Tora’s inner battle with questions of risk, duty, and logistics left him taken by surprise when Yoshitsune stepped forward. At the drop of a hat the swordsman not only made the choice to begin the search for the entire team but started barking out orders for how to do so. For a moment the Nopon was taken aback by his audacity, seeing as the man was a newcomer to this group that already had two leaders. He could only assume that this Yoshitsune was a man of extremely rigid principles and, considering how he nearly picked a fight with Red last night, pronounced rashness. But when the man tried to take charge of Poppi, however, and separate her from Tora to throw her into extreme danger, he lost the benefit of the doubt.
The Nopon’s brows furrowed as sputtered with rare anger, flapping his wings as he tried to collect his thoughts. “Meh, meh, meh! Not going happen!” Still not done, Yoshitsune announced that the storm couldn’t possibly claim anyone else as long as they were with other people, as well as his faith in the team--a team he met yesterday afternoon and shared only a couple scrapes with. Him kneeling down to condescend to Tora only served to salt the wound, and it certainly helped Tora find his voice.
He brushed Yoshitsune away with his wing and waddled back a step, full of indignance. “Meh!? H-how nincompoopypon have faith in team if not know first thing about it, and how boss Tora and Poppi around?”
Before he could say anything else Midna volunteered herself to go along with the plan. Although Tora didn’t disagree with the spirit of the search, since like samurai apparently heroes didn’t leave anyone behind, but it was the execution that concerned him. The Twilight Princess at least gave a thought to the would-be rescuers’ safety, but it seemed like she underestimated the danger at hand. Midna going made even less sense than Poppi, and he wasn’t going to wait any longer to explain why.
He cut in without letting anyone answer Midna’s concerns about supplies. “Hold on, we can’t go in there! Did friends not feel sheer force of awful wind?” he asked, addressing the group at large. “Poppi fastest flier here, and she barely manage keep up with train long enough to grab. Fight tornado take immense power. Right, Poppi?”
Though a little embarrassed to be called out, the artificial blade gave her report. “It take Poppi full burn on jet thrusters to not be blown away, even for just few seconds fighting wind. Poppi ether so drained that try again for longer very inadvisable.”
Tora nodded with vigor. “Plus, Tora still lightheaded from air pressure! Anyone who go back in both blow away and pass out. And did friends not see underground? If blown wrong way, slam into metal supports or thrown into abyss. It death sentence if go back in!” He scrunched down his brows in as fiercely resolute a way as he could, looking for support among his teammates. He found enough in the faces of Primrose and the Thieves. “And Tora not let Poppi die!”
In the momentary but uncomfortable silence that followed Joker cleared his throat and replied to Midna. “We have some supplies left, mostly water. The food won’t be good for much longer.” A serious expression swept across the assembled heroes. “I’m sorry, but after getting clobbered by it I can tell you that Necronomicon Isn't strong enough to face that wind. This storm’s like a localized natural disaster. Bigger than any tornado I’ve ever seen.”
“We had to stop this far from it just to not be sucked back in,” Mona added, having put two and two together regarding the distance that Gnorbu put between the train and the twister before stopping.
“I’m not sending anyone in there,” Joker declared with finality. “It’s too dangerous. We can’t throw lives away over every time we lose someone, or there won’t be anyone left to save the world.” Though the rest of the Thieves looked just as grim as he, cheesy line be damned, none stepped away from his side.
Gnorby raised a leg for attention. “Uh, in terms of supplies...well, I know we Parnassians owe you guys a lot, but the cityfolk aren’t just going to shell out for free, and we don’t have any money. Whatever I get from selling treats in Al Mamoon goes directly to buying goods to bring back.” He looked mightily unhappy, both by what happened and the conflict within Yellow Team. “But uh, maybe we’ll find someone who’ll help in exchange for a favor? Or, you know, as charity?”
Mona did not look too confident. “Well, we can try. Gnorbu has to come back this way anyway, so he can bring anything we manage to get for you guys, if you’re dead set on searching.” The cat considered the communication problem brought up by Primrose. “Oh, Necro can radio fox if needed.”
“As for time, well, I can’t guess when we’ll be back, since there’s no guarantee anyone will help out for free in the first place,” Gnorbu said, his long face apologetic. Behind him, Ruki remained quietly somber. With Joker in the lead the Phantom Thieves moved in the neopets’ direction, solidifying their intentions, and after a moment’s delay Tora cast his vote by joining them.
Poppi followed him, but paused to bow to the others, her face sorrowful. “Poppi sorry. Not want to leave anyone behind, even strangers, but we only barely survive in there. Poppi not want die.”
Though he looked crushed, Braum did not move from his spot in either direction. “I know those four awhile. We fight together, die together. Not always as comrades, and since fighting was all we did, we were not truly friends. But my heart aches when I think they are gone for good.” He raised his shield and pounded his fist against his chest. “If team stays, I will search for them. If team goes, I will remember them.”
Tora looked between the others, trying to hold firm despite the doubts plaguing him. He’d never had to make a stand like this before, not against enemies, but allies. Under Rex’s leadership he’d never really been faced with a quandary like this. He hoped that nobody would hate him for it. Maybe the others would think he was selfish, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but he was going to hold tight to what he held dear. About that, the rotund inventor would not compromise.
Though L was a man of never-ending confidence, it was only a matter of time until he found some of it misplaced. His ceaseless wanderings in the wilds and untenable hooliganism within society had eventually brought him to a beauteous forest of tall trees, hanging walls, thorny brambles, floating bubbles, underwater currents, and swinging vines. In short, it represented a paradise for platform enthusiasts, obstacle coursers, and jumpers of all kinds. Still, the Green Thunder remained unimpressed until his trip happened to bring him within spectating distance of an oddly radiant creature
at work. The little guy sprinted, jumped, double jumped, wall jumped, bounced, swung, and otherwise navigated the strange wood’s challenges with uncanny grace and finesse. To a fellow of fiery bravado, there was no question; this long-eared critter thought it was a better jumper than he. After that revelation there was nothing to do but set off in pursuit, following after the glowy interloper, and set the record straight.
As it turned out, the Luma Pools didn’t make the going easy. For such a wondrous place, it offered a fair bit of difficulty thanks to both the vertical and underwater mastery it demanded. And wherever Mr. L went, just when he thought he might catch his breath, some crab
or river troll
or other creature
would show up to give him a tough time. Falling behind poked at the masked man’s pride, driving him faster and faster, until finally an unlucky clump of slick moss sent him spiraling from the canopy of a pink-topped palm and into the mad current of a rushing river below.
What followed was a chaos of bubbling, swirling water that washed him further and further downhill. The torrent came to an abrupt end in a waterfall that deposited him without ceremony into a large river, but he soon found it to be just the first of many. L went down waterfall after waterfall until finally he shot out into open space over a glistening lake. He got only a moment to orient himself, and take in the odd craft at rest toward one side of the lake, before he plunged in.
A heavy atmosphere lay over Shippy as the captainless vessel made her way upriver. On the bow Nadia was content to sprawl in silence and let the stress trying to curdle her insides slowly drift away, but she could hardly fault poor Sakura for letting her feelings -and her tears- run freely. Though tough and clearly capable, she seemed young and inexperienced, practically a normal person compared to the likes of Nadia. An innocent soul, untouched by the pain of death. After all, even with the sort of desensitization that came from watching one’s family butchered before being carved up herself, Nadia was in pretty bad shape after the naval battle’s sheer physical and mental bombardment. She could only imagine how bad someone like Sakura might feel; then again, given the tearful misery that possessed the girl, Nadia didn’t have to.
Before dealing with that, however, the Cadet appeared. She opened her eyes to find him standing over her. Although she’d noticed and indeed used it early, she only got a good like at his new ‘do now, and snickered despite the murkiness that swirled around her. “You’re welcome. Like your cut, by the way. You were great out there. And...yeah.” She took a deep breath, as steady as she could manage. “My first actual like battle-battle, but not the worst crap I’ve been through.” She let her eyes slide shut again. “Took a loooot of hits though. The more damage I take, the weaker my healing gets. If it bottoms out...I dunno what’ll happen. Hopefully I never find out.”
She sighed again, sat up, and slid back into a sitting position against the prow. After undoing a couple latches she allowed her rigging to clatter to the deck and put her arm on the railing. For a few moments she just looked between the others, trying to get an overall frame of reference. Link looked different thanks to an absorption she hadn’t fully noticed until now, and she made herself avert her eyes from his exposed midriff and weirdly bigger hands. The punkish girl she now knew to be Rika faced both the sting of loss and guilt alongside Sakura. Sakura herself had tried to put a spin on the group’s awful experience. No pain, no gain.
It was a way of coping, of making sense of the cruelty and chaos, but that didn’t mean she was incorrect. You couldn’t get something for nothing, and contention bred strength. Nadia’s eyebrows narrowed. Did that mean she was strong…?
The feral lifted her free hand, her eyes on the separation point in her forearm. No pain, no gain.
The street fighter didn’t know how right she was. It had taken nothing less than the torment and agony of body and soul alike to take away her tears and make her something powerful. Was what she gained worth all that she went through--what her loved ones went through? Not one bit.
For a time she would have given up just about anything to bring them back, including wish on the Skull Heart, but in the end she decided -its trickery taken into account- that undoing what made her who she was today would be wrong. That what was done, was done. Yet still she longed for what she lost, and not just the people she cared for.
Nadia took a deep breath of the clear, sumptuous air, and rose. She sat herself down on Sakura’s unoccupied side as she leaned back. “You’re a good kid,” she told Sakura in a low, confidential tone, as if she wasn’t only a few years older. She glanced at Rika. “You too. Um...well, I’m not much good at sayin’ important stuff. My uh, ‘purr-spective’ is a little warped, heh.” Her uneasy smile faded. “Too much pain. Things don’t hurt me like they used to. I guess that’s, uh, why it’s tough for me to take things seriously. I’m just saying, yeah, tough times will make you stronger, but as you keep movin’ forward, take care you don’t go numb like me.” She placed a hand on Sakura’s shoulder and squeezed. “Hold tight that precious heart.” After that she couldn’t think of anything else to stay, so she was still, and enjoyed the tranquility of nature with the others.
She did rouse herself when Link mentioned cats, but she could only shrug in reply. Although she herself meowed as some of her effort noises, she doubted the hero was referring to her, and if she saw any other felines during that battle she would have remembered. Plus, if any kitties had been on board, they probably would have been sent flying hundreds of feet over the ocean by the wave of force when the Harbor Demon’s shell slammed through Shippy’s hindquarters. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, and Nadia put it out of her mind.
How long it was before her relaxation petered out Nadia couldn’t quite say, but she found herself almost nodding off by the time an unfamiliar voice shouted from outside the boat. The feral turned around and poked up from behind the railing, pointy ears first, to see a man with an elaborate suit and quite the hairdo hailing Shippy. Her eyebrow raised when she noticed an egg of all things couched in one arm. He puzzled her for a moment with incoherence before he realized that he was stumbling over his words, at which she couldn’t help but smile. His voice, appearance and manner combined to create an air of disarming, even charming harmlessness, but the heavy-duty revolver at his hip dispelled at least part of that illusion.
She gave a cheery wave despite his warning, energetic enough to swish her longer hair around and bounce her ears side to side. If by ‘very angry living boat’ he meant an Abyssal, as well he might given her new acquaintance with that blasted species, her team could deal with it. The most dangerous Abyssals didn’t actually look like boats after all, though come to think of it very few actually did. Curious, she scooted back to Shippy’s prow to scope out the lake coming up ahead for both threats the stranger mentioned.
The man himself Nadia left for others to attend to, since the Atomos seemed to be descending among the Luma Pools’ extravagant pink fronds to land on the riverbank. At Link’s urging Shippy slowed down enough to pull up alongside the landed aircraft at the lake’s threshold. The figurehead did not look happy, and in fact seemed to be making a Herculean effort to keep herself together, so much so that there could be little doubt as to her awareness of Brineybeard’s fate.
After a couple moments of searching Nadia spotted the creature in the lake, and one glance was enough to tell her it wasn’t an Abyssal. It looked like an elaborate longboat complete with rows of oars, but that snake head on the front turned out to be more than just decoration. As for outcrops of crystals, she couldn’t see anything beneath the sparkling, almost luminescent water. As nice as it looked, she felt a keen urge to set foot on solid ground, and made for the edge of the boat. A running start gave her the clearance she needed to soar all the way to the shore, and as always the cat landed on her feet. It took her a moment to get adjusted to standing on land again, after which she promptly sank to her knees. “Ohhh...man, I am never, ever doing naval warfare again. I’d rather just fur-get the whole thing, nyeheheh.”
She rose as the stranger got closer and was greeted with an eyeful of Bowser. Judging from his expression, he had not been prepared at all for the bizarre assortment of people he now faced. To be fair, they were an odd bunch; she counted two well-equipped men, a boy with big hands, two cats with cannons (although Nadia had ditched hers for now), a biker boat princess, three vastly different turtles, a child, a horned girl, and- an Abyssal!? Startled by the sight Nadia jerked back, which made Bella jump as well, and the Water Princess only managed to avoid falling over thanks to the monstrous tail trailing behind her. The almost comical sight, plus the realization that the wobbly-legged woman was using an umbrella to walk and that her eyes were not red, turned Nadia’s apprehension into remorse immediately. “Whoops, sorry about that! First time seeing you. My nerves are still a little...”
Bella gave an embarrassed but radiant smile as the feral trailed off. “Oh, not at all! I would be surprised if something like that didn’t happen.” Leaning on her makeshift cane, she offered Nadia a hand to shake. “Je m'appelle Bella...that is to say, my name is Bella. Pleased to meet you.”
With a toothy grin Nadia accepted the shake. “Nadia Fortune! That’s a super cute dress, by the way.”
“Merci, Miss Fortune!” Bella beamed, oblivious to the wordplay at work. “I had a hat too, but I lost it during the fight, sadly.”
Nadia looked confused, baffled as to why Bella might need mercy. Maybe she thought she was being flattered too much? That couldn’t be it. For a born killing machine she was quite the looker, and though not nearly as big as the Harbor Demon or even Midway Princess, she was no slouch in the size department. “Uh huh…”
Conversation nearby turned her attention to the tail end of Mirage’s conversation with Bowser, and with a polite bow of her head Bella hobbled toward the water’s edge. For someone with a gun at hand this guy certainly seemed nervous around Bowser. Stick around the big goof for long and that’ll clear up fast,
she thought with a smile.
At that moment, something shot out from the top waterfall that fed the nearby lake. Attracted by the motion, Nadia looked over, but got only a fleeting glimpse of green and black before whoever it was splashed down. Not too far away the Ukazeer veered toward the disturbance, both curious and cautious of any potential threat. Putting her oars in motion, the serpent cruised over toward where Mr. L’s wild ride had come to an end.
Although as taciturn as ever when it came to showing his feelings, it was difficult for Albedo to disguise being pleased that Linkle seemed to be in good spirits. He made no immediate remark upon learning of her familiarity with coffee, since he anticipated her saying more, but he did wonder why. Perhaps his guess that their worlds possessed similar levels of development had been a little premature. It did fascinate him that so many disparate worlds seemed to have so very much in common, but he couldn’t afford to ponder creation in real worlds, unlike here in the World of Light. Rather than go off on a tangent he merely nodded his approval when his new friend said she slept well.
“I’m glad. You look well.” In the light of day she didn’t command nearly the same menace she did in the dark. Her eyes, vivid but not glowing, could be mistaken for naturally red, and without the contrast of night her paleness did not call a specter to mind. Clean hair in a neat braid and a fresh face did wonders for her appearance as well. All in all, the rime-coated, battle-worn apparition he’d encountered the night before had been replaced by quite the agreeable young lady. He exhaled through the nose in what might have been a slight laugh when Linkle made visible her distaste for black coffee, then related her first experience with an automatic alarm. “I slept well also,” he told her. “It took me a long time to adjust to this place myself. My first night I never found the switches, and ended up synthesizing Lamp Grass for light. But if you can deal with the various quirks there’s a lot of convenience to be had.”
He crossed his legs and kept talking as Linkle finished her coffee. “The drink has certainly come in handy for me. If possible I’ll take some beans when I go, although perhaps it won’t catch on in Mondstadt. That city, the City of Freedom, is where I lived, and is fond of wine practically to excess.”
Albedo accepted her gift of dust, and eyed the gemstone she presented. “This should indeed fetch a decent price,” he observed after taking it into his hands. He rubbed it, then held it against his head. “I sense some form of magic contained within. Not especially remarkable, but still there. Although I’d be interested to see what it can do, a magic stone won’t do me much good if I freeze to death, so I’ll see if I can find a buyer. Thank you.” He glanced at Linkle, his eyes apologetic, as the happy corgi leaned into her hand adoringly. “I would not want to scare you any more.”
The two got up in preparation for departure. “There’s a good store at the end of the street. The owner’s a bit eccentric, but I’m sure he’ll recognize the value in your find.” Once again he held open the door for her. A moment later the two blondes were out in the light snowfall, just enough to tickle Linkle’s rabbit ears. “That man comes around every now and then,” Albedo explained. “I think I mentioned our arrangement where he would let me try things, which was ongoing for a while. But eventually he grew bored of me, just as he did with the rest. He’s a brute, arrogant and none too sharp, but at least he leaves whatever he’s not interested in alone. Most likely, he somehow picked up on your presence and followed here to see if you could do anything to him.”
As he walked, Albedo produced his sketchbook, which featured an impromptu bookmark. “I found the list of everything I tried on him. Many attempts, zero successes. It’s as if his body simply rejects anything that would do it harm, like an extremely zealous immune system. That’s not to say his power is physical, though. In fact, it being a blessing of some kind is extremely likely. He has some sort of essence that’s extremely different from the ice magic he also possesses, which I couldn’t discreetly identify before he tired of me. Some experience so far with practitioners of both conventional and faith-based magic has led me to conjecture that -this is it on the left- that this unknown essence is divine in nature.”
A moment later, the pair entered the shop, a rather conventional medieval affair of wood in the cozy, snowed-in town. Albedo approached the counter and rang the bell. Barely had his hand touched the device before an absolute beast of a man, sporting a vest over an orange shirt and a tiny green hat, shuffled into view and stood in front of the counter.
“Welcome!” he resounded, gesturing broadly to his wares. “Lamp oil, rope, bombs? You want it? It’s yours, my friends!” From a vest pocket he produced a glinting red crystal and held it up, pinched between two fingers, as he leaned forward. “As long as you have enough rubees!” He leaned back and clasped his hands together, a froglike grin upon his face.
Albedo reached down to pull out Linkle’s gift. “Well, I don’t have rubees exactly, but…”
“Not enough rubees!?” The man looked affronted, and threw his hand to the side in an unabashedly dramatic display. “I’m sorry, mister, I can’t GIVE credit.” He leaned in again, even closer this time, his smiling countenance only mildly terrifying. With one sausage-like finger he pointed for the door. “Come back when you’re a little…” he pursed his lips. “MMMMM...richer!”
When Albedo held up the blue materia, its mild glow illuminated his veiled annoyance perfectly. “And what about this, Morshu?”
“Ohhhhh?” The shopkeeper peered at the crystal. “Well now, I won’t know until I appraise it, will I? Give it here, my boy.” Albedo passed him the gem, and he went around the counter to fetch a magnifying glass. After only a few moments he set both items down. “A fine stone, yes indeed, I think I can offer…”
“It has magical properties too!” Linkle piped up.
With an eyebrow raised the shopkeeper looked her way. “Oh? And what might those be?”
Since Albedo didn’t know, it was up to Linkle to do the best she could. “It glows in the dark.”
“In that case, I’ll give you three hundred and not a rubee more!” After a moment Morshu dropped a sack of money on the counter and extended his hand. “Take it or leave it!” Without a word Albedo took it. With relish Morshu pocketed the gem and clapped his hands together. “Pleasure doing business! Please feel free to look around my wares.”
The alchemist skedaddled over to the apparel section, its selection mostly limited to light armors, but it presented two coats as immediate options. One was a yellow monstrosity
, spongy to the touch, with a spiky hood. The other was a sleeker tan trench coat
with built-in belts. Albedo stood between them and turned to Linkle. “What do you think?”
With no idea what she’d gotten herself into, Sephiroth began to face unforeseen consequences the moment she stepped from the lavatory. Out onto the scene of a well-populated tourist destination stepped a woman of uncommon beauty, her physique sublime, her skin without flaw, and her lilac-streaked white hair -though treated by neither a full bottle of shampoo nor conditioner- full and lustrous all the way down to the backs of her knees. The repercussions of a handsome man fusing with two lovely women, it seemed, had caught up with her. Though she wanted nothing more at the moment than to fill out her stamp card and earn fabulous prizes, heads turned no matter where she went, and stunned stares followed her all the way to the shooting game.
There, at least, she could focus on her mission. Sephiroth’s stamp card featured four spaces color-coded red. One for just participating, one for reaching the end within three minutes, one for achieving a certain amount of points, and one for shooting the hidden Sand Dollar. Looking out over the attraction she found an entire section of pool decorated with toys to resemble a stony coast fraught with pirate installations. The ships themselves appeared to be pedal-powered paddle boats, with a cannon mounted on the front. As far as she could glean from the instructions board right before the starting line, the aim of the game was to get to the end while taking down pirate octopuses atop their docks or little ships to rack up points, all the while avoiding enemy fire. If her boat got hit enough it would sink itself, forcing her to swim out of the pool.