5 (19 -> 24 -> 27 -> 24/50)Location:
Sandswept Sky - Sweet Canyon - ParnasseWord Count: 4136
With the last of the dust settled (some of cocoa, some not), Fox hooked his ever-handy shield device back onto his belt and glanced about among his allies and the area for an outgoing assessment of the encounter. Having supportive assets like the Medic within their ranks practically precluded the need for him to call for a/n in/formal status report on everyone, as per routine and habit, unless something otherwise demanded his attention. Or maybe the Doctor’s involvement actually presented ironic cause for concern all its own. It became harder to be sure with that one the more they paid attention to and the longer anyone spent around him, which Fox hadn’t, as was fortunately the case for the sake of his peace of mind. That said, it may not do to leave him unattended in the night with any of his comatose “patients.”
Thus came the subject of rest that no small number of them doubtlessly needed, such as was admitted earlier by Joker on behalf of his team. Tora seconded this, succumbing lazily to his own fatigue, his level of which was understandable in light of just how much work he did (perhaps unknowingly) for them consistently pulling the team’s weight to the front of the line as one of its only two Shields. Poppi then volunteered herself for night watch, clarifying her absence of the need for rest as she casually bridal carried her “Masterpon” to bed. Primrose voiced her own concerns regarding the sleep and post arrangements, raising a point about maintaining a close proximity to one another, and thus their ability to watch over each other while they slept. Why she suggested they segregate by sex he didn’t hazard to question, certain that she had reason enough of her own for it, but he otherwise agreed with a nod that they could and should save no more effort than they had to keeping a closer eye on their fellow man and woman.“In that case, anyone who can spare it should join Poppi; go in shifts if we have to,”
he openly suggested to any prospective (but moreover trustworthy) volunteers within earshot. “If there’s anyone who shouldn’t be alone, it’s our watch,”
he reasoned simply, more or less submitting himself for the task in the possible absence of any immediate takers. While he was going on a full day of activity without sleep or much rest at this point, he thought he could spare a couple more hours for everyone else’s sake. He refrained even from asking Necronomicon for her help (or Joker for permission to have it) on the assumption that she too, like Poppi, required no sleep. He always preferred taking action to demanding it anyway, and most of them had worked hard enough for today as far as he was concerned. “I’ll take the first one,”
he offered in consideration of the others’ noticeable fatigue whilst trying to suppress his own, perhaps thereby setting the example for whoever should step up to relieve him later in the night.
Poppi blinked twice, a little confused, but her processors soon reached a satisfactory conclusion. However steadfast, Fox would need to rest eventually, so if there would be a joint watch it made sense for someone who didn’t to take a later one. “Roger! Let’s do our best.” In a maelstrom of sparking metal and flashing ribbon she changed to QT Pi mode, and flew up into the air to set up watch on an undamaged roof.
It didn’t take long for Fox’s concerns to be substantiated by a commotion coming from one of the nearby houses. Barely a minute or two after their battle with the two Goliath, and already it seemed they weren’t quite finished. Fox rushed to the source, pistol drawn, to tend to the disturbance personally, whatever may be the cause of it. He found out upon throwing the front door open and scanning the premises with his iron sights that it was merely the result of necessary measures being taken to free the captives housed within, as Midna reassured and everyone else of. Fox eased off and lowered his weapon, taking a second look about to see the fragmented remnants of resin prisons scattered along the floor at their bases, their occupants now missing. This would possibly give him something to look out for, he figured as he vacated the lightly-destructed gingerbread domicile, re-holstering his sidearm on his way out back to the center of town to begin the first watch.
A peaceful stillness settled over the fantastical town as its visitors fell asleep, one by one. Fox maintained his vigil, circumnavigating the premises over and over to keep an eye on as much of his surroundings as possible. On only his second loop, however, he found the tranquil silence disturbed by a hissed whisper. “Psst!” it came from the direction of swirled cream bushes.
The first hour or so of the late night passed uneventfully as Fox paced quietly about the town; mostly to keep himself awake at that point. It was no remedy for the drowsing boredom that had set in, however, but he figured boring was the preferable intended result of a watch. Between Poppi patrolling the air and rooftops on one end of the village, Necronomicon maintaining a perimeter around her housed team on the other, and Fox on the ground keeping an eye out for them, none of them picked up any movement or activity thus far. That was until the first instance of it suddenly decided to, of all things, whisper directly at him for his attention.
His ears twitched in response, prompting a double take from him as he looked around his immediate area for who- or whatever called in hushed tone for him. He wasn’t sure at first that sleep deprivation wasn’t causing him to imagine or hallucinate it until the voice again specifically addressed him from the direction of the whipped shrubbery, demanding his presence. This struck Fox as an obvious baiting attempt, but even knowing this he proceeded anyway toward the yonder bushes in slow, careful steps, keeping mindful of any sap traps that may be hidden within or around them. Surely, this wasn’t his pride, his general overconfidence in his abilities, his trademark ‘go it alone’
mentality making his decisions for him; causing him to skip over tipping off the other two; telling him it was something he could--and should
--definitely handle himself.
In truth, that wasn’t the case. These weren’t thoughts he had, just habits he was in. Bad habits he would have thought himself too good for had he ever actually thought about it. What else was the point of going on a joint night watch if not to have a safety net and utilized line of communication in place? It was his
idea to join them after all. It was in realizing this that he caught himself for all of a second to remember that he was part of a team and reach out to them. “Eyes out! Something’s here,”
was all he gave his fellow watchwomen to go on, delivered in a whisper as quietly as he could manage as he approached the sound’s source to inspect, ready to draw at the first sign of hostility.
“Hey, buddy! Over here!” Only when Sly shifted did he reveal his presence. The shadows resolved themselves into the shape of an anthropomorphic raccoon, taller and slimmer than Fox, in a blue cap and shirt. That alone both suggested a true knack for stealth, and that Fox wouldn’t have found the stranger if he didn’t want it. So too did the swiftness with which he sized Fox up suggest a talent for perception, as held up his hands placatingly. “Take it easy! Don’t want any trouble. I’ve just had a really weird, exhausting day is all. First the machines, then getting stuck and blacking out, then finally waking up to some hairless ape with a sword talking nonsense. I was just hoping I could find someone normal and ask what in the world’s going on.”
At this point, Fox was convinced of non-aggressive intent by the fellow mammal and loosened his guard in kind. If he wanted to get the drop on him for any reason, he would have done it already, and not gave himself away to do it. Paradoxically, recognizing this was both unsettling and reassuring, that he could
have found an enemy in him but wouldn’t. Not unless he shot first, that is, for he was still Gleaming by the looks of it. That much Fox noticed above all else about the raccoon’s appearance, besides the uncanny sense that they weren’t quite
the same somehow, in spite of their shared anthropomorphic nature. Perhaps the questionable decision to forego pants while still donning boots had something to do with it. Either way, it came as good enough reason on his part to provisionally trust Fox, as he mentioned being an issue with the first person he met.“Can’t say I blame you. I was exactly where you are just yesterday,”
He reassured the stranger, in a rather cryptic, not-so-assuring manner. “Are you hurt at all?”
he asked, with this World’s best answer for an olive branch very much in mind.
Sly looked himself once over. “Not...really? Well, not physically, anyway. This has been a real roller coaster, but I’m fine. I guess. Would be a lot better if I knew my buds were okay.” He scratched his head, clearly more concerned about getting the low-down than his own well-being at the moment. “So what’s the deal, do you know?”
Sadly, this meant that hitting him with a Friend Heart was out; not without doing him harm first. He hadn’t intended on it after lowering his alert level--still didn’t--but how much would he retain if he simply tried explaining it to him? It didn’t do Fox any wonders, waking up with a head full of fog following the beating he took in a string of back to back fights he didn’t remember having. And what if this man then decides to take off on his own into the World after getting less than satisfying answers? His chances were frankly worse out there, against any number of the multiverse’s goods and evils alike that could rope him into something that he would be compelled to see through, whether he could or not. Though, it’s possible as well that a man of his skillset, only the faintest idea of which Fox had been made privy to, could avoid such conflicts altogether if he wished. Were his concerns honestly warranted, and was he sure it would come to that anyway?
Moreover, why did he fret this at all? Why did he care this much about the fate of a single stranger? He was content to let go of one today already, after going through the trouble of freeing his Spirit. The simple answer was what he had already said before: that everyone was potentially valuable, and that they should be free regardless. There was something more to this, however. Something… abstract. Subject not to rational thought, but intrinsic feeling--that they were connected
somehow…“Enough… I think,”
Fox answered with a sigh. With the possibilities still racing through his head, he continued. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Though a little frustrated by the lack of forthcoming answers and baffled as to how his own past played into it, Sly wracked his brains for his past. “Well, I was living in Al Mamoon, to the north of here. I’ve been traveling all over the world all my life, you see, a little here, a little there. Mostly with my pals, Bentley and Murray. Don’t suppose you’ve seen ‘em? Turtle fella with glasses in...well, in a wheelchair, and then a big, strong hippo dude. Um, anyway, we were together before Al Mamoon, doing...stuff, but I guess we got separated somewhere. I came out here at some point...I dunno, maybe just for a change of pace?” He shrugged. “Haven’t had much luck getting back into the ol’ groove.”“Sounds about right,”
Fox commented, nodding along at the end of the stranger’s recapitulation, that he could tell was incomplete. It was missing something integral to his arrival here, something he knew undoubtedly to be responsible for it, conveniently missing from his memory. “They don’t sound familiar. Not like anyone we’ve seen thus far. Sorry.”
he answered regarding the stranger’s friends as described to him. “For what it’s worth you’re not alone. I think most of us are missing people of our own. Friends. Family. Rivals. Even enemies,”
he stated with a light shrug, as if to appear sympathetic. With a sigh of resignation, he continued. “If it sounds like it doesn’t make sense, it’s because it’s not supposed to,”
he alluded with undue subtlety to the powerful influence over his mind that he remained and would remain unaware of, “and I’m not sure how to make sense of it any faster.”
The latter half of his statement came at a lower register, almost as if he was saying it to himself as well.
Sly held up his hands in a resigned gesture. “Oh well, couldn’t hurt to ask. Sucks to be us, I guess. Hopefully we both find what we’re lookin’ for, huh?”“Yeah...”
he answered with a nod, his eyes directed contemplatively to the ground. Decisively, he looked back at the stranger and spoke. “I hate to tell you this, but it’s not going to get any easier...”
Following a momentary pause, Fox quickly drew his Blaster and squeezed off an impact shot aimed for the raccoon’s chest.
Fox was quick on the draw, almost impractically so, but as a master thief Sly had honed his instincts to a razor’s edge. As the shot went off the raccoon had already gone low, running on all fours. On second thought, he was running on three--in his right had a hooked cane had appeared, pulled out of nowhere in a marvelous feat of sleight-of-hand. He attempted to snare Fox’s feet and pull him over, but the pilot flipped backward long before the cane could slip around his ankle. By the time he righted himself, however, his new acquaintance had disappeared into the shadows.
Fox recovered to stance from his evasive maneuver, training his sights on nothing when he did. His opponent had disappeared in the space of a second afforded to him between dodge and landing, a remarkable stunt of stealth unheard of for him; and he’s met Solid Snake. “...Not yet.”
Fox intensely muttered under his breath, finishing his thought from before firing the opening shot.
“Looks like there’s more to you than meets the eye,” Sly remarked, his voice coming from nowhere in particular. Yet with the fight begun, he could not retreat. “You tired or something? Don’t worry, I’ll lay you out for a nice nap and be on my merry way.”“You’ll thank me for this when you wake up.”
In dispensing with the flimsy diplomatic charade, an attempt at which he would have taken more seriously if he thought it would get better results (as per his previous try at Lakeside), he believed he had taken a faster step closer to winning another ally, even if it was the hard way. The present mocking voice of his adversary confirmed for him that he hadn’t taken this opportunity to run away, for lack of being able to, which was exactly what Fox hoped for when gambling a shot at him.
In astonishingly near-perfect silence, Sly pounced from the shadows behind Fox, touching down in hug’s reach with footfalls to rival a cat with mufflers, and was awarded the first blow by ambush. Sharply he drove the pointed end of his cane into the vulpine’s back with two repeating uppercut swipes to lift them both from the ground. Fox never saw or heard it coming, but as he felt the back of his collar snag as he began to be dragged down by it, he made a snap impulse decision to slip out of his jacket in a rolling back tuck. In his play for an instant knockout--utilizing a signature move of his--Sly found himself bringing down only cloth rather than violently slamming his enemy’s head in the (or the dirt cake
that passed for it here), and for his effort was met the toe of one boot to the face and the flat of the other to his chest.
Fox was back on top of him in no time, covering swiftly the distance between them forced by his last hit, following it with a series of rapid jabs--punches and kicks alike. Sly managed to redirect the first few of them with leveraging movements of hook and shaft, but was quickly overwhelmed with the gradually quickening oppressive flurry of strikes to get inside his guard, ending with a lunging kick to send him reeling back. Fox chased it with a snapping side kick to Sly’s abdomen while he was backed up against a craggy slab of rock candy to double him over and followed up with an over aerial heel kick to the back of his head. Even as Sly’s head was heading for the ground, he turned over in a floaty, physics-defying act of balance and recovery that had him landing instead back on his feet, whereupon he threw down a smoke bomb at his feet for a concealed quick escape and disappeared once more.
Sly should have known better than to think he could trust a fox, or that he could fight one up-close, after all the years spent on the run from (and at one point romantically involved with) Carmelita. He supposed this is what he got for never learning his lesson, but with a storied off-and-on history like theirs, he couldn’t really blame himself. What he did learn in a matter of seconds, about his opponent, was just how poorly matched they turned out to be in a contest of martial skill. Even the fastest he’s ever seen or faced were slower still. His best chance lay in making the most of his stealth, mobility and utility advantage and employing guerilla tactics to keep his opponent off-balance and try to end the fight in as few moves as possible.
As the smoke dissipated, Fox kept himself on a swivel with his gun drawn, snapping his sights to a conspicuous falling object that he nearly trigger-punched a hole through: Sly’s hat. It fell harmlessly at Fox’s feet, prompting him to look upward, and distracting him from the blinking red light of the decoy cap about to detonate. He noticed this too late to react, blowing him back off his feet. Then came Sly dropping down from the canopy with his cane spinning ahead of him in a drop attack that Fox rolled out of the way of just before impact. He stood up rapid firing at Sly, whose perception of time dilated at will as he ducked, weaved through, jumped over bolts of laser fire. Fox could almost swear to seeing him step off of one as if it were solid to gain air, but he couldn’t be sure.
Airborne, Sly hurled his cane downward at Fox, only for him to respond with a quick pulse of his Reflector to send it back. This sufficed regardless of damage, for he merely meant to stop him from shooting for long enough to execute a counterattack. He zipped downward at an angle, catching his returning cane on the way, and passed through Fox (or appeared to) in a generated line of dull blue electricity. Sly seamlessly continued to move, inexplicably sliding along an imaginary line on the ground as he swerved in a u-turn, assisted by grounding his cane as a pivot point. The electrical charge at his feet sustained with movement as he then entered an electrified wheel roll, colliding with the immobilized Fox, entering him into the proceeding tumble before throwing him by the hook end of his weapon.
Fox rolled back to his feet and fired off two reckless shots, and found them deflected back at him… with his own Reflector? Fox spat a subdued cry of searing pain when taking one of his own shots to the clavicle, then directed closer attention to Sly. It seemed the thief had somehow lifted Fox’s gadget off his person during their brief second of contact, which Sly was happy to admit with a boastful, presentory flourish, cocking an eyebrow and winking at Fox with a wry smirk. Annoyed, Fox shook his head and simply rushed him down with an advancing flurry of rotating kicks, only one which connected… with a trapped cardboard silhouette of his opponent that instantly swapped places with him.
The predictably aggressive Fox was momentarily paralyzed once again thanks to the electrical charges rigged to the dummy cutout, triggered the instant he struck it. He’d lost count by then of how many similar ‘counter’ techniques he had seen, dealt with, and had to work around in the past, but right about now he was feeling a little sick of it. From out of nowhere came Sly again to knock him down with a cane-twirling dive, and continued advancing on him to punish his ‘ukemi’ by rushing in with two spinning swings. He dizzyingly swatted Fox on the cheek with the first, caught him around his neck with the second, then swung himself around by his hooked foe, and brought himself in for a shoving flip kick to his chest that sent him flying.
Fox decided at this that he’d had enough, and that it was time to get a little more serious. He caught himself inverted against the ground by his hands, kipping up and taking off into an Illusion dash to expeditiously make up the distance between him and his opponent, meeting him up-close before either of their feet could hit the ground. Where Sly earlier punished his recovery, it was his turn to punish his landing, aiming to prove a point that he could do all of it better while he was at it.
Fox touched down deciseconds before Sly, as intended, and sent him back upward with a signature rushing backflip kick to the chin that snapped his head back, along with the rest of him. Not content to let him come back down on his own, Fox lept upward to drill stomp him into the sugar-frosted ‘snow’. Sly scrambled to his feet to defend, but to no avail. Fox blocked the first blind cane swipe with the flat of his foot, rattled the raccoon with a string of chain punches to the torso, and at the first attempt to fight back with it, twisted his off arm to relieve it of his stolen shield. He then hit him with a straight punch to the abdomen, empowered by a flash of his shield, before taking him off his feet with a tail-assisted leg sweep. Fox followed with a snapping front kick to Sly’s back to keep him suspended, and finished with an arcing reverse tornado kick to send him away.
Air left Sly’s lungs as he flew back-first into a nearby tree, causing him to fall over face down flat onto the ground in a now barely conscious heap. Fox made his way over one pacing step at a time, using his free hand to draw a Friend Heart from his chest. Groaning in pain, unwilling or -able to concede defeat, Sly tightened his grip around his cane and struggled in vain to lift it under the anchoring boot of Fox, who decided he would rather not let him even if he had the energy left to. Fox then knelt down before him, hovering the Heart over his weakened form, dropped it gingerly onto him, and watched and waited for it to take full effect.
In a single, brief flash, Sly’s situation took a complete turn, and his struggle ceased. Every burn and bruise on his body disappeared, the adrenaline pumping through him evaporated, and his fighting spirit stilled. For a moment he lay still with wide eyes devoid of comprehension, but then he let out the contents of his lungs in a heavy sigh of relief. “Whoo...boy. I tell ya, I’ve been on some wacky hijinx, but nothing half as crazy as this.” He let his neck go slack, and his head lolled back onto the cakey cushion of the ground.“Do you remember now?”
was all Fox said at first as he stood to lower his pacified adversary turned neutral acquaintance (and ideally future ally) a helping hand up.
After another moment, Sly accepted the hand. His reluctance seemed more to do with exhaustion than distrust. “Sort of. There’s a lot to deal with, a whole
lot, jeez. Could run my thinker ‘til I get a headache, but maybe I oughta just sleep on it.”
Right… sleep. After a bout like that, already running on so little, Fox had forgotten all about it in the heat of battle and the moments leading up to it. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out,”
Fox replied, fatigue--equal parts mental and physical--clearly setting on him as he started taking his first steps away.
Slightly perplexed by his dismissive self-adjournment, Sly raised an eyebrow in the vulpine’s direction. “So… what, that’s it? We just beat each other senseless and go our separate ways? Is that
how things work around here?” The facetiousness in his tone became increasingly evident with each sentence. “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m kinda out of the loop here.”
Fox stopped in his steps, for a moment before speaking. “You were going to take off anyway, weren’t you?”
the question begot a bewildered look from the raccoon as to what exactly he meant. Fox then glanced back at him in his continued address. “You said you wanted to find your friends. I don’t intend to talk you out of that. I already tried that once today.”
He thought back to the Soldier from Lakeside, wondering how that may have panned out or will come to; for the better, he hoped.
He turned to direct his full attention to Sly, and told him, “When you do leave, head southwest from here. Pass over the mountains, and you’ll find a city floating above the bay. I can’t promise you’ll find your friends there, but you’ll find better answers--and maybe help finding them.”
While he was largely assuming intent on Sly’s part, Fox advised him on directions to take with every hopeful intention that he might follow it, somewhat contrary dictation of non-interventionism. More concerned was he that he was doing right by a due comrade, in whom he somehow saw himself.
The two canids weren’t quite done yet. From a nearby rooftop, and with far less near-silent grace than the raccoon mustered during his fight, Poppi appeared with a wave of greeting. “Hello! Poppi hear noise and come to investigate. Only catch tail end of fight. All well that end well?” With a pleasant smile she attempted to deflect the wary glance that Sly sent her way. “Nice to meet new friend. Poppi name is Poppi!”
Fox’s eyes went Poppi’s way ahead of her arrival, certain she came to investigate before she said as much. “We’re okay here now, Poppi,”
Fox reassured her before glancing back to Sly to do the same. “She’s with us.”
It slipped his mind in his exhausted state that Sly wasn’t yet aware of an ‘us’.
With a nod, the artificial blade left again. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Fox was flagging, so it was about time she tagged in the next lookout. Another being without the need for sleep, Necronomicon had volunteered, so Poppi went off to rouse her from her dormant state. Fox could sleep easy knowing that his metal comrades had his safety both well in hand, and well in tentacle.
Mouth slightly agape in perplexion, Sly shook his head free of yet another strange occurrence to put himself back in the moment. “What about you, stranger? You got a name?” he asked half-rhetorically. “So I can let them know who sent me.” For him, this would be genuinely useful to know. He wasn’t, after all, accustomed to entering new places undisguised and being welcomed there.“Fox,”
he answered simply. “Fox McCloud.”
“‘Fox’, huh?” he asked, nodding curiously. “No relation to Carmelita, I take it?”
Failing to recognize any such name, Fox answered with a headshake and a shrug, “No one I would know of. Another friend of yours?”
He asked simply as an extension of polite, friendly curiosity.
“I-It’s, uh… a bit more complicated than that,” Sly stammered, rubbing the back of his head.“Hm. I hear you,”
he nodded in reply, offering some sense of allusive understanding.
“Well, Fox,” he started, turning outward from him, “I guess we’ll be in touch,” he said with a smile and a salute of his cane.
Fox smiled weakly back, flitting his weightening eyelids as he looked back to the village, then back to Sly. “You should probabl-”
he started to say, but by the time he looked back, Sly was gone. He would later realize that he failed to get his name in turn, but trusted that they would likely be seeing each other again somewhere down the line. He retrieved his jacket and contacted the Blade and Persona. “You two got it from here?”
The Persona replied on behalf of both of them, insisting that he get some much needed rest, and that they would alert him if needed. “Thanks, girls! I’ll see you in the morning.”
With that, he began his short walk back into the town proper to find a place to lay his head for the remainder of the night.
With or without anyone to fill in for him, and being too tired to worry about it either way, Fox sought out the first vacancy in accommodations he could find and made straight for an empty bed, which just so happened to be composed in its near entirety of fluffy marshmallow. “Of course,”
he said to himself upon testing it, nodding with a resigned, tired sigh before laying down onto it anyway. He didn’t so much as remove his boots, belt, headset, or jacket, for he would sleep easy enough now with less to worry about.