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4 yrs ago
dissertation done. can actually post again. yay.


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The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,045 (+2)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (79/90) (-5 for heart)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (75/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////(72/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Bottomless Ocean
Feat: Rika

“Eat this!” Rika yelled at the bullet riddled spine fish thing as she smashed its stupid face in with a hammer blow from her punching gauntlet. She dodged back after delivering that blow, ready to stab it with her bayonet or get the heck out of dodge, but the deed was already done, her right hook having ended the fish’s already flattering life, though bizarrely the punched face was the last thing to go as it exploded from tial down to tip.

Rika shook one arm to relieve the jarring the impact had caused while reaching out to grab the spirit of the fish as it fell in-order to crush it with the other, before turning to find new foes. It turned out however, that Shippy was finally out of the mess they’d made, which left only those near the spire in danger. Maybe if they had done as Peach said they’d have pulled out by now, but as it was, Bowser, and to lesser extent Ace, were both still right in the thick of it, and however that situation ended, the ship girl could only watch from one far.

And take the time to rearm herself, just in case they went actually out of the reef yet. It was when she was walking back to the dispenser to do so she finally realized the daring Miss Fortune had returned to them, by way of tripping over one of her disembodied arms.

“What was..? oh no!” she gasped and glanced around the ship, spotted all the other bits laying about and moved to clunkily try and scoop them all up while still strapped into her gauntlets “don't worry miss! We can put you back together. Right! Right?” she said, directing that last at Blazermate whom she considered the expert in people fixing.

Bowser grunted in pain as the green bolt from the monster girl hit him, but he didn’t let that stop him or slow his charge. She was on the ropes, the last little vestiges of power weren't going to stop him. Unfortunately, last vestiges turned out to include a held back trump card as the girl glowed with golden light and she suddenly gained another four tendrils, though these were a smaller fair than the pens that had been blasted and ruined by the rest of the team. Not that their size mattered much as the tiny terror declared that no, playtime was very much not over as she began to lay into him. The king tried to shoot these down these new limbs, but something let them hold fast against any punishment, and so the king was left with only one option.

To hunker down and bear it.

His shell locked in place and then bent and buckled under the onslaught. The little orange barrier of the mecha-mit held fast for only a moment and then floundered. The king however, did not. Though his armor buckled, his clothes were torn and his blood was spilled Bowser did what he did best and endured where others would have fallen or fled. For once, his stubbornness paid off, as the girl’s final gambit faltered, the golden light leaving her and taking her renewed tendrils with them.

The girl was stunned by his refusal to be put down and so, before she could muster more magics, he crossed the last meter separating them and picked her up in his claw, scaly fingers holding her tightly enough that she couldn't blast him, but not hard enough to crush her as he likely easily could.

”I was trying to help you, and I don't just do that for anyone, so attacking my minions was pretty rude of you,” he told her through labored breaths as he raised the friend heart he had held onto through the whole fight ”But you aren't yourself right now, so I'll cut you some slack and give you one more chance to accept my help. Don't waste it.”

The king pressed the heart against her forehead with a head pat and the effect started to take hold. She’d soon be free of the light. She’d also be completely restored where he was still fading and there wasn't a guarantee she’d be friendly even when Galeem’s influence had been washed away. It was a stupid risk, even he could see that. Any attempt he could have made to mitigate the stupidity in the moment where she was coming to terms with reality was pulled from under his feet when the sea stack gave up the ghost as the tentacle titan rammed it one last time and caused the top, which he was standing on holding the girl, to break off entirely and plummet towards the waves. The mass of stone plummeted, bringing him and the newly freed monstergirl with it, only for it to come to a knee jarring halt before it impacted with the waves when golden chains like those that had grabbed the Atomos gripped it, suspending it in mid air.

That, unfortunately for Bowser, did still leave him high above the waves with only a long drop to the bottom, a drop he was not in a condition to survive.

”DAD!” came a cry through the broken window of the Atomos as the ship swerved towards the floating rock at the behest of the king’s only child who was racing to his rescue.

”Hold on” Bowser told Scylla, because unless she did something about it she was coming with him, before taking a running start and leaping the short distance from the time frozen rock onto the airship as it roared past at speed.

He hit the deck, stumbled from the change in momentum, did his best to deposit his captive/rescuee on the deck without injury and then collapsed to the metal floor in exhaustion as the ship banked in an attempt to avoid hitting the remains of the stack or its destroyer and to chase after the safely escaping Shippy.

A moment later, the back door of the ship was thrown open with a ”Sire are you alright!” as the old mage who had raised Bowser pushed through his own fatigue to come to his king’s aid.

Whether it was to his defense or simply healing that would depend entirely on the girl.

wordcount: 652 +1 (+5 form the other colab)
Midna: level 5 EXP: /////////////////////////////////////////////////// (14/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon

”Could we try and be subtle about this, please? Goddesses, the last thing we need is for things to explode before we are ready and informed of the situation.” Midna chided those in the group who apparently had very loose lips when it came to the fact that they might be siding with the rebels against the vizzar.

She sighed, and then let I go and settled down on the back of one of the benches, which put her at about eye level with the two titans of men who had settled down as well.

”You’ll be looking forward to the chill of the mountain then Braum?” she commented added to their little exchange, before they got down to business, namely that some of them were going to check out the resistance. Emphasis on some. They weren't exactly the most conspicuous bunch, best leave the hunting for those who did not want to be found to a small specialized team who wouldn't spook their quarry.

The rest would have to find ways to occupy themselves, and the best way to spend their time was likely getting more spending money. With that in mind they got pointed towards a job board with a list of more mundane civilian requests on it.

The tasks of manual labor, poking around an abandoned church and hunting down an escaped dog didn't pay well compared to the palace jobs, but they were a lot more reliable. There was no grantee they’d even find some of targets of the bounties, whereas hauling fruit was a reliable if rather poor source of cash.

Speaking of the other requests, Midna gave the others a quick rundown of what she remembered.

”The palace jobs where a thief which ‘paranormal’ abilities who’s been stealing important city fixtures, there’s vermin in the cisterns, a treasure chest mimicking monster lurking in the Bazaar, a scam artist (that was all it had) and then they are looking for someone to find a permanent cure the Queen’s lethargy that can currently only be solved by cheese.” She told them, and would supply more remembered details (like the much higher pay) if people were interested in them.

”Not a lot of straightforward ones, but then again if they were they wouldn't pay so well” Minda said, before considering what she might do herself.

”Unless anyone needs my help with anything, and I can be pretty inconspicuous while acting as backup muscle… backup magic, I might take a look in this church. Sneak in through the shadows, give the palace a once over, that kind of thing.” she said after a couple of moments of contemplation. It might not pay well, but there was something about the little mystery it presented that had caught her attention. Plus ” It should be pretty quick, so once I’m done I can meet up with one of you and lend you a hand with some of the trickier sounding stuff?”
The Grimleal Dialogs

starring Fox, Sectonia, Midna, Primrose, Poppi, and Big Band
Word Count: 4812 (+5 EXP)

”Sounds like a good idea, Poppi. Planning would be a goddess send and, seeing as we have the opportunity to do it for once, we should definitely take the opportunity” Minda agreed with the machine woman. It was a good out of the situation so they could discuss this without prying ears and also a sane course of action in general, even if that was something of a secondary concern to Midna.

Based on the numerous abilities the resistance members apparently had, she got the impression that they were closer to the kinds of people who’d enter the smash ring than your run of the mill fighters. And there two dozen of them who probably fit into that category. If they did do this it could wind up being the most dangerous thing they’d faced as a group so far. She felt like she should be writing their described abilities down, but, alas, didn't have a notebook. She added that to her ever growing shopping list.

Fox kept his eyes tracked on Azwel as he stepped away to have an entirely different conversation with his underlings. His scrutinizing gaze lingered on him for as long as the direction of the conversation and his attention to it allowed for while he tried to pick up what he could through simply observing them without hearing. He turned his attention back when Kan-Ra finished working down the list of crimes and abilities of the Resistance.

“And casualties?” he asked. “Any number on lives lost? If this is as serious as it sounds...” For more reasons than what were obvious, Fox considered this a question of critical import in his evaluation of this domestic political war they were about to involve themselves in--besides where to find them, and who they actually were.

Kan-Ra’s expression turned from one of anticipation to solemnity. “A handful,” he told Fox, his tone as grave as his looks. “When the Grimleal catch the enemy in the act, or their targets attempt to fight back. There have been a number of fights, and not one has ever de-escalated. All end badly, with debilitating wounds or lost consciousness, and a few in death. Their zeal is such that they fight to bitter ends in even minor quarrels.” His last few words he traced with a clinical disgust, in the manner of one confronted with a shameful waste of valuable resources.

Sectonia had her misgivings about this band as well. Not only did some of them look suspicious, others looked downright ugly and would need a serious redesign if they were going to be part of her kingdom. Seeing as the others had said their questions, she gave a few of her own. ”For these ‘crimes’ they’ve done, what are some examples of things they’ve done? For example, did they steal items of magical or strategic value, and what would they do?" Sectonia said, rarely being able to give more than a glance at the mummified man, instead having her attention more on the others. ”In addition, while you have an idea of their powers, do you have any idea of what they look like?”

The insect received a mixed bag of curious and unkind expressions from the Grimleal lieutenants, as as it seemed that not only did Kan-Ra’s extensive list of charges not suffice for her, but she wanted minute details about both as many Resistance members as possible and their exact doings. Her requested specificity met more frustration than anything. “...They bear no standard or uniform,” Kan-Ra told her, pressing the matter of Sectonia’s distaste for him. “And vary in appearance. Mostly human, some artificially enhanced, a handful of unknown species. Quite the variety,” he told her, less than helpfully.

”So essentially you have very little intel on them.” Sectonia said, matter of factly. While she didn’t look at Kan-Ra, she still talked to him like she did everyone else. ”This isn’t my first time dealing with a ‘rebellion’. Intel is key. Otherwise they can throw unexpected things that cause far more issues than you would expect. ”

“Such condescension!” Azwel feigned a hurt expression, although his eyes were too knowing to be truly sorrowful. “Is this not a negotiation? You cannot expect us to lay all our cards on the table without so much as a word of assurance in return! We can’t have you running off to find them on your own now, now can we?”

“It’s not.” Fox cut in casually at the mention of ‘negotiations’. “We ‘negotiated’ before we got here. We take care of your problems, and get a fully-outfitted train out of here… with interest. With a subtle hint of smug emphasis, he tacked on the last element as a margin for error to be accounted for in their verbal contract.

The news that this exchange did not constitute a negotiation surprised and -for better or worse- elated Azwel. “Oh, so you’re already on board? Marvellous!” He moved forward and extended an open hand toward Fox to shake on it. “Then before we take another step let us seal the deal! With your word as your bond that your strength is ours, we can tell you all you need to begin!”

Fox beheld the hand offered to him, but then peered back at the eccentric lieutenant it belonged to rather than taking it outright, looking through him with a naturally sharp gaze. The narrative had clearly changed with a sudden turn, and Fox took the man’s point. “Alright...” he scoffed lightly, crossing his arms to leave Azwel hanging with his open hand. “‘Cards on the table,’ then...” Breaking for a moment to consider his next words--the last of which were possibly the most honest spoken in the meeting thus far, for lack of technicalities or omissions--he decided to give a little. “If you need ‘assurances’, what if I told you we could get someone on the inside? That we even have prime candidates for it?” About this, he wasn’t wrong, or lying. He specifically thought of the Thieves, with Sly for added potential, but that wasn’t to say there was no bluff element behind it. There was truth enough to his claim to lend credence to it one way or the other.

The sorcerer looked disappointed that Fox hadn't taken his hand, but he did not look surprised. He straightened back up without missing a beat. “Infiltration would be a fine tactic, were we not already in possession of everything we needed to cut to the chase. We have a time-limited opportunity before us, my good sir. Decisive action is necessary.” He peered deeply at Fox, as if whatever the pilot had in mind lay hidden somewhere in his features.

"And if they know you're coming…what then?" he asked, peering back into the sorcerer in kind. “If it turned out that they were expecting you--waiting for you--wouldn’t you and your own liked to have known that ahead of time? Because I know I would.” He was sure, short of absolute certainty, that he needn’t spell out the implications of such a scenario.

Azwel stroked his beard, a smile hovering around his lips as he took Fox’s meaning. “An astute observation, I daresay. We have not been without some loyalty issues, virulent enough to necessitate the need-to-know basis for disseminating information. To slip the backstabber’s knife, and pay him back in kind...would be sweet indeed.” He narrowed his eyes. “But there is no guarantee they’re ready for us, and to arm a stranger with the very details needed to orchestrate our own downfall would enable an even crueller betrayal, no?”

Fox lowered his head thoughtfully in a half-nod, seemingly in understanding, and in part agreement. Trust, it seemed, to be the hardest exchange to make thus far, but perhaps for good reason. It was worth entertaining the idea that they’ve had breaches of trust in the past, and have learned to expect it. He understood also why they couldn’t divulge anything on those same grounds. Even being discovered by an independent third force could tip off the Resistance to the very fact that they could be found. Although there was potential to play into that, it among other factors made acting on the lack of information all the more difficult. They would not, however, concede to going in blind on an unknown enemy with allies who mutually distrusted each other, as they established early on that they wouldn’t, which unfortunately put them at something of an impasse. How to break this barrier, he wondered.

If there was anything that Fox had learned, it’s that the situation in Al Mamoon was evidently more complicated and delicate than he thought, and certainly more than he was used to dealing with. There was just too much neither of them could share with each other; more still that none on either side of this smaller war would understand. All the more reason they didn’t need the complication. It would apparently take some show of faith on Yellow Team’s part to inspire confidence...

With Fox’s part done for now, the others could pose their own questions. ”I take it you're not expecting much out of the non core members resistance wise?” Midna checked, just to be sure.

Ciella turned up her nose. “The surrounding rabble are of little consequence. They’re just troublemakers, vultures, hangers-on seldom paying lip service to the others’ self-deception. Neither would rise to the other’s defense.” She snorted in derision. “It would surprise me if we so much as encountered them.”

”Good to know” Minda took that information with a grain of salt, but still filed it away. ”Anyone else got questions to add, or are we ready to meet up with the others to discuss our approach. Maybe over lunch?”

Primrose was about ready to leave as well. She still had her misgivings, and despite her familiarity with the stage she felt a little more uncomfortable every time Azwel alluded to actors, but she hid it all with her polite expression and words. "Thank you for answering our questions. I have just one more. What is to be done with the resistance once the... operation is carried out?"

Sectonia had an idea of what they’d say at Primrose’s question knowing what she would do to ‘rebels’ herself. She waited for their reply though to see if they’d surprise her.

A heavy question, but Ciella did not seem too concerned. “Validar will mete out their punishment,” she replied simply. “Those who howl of false justice but demand just treatment in turn will soon despair of their hypocrisy.”

Fox ceased his internal ruminations on what all had been discussed and returned his full attention to address them once more. “With any luck, none of you will have to do anything at all,” he assured them, “...or we’ll meet you out there,” provided theirs was truly a “time-sensitive” operation, that is. “We’ll take care of things on our own in the meantime.” Such as he was accustomed to, and had come to prefer. What else were they there for, after all. If they wanted action, they would get it, but on the tentative terms they helped set.

With that parting declaration, Fox turned about to make his leave, signalling his comrades to follow. While walking out on them might not put them in the best of starting graces, a mutual understanding was in order for both sides. The Grimleal couldn’t divulge potentially vital information to an unproven third party, and similarly, they couldn’t rightly be expected to share sides on a battlefield with people who didn’t trust them in a war they didn’t know nearly enough about. Taking a job unconditionally was a good way to be taken advantage of. Maybe they would come to realise that, if nothing else (or whatever else), and not to take their master’s hires for fools.

Regardless, they did still have a job to do, and he was still intent on doing it so they could move forward, only he wanted to be sure he did it right to the best of his ability. If he had to start from scratch to figure out the best course of action, so be it. He would just start by taking Kan-Ra’s recommendation to take to the field and see for himself. If they ended up ‘proving’ themselves through their actions thereafter, then just as well. For now, as far as Fox was concerned, they had learned all they could (or had to) from their meeting, as otherwise unproductive as it was.

“Hmm…” Band did not consider himself a member of this troop, but by now he’d taken his measure of the Grimleal, and it was as good a time as any to go. Seeing as he wanted the ominous trio as neither friends nor enemies at the moment, he opted to do so with a little more tact than Fox. “Good talk. Good enough to go on, while I get my own feel for things. So don’t count us out just yet; these were not stolen moments.” He mirrored the lieutenant’s slight bow of the head--when you’re a guest in someone else’s house, he reasoned, you ought have a little respect. Then he stomped on his way. “We’ll just have a little look-see, and at length the truth will out.”

Sectonia could only shake her head at how Fox handled this whole situation. Although she could understand a bit of what was going on. She would rather just annex this kingdom under her banner and get these problems fixed as soon as possible, with the upside of easily crafted stained glass as a reward. But since that wasn’t on the table now all she could do is shake her head. ”At the very least my minions can defeat a fake chest easily enough.” She said, trying to salvage something from this.

Fox’s departure had left behind an ultimatum, and despite Big Band’s attempt to smooth things over the Grimleal did not hide their displeasure at both the vulpine and whoever he spoke for.

Azwel glowered at their backs. “My, my. However did our esteemed vizier take a chance on such willful, faithless candidates?”

“Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can solve this without our aid,” Ciella warned. “If you sabotage this operation we will have no choice but to consider you in league with our enemies.”

It was as if they had yet to intuit that, in spite of the trust issues at hand, Fox still took pride in a job well done, as he had hoped they would, going by a pronounced exercise in caution. He supposed that point wouldn’t make itself, however. “Don’t worry. We’re still on the case,” he clarified without stopping or looking back at them, for all the good that did for reassurances at this point. “We’ll just be doing things our way for now.”

The glowing eyes of Kan-Ra seemed filled with venom. “We had not failed to consider the possibility of a ploy like this,” he mused. ”We must accelerate our plans--and you, strangers, must choose your next actions...carefully.”

The echoes of the Lieutenants’ words sped the temple’s visitors on their way, and back into the noontime sunshine. Poppi, largely silent during the visit to the temple, looked worried. “It sound like they think we might be on other side. Maybe we could have handled that better.” Since Fox had grabbed most of the spotlight, he’d dictated most of the conversation on Yellow Team’s side, however that led them. Nobody had objected when he seemed to designate himself spokesperson, but was everyone still on board after all that? Even at their most polite the Grimleal cultivated an appearance of both danger and power, and by the time the heroes left they’d turned downright menacing. “Poppi not want make enemies if not need to,” she admitted.

“Me either,” Fox concurred, keeping wandering, cautious eyes and ears out for any ‘tails’ as they left the palace grounds, and then on thereafter. The door to Grima’s temple had remained open behind them, the darkness yawning within. “But they’re not making it easy.” He waited until they were out of sight, mind and earshot to say more.

”It would be a poor show, but overall if they didn’t need help they wouldn’t reach out to a third party. They really didn’t inspire confidence themselves.” Sectonia said, saying a bit of what she gained from the whole conversation. ”A shame, as this is something I have dealt with before.” Sectonia said, offhandedly. ”I suppose your infiltration idea will be the path forward, if we even bother with any of this. The world boss isn’t in this town, so what would we even gain helping them with this problem that we couldn’t do ourselves?” She finished, irritated more at the loss of time and the general seeming incompetence on display they had just gone through more than anything.

Band gave the oversized bug a strange look. All of a sudden it seemed as though he’d misevaluated the group’s intentions. “Hold up a minute. That makes it sound an awful lot like y’all don’t give a damn about what’s going on here, after all. I’m new in town myself, but something’s twisted here. More’n usual for politics, I mean.”

“You’re not wrong,” Fox assured the detective, in a manner of speaking. He looked specifically to his teammates who were privy to relevant worldly information in his following address. “I take it you all heard them right. If both sides have suffered losses, they’ve found out that people don’t just die here. Who knows what they’ve made of that by now,” he mused. Surely, his allies had some idea of what to make of this. “I’d hesitate to trust either of them just yet. At least until we see what the other side looks like.”

“On that, we can agree.” Band told him. Contrary to Sectonia’s suggestion, it sounded like this group’s leadership planned to investigate this situation further, and that sat just fine with him. He did not pose any questions about the meaning of what Fox emphasized, assuming that he referred to the dissolvement of the dead, but instead volunteered himself. “I’ve chasin’ the bird a long time, and day by day I got a certain sense for what a city has to say. Put your ear to the ground and you’ll hear the whispers. So when we’re ready to boogie, I got a place in mind we can start.” At the moment, however, the team started with a trip back to the train station to reunite with the others.

As the group walked the streets of Al Mamoon, Primrose of course followed with them. She'd slipped out of the temple and into the middle of the party, staying silent for a while with her head tilted upward in thought. The Grimleal... they were intense. They also seemed extremely dedicated to their cause. The fact that the resistance would fight to the end wasn't all the surprising, considering they all were most likely gleaming. It was wishful thinking too that they would be captured or arrested instead, given Ciella's implication. And that other thing she'd mentioned, Grima's truth... Primrose wondered if the Grima mentioned was the name of their idol, given that it wasn't the name of their vizier.

Truth... she heard that word echoed by Big Band a couple of times already. She frowned at the morning sun and then finally piped up.

"Sectonia does have a point. If we moved on, dealt with our own mission first, it may make this situation easier," she said. "If the people of this town are somehow in danger I would like to help them, whether that means supporting the Grimleal or... otherwise. However..." She glanced at Big Band, and the hooded man that followed him like a living shadow. When she spoke again her voice was slightly softer, though their two latest additions would still be able to hear her. "If it was possible to free everyone all at once, the two groups would not be forced to fight until death."

“Might not stop them...” Fox speculated. Judging by their assessment of the Grimleal, that would likely be the case. That, more than anything, was what he didn’t like about them: their particular brand of ‘confidence’, being something of an authority on it himself. “...but you do have a point.” he admitted to Primrose. “Problem is, if they’re really planning to act as quickly as they say, things may not look the same by the time we get back… and we may have just put pressure on them. I don’t know if this is something we can put off now,” as much as he wished it were that simple. Loathe as he was to admit it, they had become involved now.

She sighed. "Regardless, if everyone thinks it best to meddle, I agree that getting the other side of the story would be wise. Although the Grimleal are... well. You all saw them. It seems they were not being deceitful when they said that the work they've done has been good for the city."

Band sighed into his mouthpiece, and somewhere inside him a brass instrument honked. “I get feeling I’m not in on some bigger picture,” he guessed. The detective knew when people were speaking around him. “World boss, settin’ people free? Suddenly this soft talk’s got me all curious ‘bout this ‘mission’ of yours. If there’s a better way to help people out than shufflin’ up and down the backstreets ‘round midnight, I’m in.”

The man was a quick study, Poppi realized, and someone she got the feeling the team could use. Something about his attitude, equal parts professional and poetic in a doubly unorthodox sense, suggested both strong character and storied experience--both hallmarks of the reliable veteran. In a way he reminded her of Vandham, and the comparison went beyond size. So she decided to go out on a limb and give a quick explanation. “Each part of world under dominion of big, strong boss. They all protect even bigger, badder boss with influence over whole world. Our group’s goal to find and beat all bosses and free everyone.”

To just about anyone it would have been a ridiculous notion, and it even struck Band as crazy, but he did not dismiss it outright. “Hmm...sort of like New Meridian. Sure the politicians are all up there, doin’ their dolphin dance, but the Mafia control things behind the scenes, nice and subtle.”

His analogy barely touched the surface of what Galeem was doing, but Poppi nodded along. “Yes, sort of like that!”

“Close enough,” Fox interjected once more, this time directly addressing the detective. “Sorry for not being entirely upfront with you. You might imagine it’s a hard sell,” he told him, regarding the grand scheme. “We still have one lead with the Resistance I’d like to check before we move on either way..” Taking him up on his offer, Fox added, “If you know how we can find them, we’ll go from there.”

Band shook his head. “Don’t know yet, but I bet I can figure it out.” He diverted his attention from the others as the group reached the train station, moving through its great arches and into the shade. The formidable Railway Gun remained just where the others saw it last, and given that arrived this way himself, it was nothing new to Band, either. When they spotted and approached Braum, however, they found only a few scattered tools and other telltale traces of mechanical work just being squared away by Tora.

From a distance the Nopon looked almost glum, but he brightened up when his team drew near. “Friends! And…” He had to crane his neck upward to look Big Band in the face and note the smile in his eyes. “New friend! Hello Biggypon, am Tora!”

“Nearly got it,” the giant chuckled. “Call me Big Band.” His glassy eyes noticed the grease on Tora’s wings and the wrench he tucked back into his overalls in a single practiced motion. “Whatcha been workin’ on, little guy?”

“This!” Tora pointed back at the train. An orange-feathered avian in smart attire stood in front of it., facing the newly-arrived crowd, but to say he was looking at them would be to preemptively confirm he had eyes. “Tora try to fix up super awesome train, but Mr. Conductor just now hear Tora not allowed and ask to stop.”

The Conductor shrugged, as if the choice wasn’t up to him. “Sorry lad. Can’t tool around with what i’n’t yers. Don’t like it, take it up with ol’ vizzy.”

”Yeah turns out people the local big man doesn't like the idea of a bunch of unknowns having access to a train covered in what I’m assuming are a load of those gun things. Especially when there's a low key civil war going on. Or an underground one.” Minda informed their engineering friend. She’d sat out of most of the tail end of the negotiation because she wasn't particularly invested in the nitty gritty of this whole situation, but she was more than happy to relay her perspective on the situation to Tora, who seated himself to listen to all the news.

”Basically there's a sinister vizier who’s good at bureaucracy and infrastructure stuff that is helping the town but, you know, he’s sinister as they get, and a resistance group who don't like him and his heavily armed cult very much. Also the local queen’s only able to wake up from a deep sleep if there's cheese about. And there's none about because she’s eaten it all. So the vizier’s in charge round here while she naps and he’s only going to let us have the train if we get in his good books. Which would involve helping him crush this resistance made up of some very strong sounding people.”

”Strong people that his people can’t deal with I should add.” Sectonia said, with a bit of a chuckle. ”Such a shame negotiations broke down, but with no trust on either side it was expected.” Sectonia said. ”Might as well get intel on these rebels ourselves at some point. Depending on who they are they could be useful one way or another.”

Primrose chuckled lightly, as she couldn't disagree with Sectonia's comment. "There you have it, more or less. A time sensitive political struggle. It seems we will have to choose a side here before we move on to the mountain..." With the way things were going now, she had a pretty good idea which side they'd choose, but it still depended on the impression they got from the rebels. If they were truly just that would sway the group to their side, she was sure. If they weren't... then it didn't matter which skeevy faction they went with anyway.

”Such a shame. Making a trade network by train here would solve the glass problem…” Sectonia said, pinching the bridge of her ‘nose’ and shaking her head, trailing off more to herself than adding anything to the conversation. It was clear to everyone she just wanted to be done with this situation.

Poppi nodded to confirm what the others had said for the most part, although she added a couple details herself. “Also, queen not always way she is now, and rebels supposedly commit all sorts of crimes.”

Midna sighed and then rubbed her temples. ”What do you think we should do, orange feathered person who the vizier told to stop us from taking the train?” she asked the conductor in front of which they’d just announced that they might side with the rebels instead of the vizier if they felt like it. ”What’s your name by the way?”

As the others spoke, the Conductor had just been standing by the whole time, feeling rather like he was invisible. Not everyone spoke this candidly, particularly when the conversation involved a choice of loyalty between the ruling body or violent insurrectionists. Until the woman with the helmet and impressive braids brought it up he’d been fully willing to accept that these people just had no idea he worked for the crown, although accepting that they just didn’t think much of him stung a little. “Uhh. Well, I’m just the peckin’ Conductor, and it’s not like he told me to stop ya’s, just t’tell ya t’stop, see?” His shrug and the shake of his head told the heroes he wasn’t paid for this. “Since I work for Validar ‘n all I guess I’m supposed to tell ya t’trust ‘im, but the whole lot of ya’s can do whatever the peck ya like, ‘s long as ya don’t go breakin’ laws.”

”Good man. Let’s get moving and stop bothering the Conductor shall we?” Midna said, before not so subtly shooing them out the yard and onto their next destination.

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,176 (+2)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (82/90)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (73/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////(70/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Bottomless Ocean
Feat: Rika

The Atomos flashed gold for a final time and then came out of stassis with jr gripping the controls and fearing for the worst. But instead of lurching or falling like he had feared however, the ship continued on just as it had before it had been frozen in time. Or, not quite as before. At the back, before the Hat Kid’s very eyes, her seemingly ineffectual hammer strikes all took effect at once, the smoking engine being revitalized in an instant of miraculous engineering, halting their slow sinking.

”Nice work back there!” the boy called back to her as he gently guided the ship back up into the air and way from the roiling sea below, staving off the threat of becoming fish food for a moment longer. Or it should have. Apparently some of the violent sea-life wasn't content with staying in the water where it belonged, as a long bony spine of a creature floated up out of it and rapidly scythed across the deck of little Shippy.

Not that the gang was going to take that laying down, as a hail of gun and arrow fire rang out as those onboard peppered its body with lead and steel.

Their accurate eye sniping was joined by an indiscriminate hail of gun and cannon fire from Rika, who had skated back to the ship once Bella had landed safely in Sakura’s heroic arms in search of ammo. The loud chorus of cannon shots and machine gun fire rang out and then was suddenly replaced by a click click click as the rifle expended the last of its ammo while the cannons simply fell silent

“Shoot” the girl cursed and then clambered onto the ship while the spinny thing arched around for another pass.

“Hi there, room for one more?” she asked the boat riders as she rolled over the railing and made a run for the dispenser. There the problem of having 4 separate sets of guns presented itself when the dispenser spit out several racks of small shells for her rigging, one of heavier shells for her abyssal gauntlet and a drum mag of rifle rounds for the machinegun. Extra problematically, thanks to how her gauntlets here strapped to her arms, she didn't exactly have her hands free to properly load them (though the traps meant that she could at least let go of them to try and use her hands at awkward angles unlike someone going guns akimbo, but they were still super in the way), which meant that when the when the spine fish came around for another pass she was standing fiddling with the latch to extract the spent rifle cartridge while holding the new one in her mouth like a piece of toast.

“Mmmf m. immm mmmf m me” she mouthed off through the box of ammo before, having failed to reload anything in the short time frame, spitting the magazine rifle ammo back onto the pile of shell racks and charged towards it on the ship’s deck while yelling “GET LOST FISH!” as a battle-cry. As she and it approached one another she leaped to the side and tried to deliver a solid right hook to the side of it’s head to knock it off course with her still abysal-y gauntlet and her right side hull blade, before leaping out the way of the other’s firing lines.

In the distance Bowser was blind to all of this as he ascended the (rapidly disintegrating thanks to their new giant single eye’d friend’s repeated hammering) sea stack. Cat claws found solid purchase on wind beaten rock as the dragon-turtle-cat-squid-ship hauled himself ever onwards towards the little monstergirl who was causing the team no end of trouble thanks to his ill conceived rescue attempt. On his back, his cannon segments either hammered the two harassing tentacles with acid, water or sonic or acted as parrying shields, lashing out to try and punch, bite or tentacle whip the giant eels when they got close.

Unfortunately for him, speed was not something most of the koopa’s component parts were known for. Certainly not compare to the mostly cat Nadia, who took the king completely by surprise when she zoomed past him faster than a speeding train with a ‘NYAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaah’ and then completely blasted past the summit, before dramatically stopping at the pinnacle of her launch and then descending meteorically upon the monster girl with her blades primed like a guillotine.

”WAIT NO!” Bowser cried out, not wanting to see her befall the same fate as Marie, but there was nothing stopping their clash now.

The monster girl pulled her tendrils away, the razor shoals boon making the very air scrape against them like a jagged coral reef, freeing Browser from being harassed by them, and used them to defend herself. Nadia’s blade sliced one in half as she fell, causing the monstergirl to shriek as the game suddenly became an actual real danger to her. Before the final blow could be struck she flicked the half bisected tentacle aside, dragging Nadia’s blade and the women herself along with it and tossing them into the open air, before lunging at her with her remaining tentacle.

Bowser's fear flipped from girl to woman in an instant, but he was still climbing, too far to have intervened in any of this. Bella had no such restriction, and after having so recently been rescued herself, the princess passed on the favor by hitting a perfect bullseye of a shot on the lunging tendril with her railgun, vaporizing it in the blink of an eye. There was still the matter of the fall, but Bowser stopped himself from leaping out to try and help her when she casually and cockily gave him and the Ace Cadet a salute as she dropped past them

That left only him and said Ace to seal the deal, and there was no way the King was letting the hunter beat him to the top. Pushing through his fatigue, the king scrambled and then threw himself to the top of the stack and landed in front of the diminutive monster girl.

”Playtime is over little lady, and you are going on a time out” he told her sternly as he pressed one hand to his chest and pulled out a friend heart, while behind him his turrets all geared up side by side and pointed over one shoulder. Then he charged, the set of eight tentacruel beak tipped turrets and their dozens of tentacles being used to try and grapple/hold off the last wounded tentacle if/when it made to attack him. The king himself made an attempt to grab Scylla like he had a certain princess dozens of times over the years so that she would be forced to hold still while he gave her a proper telling off before/when he freed her.

Also so that she wouldn't tip off the tower when the inevitable next strike from the pissed off octobeast came. That guy was getting an earful next, mark Bowser’s word.

The body of the machine made flesh hung in the air above the center of camp as it had returned from investigating the portal. Suspended from nothing, its form shifted, warped and changed before the nomads' eyes. Not that any were watching any more. Even those who had looked upon the repeated live dissection and reconstruction with morbid fascination had grown bored and were focusing on more important tasks by the time they dropped from their ethereal perch and landed among them.

The human form was still there in silhouette, but the soft flesh was gone, replaced with a material the nomads couldn't identify, but which proved to be incredibly hardy and flexible, like a living metal. Small glowing ports littered the body which had no seeming purpose which would later be shown to project fields of defense or invisibility. More disconcerting than the body, which could well be put aside as a form fitting armor if you wanted, was the lack of a face. Where the entity had obscured their human face behind a hood before, now it was gone entirely, replaced with flat metal with a ring of light with two dashes through its width. The cloak and hood remind end despite not obscuring this bizarre faceless face, flowing over the alien body and pierced on the sides of the head by two cone-like ears.

There was a brief pause, before the inhuman form proceeded to very humanly stretch: cracking its knuckles, shaking out stiffness, rolling its neck, and so on as if it had just awoken from a long sleep.

”ahhhh. That’s better” it said after one last stretch, then snapped a pair of fingers, reached out, and failed to catch a large staff that materialized above it. The butt of the object hit the dirt and then the whole thing began to tip over, only for the machine to finally mange snatch it up before it did so, before twirling it around dramatically and then sliding it onto their back, where it hung despite not being strapped down by anything.

”There we go. I have completed preparations. Shall we go investigate the other world?” it announced/asked the nomad’s scouting group who had saved it’s life earlier and, as the experts on the strange, been ordered to watch it by their leaders while it warped itself, putting them conveniently at hand for this request.

“I told you” Vrandan spoke up first. Having seen the machine vulnerable did wonders for his confidence in confronting/standing up to it. Whether this was wise was debatable “the world is a wright off. We cant be safe in a world full of monsters we cant see”

”Not to worry. The beast’s own eyes were capable of detecting others of its kind. I have added that ability to this new form’s vision, so i will be able to detect them with ease.” the machine helpful informed them

“But we still can’t” the man countered

”A fair point. I could modify you like I have myself?” it suggested

The man glanced up and down the bizarre and, he now noticed, visibly sexless machine person and cringed at the prospect.

”Why not” it asked, picking up on this rather blatant distaste they had at the idea.

“No offence, but no one wants to get stuck looking like that.” Jayce, who was perhaps the most comfortable with speaking with the machine out of all of them, supplied.

”I am capable of changing myself back, I could do the same for you… no that isn't quite the same is it. I could give you machines but, ah those won't last forever. I owe you my life” there was some surprise among the scouts and the growing crowd of not so subtle onlookers that it would realize or admit this so easily and bluntly. There had been expectation that they would need to carefully convince the machine to pay them back ”It would not be fair to give you something that would not last just as long.”

“Why not. Can’t you give us... Weapons like that one you used. The one that just that removed things from existence” Jayce asked

”The reclaim tool is, well a tool. Not a weapon. Though it is very useful as one. It is also one of the things I cannot recreate, similar to the construction one. I could give you these” it tapped the staff ”but without maintenance it would eventually break, leaving you reliant on me once again to repair it.”

“How long would it last?” Vardan asked, assuming that whatever the machine had armed itself was likely powerful

”Oh, several hundred thousand instances of the time that passed during the last rise and fall of the light in the sky” the fact that it was slowly increasing made ‘days’ a terrible measurement of time, but it was the best they had. ”not forever. No, I need to repay you with something that lasts.”

“Pretty sure that would outlast everyone here” Jayce remarked

The machine cocked its head, then scanned its eye across the nomads watching it,young and old, some flinching away as they became the focus of it for the first time.

”Oh. You are decaying and will eventually end. That is… sad. I’m sorry I do not know how to solve that.” it said with genuine and unexpected remorse.

“It is how it is.” Vardan explained with a shrug after the awkward pause “So your staff, wherever that is, would be around for our kids and grandkids time”

”But not for theirs. So it is not good enough. Instead I could modify you all so that you are better in a way that they would also inherit… but no that would be permanent again, and whatever change I make might not suit all worlds or states of this world. What was a benefit now could become a detriment later” It said, clearly mostly talking to itself as it mulled over the possibilities.

”So. I could make a way to let you change yourselves... Like that creature that pretended to be a goat! It was infinitely adaptable, taking on the form of native creatures… I wonder if it was made to explore layers… never mind that, it would be perfect”

“Again. Not sure if people want to be turned into a meat monster” Vardan interjected.

”Yes. I’m seeing a pattern. But I do have an idea to work within it. We externalize the transformative ability, make it reversible and, importantly, I make it an ability you have control over. Complete control. Make it something you can produce and use however you wish” the machine said excitedly before flicking it’s wrist materializing the carcass of the invisible panther creature that had almost killed them from thin air with one hand, and then made a hand sized cube of familiar looking meat with the other, which it caught with ease this time.

”Now, with these” they began, only to be interrupted

“Hang on hang on. You said you destroyed that thing” Vardan said, angrily pointing at the flesh of the shape shifting monster that was clearly still alive somehow.

”This? Oh it isn't the same. I have modified it so that it cannot move or change itself. It will be a domestic-able, self replicating source of the material that won't be able to shapeshift on its own. I’ve quite carefully keyed it to ensure this is the case. Also it is completely docile and herbivorous now.”

Vardan grounded at the cube un-trustingly, but Jayce had realized a possibility this raised “So you can just wake animals? Could you make more goats?”

”if i have the materials. Biological matter is somewhat lacking in the area, so I am limited to what I procured from the two layer predators and that flying scaled creature.” the Explorer explained

“But if you got more...” Vardan prompted

”I could convert it yes. I understand you cannot eat the fibrous material used for heat production? I could turnt that into something more palatable, for example. However that is not a long term solution as it relies on my presence and, again, I cannot replicate that ability.” It informed them ”a more sustainable solution would be to create life capable of repopulating the region. There is light and water in this world now, when before it was dark and dry, life could grow once more“

“We’ve considered planting seeds, but can you do that faster if you have this… ’biological matter’”

”I could if I had the supplies. From layers. I would need your help with that, of course, as i cannot use the reclaim tool within the layers and thus would need to capture and then transport materials back here.“

“It’s hard enough to just get what we need to survive. As good as that sounds, I'm not sure if we can afford that.”

”Then I’ll make you a deal, one that, in light of my owing you my life, is sided in your favor. I will help improve your ability to acquire the resources you need to survive and generate excess that can be used to fuel the revitalization of the land. In return, you will help me explore and understand these world and allow me to experiment on the gates before they close“

It raised a hand before the obvious objection could be made ”Meeting your needs is the priority. If we have to use all the time the portal is open to acquire materials so be it, but, if i can study them, then I may be able to discover a way to hold them open for longer, and or find a way to close them prematurely. If I do, I will find a way to hand this knowledge down to you.“

“We’ll need to discuss this,” Vardan said hesitantly. As much as he had been leading the ‘negotiation’ it wasn’t up to him what they decided.

”Of course. It will give me time to prepare the solution“

The god tinkered, collecting the hair of a unicorn and a few base metals and combining them a slice of meat from the meat cube creature and fur from the panther as it worked, as the humans discussed. When they returned they found the machine presenting as a human once more and sitting by four cups of softly glowing liquid.

“We’ve decided that, if you can prove you can help us first, by increasing the amount of supplies we can procure and making a healthy stockpile, then we’ll help you. Deal?” Vardan informed the machine punctually of the nomads' long argued over decision.

”Deal. I am quite confident I can, Vardan. With That in mind I will now demonstrate what I have made to help you adapt to the varicose layers“ it told them, before drinking one of the cups of fluid it had prepared.

For a moment nothing happened. Then it closed its eyes for a moment to concentrate and suddenly all at one an incredibly fine fur sprouted from their skin, covering every part of their body. Then, when they opened their eyes, they revealed they too had changed, becoming slitted like those of the panther.

Then, like the panther, they vanished. Or well, their body did. The robes remained where they were which in a way was comforting. The machine was not something they wanted to lose track of.

Then as soon as it had vanished it reappeared again and grinned at them with pointed teeth.

”Impressed?“ it asked

“And that will work for us?” Vardan asked carefully, even as the onlookers most certainly and vocally where.

”Indeed, and before you ask, yes, it is reversible.“ it told them, before drinking from the second cup, which caused the transformation to run in reverse, and returned them to a human complexion.

”Not only that, but it can work with any species you might encounter“ they drank the third cup and using it took on aspects of the dragon it had devoured with the reclaim too, scales, claws and, most amazingly a fully functional pair of wings, (which got rather tangled up in their robes when they first appeared) sprouting front their body, before they drank the final cup and returned to normal.

”So. Who wants to give this a try?“ it asked the amazed crowd of onlookers. There were plenty of volunteers.

The sun was close to setting by the time they were done. The god taught them the recipes, and they were surprisingly quite simple. Unicorn hair for magical fuel, shifting meat flesh for transformation abilities (along with most of the logic to do the work stored in its ‘junk’ dna), a collection of elements to trigger the transforming flesh's active state and then material from a beast to change into in one potion, and then the hair of the drinker (harvested before drinking) in another to reverse the effect.

Now the re-armored machine stood before the portal to the world that had almost killed it along with an assembly of scouts, all sporting the eyes of the panther so that they beasts could not hide from their sight. They also sported a hodge-podge host of other additions, from cat-like three jointed legs, claws, extra arms, fur, muzzles and the strange tentacles that sprouted from the beast’s back, which left no two looking the same. It turned out that the hard part wasn’t making the potion, but channeling the transformation process to get the effect you wanted. There were safeguards in place of course, no-one, not even the most rampant or uncontrolled transformers, had changed so much that their brain could no longer fit their body for example.

Still, they’d get better at it and they had the aspects they needed, so it had been decided it was time to go and try their new abilities for real. They also had convinced the god to give them weapons in the end, meaning they all now sported strange toothed swords that wouldn't last more than a few generations according to the machine but had cut through the wood they’d practiced on like it was nothing.

The Explorer and their guards approached the portal. It ordered the probe that had been blocking the portal out of the way, revealing another of the panther creatures stalking around it that it again had not seen.

The Explorer and changed nomads did however, and it soon fell to arrows and one staff fired explosive bolt.

They approached, but the machine god paused at the precipice past which it would become mortal once again.

“Having doubts? I have to ask. Why are you doing this? If you're next too indestructible in this world, why risk going in there?” Jayce said, stopping next to them. The young human hadn't gone as far as some, only their slitted eyes and a pair of cat ears on their head marking out that they were under effects of the drug the machine had named Polymorphine.

”If I don't, if i give in to the… to the fear of death, then I would have to stay in this world forever. There is much still to see, I know, but it is still a limit. A limit I will break, here and now, so that while I am exploring this world I will know I am doing so by choice rather than out of fear“ it explained, and the machine got some respect from the others for that.

”I have also been wondering, why have you stayed? There is no difference between this world and the others as far as your mortality goes.“ it asked ”Why stay in this broken one. Have you simply not found a land you consider safe?“

“Who's to say the world's last after they close or that the short impressions we get are how they really are. Some of us did go, a long time back now. More than half I’ll admit. We found a world that seemed to be a paradise after a long string of deadly and dangerous ones. A lot of our people called it quits there, and, if they didn't, if they hadn't gone and left us with most of the portable supplies, we probably would have all starved by now.” he said, in a way that made it sound very much like he considered them staying as a sacrifice made so that the rest could live.

“But maybe they’re all happy and safe now, and we’re the fools for leaving that world before the gate closed, but we’ve never seen them or that world again.” Vardan explained “So we can’t say if they are or not. Better the world you know persists than the one you don't, in my opinion, no matter how broken it is.”

He glanced up, and the others followed his gaze, to the now sun as it fell behind a mountain “Not that I can say I know it now that it's changing again. For the better I hope”

”We’ll make it so.“ the machine insisted

“If this works out, it's going to be you who did it, Explorer”

”I won't be able to do it without you. And please. Call me Exo.“

“Exo huh?” Vardan replied, as the machine, the person, suddenly had an actual name. That felt important, but they had work to do. “Well then Exo. Ready to go stare danger, death and the unknown in the face?”

”Yes. Let’s go exploring“ they said, stepping through the portal and being gripped by mortality for the second of many times to come.

wordcount: 1,015 (+2) (+3 from colab (added) +7 form the other colab)
Midna: level 5 EXP: /////////////////////////////////////////////////// (8/50)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon

After they’d finished speaking with the suspicious vizier the gang headed back to the market with their new hangers on in tow, a one man band along with the grim looking guy in a hood and clothes vaguely similar to the thieves, at least in terms of materials and machining at least, if not style. There wasn't much to him, she thought, no weapons or fanciful flare that indicated he had magical or supernatural abilities, though she mentally acknowledged that her appraisal only could only go skin deep.

”So, seeing as you're coming with us and, might, be fighting with us. What’s your whole deal?” she asked casually and Oopen-endedly as they were searching for the rest of the crew in the market. Best to get an impression of him from the man himself, she thought. She had a vague one of Band as a result of him looking for someone who was working with Crow and it wasn't the best one, but it did mean that he could probably handle himself.

”I’m Midna by the way” she added belatedly, realizing they hadn’t done basic introductions properly yet.

It turned out Primrose's jewelry pawning had been pretty profitable, to an extent that she easily covered their expenses when it came to food and supplies. It also turned out the Queen’s cognition was worth about 250 more than an electric rock, which was kind of sad. Still, as much as Primrose had acquired front he sale of her (and Midna’s) gems and jewels, the team had burned through all her wealth, though what they got would keep them going for quite some time. It turned out that feeding a dozen people for several days was expensive. Rationally she’d known this of course. She knew her logistics. But there had been a mental gap between how much feeding two people and how much feeding an army cost that had now been filled.

For heat, they got a cold resistant crown and rationalized that their generally fire/heat making abilities and magics would keep them safe, but Minda made a note to try and get a jacket or something for herself once she got her own funds, just in case. It was added to a growing list that she also added an evil detecting wolf amulet Prim had mentioned seeing in the jewelry store, which she thought could be useful for vetting people.

All in all it looked like the market team’s trip had been a successful one. Midna quickly offered to take hold of some/most of the bulk of the preservable food, using a portal to pop it into a sealed cave back home she used to store various items from time to time, like that sword and shield Link had gotten her while he was a wolf and she’d refused to uses. Funny how she was now considering getting that exact load-out now.

Now that they’d met back up with the other ladies (and the re-armed Yoshitsune) their next move seemed to be seeking out the viziers troops to get more info on the resistance cells situation. To an extent Minda wanted to just leave the local conflict alone entirely, but she conceded that information was information and if they were going to do the other requests it might get them on the rebels bad side anyway, so it would be best to know what the mess they were getting embroiled in before they stuck their foot into it.

With that in mind they headed for the home of the Grimleal (during which Midna opened up and thoroughly enjoyed one of the little snack bars she was transporting. After eating mostly meat and candy since they headed out, getting some carbs into her was something her body greatly thanked her for).

Midna had been expecting another, possibly grimmer, barracks to be where the viziers personal troops lived. She 100% had not expected to find them in the temple of a religious organization, one just as dark and foreboding as the viziers office. Any idea that the man just had bad aesthetics were rapidly crumbling, considering his entire organization shared them. If these people did mean well, and she was seriously doubting that, then optics were definitely not their strong point.

Midna had had a bad feeling about all of this for a while now, which was justified when they came face to face with the elite troops. They could be described as a dramatic and enthusiastic bunch if you were being charitable. Any attempt to elaborate wouldn't put them in a favorable light.

Worse than their villainous looks, there was a certain degree of assumption that them being there meant they were all prepped and ready to go to war for them. Which was exactly what Midna didn't want. But blunt rejection might well compromise any attempts to get on the vizier's good side. It was a tricky situation to be in.

Well, they were, in effect, mercenaries in this situation, Midna rationalized, so best to act as such.

”Spend time getting to knowing your enemy and the battlefield you’ll be fighting them and you’ll spend less time digging graves” Minda replied (with a quote from a book she’d read that had helpful thrust itself into the forefront of her mind unbidden) to the titanic rabbit woman’s, Ciella’s, comment about supplying them with information being a drag. Putting on the airs of a mercenary general deciding whether to accept a contract or not, she asked them ”So, if we do his, what would we be up against? Considering you all look very capable, it can't be a simple gang of thugs and malcontents right? We talking clashes with guards in the streets, sabotage of infrastructure, assaulting tax collectors, that kind of level of things?“ in an attempt to get a clearer picture of what the Resistance were resisting and how.

”What’s their deal and how large, organized and individually dangerous are they?“ she followed up in summary, boiling it down to what she really wanted to know before getting anywhere near this tar-pit of an operation.

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,315 (+3)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (80/90)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (71/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////(70/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Bottomless Ocean
Feat: Rika

”nononononono wait what?!” Jr paused his panicked sub-vocalizations to yelp when the ship was suddenly wrapped in golden chains and the sinking feeling suddenly halted. He was stunned for a moment and then tried to adjust the controls to stop the ship straining against whatever this stasis was only to find them stuck too and the dull background roar of the engine silenced. It was a brief and bizarre lull in the hectic action, that lasted just long enough to get a look at the battlefield and be fearful of the beating and threat of a cliffhanger ending his dad was receiving in the same way a certain lion might have done in another time and space. Then a few (rapid) heartbeat after the stasis had appeared the gold started ringing, as if someone was hitting it with a spoon.

The tone started slowly but then picked up in urgency, demanding the prince’s attention even as the sea spire his dad was clinging to started being smashed to bits again.

”Aw beans. That’s not going to last is it?” jr noted. He really hoped the hat kid, who had not given her name before dashing off on an umbrella propelled flight out the back, had managed to fix the engine through the stasis. All they could do now was ”Hold on!” and brace for whatever the stasis ending would be like.

”I’m wearing a seat-belt” Kamek helpful informed the prince while massaging his temples, skull thrumming from the adrenalin of his close call and the day’s magical exertion ”Gah, my head’s ringing”

”That’s the gold stuff and it’s about to go!”shouted at him informatively

”Oh” Kamek replied, right as the stasis ran out.

“Shoo you stupid fish” Rika demanded as a versatile swarm of the beasties tried to attack her. Better her than Sakura and Bella she supposed, who together where in the process of explosively dislodged the princess’s tail from the eel’s grip.

“Go eat things that wont fight back” she told them while blocking a jumping shark with a hull-blade and then repeatedly punching it in the face with her still abyssal gauntlet. Her turrets were aiming freely, swinging two and fro pumping shell after shell at anything moving below the surface. The problem, Rika recognized as she impaled a undead piranha on her gun’s bayonet and slapped another one down with the other free hull-blade, was that while she was was incredibly apt at running point defense with her myriad of automated weapons, she could only act reactively, because no-matter how hard they tried to pre-aim, cannon shells were not made to hit stuff under the water.

If only she had torpedoes.

Or depth charges.

She did have explosives, but trying to use said exploding slime on water didn't work very well thanks to it floating like oil. Also spitting on it was not a long range triggering mechanism, which made the whole thing a risky proposition, particularly when trying to defend a point.

Maybe she could get Jr to make something for her later she thought while firing her giant rifle at full auto at a nearby shark to dissuade it from coming close to the surface. Little capsules with spit and slime in them? Gross but it could be effective.

For the moment, most of what she was doing was spraying the area around her with slime and then spitting on it, causing a chain of explosions that didn't catch much, but right now the ship girl was all about volume of fire so it fit in nicely with that strategy. How long she could keep going all guns blazing was debatable.

With that in mind, as soon as Bella was free and safe, and she’d make sure she had a safe spot to land with her fire power if she did anything today, he’d be heading back to the ship to reload, which would bring the explosive slime producing ship girl within earshot of the man in green who was in the middle of trying to make grenades using all scrap and no primer.

Bowser’s rocket propelled bunny hopping worked a treat, the king laughing as he skipped over the frightful fishes and rapidly advanced on the tiny terror. Blazermate’s advice was positive reinforcement for his plan. If they wanted to stop the eel strikes, they had to hit the source.

To that end he launched himself at her sea-stack fortification, landing safely about half way up it. Solid ground turned out to be deceptive however, as the titan, fully healed thanks to Sakura’s bleeding heart, decided that their first order of business was to slammed the rocky outcrop, sending the king’s arms cartwheeling as he tried to avoid falling back to the sea, the only thing keeping him from staying upright were a few blasts from his incredibly useful cannons.

Fall averted, he decided to ignore the giant, it seemed to be ignoring them despite their involvement in its eye loss, and focused instead on the monster causing them all the trouble right now. The girl wasn't listening, whether it was Galeem’s power, poor parenting or the fact that she just didn't register them as anything other than toys to be played with didn’t matter, from here it was clear that the girl was having a ball with this brawl and wasn't stopping anytime soon. Case and point, with lightning speed she brought two of her eels, that browser had hoped he’d gotten inside the range of, right on back to secure her position. Taken entirely by surprise the king instinctively locked his four shell segments back onto his back in a defensive posture when they rose up, which let him take the hits the dealt out but removed his newly found mobility and stabilization.

One of the eels rammed him from one side, causing the king to stumble towards the edge and just barely catch his footing on it, only for the other to hammer home a moment later, causing him to tip over the edge. At the last second the king reached out and, mecha mit flaring, he caught the edge of the cliff with those super heated claws. He was left dangling precariously over a long drop back down to the ocean, his booted feet and gloved other hand scraping uselessly at the sheer cliff face. As he flailed, ocean green energy erupted in the girl’s hand as she raised it to deliver a killing blow, only for a heroic little plane to swoop in and strafe her with fire, causing the tiny terror to miss her shot.

The explosion it caused down below would not have been pretty to be caught in.

Her second shot however struck true. A little fireball lashed out and tragically blew the noble champion of the skies to smithereens. Its life had been short, but it had bought the Ace Cadet the time he needed to intervene in their little scene. As their massive arrow struck true and delivered its poisonous payload into one of the eels that had beaten him down, Bowser did three things to help himself.

First, the quad of little turrets mounted on his shell swivel round and started blasting the un-arrowed tentacle with their solid rounds. On the ledge Bowser was hanging onto Mallet and Sledge the hammer bros strikers appeared and they too laid into the tentacles, buying the king time with their tossed hammers, mallet focusing the one being shot while sledge tried to hit the poisoned one.

Finally, the king himself stopped futility scrabbling to try and pull himself up and instead opened his palm to reveal a large golden bell, which he clipped to his spiked collar and then with a yowling roar transformed into Meowser. Cat claws shinked out of new slots in king’s boots (which now where stylized to look like they had cat ears at the very top) while his gloves became claw ended mittens like they did for Mario and co. While the coat and cannons stayed in place the rest of the transformation remained the same: fur sprouted from and replaced the king’s scales, his stubby tail lengthened into a long thick feline one, the bottom of his hair became bleach white. His blastoise ears stayed mostly the same and just gained some fur on the outside.

He also gained a distinct dislike for water, which was highly motivating when the very angry cyclops hammered the sea stack again and this time split it, causing the top to tip sideways and threaten to tip everyone into the sea.

Clawed boots and gloves found purchase on sheer cliff face where moments before Bowser had had none, and then with a grunt he flung himself up onto the ledge next to where his minions were holding the ground for him. He gave them a nod before they dissipated, and then began to ascend the cliff with his cat climbing skill, scrambling up sheer rock with relative ease.

He redeployed his cannons as he ascended, reactivated the razor shoals boon he’d deactivated to harmlessly spray the boat momma, and primed them to defend himself from the inevitable follow up from the tentacles. If the eels wanted to be speedy jerks and chase him, they could suffer for every rapidly climbed inch, while also being peppered by more mini shells and confusing supersonic sound waves.

If he did manage to ascend to and/or catch the monster girl he was going to tail slap some sense into her, of that there was little doubt.

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,420 (+3)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (77/90)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (68/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (67/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Bottomless Ocean
Feat: Rika

While he’d been first to move, Bowser’s lumbering speed meant that a lot happened before he could get anywhere remotely useful. The nature of shipgirl locomotion meant it felt like standing on a very slow escalator that walking up did nothing to help, something Bowser quickly learned from experience, which was incredibly frustrating.

He’d have had to be quick if he’d have wanted to get in on the action, because their team hosted a pair of massive abyssal guns thanks to Bella and now also Geralt, who’s twin fire, aided by some fireballs from Sakura, absolutely wasted the titanic tentacle monster. The beast toppled, and the monster girl it had been fighting pounced on this vulnerability and with hideous strength straight up ripped its eye out. Bowser winced. She had the right idea with going for that weak spot, but she didn't half go overboard with it. Then she hauled the eye up with her tentacle eels and, completely unprovoked, indeed the opposite of provoked considering they’d helped her, hurled it at the Atomos.

The giant eye flew forth, dripping viscera as it soared towards the Atomos. There wasn't time to dodge (not that the ship could really do that anyway). There was only time to brace for impact.

A panicked part of Kamek’s brain wanted him to try and teleport away, but, well, there were two children on board along with his elderly self, so that instinct was immediately quashed.

As he watched in adrenaline fueled slow motion, Jr made a grab for Mimi, who had been sitting on the control board by the window like a bobble head, (Tyrant was safely huddled under the control panel, where they’d been cowering since the shooting started) and then tried to shield both her and himself with his arms, only for to be grabbed from his seat by a purple hued claw and pulled behind a spiky shell, ”Dad?” and finding himself hugged close to a string next to the hat wearing kid as the mass of flesh hit home.

The front window of the ship shattered all at once, hailing the insides of the cabin with a shower of glass shards. Yet the children were shielded by the hardy shell of the shadow Bowser who had been summoned by Kamek and instantly grabbed both kids to protect them. The same could not be said of the mage himself. Having used the moments he had to keep the kids safe all he could do for himself was close his eyes and make a futile attempt to shield himself with his old limbs.

Yet no death by a thousand cuts came.

Kamek opened his eyes again, and found the End standing before him, blood leaking from an approvingly smiling mouth for just a moment before he dissipated again and the field of glass that had embedded itself in the elderly striker’s back dropped harmlessly to the floor.

There was a brief moment of calm as everyone caught their breath and their senses, interrupted a heartbeat later when half a dozen alarms started blaring.

”Arg my ship!” Jr cried out. He pushed himself away form the hat kid and out of the grip of the shadow Bowser (who dissipated a moment later when Kamek slumped in his seat, overcome by both the stress and magical exertion) and rushed to the controls of the vessel, emitting little ”ows” as his bare scaly feet crunched over the ruins of the windscreen. He jumped into the chair, winced, and then grabbed the controls of the ship and hauled on them to try and right themselves.

”nonono come on” he shouted at it as they continued to list to the side, before pulling out the necro-smasher and whacking the control panel a few times,then looking at its readouts and then turning, first to Kamek and then, once it was clear that the old mage was out of it, to the hat kid.

”You. What’s your name. Why don't I know your name. Take this” he tossed her the wooden mallet ”and go fix the right engine before we tip over!” before turning back to the controls and fighting to keep them airborne.

”JUNIOR!” The king cried out in horror as the ship holding his entire family got smashed into by the massive flying eyeball. The mass of ripped out flesh fell to the sea with a titanic splash, leaving the front of the ship buckled and bent and the window above shattered with no son of his in sight. Then after what felt like an age the prince appeared at the wheel again and started yelling at those within to help him and the king let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. They were ok. But they also weren't out of the woods yet. The impact had jolted one of the engines at the back in a way it hadn't liked and it was smoking as the airship slowly sunk to one side. Bowser was sure his son could handle it however, and instead he turned his attention back to the person who had attacked his kin.

”HEY NO WE’RE TRYING TO HELP!” Bowser yelled at the monster girl, but it was too late, the hounds had been unleashed while the little girl sat safely in the distance and laughed at them with childish glee as her minions assailed them and the predators of the sea went into a frenzy all around them. To the king that would be endearing if he weren't on the receiving end.

“Princ- Bella!” Rika cried out in alarm as her commander turned friend was grabbed by one of the great eels while trying to duel another. “let her go!” she yelled as the woman was hauled into the air and without hesitation, charged the fish alongside Sakura. Instinctively she took up an escort position, sailing almost back to back with the street fighter (though leaving her enough space to do her spins) while using her veritable pile of cannons, oversized rifle, bayonet, explosive slime and hull-blades to down anything trying to stop them from reaching their friend.

When the street-fighter reached the eel she leapt up to climb it in order to pry the jaws open to free Bella. Rika swooped around the eel trying, along with Mirage, to keep both the other ladies engaged with it safe while they handled the situation. Using a robot arm mounted hull blade like a cleaver she chopped one of the nasty bitty fish in two when it tried to jump up and bite Sakura, then turned her 6 and 1 cannons on the closest other eel head, showering it with a barrage of shells. Anything else that tried to get involved would meet a similar fate.

As the ladies fought the tentacles Bowser finally caught up with them.

”Running isn't going to cut it! We need to stop her or she’ll just chase us!” he shouted back a Peach when she demanded they retreat. It wasn't like the ladies had listened when they charged in to help anyway.

”Without killing her!” he added, right as an eel head rose up from the water and lunged for him, only for an army of skeletons to appear and wrestle with it for a moment, before tossing it aside, not hurting it but still handling the attack.

“Do you ever learn?” Marie the former skullgirl asked him before her striker timer ran out and she vanished again.

”Yeah! I do! I just. Gah!” the king smacked his head a few times as if that would help him do so. He needed to think. They needed to hurt, but not kill, the girl. He needed to get close because his only ranged options where the water cannons. He needed to get there first before she became another Marie (the king not registering the fact that Sakura’s infinite mercy had been applied to the giant monster because of his focus on trying to think) But he was so slow. And the water was dangerous he’d get bogged down by fish (indeed one of the snappers tried to bite him only for it to be ensnared in tentacruel tendrils and then eaten alive by a pair of gun barrels for its efforts without the king’s intervention) while trying to get there. So he needed to bypass those too. Go over them.

Think think think how could he use what he had let him go faster. Water cannons. Speed. Height. Where had he…

”Oh!” the king snapped his fingers and then deployed his octet of arm mounted guns but, instead of pointing them towards their foe and uselessly trying to spray her form well out of range, pointed them backwards.

He crouched and then with almighty bounded leaped into the air while, inspired by a certain plumber and a mad scientist’s water sprayer backpack he’d once used, firing the high pressure water cannons backwards as a form of propulsion. Propelled like a water bottle rocket he jumped over a shoal of sharks and then hammered down onto the waves again, a ring of fire shock-waving over the surface of the watery crater his impact formed. Then the sea rushed in to fill the divot his impact had formed and the king used that force to add to his next jump, launching himself towards the tiny terror again with another blast of his water based jetpack.

”Leave my minions alone kid, or I’ll make you leave them alone!” He roared at her, trying to hide his already slightly labored breathing, as he approached her rocky domain at a higher speed than he deserved.

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,287 (+3)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (74/90)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (65/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (64/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Bottomless Ocean
Feat: Rika

(back at camp)

Bowser was momentarily confused about Mr L asking about Peach, before realizing that, unlike him, everyone else would have trouble realizing that the Princess was well, herself, and not some other random human. He, of course, was never going to lose track of his love, which made the marriage comment sting a little.

He pointed her out ”That’s her now. Cool, isn’t she. There’s this whole fusing with spirits thing going on you’ll pick it up soon enough. I’m not going over it again for the dozenth time.” Bowser told him, and considering Mirage ended up trying it out later it looked like his laziness in not explaining the deal would not suffer much consequence

”Same deal as when we were handling you, just with a much bigger party. And no Mario this time, dunno where the guy’s run off to but it ain't here. So don't worry, you see something you want money for, we can cover it, no problem,” He explained regarding their working relationship ”and yeahhhh the whole marriage thing didn’t stick. Some kind of legal mumbo jumbo. Tired it again later and wound up possessed by Mario and then stranded on the moon for my troubles. It's a long story. Real odyssey of a tale”

After giving the man a raised eyebrow and nothing more when he broke character to join in Sakura’s cheer the two parted ways, L joined the mooks on Shippy while Bowser re-boarded the Troop’s airship.

(above stormy seas)

As they started crossing the outskirts of the stormy skies hanging above the bottomless ocean (literally bottomless apparently, which was, in a way, comfortably familiar for the troop) Jr handled it well enough. In fact the ride was better than it had been before they left the forest because Jr was focused on flying and not being distracted by trying to get a look down at Mirage’s party tricks.

Still, he could feel the wind tugging at the ship already, and the lighting arching across the sky in the distance made him flinch just a minute amount every time it struck. Both he and Kamek were hard at work racking their brains as to how on earth they were going to get through that when Sakura suggested a solution that was blindingly obvious in hindsight and yet neither of the Koopas had come close to it.

Just don't go into the storm, and instead go over it.

”That… huh”

”How did I not think of that” Kamek muttered to himself

”I mean. It's an airship not a spaceship but yeah, we can probably go that high up? High enough to not get zapped anyway, might still be windy but I can handle that If we were going past” Jr said, while thinking it over ”Coming down will still be a pain, but better just up and down than through it all the way. Dunno about going through the cloud cover tho, or how we’d know where we’d want to be coming down in the first place ”

”We could repeatedly send scouts down perhaps. My clones as they are easily replaceable rather than people.”

”Ah why bother. Just go find the Eye of the storm. That’s where I'd hang out if I were the boss of this area. Maybe build a cool castle in the middle of the ocean, have like, storm pirates and sea monsters guarding it. Super defensible and you get great stormy ambiance for your epic final showdown without worrying about having to repair the castle every time it gets zapped by lightning” Bowser informed then from where he was relaxing in the back.



”What? I mean. I guess it would be kinda cheap to just bypass everything like that” Bowser said thoughtfully

”That’s not… never mind” Kamek shook his head and then got back to business ”We can add that to the list of things to try, carefully, once we are safely to the island.”

“So about that ‘safely’ part” Rika said, who had one of her scout planes sitting on her arm like it was a bird and had been holding an ear to ‘listen’ to what it had found. “Might be a problem coming up”

Thanks to the former Abyssal girl’s scouting, the party where well warned (the girl informing the navel contingent by shouting “big monster’s fighting up ahead, follow us round it” down at Shippy) of the brawl going on, and so adjusted their path to take them past the fight rather than through it.

The battle turned out to be between a giant kraken person, a classic boss monster with a big obvious eye weak spot and everything, and a smaller nippier fish/eel person who was darting to and fro chomping at it. She was the only one who had done damage, but that was probably because it would take only one hit for the titan to do her in.

”Egh, things are not looking good for that big guy huh?” Bowser noted. He’d been there and from experience with being the big guy that the little guy was running rings around he could safely say that the tentacled titan’s days were numbered.

”Doing a number on the little guy’s island though” jr noted, before yelling ”Come on just get one good hit in you big squid!” at the big guy, not that the monster could hear him.

“Wait, are we rooting for the big monster?” Rika asked them. The front of the ship was getting a bit crowded now with spectators.

”Eh kinda? Doesn't really matter who wins though. Two things that might try and kill us attacking each other instead? Works for us” Bowser replied right before the sharksplosion happened and interrupted them.

”Wow! What was that? Are we under attack?” Jr asked, banking the ship around to try and get a better eye on the place the detonation had happened, and pointing them towards the monster fight as a result.

A quick examination of the situation found a lot less sharks about, one less zombie, and Blazerate setting up her minion's gear for combat and over-healing everyone while Mirage was more concerned with her activity than the surrounding area, and Ace was busy trying to dry himself off.

That was a lot of mixed signals.

Jr, Bowser and Rika all where on edge and mentally, or physically, gearing up for a fight, before the still rather tired Kamek helpful suggested ”Perhaps we should check with those on the boat what is going on?”

”Huh? Oh, right. Good idea” Bowser agreed, before stomping through the back of the ship, onto the deck and over to the side with Rika, guns at the ready, acting as an escort.

”Hey. You lot. What’s all the commotion about? Just leave the big guy to fight the little guy or whatever. It's not our problem.” Bowser yelled at them

“Little girl” Rika corrected him


“She’s a little girl not a little guy. Hang on.” she called one of her planes over, which zipped back to the ship from where it had been scouting as quickly as could be and then landed on her wrist. She raised it to her ear and listened to it as the bottom jawless thing flapped its tongue about for a moment before explaining loudly “little girl, just a bit bigger than that hat wearing kid? Also she has giant eels coming out from under her fin dress and she’s all scaly and has big sharp teeth so still a monster just a-”

It was at this point she noticed Bowser had jumped down already, his heavy impact with the water splashing the Cadet with seawater again, before floating back to the surface.

Rika shrugged, and then leapt after him. Apparently they were getting involved after all.

After their encounter with Uwné Exo went out exploring and looking for people and while doing so found a nomadic tribe who had set up camp near a layer gate in-order to raid it for food and water. Exo initiated communication and then briefly held the gate open when it was about to collapse, allowing the last of the tribe (Vardan and Jayce) to escape, along with a fleshy monster that had disguised itself as a young goat. After blowing the monster’s cover and agreeing that, as a threat to humans, it was best destroyed (resulting in the beast being dismantled by Exo’s reclaim beam), Exo informed the tribe that they wished to continue observing them.

The tribe, having little choice in the matter, ended up having put up with the giant floating diamond following them around and asking them questions every now and then. Other than their titanic tagalong the trip to the closest open and safe appearing gate identified by scouting parties has gone smoothly, being mostly uneventful baring an incident with a drakhorey which was captured and dismantled by the god before it could cause the tribe any grief.

Now the nomads have reached the gateway, and have initiated their method of testing the gate for safety while the god hangs above them making notes.

As Exo hung above them a small contingent of nomads approached the gateway to another world. Like the one before this one looked mostly harmless, entering a forest filled with pink hues and an abundance of little ferns in place of grass. Despite this the nomads did not seem to trust it one bit. As the shapeshifting creature that had disguised itself as a goat had demonstrated however, nothing could be trusted to be what it seemed when it came to layers.

The procedure they were carrying out had started with shooting arrows inside and had slowly escalated from there. At the moment they were tying a rat to a 6 foot pole in-order to test if the world beyond did anything weird to living creatures. Apparently they’d leave it in there for a while too and, frankly, while humans were the third most interesting thing exo had encountered so far they were also incredibly slow. Not just that they were methodical, but in their true form the titan’s mind ran a lot faster than the mortals, so their reasonable caution was tedious to the extreme to the god.

Still, slowing down and going at the human’s pace had given it time to fiddle around with its systems a great deal. It had been so focused on exploring the world that it hadn’t taken time to explore itself. Now however, it had ample time, and as a result it was ready to deploy the fruits of its labor.

Sys Exo had given the system a name on a whim and was rather enjoying personifying what was basically just a scrolling log file Sys, ready deployment of LeggyProbe12

Initiating construction



Down below the humans were startled when their generally passive follower suddenly dropped a large tent sized cube to the ground far behind them. The probe looked exactly like the ones that had been thrown through the atmosphere for a moment, then the bottom sides suddenly split and unfurled into dozens and dozens of stubby little legs. It rocked to and fro for a moment, then steadied itself and, with a millipede like gait, began to move towards the gate. The nomads stared up at it as it approached, slowed and stopped before them. Only after stomping its front feet a few times did they stop staring and hurry out of the way of it, allowing the cube to roll through the gate. The titanic machine crunched over the ferns of the forest till it was fully inside, various instrument packages taking basically in everything for a few moments.

”Everything seems safe. I’ve run every test for habitability I can think of and they’ve all come up positive so far.” It helpful informed the Nomads based on the probe’s readings.

“Er look. No offence but how does a big block of metal know it’s safe for us?” the one designated as Vardan shouted up at Exo, still holding his rat on the end of a stick. It was amazing what people could get used to if you exposed them to it for long enough and though exo was still giant, impsoign and intimidating the mere act that it had been following them around for days ment they found interacting with it almost normal. Almost. “I’ve seen a world where metal and wood is fine but anything made of flesh just turns into a pile of mushrooms.”

”I’ve done analysis on the magic too and it seems docile enough. But I suppose a test similar to yours would be fruitful. In fact i could create a human for the purpose of the test so that none of you would need to take the risk” Exo explained

“Make a human? As in have a child and order them in?” Jayce, a youth who was for all purposes Vardan’s apprentice in the matters of Layer exploration, asked.

”In a way” Exo replied, and the faces made by the Nomads made it clear that that was an incredibly distasteful proposition ”or perhaps not then. Well a human does have to go in eventually, so how do you decide who goes in first?”

“The person who’s most sure, and most brave.” Vardan informed Exo proudly, having clearly put his life on the line several times

“I thought we took turns? I mean we’ve never organized it, but generally I wait a few and then volunteer. Spread out the risk” another one, a woman, said. A discussion broke out as to which it was and as they clearly hadn't done this before their reasonings were all over the place. While they were at it Exo made up their mind.

”Then I will go and prove to you that it is safe” they announced

“Er, well, you aren't exactly made of flesh either. Also how will you fit?” Vardan asked.

”Using a little trick i learned from one who went by Uwné I’ve been meaning to try out” it informed them. And then there was a glow and a twisting of the world and then the God was gone. Below where they had floated stood a human, wearing a hooded cloak sporting a large stylized eye hiding their own while the rest of their garb matched that of the nomads.

”Fascinating. So this is what this feels like” Exo said to themselves, turning one hand over in front of them to examine their new flesh

”What do you think? Oh.” the god asked, before releasing a slight flaw, and that was that the distance they had been floating away from the tribe was a lot bigger at this size.

They were forced to jog over, only to be confronted by a host of arrows aimed their way when they got close.

”What’s this for?” they asked calmly, slowing their approach but not halting it.

“You. Are the Explorer, right? Not something else that just got rid of them?” Vardan asked

”Of course, I’ve simply folded my true form away” Threw as a pulse and the nomads where briefly struck with the impression of the sheer mass of the Explorer being incredibly close, the bottom point overlaid with the human before them while the rest towered above, an impossible weight held aloft by this thing of meat and bone speaking with them.

They wisely lowered their weapons.

”I’m not entirely sure what you were intending to do if I was an entity capable of destroying me” Exo noted

“Buy time if you wanted us dead too”

”Interesting. Well then, let’s get this demonstration out the way shall we. This form will experience all the effects you would within so it should prove, though unlike you i won't expire as a result of them.” Exo explained

“You sure you want to go in there unarmed?” Jayce asked, despite the god’s statement of invulnerability.

”Trust me, I’m still more than capable of… actually perhaps I will. Make it a more authentic experience. Sys, use stored materials repciate the weapon, arrows and quiver held by the one know as Jayce” Exo instructed and, in but a moment, the requested items effectively built themselves in the god’s hands, starting from the strap and center of the bow and then ‘growing’ out from there till they were done only a pair of heartbeats later.

Quiver was slung over the shoulder, an arrow acquired and notched in the bow and then the god advanced towards the Gate. Without hesitation crossed the threshold with none of the caution of the caution of Uwné and all the daring of Paratiri.

For their bravery they were immediately pounced by a six legged panther with a pair of tentacles coming out its back that had been entirely invisible to the sensors of the cube probe standing right next to them before it struck.

Exo’s bow snapped in an instant but the arrow they were holding was instinctively driven towards the beast, stabbing it in the chest and saving Exo from instant death at the beast’s jaws.

”Sys. Reclaim tool. Sys!” Exo said and then yelled when nothing happened and it came to the sudden realization that they really were just flesh and bone now, not a titan of exotic metals pretending to be that.

They were going to die.

Then half a dozen arrows sprouted in the hide of the beast as the nomads reacted to the threat. The beast yowled and seemed to vanish from sight again. The arrows, however, remained and so when Jayce rushed in to aid Exo, despite the shouts of the others telling them not to go in, the youth could see the beast still as it limped away. With one more, carefuller, shot they ended the beast's life with an arrow to where they guessed the neck was.

“Are you ok” Jayce asked, offering a hand to help Exo up

”I almost died.” Exo said, with amazement rather than dread as they were pulled to their feet.

“And this is why we are incredibly careful with this kind of thing” Vardan began to chastise them from outside the Layer on instinct before stopping and asking “Wait. You did?” having assumed the machine was still as powerful as it was when it was the titan.

”Yes. Fascinating. Terrifying. This realm has entirely blocked my access to Sys” Exo said academically

“Sys?” Jayce asked

”Its’ ah. How to explain. Sys is the ‘person’ in my head that deals with the minutiae of performing complex and powerful scientific actions. Without them I can't create, destroy, or shield myself as I have been out there. I’m limited to just the abilities of this flesh body. That creature could have killed me as easily as it could have killed you. I am, in effect, mortal.”

The nomads standing on the other side of the portal glanced at each other at this news. One even started to raise their bow only for Vardan to block her from ending Exo’s life with a hand. While it might have made all their lives simpler to simply destroy their stalker there and then, he and Jayce did owe it their lives. And for dealing with the giant flying lizard.

And now it owed them.

Jayce ignored all of this minutiae and asked “So you should get back right. Before you bleed to death and before any more of those creatures come”

The explorer looked down at their damaged body, and then out at the landscape of the world that had nearly ended them. A truly dangerous world, not something it could just passively observe like the Continent it had been left behind. They wanted to understand it. Understand how it had almost killed them

The sane thing to do would have been to do this passively using probes but that would be running. Fearing the unknown. That was not Exo’s nature.

”I am going to return, repair myself and then we will explore this world” it informed them

“Explore it? There's invisible monsters in there that almost killed you. It’s a complete write off. We’ll leave and find another” Vardan stated bluntly

”Nonsense. It’s exactly because it almost killed me that I need to understand it.” Exo retorted

Still, just because this was personal now that didn't mean they were going to go in unprepared.

”Jayce, help me haul the body back through, I have work to do before we set off, starting with understanding this creature” it instructed the Youth

In quick order the pair had hauled the corpse of the panther-like creature through the gate, upon which the god was greeted by Sys, for lack of a better word, dumping a log of actions that the god had not been able to access while in the Layer.

Warning: threat detected

Hull at 76%

returning fire

Cannot comply to request. Reclaim tool unresponsive


The god scrolled down through a number of reports of that could mostly be described as instinctive actions and recording of the fact that they were slowly bleeding to death. It was good to know Sys was still there even if they couldn't hear her. Exo put a stop to the bleeding very quickly and then reached the bottom of the log.

Detected: energy shift due to layer transition


All systems nominal

Welcome back Explorer

Good to see you too Sys. and call me Exo form now on

Recording new name

Welcome back Exo

”Good. Now then.” the god flicked their hand and brought the probe back to block up the gateway to prevent another panther incident while they were working ”Let's get prepared”

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 768 (+2)
Bowser: Level 9 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (71/90)
Bowser Jr: Level 7 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (62/70)
Kamek: Level 7 EXP: /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// (61/70)
Location: Edge of the Blue – Seaward Bay

Bowser grinned arrogantly at the beginning of Mr L’s response to the news then became more and more concerned as he approached metal breakdown, and then was stunned for a moment when the man did a complete 180 and effectively offered his services to the team.

”So. Pretty sure he bit the dust, but then again time and space are a bit weird right now so who knows. Fought a jerk version of me a while back from another time or space or something so yeah. Who knows.” he replied with a shrug regarding before grinning down at the thief with a degree of warmth rather than malice this time.

”I can always use more minions and unlike your old boss people trying to stab me in the back get a face full of spikes. I can always use someone with your, eh heh, talents.” he leaned in and blocked his mouth from view with a hand while jabign a thumb at the gang ”seriously, this lot, they’re strong but they’re a bunch of goody two shoes you know. Be good to have someone underhand on hand if you get what I’m saying” before righting himself before addressing the question of why they were foraging.

”But no there’s towns and we have Peach’s money but… we didn't bring any food again… seriously how do we keep doing that? We have a glorified cargo ship for… never mind.” Bowser sighed, shook his head and dismissed the issue.

”Whatever. More help is always good, so if you want in your welcome aboard” the king said, offering the thief a gloved claw to shake.

Which was about the time Sakura yelled at them to shut up

”Yeah yeah keep your socks on, we’re done here. Lets eat” before stomping over, grabbing some of what was left of the fish, which turned out to be a rather dull tasting mudskipper like thing. Filling but only tasting lightly of flowers which was really weird and not at all to the king’s tastes.

Bowser and Kamek shared a pair of smirks at Sakura’s comments about good guys and Ms fortune’s addendum about bad guys, but went along with it. Jr and Rika were all for it though, giving Sakura a pair of enthusiastic cheers when she was done with her speech.

That optimism, and the stop for brunch, had been well needed, and Bowser said as much to Mirage, when they were preparing to set off, giving the man a friendly clap on the shoulder ”Thanks for stopping us by the way. Definitely needed this. So seeing as you’re joining up, what can you do?”

There was plenty of time for talk about that and other stuff as they journeyed onward, the rest of their trip through the woods turning out to be a pleasant and uninterrupted flight which was, again, sorely needed. When they emerged and got their first view of the Bottomless sea however, things got a little more sour. The lovely woods had been a welcome break after the battlefield, but here they were reminded of just how dangerous the ocean was, and this time it was sea itself and not the monsters that called it home that looked to be the issue.

”That does not look like a good time” Jr noted from the pilot's chair of the Atomos. While Nadia was having doubts about Shippy making it through the storms down below, Jr was having the similar thoughts about flying through the storm. The idea of water walking it also got a dampener when a shoal of sharks appeared and started to form around the lonely little ship below.

”This. Looks grim.” Kamek agreed from his seat situated to the right and behind the prince.

”A bit, but we can handle it!” Bowser declared confidently from the opposite side.

”After the close call with the battle I would advise we take a more cautious approach. Make sure we know what we’re up against rather than blindly, if you’ll forgive the pun, storming into things.” Kamek retorted. That fight had been incredibly stressful for him, and he was still feeling the strain of it even after some rest and recuperation.

”And what boring thing does that entail?” Bowser grumbled, but didn't say no.

“Oh, oh! I can help with that” Rika offered from her own chair, before deploying her two Abyssal Reconnaissance Planes from where they nested in little hangers in her gauntlets. The paper airplane sized craft hovered next to her and then, after she opened the door, dated outside and ahead of the two ships, sending back visual data to the ship girl and letting her spot any threats sooner.

“I’ll give you a warning if I spot anything!” she told them, which got a round of appreciation from the troop. No one wanted to blindly run into more abyssals or worse out here that was for sure.

In terms of where they were headed troop had the same idea as Nadia, turning towards the beacon and sending Rika#’s little planes ahead to see if it was going to be safe/useful to approach.

”A good place to set down and plan our next move” as the mage called it.

”Make a pretty good painting too. All of this would be real cool if we didn't have to go through it” Jr added.

They’d have to see if either were true when they got there.
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