Midgar - Hermits’ Hideout
Level 5 Goldlewis (126/50) Level 4 Sandalphon (38/40)
Karin’s @Zoey Boey, Blazermate, Roland, and Susie’s @Archmage MC, Geralt and Zenkichi’s @Multi_Media_Man
Word Count: 3682
As the Hermits took up arms and positions to attack, Goldlewis stared them down with an incredulous anger in his eyes. Were these people deranged, picking a fight like this just for fun? It occurred to the southerner that this might be a test, since by all accounts this organization was one that respected (and indeed, seemed to be predicated upon) strength. But whatever the reason, scraps were nothing to joke about in the World of Light, where Galeem’s influence pushed everyone to extremes the moment their aggression got triggered. As the leader of a militia Kyle had to know this. Deranged or not, however, he and his cohorts appeared to be serious. Goldlewis scoffed, gripping his coffin by the chain. They didn’t have time for this; beyond the murky cloud cover, the afternoon sun hung high in the sky on the day when the Seekers should be storming Midgar’s depths to find the Guardian. Unfortunately, it looked like he had no choice. He started his stopwatch, and the battle began.
As the de-facto leader of this group of Seekers, the veteran planned to take on Hermits’ leader, leaving the rest of both groups to sort things out between themselves. To that end he retrieved his Skyfish minigun from his coffin, with which he took aim at Kyle. No matter how little damage it did, one bullet would be enough to secure the swordsman’s attention. As always, though, his plan did not survive contact with the enemy–specifically contact with Mudrock’s hammer. The Hermits’ designated tank had charged forward immediately, putting her heavy-duty frame in between Goldlewis and his target, and she managed to counterhit him with the slab-like head of her sledgehammer. He staggered backward with a grunt, more surprised than hurt. Though this masked defender packed quite the wallop, it didn’t actually do a ton of damage. As she raised her weapon to smack him again, he backdashed out of range with a hop, taking Skyfish with him. “You fixin’ to start a war there, hoss?” He adjusted his aim as his minigun’s barrel spun up. “You won’t win this arms race.”
He held down the trigger, locking Mudrock down in hitstun. Right away he noticed problem number one: a shield in the form of a softly shining gray-white barrier around his opponent’s form. A barrage from Skyfish, even at max Security Level, wasn’t enough to break it. “Hmph.” His foe moved in, and he dropped his gun back into the coffin before lifting it up. The crushing force of a back-down-forward Behemoth Typhoon caught Mudrock before she reached him, doubling her over but not knocking her down. She recovered quickly and advanced with a heavy slam that he blocked crouching, allowing him to punish her with a low kick into crouching dust to sweep her off her feet. Only when the defender hit the ground did her shield actually pop, accompanied by a burst of green energy. Healing? Goldlewis thought, perturbed, as he moved to pressure her on wakeup. Right now she shouldn’t be missing any health, so why would breaking her shield heal her?
He caught her with a couple meaty crouching elbow jabs, and though he knew it wouldn’t combo, he went for an overhead up-forward-down Behemoth Typhoon anyway. “Crumble!” It connected, but for a moment the lackluster damage it did made him think that Mudrock actually blocked it. She shrugged the strike off and nailed Goldlewis with a pommel strike that led into a wild horizontal swing, nearly turning her adversary sideways. Still, if that was the best she could do, Goldlewis could keep this up for a while. He performed a forward jump and fell with an inverted slam, but Mudrock actually blocked this time, and when the veteran hit the ground, upside-down and vulnerable, she unleashed her first skill. Her Crag Splitter smashed the ground in a burst of sparks and concussive force, doing 240% damage and not only stunning Goldlewis for a split second but also restoring 6% of her own health.
“Gyah!” Goldlewis spat, rolling backward and climbing to his feet, a little woozy from the blow. Mudrock struck again moments later, hammering against his block until he used Faultless Defense to push her off a little, allowing him to clip her with a dissuasive backhand. He followed up with a tremendous backward-up-forward Behemoth Typhoon that pounded the floor just like Mudrock’s Crag Splitter, but the defender in question backed off out of range. As he called out a Thunderbird drone, indicating his foe to the UMA with a curt jab of his thumb, he noticed something ominous: that the stony sheen he’d destroyed earlier had reappeared around Mudrock once more. Goldlewis impulsively checked his watch and found that it had been about nine seconds since that shield last dispersed. That ain’t good. Mudrock used her Ward of Fertile Soil to soak the Thunderbird blast and burst from the embers with another Crag Splitter. It guard broke Goldlewis, prolonging his blockstun. Put in a bad spot, he tried to use his 6p to low-profile Mudrock’s next attack, but he just ended up trading with her horned headbutt, knocking both back a couple steps. Digging in his heels, Goldlewis lashed out with a coffin swing at maximum range, but when the hit broke his foe’s shield again, the burst of healing undid all his work and left her at full health one more.
The veteran took a deep breath as he reigned in his coffin. This juggernaut didn’t hurt much except for Crag Splitter, but her defense and sustain were off the charts. To actually make a dent, he’d need to do a real combo. Putting together a strategy, he allowed Mudrock to push him all the way back to the wall. Then he checked her assault with a crouching elbow and launched into a down-back-up Typhoon to launch her up and over into the corner. From there he smacked her into the wall again and again, landing a shoulder charge, upward Typhoon, shoulder charge into upward Typhoon again, and finally Down With the System. The last mighty blow would’ve launched a lesser tank through a lesser wall, but Mudrock wasn’t done for just yet.
When she slumped down from the wallsplat, she immediately activated Bloodline of Desecrated Earth. A demonic red energy swirled around her as the floor beneath her shook, but she seemingly just stood there, not attacking. When Goldlewis moved to take the initiative, though, he found his move speed more than halved, and when he landed his backhand he did no damage whatsoever. This continued for a whopping ten seconds, giving Mudrock’s Ward of Fertile Soil ample time to reappear, until the onslaught began. A burst of concussive feedback left Goldlewis seeing stars, stunned and nigh-senseless for five whole seconds, during which Mudrock attacked like a woman possessed, landing an unnaturally fast flurry of amped-up hammer blows. When it finally concluded Goldlewis bursted instantly, letting loose a blue wave that hurled his foe back. “EAT SHIT!”
When he landed, though, he sagged down to his knees. “Ugh…” he panted, covered in bruises. While he couldn’t make out Mudrock’s health thanks to her suit, she seemed more or less fine, which really rubbed salt in the wound. “That kinda crowd control…it’s cheatin’, plain and simple.” Luckily, he could cheat too. “Sandalphon!”
In a blink the Seekers’ combat coordinator appeared, bathing his wounded body in the soft glow of her resplendent halo as she stood over Goldlewis like a guardian angel. Her brows rose ever-so-slightly as she observed his condition. “My, my,” she murmured, raising her staff. Ether radiated from it, and when it came down the divine waters of Angelic Praise healed the big man with a rippling pulse. “I did not anticipate that you’d be so hard-pressed.”
Goldlewis raised an eyebrow at her. Was the emotionless archangel making fun of him? “Yeah, well, this sumbitch don’t quit!” he said, rising to his feet. Mudrock descended on the two, not fast enough to stop Sandalphon healing him, but determined to put both out of commission. “Real tough cookie!” Goldlewis growled as he blocked. “Eats knockout blows for breakfast and then heals up afterward!” Of course, with Sandalphon here neither combatant would make any progress, and Mudrock knew it. She unleashed a Crag Splitter, guard breaking Goldlewis and forcing the archangel to retreat with a long backward step. Like any good fighter Mudrock knew to take out the medic first, and she attacked relentlessly, not giving Sandalphon any room to breathe or time to set up. Without any real means to defend herself point-black the archangel found herself in a tough spot.
“Hold on, I’m comin’!” Thinking quickly, Goldlewis dropped his coffin, then kicked it to slide it across the floor. It struck Mudrock in the back of her legs, tripping her, and she fell over backward onto the coffin’s lid. The next second, the lid rose up from beneath her and a half-dozen arms reached out to clamp down around her neck, middle, arms, and legs, pinning her. Struggle as she might, she couldn’t get free, and after a moment the squeezing broke her Ward of Fertile Soil. Goldlewis jogged over, seized his foe’s helmet by the horn, and ripped it off. He meant nothing more than to create an opening so he could knock his opponent out, but when he saw a lovely face and a head of white hair crowned by dark horns, he was momentarily taken aback. “A woman?”
He only reeled from the realization for a moment, but it was enough. Mudrock thrashed her head and sliced the veteran’s hand with one horn, then finally overpowered the UMA’s arms. Just as she broke free, however, Sandalphon dropped Mudrock’s own sledgehammer down on her head. Though the archangel barely had the strength to lift the weapon up, let alone swing it, gravity did the job. The Hermit was out cold.
Mudrock’s sustain had prolonged her fight, so by now everyone else had already finished. Once the UMA set the tank down, Sandalphon went ahead and healed her so as to ward off any permanent damage from her concussion, though it would be about seventy seconds before Mudrock stirred anyway. Goldlewis stopped his watch with a sigh, a little annoyed. Normally his overwhelming offense would break down even the staunchest defenders, but it looked like his opponent played by different rules. When he snuck a glance at her, he noticed the dark crystals that marked her skin like blotches of ink. Another infected person.
Over toward the training room’s exit, Kyle dragged himself to his feet, panting. Though Geralt’s friend heart undid his wounds, he’d still been floored by the fathers’ collective efforts. “Haah…hah…you’re incredible…you’re amazing!” His toothy frown turned back into a smile, and he sheathed his nodachi. If his returning memories troubled him at all, he gave no sign. “Haah…aaalright, I’ve had enough fun to say you held up your end of the deal. Well then, I’m a man of my word. I’ll tell you whatever you wanna know. ” He paused for a moment. “But what’re we standing around down here for? We’re friends now, after all. C’mon, follow me.” He turned to go, leaving both the other Hermits and the Seekers to regroup.
Party: Goldlewis, Sandalphon, Karin, Geralt, Zenkichi, Blazermate, Susie, Roland
Encounter Reward: +7 EXP
Encounter Reward: +7 EXP
For a moment, Hal just watched him limp off. “Uh, are we sure this isn’t another trap?”
“Perhaps, but we’ve already demonstrated our strength,” Sandalphon reasoned. “We should follow. Still, I believe I’ll stay with you for the time being.” Though happy to have helped return that young girl’s lost dog, she couldn’t allow herself to be distracted any longer.
On his way out, Goldlewis paid a brief visit to Mudrock. “Sorry ‘bout that, ma’am. Hope we didn’t rough you up too bad. You were a tough nut to crack, that’s for doggone sure.”
“It’s nothing,” the Sarkaz replied succinctly, not meeting his gaze. “You shouldn’t hesitate on the field of battle. No matter who your opponent might be.”
Goldlewis gave a noncommittal grunt. Ironic that she should tell a career soldier like him that. At the end of the day though, she did almost get him.
“You guys comin’, or what?” Everyone followed Kyle through the Hermits’ hideout. As they went, walking through the cluttered, dirty halls and up several flights of stairs, he kept talking. “Don’t blame me if you get lost down here. Not like you know your way around.
Hal still seemed fretful. “We’d better stay sharp. Who knows what kinds of stunts he might pull?”
“Now, now, that’s no way to talk about a friend. You could hurt somebody’s feelings that way.” At the end of a corridor, he took a right turn directly into a solid wall next to a barrel that a Hermit was loitering on top of, revealing it to be a hologram. On the other side was a large, curved room, with shuttered floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the rest of Zone 09, rust-orange and full of long shadows cast by what little daylight made it through the stormy, dark sky over Midgar. Sandalphon supposed that this must be one of the tallest buildings in all of Quarantine Valley. She’d probably seen it while scoping out a spot to turn into a sniper’s nest, never imagining that the Hermits were actually inside. Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, as they say.
“This is it, our lovely home,” Kyle announced. “Make yourselves at home.” There were plenty of couches around (not to mention Hermits) and Kyle sat on one in front of the back wall, where at least a hundred green-tinged surveillance screens were arrayed. They weren’t just snooping on Zone 09, either. Sandalphon saw areas that looked like Detroit, Zaun, Piltover, Sector 07, and more. Eyes all over, she mused. To the Angel of Information, this was an incredible, invaluable asset. What I wouldn’t give to have free access to this. After a moment, Kyle’s voice tore her attention off the screens. “There was something you wanted to ask me?”
Goldlewis nodded. “We understand your Hermits are involved with Reunion. Some sort of drug deal.”
“Drugs, huh? You get right to the point, doncha? Ah well, a promise is a promise.” He leaned forward confidentially, resting his elbows on his legs. “It’s called Blue Evolve. Take enough of it, and it makes you strong enough to kick a chimera’s ass, let alone an Other’s. And yeah, we know about chimeras down here. Blue Evolve even lets us see them. You saw for yourselves downstairs.” He paused briefly, looking between those present. “Unfortunately, we can’t take all the credit for Blue Evolve. We just get it delivered.”
“By Reunion?” Sandalphon asked quizzically, her pupils in the shape of question marks.
“...Yeah, by Reunion. You really did your homework, huh?” Behind him, several of the screens changed to display the image of a dark-haired woman with glasses, a white coat, and a silver mechanical arm. “Her name is Iron. She doesn’t offer much more than that, and we don’t ask.”
Goldlewis furrowed his brow. “Why the hell not? Reunion’s a bunch of bloodthirsty anarchists tryin’ to tear Midgar down. Ain’t ya worried they got some kinda agenda?”
“They’re a rowdy bunch, I’ll give you that. But at the end of the day Reunion’s looking out for the little guys. The poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. Same as us. Either way, if you want any specifics, ask Iron yourself. But there’s one little catch: nobody has any idea where she is.” He leaned back, crossing his arms. “That’s bad for you, bad for us, and horrible for the human race. But you know what? You seem like good detectives. If you found your way in here, tracking Iron down should be a piece of cake for you.” He looked over at a nearby coffee table, which had a gray bag on it with a red stripe. “The only trace of her we’ve found is that bag over there. Take it, if you think you can use it.” Kyle shrugged. “We’ll keep looking, but for now, the only trace of Iron I can give you is that bag. Anything else is up to you guys. Come back here when you find Iron.”
With that, he turned the Seekers loose. They had free reign to move through the Hermits’ hideout as they pleased and even use some of their supplies, though a number of doors remained locked, and there could easily be more holographic walls around. The team reconvened around Hal. “Alright, looks like our best bet is to find this Iron,” he summarized. “She’ll lead us to Reunion, maybe Anderson herself if we’re lucky. Let’s start by getting out of here.”
As they headed back outside, Sandalphon considered what the team knew. “Sector V is a tight-knit community, and the Hermits have the run of the place. It’s highly doubtful that she’d go missing around there.” Going back the way they came, the team exited out of the bridge tunnel and back onto the platform with the ladder that led back toward the colony and the bridge that led toward the unexplored rooftops. “From atop Sector V I had a good view of that area. It’s unpopulated and dangerous, with reports of aberrations and chimeras. It’s our best bet to begin looking.” Holding up Irons’ bag, the archangel narrowed her eyes at it. “I don’t suppose anyone has any means of tracking her we could use this for?”
“Left my bloodhounds back home I’m afraid,” Goldlewis replied a little gruffly. “We might have to clear out these rooftops one at a time ‘til we find somethin’.”
“In that case, I will resume overwatch from the roof of the Hermits’ base,” Sandalphon told everyone. “If I spot anything, I will let you know.” She fixed her unblinking gaze on Hal. “Perhaps you could join me. From such a position, you’d be able to scan anyone’s area for redshift and I could relay your findings.”
“That makes sense!” Hal piloted his drone over toward the archangel, then turned to face the rest of the team. “Good luck out there everyone. Be ready for anything!”
Among the perilous rooftops, a handful of Others -mostly Rummies, Pools, and Paws- could be found scattered around, as well as small Machine bipeds and aberrations, none of which posed much threat on their own but could be dangerous in a dang, especially if an unwary hero wandered into an ambush. Nowhere was this more true than the spacious top floor of a large building, accessible via a heavy, rusted door that would take some serious strength to slide open. Within one could find over two dozen people, sprawled in chairs, bedrolls, or against the wall, but the faces that lurked within the hoods of those colorful jackets weren’t human. This squatters’ den had become a huge nest of Aberrations, eager to eviscerate their visitors with blade, bow, fist, and claw. “Be careful entering what looks like a shelter,” Sandalphon advised the team using her communication power. “Hal is reporting manageable, but still elevated red matter levels inside.”
Seekers who stuck to the open areas around the labyrinth’s upper levels, working through the enemies strewn about therein, might eventually stumble upon a valuable find: a crashed FICSIT freighter. Common sense would dictate that the futuristic orange-and-gray wreck would’ve already picked clean by Quarantine Valley’s more daring salvagers, but it had protection in the form of a prototype DespoRHado Unmanned Gear: the Tyrant. Though damaged and in sore need of repairs, the hippo-sized metal monstrosity still possessed crushing strength and a handful of missile launchers. Still, its menace made the promise of a weapon made from its spirit -not to mention the contents of the freighter- all the more tempting. Sandalphon pointed it out for everyone. “I’ve got eyes on a supply cache of some kind and a bipedal war machine guarding it. I have an angle, so you’re clear to engage if you choose.”
If one took the low road through the clustered buildings, they might find Ny’agai Street in the shadows. There a boy from Sector V, the young scholar Aurele, could be found crying for his lost brother Verut and their friend Lovi, insisting that they had been tricked into a game of hide-and-seek with a ghost and refusing to go home without them. As absurd as that sounded, within the dark corners lurked the spine-chilling suggestions of strange, ghostly figures, fancifully dressed but deathly pale, humming along to the soft, surreptitious song of a still more nightmarish threat deeper within. “I have no vision of the lower areas between the buildings, so if you descend through there, be cautious.”
Finally, on one of the rooftops not far from the squatters’ den, surrounded by abandoned construction equipment, lay the traces the Seekers were looking for. Freshly spilled blood, shorn-off locks of dark hair, and a broken vial half-full of glowing blue liquid. The moment someone showed up, however, he or she would be attacked by a strong invisible foe: the chimera known as Laius, wielding shield and lance in its merciless campaign against mankind. Sandalphon shot a bolt toward the rooftop in question to mark it for the others. “Hal has a red matter reading on top of this highrise. Possible chimeric or Reunion presence. Investigate but stay alert.”
Suoh - A Sparkling Red Metropolitan
Midna’s @DracoLunaris, Sakura’s @Zoey Boey, Pit’s @Yankee, Roxas’ @Double, Luka
Using the last of Crenshaw’s Transport power, the detachment of Seekers and their Psych-OSF friends arrived safely in Suoh. True to their sender’s word, they’d appeared a good ways off from the city center where Main Street and the Otherlobe lay, though they could still see the eerie red glow of its giant artificial brain from here, reflected off the glassy faces of nearby skyscrapers. No such highrises, office buildings, and superstores could be found this far out; these were residential boroughs, with five to six story apartment buildings, lofts above mom-and-pop restaurants, and small businesses. Still, these streets were pretty interactive, especially on a day like today. The sky seemed somehow darker even than how Luka remembered it before the team disappeared underground, even though the time widget in his Psynet connection said it was two-fifty in the afternoon. Those thick, murky gray clouds hung low and heavy in the sky, ominously iridescent thanks to the Extinction Belt. No matter how much he tried to reason it away, he could shake the feeling that something bad was in store.
His merry little band couldn’t waste time, though. They’d made a promise to get to the bottom of the Psych-OSF conspiracy, to find out who was responsible for atrocities like metamorphosis and personality rehabilitation, and take them to task. Once they got their bearings, everyone set off at a brisk jog down the sidewalk, past wary citizens in techwear and storefronts full of Vision displays. In theory Luka could use his Teleportation to take everyone the rest of the way one at a time, but given the multiple jumps involved per person that would take a while, and given what they were consciously going up against, they needed to stay together. Security camera clusters were prominent out here and would only grow more common the closer everyone got to the city center. The minute Luka used his power, both the starting point and the endpoint would be known to anyone observing.
Still, after only a couple minutes, Luka stopped suddenly on a street corner and pulled up a Vision of his psynet inbox. “I just got a Brain Message…from General Fubuki Spring?” Anyone who recognized the name of Psych-OSF’s Septentrion Second Class would know just how big a deal a message from him was, and how good -or how bad- its contents could be. Luka read it at record speed, then forwarded it to his squadmates, Yuito, and Hanabi.
Good afternoon Luka. I hope this message finds you well. Unfortunately, you may not be for long. Every platoon leader in the OSF just received an APB on Luka Platoon from the brass. No further details given. It’s nonsense, I’m sure. How many years have we known one another, after all? But this is as serious as it gets. I haven’t the foggiest idea why anyone might have it in for you, but someone at the top of the food chain clearly does. I’ll do what I can to find out more without raising suspicions. In the meantime, stay as far away from Suoh as you can.
“It looks like someone’s gone and made us public enemy number one,” Luka said wryly, partially for the sake of Midna, Pit, and Roxas. “Any Psych-OSF squads we encounter might be gunning for us from here on out.”
Hanabi crossed her arms, a furious look on her face. “It was Brain Drain!” she fumed, turning to the Seekers. “You know, the psychic in the lab? While you went to find the Doctor, we had a peek into his office. He’s got connections in Psych-OSF, powerful ones. They send him people to rehabilitate if they have further use for them, or to recycle if they don’t.” She curled her lip in disgust.
“There was a jar of super-sneezing powder in there,” Yuito explained. “I would’ve sneezed my brain out if Luka didn’t warn me before I opened it. That explains all those brains, though. Brain Drain takes the mind, and the Doctor, the body.” He shivered in horror, then cleared his throat. “We got his personal records of what he’s been up to, though.” He produced a flash drive from his pocket. “He must’ve figured we’d clean him out and went running to his friends the first chance he got.”
“Little snitch,” Hanabi added angrily. “Still, we’re not going anywhere. Right, Yuito?”
He nodded emphatically. “Right!”
“Of course,” Luka chimed in. After a moment, he blinked in surprise. “Oh…I just got a response from Raz! He made it out of the hospital, said he’s sorry for leaving us but he got a panic attack. He also says that he saw the truck with Dexio and Sina arrive once he got outside, who he assumed were there to help. He also saw the man who drove them there: Morceau Oleander.”
“Morceau, as in Septentrion Seventh Class?” Hanabi asked, turning to Yuito. “As in, leader of your platoon?”
“I…guess?” Yuito looked worried. “I have no idea what he’s doing though. He just told us he’s out on a training exercise today. That’s why we had time off to join you guys for Beacon.”
Luka was wearing a grave look on his face. “Apparently when he saw Raz, he took off, so Raz hopped on. Morceau managed to shake him off near the city center though, and he’s hurt. He’s currently hiding out in Musubi’s at the end of Main Street and wants us to come pick him up.”
“Then we’ll grab him on the way,” Hanabi confirmed. “Let’s go!”
Fate had other plans in store for the Seekers, however. Less than a minute later, a loud alarm blared throughout Suoh, and the psychics of the group could see all the visions scattered all over the streets and buildings change into bold, bright orange warnings. “An Other attack!?” Yuito yelped, instinctively reaching for the hilt of his sword. “I know the Extinction Belt’s low today, but the forecast was clear!”
“This can’t be coincidence,” Luka murmured. “We’ve gotta move!”
Everyone took off running in a mad dash toward the city center. Before too long, they got their answer. Above Suoh were flying two large blue buses suspended beneath hot-air balloons, handfuls of Others pouring out of their doors and windows to plummet down to the city below. As the Seekers watched, a third descended from the oily-looking clouds, its glass quickly shattering as a fresh crop of Others burst from inside to join their brethren already assailing Suoh. An anti-air battery from somewhere near the Otherlobe sent up a torrent of red laser blasts to shoot it down, and after a couple seconds it hit home, bursting the balloon to send the bus and its remaining passengers hurtling toward the city below. Other sources of anti-air fire were concentrated on downing the other buses and shooting monsters out of the sky, but plenty reached the ground.
“Just got word from my squad!” Yuito yelled as he ran. “Morceau’s nowhere to be found, so Nagi, Lili, Norma, and Poo are all joining the fight against the Others. I sent them our location so we can link up!”
When the Seekers rounded a corner and skidded out onto an avenue that would connect to the end of Main Street a block away, they found a small army of Others rampaging through the area, attacking everything that moved. OSF forces were fighting in the distance, but even if some of them wielded weapons or weak psychic powers, these citizens were in grave danger. There were Pools, Paws, Pendus, Rummies, Ruts, Yawns, and Sabbats of all varieties, and as if that wasn’t enough, a six-armed, orange-gloved Dispen Perry with a huge water tank on its back like a howitzer.
For the moment, Luka wasn’t thinking about the conspiracy. He hefted his Weight Hammer and teleported forward to bring it down on a Bile Pool, crushing the slimy Other in one mighty blow. “We have to help them. Fight through!”
The Under - Crypt of the NecroDancer
Level 12 Nadia (76/120)
The Koopa Troop’s @DracoLunaris, Primrose and Therion’s @Yankee, Sectonia’s @Archmage MC, Artorias’ @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 3016
As expected, Primrose put on a stunning performance. Though intimidatingly large and gruesome, Frankeinsteinway turned out to be little more than a brute, and though his little jig made Nadia giggle when she first saw him, that was the extent of his dancing ability. Primrose defeated him handily, not just dazzling the audience with her captivating beauty and grace, but revealing some important information about the Floorbosses and the nature of the contest against them. Nadia tried to file it away, but there was a lot to think about. Besides, who knows what might be waiting in the next room?
“You KILLED it!” she congratulated Primrose once the dancer made her way over. “I mean, I knew you were a great dancer already, but that? Wow! You really Prim-rose to the occasion!”
One thing was for certain: that would be a tough act to follow. Now that it was her turn, Nadia found her way to a fresh dance floor. Though surrounded by walls of timeworn stone like the rest of the Crypt, this particular room looked more like a modern club than most. Of course, this was lost on Nadia, who hailed from a time roughly a century before the contemporary definition of ‘modern’, so everything seemed new and amazing to her. From the vivid blue spotlights to the soft, pinkish glow of the private alcoves, a surreal, dreamlike light suffused everything. At the bottom of a few sets of stairs lay the checkered dance floor, half of it immersed in ankle-deep water, and as the squares flashed aquamarine the ceiling lit up with beautiful, refracted caustics. In fact, the theme of this whole room seemed to be water, judging by the streams lit from beneath that flowed around the floor beneath panes of glass and the elaborate falling water features. Plenty of dead could be found here, either relaxing in the booths or grooving on the dance floor, and there were, the typical skeletons and zombies supplemented by drowners, drowned, and Undyin. Over the dancers loomed the DJ booth, where an instrumental monstrosity mixed it up. That, Nadia assumed, must be this room’s Floorboss. While the average cat might shy away from this venue, Nadia had overcome her dislike of water long ago, and was eager to prove herself the freshest thing around.
Before going big, however, she felt compelled to start small. Planning to test what she’d learned on some hapless undead, she approached a skeleton on the periphery and tapped his bony shoulder. “Bone-jour, mon ami!” she greeted him with a toothy grin, putting her hands on her hips. Spanish might be her natural tongue, but the lick of French she’d gleaned from Bella had its merits. “Couldn’t help but notice you had no ‘body’ to dance with. Wanna give me a spin?”
“Oh, we got a joker here, huh?” The skeleton pounded his knuckles into the carpal bone of his other hands. “You’re on, kitty, but don’t assume I’m free points! I was ‘bone’ to be wild!”
As if on cue, a new song began, and Nadia’s eyes sparkled in the brilliant teal light from below. “Purr-fect.”
The dance-off was on. First things first: adjust to the beat. This music, energetic and produced by no instruments known to Nadia, offered an easily identifiable but unusually fast beat with hills and valleys of musical accompaniment, largely repetitious in nature. Nadia stamped her foot just like she’d practiced, moving her hips and her shoulders in time to the beat. At such a speed, she couldn’t keep her composure quite as well, so she leaned into the frenetic pace, putting her arms above her head and moving them opposite of the flick of her tails. As the seconds went on, the music turned out to be even stranger than she first expected, unpredictable and without any real sense of progression. Nadia didn’t know where to take the dance, so she settled for just dialing the energy up and down based on the song, going from chill to hyped from moment to moment.
While the music and environment left her feeling just a touch worried, Nadia quickly realized that she had nothing to worry about the moment she looked at her opponent. Despite the skeleton’s bravado, he possessed no skill or rhythm whatsoever, just wildly thrashing around, swinging his arms and clanking his bones with no regard whatsoever to the beat. After discovering this Nadia dialed down her energy a little, but by the end of the song she still won handily. A snap of her fingers confirmed that she’d risen to two hundred points, while her opponent sank deeper into debt. “Wow, free points!” she grinned cheekily, leaving him to sulk. That was too easy. If she meant to test her skills, let alone get all the points she needed, she’d have to set her sights a little higher.
Still, no sense letting her victory go to her head. One wrong move could put her back to square one, or worse. Nadia took on another undead, but found her just as disappointing as the first. “C’mon, I thought this was supposed to be a challenge?” she taunted as the song wound down, so far ahead in terms of score that she didn’t even bother dancing for the last few seconds. Her eyes settled on a huge, burly skeleton standing at the sidelines with his arms crossed, whose glowing white eyes had been on her the whole time. “What about you, tough guy?” She beckoned him over with a smirk. “You look like you’ve got some backbone.”
Without saying a word, the big skeleton stepped out onto the dance floor. Standing over two feet taller than Nadia, he stood directly opposite her as the Floorboss started up the next track. That song, however, took Nadia completely by surprise: instead of more EDM, it was a cheerful, upbeat, and supremely catchy melody: Cinderella Step. As the dance-off began and Nadia overcame her surprise, she found herself vibing with it immediately. Though slow, it had a rhythm that she couldn’t help but groove to, with a beat played out by what sounded like a xylophone. At first she swayed and stepped from side to side, leading with her head. When the song turned a little more wistful and bassy around the thirty second mark she started up a slow spin, one arm looping over her head while the other rested on and accentuated the movement of her hips. Still impressed by the song, she was grinning ear to ear, and when the beat dropped at the thirty second mark she went all-out, bouncing up and down on both feet with both hands above her head, her heart alight with joy.
As the feral danced she glanced over at her opponent. To his credit, the big skeleton had some rhythm, but his only dance move seemed to be stamping his feet in alternation while he moved his fists around in a horizontal circle. “Might as well give up,” Nadia sang. “I got this in the bag!”
“...I know,” the skeleton said in a rumbly sigh, barely audible over the music and clamor of bones. “I really just wanted to dance with a pretty girl one more time.”
For a brief moment, Nadia’s heart sank. She realized that she was being cocky and mean. These undead had nothing on her, true, but that was what they’d been reduced to, trapped in this purgatorial rave for who knows how long. As the song continued, Nadia composed herself and bounced over. She took the surprised skeleton by the hands and stretched them out, then started dancing together with him, both of them jumping around in a circle facing one another around the center point where their hands met. The skeleton’s astonishment quickly gave way to something like joy. For the rest of Cinderella Step they danced together, sometimes in circles, other times facing one another. As Nadia grooved, either from side to side with her hands on her hips or above her head, sometimes drumming her fists on one side or the other, her partner went along with her as best he could. All too soon the song came to an end, with Nadia the victor (and by a lot), but the defeated skeleton seemed happy. Nadia blew a kiss his way, not as a taunt but as consolation, and as he returned to the sidelines she looked for her next opponent.
Her next opponent, however, found her. A pint-sized, fox-eared necromancer confronted her suddenly. “You big meanie!” she began, crossing her arms in a fierce manner. “You’ve been bullying the skeletons! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!”
Amused, Nadia crouched down to talk to the kid face-to-face. “That supposed to be you, teensy? Got a bone to pick with me, do ya?”
The necromancer bristled. “Dance-off. Right here, right now! When you lose, I’m gonna add you you to my skelepals!” She then lowered her gaze, seemingly addressing Nadia’s skeleton directly. “Hold on pal, Reva’s gonna free you!”
That’s…weird. Nadia stood up, a little creeped out. This kid Reva must be a contractor. Well, she was literally asking for it. “Sorry kiddo, my skeleton’s mine. Make no bones about it!”
Right away the next song started up, and it was more fast-paced EDM, albeit with a somewhat whimsical, otherworldly feel about it. Nadia got going straight away, trying something new with a plan in mind. Rather than go at an uncomfortably fast pace that didn’t leave her any time to think like with the first track, she timed her dance to every other beat, giving her more freedom while also staying on-beat. Now that she’d gotten warmed up, her dance came easily to her, so she could spice things up a little with new flourishes. Reva, meanwhile, was doing her best. She was kicking her legs with good timing, her staff held in both hands and raised over her head, but there weren’t any more layers to her dance. It was as straightforward as the song, with childish simplicity. When she realized that she wouldn’t win like this, though, the little necromancer had an ace up her sleeve.
“Where are my skelepals!?” Reva cried, summoning a bunch of skeletons from the crowd. They formed up around her, facing a rather intrigued Nadia. “Rattle ‘em, boys!” she squeaked.
The jewel in her staff lit up, and the skeletons began to dance, mimicking Reva’s movements in perfect sync. Their moves might not be any more complex, but the spectacle of the skele-gang dancing was definitely winning them points. “Quantity over quality, huh?” Nadia muttered, another Great Idea forming in her head. “Well, I can do you one better!”
She tucked her hands beneath her arms and detached them, then pointed her stumps upward. From them issued six blasts of blood, three apiece, and as they descended they became crimson Copycats to back Nadia up. Reva watched in dismay as the sanguine squad went to work, dancing with renewed energy to steal the show. All eyes quickly turned from the skeletons to the catgirls as they dialed their charm up a notch, their dance even more enchanting than Reva’s necromancy. As the little girl’s focus dwindled, so too did her hold on her skeletons, until her crew was little more than a bumbling mosh pit. Any semblance of a fighting chance Reva had got quickly drowned out, and when the song concluded, Nadia was the winner.
“Sorry, fellas!” The feral grinned, absorbing her copycats as the disappointed skeletons began to disperse. It was hard to tell if she felt lightheaded from blood loss or the thrill of victory. “Betcha you’ll feel that one to-marrow, eh?”
Reva just stood there, pouting and fuming. Though she’d only lost the three hundred points Nadia earned so far, the wound to her pride hurt a lot more. “J-just you wait, you big bully! I’m gonna go find more skelepals, and when we get back you’re boned!”
As she stormed off, Nadia sauntered off the dance floor to take a one-song break. When she checked her points, she found that Reva had been worth a decent chunk; her total now rested comfortably at 4600. “Guess that gimmick really works most of the time,” she murmured, her eyebrows raised. Still, she had a ways to go before she got to ten thousand. Her eyes narrowed as she looked up toward the Floorboss of this room, which appeared to be an octopus with a variety of instruments in its tentacles. If this was a musical competition she might have been afraid, but how well could an overgrown mollusc really dance? When the current song concluded and she got her breath back, Nadia stepped onto the dance floor once more. She put one hand on her hip, pointed the other at the eight-armed DJ, and raised her voice. “Hey, cephalo-clod!” she yelled. “Your music stinks. I’d rate it a solid sea-minus! You’d be better off as seafood, but even then, you’d be tako-yucky!”
The records scratched as the room went quiet in a chorus of gasps. Immediately, the leviathan sank down behind the DJ booth and burst from the water-filled side of the dance floor, causing the tiles to break and expose a pit of dark water. Some bystanders fell into the water and sank into the deep as the crowd hurried to vacate the dance floor, but though her heart rate quickened, Nadia wasn’t worried. A new track began to play, jazzy and exciting. “Let’s dance, dumbo.”
When the battle began, Nadia got back into the swing of things fast, but things took an unexpected turn. Two of Coral Riff’s arms, the ones with violins, retracted beneath the water and then erupted near Nadia’s position. She looked up at them as she grooved, one eyebrow raised, and promptly one arm swung its instruments right into her. “Oof!” Winded and on one knee, the feral didn’t recover in time to respond to the other arm, and with a slash from its bow it sent her flying back. Nadia slid to a stop at the edge of the dance floor and struggled to get up, blood flowing from the big slice on her cheek. “That’s sea-sharp,” she groaned, wiping the blood off with the back of her hand as the wound began to close. Her teeth flashed in a dangerous grin. “But nothing major.” As much as she wanted to strike back, she knew she couldn’t, so Nadia got back to her feet and resumed her dance. Coral Riff, meanwhile, sent out its drum arms to attack her. She leaped out of the way and landed with a flourishing spin. So that’s how it’s gonna be. And here I thought I might actually have to dance.
Her adversary had taken her by surprise, but once she knew the score, the cat burglar knew what to do. Even without risking the use of a Charge that could electrocute the water and count as fighting, Nadia had plenty of mobility. Coral Riff’s limbs just couldn’t keep up with her, especially since they needed to dive down and emerge elsewhere to reposition. As the song went on the tentacles tore up the dance floor literally, but unfortunately for the seabeast Nadia could completely nullify its gameplan as Massachusetts’ power let her float on the water. If anything, sliding across the surface made the feral’s dance moves even more elegant and fluid. Try as it might to crush its foe, it quickly became apparent that Coral Riff didn’t have anything else up its proverbial sleeves. Nadia dodged each strike without missing a beat; all that crushing force went to waste. “Wow, if Reva was here you coulda had a-flat minor,” she snarked, gracefully evading yet another drum slam. “Me though? I’ll never b-flat!”
After just over two minutes, the fun came to an end. Out of time and thoroughly out-performed, the giant octopus could do little but sulk and sink down beneath the water, chased off by the cheers of the audience for Nadia Fortune. After cruising to the edge of the pool, Nadia stood triumphant among the hyped-up skeletons. “That was a bad joke,” she announced, grinning. “If an octopus wants to make me laugh, you’ll need at least ten tickles!”
The skeletons around her chattered with laughter. One of them, though, crossed his arms. “But Coral Riff only has eight limbs?”
That thing’s called Coral Riff? This place is a pun paradise. Turning toward the skeleton in question, Nadia wiggled her eyebrows. “That’s true. The first two are just test-tickles!”
Uproarious laughter greeted the off-color joke, and Nadia was loving it. She was tired, wet, and more than a little bedraggled, but it seemed like she’d managed to earn the adoration of the crowd, and as the dance floor magically repaired itself, they gathered around her demanding an encore from the kitty as witty as she was pretty. More than that, though, the feral had earned more than enough points to take on the NecroDancer. She could proceed at her leisure to the NecroDancer’s private club to challenge him alongside Bowser, Junior, Kamek, Rika, Sectonia, Primrose, and Therion. But since Coral Riff was spooling up another song anyway, she couldn’t possibly let down her adoring fans. Once more dance couldn’t hurt.