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Level: 5 (9 -> 12/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Crown of Sand
Word Count: 1701 (/2241) (+3 EXP)

A well-distributed series of combined techniques and maneuvers strung together in succession resulted in a quick, decisive victory for the top-side splinter of Yellow Team, leaving but a single serpentine humanoid creature, seemingly unaware how hopelessly outmatch it was up to that point… until it realized as much. In tandem with the Thieves, Fox drew on the Lamia the instant he became aware of its presence, by which point it began pleading, bargaining for its life. He wouldn’t have guessed the creature to be sentient or reasonably intelligent--expecting something more primal and unreasonable--but who was he to question. He came from a galaxy of talking animals, after all, as fact he had only become enlightened to following and thanks to his initial cross-universal foray.

Joker and the she-serpent conducted a brief exchange of terms before arriving at what, to Fox, came across as a somewhat lopsided accord. In fairness, he wasn’t entirely following or trying to follow on the particulars of their discussion. Joker taking in her Spirit all the same did have him subtly cocking his head in curiosity, then quickly dismissing it as a unique aspect of his powerset that he wasn’t at all privy to. Or yet another function of Galeem’s World, one he might also fail to understand. He could hardly tell, and it hardly mattered to him. All that mattered was that they were safe.

A moment later Poppi and Necro crested back over the clifftop, along with the next round of passengers, and approached the scene in its aftermath with concern. Fox’s sharp, inscrutable eyes fell on Tora, blinking once, as the Nopon looked to his team nervously to help him sell an obvious fib to his companion; a lie that Fox didn’t then attempt to corroborate him on. That would have been rather difficult to do with his weapon still drawn. He was right and honest about two things: that they were likely in for a miserably hot day before them, and that they had apparently encountered another new tagalong/potential member. Tora segued the stranger into his own introduction, both asking and answering the question Fox would have otherwise had as to who he was.

“We’re alright here, Poppi,” he reassured, now holstering his sidearm. “What about the rest?” he asked, accounted for the remaining members still down below that he couldn’t see--more rhetorically than inquisitively, but given how quickly he found out things can heat up without him looking, one couldn’t be too sure or careful. Joker echoed his inquiry, pinning an additional line to the question of their whereabouts. Necro answered, explaining in short that Midna and two others had opted on a brief outing of additional activity, that apparently being the fulfillment of Midna’s earlier “dragon hunting” scheme.

Again, Fox was in no hurry to interrupt, object, or otherwise act to veto this, even if he had the proper authority to (not that one could expect a princess to understand or abide by such a chain of command). Specifically, he wasn’t about to tell Midna that she couldn’t take off on her own (it being more important that she not be) to fulfill her whims to the group’s prospective benefit. Not after their conversation from earlier in the hour (or the one prior), whereafter he did much the same. He had his go; let her have one too.

Besides, he figured if nothing else, the Twilight Princess could take care of herself, and may very well be content to, provided the results of her hunt were fruitful enough as she had hoped. As for how her and the hunting party would get back otherwise, and how soon, the question still remained. The girl-turned-spaceship shyly offered her continued assistance, met with a counterproposal by Panther that Sectonia pick up the rest herself, mostly out of transparent eagerness to keep their own together. Joker, her leader, looked at Fox warily, and he shared a look back, hoping to arrive at a silent understanding for taking her up on that.

“If it’s alright with you, we could probably use you down there with them,” he said, to her as well as her comrades. “Do you have any way of communicating remotely?” he asked on the assumption that her technologically advanced form would accommodate telecommunication. Again, it was a question not just for her, but those who best knew her as well, considering their presumed function as a unit.

Necronomicon said nothing for a moment, but Joker spoke on her behalf. If he was irritated at all it lay hidden beneath his mask and even tone, but the firmness of his voice came through well enough. “Our friend has done her fair share of ferrying. If some of your friends elected to stay behind while the rest moved on, into danger no less, that seems like your team’s responsibility.” The knife-wielder let the distinction between Yellow Team and the Phantom Thieves remain implicit.

A reasonable objection from the Thieves wasn’t exactly surprising, but one so standoffish, Fox wasn’t anticipating. “And I thought we were all friends here,” he retorted sardonically, shifting not his tone, and meant it. They ALL came from different backgrounds, shared or not, but as far as he was interested, they were all part of the same team; there was ultimately no difference. Perhaps the Thieves leader would recognize that in recalling Primrose taking off on her own accord, aided by Midna no less, to go check on them in Alibaba’s temple, who wouldn’t now be there without her.

Joker raised an eyebrow, invisible as it was. He didn’t reply to what he perceived to be a rather ineffective joke on Fox’s part, instead considering his options. Getting a hold on the personality of this ‘leader’ was quickly proving difficult, not helped by the fact that the two hadn’t spoken at all prior.

“Look, I get it. You all know each other and want to stick together. That’s fine,” he conceded more gently, aiming to reach a fair compromise. “I can’t and won’t stop you, or ask you to do more than your fair share. But you didn’t answer my question,” he paused. “Can we reach each other if we need to?” he reiterated, which happened to be the main point in asking Necronomicon as much in nominating her. To that end, the proposal’s rejection by Joker wasn’t entirely unreasonable, but again, compromise may have been in order. If he could reach any of them at all while they went ahead, that would suit Fox just fine.

This time Necronomicon spoke up, holding up a tentacle. “Although I may look technological, keep in mind that I’m a manifestation of the personality of Sakura Futaba. In other words, a mental construct.” The craft tilted sideways, quiet for a moment. “Hm...while that might sound like bad news, because things here in the Metaverse work as you’d expect them to, I should be able to reach any communications devices you might have. As long as we’re part of the, well, team.”

“I guess that’s up to you,” he added. “Are we?” He crossed his arms and looked expectantly to the one who spoke for them...

“Not right now.” Joker held his fist to his chin, thinking. “We’ve come full circle, hm? Well, perhaps we can strike a deal.” He headed over to Fox. “‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free’. A professional relationship is one of give and take. We were planning to leave in search of more of our members, but instead we can provide you the formal collaboration of the Phantom Thieves in your efforts to defeat the Guardian of this region, considering you honorary Thieves until that time.” He smirked. “That is, if you can provide us something we need in return.”

Now, they were talking! For one clearly younger than himself, it was apparent to Fox that Joker had a solid grasp on what it meant to be a professional, whatever that profession may be (under the name ‘Phantom Thieves’, one could only hazard a wild guess), or why they lent themselves to it. Of course, he wasn’t one to judge or assume one’s competence by their age. At the same apparent age, he was already fighting (and winning) wars, and in seeing what children like Ness and Lucas were capable of, he had long since not been one to question. Though Joker may just be a young sophist for all he knew, for only time would tell, he was at least glad to be making some kind of progress in arriving at the understanding he previously hoped they would have already had. One corner of his lips curved up slightly in a smirk, as he inquired the Thief on his terms, hoping they might both find them agreeable.

“What do you have in mind?”

“What have you got?” Joker countered.

“You said you ‘needed’ something…?” he clarified, pausing thoughtfully in wait for a response.

The thief crossed his arms. “That’s for you to convince us of. We might not know we need it. Do you have something valuable to offer us in exchange for our services?”

“Convince” them, huh? Fox never expected in all his years that he would have to negotiate terms or at all talk anyone into fighting for a shared cause, let alone twice in one day. Persuasion was hardly in his repertoire of expertise, and convincing this lot, through the most devious one of them, would doubtlessly prove tougher than incentivizing a few ragtag mercenaries who were no more aware of their new putupon existence. For lack of understanding their needs, as he couldn’t speak to them, he thought for a second back to the last thing they shared with them to a practical end.

“We have a landship?” he suggested, referring to and gesturing in the direction of Vah Naboris. “You might need that again later, same as us, and the only one who can pilot it is still down there,” he emphasized, before continuing. “We don’t have to stop there, but I can’t decide for you what you need. All we need is the extra help.” “Want” was really more the word. This was to say that they weren’t starved for it, and that they simply preferred to have more. “So, what’s your help worth?” That much, Fox understood, being a career mercenary himself, and having (nearly) every time been compensated for his heroics.

At the mention of Vah Naboris Joker waved his hand, dismissing it as a bargaining chip at the moment. Aside from that Fox couldn’t drum up anything specific he could use to convince the Thieves to cooperate. With their real goals unrealizable in this world and money not an object, that left few options, but the young man had not been quietly watching the other heroes thus far for nothing. Although he missed what was no doubt a grand battle at Lakeside, Joker witnessed a few interesting things only moments ago.

“Your skills,” he told Fox. “Panther can learn new magic from Primrose and Sectonia, Skull can take a lesson in toughness from Tora, Poppi, and Heavy, and Mona can study your Medic’s healing, and perhaps this new fellow’s swordsmanship, if he volunteers to join you. As for me, I can profit from your ability with a pistol and agility. And we hone our skills, we’ll be a greater help. Sound like a deal?”

Skills for skills, help for help? It would seem as fair a bargain as any, if a tad specific. Either way, they reached an agreement, and Fox would gladly accept… provided a condition of clarity...

“If by that, you mean ‘watch and learn’...” he opened, expecting Joker might take his meaning. After having just witnessed him absorb another being from a living state, following a similar negotiation, and undergoing the Alcamoth crash course on Spirits earlier that day, it was a subject he would do well to regard warily.

“Instruction as well, when convenient. Nothing more,” Joker confirmed.

“Then, we have a deal,” Fox agreed, “but I want to be clear. We each offer our talents, insights, and aid by our own ability. We don’t touch each other’s Spirits,” he asserted more firmly. Though this wouldn’t function as a ‘will’, it should ideally suffice to cover everyone’s asses on all sides in their verbal contract, for as long as their trust was contingent on mutual benefit. “As long as we’re working together, our interest is in keeping each other alive. If we share that interest, and an understanding, then we’ll get along just fine.”

Joker smiled. “Of course.”

With a nod, Fox continued, “In that case, you can go on ahead. We’ll catch up to you shortly. Call us if you need us sooner, and be careful.” With the Thieves off, and their terms set, he addressed Tora regarding their next course of action. “We’ll hang back to check on the others before picking them up,” he answered, more or less restating himself, but with directives to follow. “Poppi and Sect can take up one each,” omitting Midna, expecting she wouldn’t need the lift, “or two of us down in case they need our help.” As he moved closer back to the cliff’s edge, he looked between the outgoing and plotted directions, with allies in both. “I’d rather not be too far from either of them. Once they finish up down there, we bring them up, then we move.”

Level: 7 (0 -> 1/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Limsa Lominscuttle Town - The Bismarck
Word Count: 273 (+1 EXP)

Hat: Sprint -> Brewing

(Level up pending…)

It turned out there wasn’t as much trickery or lateral thought involved in dealing with the shadow puppet as she thought. The child expected the sorceress to contort Link’s actual shadow into harming Ace intangibly through his own, and sought to thwart that accordingly. Instead, she summoned a dark, inexact clone of the Hylian warrior through it, destructively toppling over every carted dish above it with its emergence (which in Hat Kid’s eyes exempted her from accountability for property damage by technicality). This, of course, followed the amphibian knight taking bold initiative in disarming her, seemingly freeing Link from whatever spell she had him under.

The shade struck out for the Cadet, only to be intercepted by Link, and another like it was commanded forth after the Frog. The date (if it could really be called that) was over, and the fight was on. Hat Kid slid out from under her table and bounded from another, switching to her pointier hat as she went, unpocketing and juggling a vial for one toss in her right hand to swirl and activate its contents. Fitting she would don what most resembled a stereotypical witch’s hat to combat a witch, however purely coincidental it might have been. With its ingredients primed, Hat Kid hucked the (mildly) explosive cocktail in a shallow arc at the umbral clone harrying the Cadet and Link, then zipped through the air going the other way after Link’s bad date in an attempt to smash the sorceress between the eyes with her own forehead. Should she successfully connect though, it would only hurt one of them as Hat Kid rebounded harmlessly away.

Level: 5 (7 -> 9/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Great Barrier -> Crown of Sand
Word Count: 1032 (+2 EXP)

Fox hadn’t much to add in response to Midna besides a simple nod of understanding, accepting the answers she gave, as well as her reasoning for forgoing the use of Naboris’ eyes while in motion, and saying no more. As one occupationally accustomed to regular overexposure to excessive g-forces--and having trained accordingly to acclimate--concepts of motion sickness, vertigo and the like had long since ceased to be a point of concern for him, so it never would have occurred to him otherwise that not everyone shared his experience with it and the acquired immunity it afforded. No matter. The plentiful forward view from Naboris’ shoulder would suffice for the remainder of the trek there, which Fox settled in for, leaning onto the masonry as he watched the great cliff Mona and Midna spoke of grow closer.

It became increasingly apparent in the time leading up to their arrival that the Divine Beast, unless it had tricks they were unaware of, wouldn’t be able to scale the monumental plateau before them, confirming their previous suspicions that they would have to leave it behind for the next leg of their journey. The question was, how were they to get everyone to the top, without overtaxing the only two fliers among them? Fox liked the idea of propping up Naboris against the cliff face for added reach until Midna tested its range of motion enough to inspire within her reasonable doubts on which to turn down the idea. Upon further consideration, he made his own rough estimation that the Beast’s head would only reach them most of the way up, from which the majority of them would still need lifted to the top two at a time, so it would have been functionally pointless save for buying them a couple of stories on each round trip. Less keen was he on the follow-up suggestion of ‘Spirit harvesting’ any of the winged creatures Poppi described--tying it with the first of simply throwing everyone to the top--as it struck him as a semi-permanent solution to a momentary issue. Moreover, how were they to retrieve them from where they were anyway? If they could get to them at all, there would be no need to, and they wouldn’t be talking about it. For lack of any better ideas of his own, it still left table room for a viable solution.

Then, such a solution seemed to present itself, as Alibaba, the freshly rescued friend and member of the Phantom Thieves (and thereafter Yellow Team), spoke up to pitch her potential contribution to their efforts, there and going forward. As she explained, and all of her colleagues knew, the form she would need to assume was permanent, but in weighing the cons of it, Joker concluded aloud that there were none, assuaging any concerns that anyone might otherwise have, then proceeded to the outer deck to make room for the transformation ritual. Fox watched on curiously, then cautiously, then in awe, as this meek, timid girl he’d just met--the ‘darker’ half of a whole other person elsewhere in the world--took on her new, ‘true’ form in spectacular fashion. The ritual hit its climax with a unified command, and with its conclusion, Alibaba emerged anew, and under a new name: Necronomicon.

With a moment of observation, Fox was able to recognize her form as that of a saucer ship, as it did not make for the first of its type he had seen. Strange as he still found the design to be, he understood immediately (probably sooner than most of his company) exactly how she would be useful to them this way for traversal. Her utility in combat, in the eventuality thereof, was a matter more difficult for him to guess on, but would table questions about it until such time as it became necessary to know. For now, they need worry simply about moving forward.

“No, this’ll work. Save Poppi and the Queen some effort,” he answered to Tora. “If they’re okay with it, I am,” he clarified, referring to the Thieves that knew her and better understood the mechanics at work. “She already made this move for our sakes. No reason to second guess it now.” Without further delay, he stepped aboard and grabbed a hold of one of the tentacles, as if onto a rescue ladder (which he had never actually done before), and volunteered himself as the first of her passengers to ride roof-side to the top of the cliff, which he would have no issue with managing.

Though he didn’t share anyone else’s interest in exploration, Fox wasn’t about to pretend he cared to object to another brief side excursion, given the progression of their overall expedition thus far. While the rest of the initial landing party advanced to explore, Fox elected to hang back at the cliff’s edge to help supervise the ferrying of the remaining members to the top and making sure everyone was accounted for in the meantime. He wouldn’t stay at this for long, however, for a more pressing matter soon demanded his attention. The slightly distant sounds of clashing, roaring, lightning, and a singular report of gunfire caught his ear and drew his eye behind him to the commotion that had quickly broken out in the nearby ruins. Recognizing it as a sudden priority, Fox set off posthaste to lend his aid.

Weaving around one another in loose formation, the Roader trio were fast approaching the gathered heroes on their return to the fray, every bit intent on running them down. Before they could close in, however, a bright, ringing pitch cut through the air as Fox appeared right on top of one with a boot to its back and a hand on its collar, forcing it into a violent spin to sweep its brothers off their treads. After building enough centripetal force, he let go of the spinning Roader, flinging himself into a multi-rotational corkscrew twist. During this stunt he squeezed off a single heavier shot aimed for the larger creature’s forehead, and finished with a landing inside kick brought down onto the wheeled monster’s helm, launching it overhead flipping end over end to crash wherever it may.

Level: 6 (58 -> 60/60) LEVEL UP! ---> 7 (0/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue - Limsa Lominscuttle Town -> The Bismarck
Word Count: 876 (+2 EXP)

On her way (literally) down to street-level to regroup with the rest of her party, Hat Kid spotted them passing by in an apparent hurry on their way to somewhere else. She tilted her head in curiosity at the sight while swinging from her line attached bottom-side to suspended cargo mid-haul, then detached on the forward swing into a gainer tuck to hit the street in a run, augmented with a quick switch to her Sprint Hat. Whatever was so important to inspire the sudden sense of urgency in everyone she was swiftly on her way to finding out for herself, as a few corner-cutting bounds, dives and boosted somersaults coupled with a creative shortcut choice or two would likely have her passing at least half of them in a matter of seconds along the way. She ended up getting ahead of even herself as she ended up nearly tripping over her own feet correctively doubling back to huddle in with Ace and his new companion after she noticed them stop at their target destination in passing.

She concluded upon closer inspection that they had arrived at what seemed to be a nice looking outdoor restaurant at an oddly slow hour for late afternoon. She mentally raced to answer her own questions as to exactly why they were there. She admitted to herself that the day had been long, having ventured and fought through one region just earlier the same morning into this one, and she could use a good bite and a nap, if that’s what was on the itinerary. She wondered then if the plan was to have their team meeting over food, as if that might make sense of the rush. Why not just place a tentative reservation for an as of yet indeterminately sized party of at least a dozen or more, if they were that worried about landing a seat in the establishment. Did they even check the ratings on this place?

Then she spotted the real reason for their being there. Oh, hey! It’s that guy, she thought to herself when noticing Link already seated. I know it’s only been a little over an hour or two, but I almost forgot about him. And who’s the lady he’s sitting across from? It’s pretty obvious she’s trying to impress someone with the immodest getup. This must be what they call ‘dating’, where strangers talk about themselves to each other over dinner, sit silently in a theater together afterwards, argue about who’s paying for it all, then go home, right? Do we really have time for that though? Aren’t we at war, or something? She should just let him down easy and- Ooooh! She brought him here and is keeping him against his will. I see.

As she was catching up on the truth of the situation at hand, Cadet and the Frog were deliberating briefly on a course of action, neither of whom bothered to address the waiter. Rude! Hat Kid decided not to leave the already underappreciated service worker hanging, and counted on her fingers the total number of mouths in their party as she went over it in her head before simply flashing the waiter all ten digits as a broad answer requesting a table for at least that many, with room for more if and as need be.

With that aside, and an apparent plan of attack in place, Hat Kid assumed her best game face and posture for stealth, complete with finger gun, and quickly, quietly assumed ‘cover’ beneath a nearby table set with an insufficiently sized cloth to conceal her as she drew out a path for approach in her head. She would have plenty of time to figure it out, as the witch didn’t seem to notice or otherwise care about their presence, save for the Cadet providing for a successful, if unconvincing, distraction. She used this chance to dive behind a bussing cart to send it into motion while she remained hidden behind it. This move, while principally sound, turned out to be counterintuitive, for it accomplished nothing as far as improving her positioning and in fact wheeled her further away from the objective table than she had started.

She realized at this point not to get playfully caught up in the stealth aspect and gently scooted back the way she came. Ace’s ill-conceived ploy began to falter as things looked to be on their way to breaking down. The child alone was close, keen, and aware enough to spot the sinister irregularity in Link’s shadow, its weapon at the ready where his wasn’t. She couldn’t guess whether it could affect or be affected by other shadows only or the physical objects that cast them as well. It was safe to assume a voodoo-esque effect either way, and she didn’t have time to warn Ace about it. Her immediate idea to counter it was to shove the cart his way to obscure Link’s shadow with its own, crashing it harmlessly into the Cadet if she had to, in hopes that might nullify any action by the umbral puppet. The child’s next action would depend on those taken by the sorceress, for which she would wait as she moved back into hiding, however she could manage.

Level: 6 (24 -> 42 -> 43/60)
Location: Smash City Alcamoth
Word Count: 691 (+1 EXP)

Being no strangers to portal travel (as of their debut), the duo strode seamlessly through the teleporter to arrive within the ever busy Smash City. Probably slower than they should have given the apparent urgency of their departure. After the day’s events, they were similarly in no hurry to head off to anywhere else just yet, so they decided instead to wander away from the pack and take the opportunity to explore the hub and savor their much needed momentary reprieve from their ongoing endeavor. Perhaps it was a good time to revisit and sneakily raid the Cucco pens in Lumbridge again to stock back up on their essential materials. Banjo would have felt slightly bad about robbing the caretaker (again) of resources he may have not even known he had or were at all valuable, if not for the question of who else he would otherwise sell them to--both better left unsaid, he thought, lest the owner attempt and succeed, thus diminishing their supply chain. If they were lucky, their repeat pilfering might miraculously yield a Golden Feather or two, or a different Egg type, but they would take what they could get if they didn’t get caught doing it.

Following the success or failure of their Egg hunt, the two decided to check on the status of the Dead Zone in the best way they knew how: by making a precarious climb to Alcamoth’s highest point in search of a vantage point to survey it from. It took some doing, creativity, and time, having to work with and around smooth surfaces, but eventually Banjo managed to laboriously haul himself and Kazooie atop the grand tower, having forgone the convenience of Flight for the sake of resource conservation. The effort spared turned out a fruitless waste, however, for they could see naught from the peak of their respective island but the Eryth Sea and the mountainous rim that encompassed it, with a sparse glimpse of the Sandswept Sky beyond its northeastern edge. Banjo futily peered out into the horizon, squinting, straining his sight for focus from underneath a visoring hand to no avail.

“Anything on your end, Kazooie?” Banjo asked redundantly, as if her foot of neck height on him would make any meaningful amount of difference.

“Nothing,” she answered, shaking her head. “You’d think a floating island could at least sit high enough to make it worth it,” she complained, mostly from a perspective of situational inconvenience.

“Should we maybe go ask one of the others who know more about it?”

“That would’ve been the smarter thing to start with, yeah.”

Banjo answered with a nod before adding, “Alright. Your turn to get us back down.”

“That’s fair,” she agreed, and proceeded to lift them both skyward and direct them on a slow, careful descent back to the main atrium.

A quick inquiry to Vandham (or the next available de facto authority figure) regarding Nero’s direction or whereabouts would have the duo shortly on their way to finding him. Though the question/s they had were simple enough that anyone in charge might have been able to answer them, Nero was the only one of the Dead Zone party to exposit any knowledge or awareness of a plan to obliterate the region with whatever kind of ‘bomb’ could accomplish that, so that made him the best closest person to ask about it.

Once they found the Devil Hunter trio again--probably wherever Dante could get pizza, a strawberry sundae and a cheap drink in the same place--Banjo worked his way awkwardly into the line of questioning.

“Excuse me, Mr… uhh… Niro, right?” Only half, deducting for misspelling and pronunciation, with Kazooie above him vaguely signing ‘close enough’. “Since we can’t see the place we just left from here,” he started.

“Believe it; we tried,” Kazooie briefly interrupted to clarify, met with an affirming nod from Banjo as he continued.

“When this ‘bomb’ does go off, how will we know? As almost stupidly simple as his opening question was in its simplicity, for critical punctuality’s sake (assuming anyone cared about that), it was one no less deserving of a valid answer.

Level: 6 (57 -> 58/60)
Location: Limsa Lominscuttle Town - Sky’s Hatchery -> Pirate’s Cove?
Word Count: 523 (+1 EXP)

Hat Kid confirmed her intentions to Sky with a nod, and her expression fell a couple of steps when she received answers to her own questions--that being a hard ‘no’ on all accounts. To start, Sky didn’t seem too happy with the child’s idea of crossing the Bottomless Sea on the back of one of her ‘babies’ (her fondness presumably extended even to the likes of the Crow Demon), but tried to reel in her displeasure with the idea as she expressed her concerns, further highlighting the apparent dangers of the child’s target destination. What was that about “dog fights” though? Like, with planes--NOT birds (or bird-like)--or are dogs somehow involved too? Whatever meaning the child took, the avian caretaker seemed oddly versed in the subject either way, but she didn’t have time to worry about dog ethics.

More importantly, it was made abundantly clear that none of them would be able to survive long enough to facilitate a round trip as needed, as expressed from a point of reasonable doubt by Sky herself. Thus, they were deemed unfit and ineligible for the prospective journey over the treacherous Sea, even if their owner were to allow for it. Still, Kid didn’t mean to upset her at all with her request, unaware of what it constituted until then.

“Sowry,” she said simply, coming dangerously close (though not entirely by accident) to cutely bending all of the consonants in her apology. It was right around the time that Sky was making an exception for the Cheepoofs that a familiar from the child’s adventuring party had arrived with a plus one, specifically looking for her. The Ace Cadet announced himself in, waving her down to fill her in on the next step, and introduced her to a frog he picked up along the way. Between owls, penguins, crows, goats, seals, and now frogs, she figured for no particular reason that she could probably do worse as far as new animal species to collaborate get acquainted with.

When asked by Cadet about the fruitfulness of her detour, she simply responded with a shrug and a head shake, but then she caught herself ‘speaking’ too soon and paused, squinting thoughtfully. Leaning in to whisper in the hunter’s ear, she relayed the perils spoken of by the shopkeeper; “saves big enough to drown ships whole, tentacled leviathans,” and something about a nondescript “machine” that some “girl” told her about. Cadet could inquire or investigate further from there if he wanted, but as far as she was concerned, her business there was concluded (albeit empty-handedly). After Ace said his piece in response, Hat Kid would saunter over to the open deck area of the Hatchery where she came in at (in lieu of the door in the closed half) as she made ready to leave back out the same way, in accordance with the assembly call delivered unto her.

“Bye!” She bid Sky adieu as a monosyllabic thanks for her time and unfulfilled business as she leapt from the deck and began making her quick, controlled descent to the port where she last saw everyone to reconvene with them.

Level: 5 (6 -> 7/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky
Word Count: 628 (+1 EXP)

From the helm of Naboris, Fox watched the distance between them and the pyramid gradually shorten one titanic step at a time until they shortly came inbound. Seeing as much for himself, he hardly needed Poppi’s announcement to be aware of the Thieves and Primrose’s impending arrival, and moved preemptively to meet them at the top of the lower deck once they came aboard. As observed, they brought yet another newcomer on with them as well, by the name of Alibaba, which one could surmise as the answer to the question of who they went looking for. The question of how they knew to look there in the first place would be a matter of speculation for anyone who cared. With all of them--plus one--safely accounted for, Fox bade them welcome for their return.

“Good to have you aboard,” he politely directed to Alibaba with a nod. “We’re a long ways from done here. I hope we can count on you for the rest of the mission ahead,” he beseeched Joker and his crew, awaiting any one of their replies before excusing himself to split off from the group on a separate path from Joker, but not before addressing the presented order of what to do with the Divine Beast should they reach an impassable point with it. “Up ahead or later on, we’ll have to get off eventually, but we’ll worry about that when we get to it. Until then, we’ll take it as far as it can go, and go from there on foot if we have to.” As a career fighter pilot, Fox knew as well as anyone the eventuality of needing to step out of the cockpit and hoof it, so the prospect bothered him none. Still, he didn’t consider abandoning Naboris altogether to be in the cards, for it was simply better to have a flagship (or the closest practical equivalent they had to it) for extended transport than not.

With that taken care of for the time being, Fox headed for one of the outer decks at Naboris’ shoulders to secure a forward view of their travel, unimpeded by the actual head of the Beast had he gone there instead. It didn’t take long for Midna to follow and question him on his mood regarding the turnout of their previous side venture, citing the "look" of him as precedent for concern. He was unaware that it 'looked' to be anything at all besides mere self-dismissal to collect one’s thoughts and reassess their progress in the face of the daunting tasks that no doubt lay ahead. Perhaps he wasn’t so keen at burying his discontent beneath the veil of pragmatism as he hoped, or maybe he never was. Certainly, there was no shortage of things for him to be bothered by; further questions, lingering concerns, creeping doubts, relevant memories, but nothing he cared (or felt comfortable) to discuss, preferring not to spend untimely, undue attention on them.

“Do we still have our heading?” he inquired of her regarding their plotted course and destination, maintaining his default stoical bearing as he did. “What can you see from here?” he asked further, hoping and expecting her second set of Beastial eyes would somehow afford her the best lay of the land on their continued travel, and that she may be able to pick out any vital details ahead of their arrival. In light of the questioning, he aimed to present himself not as one dodging a question, but one simply focused on what mattered, looking ahead rather than behind. Which is not to say that he wasn’t doing that. Rather, he was just trying slightly harder to. Either way, he hoped Midna would accept it for an honest answer, and think no more of it.

Level: 6 (21 -> 24/60)
Location: Dead Zone - Final Atrium/Library Ruins -> ???
Word Count: 1936 (+3 EXP)

After the fragmented masses of the library ruin settled back to the Earth following Marie’s defeat, Banjo and Kazooie drifted down gently onto solid ground, having Sprang from their footing beforehand, carried on Kazooie’s wings to slow their descent. The final root, having been irrevocably bound to Marie (unbeknownst to her, and much to her misfortune), fell to ash with her destruction. The duo observed as much when looking about as Banjo’s feet gently met terra firma once more, but with further observation, they could see that they weren’t finished here. Banjo began walking towards Nadia and the Skull Heart she had sought, halting at her gestured command, then watched and waited patiently, cautiously, while she underwent her moment of repeat character development.

She ultimately refused the Heart, even now that it and all that it promised were finally within her reach, after fighting so hard for so long to find it. The Heart, of course, insisted she reconsider, whilst extending its tempting proposal to the rest of the women present, emphasizing the stipulation of gender exclusion. Even Dante, by pure technicality, wasn’t ruled out as a candidate, for to the Heart, it surely made little to no difference. If one had considered this standard of ‘good enough’ that it evidently worked by, it would doubtlessly come across as yet another bad sign.

“Hmm… any wish?” Even knowing better, Kazooie still acted to consider for a second the opportunity presented to her. The conceptual examples of “perennial excitement and adventure” and “returning what was lost” in particular struck a chord with her, as they were one and the same in her mind. Besides that, the specifics of her ponderings were a matter of curiosity that would remain unresolved.

“Don’t even think about it,” Banjo bluntly interjected almost admonishingly, shutting down any such prospects or considerations of corrupted wish fulfillment his partner might have had, be they serious or not, to which she silently conceded.

The bear and bird’s eyes affixed to the imposing, enigmatic new entrant just as he passed close by them, having somehow escaped their notice up to that point. He walked slowly amongst them with singular purpose, and apparent disregard for the presence of any others, moving for the Skull Heart even as Bowser began barking threats at it. All attention swiftly moved away from either of them when a seemingly unlikely taker took hold of the Skull Heart, and began pleading her case.

More than a respectable number of eyes went wide, hands went out, and voices were raised in urgency when Linkle voiced serious intentions of wishing upon the Heart, insisting that if it was for the greater good, any suffering incurred on her part would be worth it.

“W-wait! Miss… err…” Banjo began, stumbling over his thoughts and words as he tried to recall the girl’s name, having not actually spent much time around or interacted with in any capacity up until now.

“We should do something, right? Kazooie suggested, a rare sense of alarm faintly present in her voice.

Shaking his head, Banjo said no more and started beelining for the Hylian and the artifact she held. Recognizing resistance, she bounded away from the group to higher ground, but the duo persisted still, switching from Banjo’s feet to Kazooie’s. They could and would still try to reach her, even if no one else could, by propelling themselves her way with a running Shock Spring Jump. Banjo turned and flailed mid-flight to reach for the Heart, but came nowhere close to touching it by the time Linkle made her wish. They were repelled by the wave of invisible energy, knocking them back down to ground level to tumble away. They stood up from where they stopped and could do nothing but watch helplessly at what transpired next.

The Skull Heart was quick as one might expect to betray its new beneficiary (if she could truly be called that), honing in on the one personal flaw it could find in her otherwise altruistic request. Admirably, Linkle tried as she could to not succumb to the corruptive power she had already submitted herself to, but resist as she might, the wish could not be undone; the Skull Heart would have its way. Just as her transformation hit its peak, nearing completion, time and all were suddenly brought to a standstill… all except for the one who made it so. The same robed figure from before warped in for seemingly no other reason than to remind the party of their mission, providing them with a suspicious sum of incentive to prioritize it, before absconding with their teammate through the dark rift that brought him there.

The temporal anomaly ceased, and time resumed for the party, though none knew in the moment what to do with it besides take some to process what had just transpired. It was disturbing and tragic just how easily even a noble soul such as her could, not so much be convinced, but convince herself that any amount of good could come of it. Perhaps she related it in her heart and mind to the more divine wish granting artifact of her world she knew tale of; that none of them would understand, or maybe she simply thought her good will would be enough to override the whims of the infernal Heart. Sadly, this single misstep on the hero’s path, which she believed herself destined for, sent her falling headlong into a dark ravine of ill fate.

Therein lay the true tragedy; that the Skull Heart wasn’t entirely wrong. Generally, all wishes were born of some inherent, often selfish desire or self-serving cause; even wishes for others seldom excluded the wisher. Moreover, one could not altogether dictate or circumvent cause and effect with a forced miracle, even if worded carefully. No grand benefit was or could ever be given for free, and the bill always came due. The problem was that the Skull Heart looked specifically for the crack in her morale to exploit, no matter how infinitesimal, so it may inflict its curse, making no honest account for the intent. In the end, that was all that mattered to it; all it needed; all it cared about, and it got what it wanted.

As for the Nobody, was he lying in wait the whole time waiting for this exact thing to happen, and if so, what nefarious ends did he aim to meet? That much, they were due to find out. The question was, when? Would they defeat the Qliphoth first, or find him along the way? Only time would tell.

“A cryin’ shame, isn’t it?” Mr. Bones chimed in, with a certain somberness in his voice. “That there are always people--or things--in this world lookin’ to take advantage of the good nature of others. If only she knew...” His guitar materialized in his hands once more, and he began improvising lines of a slow, reverberant, melancholic riff between sentences. “There’s no such thing as a pure wish; just good intentions… and you know what they say about those… and if there’s no rest for the wicked, then what’s that say about the righteous? Still, if she wanted to do some good--to be a hero--why not let her? To help others who can’t help themselves isn’t the worst thing a person could want. So what if she wanted her own story to be told? Ain’t those the stories most worth tellin’? I know it doesn’t always work out that way sometimes, but every now and then, one’s good deeds deserve to be rewarded, not punished. Besides, to be-”

Bones’ piece--music and speech--came to a halt as he was drowned out by a resounding, furious roar from the Koopa King unlike any they had heard from him thus far, belted out ahead of him decking the newcomer across the length of what was left of the library. Those among them who knew how things worked here knew they were now in for a fight… which was brought to a swift, unceremonious end when everyone present with a firearm lit up the returning attacker simultaneously. From there, Bowser himself elected to clear him with a Friend Heart, expecting somehow that the man would be more reasonable going forward, and gave him an abridged rundown on the overall situation at hand.

“Well, that was easy.”

“Well, that was easy.”

Mr. Bones and Kazooie declared in unison, then exchanged looks to one another. “Now, where was I?” Bones cleared his throat (out of theatricality rather than need), found his last place on the fretboard, and flipped a switch on his demeanor to pick right back up where he left off.

“To be a hero, you could say, is already its own punishment; in no need of more. Heroes don’t live happily ever after, they make sacrifices so that the rest of us can. That was her choice to make… and she made it hoping no one else would have to. If you can’t call that heroic, heh... then I don’t know what you can call it.”

“Don’t you have an empty grave somewhere to occupy?” Kazooie rebuked, as her way of expressing that she grew tired of the skeleton’s threnodic waxing philosophical.

“Don’t mind her, Mr. Bones.” Banjo interjected, foregoing his usual scolding of Kazooie in lieu of a consoling pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure we’re all just a little upset about what happened.”

“Can’t say I blame you. Poor girl deserved better,” Bones sympathized, keeping the musical accompaniment going by second motion as he continued. “I once dealt with a man who believed good could only manifest where evil thrived, and sought to make that happen. Didn’t care what it cost, or who it would affect, or how; just the result. But your friend… she didn’t want anyone to suffer for it. She just wanted to do what she thought was right. But then again, I’m sure he thought the same.” He paused thoughtfully at the realization, trying not to linger too hard on any of the implications. “Right about now, I almost wish he was right. Almost. But I think we’ve all had about enough of ‘wishes’ for one day.”

Banjo nodded along with Bones’ monologue as it reached its conclusion, the melody fading out in kind. “We should probably get out of here,” Banjo echoed the going recommendation, acknowledging no further the outgoing subject matter for lack of anything more of value to contribute to the discussion around it at present.

Bones concurred with a nod. “Any idea where we’re goin’?”

“Nope, but safe guess is it’s better than here.”

“I hate to play devil’s advocate by pointing out the obvious here, but isn’t there still a main boss who’s butt we have to whoop? I’m no more eager than anyone else to stick around here to race a time limit myself, but…”

“Well, if this place is going up, then it’ll just take care of itself.”

“You sure about that? Because this doesn’t strike me as something skippable, and it might even be harder to get to when we inevitably come back for it later. Just a feeling.”

*sigh* “You’re probably right, but I’d rather do it when we’re better prepared and have more time, like we’re used to. It’s not like it’d be our first time backtracking anyway.”

“Fair enough.”

With that, Mr. Bones dismissed his guitar and followed everyone’s lead in-line with Banjo and Kazooie behind everyone else. Unless anyone of sound mind within the group had any reasonable objections or better ideas (whatever that might be), that would be through the teleporter leading out.

Level: 5 (6 -> 9 (-3) -> 6/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Lakeside; outbound
Word Count: 2186 (+3 EXP)

As it turned out, Fox and company had a good deal more support than he anticipated, for every outspoken defector risked throwing their lot in with Yellow Team rather than taking the Administrator’s obvious bait of cyclical immortality. The Heavy, despite being the last in line behind them, was the first to fall in, with gusto. Thankfully, they weren’t trying too hard for stealth, for among other things, the boisterous giant’s enthusiastic beckoning to their foes made that an impossibility. With a satisfied smirk at the fortuitous turnout, Fox nodded Heavy over, setting him up to bat. Heavy and his comrades let fly in trade with the opposition while the two he knew fanned out on Fox’s order. The Russian then looked to him for a plan he didn’t exactly have, but he had enough of an idea to provide him with a simple directive.

“Just keep it up! Make for the camel and cover their exit.” Not long after the skirmish commenced, the dust storm he requested began rolling in, with Naboris in tow. “I’ll be right behind you,” he said almost inaudibly--mostly to himself--before splitting off to make his move. With Heavy’s suppressive fire, Braum’s mobile cover, the combined abilities of everyone else, and of course, Midna backing them with a Divine Beast, he trusted his team to have things figured out in his momentary absence.

“Not dead yet,” declared the freshly resurrected Soldier with a sigh as he hurriedly exited the BLU spawn point. He sprinted out into the dark tan, low-category ‘fog of war’ of buffeting sands rendered suddenly into being by means that eluded him, forcing him to rely mostly on his memory for field layout and ally/enemy placement. Not that this proved much of an issue for him, for that was the benefit of reviving mid-battle; it gave you the chance to learn, adjust your approach, and try again. By now he had done enough of it to know plenty of ways to flank the either enemy teams, which he aimed to do starting with Yellow, being the critical priority amongst them. As he would soon find out, however, one of theirs had a similar idea.

As he rounded the second or third corner on his path, the Soldier was blindsided by the Fox from earlier, booting down his rifle before he could raise it in response and staggering him with four more whirling kicks to his chest, sides and head to follow. He lifted his gun to shield himself from the running straight kick that came next, redirecting it past him, then drove the butt of the rifle into Fox’s cheek. Soldier held firm, driving Fox back as he attempted to face the bore to his head while Fox struggled in kind to prevent the same. The deadlock ended after a few seconds when Fox gained a hand in leverage to throw the gun out of their hands and away from both of them, whereupon he drew his sidearm, pressed its lens to Soldier’s abdomen, and drilled into him with rapid fire.

“AAargh!” he cried sharply as focused red light burned through him, frustratedly swatting aside the sidearm on reflex. He retaliated with a solid headbutt, which may or may not have hurt worse with a snout than a humanoid nose, anchoring the vulpine to him by his wrist to make sure he connected. He used the momentary opening it left him to sling Fox around by the arm with one hand while driving his head into the wall with the other. Fox responded with a reverse knee stomp to drop Soldier down a height onto another point, loosening his hold enough to take a propelling step off the wall and come down onto the back of his head with an overhead tornado kick.

The grappling knee strikes from Fox to follow, aimed for Soldier’s head, met only defending palms, having recovered in time to raise his guard against the aggressive vulpine. He caught him by his leg on the third strike and lifted up as he rose from his forced kneel with intent to put Fox on his back only for him to counter by throwing himself into backflip to break the grapple and end up back on his feet, catching Soldier by the chin with the toe of his boot for his trouble. As he moved back in on the stumbling Soldier, Fox caught a glancing backfist to his jaw, but ducked with the hit, spun low, and kept moving, throwing a flying knee into his chest that pinned him back against the wall. When he extended to hit him with a side kick to the abdomen and face each, Soldier once again guarded and caught the second, but this time went forward instead of up with a right cross to take Fox down.

The differences in their styles and approach to hand-to-hand combat became evident after only a few moments of trading blows. The Soldier’s way was that of an older man--well-worn warrior--long-lived in a profession that often got younger men killed. Simpler, efficient, and brutal when necessary. No tricks; just results. Fox, conversely, fought like a younger man with bold, energetic tenacity, but with a sense of focus, awareness, and composure afforded by experience. This much they both seemed to have in common to differing degrees, and they were both starting to realize that--that neither of them were dealing with just some common merc/vigilante upstart.

Both combatants went to the ground, Fox catching the Soldier on his free foot, sprang him and himself upward, and sent him away with a parting kick to the sternum. Soldier rolled with the hit, literally, as he recovered his weapon and had it immediately trained on Fox the second he rose to a crouch and began opening fire. Realizing this, Fox doubled back to retrieve his blaster, suffering piercing shots through the back of his calf, thigh, ribcage and clavicle that caused him to stumble into a dive for his weapon. While inverted, he squeezed off a single impact shot that grazed the Soldier’s temple, missing him by the thick of his brow and knocking his mask loose, as he scrambled for the nearest cover.

Morrison fell back as well, deploying a Biotic Field at his feet to self-restore with the moment granted to him to do so, re-donning his mask in that time. He would not, however, allow his foe the same luxury of respite or recovery; to nurse his wounds or otherwise. With his Tactical Visor engaged, he let fly a triad of Helix Rockets at the cover he knew Fox took, obliterating it almost entirely and forcing him out into the open.

Fox instinctively threw up his Reflector to return every round of aim-assisted heavy pulse fire that came his way, prodding Soldier into a momentary ceasefire to prevent further self-harm. Fox then took advantage of the gap in his opponent’s offense to rapidly close the distance between them, split-second blitzing past the strafing gunman in a phantasmal blur to deliver a sailing roundhouse kick to his chest that sent him flying back against the door of the nearby building. He chased him with another dash, not intent on allowing him room to breathe, as he connected a straight flying kick to his torso that buckled the door inward behind him before the explosive burst that followed blew it open completely.

Both combatants fell prone into the room as the door violently came loose from its hinges, a light shower of rubble breaking off from where they used to be. Fox was first to rise of the two, after drawing his sidearm from prone and training it on the opening to ensure that the coast was clear, in case any more hostiles managed to find and decide to follow them in. He hovered his free hand over his chest to pull a Heart, tossed it onto the semi-conscious Soldier, and waited for it to take full effect while he clutched his bullet-wounded shoulder. Groaning, the Soldier soon came to, all of his color and part of his vitality returned to him, but short on clue or memory to make sense of his surroundings or situation.

“What happened? Where the hell am I?” he asked, mostly to himself, as he sat up and began surveying the area, trying his best to piece together some kind of valid assessment.

“I don’t know,” said the only other person in the room as he moved to pick up Soldier’s gun for him, “but we can’t stay.” Fox handed him his weapon back by the safe end, trusting (or moreso hoping) that he wouldn’t try to turn it on him this time. “Our ride’s about to leave without us. If we hurry we can still catch them.”

“And you are...?” the Soldier scoffed, rising to his feet with a hand on one of his sides.

“Here to help,” Fox replied in short.

“Hmph. You’ve got a funny way of doing it,” he remarked on his cumulative observations about what had transpired, concluding that he had just gotten out of a fight with someone and having no one else to look at. “Forgive me for not taking you on your word.”

“I don’t have time to explain,” he affirmed calmly. “All I can say is you’re better off getting out of here with us than staying to fight whoever’s left.” Without delving into specifics, that much went largely without saying. “We’ve done all we can here for now.”

“Well, I hope you have something more for me to go on if you plan on putting a gun back in my hand.” Fox took his meaning in that he may otherwise regret doing so. Lacking for a better answer, he simply shook his head and gave him his best point of rationale he could pull on the spot.

“Just that I’ve been where you are, and we’re both still alive.” It made sense enough as basic reasoning went. Either of them could have just as easily been dead by now. Though, it wasn't difficult to tell that the Soldier wasn’t entirely convinced. He did notice however that a line of blood was dripping out of Fox’s sleeve and down his forearm. As if conceding the matter, he reclaimed his weapon from Fox and drew a small yellow cylinder from his vest.

“Here,” he said, planting it at both of their feet to activate the radial healing field that seemed to almost miraculously sew up their injuries. “Heal up, then get out of here,” he commanded softly (as much as his gruff bearing allowed for anyway) as he approached the building’s exit.

Fox nodded, and began, “We make for the Southern border. Evac’s just outside of the compound. You can’t miss it-”

“I’m not coming.” Fox went silent with the abrupt declaration, needing not ask ‘why’, for a vague explanation would be handed out freely. “I appreciate the ‘help’, and the offer,” the latter he sounded a touch more sincere about, “but I’ve got my own way of doing things… and I’ve got to do them alone.” These two sentiments in particular resonated with Fox, as he has said and done both of them before. Even without knowing, he somehow understood. He thus made no effort to stop him or change his mind as he took his parting steps out, and as soon as the Biotic Field generator burned out, Fox would be right behind in doing the same.

In a full sprint, Fox made it back to Naboris in the midst of its heated getaway. He leapt onto the ramp leading in as the Beast began to rise, managing to board just as it was about to climb out of his reach. This made him the last passenger to come aboard on their continued journey as they made their way onward. Once they were clear on their escape, he made his way to Naboris’ helm, stone-facedly marching past the others as he conducted his own head count in passing, neglecting in his wake to answer Tora in so doing. Midna accounted, without being asked, for the missing Primrose, and had already set course for the pyramid where she departed to.

Despite the clear influx of new recruits on-board that marked a clear net gain for the party, Fox couldn’t help feeling like he came away partly empty-handed on his end. He went out of his way to free the Spirit of one who struck him as being among the more important figures among the REDs and BLUs, enacting his plan to set the example he told Midna he would, and now he wouldn’t know if he made the wise choice or if it would in any way pay off. Perhaps the best he could hope for in that case was to have planted a seed of rebellion against the presumably omnipotent; that the chain of Spiritual emancipation and resurrection would not end there. Regardless, it would do him no good to dwell on it with no way of knowing for sure. He would just have to believe.

Level: 6 (22 -> 25 (-4) -> 21/60)
Location: Dead Zone - Final Atrium
Word Count: 1600 (+3 EXP)

Blue Eggs: 30/100
Red Feathers: 36 -> 30/50

“*sigh* Do we really have to do this?” Banjo bemoaned, standing before their opponent in recognition of who they were; a loosely familiar character from before, and a kindred spirit to the duo (in the more traditional sense).

“Believe me, I don’t like it either,” Mr. Bones sympathized. “The last time this happened, I had a little more say in it--took it up with the man responsible--but it just ain’t up to me this time. For what it’s worth, I’d have done things differently.”

“Right,” Kazooie interjected almost dismissively. “So… no hard feelings then?”

“None whatsoever,” he replied sincerely with a headshake, a long blink, and a shrug, “and sorry in advance for whatever happens next.” By then, Banjo had already strolled up within arms reach of Bones and abruptly pulled his off while he wasn’t looking, prompting a wide-eyed take from him as he looked at both now empty sockets.

“Me too,” he replied with a soft smile before swatting Bones’ head off with a single heavy paw swing. The duo watched his skull tumble to a stop in what appeared to be an anticlimactic conclusion to their encounter.

“Eh… I’m not,” Kazooie commented bluntly. “Well, that was easy. What now?” They’d not, however, have a moment to idly ponder their next move, and not simply because there was enough going on around them already. Their attention moved to the crumpled skeletal mass at Banjo’s feet as they witnessed the remains reanimate and rise to reassembly before them, little worse for wear.

“Woah!” Bones exclaimed mock shaking off dizziness while he manually adjusted his reattached head. “It’s a good thing I couldn’t feel that.” Banjo looked at the loose arm still in his other hand then back to Bones as Kazooie opened her mouth to say something. Before she could get a word out, Bones continued. “Oh… yeah. Funny thing, right? I’m one’a the only guys here who can do that. Sadly, you’ll hurt to see how.” With that, Bones’ loose arm magnetized back into place, pulled to buy a tether of blue electricity, and touched a jolting index finger arcing with plasmatic energy to Banjo’s chest to begin zapping him as a demonstration.

Banjo howled a painful vibrato as he was shocked to his bones, literally, with Bones’ unique power of ‘Skeletism’ that had been, up to now, untested on an organic, mammalian being. Seeing as it managed to freeze up the burly ursine, it seemed to work no worse than usual. Kazooie took over to knock Bones loose with a heavy, rearing peck (more akin to a sharp headbutt) to detach the skeleton’s head once more, ending his sustained attack while he put himself back together. Bones, being just that and a soul, was fragile and easy enough to pick and break apart with a single direct hit from either of them. The problem was with keeping him down without knowing how, as he could simply keep reforming as long as he held a (positive) charge. Even anchoring one of his loose arms down underfoot didn’t stop him from grabbing an errant spare limb from any one of the other scattered skeletons around.

That reminded the duo that there was still a bigger fight going on around them. They figured their efforts would be better spent everywhere else before coming back to Bones, who would be no issue by then, if they didn’t learn how he ticked first. Until then, he posed as little more than a distraction for them, so with that in mind they took off into the air to get a lay of the field before moving in on it, putting them out of Bones’ way.

“See, now that just ain’t good sport. It’s already two against one, and they can fly?” he said to no one in particular, raising a brow he no longer had before shaking his head disapprovingly. “Let’s see if we can do somethin’ about that.” A guitar then materialized in his hands with a sweep of generative pink sparks, and he began improvising an electrical, leading melody. In a stretch of possibility, the red energy that brought the bear and bird airborne faded to blue, bringing them to a gradual, but hastening descent. Kazooie did a panic take upon noticing this, and burned two more Red Feathers to counteract the effect only to watch them futily wilt to blue still, dropping them even faster in doing so. Banjo did his best bracing them for impact by tucking into their crash landing, rolling and skidding to a stop that left him face down with his chin to the floor.

“Oh… because he plays the blues. I get it,” Kazooie uttered unamusedly, cluing into the metacommentary behind Bones’ ability and nature. Bones strolled up in front of the downed pair, guitar still in hand, and clarified…

“To be honest wit’cha, I wasn’t sure that’d work, but I guess that’s what they call ’facin’ the music’, huh?” Bones jested rhetorically with a light chuckle, prompting an eyeroll from Kazooie and a groaning sigh from Banjo. “Look, I know we’re all just bein’ talked into this, but don’tcha think we ought to see our parts through? I think it’s only fair we finish what we started.” Evidently, the duo disagreed, opting instead to roll sideways over the edge, dropping themselves from the platform out of sight.

“Ain’t that a shame,” Bones sighed, lowering and shaking his head in disappointment. “If only things had been different when we met. Maybe we could’a been friends in another life. Probably the last,” he pondered, failing to notice the encroaching heat death of Bowser’s empowered fireball behind him until its brightening glow could no longer be ignored. He turned around to face it, realizing too late what the bear and bird were really avoiding. “Oh…” he said wide-eyed before the inferno bowled over and scattered him.

Banjo managed to catch a hold of the landmass of cyan coils in their evasive tumble. Shortly to follow was Mr. Bones’ unconscious head soaring in a steep arc and falling past them. Banjo freed a hand to catch what was left of the amiable revenant, leaving himself to hang precariously by one in doing so. The duo exchanged a look of understanding before Kazooie took over where Banjo had his hands full, tapping her partner’s chest to bring out a Friend Heart and slapping it onto Bones’ head to wash away one half of the influence over him. When he woke, the red glints in the blacks of his blue eyes would be gone.

“Thanks for the pick me up,” said Bones with a soft whistle, “I wasn’t all myself back there. Still not, technically, but, uh… well, y’know…” he continued referring to his current physical state of being.

“I’m guessing that’s not just a skeleton joke...” Kazooie said in doubt about him regaining autonomy, realizing that he acted for someone other than Galeem.

“I’m afraid not,” Bones replied.

“Figures you might say that,” Banjo remarked, mild disappointment clear in his tone.

“Y’see, the little girl up there’s still callin’ the shots, and I can’t explain it, but me and her are… sort of on similar wavelengths, if y’know what I mean,” he explained, hinting that him and Marie both utilized some manner of necromantic energy that might rationalize a connection between them, as well as his continued survival in proximity to her.

“Not really,” Banjo retorted.

“Well… anyway, if y’all wouldn’t mind, I’d like to be free of this as soon as y’all could make that happen. I’ve seen this before, and I don’t wish it on anybody.”

“Try not to interrupt us while we’re at it then,” Kazooie demanded.

“I’ll try not to, but I can’t promise anything.” Even now, his Skeletism charged body attempted to reform itself with the first stray arm to fall overboard near them, which Kazooie promptly yanked off with her beak and threw away into the abyss. “Worst comes to worst, just keep me out of reach. Shouldn’t be hard for ya.”

“Will do.” With that, Banjo hauled all two and a quarter of them up to safety, but no sooner than they reached solid ground were they lifted right back off of it. Whether by telekinesis, an inversion of gravity, or some combination of both, Sans brought everyone within range up to his level, putting most of them at a momentary disadvantage. Fortunatly, Banjo and Kazooie (mostly her) were just as capable airborne as they were anywhere else. During their moment of weightlessness, Banjo punted away Bones’ head and rolled back into Kazooie’s windup for a Beak Bomb before shooting off. A direct impact appeared to be certain with Sans’ patient refusal to move, but when they reached him, they hit nothing.

With utmost casualty, Sans blinked himself (or them) out of the way at the last decisecond before contact. Kazooie braked and spun them in a u-turn, but failed to return or re-engage before Sans forcibly dropped everyone back down to the floor. In Banjo and Kazooie’s case, that was on the next level below, for they were suspended over nothing else by the time Sans reintroduced them to gravity. The pair were smote onto a floating islet beneath the main platform some ways, still alive, but generally worse off for the moment. Little did they know this would incidentally spare them the harmful chaos of the goings on above. They’d not sit out more than their predicament forced them to, however, as the pair picked themselves up and began their ascent back to the battlefield proper.

Level: 6 (56 -> 57/60)
Location: Limsa Lominscuttle Town - Sky’s Hatchery
Word Count: 491 (+1 EXP)

Hat Kid’s assessment turned out to be half correct; there were indeed things that could fly (or at least looked like they could) at the top. What she expected to find, however, was more of an airdock akin to the naval yard of the Bulwark Hall rather than a place of business sporting air vehicles of the more… alive variety. Being a storefront instead of a base, presumably accessible by anyone regardless of ability, made her roundabout method to get there moot. Furthermore, she could forget about casing the joint as she had originally intended in accordance with her prior expectations, as the establishment’s owner immediately noticed her upon arrival and welcomed her to browse their selection, which was probably the better alternative to what she had hoped for. Either way, it would ultimately fulfill the same purpose: to get her over the water.

Among the options presented, only half of them looked like they could reasonably support her for any respectable amount of time, and one of which she would rather not bother with at all. While she was partial to birds, despite her mixed history with them (and perhaps because of it), she wasn’t liking the way the crow demon looked, or looked at her, locking a knowing gaze on the child. The crows she dealt with in the past were shady enough on their own, but were otherwise harmless in spite of that. THIS crow was harmful by its downright nightmarish appearance alone. Was it even acceptable to have it on display for the eyes of the general public? Probably, considering children and families weren’t likely in the market for aerial mounts or a living, breathing, actual scarecrow anyway, so there was unlikely to be any business lost there.

The child shrank back nervously from the Crow with a look of equal parts disgust and worry that resettled as she continued looking over the rest of the available stock. Half of them didn’t appear capable of supporting her for any respectable distance or duration, and of the two she was partial to--the giant parrot and the Carbuncle--she wasn’t entirely sure that the latter was actually airworthy. Worse still, would either of them survive, or even manage the trip she had in mind? Perhaps the shop’s curator had something ‘off-shelf’ that would suit her better; something that wasn’t on open display. With that in mind Hat Kid inquired as much in her ‘silent’ explanation, indicating both of her planned headings--Inkwell Isle and the Bottomless Sea--by gesture...

...Then, she remembered she had a balance of exactly zero of any acceptable currency on her person. That was what she got for dealing fairly with career criminals. Her lack of funds was a matter she saw fit to leave out until the matter of compensation came up. At which point, of course, she would have to figure something out, but she wanted to see if Sky had anything worth her while first.

Level: 5 (4 -> 6/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Lakeside
Word Count: 836 (+2 EXP)

For a first, their attempt at swaying diplomacy appeared to be going surprisingly smoothly. Where Fox had expected some level of apprehension or resistance to their proposal, they were instead met with a gradually building line-up of eager new recruits, most of which were moved by seamingly little more than the desire and opportunity to make a greater contribution, their motives as of yet unspoken (save for Heavy). Just as a handful of willing crusaders-to-be were stepping forward to answer the call to action, the voice of displeased authority came over the loudspeaker to sour the whole negotiation. Fox’s almost visible satisfaction was quickly replaced with an alert response as his attention shot to the nearest source of the voice barking commands urgently calling for the trio’s termination. He might have guessed that someone was behind the looping turf war between those unwittingly gathered in the conspicuously symmetrical battleground they’d been calling home for an untold time, and silently cursed for being right.

Just like that, hopeful converts backed off against their better interest, motivated backwards by flash-bred skepticism. The Soldier did the honors (unintentionally) bringing to light a programmed facsimile of contrarian rationale; something about a ‘briefcase’ apparently containing sensitive intelligence that the crusader trio obviously knew nothing of, let alone would they care to steal it. Had that been the case, Fox couldn’t imagine why they would need to ‘distract’ or even bother engaging with them at all if they already weren’t paying attention to this thing they suddenly so valued enough to fight over but not enough to keep safely on their person. No, this wasn’t a healthy skepticism at work. This was the talk and action of one reaching for an excuse to repel outside influence in accordance with the brainwashing of their faceless masters; one they knew of, one they had yet to discover.

Yet, in spite of this attempt to engender an irreconcilable divide between all parties present, reasonable doubt and insubordination persisted among a few of the mercenaries. However, all it took was one voice in her favor calling ‘treachery’ to instigate conflict among them. Alas, where her attempts at militant sophistry failed to dissuade her subjects from defecting, she was able to leverage afforded privileges of conditional immortality over them to fan the flames of continued in-fighting, now with a more adversarial touch. The terms were set, the teams assembling, and the countdown initiated.

“Move!” Fox commanded Poppi and the Queen, as in ‘away’ to find the farthest cover they could reach before the countdown was up. It was clear that reason would serve them no further here, so it was time for them to fall back and improvise. Fox rapidly devised a course of action for the three of them and issued their parts in it as soon as they were out of sight. “Sectonia, alert the others, tell Midna we need cover. Get a sandstorm going. Poppi, find that case--OR her--then me,” he ordered, referring to the aforementioned briefcase and the Administrator, which they would likely find in the same place. “Wait for our cover to move,” he further clarified, expecting her to take his meaning through context.

He reasoned internally that Poppi could better move through the battlefield at speed unseen with her comparably lower profile, while Sectonia wouldn’t have to stress the same on a round trip to and from Naboris, and being the more eloquent of the two, she could better relay the call for backup. Furthermore, his sudden interest in the briefcase had more to do with the Administrator herself and her apparent knowledge of Spirits, which by itself made her a considerable enough threat to not want to send Poppi after her alone; just to find her first. Should she happen to return with a case of precious intel however, there was a chance they might actually be able to learn something useful from it.

As for Fox, he decided that the best and only thing they could do now was play their game, but he had no intention of playing it their, or rather her way, or by her rules. He would not honor the conventions of a dishonorable engagement. He preferred this time to disrupt the established order of controlled chaos, and she just gave him the perfect excuse to try. His idea was to start with the one player she couldn’t have managed this without, her compulsory lapdog, the Soldier, and go from there.

Fox and his team were neither RED nor BLU; they were one. Though, for the purpose of the scenario at play, they were still Yellow Team and would remain to be. Though outnumbered on both sides, with no respawns, they were short no advantages of their own with every plan to make use of them. Their hard-earned success here would mark YLW’s first victory in the last battle that would be fought on these grounds. Heeding his own directive to Poppi, he would await the obscuration of the battlefield by Midna through Naboris to mobilize.
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