At the periphery of the desperate struggle, on the bridge that connected Tycoon’s platform to the rest of the structure, Giovanna hesitated. She knew that her allies needed help, and she wanted to help them. But when she stared at the battle that embroiled them, she couldn’t force herself to move. It was overwhelming. Various unknown powers went off constantly all over the arena, courtesy of both Karen and Tycoon, and the chaos created a profound visual overload for someone poised to join mid-fight. As bad as all that was, the sound rattled her much more. Over the racket of weapons and abilities Giovanna heard the Seekers’ howls of pain and roars of anger. Worst of all were the last words, barely audible over the raucous din, but far more deleterious for morale.
It was all happening so fast. Karin disappeared, taken somewhere by Karen, and after he returned alone Sakura mounted a final desperate assault, doomed to fail. Zenkichi got eliminated, empowering Pit with his last breath, and even Geralt went down for a moment. That left the spotlight on Pit against Nox, while Roland challenged Karen. Susie seemed to be persevering against Tycoon, but before Gio could so much as issue a warning, Sam had assassinated her. “Dammit,” she breathed. Where was everyone else?!
Of course, Giovanna wasn’t naive enough to ask that. They were gone. Those who hadn’t already disappeared, like Blazermate, Sakura, and Sandalphon, would join them thanks to Tycoon’s spells sooner or later.
More than anything, the secret agent wondered what all these extra enemies were doing here to begin with. Having waited outside, she’d spotted the Consul’s car as it sped through the Cornice, but she’d seen nobody in it but C himself. Giovanna only knew Mephisto from last night and Nox from Xatow’s briefing this morning, but she’d definitely heard about Jetstream Sam. If she and Pit struggled against his much less infamous associate Mistral yesterday, the swaggering swordsman would be a problem. That issue paled in comparison to Karen Travers, though. Everyone in Midgar knew about the OSF’s top player, best in class. This had been a trap, Gio realized, and after getting caught, the Seekers had been gutted.
That was why Gio hesitated. They’d outnumbered their foes more than two to one, but now, only three Seekers remained. They couldn’t win. Not anymore. There was no point in trying. Spurred on by Rei’s whining, Giovanna began to step backward. This was a foregone conclusion. Nox was going to succeed. Just what that meant for them, Midgar, or the world, Giovanna had no idea. There might be nowhere she could run. But at least she wouldn’t die here. Charging in now would be suicide. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, her anguish writ strikingly plain on a face that seldom betrayed anything.
As she turned to run, however, Gio hesitated once more. Against all odds, a certain angel seemed to be holding his own. Amped up by Heat Riser, Pit moved and struck like lightning. Again and again he descended on Nox, and though the Xelor strove to regain control of the fight, he couldn’t teleport fast enough to keep up with his opponent. Even his time shield failed to halt Pit’s offense, though ultimately its threat swung the momentum back in Nox’s favor as Mephisto interfered. Even so, just as it seemed like his foes’ jaws were about to close, the angel turned the tables. Knocking Nox away gave Pit the opening he needed to dispatch the enemy medic, finally allowing the Seekers to make definitive progress. But Giovanna knew it was too little, too late.
Meanwhile, Roland made a mess. To fight these monsters, he became a monster himself, horrifically half-melted into a mass of twisted meat. In that form he launched a vicious attack that dealt Karen Travers grievous injury, overpowering his defensive abilities to leave the Septentrion hemorrhaging blood. “Urgh…” he gasped, immediately grasping the severity of his wound. “I’ll…be back.” With that he activated Teleportation and immediately vanished, but the threat he left behind hung ominously in the air.
After recovering, Nox left Mephisto to die and warped over to challenge Tycoon itself, alleviating the aggro on Jetstream Sam. For a few seconds the two fought together, their peerless blades carving into the giant machine like a Thanksgiving turkey. When Karen made his announcement, however, Nox turned to look at the Fixer, mildly impressed. Roland, Geralt, and Pit were all coming, fatigued and wounded but not yet broken, and even Giovanna finally found it in herself to join their charge. “Not bad,” Nox admitted, banishing his sword as Sam took aggro. Around him, noxins full of wakfu had begun to accumulate. His eyes slid closed. “Looks like I’m forced to call you.”I’ll always be here for you, Noximilien…
A handful of noxins zoomed out, divebombing the approaching Seekers in explosions powered by stolen life energy. The others injected their wakfu into Nox, and when the Watchmaker spread his arms wide, two enormous mallets of pure energy formed. “I pray that this drainage of wakfu is worth it!”
He lifted the hammers and descended, smashing the arena with such strength that it instantly snapped off the bridge and hurtled down into the depths of the mako reactor. In an instant, none of his foes had ground to stand on. Whirling around, Nox brought the hammers around in the mother of all baseball swings. They struck Tycoon, and the machine god hurtled into the wall behind it, where it stuck fast in a crater of its own making.
Meanwhile, Nox’s last teammate was falling. “Nooooooox!” he yelled, his voice trailing off as he plummeted down.
Sandalphon was falling too, though she barely felt it. Somehow, though her body begged her to give in, she’d managed to stay conscious. Tycoon’s spells hadn’t hit her as she lay on the floor, perilously low on blood. Was that a blessing, or a curse? It didn’t feel right to ask Illia for more, after everything she’d done already, but Sandalphon couldn’t help but pray as she slid toward oblivion. Goddess,
she thought, unable to so much as speak. Deliver us…
“Do not worry!” the Watchmaker called. He flew over toward the Guardian, mallets extended to either side. “It’ll be undone. It’ll all be undone! All the harm I’ve ever caused. All the suffering we’ve endured!” With one final motion he brought his hammers together, crushing Tycoon’s torso and head between them. The energy wave of their impact split the rest of its body -and the wall behind it- vertically, and as the crumbling scrap turned to ash, Nox seized the Guardian’s spirit. His mallets vanished, and from inside his chest he withdrew a glowing cube
. “With this final offering, I’ll finally be able to do what no Xelor has done before!” Eyes wide, he fed the spirit to the Eliacube, and the sides of the artifact began to open. Light poured out from within, engulfing Nox, the Cornice, Deep Ground, Midgar, the Dystopiascape, and everything. “I win!”
Goldlewis held his tongue for a moment, absorbing what he’d been told. This was an insane revelation to receive seconds before a climactic boss battle, but the arrival of Nox’s team threw a huge wrench in the Seekers’ plan. Of course, this wasn’t really up for debate, and he felt pretty sure that the others felt the same way. Whether or not Nox spoke the truth, his team couldn’t afford to lose one of the thirteen spirits they needed to defeat Galeem. That much was an immutable fact.
“Hate to break it to you,” the veteran began. “Bad shit happens to everyone. Happens to loads o’ good folks who don’t rightly deserve, every goddamn day. It ain’t fair.” His expression hardened. “So how many good folks did you happen to? How many got their lives unfairly cut short, just so that you could someday go back and right your wrongs? What makes you so worthy?””
Sandalphon stared at Nox, trying to parse the man beneath the mask. “It’s clear that any amount of sacrifice is justified if you cannot achieve your goal. At the same time, it seems like there’s a tiny part of you that isn’t completely gone. I understand your conviction; you must undo the evil you’ve wrought, so you must succeed. But even if you did manage to go back and save whoever it was you mentioned needing to save, could that person live with what you’ve done to make that happen?” She narrowed her eyes, her gaze questioning. “Could you?”
For a moment, Nox’s eyes were closed. When he opened them, however, they were as wide as saucers. In an instant, every ounce of resolve seemed to have drained from his body. He staggered drunkenly, almost falling to the ground. Karen stepped forward and grabbed the Watchmaker’s shoulder, trying to steady him, but Nox still dropped to his knees. Sandalphon watched, eyebrows slightly raised. Not believing for a moment that anyone could convince him, she only intended to use this conversation to buy time, but had she and the others actually gotten through to this madman, somehow? Or could this be some sort of ploy? Regardless, she kept her guard up, and after a moment, Nox lifted his gaze.
“Ten minutes!?” he cried, his tone utterly distraught. The intensity of it took Goldlewis aback. “All that wakfu spent for a jump of ten minutes in time?” Nox doubled over, holding his head in his hands as his voice grew more and more manic. “Two hundred years of researching and collecting wakfu for just ten measly minutes!? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
His shriek was harrowing–the cry of a broken man. Karen wrenched away from him, perturbed, and even Sam looked baffled, while Mephisto cowed like he’d been physically struck. Consul C, looking on, just tilted his head. All around, the noxins lying in wait lost power, going dark and falling apart. Shaking, Nox removed a dim cube
from his chest, staring at it in helpless anger. “You accursed thing! Why lie to me!?” he choked out, delirious with despair. “You were supposed to help me go back in time! To rejoin my family! Answer me!” He lifted the cube and smashed it against the ground. “ANSWER ME!”
In reply, the cube just electrocuted him, and the Watchmaker sagged to the ground, gasping in pain.
Sandalphon stared at the cube, her pupils turning back from exclamation marks to power symbols. Then she looked at Nox. Not an ounce of fight remained in him. Some sort of revelation had defeated him. Was this artifact the source of his power? “As far as I can tell, this is no more than a magical battery. You say it spoke to you?”
Slowly, Nox dragged himself up onto his hands and knees. “The cube…” he practically sobbed. “It really was talking to me. I was supposed to succeed…”
Frowning, Goldlewis stepped forward. “Sounds like you’re off your goddamn rocker to me. Surely you ain't tellin’ me all those poor folks bit the dust just ‘cause you were hearin’ things?” Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the veteran might have stepped forward to end things then and there, if not for noticing one thing. As Nox stared at him, at a loss for words, Goldlewis could see dark stains spreading among the bandages on his face. Were those…tears?
After a moment Nox stood, staring off into the distance. He took a gasping breath, and said, “I’m sorry.” Then he blinked away, never to be seen again.
In the silence that followed, wherein the Seekers wondered about the import of Nox’s words, Mephisto was the first to speak. “W-what is this!?” the boy gasped, white-knuckling his staff. “He just…we were supposed to…” He looked over at all the Seekers, then fell on his rear, trembling. “Why!? Can’t I have anything? Is my life just a…just a goddamn joke?”
Even Jetstream Sam grit his teeth, clearly dispirited by the team leader’s abrupt and inexplicable disappearance. “What a letdown.”
“...There’s still a way,” Karen muttered after a moment, his voice low and deadly serious. “The Red Strings. Even without Nox, we can still go back in time.” He scowled at Sam and Mephisto. “Lost your nerve, have you? No matter.” He stepped forward toward the Seekers, cracking his knuckles. “I’ll see this mission through.”
Goldlewis snorted in derision. “Hmph. You got some guts to take us on alone, partner. I’ll give ya that.” Emboldened by the dramatic reduction in enemies, he hefted his coffin, ready to fight. “Alrighty then. Come and give us all you’ve got.”
Just before the fight could begin, however, a shot rang out. Goldlewis flinched, assuming a defensive stance, but the bullet struck Tycoon instead. The machine god stirred, and when Goldlewis looked over at the source, he saw C with a smoking gun. Holstering his huge black pistol, the Consul sauntered forward toward the arena. “Quite a turn this has taken. Just the kind of drama I was hoping to see.” He stopped next to Mephisto, crossing his arms. “Still, we don’t want this to be too easy for ya, right? With Nox outta the picture, someone’s gotta sub in to take his place. Won’t be a full party otherwise.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “Plus, I’ll get yelled at if I sit back and let you guys squash the guardian. The others take this stuff so seriously…” He glanced down at Mephisto. “Doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun. Right, kid?”
The medic had clearly given up. “I…”
C reached down and touched his face. His magic worked in an instant, rewriting reality. Mephisto transformed, becoming an avian monstrosity
with a black halo, a little like the Consul’s own. The sudden escalation took Sandalphon by surprise, her pupils turning into crosshairs as she jumped back and crouched into a firing stance, her Eye of Sol at the ready. The monster let out a warped cry that shook the arena, a hideous song that seemed to buff Karen and Sam a little. “What did you do?” the archangel demanded.
The Consul shrugged again. “Just keeping things interesting, like I said. Don’t worry though, I’ll play by the rules from here. My script has no room for accidents, got it?” On the other side of the Seekers, Tycoon unfolded its wings and slammed the ground like a war drum with its arms. Thanks to his helmet, C was already grinning. “Let’s rock.”
“That’s my line,” Goldlewis scoffed, but he was more than happy to oblige.
Breathing in, Sandalphon relaxed and stood to her full height. Though she didn’t understand what was happening, and her trigger finger itched, there was too much riding on the Seekers to get impatient now. It fell to her allies to make sure these leftover villains got their just resorts, and to her to keep the Seekers alive.
Though every one of the Seekers went into this final fight familiar with the overall game plan, the face-paced scramble against the Hollow Knight demanded that everyone live in the moment if they wanted to stay alive, pushing the team’s endgame to the back of Nadia’s mind. When the time finally came, courtesy of Organization XIII’s emissary, to dive to the heart of the matter, the memory of what lay in store for her forced the feral to steel herself. Then, with astonishing swiftness, she was plunged into the vessel’s dreams. The surreal final stage of the Seekers’ slugfest against Robin Goodfellow meant that this immersion didn’t come as a total shock, but Nadia didn’t know if she could ever get used to this sort of thing. Actually dreaming was one thing, but this was another. The clouds billowed with no breeze to stir them, and a strange sense of weightlessness meant that every motion took a concerted effort; just existing here was a fight to assert herself in a place where she fundamentally didn’t belong.
Then of course, there was the Radiance. She didn’t fly so much as float, staring down with unblinking, almost astonished eyes at the intruders who’d penetrated her real. The invader had become the invaded, and she was not happy, insofar as the almost celestial entity could express emotion. Her very presence scorched the minds of her challengers, threatening to slowly boil them from the inside out. Nadia knew she’d better get used to this dreamscape fast, and focus on the task at hand. The moment she turned her attention to more practical concerns, a sense of aggravation helped center her. If the Radiance planned to stay airborne, after all, hitting it would be a major hassle. Not even her bait launcher would help, since it materialized tigers wherever its steaks came to rest. That rather begged the question as to why she would get this close at all, but maybe the Seekers felt as wrong to her as she did to them. Well, if annihilation was a foregone conclusion, then Nadia meant to win. “Hey there! If you’re not happy to see us, don’t worry! You’ll be de-lighted real soon!”
Right away, blazing beams of light scoured the arena, several at once, flowing forth from the eyes of the Radiance. Like many of the others, Nadia moved to evade them. Her own eyes couldn’t shoot out lasers, but they were keen enough to perceive the barely-visible threads that preceded the actual rays, betraying her enemy’s aim. She saw Ganondorf try to return fire, but his summons’ projectiles’ slow arcs made them ineffective. In reply, the Radiance called down a thick pillar of light that traveled across the arena. It looked deadly, and if the battlefield were smaller it would have been a major issue, but Nadia was quick and the wall didn’t last long. A much more prominent threat appeared right after: an abundance of ivory blades that rained down from above, as lethal and linear as icicles. As the Radiance herself warped around, Nadia turned her attention skyward with gritted teeth. “This is sworda annoying.” Her frame was more than slender enough to thread the needle between these falling blades, but they provided a potent distraction. As she strove to stay dry in the pouring rain, an idea struck her instead of a blade.
While Ganondorf broke away from the group to jump at the Radiance, Primrose’s Makami and Rika in tow, Nadia tucked her hands beneath her arms and pulled off her hands. When she tensed her muscles, blood sprayed out across the polished stone around her like water from two hoses. Stepping onto the blood allowed her rigging to activate, and as the mechanical arms folded out from her backpack, their cannons took aim at the Radiance. “Ready to rocket!” She opened fire, and homing missiles of Hydro energy corkscrewed through the air. They hunted their target down, but their fire rate -only two every three seconds- left a lot to be desired. If nothing else, her intermittent barrage gave Primrose some covering fire as the dancer got close enough to follow up Ganondorf’s trident flurry with Ravaging Confession. More sun rays blasted the warlord back, however, and Primrose descended again soon after.
Rika and Kamek could get more airtime, allowing them to batter the Radiance with muck and magic. Nadia supported them while still skating, and the others quickly joined in their efforts, Primrose with her golden beads and Ganondorf with Blast Hornet’s drones. For a moment the projectiles pounded the Radiance, though the boss quickly returned fire with a flurry of swordblades like giant flechettes followed by homing light orbs. “Wow, this thing really has it out for you,” she teased Ganondorf, curious if his affinity for darkness was to blame. Therion took the chance to springboard off him, then left the big brute to deal with the orbs as he leaped up to administer a tremendous gout of flame. Eyes narrowed, Nadia let off two more watery drills, and on contact they reacted with Therion’s fire to proc Vaporize, adding insult to injury. “Hah! We make a good s-team!”
Her dedication to puns cost her, however, as silvery spikes suddenly burst up from the ground. “Agh!” she yelped, using the blood from her new stab wounds to help her spring away. When she landed, it was on dry ground, and her shipgirl equipment promptly folded up again. “Bull-ship! You’re s’posed to be rigged in my
favor!” Her strategy hadn’t profited her, though, so while Bowser took up the mantle with his own cannons, the feral charged forward. Kamek’s kaleidoscopic elements joined the bombardment against the Radiance as she approached, blazing a colorful trail. The boss continued to teleport around, forcing her opponents to retarget her as she summoned arrays of gleaming nails that traveled horizontally.
Even so, Nadia pushed forward. This would be tight, but her agility and instincts would see her through. She sidestepped, hopped, airdashed, and fell through the razor waves, repeating each motion with equal parts speed and precision. Others got pushed back or pinned down, but she pushed through the patterns, until finally she got close enough to launch a Fiber Upper and snap up into the air to get her first taste of the Radiance. “Nyaow we’re talking!” In quick succession she landed Claws for Concern
, and El Gato
, before finishing with Feral Edge
, both boxcutters drawn and extended. New Moon gave the ensuing impact a silvery splash, complimenting Sectonia’s dark lightning. The next moment the boss teleported again, but drawing blood had fired Nadia up. She landed ready for round two.
By now, the Seekers had really spread out. Nadia noticed that the Radiance couldn’t really teleport anywhere without ending up near someone. That meant that the feral could wear herself out in pursuit, risking an approach through the dream invader’s relentless projectiles, or wait like a cat at a mouse hole for the Radiance to come to her. She waited for a moment in Sven’s Healing Waters, watching as the celestial thing replied to Sectonia’s void globules with light orbs. Her plan wasn’t intermittent cannon fire from her rigging, though. Sure enough, the Radiance ended up near her after a couple warps, and Nadia unleashed her plan.
As the Guardian unleashed a bursting blossom of twelve swordblades, the catgirl transformed into a bolt of lightning, blasting into and through the Radiance to materialize behind her back. When Nadia materialized, however, she reappeared with one of the flechettes jammed beneath her collarbone and out through her back. She yelped in pain, seeing stars. While her numbness lowered her pain sensitivity by a lot, this wasn’t something she could shrug off. Nevertheless, the feral shook her head to clear it, and pushed through the pain to complete her attack. Boxcutters outstretched, she began to spin vertically, slicing into the boss’s back again and again as she descended. It was too soon for New Moon, but Battery activated to add some extra electric punch to the first two slashes, so while the Radiance teleported again before Nadia finished she felt confident that she left it hurting.
Of course, the feral was really hurting herself, so after landing she dropped her boxcutters and pulled out the Ripened Heart. After a night’s rest the magical organ seemed fully charged, and once a jolt from it jumpstarted Nadia’s healing, she could get back to dodging projectiles–and coming up with better plans. She got moving just in time not to get stabbed as the Radiance summoned more floor spikes, covering fifty percent of the arena, before more beams of light blazed forth.