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 same...um, 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.”