She hurtled backward away from the wall and through the air, driven by the giant sucker buried in her gut. With an angry cry she tried to scratch her attacker’s eyes, failed, then had a brainwave. Laughing through the pain, she released just enough blood to summon a Copycat inside the parasite’s gullet. The doppelganger went to work shredding and severing Scolex from the inside, forcing it to relinquish its grip. Once free, Nadia shot her arm back toward the wall and grappled over, landing even higher than when she left. There she clung, panting, until Scolex buried itself and finally re-emerged, tail end first. “I’m gonna relish this,” Nadia smirked, letting go. She began to slide down the flesh wall, quickly picking up speed as she dodged left and right to avoid her enemy’s bombs, and this time she remembered to use her Night Light to help her not get hit. One second passed, then two. At just the right time the feral leaped off the slope, flying toward the offending tail. It began to recede, but Nadia extended her hand. “Not so fast!” Beside her, Idea manifested, traveling with her thanks to her inertia. “Maybe I can’t slash your body,” Nadia told it as her nightmarish strikers extended its seven long, supply tongues to ensnare the tapeworm’s body. “But we can sure as hell grab it!”
With all its strength, Idea yanked Scolex back out of its hole and in a single gigantic revolution whirled the monster overhead. It slammed down with back-breaking force against the edge of the arena. The tapeworm’s tail dangled limply over the edge as Nadia dropped to the slope again, sliding to a stop beside it. “I mustard-mit, ya almost got me once or twice there. But to the wiener,” she gloated with a wide smile. “Goes the spoils.” With a cry she unleashes Fursurker Purrage straight to the weak spot to finish the fetid fiend off.
By that point, the other Seekers’ fights had progressed too, some reaching their own dramatic conclusions. Her team actually got them all! While Ganondorf pulverized Blastocyst, Sectonia excised Teratoma, Jesse squished Mr. Fred, Therion got a lock on Lokii, the Knight blotted out the Bloat, and Omori even managed to exterminate Triachnid. That kid had some guts in him after all! As he went to itemize his miniboss, Nadia went ahead and did the same.
You have acquired: The Intruder This item has appeared centimeters away from Omori and must be very consciously avoided to not be equipped. A spider appears inside the taker’s head, its face visible inside the taker’s mouth. Every 1.5 seconds, it can execute a coordinated attack with its host as long as the host’s mouth is open to shoot four sticky tears that slow and deal damage. Upon the host taking damage, there’s a chance that the Intruder will forcibly emerge, spawning a couple friendly tiny spiders as it does. At that point it will attack on its own for the duration of the encounter, leaping and shooting at enemies, and when the encounter concludes the Intruder will return from whence it came
You have acquired: Worm Friend This item has appeared centimeters away from Nadia and must be very consciously avoided to not be equipped. Gives the host a Nerve Ending familiar that’s essentially a crimson worm. It can be sent out to rapidly burrow through the ground and emerge at any point the host can see in order to grab an enemy. It will attempt to hold its target in place while dealing construction damage. After completing its trip it can only be sent out again after five seconds
Naturally, Nadia accidentally picked hers up the instant it appeared, not even getting a good look at it. She braced herself for something horrible, but all that happened was that a red worm of some kind appeared and dug into the ground. Super. As she looked around, though, Nadia came to realize that something was wrong anyway. Now that her adrenaline was dying down, she found out that she was tired, hurt, low on blood, and even after a satisfying victory, she felt pretty…bad. In fact, she felt somewhat woozy, queasy, and despite this place’s ambient heat, chilly. ...Did I get sick? It’d be weird if I didn’t honestly, after everything I’ve gone through. “I could use some healin’,” she called to Jesse, since the FBC director offered. That wasn’t all, though. That distant, guttural heartbeat had grown louder, and with it came a new noise: a low roar like that of a pounding cataract. Furthermore, the cavern itself had taken some serious damage from all the fighting. The pink flesh walls had dried out, stiffened, and eventually cracked.
Before Nadia’s eyes, the cracks continued to spread, and from the fissures seeped blood. It began as a trickle, and quickly swelled to a stream. Blood poured from the walls, and the whole room rumbled like Mom’s chamber had. This time it rocked beneath hern almost throwing her off her feet, and as blood began to pool in the basin around the arena she clambered up onto the platform. “The hell’s going-” A thunderous cracking sound cut her off as the one one of the upper walls gave way, allowing a tide of blood to flood through the visceral cavern to slam into and the opposite wall. All around, the chamber began to crumble, and as the blood filled up the central platform floated atop it. The higher it ascended, the better Nadia and the others could see through the breach, until after a couple moments they reached a height that allowed them to peer in horror at a pulsating room in which dwelled an abominable thing, part heart, part brain, part fetus, and altogether too much to bear–especially when its laughter ceased, and it it opened baleful, staring eyes upon the heroes before it.
It Lives let out a bloodcurdling scream. The tubes that connected to its surroundings moved through the flesh and lifted the nightmare off the ground, its limbs, cords, and vestigial wings dangling loosely. It began to move forward, suspended like a marionette from the ceiling. At that point the dam broke behind the team in the blood-swamped round, breaking through the far wall. It Lives disappeared into the distance as the raging current swept the platform along with it, and after a moment spent hurtling down a vascular chute it emerged into a much, much larger tunnel of flesh, awash with blood like a colossal, macabre underground waterway.
“Rapids again?” Nadia joked weakly as stood to her feet, a lot shakier than she would have liked. Around the raft churned a sea of ruby-red vital fluid as it washed down the gargantuan artery that twisted and turned through the bowels of the earth. “This is the second time today, fur cryin’ out loud. At least we got away from that freaky baby.” She shivered. “Although, after sayin’ that, I can’t help but wonder if it’s gonna shop up again…”
Right on cue, It Lives arrived. It descended from the ceiling, shook itself free of monster guts with an angry cry and began to follow the raft. This thing was huge, and its body beat like a heart with eldritch light. While it didn’t really terrify Nadia like she felt it probably should, she didn’t know how the Seekers would fight it after everything they’d already been through, especially considering how far out of melee range it dangled.
But the Seekers had an ace in the hole, and as It Lives descended to inundate them with bloody tears, their Assist Trophies flipped the scales. On the right side of the raft, called by Therion’s heaven-sent trophy, the seraphic behemoth Sapientia arose from the waves of blood. Loosely resembling a massive, winged salamander, with claws and masks of marble adorned with with armor of gold, Sapientia roared at It Lives, its voice of potent but utterly alien authority. On the right side, summoned by Sectonia’s devilish trophy, came the fearsome leviathan Kraken with its golden teeth and jewel-encrusted, anchor-bladed tentacles. Together both angel and demon rallied to help the flagging Seekers fight It Lives–not to mention one another, in a maelstrom of thrashing tentacles, gnashing teeth, cherub-faced missiles with halos, and laser-blasting eye stalks extended from inside Sapientia’s neck as its holy head split in twain. It was complete and utter chaos, a fight for survival among the titans in a rushing river of blood, so fast that the raft could do loop-de-loops around the inside of the artery, yet somehow Nadia loved it.
Soon after making his snazzy ultimatum, Band came to a pretty important conclusion. Artemis wasn’t only floating in midair, but doing so over one of the four pits that could be found in every Noumen floor in the ordinal directions from its center. Making good on his throat might be a lot tougher than he thought if he couldn’t get close, since his only ranged option -Giant Step- wouldn’t do a lick of good against any enemies not on the ground.
The resident Monster Hunter was better prepared. With a huge bow Ace fired off arrow after arrow, each sent hurtling through the air in spirals of wind to the tune of a bassy THUMP. His hefty projectiles slammed into Artemis’ body, and though they elicited small staggers from the aerial demon, it barely moved from its spot. Evidently this unnatural creature elected not to obey the same laws of physics as everything else. That same proclivity toward remaining at a fixed position in the air made it a prime target for Ace’s Blade Wire, though. Suspended between two well-aimed arrows, his razor-sharp cutting edge sheared through the air and into the demon’s center of mass. It cut into the pair of wings crossed ever-so-daintily in front of its waist, and though it failed to sever them it also managed to leave a gash in the monster’s torso. For a very brief moment, the keen-eyed observer could just about see something cocooned inside Artemis, human in appearance. Then the cut scabbed over and Artemis rocketed across the room again. It slid to a stop in the air with vents of steam from its eye-wings like afterburners, and the fight resumed.
Other than Ace, however, this makeshift team really seemed to be suffering in the range department. While the sight of a magic shield summoned so that she might protect the weak convinced Band that the rather unassuming Frisk knew her way around a fight after all, the sweater-clad supporter quickly alerted the others to the fact that she couldn’t really fight from range, either. Her friend Albedo fared no better. “Unfortunately I cannot either,” the Alchemist said, calmly dipping away from the row of purple lasers. “I can provide a vertical boost, but this presents a unique challenge.” He took a quick glance back to gauge the destruction caused by the demon’s volley. Those projectiles scattered, burst, and burned some books and furniture, but seemed no more dangerous than individual Catalyst attacks by themselves. “At least it possesses only moderate stopping power.”
“I feel y’all,” Band sympathized, gearing up for another dodge as Artemis began to reposition its wings. After assuming a certain pose, it let out another clarion high note, and a ray dropped from its center point downward. At the terminus it burst into a horizontal spread of rays that covered a hundred and eighty degrees. Taken by surprise, Band couldn’t jump over it in time, so he just blocked instead. Not much chip damage, he was happy to note. “I prefer up-close and personal performances myself. But there ain’t nobody I can’t play along with!” He extended his giant mechanical arms to grab hold of chairs from nearby desks. He hurled them at Artemis one after another, and while his first went wide his second splintered against her body.
In response, it reeled back and popped out four pods from its torso. They flew through the air like missiles, but not ones aimed toward the Seekers. After taking up random positions around the battlefield they froze in the air, opened up, and began to shoot their own lasers at their targets like floating turrets. Two took aim at Ace, and the other pair at Band. Once he realized what was happening he blocked their shots, left more bewildered than hurt. “Huh?” he grunted, raising an eyebrow at Artemis. “Don’t you…need those?”
The monster replied scathingly in an unintelligible demonic tongue, and sang out another horizontal spread of lasers.
“...Forget I asked.” Band managed to jump over it this time, then took hold of and hurled an overturned table once he’d made sure no children happened to be using it for cover. This time Artemis managed to blast his projectile into kindling, which earned it an annoyed grunt. “Hmph!” It would have been nice if that kept working, but even if it did his options were pretty lackluster. While he could blast off and soar through the library’s dusty heights with the power of sound, he couldn’t attack at the same time, and if his foray as an aerial battering ram went awry the detective would have all the time he needed to think of better ideas during his twenty-seven story drop to ground zero. “I got a high-flyin’ drumalong that’ll have this songbird seein’ stars, but I can’t afford to waste it,” he told the others.
Albedo gave a nod of confirmation, though he was otherwise engaged. He’d used his alchemy to bring into being a supple sapling, which he new bent back with his Cinnabar Spindle nestled among the upper branches. Seeing that he was doing, and choosing to ignore the maneuver’s impracticality, Band hustle from the floor’s center down its westward bridge, grabbing a candlestick to try and get the demon’s attention. It turned to look his way, and a moment later Albedo sent his sword flying into one of his target’s wings. Artemis gave a shrill cry and turned his way, only for Band’s candlestick to smack it upside the head. “Over here! I’ll give you somethin’ to really cry about!”
With a growl Artemis furled her wings. Band expected another laser array, but this time his foe’s formation was different, and after a brief moment she zoomed forward, propelled by rearward blasts from every eye on her six wings. “What the-!” Band barely blocked in time as Artemis smashed into and through the east bridge, and amidst the deluge of wooden shards the big man flew backward into the far perimeter wall to smash into the bookcase. He slid to the floor, buried in paper and dust, and with a leer Artemis turned to face the others. She’d gotten an idea. With another burst of speed she rocketed across the room, then bulled through the western bridge. Suddenly, the floor’s center area had half the support. As it rocked dangerously the kids who’d already been weeping began to howl in terror.
Albedo’s response was immediate. He charged toward where Artemis ended up and leaped, using a Solar Isotoma to boost him up. With a cold face he flew toward the demon, blade upheld to chop her neck, but she furled four of her wings to block him. After taking only a shallow cut to the face she flung him back toward solid ground, then curled her wings into an O shape around her. The eyes flared up with a brilliant ring-shaped glow, and a second later Artemis unleashed a giant pink laser beam that swept across the twenty-seventh floor from one side to the other, destroying all the railings and other odds and ends of furniture that went unprotected.
Current GM of World of Light. When it comes to writing, there's nothing I love more than imagination, engagement, and commitment. I'm always open to talk, suggestion, criticism, and collaboration. While I try to be as obliging, helpful, and courteous as possible, I have very little sympathy for ghosts, and anyone who'd like to string me along. Straightforwardness is all I ask for.
Looking for more personal details? I'm just some dude from the American south; software development is my job but games, writing, and trying to help others enjoy life are my passions. Been RPing for over a decade, starting waaaay back with humble beginnings on the Spore forum, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. If you're down for some fun, let's make something spectacular together.
<div style="white-space:pre-wrap;">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.<br><br>Looking for more personal details? I'm just some dude from the American south; software development is my job but games, writing, and trying to help others enjoy life are my passions. Been RPing for over a decade, starting waaaay back with humble beginnings on the Spore forum, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. If you're down for some fun, let's make something spectacular together.</div>