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7 mos ago
Current The world is full of obvious things.


Current GM of World of Light. When it comes to writing, there's nothing I love more than imagination, engagement, and commitment. I'm always open to talk, suggestion, criticism, and collaboration. While I try to be as obliging, helpful, and courteous as possible, I have very little sympathy for ghosts, and anyone who'd like to string me along. Straightforwardness is all I ask for.

Looking for more personal details? I'm just some dude from the American south; software development is my job but games, writing, and helping others enjoy life are great joys. Been RPing for over a decade, so I know a thing or two, though I won't pretend to be an expert. Ready for some fun? Let's make something spectacular together.

Like my words? Maybe you'll like my pictures. I'm pretty new, but I hear the exchange rate's good.

Most Recent Posts

Tora, Poppi and Big Band

Level 9 Tora (5/90) Level 8 Poppi (74/80) and Level 2 Big Band (13/20)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Primrose's @Yankee, Fox's @Dawnrider, Sectonia's @Archmage MC, Midna's @DracoLunaris, Yoshitsune's @Rockin Strings, Red’s @TheDemonHound, Laharl’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 890 / 1707

With just a few exceptions, the team so talkative when it came time to deal with potential enemies took a taciturn turn, leaving Tora and Poppi a little bemused but Band nonplussed. What the others got up to was, after all, none of his business, so long as it didn’t interfere with his own investigation. What did surprise him was Fox declaring his intent to go it alone, taking the detective’s suggestion of sticking to smaller groups to the extreme. Primrose, meanwhile, took Panther up on her implicit request, and laid down an implication of her own that Band agreed with. In any unfamiliar city it just made sense to keep another pair of eyes around to watch one’s back, and in one in the grip of an active shadow war? A no brainer.

Midna offered the team a little help by listing off the Bounties she remembered seeing up in the palace, all of which stood a couple levels above the rather mundane tasks posted to the job board. She herself, however, assigned herself to the disturbance in the church. The princess of darkness would, it seemed, be tasked with bringing a mystery to light. Yoshitsune, Red, Sectonia, Tora, Poppi and Laharl said nothing for the time being. Band couldn’t help but agree with Primrose: this group could use some extra help communicating, and not just across long distances. Well, no matter. He had some business to take care of, and so stomped off in the same direction as Fox, and left those who remained to sort things out.

“Well!” Braum declared to break the silence, slapping his knees as he got to his feet. “I can think of no better use for these muscles than hauling fruit! Just leave that one to me.” He put a totally confident grin on display, reassuring everyone that they need not worry about the produce delivery.

For his part, Tora considered one of the Bounties that Midna recalled, which sounded easy enough to him. He hopped down from his chair. “Tora and Poppi can clear out cistern, meh!” he volunteered. “Icky nasties not stand chance against Tora and Poppi supreme team!” That said, however, he knew an opportunity when he saw one. The Nopon waddled over to tap Red’s shoulder. “Hey! Tora not know you very well, but this good chance fix that, and you seem good at fighting, too! Want join Tora and Poppi?”

Whether or not Red accepted, the pair got moving shortly. After consulting the train station’s map board to find water treatment, Tora walked there with a skip in his step. Compared to the sheer effort of braving the unknown for the sake of the Seeker’s mission, going down into some sewers to kill rats was a paradoxical breath of fresh air. Classic adventuring fare, Tora figured.

On the way there, Poppi attempted to glance up at the sun, but found it too strong for even her optical sensors. She blinked, turning her gaze back to the streets. Each one bustled with activity, full of a huge variety of unfamiliar faces. Who would have thought that such a normal city existed way out into such an inhospitable region? “How Masterpon handling desert heat?” she asked.

“Phew!” Tora wiped some sweat off his row. “Not fun, Tora tell you that! Hotter than Mor Ardain, and way more sandy. Tora more thankful for Poppi than ever.” He glanced her way. “Um, now that mention it can Poppi cool Tora off now, meh? Became really hottypon in train station, even in shade.”

Obligingly his companion showered him with a spray of diamond dust, and the Nopon sighed in relief and delight. “Ah, much better! Thank you Poppi!” She smiled and bowed her head, happy to help. As they got underway once more, her Masterpon returned the question. “How about Poppi? Hold up okay, meh?”

“Oh, it alright. Sand in joints annoying. Overall durability decreasing slightly faster than normal, and ether drain slightly higher to regulate temperature. But Poppi enjoy desert.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “Or maybe, it better to say Poppi fascinated by desert. It so incredibly vast. Bigger than any Titan. Looking out over miles and miles make Poppi feel very small.”

Tora nodded. “Meh, meh. That for sure. Tora smaller than Poppi, too, so it even worse. Although Tora care more about all the walking. Legs killing me! Good thing Tora build up resistance running around Titans all day with Rex.”

After a slight laugh the artificial remarked, “Poppi grateful Tora not give her tiny Nopon legs. If Masterpon want be carried, just let Poppi know~!”

Tora spotted the entrance to the waterworks and changed course for it as he shook his head. “No thanks, meh. Tora determined hold on to what little dignity Tora can.” With one wing he scratched his belly. “Well, in public, at least.”

The water facility turned out to be surprisingly well-lit and brightly decorated, with flower patterns across the walls and ceilings. A stairway led Tora and Poppi down into the cistern itself, which opened up into a grand central chamber. Only after oohing and aahing over the great stone head that loomed above them did Tora remember he was here to kill some rats or something. “Well! Tora couldn’t imagine more pleasant sewer system. Let’s go, Poppi!”

“Roger, roger!”

Primrose & Panther


Glad for the dancer’s acceptance and company, Panther headed south from the train station in the footsteps of the other Phantom Thieves. Where they ended up she could not rightly say, but once she grew near enough she could reach them via radio contact. Just how their masks allowed them to communicate she didn’t know, but she sure wasn’t questioning it. With that in mind, all she and Primrose needed to do was wander around the southern section of Al Mamoon, and Panther certainly didn’t mind a little sightseeing, even if she felt like having lunch soon.

Bit by bit they worked their way through the streets, with no response to her occasional hails. Everywhere she turned there was something new and interesting, and her stomach led her where her eyes did not. Try as she might, however, poor Panther couldn’t wheedle so much as a single kebab from a bored-looking cart-minder with her feminine charms. Despite boasting more allure than ever before she met failure at every turn, as if everyone saw straight through her--which was not out of the question, as only a little observation was enough to convince Primrose that her new friend was a terrible actress. “Jeez, what do I have to do, Marin Karin?!” she pouted at length. “Whenever I see someone else do this, it seems like the easiest thing in the world. Just bat a few eyelashes and suddenly people are tripping all over you.”

She looked herself over, wondering if her new outfit was to blame, or if her snake tail was putting people off, but ended up glancing at Primrose. “Oh, uh. I mean the, like, royal ‘you’, but I guess you’ve got that stuff nailed down. You’ve been turning heads all day.” As she spoke Panther did her best to keep her envy out of her voice, since she bore Primrose no ill will whatsoever. “Sorry, it’s just a little frustrating to not know what’s wrong.”

Midna’s trail, and the city’s accommodating if relatively sparse shadows led her to the shuttered church without incident. Though not that large, the former place of worship sported both impressive domes and well-laid roofing tile, both in a bronze color that contrasted its stone brick. Even without a lot of familiarity with this architectural style Midna could tell this place was old. More pressing than its appearance, however, was whatever allegedly lay within, and that drove the Twilight Princess to look for an entrance.

The main door seemed thoroughly sealed, but the church had a number of windows. All those at street level had been nailed over with wooden boards by whichever city officials condemned the building, but those higher up had made such treatment impractical for several reasons. Toward the church’s top its openings were less windows and more missing sections of wall with interspersed pillars, and for someone who could float they offered an easy way inside.

The moment Midna entered, however, demonic runes closed over the openings, trapping her inside. Given her experience with Twilight Beasts it wasn’t the first time something like this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. What it meant concerned her more: the presence of enemies that could be dispatched in order to dispel the barrier. That made things easy. And the freakish, gibbering noises she could hear down below made it even easier.

In the wide-open space of the church’s ground floor, a strange-looking sword rested, embedded, in the altar. It contrasted sharply with the style and decor of the place, suggesting that it did not belong, and since being jammed there it had attracted all the wrong attention. Three grotesque things contorted themselves before it, leaping and gyrating in a bizarre, disturbing dance of adulation. They were mockeries of flesh, bone, and eye too horrible to ever have been human, and the noises they made as they supplicated before the cursed blade were the stuff to keep the average man up at night.

Midna knew what she had to do, but she knew not if she had the strength to do it. If this seemed like more than she could handle, surely there existed another way out of the church that she need only find.

Fox & Big Band


With Band trailing at a respectful distance and not at all trying to hide it from Fox, the detective followed the pilot as he made his way north through the city, then northwest. Maybe Fox thought he could figure things out on his own, but Band doubted his new acquaintance heard the whispers like he did, and with things the way they were Band didn’t plan on either of them going solo. This wasn’t necessarily the direction he would have chosen to start a sweep in, but Band was in no rush. These things took time, especially when done right, so he was in it for the long haul.

Fox’s happenstance wandering took him to a relatively open area among the buildings, its mosaic paths leading through carefully cultivated garden beds brimming with flowers. Marble fountainheads carved into fish and serpents spat streams of water in fanciful arcs for children to play in. As soon as he entered, Band slowed for a moment and set a timer in his head. He’d been here last night and taken the whole thing in, but not in a pragmatic sense like he wanted to now. There existed only a short period in which he could get the lay of the land without looking like he was searching for something, so he needed to read between the lines fast. In that department his long years of experience were an invaluable asset, and as his eyes swept over the scene they saw a great deal.

Judging by both the furnishings on the buildings and the architecture itself, the park lay between a residential district to the north and the business distinct to the east, with the train station and a few other public other utilities just on the other side of a row of hotels to the south. Temporary accommodations and transport went together like bread and butter after all, and so did work and rest in the lives of the average citizen. Foot traffic between the two distincts along the upper-right quadrant of the park far outweighed it in the rest, told as much in the wear on the tiles as by the people walking that route even now. His wasn’t the only eye savvy to that phenomenon, however, and the buildings lining that section of street outshone their peers elsewhere. And above them all was the establishment right in the corner, the Hound Pits.

With doors wide open to invite in anyone bracing themselves for the work day or relaxing after it, the comfortably laid-out bar had been buzzing even in the wee hours of the night when Band’s train rolled in, and it was buzzing now. Not too busy, not too calm. A waypoint in a threshold, a liminal space between worlds where anyone could find a few moments’ refuge. Band waltzed that way.

Rather than enter, however, he parked himself right outside. With one spindly mechanical arm he removed his hat, which he held upside down and dropped on the ground in front of him. From beneath his coat he produced a music stand that he sat down on, and the front parted to admit a saxophone. When he put it to his lips, the spell was cast: for however much he stood out normally, the big man had disappeared. Set up like this he was barely higher on the social ladder than a beggar; his very presence posed a question to each and every bystander as to whether they would avert their eyes and mind their own business, or stop to listen to his music with the unspoken expectation that they would toss a little something something into his hat. He played low but upbeat, a familiar and pleasant tune that perfectly complemented the sort of brief but vivacious meetings and meals of a working day lunch or drink. His jazzy, soulful notes wove through the air, across the park and into the bar. Band felt quite confident as he banked on nobody sallying forth from the Hound Pits to shoo him off, what with his playing skill. If anything the proprietors might be willing to tolerate him for the extra atmosphere he provided and the extra customers he attracted--the townsfolk might even think him a hired amenity of the bar itself. In only a few moments the biggest man around put himself off everyone’s radar, faded into the backdrop, a piece of the scenery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It was as good as an invisibility potion, and it allowed him to accomplish his real purpose. In this comfortably transitory, interim place, he could pick up all sorts of things both from inside the bar and out. Sound, after all, was his speciality. Even while playing Band could eavesdrop on a bevy of conversations, whether at rest or on the move, hunting for any suspicious trace that might point him in the right direction.

Al Mamoon - Palatial Gallery

@Zoey Boey

Joker turned his eyes on Jesse as she approached, offering her sympathies for Morgana’s condition. In the heat of the moment he didn’t identify her before, but now he recognized her as the woman he’d seen acting casual near the gates. A redhead, at least ten years older than him, seemingly capable. Judging by her involvement in the action and what seemed like an understanding with the guards, he guessed she was some sort of undercover security. Then again he might be overthinking things, since ‘unaffiliated bystander’ worked just as well. She didn’t seem to shy away from a fight or freak out when faced with strange things, which lent credence to the idea she possessed some degree of power and/or agency of her own, although she arrived too late to make much of a difference.

“We’re alright,” he told her. “Considering everything that gun seemed capable of, it could have been a lot worse.” The stranger went ahead and dispelled any need for conjectures by spelling out her own reason for being here. Having failed to apprehend such a dangerous and unpredictable individual before no doubt stung. At least she would be able to enjoy some good luck today. “Well, no need to wait for next time. Mission control?”

“Yes, what is it?” a girl’s voice came through some hidden communicator.

“There should be a UFO above the museum. Do you see it?”

“Ummm…” A brief moment passed before Joker’s contact got excited. “Oh, yes! I see some sort of golden...thing, covered with balloons and jets!”

Joker gave a slight smile. “There’s a man riding it. Disarm and apprehend him, please.”

“Sure thing! Going in now!”

“Great. Joker out.” The Phantom Thief ‘hung up’, then helped Skull lift up Mona. He waved at Jesse. “Where’d you come from? The courtyard?” Unfortunately for Jesse’s well-planned conversational tactics, she would need to wait for now. As the guards picked themselves up and unruffled their feathers the Phantom Thieves made tracks down the corridor Jesse entered through. They moved as if they knew the place, straight past the reflecting pool and out through the Japanese screens into the courtyard.

There the small group found an honest-to-God alien ship hovering above the hedges, its flashing lights dull in the daytime and the cthuloid ornament on top gently rotating. A number of large tentacles extruded from its bottom, one of which constricted the very hapless scientist who’d managed to give Jesse and the others the slip. His gun dangled in the fingers of the three hands that terminated one tentacle, and a crumpled Infinite Spring lay face-down in a planter dotted by shreds of balloon rubber. Although the contraption featured no eyes, it waved when the Thieves approached, both parties without even a shred of apprehension. “Hi, Joker! I managed to catch the guy. Totally blindsided him too. He shot me with this, I think?”

Necronomicon held out the tool gun with her hands for Joker to take. As he accepted it he noted that the formerly small tri-hands compared in size to his own, confirming what he’s hypothesized as he approached. “This gun changes things. He made you bigger, I think.”

“Bigger? Oh, no! Now everyone’s gonna look at me weird! I can’t stick out in crowds!?” The UFO wrapped herself in a couple of her tentacles as if to hide her face, mortified.

Joker kept his focus on the gun, trying to figure it out, as he replied without paying direct attention. “Don’t worry, Futaba. We’ll just fix it with this, and even if we couldn’t, we’d still like you.”


Skull’s increasingly confused look turned to annoyance. “Oh, for cryin’ out loud! Joker, it’s Necronomicon, not Futaba! And you: you’re a spaceship, remember? Nobody’s gonna care! Might even be better if you can fly more people around.”

“Will you dummies quit arguing and shrink my head already!?” Mona could only look so irate upside down.

Just a little embarrassed, Joker threw up a hand in resignation. “I’ve been trying! This thing just doesn’t want to listen.” For some reason, the Tool Gun wasn’t responding to him. Jesse, however, could somehow feel it even when it wasn’t in her hand, as if it longed for her touch.

“Maybe it’s got some kind of security measure?” Skull suggested. “Or maybe Necro squeezed it too hard.”

“Oh no!” the remarkably self-conscious spaceship repeated in dismay. “Am I gonna be stuck like this forever?”

“At least you can still move!” Mona cried, wiggling angrily. “Here, gimme that thing!” The bunch continued to argue, with the old man sneaking in some protests here and there, but it was the Tool Gun on Jesse’s mind.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (27/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1352

An extremely dizzy Nadia remained all but senseless for a while, strewn across Shippy’s deck, but with the Life Gem’s help she began to recover, spurred on her way by the strange sensation of being touched in many places at once. “Mrow!” Her head yelled, jerking awake to find half her parts held tight in Rika’s arms. “That’s my, nyahaha…! That tickles! No petting! Lemme go, lemme…achoo! She sneezed her head right out of the Abyssal’s collection, alarming Rika and shifting the whole lot enough to send her bits back down to the deck in a heap. Muscle fibers shot out from her various separation points to reconnect them, and in the span of just a couple seconds Nadia pulled herself together enough to sit up and catch her falling head in her hand. With a grin she popped it back on, but the moment she tried to get up she plopped right back down. “Guh! I guess I’m...still dizzy. It’ll be a minute or two be-fur I’m...good to go.” She reclined against the ship’s mast to get her head fully on straight.

Her position turned out to be a front-row seat for what happened next. Nadia watched, spellbound, as a gigantic slab of weathered stone tumbled from the seastack’s peak. Even with Shippy well removed from its splash zone she couldn’t help but be a little intimidated by its titanic mass, and worried along with Sakura about what fate might befall the Cadet and Bowser, who as far as she knew were still up there with that horror. Link shared their concern, and unveiled his magic tablet once again for an even more ambitious save than the last. The feral’s eyes went wide when she realized just what he meant to do. Can he really do it? Saving the out-of-control Atomos was one (very good) thing, but this veritable mountaintop was a few whole orders of magnitude bigger and heavier. Yet Link was dauntless. He thrust the Sheikah Slate skyward from Shippy’s prow, sending forth the golden chains of stasis, and with a metallic note the slab stopped in its tracks.

Nadia let out her pent-up breath in a laugh. “Whoa...way to go, Link! A real catch of the day!” When the Atomos swooped near she spotted Bowser leap from the suspended mass to its deck, his own catch held tight in his claws. The sight of Scylla still in one piece took her by surprise, and though Geralt answered for Sakura she did not hesitate to voice her own dismay. “What!? She’s still alive!?” she yelled aloud for the sake of anyone who didn’t happen to see. “Why?” Whether from her high-flying stunt or the battle in general the feral still wasn’t thinking straight, so she couldn’t fathom King Koopa’s intentions for the tiny terror. It just didn’t make sense!

Up on the airship, Scylla rolled across the deck and came to a stop on her stomach. “Oww!” she cried, childlike, and when she rose onto her elbows her face was one of bafflement. In that brief moment she looked, for the first time, rather like a confused little girl. The illusion did not hold.

When she realized that somehow she’d been restored to pristine health, Scylla gave the Koopas a look that dripped venom, and cackled. “Hehe...heheheheheh!” From beneath her dress a flood of tentacles burst in a writhing mass, all at their original size. She rose as they piled beneath her, cackling while she raised her arms. The Atomos began to sink downward, overburdened by the combined weight of the horror’s heaped-up limbs. All seven eel heads formed up around her, bearing down on the Koopa’s like a ravenous pack of dogs. They lunged, only to stop short as an immense, flabby purple arm careened just over the Bowser’s head and slammed Scylla head-on. The flailing horror screamed as Tentalus clotheslined her right off the Atomos and into the time-stopped crag, which unfroze the next moment with the Cadet still atop it to hurtle into the ocean with a tremendous splash. He had little choice but to leap for Tentalus, but ample cause.

Not annihilating the Atomos in the process, of course, came as an unexpected and indeed unintentional miracle for its passengers. Any hasty conclusion that the much bigger leviathan was on the heroes’ side was crushed as purple tentacles, regardless of warnings, erupted from the sea. One batch appeared on either side of Shippy, and another around Geralt’s Ordnance Platform. The two that wrapped around his main cannon’s barrel wrenched the whole upper portion of the machine sideways and pushed around its sub-weapons, rendering everything but the Witcher himself harmless, provided he wasn’t thrown into the drink.

Nadia jumped to her feet, took a split second to steady herself, and charged. She raked the flabby meat of the nearest tentacle with her claws and found it way less tough than Scylla’s eels. Likewise Peach blew apart a couple with ease thanks to a Grenaduck and her boomshot, but a new problem quickly presented itself. The tentacles regenerated shockingly fast, with a new one rising to grab hold of the ship or its cannon batteries mere moments after the last sank beneath the water.

Luckily, if Tentalus meant to take down the Atomos it was already too late. Free of its nightmarish burden the airship got out of the behemoth’s range lickety-split, so Tentalus focused on the horror floundering at the base of the seastack instead. While its lower tentacles held tight the other threats it rounded on Scylla, its arm raised to pummel her once again. Its enormous orange eye was full of rage, but not so keen that it spotted something moving through the great behind it--something very, very big, and headed its way very, very fast. As Nadia hacked through another tentacle and leaned on the railing to catch her breath, she watched the severed stump slide down into the water, and froze when she saw something else rising up from the deep. “Sh-sh-sh-SHARK!” she screamed, and everything turned to chaos.

The Megalodon erupted from the ocean like some primeval god, so close that when it brushed against the inconsequential vessel the impact sent its passengers sprawling to the deck. It breached with enough force to send its entire mass up from the surface and toward more tempting prey than Shippy: Tentalus’ back. “Ace!” Nadia yowled. “JUMP!” A moment later the nightmare shark plowed into its target, its nested jaws carving through flesh like it was butter. Tentalus bellowed, its tentacles letting go of their holds to whip wildly, as the titanic shark’s weight drove it into and below the water. There came a splash soaked everyone to the bone, and the monsters were gone.

Peach coughed explosively, slapping Shippy’s wheel. “Go, go, go! Get the hell outta here!” Once Ace and Geralt had been collected the vessel lurched forward across the choppy sea at maximum speed, quickly leaving the seastack and its horrors behind.

A moment passed before Nadia even dared to breath again, let alone speak. She crawled over to where Blazermate’s dispenser still stood and wrapped her arms around it to take care of her fish bites and resupply her cannons. “Hoooooh…” she exhaled after she could feel the machine’s healing warmth. She gave a weary smile. “That was craaazy. Always a bigger fish, I guess. Gotta give that thing credit for helping, I guess. Sea plus.”

A hand appeared on the railing nearby and Bella hauled herself up onto the deck, her sundress utterly soaked and her expression utterly haunted. “Excusez-moi, I need to...lie down.” Nadia shakily let go of the dispenser to help pull, with Sakura’s strength from below a great help to shift Bella’s tail. Once done the feral steadied herself against the railing to give the others a chance at the dispenser, and looked out across the sea while thunder rolled overhead. Both the structure with the beacon and the storm were a lot closer. “Waves getting worse,” she observed, shifting her balance to stay upright as Shippy went up and down the swells. “Hope nobody’s seasick.”

With an ever-so-slightly amused look as he considered Linkle’s conjecture, Albedo led the way toward the narrow cliff path. “It is impressive, isn’t it? A completely different architectural style from any place of worship I’ve ever seen. The product of a totally different culture. Beautiful, perhaps even frightening in its austerity, with a less-is-more sort of attitude conveyed through the structure itself.” The alchemist paused momentarily as one boot sank into a drift, then yanked it out and dusted off his new coat. “I’m almost eager to see the inside.”

Unfortunately the moment of clarity during which the pair saw the monastery faded, and the chill wind brought curtains of snow. It made the mountainside road, already more treacherous and uneven than either would have liked, a dangerous prospect even with crude fences built into the stone here and there to provide some support. The required climbing and jumping meant that without some ingenuity the Skullgirl would be better off leaving her sled beneath an overhang for collection on the way back.

Even without it, however, she carried a potent burden as she made her way along the precipice. The wolfish wind bit into her with unrelenting fangs, chasing what little warmth remained from her husk. Ahead of her Albedo, aided by his flower constructs, faded into the tumultuous white. Certain death loomed only a few feet to the right, and with mortality so clarified it became tougher to keep the darkness from her mind. It numbed her and weighed her down, telling her that freedom from her suffering waited far, far below. Only in flashes could she make out a blurred figure ahead, but the indistinct shadow was not the outline of the boy she’d come to know. It loomed larger, taller, with a crown like the top half of a wagon wheel. It obstructed the path before her, telling her that inevitable confrontation lay somewhere ahead, yet however far she pushed on it continued to recede. Try and drown me out all you like, the howling wind seemed to whisper. I am here. I grow stronger. I am your destiny.

After what seemed like an age, the storm subsided, and Linkle caught up with Albedo at the monastery’s gates. Nobody answered a knock, and the frosted doors swung open without difficulty. The alchemist made his way across the snowy courtyard and to the doors of the first tower. These, however, opened wide on their own, and the two were admitted inside.

It was warmer inside than out, but not comfortable. Like the freshness of a clear fall day, it was just cool enough to bring out inner focus, while still being livable compared to the winter outside. That was far from the sharpest contrast, however. Despite its stark exterior the monastery’s inside featured a staggering multitude of color. Albedo’s eyes went wide at the amazing arrays of mosaic and tapestry, quilt and banner, mural, pillar, and painting. It was dreamlike in its beauty, its rich scarlets and crimsons the most impressive of all. Before the visitors stood two priests, one male and one female, both lightly armored and with enormous cross-shaped weapons stowed on their backs. The man, burly with strong brows, looked a little on the scary side, while the woman’s gaze was as dispassionate and chilly as the ice that hung over the doorway. They gave their visitors time to take in the sights, and the woman only spoke up when approached. “Welcome to the Cold Monastery,” she greeted the duo, her voice low, even, and soft. “Whether you are here for worship, enlightenment, or for a reprieve from winter’s clutches, you may stay here so long as you preserve its mindful tranquility.”

Albedo kept his voice at a whisper. “Thank you. We are here in search of knowledge. May we explore this place and ask around?”

The woman nodded. “The first three towers and their various shrines are open to you. Please do not disturb anyone engaged in worship or meditation, but those unoccupied by such pursuits may be able to help you.” Bowing their heads, the priests moved aside to let the visitors pass. Albedo stepped between them and right away spotted a number of monks kneeling at the far side of the main space, which explained the whisper. Still a little taken aback by the cultural rather than opulent splendor of the interior, he wondered where to go and ended up looking to his companion. Maybe Linkle would be better at navigating a temple than he.

Edge of the Blue - Creature Beach

When the members of the posse went at her, Sephiroth went on the defensive, using thrusts from her nodachi to make her opponents think twice about how badly they wanted to get close. She managed to stab into Karin’s shoulder, not too far from her heart, and then into Bacchus’ chest and a fishman’s throat in quick succession, but that was all her strategy managed to achieve, for its fatal flaws were then made evident. The lethality of thrusting attacks could heartily discourage one enemy at a time, but against a group of seven, and with such a ridiculously long blade, the others closed in far too quickly. Sephiroth’s attempt to charge up a Gigaflare came to an abrupt end when Birdie, whirling his chain like a vertical lasso, slung its metal length to grab her arm. A hearty yank pulled the much, much lighter woman off balance and canceled her spell. Then Karin, holding fast despite her bloody wound, dashed in.

The young lady’s face featured none of the smugness or elegance she put on display for Sakura the other day--only a cold grace, and lethal effectiveness. Sephiroth had, after all, made clear that this was a fight to the death. With righteous fists she delivered a one-two strike to the murderer’s diaphragm, then liver. Robbed of breath and paralyzed by the agony of a cattle prod to a vital organ, Sephiroth sagged to the sand.

Even as she faltered, however, Sephiroth was consumed by rage. It bubbled and roiled inside her, screaming even if her voice could not. How could she be brought to her knees by this trash...this rabble!? Her strength and defiance welled up inside her, overpowering the paralysis, and with a wordless scream she clasped her limp fingers around Masamune’s hilt. Rivulets of blood, the blood of humans, fishmen, a Pokemon, and even a god, spattered the thirsty sand as the blade flashed in the sunlight.

Then, as the last fishman burbled his last, Nanu’s Lycanroc bolstered his fading consciousness and unleashed his Counter. His stony claws ripped into Sephiroth’s arm with twice the force of her own desperate slash, shredding the flesh and muscle of her sword arm as he gouged the bone. Overloaded by a flood of stimulus and baffled by what just happened, the swordswoman could only watch as her foes closed in. Though ants to be crushed beneath her heel, she had fallen to the ground, and now they were swarming atop her, ready to eat her alive.

“I almost feel bad for this,” Shantae sighed. “But you asked for it.”

With the fight clearly over the posse might have stopped there, if it weren’t for the gleam in their eyes. There would be no mercy now.

“Gothitelle…” she dimly heard someone say as Bacchus raised his jug with both hands. “Heal pulse, now!”

Before Sephiroth could figure out what that meant, the jug mashed her face, breaking her nose and knocking out teeth. Karin and Birdie took over as Bacchus and the Lycanroc received their healing, pummeling her with the graciously unstoppable force of a waterfall and brutal, ungainly strikes, respectively. Once no longer bleeding out Bacchus belly-flopped in again, throwing Sephiroth into the air in a spray of sand, where the Gothitelle coalesced a crumplezone of psychic force amidst a flurry of fireballs from Shantae. The Lycanroc brought her down with a leaping slash.

Birdie saw his chance. “Now I’m gonna ‘ave my fun witcha!” He charged forward with a heavy headbutt, striking Sephiroth as she fell. She flew off to the side only to stop suddenly, the chains wound around her pulled tight. With a leer Birdie pulled her back toward him. As she slid under he leaped over and pulled her around again in a full loop to smash into the sand again in a brutal version of jump rose. After two revolutions, during one of which he did the splits mid-air, he pulled off a somersault to drum up some extra force and slammed Sephiroth face-first into the sand, burying her up to her middle. Then Shantae fell from the sky in the form of an elephant and crushed the murdered to smithereens.

When Shantae got up a moment later and turned back to normal, the group found only a pile of ashes in the sand, and three spirits sitting atop it: one of a long-haired man wielding the nodachi, one of a masked sorceress, and one of Scharnhorst. Nearby the fishman spirits floated, tragedies in and of themselves. As the other pursuers worked to steady their breathing and nurse their wounds, Nanu gathered the spirits into his Bag, and Shantae looked horrified. “Oh, gosh...oh, gosh! What in the world came over me?” She held her hands to her head. “Even for such an awful villain, that was too much…”

Holding her hand on her chest, Karin was only a little farther ahead in composing herself. “My word...we must have gotten a little carried away.” She kept her eyes off the ashes while the policeman did his work. “I can only guess...that the vile woman there...awakened something primal in us. Some kind of extreme fight-or-flight instinct.” She glanced at Bacchus, who was scratching his beard uncomfortably, and at Birdie, who seemed a little disquieted himself, but neither said anything.

Nanu looked grim as he withdrew his Pokemon. “My apologies, folks. Things can get pretty awful in this line of work, with lives on the line. If the peacekeepers of Limsa were any stronger, I would not have asked you to come.”

“No, no, it’s alright. I insisted I should be part of the team, anyway,” Shantae breathed. “If I’m really a hero, then it’s my duty to confront evildoers.” Her breathing steadied as she gazed off to where the sea met the sky. “I only wish that this felt a little more like justice.”

“Guess we oughta ‘ead on back to Limsa,” Birdie grumbled as he wiped bloody sand off his shoulder. “Tell ‘em we got the slag ‘n all.”

Shantae frowned. “I’ll go back to that place and give them the guards’ spirits. Tell them the bad news. Its the least we can do after we dragged them out here, only for that monster to cut them down.”

Nanu nodded, and the group got underway.
Tora, Poppi and Big Band

Level 8 Poppi (72/80) and Level 2 Big Band (10/20)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Primrose's @Yankee, Fox's @Dawnrider, Sectonia's @Archmage MC, Midna's @DracoLunaris, Yoshitsune's @Rockin Strings, Red’s @TheDemonHound, Laharl’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 850

With Tora, Braum, and Yoshitsune -fresh back from a visit to the bazaar after his business at the forge- all caught up to speed, the reunited group could finally split up once more. Midna steered them away from the train platforms where the Conductor remained and toward the entrance, where a few rows of handy benches just out of the way of foot traffic provided a place for those weary of walking around the city to rest their legs for a moment. Poppi felt no fatigue of her own, but when Tora hopped up and plopped down into a chair she seated himself right as his side. He lifted his new friend the Downy Crake from where it sat in comfort atop his head. “How doing, Pufi?” he asked, stroking the bird’s luxuriously soft feathers with a wing. “Hungry? What does Pufi eat?”

Pufi, however, kept his silence, so Tora kept petting him. He winced when Big Band seated himself across the aisle, his weight causing the bench to issue a protesting crack even when applied gingerly. The detective raised one leg and laid it across the other, giving many of the group the chance to realize for the first time that both appeared to be wholly artificial. If it put Braum off, however, he gave no sign, happily seated himself by his fellow big man. He leaned his shield against his knees, long edge on the ground, and bent forward to rest his elbows on it. “Hooh!” he exhaled mightily. “I’m sweltering in this desert heat, even indoors. My frozen homeland left me ill-prepared; for all my time with the REDs and BLUs, I’m still not used to it. Look at this sunburn!” He rubbed at the peeling skin on his shoulder, then nodded at Band. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through!”

Band chuckled. “It ain’t so bad for me. If I run hot, my coolers kick in to keep me from overheatin’, so I’m always feelin’ sweet ‘n lovely.” He took a deep breath in and out, then planted his crossed leg back to the floor to lean forward. “Then again, we can’t get too comfortable. We’ve got some business to take care of.”

Poppi clasped her hands together on her lap. “So, everyone going to try find rebellion members?”

“Oh no, not by a long shot,” Band told her. “If someone doesn’t wanna be found, they’ll hit the tracks the moment they see folks’re out lookin’.”

With a concerned look Poppi tried to think of alternative. “That mean we need think of other way to find them than just look around…”

Her seriousness seemed to put Band in a jovial mood. “Nah, that means we just gotta swing low, sweet chariot. Groups of three or four oughta do the trick. Small, agile, less conspicuous. And we can’t just futz around askin’ about ‘em outright. We gotta be a little smarter.” The big man took a look at Fox. “Not tryin’ to take control or anything, just speakin’ from experience. Long nights ‘neath that old devil moon.”

Tora could count a lot more people present than three or four, and he guessed that their knowledgeable new friend did too, although what he meant by ‘sweet chariot’ he had yet to fathom. “What about rest of us?”

Band looked back down the platform. “That Conductor already told you. But guessin’ from the chit-chat right before we waltzed to the temple, you all got some light pockets. Could knock out a few commissions in the meantime.” He produced a tiny metal arm from within his coat and pointed toward a board by the station door. A bulletin hung there with an assortment of job posters tacked onto it, offering a handful of miscellaneous tasks for anyone with time and wallet space to spare.

“I didn’t happen to take note of the Bounties when we’re in there, but those are on the table, too. Seems like a tough bunch here,” the detective observed.

Panther took the opportunity to speak up. “Fun as that all sounds, I should go look for the guys. They’re probably goofing off somewhere without me.” She sounded more remorseful than reproachful, as if she was missing out. Having only warmed up to a few of the Yellow Team members so far, she’d been out of her element among the rest of them and not very impactful during the exchange with the Grimleal. “If anyone wants to lend a hand, I’d really appreciate it!” Though she mentioned nobody in particular, the direction of her gaze made it clear who she’d prefer.

“Whatever your business is, you get about it, and I’ll hop to mine.” With a grunt Big Band leveraged himself onto his feet, reattaining his impressive full height.

His imminent departure left Tora looking surprised. “Going already?”

Band glanced his way as though the Nopon had asked an obvious question. “From the clock's chime to the cock's crow is but an instant. I must go.”

Following his lead Tora and Poppi got to their feet. “Maybe Masterpon leave work that needs discretion to others,” the artificial blade teased.

“Hmph! Tora super good at discretion. Tora up for just about anything, really” the Nopon declared. “Tough enough for bounties, for sure. Who need help?”

Al Mamoon - Palatial Gallery

@Zoey Boey

From her position Jesse could cut through the chaos, but seeing the mad scientist just about to make his getaway and stopping it were two different things. Her yell caught the Phantom Thieves in the midst of the pandemonium, turning their attention upward. For a brief moment Joker’s eyebrows went up as he realized the culprit was on the verge of getting away, and with his trophy to boot, but his expression turned to determination the next second. Not on his watch.

“I got it!” He called, extended his arm upward. Rather than sending forth his grappling hook to grab an opportune hold up high, however, his device coughed up only a short section of cord. Joker stared at it in dismay--he hadn’t internalized that his hook broke in the upswell. “Or...don’t got it,” he growled.

Skull shook his head with a snicker, “Man, you gotta get that fixed. Guess it’s on us.” He ducked out of the way of an errant thruster, then beckoned the feline over. “C’mere kitty cat, it’s time for the Morgana Space Program!”

“I’m not a cat!” Mona scolded him, but he came nonetheless. He ran and jumped into Skull’s arms, and the boy spun around once, twice, before hurling Mona upward. Grinning from ear to ear, the blue-eye cat thrust his sword at the Infinite Spring. “Show ‘em your might, Zorro! Magarula!”

The persona manifested once more, rapidly slashing his iconic rapier through the air to whip up a wide-reaching gale. His whirlwind flooded the room and swept up balloons, thrusters, and Tengu guards alike, pushing them toward the edges. Through it all the Infinite Spring somehow kept stable, maybe due to the odd spheres stuck to the statue’s extremities that glowed and hummed. Whatever the case, Mona had plenty of airtime left. “Now, Zorro! Lucky Pun-!”

He was cut short as the old man poked over the edge of the Infinite Spring and shot him square in the face. Mona’s head instantly doubled in size, more than tripling the poor cat’s total weight, and with a confused yowl Mona plummeted toward the floor. Without so much as a second’s hesitation Joker abandoned the One-Shot Kill that his persona Leena had chambered, and alongside Skull, lunged for where his friend would fall.

By the time Jesse got into position, it was too late. The scientist had already removed the collision of the dome above, and now his unconventional ride carried him straight through it and into the skies of freedom. A few parting shots in the statue’s underside would change nothing, and more so than ever the FBC’s director was frustrated by the loss of her other abilities. Even the guards, feathers ruffled and heads spinning thanks to the whirlwind, were powerless to help. Smoke through her fingers, yet again.

Still, not an entirely fruitless encounter. A short ways away, the two unharmed Phantom Thieves crouched around their fallen friend. Mona seemed okay, but his head was so large he couldn’t even lift it under his own power, rendering him almost immobile. He looked to be on the verge of tears. “Hey, hey. You’re okay. Don’t start bawling on me.” Joker consoled him, patting the cat’s head. “We’ll get that rat before you know it. Just hang in there.”

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (24/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 897

Though eager to see what must surely be the end of Scylla’s story as anyone, Nadia had something else she needed to attend to at the moment: the surface of the ocean racing her way at terminal velocity. From certain heights, she knew, a fall into water could brutalize a man just about as badly as into solid ground. For just about anyone her climactic yet foolhardy attack and subsequent fall would be a death sentence, but Nadia Fortune wasn’t just anyone.

First things first: she needed to slow her fall. Nadia went from a nosedive into a spread-eagle position, pointed her batteries downward, and started to fire. Even miniature cannons put out an awful lot of kickback when mounted to a lightweight frame, which translated to a lot of motive force on the frictionless surface of the water, and she was counting on the same recoil that slammed Scylla’s tentacle halfway into sashimi to help slow her down. She opened fire and felt the weapons wrenching upward, only for the batteries to click empty a few moments later. Oof...welp, that’ll have to do. By now the Life Gem had refilled enough of her blood that she could pressurize it. A stunt popped into her mind, just crazy enough that it might work, and she couldn’t afford to weigh its pros and cons while she lost the deceleration her cannons earned her. I hope someone’s watching!

She twisted herself around until she got a bead on Shippy, then used her precious blood to shoot her way. Her eyes locked onto her target: the yardarm of the great central mast, its sail furled for a journey under the boat’s own power. As she fell closer she detached her forearms on lengths of muscle, and at the final pivotal moment, latched on with every fiber of her being. Her downward momentum converted to centripetal motion with the aid of one more blast of blood, and with a yowl of exhilaration she began to loop. Her claws dug into the wood as she looped around the yardarm, again and again, losing speed and length with each pass, until finally her wild ride came to an end with her dangling below the spar. She dropped to the deck below only to realize her head both hadn’t stopped spinning and felt rather light. “Waiter…” she gasped as she tottered a few steps backward. “...Check please!” With a final lurch she passed out, hitting the deck in a pile of parts.

Shippy’s other passengers could scarcely spare the time to admire her spectacle, however. The Lurchthorn demanded their full attention, but quickly found that it couldn’t take it. While the imprecise conical blasts from Peach’s boomshot only chipped at its armor, Mirage’s well-placed revolver shots cut to the quick, mowing through the meat of the monster’s segments. No stranger to weak points, Link and Mr. L followed suit. When each segment took damage, it flipped to the other side as an act of self-defense, but the Lurchthorn only managed to delay the inevitable. The damage piled up, and when Rika went for the head the thing’s fate was sealed. A final, sickening CRACK rang out when the fatal blow was struck, and the skeletal fish’s segments went through a chain explosion from the tail all the way to the head. With it taken care of, and Shippy out of frenzied, chum-strewn waters, the passengers were free to focus on the clash of the titans up ahead.

Though he huffed and puffed, Bowser had reached his destination. He hauled himself up from his long climb and faced a monster bereft of tentacles, only to assume that talking was a free action. As a friend heart appeared between his claws a pair of sea-green sorceries burst against his chest. Even with a few of her tentacles down for the count, Scylla wasn’t about to relent, and she quickly showed him why. As the Koopa King charged she pulsed with power, gaining a golden sheen. “It’s playtime!” The horror of the deep rose atop a fresh batch of four tentacles, albeit much smaller than the ones before. Bowser’s turrets and tentacles barraged her, but for now she would not be stopped. Scylla leaned back on the rear two as the frontal pair rose up, poised to crush her assailant beneath their withering power.

It was a singular moment, a simple contest of hideous strength versus stalwart fortitude. Her tentacles slammed down hard. Shell cracked, beaks broke, weapons bent, and shards of stone flew far and wide, but from the dust Bowser still came. The golden aura faded as Scylla’s tentacles retracted, setting her down dumbfounded, and before she could hurl another faceful of noxious magic Bowser scooped her up in his claws. She screamed in rage, and her tentacles thrashed and bit. “Think you’re tough?” she shrieked. “I’ll kill you! I’ll rip you up and paint your guts on the rocks!” Though badly wounded, fading fast, and still under attack, Bowser received his hard-won chance to take definitive action against the tiny terror.

But that opportunity lasted only a moment, for Tentalus threw his weight against the seastack, and this time the behemoth won. The tall crag of stone had finally cracked, and that last impact jerked it irreparably out of balance. It began to fall, headed for a watery grave along with anyone without a decent exit strategy.

Of the various things he alluded to, Albedo did not anticipate the offhanded mention of Sucrose’s inhuman features to get much of a reaction from his new friend. He did not mind, however, and offered a little clarification. “More like cat ears,” he told her. “She is not a full-blooded Katzlein, so she has no tail. She tries to pass off her ears as part of her hair, and few ever realize otherwise.” However that might sound, he could not speak to any reason for doing so, save his assistant’s habitual shyness. Anything that would make her stand out, he assumed, she wanted to avoid. “And yes, she’s quite the bright spark. Despite her youth she’s made many achievements in bio-alchemy that would put experts in the field to shame.”

Comfortable in his seat, the warmth of Grillby’s interior, and the gift of good company, Albedo settled in for quite the story. It was as if the spirit of Hyrule’s history itself possessed Linkle, speaking through her in grand fashion to relate the epic saga of her world’s birth. He absorbed the deeds of Din, Nayru, and Farore as he worked away at his egg, bit by bit, until he’s taken in all there was to offer. Linkle’s description of the Triforce he met with interest, for although he regarded it as the typical wish-granting artifact of legend, he couldn’t help but wonder based on her description of the cyclical Legend of Zelda if such a power could come into play in this world. After that the Skullgirl dialed back from her world’s mythic lore to relate some more everyday details. If Albedo himself had lived an ordinary life he might have related to and been charmed by her tales of farm life, but he could only take her word for it.

More remarkable was the journey that must have led Linkle here. A simple farm girl, raised taking care of (what he assumed to be) chickens and hunting (what common sense dicated were) wolves by moonlight, now an undead warrior who commanded fire, ice, and lightning all at once...surely that made for a more fascinating tale? With the right reagents even the most basic materials could be utterly transformed.

Linkle went on to tell him about monsters and dungeons, and Albedo found himself nodding. Everything seemed to fit together nicely. Almost too nicely. He looked down to see a clean plate and an empty glass, then faced his new friend. “Thank you for telling me all that,” he said. “I said it before, but our worlds really do seem rather similar. Hard to believe this is coincidence. As for my world, though...I’m afraid you’d need to ask someone with a better grasp of history. Rather than things that were, I’m more concerned with things that are, have been, and always will be. A moment, please.” He rose from his chair and led his corgi over to the bar, where a small cushion was laid on the floor. The dog plopped into his makeshift bed, accustomed to this ritual, and Albedo stooped to give him a final scratch behind the ears before he headed back over.

“Ready to go?”

Thanks to his new coat, Albedo had no trouble leading the way through fresh snow to the south-southwest. Linkle followed him through an uneven land of hill and dale with frequent stands of trees. Here and there they passed the aged, cold-scarred remnants of fortifications that suggested the existence of some battle long ago, long since given over to the winter. Though animal sightings remained rare, the duo spotted a smattering of ice elementals, from the fragmented to the ethereal to the geometric. Surly-looking snowflakes glared at and blond that drew near, promising a cold reception if provoked. More problematic than the territorial elements, however, were foes that lay in wait.

When the pair stopped momentarily atop a snowy knoll, the nearby tree twisted their direction, the tips of their bare branches glowing hot against the cold sky. The Tree Women lurched down at the two with unexpected speed, snagging them in their long fingers of icy wood. The one that caught Albedo blew a stream of ice magic from her stretched mouths, but Albedo was ready. Before the monster could frost him over he manifested and plunged his sword straight into the narrow opening, prompting a hideous scream. She released him, flailing her arms with wild abandon, and Albedo dodged clear. “I dislike these things,” he remarked. “Easy to get away from, but irritating to spot.” That said, he doubted Linkle would find them very formidable. When his tree calmed down and started sending forth seeking candlelights from her branches, Albedo got a move on.

It wasn’t far from where the tree women lurked that the land fell away. Albedo and Linkle stood atop a stony cliff, looking out over an illimitable drop through frigid air at the temple the alchemist mentioned, although ‘temple’ didn’t quite do it much justice. The Cold Monastery was a series of towers atop mountainous spires, connected by bridges and dotted with frigid waterfalls that glittered in the sun. Each stood tall and loomed large, austere in their dignity. A trail toward the left led across a cliff, dangerously narrow at parts, and to the monastery’s gates.

Edge of the Blue - Creature Beach


On high alert for treachery, the posse meant to apprehend Sephiroth leaped to action the moment she did, and were rewarded for their vigilance. As she leaped skyward Birdie slung his chain at her, but the length fell short, and when she flung down explosive dark magics he scattered along with the rest. Sephiroth’s arc took her in the direction of the buried creature, but the others were quick on her heels even as she summoned forth her signature sword from nothing. “She can call her blade to hand!” Karin observed as she ran after the murderer across the sand, her fair features contorted by concentration. Everyone had been told to expect the unexpected, but there was no good way to anticipate this.

Still, rather than press the advantage of a hidden weapon to pull off a critical surprise attack, Sephiroth opted for another tactic. She assailed the buried creature with both magic and Masamune’s edge, attempting to goad it into attacking, but making assumptions was a risky business. The leviathan was so large, and so deeply entrenched in the ground, that she would need to do a lot better than that to provoke it. If anything, fleeing into its wide-open mouth and the labyrinthine depths of its innards might have been a better option. But Sephiroth wouldn’t be fleeing anywhere. As she leaped to try and make it over the creature, Officer Nanu saw his chance to nail her. “Now!”

Gothitelle activated Shadow Tag, sending forth her own shadow to surge forward and nail down Sephiroth’s as she took to the air in an attempt to flee. The moment the tag struck, Sephiroth dropped like a rock to the ground, all momentum lost. Then her pursuers reached her, and each took their turn.

First came Bacchus. He launched himself through the air in a flying belly flop, speeding past Karin and Shantae in the process. Before Sephiroth could rise from where Shadow Tag dropped her, the obese god splashed down, knocking her into the air. In a flash he was on his feet, and from his lips tore an obscene belch that took the form of waves of pink energy that barraged and overpowered Sephiroth, leaving her stunned. Next came Birdie with a rather more ordinary leap, chains in hand. “Nowhere to run!” He landed in front of his foe and struck her with a full force headbutt that staggered her backward. “Bahaha!”

All that gave Shantae more than enough time to complete her dance. “Transform!” In a burst of magic she changed into a blue-feathered harpy and flapped forward to seize Sephiroth by the shoulders with her talons, drawing blood. A powerful flap took her and her quarry into the air, and a moment later she slammed down, smashing Sephiroth into the sand. The impact jarred her talons loose, and she flapped backward to a safe distance.

Karin avoided the others’ punishing openers, but when her ally finished she rushed in to apply pressure, even though Sephiroth could act again. The reason why became clear when Bacchus blundered just begging to be hit, obviously trying to protect Karin as she dashed forward to deliver a quick series of punches. Birdie circled around to try a long-ranged chaingrab while Shantae flapped overhead, looking for a chance to dive. Nanu, meanwhile, called forth a second Pokemon. Lycanroc appeared in a flash, and with a quick command from her master ran forward to get a piece of the action.
Although she had no face to beam with, Mae made her pride palpable to her comrades in other ways. "Dahaha, thanks, boss!" she gurgled happily, her hands in a double fist-pump energetic enough to send her bulk swaying. The eminent voice and mighty being through which the Supreme One spoke only served to magnify her praise as far as Mae was concerned, and the headless horror was unafraid to show her adulation. After all her worries about measuring up to the others in terms of significant work, she'd been assured that doing one's duty with a full heart was all one needed. Lady Faetalis is the best!

Good news couldn't last forever, though. Barely had the guild arrived and begun to stabilize itself in this world, it seemed, than trouble decided to come a-knocking. We are being set upon. Mae's elation twisted into a mixture of alarm and anger. They were already under attack?! She applauded Faetalis for keeping her composure, but in its current state the guild couldn't hope to repel a typical threat. Was whoever did this coming to finish them off? When her master began to issue orders, however, Mae reigned herself in. Faetalis shared little in the way of details, but the chef realized that if making the terrain near the mountain impassable was enough to stave off this 'invasion', these unwelcome guests couldn't be that much of a threat.

Her conjectures came to an end, however, when the boss turned her way. She stood just a little less still than a statue as Faetalis outlined her own assignment, trying to hold in her growing excitement. Out of everyone present, she and hers would be trusted to make first contact with whoever these intruders were. For the first time since her creation, Canology Mae would be supporting the guild not from the kitchen, but from the front lines! She would have swelled with pride at being given the opportunity, if only she could get any more swollen. Already her flesh-hooks were singing for fresh meat! But then again, it sounded like Faetalis didn't want them hurt. "You got it, ma'am!" she roared. "You want 'em gotten rid of subtle-like, huh? Piece a' cake! Me'n the girls'll spook 'em so bad, they'll wish we did fillet 'em." To the comment about being a monster she gave no response, since surely the good lady knew she was being too polite. Monsters, after all, were what the cooks of the Gorging Trough were, and a chance to be themselves was as good as gold. "I'll hustle right on over an' tell Gamma, now. Be right back!"

Despite her declaration Mae left the meeting at more of a hasty trundle than a hustle, and she made straight for the insect's domain. On the way, however, her blindsight swept over the familiar contours of her sous-chef Head, tactfully having placed himself within her path. In so doing he could communicate that he needed her attention without so much as a spoken word or lift of his fingers, all in that politely pragmatic fashion that was so very Head. Mae slowed down. "Heya. What's cookin'?"

"A statement from the venerable Gammaton, chef," he responded drily.

Mae could sense the paper in his hands, but not what was on it. "A message, huh? Guess you'd better read it then," she told him.

"Quite." Having received Mae's permission, Head unfolded the letter and read aloud.

Conscious of the main task at hand, Mae processed the information as quickly as she could. "Creatures, huh? Well, they better not get consigned just yet! Kill 'em all for monster burgers and we'll eat for a week, but if we can start raisin' some livestock we'll eat forever! A steady line a' rare monsters is just what we need while we're short of ingredients!" She pounded her fists together, hyped up about her idea. "Alright, brainiac. You pay Gammaton a visit 'n survey the pens. Bring along whoever knows a thing or two about monsters. Figure out what beasties're practical to care for and raise long term, an' what we oughta kill off."

"Very good," Head told her, whatever he really thought thoroughly masked behind that cold veneer. "Since you're going that way, I'll follow you shortly."

Mae shook herself approvingly. "Great. See ya."

With a parting wave she waddled on over to Hivehill, searching for where Gammaton was overseeing the work of her ants. "Hey, Gamma! Boss got us a mission!" As she drew near she followed the concentration of the oversized workers in an effort to find their foreman. "Gamma! I'm here to getcha. Faetalis wants us to go and scare off an expedition that's comin' this way. Didn't say what of. Humans, I reckon. Anyway, we can bring our guys, too, and I guess we oughta be quick about it."
Poppi and Big Band

Level 8 Poppi (65/80) and Level 2 Big Band (3/20)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Primrose's @Yankee, Fox's @Dawnrider, Sectonia's @Archmage MC, Midna's @DracoLunaris, Yoshitsune's @Rockin Strings, Red’s @TheDemonHound, Laharl’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1341

The temple of the Grimleal, the acolytes within, the draconic monster above the altar, and just about everything to do with the three lieutenants combined to leave one big bad impression, but Poppi tried to keep an open mind. Everything indicated by both palace news and marketplace chatter indicated that things in the city were generally good, after all. It wasn’t as if they’d strolled into a city under the thumb of tyrannical oppression, after all, and it didn’t sound like Al Mamoon’s actual monarch really did her job, anyway. Poppi couldn’t help but see a pattern of indolence and mismanagement when thinking about both Queen Lowlah and Parnasses’ Fat Princess, but what it could mean she had no idea. So too was the artificial blade uncertain about the matter directly ahead of her: the conflict between the Grimleal and the Resistance. Common sense dictated that any dissident faction, however noble their purpose, could name themselves whatever they pleased, but given the unadulterated villainy exuded by this place, Poppi didn’t think she could be blamed for jumping to conclusions.

Big Band inclined his head at the Grimleal, offering them a little in the way of respect. “They call me Big Band. Howdy-do?” Despite that, similar thoughts to Poppi’s ran through his head. In the world of politics things were rarely clean-cut, and the reality of this situation could be any number of things that made terms like ‘evil’ and ‘good’ naive labels. Maybe ‘evil’ held sway and ‘good’ sought to strike back with guerilla tactics. Maybe this really was like politics and neither side was particularly ‘good’. Or maybe the vizier and his Grimleal were actually working for the common good, albeit with severe image issues, and violent insurrectionists were employing a virtuous facade like Ciella suggested. To her Band paid special attention, and not just because she rivaled his height even without her ears, or how made that strange outfit work, or how she leaned on hips disinclined toward deception. Out of the three lieutenants she was the both the most outspoken and outwardly warlike, having spelled out her disdain for the deceitful. The venom with which she despaired of them gave Band a bead on her as someone steered by extreme principles, whether they led her down the road of good or ill.

But however any of the lieutenants felt or whatever they expected of their new visitors, Band was not a mercenary, soldier, or crusader. In this world there was no New Meridian Police Department or Anti-Skullgirl Labs. He was just a detective, one who wanted to know the score, and to steer clear of ideological pitfalls. One truth prevails. Having heard the trio’s opening, he started working on some questions.

Midna got there first, offering a little wisdom. Band wondered if such a thing had truly not occurred to Ciella, or if she instead simply desired to move ahead with the conviction that she knew for certain what must be done. Maybe these Grimleal had been expecting allies who would not question what they were told, but from the brief time he’d already spent with this group, Band figured that wouldn’t be the case. Fox wasted little time making it clear that neither he nor the group he spoke for shared the Grimleal’s gung-ho attitude just yet. That did not elicit any happiness among the lieutenants, although when Primrose extended them a little courtesy the two men gave slight bows and Ciella tossed her hair. Taking into account her concerns along with the others, Ciella started from the top. “Correct,” she told Midna. “These perjurers are not your everyday fare. Like us they number comparatively few, but they possess speed, strength, and strong bonds. They huddle together in the shadows like vipers, unburdened by guilt or remorse as they lash out indiscriminately, and call it justice.”

Crossing his arms, Azwel sneered. “It takes no small amount of gall to stand in the way of progress, but they have gall to spare. Though they consort with a number of petty criminals, the core group numbers almost two dozen, as best we can gather, and they are no weaklings. Our acolytes can seldom stand up to their attacks, and the officials out on royal business throughout the city fare even worse. They seek to make examples of any who cooperate with the Vizier or the Grimleal. Their impudence is such that they even challenge our Ruin Sentinels without fear!”

“In terms of specific charges…” Kan-Ra murmured, reading a scroll he retrieved from his person. “The obstruction of justice. Aiding and abetting known criminals. Harassment, assault, and theft against both civilians and city officials. Slander and disturbance of the peace, destruction of private and city property, sabotage of public utilities, and so on, and so forth. All in the name of freeing the city from perceived corruption, a corruption so virulent that they’re able to justify a crime against whomever they please.”

“An utter farce,” Ciella spat. “Made possible only through intimidation and anonymity. It’s past time we laid their wild delusions bare for all to see.” She shifted her weight onto her other hip as she regarded Primrose. “Their goal is greed and aggrandizement. Tearing down what the Vizier has built up. Ours is the preservation of order, the greatness of the nation, and truth--Grima’s truth.”

Kan-Ra put away his scroll and clasped his hands behind his back as Azwel stepped away to speak to an acolyte. “Their abilities are numerous and difficult to quantify,” he explained further. “Some wield the arcane arts, others weapons both familiar and strange. Guns, mechanical augments, explosive magic, dark magic, and unnatural shouts are just a few.”

At that point only Fox’s question remained, causing Ciella to huff. “Their hideouts are hidden within the city,” she told him without answering his question. “To avoid alerting the deceivers we cannot divulge their location beforehand. When the time comes, we’ll guide you ourselves.”

Taking an opening, Big Band observed, “Hideouts, plural. You mentioned three groups. That means three locations. Am I right in guessin’ you wanna give ‘em all the one o’clock jump and take ‘em all at the same time?” Ideologic rhetoric aside, he made a mental note about ‘Grima’s truth’ but said nothing for now.

“That is correct, and the most vital part of the plan,” Kan-Ra confirmed. “We believe that this group revolves around an extremely charismatic leader. And they don’t know we have their scent yet, you see. They’ve been giving us the run-around so long that they’ve grown lax. But if we struck down just one hideout and failed to apprehend the leader, they will disappear for good and we will have squandered our opportunity. Thus, we hope to topple the Resistance in one fell swoop. We only needed the proverbial muscle to do it.” He pulled his wrinkled, sunken lips back to give an unnerving grin.

Poppi processed everything she’d learned from the exchange. “This conflict very complicated,” she said at length. “Maybe others not feel same way, but Poppi need time to think and get ready. There also other members of team not here right now, so need talk to them too. That okay?”

Returning from his conference with his underlings, Azwel held his arms up in dramatic fashion. “Why of course! Before taking the stage, each actor must be at their best, and we must not be without our full cast. Though our lovely Ciella is oh-so-eager, rest assured we can wait until the time is ripe.”

The masked woman looked annoyed. “You drive me to despair…” she muttered, ear twitching.

“I cannot blame you if you doubt us…” Kan-Ra’s tone made him sound more sorrowful than he looked by a long shot. “But the streets of Al Mamoon will surely show you the truth behind our words. You need only look and listen to see what we have accomplished, and what the so-called Resistance has wrought.” All together, the three lieutenants bowed farewell, some a little stiffer than others. “I hope to see you again soon.”

Individual questioning could follow, but Band figured he had everything he needed for now, and so turned to leave after Poppi. He had to stop himself sighing in relief; his head was just about ringing from all the echoes in this place.

Al Mamoon - Palatial Gallery

@Zoey Boey

The masked guards, nonplussed by the authority their visitor claimed, looked between one another. Had she only told them that the museum was being robbed they might have told her to take a hike in reply, but the additional details gave them pause. They’d only just admitted the very suspect that Jesse described, after all, and clearly her mention of the paranormal crime spree plaguing Al Mamoon did not fall on deaf ears. Above all, she told them something they could immediately put to the test. One guard turned away from the parautilitarian and pressed the button to open the mechanical gate, but after a moment of mechanical whining the machine barked out a sharp, strident note of failure. Confused, the guard tugged on the gate itself and received only a wrought-iron rattle in protest. It wasn’t just stuck to the ground at the point where the gate’s runner touched it, but somehow conjoined, as though they’d been made into one contiguous object.

That, the guards knew, was not normal. While his fellow looked his way in bafflement, the other guard nodded at Jesse. Despite her appearance she’d made it apparent she was someone to be relied on in this matter. “You speak true,” he told her in an odd, trilling voice. “This man must still be inside the forward gallery. We can fly you into the garden courtyard to intercept him.” He and the other Koppa Tengu flapped their wings to take to the air, outstretching their hands. “Let us hurry.”

What followed was a quick, if not comfortable, flight around the more realistic, normal portion of the museum toward the bizarre, Escher-esque amalgamate of patterned golden blocks that formed its bulk. Between the two clashing structures lay an outdoor rock garden, complete with neatly-trimmed hedges and small trees. On one end lay an extravagant door styled like the plume of a peacock in crimson and gold on blue, while in the other direction lay a series of screens across the path. The Tengu guards set Jesse down in the center facing back toward the forward gallery, and when she approached the screens they slid open before her with the theatrical sound of Japanese Kabuki clappers. When she tried the door they led her toward, she found it unsealed.

Inside, the ornate, gold-adorned halls of the gallery led her quickly back toward the front. Compared with the no-nonsense brutalistic architecture she’d come to know and love, the tasteless lavishness of this decor was off putting if not outright garish, but nothing more so than the spiral statue she encountered a ways in. Even from a long way off she could tell that something unusual was at work, for the Infinite Spring was shrinking before her eyes. On the other side opposite her, and perfectly positioned to see her as soon as he drew close, the old man stood with his tool gun, constantly shooting, adjusting, and then shooting his weird gun at the sculpture. Jesse could also see two figures in black hunkered down behind the plinth, one in a black longcoat and the other in a padded jacket, both with masks, as well as the bipedal cat she saw earlier. Sporting highly suspect outfits, the two young men appeared to be hiding, but from what if not the scientist himself? If they were on his side and meant to ambush intruders they could scarcely have a worse spot. It was a strange situation, difficult to parse, and Jesse didn’t get long.

After a moment the Phantom Thieves burst from their hiding spot all at once. Gouts of blue flame blossomed around them from nothing, and when the fire swept away it revealed three spectral beings: a shriveled horror floating behind the black-haired thief, a skeletal pirate riding a miniature ship like a surfboard alongside the blond, and a dapper duelist with a barrel-shaped chest above the cat. The scientist turned on them immediately, noting the number of assailants, and made a snap decision. He leveled his gun at them, causing the Thieves to scatter in different directions, but pivoted to rapid-fire the ground instead. From every impact point an activated thruster appeared, and in the span of a second a dozen of the things were hurtling around like ruptured gas canisters. Balloons joined the chaos, sprouting all over the place to bob around wildly on their tethers or float around in interconnected bundles, creating visual pandemonium. “What?!” Skull yelled as he batted a thruster out of the air with his pipe. “Where’d the bastard go?”

“He’s using this stuff as cover!” Joker called. “Spread out, don’t let him make a break for it!”

But the scientist had disappeared in the madness, spawning more balloons and thrusters faster than the Thieves could destroy them. Even the lightened Infinite Spring itself floated into the air toward the glass dome, and only someone with a distant view could notice the scientist hidden among its gold figures, poised to make his escape.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (22/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1412

Bella’s fall came to a sudden end as, against her unvoiced advice, Sakura leaped at the chance to save her once again. The Water Princess plopped cleanly into the street fighter’s arms, nearly taking Sakura under with her, and despite her savior’s remarkable strength Bella’s weight threatened to buckle her arms until the leviathan tail managed to coil beneath her as added support against the ocean’s surface. Luckily this happened through instinct, since her brain had for the moment turned to scrambled eggs. Her face had turned bright red once she realized that Sakura had her in a bridal carry, her tail wriggling beneath her. “Um! Merci encore une fois!” She cleared her throat as she was set down, standing once again on her own two feet, and focused on the battle at hand.

Of course, she and Sakura couldn’t just gawk into the distance while Bowser made his beleaguered ascent and Tentalus rose to give Scylla’s stony seastack a sound beating. No matter how many monstrous mofish and ravenous goblin sharks got turned to mincemeat, more were happy to introduce themselves to the pair, Rika, and just about everyone else who stuck around sea level. Bella deployed a handful of bombers for extra cover as her tail lashed around, crunching and gnashing any sealife it could get its chompers on into seafood. When Sakura pledged to protect her, Bella didn’t doubt it, but inside she burned with self-loathing. She’d been the damsel in distress enough already; she needed to do some saving of her own. For now though, however, she zeroed in on the tiny monstrosity way up high, guided by flares of green flame, and she brought her tail to bear. A few beats after Cadet’s arrow sunk in, injecting Scylla’s tentacle with a potent poison, an entire shelf of rain-smoothened rock only a few feet to the horror’s left exploded with shocking force. Its shards bloodied Scylla’s face, intensifying the rage that Link’s plane drone stoked inside her. Down below, Bella clicked her tongue, and adjusted her aim. She could blast eels until the sea cows came home, so to kill this snake she aimed for the head.

All across the stormy swells, the heroes contended with Scylla’s tentacles. One, having spotted a brightly-clothed target temptingly close to the edge of the boat, zoomed in for a quick meal and instead chowed down on nothing more substantial than warped light. Staving off a heart attack Mirage retaliated for the near-death experience with a barrage of revolver fire, shooting off rapid-fire nos as fast as he could pull the trigger. It swung his way even as he filled it with lead, but when Link’s fork suddenly sank into its head it shifted gears to dive back in the water, hastened in its departure by the last few rounds in Mirage’s chamber and a furious click-click-click-clicking. Though far from defeated the eel had been made to think twice about what it could and couldn’t bull through, and would wait for another chance for a fatal blow.

Meanwhile, Mr. L frantically looked for a worthwhile expenditure of his new grenade. A vicious struggle surrounded the ship, but not necessarily with Shippy’s crew. More chum in the water meant more guests at the party, most even more eager to sample each other than those atop their domain, and the sea churned with violence. In the midst of L’s search one particularly unscrupulous newcomer found him instead. As he watched a much larger, skeletal fish rose from the rough waters and floated above them, attracting the attention of L, Link, Mirage, and Peach all at once. The Lurchthorn sailed right for the ship, its thorny segments rotating as Peach shot at it, and without so much as blinking buzzed the deck. Its spikes threw up sparks as they raked the metal and scattered wood chips otherwise, skewering anyone who failed to get out of the way. As tough as it taking attacks without flinching made it seem, its bony armor broke when subjected to enough damage, though even that didn’t dissuade it from coming around for a second pass.

Not too far away, Geralt pulled out a much more definitive victory against his own assailant. A quick snatch using his new platform’s handy cables rendered the tentacle a sitting duck for the near point-blank payload of his main gun, and the supersized swordsman showed his would-be eater no mercy. In one brutal blast he annihilated the eel, causing the little abomination atop her mountain to give a shrill scream. Instantly the headless tentacle retracted, zipping back across the water at high speed.

Up ahead, Nadia and Cadet had carved a bloody streak across the surface of the ocean, slicing away at whatever tentacles drew close. Nadia was surprised to hear her friend call dibs on Tentalus if he went rogue, and though she guessed it would be more of a when than an if, she gladly consented. “All yours, Ace.” As the two reached the base of the seastack he offered her a boost, but the sound of what she assumed to be a thunderclap drew Nadia’s attention backward. When she saw the limb cutting through the ocean she had a different plan. “Better idea. Let’s take a stab at this!” With an irrepressible smile she tightened both hands’ grip on her tail-sword, then sped over the water toward the tentacle. She leaped, drove the hardened edge between the eel’s scales, and abruptly shot upward on her makeshift express elevator straight to the top. “Nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” she yowled as she hurtled by Bowser, fast enough to cause a doppler effect. As she drew close to Scylla she pulled herself together and yanked free, then sailed upward using the leftover momentum. While her wounded limb disappeared beneath her dress, the horror looked upward in alarm as Nadia rose above her and reached the apex of her flight.

“Hey, you!” the feral yelled. She hadn’t really planned anything, and the heavier Ace was somewhere below her, but this seemed like as good a chance as any to make it count. Blood streamed from her ankles as she angled herself downward, her rigging arms turned backward. “CUT! IT! OUT!” Nadia rocketed downward in a fur-ious dive, powered by both blood rockets and cannon recoil, her tailblade extended. Scylla withdrew the two tentacles harrying Bowser and pulled them ahead of her as an emergency shield. An instant later Nadia’s blade plunged in, piercing straight through one tentacle and tickling the other, but she was just getting started. She drove her sword arm into a bloody spiral, drilling through the first limb’s meat and into the second. “Nyahaha! How’s this for boring?!” Scylla shrieked, more at the attack than the pun, as she realized the real danger amidst the pain: the Cadet bearing down on her. She needed to get Nadia off now. Before her blade could penetrate Scylla threw her tentacles wide, flinging a yowling Nadia out into the open air. Her less damaged tentacle reeled back, then lunged forward at the helpless feral.

For a split second everything seemed to stand still. Nadia’s wide-open eyes stared at the onrushing maw, able to see every drop of rain slide by in flight. Was this how people felt in their last moments? Could she survive getting eviscerated in a vice between those jaws? All her elation at scoring a critical hit had turned to despair in a second, and she wanted to squeeze shut her eyes, but she could not. Then the sky filled with light as Bella’s railgun shot, expertly led and timed, sheared through the tentacle. Time sped back up and Nadia dove through the open mouth, through the throat, and out the other side. She released a blast of blood to stop herself from falling for a moment and try to figure out where she was. Scylla looked equal parts dumbfound and enraged, and a little sickly too, with that third eel having been destroyed and a fourth near inoperable. Bowser would crest the stack any moment, while Tentalus was about to pound it again. However that turned out, and whatever fate Scylla might have in store, Nadia’s part was over. She’d been thrown too far away to make her way back; she needed time she didn’t have to build up blood pressure for more airdashes. Still grinning, she gave Bowser and Cadet a salute, then flipped backward as she fell back toward the waters far below.

Albedo’s gaze rested on Linkle as she studied his map and the options inscribed therein. Her new beret, retrieved from one of the gifts in the center of town, rested snugly atop her head. It pushed her rabbit ears down to either side, which both reminded him of a lop eared rabbit and of Sucrose, whose feline ears perpetually hung down by the side of her head. Such a position for a ral cat typically meant that the animal was cowed or subdued, and though his assistant did seem unfailingly timid and bashful, he’d never seen her ears up either. Either way, it was a look he figured most people would call ‘cute’.

He pulled himself from his thoughts to consider the landmark Linkle mentioned. “A colorful beacon out at sea. Yes, I’ve seen it too. Sketched it from a distance, as well. However, I’ve never gone out over the ocean to get closer. It seemed unnecessarily risky on my own, and nobody else showed an interest. I’m afraid I can’t offer any other details. Although it is impressive, isn’t it?”

A few moments later and his new friend arrived at a solid conclusion. “A good idea. This will be my first time inside the temple as well, since I’ve had no reason to enter prior.” He put his hand on his chin thoughtfully. “It sounds like you’re used to more involved gods than those in my world. The god worshipped in Mondstadt, Barbatos, has little to no bearing on human affairs.”

When the subject of the Stranger’s name came up, he instinctively glanced at his sketchbook, but he knew the answer did not lie within. “Yes, we do not know his name. It would be easy to conclude based on his manner that he simply thinks that it’s unimportant. He doesn’t come around to socialize, after all. But you may have a point.” Brows every so slightly narrowed, he tapped on the table with his pointer and middle fingers a couple times as he pondered possibilities. “It may be intentional. Perhaps in his world he’s a known quantity, and knowing his name would be enough for someone to identify this gimmick of his. We’ll have to ask for that along with this blessing of yours at the temple.”

Going there, however, would have to wait. Grillby appeared with an egg dish and a fruit juice apiece for the pair and laid them down. With a fried egg so fresh from its pan that it still sent up plumes of steam, each Egg in the Basket looked downright scrumptious. Even Albedo, with a small appetite seldom interested in the excess offered by most meats, could not possibly turn up his nose. He thanked the mild-mannered blaze and took a deep drink of the sweet, purple Wolfhook Juice, then nibbled the main course. “Savory,” he murmured.

Bit by bit, he worked his way through his Egg in the Basket, but the alchemist was in no rush. About a third of the way through he took a break, and found himself drawn to Linkle once again. “I like the hat,” he told her, leaning into his thoughts from earlier for the sake of the conversation. “With your ears like that, you remind me of Sucrose, although just in terms of appearance. My assistant is rather on the trepidatious side, without very much of your forthright, energetic spirit. Sometimes she and I would go hours while working without saying a word, but here I found myself talking more than ever before. Curious...” He scratched his head with the hand he hadn’t been using to eat. “It may take me a while longer to finish this, so I should focus down.” Albedo paused for a moment. “Erm...if you don’t mind. Our worlds seem similar, but with a few key differences, and I’m sure we’ve both offhandedly mentioned things that only have meaning within our separate contexts. So I would be interested in hearing more about your home.”

Edge of the Blue


With every one of Sephiroth’s pursuers fully on guard, the procession got underway. The other guests to the Atlantis Temple watched them go with curiosity or relief, glad that someone charged with murder was no longer lurking in their midst. As she was escorted off the premises, the swordswoman caught a few glimpses of people she recognized. The redhead who seemed so interested in her before now looked furious, though whether at her or himself she couldn’t quite say. Syndra, meanwhile, flaunted a gloating expression that screamed you’re getting everything you deserve.

Officer Nanu rejoined the escort on the way, though he didn’t appear to be carrying anything that he might have retrieved from the locker room. He joined both his Pokemon and Birdie in a position behind Sephiroth, while Shantae and Karin remained in front. The whole group briefly stopped at the front desk so that Karin could negotiate for a couple of the fishman guards to accompany and further bolster the escort back to Limsa, since it was a long way through the wild. An arrangement of payment details was arrived at quickly, and the group continued.

They stepped out of the pleasantly conditioned structure into the heat and light of the midday sun, at which point a fifth and final member of the posse appeared. As big as Birdie if not bigger, but sporting a toga and a great jug of wine rather than a punk getup and muscle, Bacchus had evidently been stationed outside as a lookout to strike if Sephiroth had noticed and escaped her pursuers before they found her. Given that Bacchus looked like a drunken, unfit lout, that said something about his abilities. Now at full strength, the group of seven remained wary but confident as they turned south and headed along the beach. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that this shoreline led all the way down to Limsa Lominscuttle Town itself, like a sandy highway between disparate but similarly picturesque worlds of green and blue. Judging by the tracks in the sand, the posse had come this way, as well. Soon enough the procession had retraced their steps to Creature Beach, where the half-buried leviathan lazily watched them go by. If Sephiroth planned to break out en route, she would need to do it with what little opportunity that coastal road provided her, and deprived of her weaponry.
Al Mamoon - Palatial Gallery

@Zoey Boey

By the time that Jesse pulled herself onto the roof of a convenient building, attracting a few odd stares but no attempts at interference, and turned her vision back toward the museum, the newest guests were just about inside. The boys and their cat moved with purpose and disappeared through the front doors in just a few seconds, followed by the red-haired woman at a far more leisurely pace. However, even she -distant and unfocused- entered the building faster than the older man, whose speed had nothing to do with his age. Rather, he seemed to be lagging behind. He lingered for a moment on the threshold, allowing the others to go ahead, and then with a subtle motion snapped a strange device from thin air.

The bizarre doohickey resembled a revolver, albeit one utterly crammed with nonsensical attachments. From this distance Jesse could catch only the faintest glimpse of taped batteries and naked wires, with the glimmer of copper where the revolver’s chamber should be. The scientist-looking fellow shot a very thin, very silent bolt of electricity at the gate, then the ground below it, before closing and -judging by the flash through the glass- doing the same to the front door. Then, the onlooker could see no more.

Once inside the Museum of Vanity, the Phantom Thieves commenced their search. They split up among the sightseers to look high and low, across the high walls and through the off-kilter, frame-shaped doorways, but not at the paintings. Only one visage inside this dreadful, gaudy place would set their minds at ease, and it was not the portrait that Mona and Skull met in front of in the east wing.

The blond stared upward at the enormous painting that loomed above him, and even further above Mona. Stark despite its vivid, even discordant purple and blue, and dripping as if just barely holding itself together, it was one among many portraits of talented young individuals that Madarame had stolen. People who in the old faker’s heart were no more than objects. “Just as I remember it that first day. Our first infiltration where, y’know, we kinda knew what we were doin’.”

Mona shook his big, round head. “Jury’s still out on that one. Regardless, it’s not the Yusuke we’re after. Let’s keep looking.”

They found Joker beneath a giant sculpture of solid gold. Its sheets, shaped into a spiral waterfall, supported statues of youths descending as though on a slide. Guests crowded around it, oohing and aahing over its magnificence. They must, Joker reasoned, not be reading the plaque. He remembered the spirit of it, if not the exact words, as well as the revulsion they inspired in him, and read over what the inscription had to say with a stony gaze.

The Infinite Spring
A conglomerate work of art that the great director Madarame created with his own funds. These individuals must offer their ideas to the director for the rest of their lives. Those who cannot do so have no worth living!

“Y’know, if that Madarame bastard’s here in this place too, I wouldn’t mind kickin’ his ass again,” Skull remarked, arms crossed. Rather than offer some sort of objective guidance or even-keeled coolheadedness, Joker could only agree. In a distortion this massive, far greater even than Mementos, he couldn’t possibly tell what if any good might come of such action in the real world, but if Madarame had somehow been ‘reset’ like Shadow Futaba, knocking him down a peg would be well worth any time put in. Plus, he knew the mechanics this time.

The Phantom Thieves prepared to delve deeper, but before they ascended the stairs, they found themselves confronted with an odd spectacle. In a massive breach of social convention the old man from before clambered onto the plinth of the Infinite Spring, holding a weapon in his hand. Joker stopped suddenly enough to get his friends’ attention but not create a disturbance, then tilted his head in the direction of the strange scientist. He held a finger to his hips, and when Morgana looked up confusedly, Joker picked the cat up by the head and oriented him in the right direction to see. The three skirted around into a hiding position as the man raised his gun.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “I..uh, ladies and...may I...may I have your attention? Your attention PLEASE!” With an irritated look he shot the ground with his weapon. Some kind of rocket appeared where his gun’s arc struck, making a terribly loud, fiery roar. With a few assorted yells the visitors complied, watching the weapon he waved around. “Finally! Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to pull off another grand heist. The theft of this Infinite Spring! You have the privilege of watching as I do it, and the curse that when you tell of it, nobody will ever believe you! Hahaha!”

Before he could get to work, the paint-splattered woman stepped forward. The scientist did not ignore the oversized paintbrush gripped in her hand. “You will not get away with this desecration of art.”

If anything, this seemed to please the strange man. “Ohoho! Going to stop me are you? The guards certainly haven’t! But you’ll have to do it without that brush of yours. Boop!” He sent forth another arc from his gun. The paintbrush slammed into the ground hard, heavier than a truckload of stone combined, fallen hard enough to break fingers. He wasted no time switching tools and shooting the woman in the facing, adhering the woman’s lips together to muffle her scream. One more adjustment and a rope suddenly connected her shoes, tripping her as she tried to run. “Quiet!” the scientist yelled. “Or I’ll make you!” One more wave of his gun silenced the other guests. Those who’d already run found the front door completely immovable, stuck to the floor as if bolted there.

Joker crouched back down, addressing the others in a low whisper. “That gun is insane. We don’t know how many more functions it has, and he’s fast. It could be even worse if he’s not toying around. We need to take him down without giving him the chance to fight.”

“You could snipe him,” Mona suggested. “Using Leena. Or we could shoot for a windburn combo.”

Shaking his head, Skull muttered, “Same problem as Kidd’s lightning. No guaranteed status. I say we all shoot him at the same time.”

As the Thieves talked strategy, the scientist started on the sculpture. He alternated between making it lighter and smaller, bit by bit, to avoid putting too much stress on and damaging the monument of gold.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (19/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1173

The sea churned with abyssal horror, savage in its simplicity. Over the course of just a few moments, all who dared to stand atop the tumultuous sea full under Scylla’s attack. One heinous, long-toothed maw surfaced a little too close to Sakura and took her reactive hurricane kick to the jaw before it could prize open its mouth to snap shut on fresh meat. The experience filtered straight through to Scylla herself, arming all her limbs with knowledge on how to better fight the particular threat. None of her tentacles could make use of it, however, before the street fighter reached the one that hauled Bella up into the sky and joined her shortly thereafter.

As Sakura clambered up higher, the fish that threw themselves after her to take a bite of tasty cat tail found a stern rebuke issued from Mirage’s smoking gun as he covered her. Rika ran interference, serving as both a distraction and a painful reminder that the sea creatures had better things to do than aim high. With that taken care of, Sakura could climb in relative peace, and watch the Water Princess contend with the threat as best she could. Her leviathan tail’s teeth, shorter but a lot stouter than the eel’s, could crush them if they got purchase, but the living limb thrashed around like a thing possessed. Sakura soon reached the point where one abyssal horror ended and the other began, but for all her strength couldn’t quite get good leverage. Bella yelled to be heard above the wind. “Hit its head and stun it or something, mon cherie!” she called as the limb continued to toss and turn. “Kyah! If...if I can just concentrate for...for one second, I can get out!”

She held tight as best she could with the blood flowing to her head. When Sakura gave her the opportunity, she seized it. “Okay, now jump!” she shrieked, as power built up within the jaw of her tail. A moment later a railgun shot tore free, blasting straight out the back of the tentacle’s eel head, and Bella plummeted toward the water below. If she could have, she would have advised Sakura not to catch her or anything, given the weight of her tail, but in the heat of the moment all she could do was scream.

Down below, things remained more than a little hectic. Mirage, Link, and Nadia put in some serious work thinning out the leaping schools of nightmare fish and hungry goblin sharks, drilling them until their batteries went dry, but as ever the Cadet’s bow made quite the impression, and nothing belt out continuous fire quite like Blazermate’s sentry turret. The rescue effort looked good, but for retreat, not so much. Peach guessed that she thought that the team could disengage without attacking -and thus provoking- that little nightmare atop the rocks, but she couldn’t make any bones about it now. Thanks to Galeem’s influence, they had to finish the fight. “Okay, fine then!” she yelled, still pretty pissed, as Bowser made his way toward Scylla’s seastack. “Nadia, Ace! Leave the boat to us. You get out there and help!”

“Sure thing, P. Cat-ch you later!” With a cheeky wave weirdly juxtaposed with the fresh fish bites all across her body, Nadia flipped over the railing, then blood-dashed to work up some speed before even hitting the surface. Riding stormy waves was an altogether different beast from calm ones, but she managed to adjust quickly. The jarring transition from near-panic to relief at Bella’s rescue and especially Link’s critical save of the Atomos allowed her to go forth unburdened by the burden of worry, and she sped toward the action. With her rigging arms extended for balance, her hands were free for action, and she took a stab at any mofish that breached a little too close using her tail as a sword. “Yah! Yah! How’s this for a cut-lass?” In just a few moment’s she’d managed to rack up a whole kebab of the things, but they looked a ways past their best-by date so she flicked them off to dissolve in the surf.

Her puns came to a sudden pause when Tentalus rose from the waves, his brand new eye winking in bewilderment. Going from blind, bloody, and on death's door to fit as a fiddle out of nowhere did a number on the monster’s tiny mind, but after the heart’s lull of tranquility passed, it rose from beneath the surface in a less than friendly mood. It paused just a moment to watch Bowser water cannoning himself through the air to land about halfway up the seastack. Then an eel tentacle bit Tantalus right in its chest and twisted, provoking a roar of breathtaking rage. It slammed its weight against the rock, shaking it hard enough to fling rubble into the water and throw Bowser loose if his cannons weren’t pushing him back on.

The rest of the tentacles were just as busy. One lunged for Geralt atop his Ordnance Platform, aiming to sink its face into his chest and knock him from his high horse. Another breached and then came down on Nadia like a hammer, only for Nadia to dodge backward using the recoil of her cannon fire and then blood-dash upward. She stabbed her tail between the scales and sprinted across its breaching curl, cutting a long gash that trailing hull-blades widened. When her ride came to an end she zoomed onward. Another still snapped shut on Mirage's decoy with dizzying speed, allowing the crackshot a vision of what his fate might have been were he not so cautious.

Above everything, Scylle laughed with mad glee. Bowser’s words didn’t seem to register with her, no more than anyone else’s. Whether she understood them or not mattered little in the end. She was not an animal protecting her territory. She was a child having her fun, and a cruel child unfettered by even the slightest shadow of authority or conscience, given instead to immense power. She used it to retract two tentacles with blistering speed, battering Bowser from one side and then the other, wrenching him hard enough so that just one clawed hand remained attached. With a cackle she raised a hand, a virulent green bundle of magic swirling above her palm, and she readied the sorcery to cast Bowser into the deep.

Then Link’s plane drone let loose, peppering Scylla with miniature gunfire. She snarled as her magic went wide, flying past Bowser to strike the sea far below. At the point of impact it turned into a fifty foot magic circle on the ocean’s choppy surface, slowing anything inside it until it detonated moments later. A moment later a smaller green fireball blew the drone to pieces, but Scylla’s main body had been distracted for just a moment. In that moment two things happened: First, a big arrow came flying in out of nowhere and struck one of her tentacles a ways down, inflicting a painful poison. Second, Tentalus pounded the seastack one more, and this time there came a massive CRACK. The entire upper third of the ocean monolith slowly began to lean sideways.

On the way to Grillby’s to reconvene with Albedo, Linkle turned her attention to the festive tree at the center of town. Decked out in multicolored orbs, glittering tinsel, handcrafted ornaments of all shapes and sizes, and lights that definitely looked better at night, it encapsulated the homey, welcoming feeling that characterized Snowdin even after her violent run-in with the unyielding Stranger. That spirit of hospitality, not foreign to even a Skullgirl’s heart, warmed cold bones and spurred her to give a little herself. First she stocked up on offerings by introducing her new, papery acquaintances to her faithful cuboid traveling companion. The box devoured the money greedily the moment Linkle so much as brought it near the slot, perhaps through some sort of vacuum, and after a dramatic few moments of rattles and shakes the box burst open in a spray of colors and sounds, not without excitement but maybe a tad overdone. For all the aplomb, however, it didn’t quite compare to the sensation of opening a present made by some nameless, kind person, giving away something without the expectation of anything in return, when she opened a green-wrapped gift beneath the tree.

After that she proceeded to her destination in a businesslike manner and made straight for the titular blaze behind the counter. Grillby watched her approach, seemingly surprised to see her again as far as Linkle could tell. As Albedo implied, nobody messed with the Stranger around here. To the average villager he was a force of nature, and when he swept into town it was wise to bend with the wind, rather than break.

Regardless, his manner failed to suggest even the slightest hostility, so much so that Linkle’s apology suddenly seemed a formality, or a self-conscious quirk, rather than something she owed. “Don’t mention it,” the living flame sputtered, brushing away the property damage with a dismissive swipe of his hand. “That guy is as that guy does. Happy to see you here in one piece, if anything. Not many have poked that tiger and lived to tell the tale.”

When offered her oil, he accepted it with good graces. “Ah, you shouldn’t have. But thank you. This’ll keep the lights on for a good while.” Grillby nodded to Albedo, seated as ever by the window. The Alchemist was trying not to watch Linkle’s interaction, lest it seem like he was making a point of waiting on her. “Nice guy, that Albedo. Might not show it, but I’m sure he’s happy for someone to be alone with. Go ahead, and I’ll sling you some breakfast here in a minute or two. Just a little thanks--and congratulations.”

Albedo’s corgi ran up to Linkle as she drew near, his big eyes begging for more pets. Looking cozy in his new coat, the alchemist slid out the chair opposite him at his table with his foot, and inclined his head toward her new crossbows. “You must be quite the savvy shopper,” he told her. “New clothes, new weapons, and gifts as well. Really taking in the local customs. I hope you’re ready for all the adoration the townsfolk will shower you with if you keep this up.“ He seemed amused. “While you were out I did a little asking. The man you want to meet typically shows up in the evenings, so it may be a while. That does mean the day is open, and I may have a place we can start.”

He looked out the window into the snowy street, then at the frosty forest beyond. “I mentioned already my hypothesis that the brute has some sort of divine protection. I believe I also mentioned the period during which he was willing to let me try different things I felt might have an effect on him. All failures, but that plus his single minded obsession with finding things that might make him ‘feel’ suggests that not only does he too wish his condition was different, but that he thinks there may be something or someone out there that can.” Albedo held up his hands by way of concession. “Now, that assumes he isn’t acting out of pure desperation, which is a possibility. But since we have time to kill, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.”

Once again he produced his handy sketchbook, and after flipping to an early page he revealed a crude map of the area. “Not precisely measured, but a decent approximation of the surrounding terrain, I would hope. There are some spots where we could place some inquiries: a temple, a mystic’s abode, a dungeon, and a derelict hospital. Even if we do not find answers, we’ll probably come by, money, spirits, or other rewards. If you’ve a preference on where to first, I’m all ears. Or if you have an idea of your own. I’m afraid I’ve started rambling again.” The young man looked just a little sheepish, but not much.

Edge of the Blue - Atlantis Temple


Your rigging?”

Any points Sephiroth’s ostensible cooperation might have yielded were squandered, and her machinations doomed from the start, when those select few words left her lips through that viper smile. The members of the posse, all thoroughly briefed on the situation, evidenced varying degrees of contempt, but she perturbed Shantae the most. Her face was one of disgust, indignity, and despair all rolled into one vehement ball. In other words, she looked at Sephiroth like she was the scum of the earth.

The half-genie looked like she wanted to slap the swordswoman silly, but she reigned in her fury. “That was the property of Miss Scharnhorst, stolen away like the lifetime she could have shared with her grieving sister! And you’re a fool if you believe for one second we’ll let you arm yourself.” Sephiroth could practically feel the palpable resentment in the air around her now that the others were convinced she had planned to fight back.

“Well, if you’re not going to get your things...” Still as gloomy as ever, the policeman stepped away. “I’ll just help myself. They’ll fit nicely in my Bag.”

Shantae glanced at him, gave a nod, and returned her attention to Sephiroth. She gave the momentary vacationer a thin, sarcastic smile. “And yes, before you ask, we’re just fine with having you face justice in a swimsuit. You weren’t so concerned with dignity when you killed Miss. Scharnhorst.” She extended her arm, pointing toward the door. “Now march.”

“You ‘eard the lady!” Birdie bellowed, whipping his chain that dangled from his wrist against the ground at Sephiroth’s feet. The miniature metal heads at the end of his chains smashed the floor like a flail, cracking the tile. Behind her, the fishman guards kept their tridents raised, ready to thrust at a moment’s notice if the swordswoman took one step out of line.
Early rummaging through the charred corpse of the Gorging Trough yielded a good few handfuls of salvaged goods, but the Maneater chefs' luck did not last. Though the larder of the guild's grand restaurant had been extravagantly furnished, little remained after the manic session of meal preparation that filled the banquet hall, and less still after the all-consuming inferno. It was hard to put aside the thought that if only Lord Sugi didn't order that grand send-off feast, the Gorging Trough would still be in pristine condition, but not a soul voiced that insubordinate notion aloud.

For her part, Mae dedicated herself to the task assigned to her with what supplies came her way. Pickings, however, were scarce. After the gains from her staff's initial search and rescue petered out, made into flavorful but nutritious hard tack, cured meats, and dried fruit or vegetable snack bags, Mae started finding herself with more and more free time. Whenever Cyber Skeletons entered her blindsight from the direction of the condemned facilities they invariably carried inorganic materials for the restoration of the Gorging Trough's structure. Organic materials were harder to come by. Mae's cursory knowledge of the other guild factories led her to believe that only Gammaton's might be able to offer her living matter, Hivehill was not on the chopping block. "Shame we didn't have some plant-lovin' druid or livestock-keepin' blood mage..." the headless horror muttered.

As she sat, parked on a hunk of scrap that served as an ample benched, she considered what to do. Lady Fatalis' order to her had been to process every organic thing that came her way into victuals made to last. That did not, however, mean she had to rely on the scrappers alone. She cast her blindsight over her kitchen staff, getting a sense for their mood. If the current situation concerned her, it distressed her underlings. Like her, they needed something to do while the others were all off being useful. Mae made up her mind. "Hey!" she rumbled. "Gather 'round! I've gotta new job for ya!" Her Maneaters hastened to assemble. If she had a head, her wealth of culinary expertise would be running through it, and she hastened to spill the beans. "Listen up. We need ingredients, and there ain't any more to be pulled outta the wreckage. But the others said we're on a mountain, and wherever there's land, there's food, if ya know where to look for it. I want you all to scrape the mountainside. Look for berries--black, huckle, mul. Grab some nice young needles from pine trees I can make tea with, or wintergreen! Pull up daylilies, dandelions, chicory, wood sorrel, scallion! If you're feelin' frisky take down some rabbits 'n squirrels. But listen..." Mae's guttural tone took on a sense of urgency. "Keep a low profile. If we ain't alone out here, we can't get discovered while we're still lickin' our wounds. So if you see anything suspicious, cheese it. Got it?"

Her sous chef bowed his head while the girls talked among themselves, excited to be given such an important task. "Certainly, ma'am. Your faithful chefs will not let you down." Unable to nod, Mae gave him a thumbs-up. With her stationed here, she would be relying on her subordinate to manage the willful -and not exactly physically gifted- crew. She watched the Maneaters as they went until they left the range of her blindsight, headed off to forage in the unseen unknown. Then she gave a great, guttural sigh, and tended to her stew.

It was a while until the first cooks returned, but they carried armfuls of mountain greens, and their colleagues followed with a steady stream of foraged offerings. After Rib lumbered up in her Jubiliant form, a number of rotund rodents impaled on his rib blades, Mae was regaled with a story of clever cooperation that saw multiple Jubiliant Maneaters uproot a sheltered section of loose stone, sending the little beasts nested their to their doom. Round returned carrying the carcass of a mountain goat that Shank managed to catch and kill, and the others followed suit with more greens, flowers, mushrooms, and roots. Mae's makeshift eatery was back in business. The abomination kicked herself into overdrive, processing and preparing the bevy of new ingredients with the help of her minions, but even still it took a while to get through it all. In the end the refugees of the Gorging Trough managed to produce a smorgasbord of dry salads, jerkies, and teas. As the shadows of evening stretched across the land, the staff gathered together around Mae's cooking fire to eat their fill. After sampling her handiwork Mae couldn't help but clap a flabby arm around the shoulders of the nearest Maneaters and exclaim, "I tell ya, in all my days, a meal's never moved me as much as this! This here feast's a testament to the soul of the Trough, and where it is: not in some buildin', but in each and every one of ya!" She raised her half-melted cup of wintergreen tea. "To the cooks!"

"To the cooks!" Her staff echoed, clanging their various containers together before they drank deep. If today proved anything, it was that everything tasted better with company.

As the toast turned to general chatter, Mae lounged in contentment until Head approached and tapped her shoulder. "Ma'am. Lady Fatalis has returned."

"Oh. Guess I oughta see her." With a groan Mae heaved her bulk onto her feet. She bade farewell to her crew and hurried off to where a few of the other Overseers had already accosted the Supreme One. "Lady Fatalis! Good evenin'!" she resounded as she stomped over. As she drew near she struggled to put together her report. She'd done her job in the time that Fatalis was away, but the Trough still lay in shambles. Mae elected not to mention that part, since she both figured that prioritizing strategic guild facilities instead would be obvious, and that one or both of the workmen might think she was being passive-aggressive. "I've got food aplenty, ma'am. Anyone who needs a meal is more'n welcome to come by the, uh, Trough 'n grab a bite of what we've scrabbled together." Compared to the achievements of the others it wasn't much, but it was what she got, and she hoped it satisfied.
Poppi and Big Band

Level 8 Poppi (62/80) and Level 1 Big Band (10/10)
Location: Sandswept Sky - Al Mamoon
Primrose's @Yankee, Fox's @Dawnrider, Sectonia's @Archmage MC Midna's @DracoLunaris, Yoshitsune's @Rockin Strings, Red’s @TheDemonHound, Laharl’s @Dark Cloud
Word Count: 1053

When it came to provisions, the bazaar did not disappoint in terms of variety. Sandwiches, wraps, skewers, curries, stews, local delicacies, exotic fare for the adventurous, raw ingredients...this marketplace had it all. Sectonia found a fruit cart within seconds, it seemed like, and it offered a wealth of apricots, figs, mandarins, pomegranates, loquats, persimmons, and grapes. Poppi’s olfactory sensors drew her to a veritable fountain of fascinating smells, Rhon Ron’s Eatery. Her companions, however, shied away from the fluffy-tailed vendor’s glazed worms and lizard steaks, so the artificial blade bowed to their judgement and the group moved on. Any place where sweets could be found drew in Panther like a magnet, and while food suitable for travel constituted their chief priority, she nevertheless managed to talk her way into getting a single portion of baklava, and she relished every morsel of the nut-dotted, honey-sweetened pastry.

The discovery of an adventure-friendly stand helped get the shoppers back on track. Called ‘Mamoon On the Go’ and run by a bespectacled cat, it catered specifically to travelers with its emphasis on portability and convenience. As such it offered crunchy, nutty snack bars, dried meats, some canned goods, and moisture-free sandwiches wrapped in clear, impermeable film, among other things. Such fare would be good no matter where the Seekers’ journey took them, as Poppi gladly pointed out, so expenditure here was well-warranted. All told the supplies diminished Primrose’s remaining funds down to just about fifty pieces, but in exchange the shoppers had accumulated enough provisions to feed the crew for a good while, if properly rationed. Even if it did only last a few days, Poppi reasoned, they would be out of the inhospitable desert and into parts more plentiful well before their supply bottomed out.

As they left the bazaar, Poppi considered the potential difficulty of finding the others, but her worries soon proved to be for naught. Right at the marketplace’s main entrance the shoppers and the petitioners collided, bringing the whole band back together with a couple new faces to boot. Polite as ever, Poppi offered her hand to Big Band to shake. “Poppi happy to meet you!”

Band thought for a quick moment, decided that a small arm wouldn’t cut it, and parted his coat with a major arm to take Poppi’s hand in his own. “The pleasure’s all mine, stardust.”

After seeing his augmentation’s Poppi’s eyes shone. “Oh! You also artificial? You very, very cool!”

“Ahem!” Band coughed, a little taken by surprise. “Well thank you, but not all of me. Still got a little body and soul rollin’ round in here someplace.”

“Oh, am sorry,” Poppi apologized. “Poppi all artificial, so not know that much about people. People come in all shapes and sizes, each with own story, all so very interesting. Poppi still learning.”

Big Band smiled at her from beneath his mouthpiece, his geniality shown instead through his eyes. “So what? I’d say you’re quite the sophisticated lady already.”

Everyone got a few moments to chat and exchange information. Poppi and the other ladies who’d braved the mercantile extravaganza called the Bazaar reported a great deal of success, on the whole. Though they couldn’t offer much profit to line the team’s pockets, they’d come by plentiful supplies and a few choice pieces of equipment to boot. Meanwhile, those who visited Queen Lowlah, uneventful as that turned out to be, and then met with Vizier Validar came away with some money, some ways to make more money, and a few tidbits of information more valuable still. Of course, none expected Red to share the reward of her own commission. Yoshitsune’s visit to the foundry had been a fruitful one as well, and with a little time he would be fully armed once more. The other Phantom Thieves had yet to reappear, but Panther assured everyone that they would be fine.

Given everything the group learned, and the increase in civilians unhappy about a large group clogging the market entrance, the Seekers soon made for the next logical step in their journey. Deliberation on whether or not to actually undertake the vizier’s Elite Bounty could come after they possessed more information about it. To that end they made their way to the right of the Cowlipha’s palace, where the temple of Validar’s order resided. Decorated similarly to the vizier’s office, it maintained a dark interior and did not disguise its aura of menace. The acolytes watched the newcomers wordlessly as they passed, headed for the great, vaulted main chamber that dominated the place. There they found a vast design of colorful concentric circles on the floor, centered around an altar beneath a great, draconian idol, illuminated by both violet candles and a central skylight. In that glow they found the elites of the Grimleal, waiting for them.

“Well well well then, here you are,” the man in the center said, his voice bearing a dramatic and flowery flair. With long purple hair, a braided beard, and an elaborate robe outfitted with a stole that seemed to corkscrew as it defied gravity, the showy man was nothing if not an eye-catching figure. He took in the Seekers before him. “This looks promising. I, Azwel, am looking forward to this!”

The man to his right, in contrast, was a half-rotted ghoul strewn with almost a many artifacts as bandages. “We understand that you may be interested in helping suppress the criminal faction, you see. For too long has this rogue element lingered, gnawing at the edges and tearing at the seams. Thus, the vizier has elected to act. To that end, we of the Grimleal are at your service. My name is Kan-Ra.”

“We stand ready to strike down the pretenders who bleat of vague justice, and to expose their self-deceptions of righteousness,” announced the third captain. This rabbit-eared woman stood taller -and wider- than either of her compatriots, with long blue hair and dark armor atop a slit dress, and carried a longbow even taller than she. “I am Ciella, and though I despair the waste of time, all of us can provide more information if need be. Once your forces are ready, we can divide them three ways and begin the operation.”

“I would be honored to take the stage with you!” Azwel said as he bowed, inviting the newcomers closer.

Al Mamoon - Palatial Gallery

@Zoey Boey

“That’s definitely the place.” Mona hopped back down from the wrought-iron fence into the shady ally, trying to temper his excitement with seriousness. “Same garish golden blocks, blue windows, everything. It’s Madarame’s Palace, one hundred percent.”

Crouched against the wall, Joker was in the perfect spot to pat the cat’s head in appreciation. “Good find, buddy. I take it we’re all unanimous on what comes next?”

“Uh, yeah!” Skull laughed. “We’ll bust in there, beat up whoever we find, and bam! Yusuke’s back on the team! Man, findin’ everyone’s actually goin’ way better than I thought!” He wiped his nose, still grinning. “Think he’ll make me a bowl of ramen once we save ‘im?”

Rolling his enormous eyes, Mona crossed his paws. “We’ll cross that bridge later. Right now we’ve got to think about heist. There’s a chance that in this world it’s a real gallery, so we can’t just shoot up whoever we see in there.”

Joker furrowed his eyebrows. “What do you mean, ‘real gallery’? It’s all shadows and distortion in the end.”

“I mean, yeah,” Mona conceded. “But what I mean is, it’s real to the city. So if we trash the place, we could bring down a whole lotta trouble on our heads.” He shrugged, donning a smile of confidence. “We’ll just have to do it stealth mode, true Phantom Thief style! And since it’s daytime, we’ll infiltrate in our normal attire…well, you guys will, anyway. I don’t have a choice.”

Mirroring his expression, the thieves’ leader nodded. “Sounds good. Necronomicon, track us and keep an eye out for Panther, would you? If you see her looking for us before we’re done, give her the scoop.”

The achingly familiar voice of his friend, edged with a Persona’s ethereal resonance, reached him through his connection to Necronomicon. “Got it, boss. I’ll be your eye in the sky, just like Futaba would.”

“Then its go time,” Joker declared. Electing to keep their civilian appearances for a little longer, the Phantom Thieves sallied forth from their alleyway and toward the gallery gates in a practiced casual manner. On the way they passed a woman with red hair who leaned against the gallery’s perimeter wall, and Joker’s gaze lingered on her for a moment longer than it otherwise would. She seemed on edge, suspicious for trying to look a little too inconspicuous, and though she tried to hide it her wandering gaze told him she was looking for someone. An undercover guard, perhaps? A free agent? Or just a fidgety civilian, maybe? He didn’t have the time to find out. Instead the Thieves continued onward toward the gate, joined en route by a painting enthusiast and a old man in a dirty lab coat whose proximity made Joker instantly wary in a way that the other stranger did not. Something about this doctor-looking guy was off--of that he was certain. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he made a note to keep a close eye on this guy. As the group passed through the gate the guards flipped the electronic sign to ‘at capacity’, and the gate slid closed.

Ms Fortune

Level 4 Nadia (17/40)
Location: Bottomless Sea
Blazermate's @Archmage MC, Bowser's @DracoLunaris, Ace Cadet's @Yankee, Hat Kid's @Dawnrider, Sakura's @Zoey Boey, Frog's @Dark Cloud, Mirage’s @Potemking, Mr. L’s @ModeGone
Word Count: 1288

Given the size and clear viciousness of the monsters involved Nadia assumed it to be a foregone conclusion that her team would be staying well away, but not everyone followed her thinking, and the jovial mood that Mirage’s reaction to her joke put her in quickly took a turn. Out of all the fighters present the healer chose violence first, liberating the group’s newest recruit of a weapon apparently capable of taking out an entire shiver of sharks. “Hey uh, what are you doing?” she asked as she watched Blazermate jam the device into one of her abominations. The medabot’s plan dawned on her quickly enough after that, although her intention behind it remained a mystery. Did Blazermate actually intend to create a frenzy far enough from the ship to be a decoy to keep the sea creatures’ attention? Or did she just feel like blowing up sharks? Either way, it was too late to stop it now.

The Arc Star grenade went off much sooner -and closer- than she expected, lighting up a whole patch of ocean with rippling electricity, close enough to tickle Shippy’s hull and make Nadia’s hackles rise. Half-dissolved chunks of overgrown fish bounced off the vessel around her as she cried, “Nyagh! What was that fuse, three seconds!? If you don’t know how something works, don’t use it!” How did Mirage end up thinking this was a good idea and not her, the one who couldn’t die? When she rounded on Blazermate, however, the machine had already called forth her Striker to build a turret. As its construction began Nadia recognized it from the Dead Zone. “Wait, isn’t that the one that shoots automatically? Who said we’re picking a fight with those things!?” The level of impetuousness on display was beginning to alarm her. Was Blazermate one of those healers with a sadistic streak like Valentine? She turned to Ace, who was front and center on the ship’s bow alongside her, with an incredulous look on her face as if to ask are we just going to let this happen?

Unfortunately, they were. In quick succession the low-flying Atomos produced Bowser, then Rika, then Geralt, then Sakura and even Bella too, all to splash down into the stormy sea. In the Witcher’s case he plunged straight in without even a hint of buoyancy and made Nadia wince, wondering what the Harbor Demon had given him if not aquatic mobility. Her worries found their answer when he rose a moment later atop a miniature (but still quite large) replica of the Harbor Demon’s weapons platform. Rika, Bella, and Sakura flew forward across the waves while Bowser followed at a pace that would have been comical if not for the circumstances, and Geralt didn’t move at all. Link switched to battle mode, crushing the leftover spirits and rallying everyone for the imminent battle.

Shaking her head, the feral resigned herself to another battle, and when she snuck a glance at Peach she found a thoroughly defeated-looking princess staring back at her. “Eheh...guess we’re doin’ this. Good thing curiosity can’t kill me.” The Witcher let loose without delay, filling the big monsters’ corpulence with holes, and when his main gun fired a crater the size of a sedan blew open in its gut. It screamed, and the smaller horror went on the offensive, targeting the eye her enemy’s head-tentacles had been protecting. In the span of one moment, the turf war had taken a decisive turn. And since Sakura couldn’t extend Tentalus an olive branch, she extended it a Hadoken instead, with Bella following her example. “Ouch...” Almost feeling bad for it, Nadia leaned onto the railing again both to watch things unfold and see if she needed to help, only to realize with a shock that thanks to all the blood in the water things had suddenly gotten a lot livelier out there.

Schools of ugly, snaggletoothed fish leaped in and out of the waves, edging ever closer, and a particularly hideous bunch of sharks attacked with renewed vigor. No way these were just opportunistic animals; they were out for blood. “We’ve got company! No time to be a paci-fished!” The alert sent the Seekers scrambling into battle mode as they tried to pull together a defense against the aquatic assault.

Nadia’s first instinct was to run for one of the cannon emplacements, but before she could seat herself she remembered that now featured a few of her own. Nadia grabbed hold of the railing with her claws and started to fire. The tri-cannons on her rigging arms blazed in sequence to chunk the mofish one at a time. By the time the ravenous school got close enough to leap for the boat itself, only a handful remained, and Nadia met their flashing fangs with raking claws. “Cross my heart!” A jumping x-cut took out the first handful, while a followup cross-cut from her rigging blades diced up the rest. She put her elation on hold as two more schools breached the moody waters, and with her jaw set Nadia opened fire once more.

Up ahead, Tentalus was hitting its breaking point. Gushing a gooey, purple fluid from dozens of nasty bitemarks and bullet holes, it turned away as it attempted to flee, its ruptured eye squeezed shut. Over its moans rose the horrible laughter of its diminutive adversary, shrill, childlike, and delighting in blood-soaked murder. Her eel-headed tentacles latched onto those of Tentalus’ head, yanking the much larger creature back toward her with vile strength. A shark attack forced Nadia’s attention away from the visceral spectacle as it threw itself at her despite the bullet wounds riddling its head. As it flew her way she thrust one forearm out, spinning it into overdrive. “Chew on this!” The shark’s weight drove it straight into her outstretched limb, and with a wild grin Nadia allowed her momentum to drill straight through the roof of its mouth and out the top of its head. Killed instantly, the predator became dead weight as it fell, and Nadia retrieved her forearm from its dissolving husk with the attached muscle fiber.

Another breaching school demanded her attention, but after putting out only a handful of shots Nadia found herself distracted once again. Things had gotten crazy way fast, and it seemed to be getting to L if Hat Kid was the biggest of his concerns, the poor(?) guy. When Nadia glanced back at the rocky crags she was horrified to see that the ‘little girl’ had forcibly opened and extracted Tentalus’ eye, leaving the monster to suffer as it slowly died. Once she’d hauled the dripping, orange mass upward like the catch of the day and cackled gleefully over it, Scylla thanked the newcomers for their assistance by hurling the grisly trophy right at the Atomos--an attack so unexpected that fully avoiding it was a near impossibility. After that Scylla continued to stay where she was, but wasted no time sending her eels after the Seekers themselves. The monstrous tentacles reached all the way down from the rock face into the ocean for an all-out attack from below. When one lunged at Bella she lunged back, locking its grisly jaws with those of her leviathan tail. Her heavy metal force crushed down on the eel’s teeth, but Scylla responded to the pain by lifting her tentacle -and the Water Princess- up. Another tentacle shot up from below to target Bella’s dangling human half, driven off at the last second by a bombardment from Shippy’s cannons.

Peach’s eyebrow twitched. She ground her teeth, and clenched her fists. The next shark to pop its head it turned to fiery fish paste as her anger exploded through her boomshot, signalling that the Princess had had enough. “Damn it all!” she screamed, “I thought we were going to be careful! Shippy, full speed ahead, stay out of that monster’s range! Everyone on deck, help Bella! Everyone else, fall back RIGHT NOW! If you die, I’m gonna KILL you!”

Sal shook his scaly head. “Oh, you misunderssstand. A favor in the future. If we cross pathsss again in happier times and there’s sssomething you can do for me, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, enjoy the crossbows. I hope they’ll make you more friends than enemies.” His offhand comment happened to remind Linkle about Albedo, waiting for her across town in Grillby’s.

Edge of the Blue - Atlantis Temple


While Sephiroth gleefully perpetuated the cycle of retribution, eyes that never blinked watched her from afar. Thanks to her distinctive hair she could be seen from far enough that she couldn’t have possibly noticed the fishman security guards burbling through their handheld transceivers in low tones once her first game wrapped up in dramatic fashion. After winning on offense, and not wanting to spend more time with these diversion than absolutely necessary (or at least, not much more), she volunteered to go on the defense in the hopes of completing her set of stamps. A seething Syndra composed herself enough to join the opposite team, and once again the three wavemakers got to work. They put Sephiroth through her paces, challenging her to maintain a slippery footing on top of the unstable bowl. With her attention on the game, it was night impossible to keep tabs on the handful of security guards approaching from various directions.

Thirty seconds later the round came to an end, with the swordswoman still perched atop the center platform. Her opponents could only concede defeat, going their separate ways with more or less graciousness. The next group of four had already formed up for their own game--although, looking at them now, none of them looked very excited to be making waves of their own, and their attire suggested a rather extreme confidence that none would be going for a swim. And although it was true Sephiroth had just pulled off back-to-back wins in this game, they all seemed to be looking at her with something other than admiration. When she turned to move on, the young woman with a big purple ponytail pointed her finger at her. “Hold it right there!”

A handful of fishman guards blocked the other exits as the dancer, the heiress, the thug, and the officer fanned out. Sephiroth’s guard had been down, and whoever these people were had her surrounded. As vacationers distanced themselves from the scene, the older policeman threw down a half-red, half-white ball, and in a spray of light a strange-looking creature in a tiered black dress appeared. Some kind of shadow flew out from beneath it and tagged Sephiroth’s own, somehow holding it down to prevent her escape. The officer crossed his arms. “By order of Admiral Merlwyb you are hereby under arrest for the murder and consumption of KMS Scharnhorst of the Azur Navy. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to legal counsel. And anything you say or do can be used against you. Cooperation is not optional.”

Shantae looked just about as fierce as she could, filled with a fiery anger for the killer before her. “You gonna come quietly?” All four were ready, their weapons -if they had them- close at hand.
In the Court of The Cheesy Queen

Fox, Midna, Red, Big Band, Alex Mercer
Word Count: 6606 (+7 EXP)

While following along with Midna and failing to notice anywhere that sold the frozen treats the pair was looking for, not surprising in a desert in all fairness, there was the additional problem of not having money. A problem that thankfully Red could rectify fairly easily. After all she still had to report to the Cowlipha about her mission's success. “Before we get scouting the shops you want to come with to visit the royal palace with me? Still gotta get my pay from the queen, might help us get our situation sorted, maybe ask if she’s got another request for us.” Maybe having Midna, who was apparently a princess, would help Red a little with her horrible lack of etiquette. Even if she didn’t feel like coming Red would start making her way to the palace.

”That. Would make everything a lot easier,” Midna admitted ”Good call.”

”How’d you wind up getting in with the queen to get this job in the first place?” she then asked, falling in line with Red as the mercenary headed to meet up with her hirer ”because that sounds like a very useful contact. I imagine she, or someone in her court, would know about what’s going on in the area we’re heading for too.”

Red laughed a little thinking of how she got the current job. Of course she wasn’t one for following official procedures or anything of that sort. “I just showed up and started asking around basically. Turns out the Cowlipha was looking for someone to figure out that trade route so I got lucky.” After a bit of walking they shortly found themselves at the palace entrance, to find Fox waiting there ahead of them. Wordlessly he waved the others over and proceeded inward. After they paused to allow a huge man in a trench coat stomp by, the Seekers moved between the unusually tall guards and into the palace.

Before them stretched a gigantic hallway. On either side rose fine white columns and arches, beyond which planters brimming with lush vegetation ran the entire corridor’s length. A veritable avenue of maroon tiles separated by stripes of green and orange led the gaggle of visitors onward under the ever-watchful, silent gaze of the golden guardsmen, past a trickle of disappointed-looking petitioners headed the other way. With heavy footfalls of the big, hat-wearing stranger ahead of them setting a constant beat, the group made for the end of the hall where they could see some towering edifice of scarlet cloth and gold. As they grew, closer, however, they could become increasingly aware that it wasn’t a throne they approached, but a four-post bed of staggering proportions, wrapped in opulent drapery. With that revelation, it followed that the thing within the bed’s confines was not some immense construction or heaping collection of something-or-others, but the Cowlipha herself.

The bell-shaped stranger whistled. In a deep, buttery smooth voice with a metallic timbre he remarked, “Mercy, mercy, mercy…so this is her Moojesty, eh? Color me impressed.” Without missing a beat he stomped in the direction of a long, elevated platform with attached staircases rose up on one side of the bed, presumably for addressing its occupant. Since ultimately nothing could be seen from the ground, it seemed reasonable to follow suit. At the base of the stairs, an agreeable-looking attendant waited with a polite, patient expression. “I am terribly sorry,” he was telling both the big man and the much more discreet fellow he arrived with. “Her Bovinity is not disposed toward meeting with anyone without suitable tribute. An offering of cheese the size of a child is necessary to so much as rouse her from her royal slumber.”

The big man turned to consort with his friend in low tones, giving the Seekers a good look at him for the first time. Almost from head to toe he was covered by a tan trench coat, with a fur collar and a number of odd, almost instrumental bronze augmentations. Dark metal legs held him up, and a porkpie hat lay over a face with glassy eyes and some kind of respiratory device. Under normal circumstances Big Band would have towered above just about anyone, but with the Queen in the picture his own size was less impressive. He moved off to the side, allowing the Seekers to move up.

In light of an apparent prerequisite, Fox turned to his comrades in attendance. Specifically Red, hoping, but not entirely expecting, that she might have come prepared. “I’m guessing neither of you would happen to have that on hand?” An inkling of annoyance with the circumstance seeped through in his voice, the very notion striking him as absurd; a potentially circuitous exercise in formalities they frankly didn’t have time for.

”No... We didn’t” Midna replied, finding the idea absurd but trying to roll with the situation. ”Don’t suppose you have any on hand we can trade for stuffed away in the pantry?” she asked the attendant.

“Our poor cheesemakers are working day and night to satiate Her Moojesty’s craving,” the attendant sighed. “I very much doubt they would have any to spare, but if you wait for the next delivery, you may present the offering for a chance to speak with her.” He glanced at a small crowd gathered by the stairs, some having brought their own chairs. “That said, these other supplicants have the same plan.”

With his mouth covered by his headwear, the big man mostly showed his disapproval with his eyebrows. “Ain’t that a shame. I don’t suppose she’d be too happy if I belted out some west end blues, either.”

The royal aide shook his head. “If you mean awaken her by force, I would expect a foul mood, rather unlikely to give anyone an ear.”

Midna held her face in her hands and groaned. That was two for two for the local royalty not being useful. It was not a good look. How these places were still ticking along with such absent royalty was a mystery to her. Actual no. no it wasn't. ”Someone must be running the place while she’s, ah, resting. A parliament, advisors, her heirs, a general…” she said, mostly to the group, before asking the attendant ”Is there someone who’s running the day to day of royal affairs we could speak too instead? We have news about Sweet Canyon they’ll likely be interested in.”

He nodded. “Oh, yes. Our vizier is graciously managing things in Her Bovinity’s place. He is a shrewd and capable fellow, not at all deserving of the unsavory reputation many affix to him, as he’s kept Al Mamoon in excellent condition, to say the least. If you’ve resolved the matter with the trade route, you should find his clerk, who manages royal commissions. If you have other matters to bring before him, though he is a busy man, I’m sure he would take the time to meet.” Pointing toward the right, he indicated a door illuminated by braziers on one side of the hallway. “You may find the court thataway.” He bowed to the petitioners in farewell. “I am Abull, and though I am but her Moojesty’s humble aide, I am at your service should you need anything else of me.”

While he didn’t have the surest grasp on matters of the crown, and little taste for politics in general, Fox couldn’t shake the feeling that something was inherently wrong with the way the chain of command worked in the Court. An ‘appointment by tribute’ system, with a material requirement that was presently in short supply, that left the apparent head of governance indefinitely indisposed while someone else took over to run the place in their stead, effectively installing them as a provisional de facto ruler? All the more reason to pay him a visit, then. They already needed to speak with him anyway.

”Thank you Abull” she gave the man an appreciative nod, echoed by Fox, even if it would have been nice if he’d started with that rather than having to be asked. Maybe it was an ad hoc filtration system to make sure only the people who really wanted answers could get them. Not a particularly honest way of doing things, but they’d gotten through it if that was the case.

”Looks like we’re just in the wrong spot. Let’s go meet this clerk first and then figure out if its worth bothering the man himself” she said to the team, before glancing over at the man who had threatened the queen with a rude awakening ”not sure if that helps you though mr...?”

The detective noticed the Twilight Princess for the first time, in her entirety, and what little face of his could be seen made him seem interested. It was a moment before he replied. “‘Scuse me little lady, seems I put myself in a silent way. They call me Big Band, and if I figure anyone’s in the know, it ain’t Big Chief up there. Guess we’ll be headin’ your way.”

”Nice to meet you. I’m Midna. Hopefully we all have better luck with her staff.” the princes replied as they headed in the direction they had been pointed.

Red was just about sick of all these incompetent rulers in this stupid place. Even though the Manager back home was a coward who never got involved, at least he did his damn job as well as he could. Most of the time. If it wasn’t for Midna being the exception to the rule she’d be completely done with royalty.

She was also really thankful Midna was here. If it wasn’t for that she’d probably end up getting kicked out of the palace. Or arrested. “That makes sense. I did talk to one of her servants the first time rather than the queen herself.” Red admitted, realizing she hadn’t really thought of it before they made it to her Moojesty’s presence. “I like your thinking though, brass man. I was tempted to try something similar but with gunshots. Probably would’ve ended badly.”

Band raised an eyebrow, but nothing came of it. The mercenary didn’t take much time to greet the two suspicious men, if the tall brass one could even be called a ‘man,’ that had followed them here and led the way to the vizier’s clerk, with Big Band taking up the rear. The door on the right of the main hall opened into a high, multilevel chamber of countless books and papers, all illuminated by the sun streaming down from the dome high above. Everywhere the newcomers looked, little helpers worked at their desks or ran documents around. Red made her way up to the large desk parked in the middle. “Hey bud. I’m here to collect my reward, got that trade route up and running again for ya guys.”

Seated comfortably behind her desk, the skeletal clerk looked up from filing her nails as the newcomers arrived, bobbing the great plume of red hair atop her head Her slouch and the stack of newspapers nearby contributed to an impression of particular disinterest, and when Red delivered her no-frills report, her sigh faintly rattled her ribs. “Yea, yea, yea,” she deadpanned in a strong New York accent. She shifted her weight to the other elbow so she could reach the nearby filing cabinet. Without as much of a moment’s hesitation she slid open the third drawer from the top and started rifling through its contents. “That wuzza...Pahnasse deseht trade, uh? We got crime, shahtages, ‘n infrastrucha problems out the wazoo, but it’s candy that gets people movin’, uh. Figyas.”

The clerks assessment of city management quite conflicted with the royal aide’s appraisal of the vizier’s managerial ability. “Sabotage” stood out to Fox specifically, considering what he had come here for, and “problematic infrastructure” was probably in some way relevant to that as well. They might all be connected. Red was here to collect on a trade route resolution after all. This all only added more notches to Fox’s level of suspicion.

She produced and laid down the contract, noting Red’s signature on the document as well as the listed reward. “Sign the second line unda the first. Mahks it complete, assumes all liability in case it tuhns outcha lied a’somethin’.” She counted the gold pieces she put into the sack for Red’s reward, then double checked the signature before forking it over. “Two hundred fifty gee pee. Pleazha doin’ business ‘n all that. Next!”

“Not my concern. I just do the job I get paid to do.” Red said as she happily signed to finish this job. Hoping that this would indicate that her time in Al Mamoon was coming to a close. This entire desert was getting on her nerves. She grabbed the sack of gold and inspected before being satisfied and turning away. “If ya got any more jobs that need done around here you let me know. I’ll do anything for the right price.” She looked at Midna and held up the gold triumphantly. “This should help fund our little mountain trip.”

The secretary looked unamused. “Look sweetie, ya want moa wahk, take it up with a job boahd. They’re all ova the joint, except right hea.” She lifted a bony hand and waved behind Red. “Next!”

”Well that was efficient. And that’s definitely more of a currency than the paper we have. Nice work Red.” Midna commented after taking a peek at the gold, before moving out of the way of Big Band so he could try his luck. She wasn't expecting he’d have much but who knew. What she was interested in was if there was anything that might be do-able on their way up the mountain, or which might get them a power boost. With that in mind she hovered over to the board to see what was on it. It featured a number of contract fliers neatly tacked to the backing, along with a general bulletin.

“Actually, we’re not done.” Fox stepped past Red and approached the desk, addressing the clerk. “We’ve other matters for the throne, but since the queen’s asleep, we request an audience with her second-in-command. Urgently,” Fox emphasized calmly, but not without a layer of sharpness in his tone.

There was a second of silence during which the secretary just stared at him. Then her jaws twisted into a smirk. “Top floah, right by the staihs,” she replied.

“Thanks.” Fox answered with a nod before walking off in the given direction. He scanned the job board in passing then shook away any thought of taking work from it. He couldn’t afford the distraction, and frankly, the jobs listed were beneath his pay grade. It behooved him to remember, though, that he didn’t take or refuse jobs for the money. He then looked to Midna and Red expectantly while they browsed the board. “Coming?” he asked, nodding them over. He expected going as a company would make them look more convincing in their ‘official business’, but he would be attending the Vizier regardless. It was just a question of if he’d do it with or without them.

When Fox headed off Big Band sidled up, but he was hardly surprised when his tentative question received a vehement rebuff. "Whaddya think I am, a secyuhity camera? Ask the vizea." After that, he couldn't do much but follow on Fox's footsteps.

Midna made a quick note of the jobs on the board, considering their party contained a number of thieves (more than she knew in fact) the idea of using a thief to catch a thief had immediately come to mind, and then headed after Fox, mostly to see what was going to go down.

Red also took a look at the board for any possibilities. The strange thief and the mimic seemed pretty up her alley but now wasn’t the time. Fox was calling them over and it seemed he wanted to speak to the Vizier. Which worked for her cause she had some info that she wanted as well. Thankfully he was more vulpine than lupine so she had no problems with him for now, so she followed after him and Midna silently. With Big Band seeming to follow too.

Mercer had, for the last couple of minutes, elected to remain silent as he observed the other seekers. They were no less strange than anything else he’d seen thus far, although some of their appearances he couldn’t help but note as odd. In the end however, he simply followed after Band as he made his way into another one of the palace’s many rooms, standing next to the trench coat clad detective silently with his arms crossed.

Just as the secretary said, the spiral staircase that provided access to the court’s top floor led straight to a large, thick door. The prominent plaque it bore overhead simply read ‘Vizier’. A knock elicited a call in a firm, if somewhat raspy male voice. “Come in!”

When the door swung open, it revealed a fine if passably ominous office, decorated in a muted style that managed to be rich but not overbearing or lavish. Purple rugs with yellow fringe and approximately zigzag patterns covered the floor, and matching curtains hung in abundance. A handful of bronze instruments lay here or there, either upon the low, cushion-surrounded table near the door or free-standing thanks to greater size. At the far end of the room, the bright yellow lamps illuminated the vizier in all his glory, a middle-aged man with wild dark brown hair, both slender and muscular at once, heavily ornamented and possessed of elaborate, showy garb. A single streak of white occupied the very center of his pointy beard. A book lay upon the wooden desk before him, in the middle of a vast pile of professional miscellany from inkwells to ledgers to a framed photograph of himself with a younger man in similar attire. The name plate before him held just one word: Validar. He looked up at the new arrivals, noting how many there were, and set down his feather. “Good morning,” he greeted them in an even tone. “May I help you?”

Fox began sizing the darkly man up from the moment he pushed his way into the room, by his trappings and bearing. The room itself was about what one would expect for a right-hand attendant of royalty. From the man himself he could assume little by appearances, beyond the fact that he bore vague stylistic resemblance to the ‘darker’ figures he had met in the past from other worlds, like Ganondorf. He supposed Midna might sooner know and act accordingly. He could assume slightly more, however, from the portrait on his desk of him and a loosely familiar fellow Smash Brother, in which the latter looked decidedly uncomfortable. Had he been there with them to explain why, that might have left less to question, but he would just have to see where this took them.

“We hope so,” he answered on his continued approach. “We’d have asked the Cowlipha, but she’s out, apparently.” Without acting to insinuate anything, Fox casually alluded to the matriarch's indisposition that brought them before the Vizier. Fox’s unshifting gaze affixed to him with scrutinous intent.

“Indeed…” Validar expressed his concern. “Her Moojesty’s affliction has rendered her unable to perform the duties of a sovereign.”

Fox nodded nonchalantly at the statement and continued. “I’ll get to it. We’re here on a mission. Thought we might need your help with that, and by the sound of things, maybe you could use ours.” Fox preempted the subject of mutual compensation in the likely event it came up in their discussion.

The vizier looked interested. He placed his elbows on the desk before him and tented his fingers. “There is much I can offer, and there is much in this city that must be done. How can we help one another?”

“The armored train in the yard. We thought we might take it off your hands. We’ve already got someone working to get it running, but we thought we’d come ask for it while we’re at it… and if the tracks reach the mountain.” Fox left a second of space in his speech for the Vizier to ponder the possibility, or for alternatives, should they prove necessary. “But then we found out about Her Majesty,” as he mistitled her, “came to collect her bounty,” he gestured to Red as an implicit commendation for a job well done taking one less problem off their hands, “and found out you’re still having problems. Problems that we might be able to take care of. ‘Crime and sabotage’ were the word,” he more or less quoted the secretary, leaving out ‘infrastructure’, but leaving it implied. “Any chance they’re related?” His question pertained simultaneously to the train he came to ask about, the dormant sovereign he came to ask in the first place, the job Red had just completed for them, and anything else of potential relevance to their discussed trade of service for favor. He was confident they could and would be happy to solve these problems in one move (or as few as possible) for them, but they would do well to have some lead on it first, if they could gather one.

Validar leaned forward, putting his clasped hands in front of his mouth as he thought. “Hm. Well, that was a lot in one breath, so allow me to address one matter at a time. You mentioned the train…” He narrowed his eyes, making a snap decision about how much to share. “It is indeed a waste of space that could be put to better use for hauling cargo. I would be glad to see it go, but assigning a mechanic already was rather presumptuous. If its weaponry is restored, particularly that needlessly large cannon...I’m sure you understand the sort of concern that presents for Al Mamoon.” Inside his head, the gears turned quickly, processing the possibilities. “There are many possibilities to work around this problem, but all require one thing: trust. Which may tie into your second point.”

He spread his hands, palms tilted upward. “These are important times for the city. Running one is not easy. Running the region’s cultural and economic forerunner is rather difficult.” He seemed just a little annoyed by the phrasing of ‘still having problems.’ “So yes, there are some...issues, around town. For all their diversity, they boil down to a singular fact: demand outweighs supply. I made the assurance of adequate food and water to the people my number-one priority, so construction and especially security are the main thorns in our side. Material shortages mean things get built more slowly and less soundly than they should, and incompletion invites disorder. There are not enough guards to cover the cracks, since the Ruin Sentinels are rather primitive. My Grimleal try to fill the gaps, but the populace seldom offers them their cooperation.” He gave a snakelike smile. “The price I’ve paid for not working to improve my image.”

Much of what the Vizier went over came down to a legitimate management and logistics problem rather than a “shoot at whatever’s causing trouble” problem. In other words, there were issues Fox may be ill-qualified to attend to personally, but he felt certain they had fit hands and resources they could pull from Alcamoth. Prospectively, their extended service to Al Mamoon would grant them an additional foothold there. His eyes shifted over to Midna with a look of “You getting this?” on the assumption that she would perhaps be thinking the same (or similar), and make note between them to phone home after they left.

The princess nodded. She had indeed found the man’s appearance to be suspicious, but she was hoping that the queen’s attendant’s comment about him not deserving the ‘unsavory reputation’ he had was legitimate. His concerns and priorities certainly sounded well meaning enough, and if they were going to be working around town for a bit they could get a better understanding of what, if anything, he had done to earn his reputation other than, well, fashion sense.

Straightening up, Validar continued. “But yes, despite all I have done for this city, it is not what I would call stable. We need help to stem the bleeding. Maybe you’ve already pieced together what I have in mind. The tracks do lead to the mountain, terminating at Tostarena town, a place of tourism. If you want to take the Railway Gun there, we’ll need to put our faith in one another, despite the odds. Aid Al Mamoon in our time of need, and the train is yours, provided you agree to the use of a failsafe.”

With the prospect of Alcamoth’s aid in mind, Fox almost thought about reassuring him that they had zero intentions of helping a town one minute only to turn their biggest guns on it the next, especially while their own people were stationed within it. Little did Validar know that it wasn’t entirely a matter of necessity for fair requital that stopped them either, for they had enough at home to just as easily hurt them as it could help them. If they wanted to simply take the train, and do with it as they damn well please, they could. No, their show was run by (mostly) honorable people who were more interested in restoring the world than blowing it away when and where it inconvenienced them (excepting the Dead Zone for good reason). Fox thought the better of showing their hand in one light or the other, however, until they had a better read of the terms. Returning his full attention to the Vizier, he instead asked simply, “What’d you have in mind?”

“The Bounties posted to the castle job boards are some of our highest-prority problems,” Validar told him. “That said, since you all are clearly not from around here, I can share something else. At the moment our greatest issue is not the showboating thief, or con artists, or slimes in the sewers. Pockets of organized crime have taken root in Al Mamoon, hurting the livelihoods of our citizens. Rather annoyingly, they call themselves the Resistance, and many clothe their naked villainy with pronouncements of ‘ending corruption’ and ‘restoring the city’, all while ransacking and fighting as they please. And if you don’t agree, you’re among the corrupt, and deserving of whatever may befall you...preposterous.”

The vizier looked grim, pain evident in his features as he glanced at the picture on his desk. “But transparent egoism can be compelling. Even my own son has cast his lot in with them…” His face hardened. “But they cannot undo what has already been done. This threat to Al Mamoon must end. We have identified their hideouts, but do not have the manpower to strike both at once. That is where you would come in. If you can do this, without bringing any harm to my son...” Once again Validar tented his fingers. “I will know we are on the same side. The side of a brighter tomorrow.”

Mercer leaned towards Band, gaze trained on the vizier, mostly because he was getting tired of staring at the opulently decorated office around them.

”This talk of infrastructure and bounties is great and all,” he muttered. ”But we still have our own problems to solve.”

Big Band gave a curt nod and took a halfstep forward, indicating his intention to pipe up as soon as the others wrapped up their business.

If she was being entirely honest with herself here, Red wasn’t entirely sure if she believed half of the things coming out of the vizier’s mouth. If she was judging based on appearance alone he looked just so incredibly evil. But appearances can be deceiving, and he sounded fairly on the level and like he actually cared for this city and even his own son so who knows. It’s not like she ever questioned people’s intentions when taking a job before and he wasn’t about to start now. ”Now you’re speaking my language,” the mercenary said as she strided up next to Fox after standing behind him this whole time. After all suppression like this was much more her speed as far as jobs went. ”As long as the others agree that the payment is sufficient for the job I’d like to hear as much info as you got on this group and their hideout, as well as any other intel or equipment you got.” She looked over to both Midna and Fox to make sure they were both onboard with this mission.

Validar waved his hand. “That is a matter the Grimleal will be able to help you with. Their headquarters is the temple just outside the palace, on the right. If that’s everything, I’m afraid I am a rather busy man...”

Looking between his two comrades, Fox’s already blankly serious expression hardened as well at the mention of family. It didn’t tell him much; mostly just raised more questions really, but it was good to know nonetheless. “We’ll look into it; see what we can do... and I promise no harm will come to your son. No more than necessary.” He offered his assurances sympathetically, but truthfully. In a sense it was entirely true, that he had more than purely practical reasons to care for his well-being. Though, he felt no need to explain to him why: that he was acquainted with his son, little did he know, and that inevitable harm was necessary in securing his freedom and safety. Validar didn’t look happy, but it looked like he understood. With their mutual acknowledgement, Fox took his leave. As many issues were left unaddressed, he felt he had all he needed to go on for the time being.

“Just one more thing, Mister Magic.” Big Band took a step forward. “Since you’re Head of intelligence ‘round here, I was hopin’ you might’ve seen a little girl named Peacock.” A tiny metal arm slid out from a hole in his coat, its padded pincer holding a photograph of a girl in a hat who didn’t look quite right. “Ring any bells?”

After a moment the vizier nodded. “Yes, I believe so. She and a boy named Crow were in town recently. They took a Bounty to investigate a marauding force of robots. I’m afraid I haven’t seen them since.”

”I met Crow and saw her in Sweet Canyon. They didn't come here with us, so they should still be around there” Midna chipped in.

“That so? Good to hear she’s in one piece, though I’m not surprised.” Band didn’t seem bothered. “I almost feel bad for those robots. Kid’s got a mischievous streak five hundred miles high.” He retracted the photo, then tipped his hat. If Peacock invited him here and was still waltzing around, she’d be back to meet him before too long. “That’s me taken care of. Be good.” Leaving Mercer to pose his own question, he plodded off.

Mercer, sparing Band the briefest of glances as he left the room, stepped up to the vizier’s desk.

”Speaking of intelligence, I also happen to be looking for someone.”

There was a short pause.

”Maybe you can help.”

Validar blinked, waiting out the second dramatic pause with a less-than-amused expression. “That would depend on you telling me about this person, I suppose.”

”It’s my sister, Dana. She’s got short brown spiked hair and silver blue eyes. Can swear like a sailor when she wants to and isn’t one to back down from a fight. You see or hear of anyone like that around?”

It didn’t take long for the vizier to shake his head. “This Dana must be keeping a lower profile than your acquaintance’s friend. I have not heard of this person, but you can ask my secretary to draft a missing persons poster for the job boards. Now, if you all will excuse me...”

Mercer didn’t reply. He merely nodded and made his way out of the room, stopping by the secretary’s office as suggested to draft a poster for the boards, before making his way back through the palace in an attempt to find Band. Deal was a deal after all, and he intended to uphold his end of the bargain.

The Seekers left the office and retraced their earlier steps through the court, back into the wide open space and relative privacy of the main hall. With Band and Mercer headed the same way, a little discretion was called for.

“Thoughts, Princess?” Fox asked in a hushed tone for Midna’s impression of both the Vizier and the situation as they proceeded outward. Even if he could later get a more informed opinion as he had hoped to, he preferred at least to know if they were on like wavelengths.

“I’m missing the context of the specifics of this train you’ve found,” she and Red had headed out before Tora made his discovery, “so keep that in mind.

“Tora’s on it now,” he clarified. “You can go see for yourself; maybe fill him in while you’re at it. I’ll let him worry about the ‘specifics’.”

The princess held her chin contemplatively for a moment and then said her piece “At a bare minimum, the... let’s call them the above board jobs seem like they’re beneficial to the people no matter what and we’ll get money we can use to generously fund our trip up the mountain and possibly let us restock if we come back. If we can get the train out of just that, and if the ‘tracks’ the trains use run up north to the cites up there, then all the better.“

Fox agreed to some extent, nodding along thoughtfully to let her know that. He considered the possibility that they brought enough manpower with them to complete said tasks within the day, knowing it would require splitting, or if they would necessarily have to do all of them. Part of this would likely hinge on the continued cooperation of the Phantom Thieves’ and their willingness to take up such tasks. Failing that, introducing them to ‘the Resistance’ might prove an enticing proposition for them...

“As for the below/off board job, well, obvious dubious morality of the situation aside“ she hoped she didn't have to explain what she meant by that “That might be getting too deep into local politics. We start down that road and we’ll have best make sure we get to the end of it lest we keep tripping over loose ends“ and she did not want to get bogged down in a protracted war with a potentially heroic rebel group, both for ethical and practical reasons.

“Whatever we decide to do, I’d like to be quick about it,” he iterated aloud his intention against lingering in one place for too long. That was to say he concurred on some level in regards to brevity. “If nothing else, we may already have an ally on the inside.”

As the two finished, Big Band allowed his path to take him closer to the group. “‘Scuse me there, I don’t mean to intrude. It seems like you folks might be lookin’ into that special job our friend Sidewinder mentioned. He made it sound like a fine mess, what with all the family drama, mixed messages, ‘n political intrigue.” The detective gave a wry laugh. “All my favorite things. Who knows who’s in the right? But when right goes wrong, Big Band’s on the case. If the word of law falls, pick it up and hold it higher!” From his coat a giant pneumatic arm reached out, a single finger raised from its brass knuckles. “In other words, one truth prevails. And I intend to find it, with or without acknowledgement.”

He was right. There was, in this World, one universal truth, but with the telling red glint in his glassy eyes, he would never find it, no matter where he looked; even if he looked to the sky. If the brass-made detective had any ideas about following them to look for it, one could certainly say he was on the right track. Glancing at Midna and Red for some clue or vote of confidence in the titanic stranger that approached them before telling him as much himself.

“Well, if you’re looking our way for it, I can tell you you’re looking in the right direction. Can’t promise you’ll like it though,” he ended on a word of disclaimer, issued tonally without the intent to threaten.

Band looked unfazed. “Well, you needn’t.”

”I might as well join you,” Mercer said, striding over. ”Got a deal to keep after all. Besides, I doubt I’ll find Dana by sitting around doing nothing all day.”

It seemed they were gaining no shortage of interest in such a short time. Fox wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that. He had previously advocated himself for taking help where they could find it, but recognized a need for established trust in those who joined their cause. It wasn’t so easy as explaining to them along the way that they had an ultimate goal in common. Looking between the strangers and his comrades, he concluded it would be best to feel this out as they went.

“We should head back. Rally the others. Fill them in on what we’ve learned and go from there,” he told Red and Midna (who nodded in agreement) before addressing the other two. “If you two care to help, there’s a spot for you. You’re welcome to come with us.” With that, the Seekers were already making their first steps (or equivalent) back toward the station to reconvene with the others. From the provisional invitation to join them he omitted the “just don’t cross us or else” clause, expecting that they would have enough sense about them to make it go without saying. He hadn’t thus far needed to make that point with anyone they had recruited, nor been given reason to doubt or suspect them. He would like, and expect, that it stay that way.

“Music to my ears.” Band agreed, and followed along as the troop made its way from the palace.
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