Myriad Hunters [Mission for ScorchMan]

When ScorchMan returned to the scene of his latest battle, he found that the network had already more or less repaired itself; the deep furrow in the ground had sealed over and the surrounding terrain looked like unremarkable patch of a similar landscape. Normalised panels made up the majority, with the odd strip of metal or magnetised panels forming lines and divisions; far off he could see the now repaired fields that he had trekked through before, with newly repaired measuring instruments poking up amongst them, where previously there had been scarecrows for him to dispatch. The air remained hot and dry, however, almost uncharacteristically so, for Electown's outer nets.

The location was as deserted as he'd left it, except for a single entity, standing more or less on the spot where the dangerous spider virus had burrowed into the ground and fled. Though ScorchMan's own senses were more limited, if Griffin was watching on, the screen showed him a small figure; a petite, feminine build that stood three feet tall at most, including the laid back rabbit ears that added several inches on their own. Along with the ears, she was covered in a short coat of pure white fur.

Dress-wise, the woman was attired quite minimally; she was barefoot, with a denim skirt, divided into individual strips of an inch or two across for ease of movement, that ended at her mid thighs, and wore a slim chest band that was made in the same denim style and looked as though it didn't really have too much restraining or supporting work to do, other than covering decency. A pair of stylised red wings were printed on the back of it, either side of the back hitching, and small rabbit tail poked out between the pleats of her skirt. This, along with the ears, probably made it no surprise that there were clear signs of other lapin features defining her face as she turned around to face ScorchMan's arrival. She grinned and waved a hand.

“Heya! ScorchMan, right? I'd be surprised if you weren't, hehe.” The voice was small and high-pictched, but not enough to sound squeaky or shrill; rather, she sounded playful and upbeat. The bunny-girl painted a fairly innocuous image on Griffin's screen as she waved his navi over. To ScorchMan's way of reading creatures, as he got closer, the figure positively glowed with the weight of code and energy output concentrated inside her form. The small figure was an almost uncomfortable beacon on his senses. The reading for her showed up as 'Prosopopoeia.lapin', but her program integrity was masked.

“Nice to meet you! I'm Prosopopoeia, but you can call me Prose. Sorry for Shanghai-ing your thread, but this is kinda an anomaly and it'd be bad for any other under-prepared navigators to get mixed up in it. It's pretty lucky that you...” For a moment her voice trailed off; Griffin might notice her looking ScorchMan over and leaning in with a tilt of her head, peeking up at his visor, before wincing and drawing away again. “Are you okay? I hope none of that came from the Myriad. Lasting damage of some sort? Sorry...” she cleared her throat and looked down at her feet, embarrassed for a moment.
His awareness was a bloom of reds.

Compared to the soothing yellow cradle of the PET, the Net was always a bit cold when ScorchMan first touched down, typically a blur of deep shadows and little else to his heat sense. He didn't know when he started noticing that, but touching down to ElecTown Net and already feeling warm and comfortable was a feeling he wasn't the slightest bit used to. All around him was a swirling crimson gradient, the energy that had seared into the ground still diffusing into the Net. The pride he took in his growing power - that, too, was something new.

He wasn't alone. Nearby was a point bright enough that facing it felt almost like standing before the Myriad's jaws. Was this his patron? "Hello? Is someone there?" ScorchMan called out, relieved when the presence spoke up. Walking over, he realized the voice was coming from somewhere near his waist: a child? A small smile came unbidden, even when Prose's introduction faltered. "Old injuries, nothing to worry about. It's good to meet you, Prose, thanks for coming," he waved off her concern; it was easy to guess what she'd noticed.

"Speaking of being prepared, I should get my Operator on board." As ScorchMan gestured, a window popped open roughly eye-level to Prose. The room beyond was dark, with a deeply suggestive view of a man's bare torso amidst tangled sheets. Griffin Reim enjoyed his gym time, and it showed on every inch of visible skin, from his shoulders to the deep V of his hips where his boxers had ridden low. A gentle snoring came from just off-screen - utterly oblivious to the view, ScorchMan keyed the PET's alarm, calling, "Griffin, time to get up!"

"Whuzzah?" A symphony of abs flexed as Griffin levered himself upright, holding the PET up to his face. His cheeks dimpled around a sleepy grin as he noticed ScorchMan's company, "Awww, who's your friend? Hey lil' bun, how's it going?" He seemed utterly unconcerned with his state of undress, making no move to correct it as he set the PET on his nightstand, stretching and sighing explosively.

"My seeing-eye human," ScorchMan deadpanned to Prose. Turning to the window, he summed up the last few minutes for Griffin's benefit, "This is Prose, I met her on the mission BBS last night. She's gonna help me track down that spider-beast we fought, so I'll probably be yelling for Battlechips in a little bit." While Griffin hummed his understanding (and stretched a little more), ScorchMan turned back to not-quite-face Prose. "On that note, how did you want to go about this? The Myriad virus melted its way underground, so I was thinking I'd open the floor up and see if its escape route is still there. That's, uh, assuming you're fireproof; otherwise, I'm open to suggestions." It was hard to tell from the impression he got of Prose what element she might be, but the way she shone he wouldn't be surprised if she turned out to be a Fire-element like him. His furnace flared a little in anticipation, flames flickering across his chest.
Unseen by ScorchMan, a slight grin flickered across his patron's expression as the view screen came up; her eyebrows arched and she tilted her head a little, taking in the view.

“Hellloooo Sailor...” Her tongue played briefly over the tip of one of her small, pointed teeth before she caught herself. A short giggle escaped her before Prose cleared her throat softly, though she was still grinning.

“Ah... ahem... aaaanyway... I've been doing a quick reconstruction...” she made a gesture with one hand, moving fingertips to the centre of her chest before casting them out in a circle that threw slim blue tracers and wire-frames over the surrounding space; a red dot marked as the Myriad virus ScorchMan had fought moved thought the fight swiftly, before crawling away to burrow into the ground near her feet, as it had before. She looked up to him, thinking, then traced her fingertips through the air in front of her again, subtly changing the reconstruction. “I'm guessing if Mr. February there is your eyes, then you can't see normally like that? I can change this up if you use something else... If you can read the data space, I can do it in ray trace... or... Infra-red? Straight up therm-optic? What d'you need?” If ScorchMan had a preference, that worked, the bunny girl was quick to reconfigure her reconstruction to one he could read, but else-wise it was still easy enough for Griffin to make sense of and relay. She stood back, looking at the spot where the virus had vanished again then back to ScorchMan with hand on her hip and her head tilted.

“We can talk about how we're going to take care of this in a minute... First, I need you to fill me in. What actually happened, because, you know, these things don't come up to the normal nets on their own. So come on... What were you really doing?” She swayed back and forth with a playful smirk and a teasing cadence to her question. “Like I said, you're not in trouble, and I don't work for the GNA or any of the post net-war factions or anything like that. I'm not even really supposed to spend a lot of time around individual net navigators directly, but this needs cleaning up... and I've got holiday deliveries to get to soon enough, so the quicker we sort it out, the better.” She folded her arms, awaiting an answer, but despite the seriousness of the words, she still seemed upbeat and friendly – there wasn't any hint of recrimination or threat in her questioning, just curiosity, it seemed.

Around them the recovered network went on unperturbed and peaceful; a warm breeze whistling through the nearby fields, tall structures in the distance, glittering slightly in the sun, and a clear sky overhead; it was vaguely at odds with ScorchMan's way of seeing things – and thus the extreme readings the woman's small form was displaying – not actual heat, but simply density of code and volume of raw energy circling within. Prose bounced on her toes, letting her hands slip behind her back instead.
"Uh, that's Mr. December to you, thanks much," Griffin waggled a finger to the camera as he walked off-screen. The soft sound of rustling clothes ensued - from just outside the frame, he called coquettishly, "Kotobuki Firefighters' charity calendar, three years running? No big deal or anything." The rush of a faucet, then the quiet shake of a toothbrush going to work.

"There, that's fine," Cutting his Operator off, ScorchMan made a stopping gesture with a hand once Prose's reconstructions started putting out heat. Walking slowly forward into the wireframes, the walking furnace lit himself up, fire pouring from his body until he stood at the centre of a rippling bubble. With a simulated deep breath, ScorchMan pushed his awareness out and felt for where his heat brushed against the reconstruction. Memory supplied the rest, "That's right...I was flying around, and it tried to shark me just as I landed right...there." He nodded his understanding, barely registering Prose's teasing.

Before ScorchMan could begin, he was interrupted by the sound of a door swinging shut. A hand reached to grab the PET, giving the camera a thighs-up view of Griffin walking down the hall in rugby shorts and a loose tank top. "I can answer that, bro. This lazy mook was chilling in his lava bathtub that he made torching a bunch of viruses, and he stayed in there so long his feet got stuck! Next thing you know, big ugly's rolling up on him like 'yo, snacktime!'' Hey ScorchMan, it cool if I get my gains on while you do your thing?"

"Knock yourself out - and my feet did not get stuck," ScorchMan griped, looking put out in a very literal sense. Flames dying down to a red smoulder, his rippling sphere of influence faded in short order. Without turning to face the other Navi, he started, "I dunno anything about this thing, all I know is Griffin yelled 'big damn lava spider' and the next second it was running me down. Got me a couple times, but I kept ahead of it." At that he huffed a bit, expression twisting as he recalled the mad scramble, and summed up the rest, "Then, it was just a matter of Griffin having exactly the right chips for me to get clear, and blast it before it finished the job."

"Not to mention pointing you in the right direction," Griffin chimed in, hooking his PET to the handlebars of an exercise bike and walking a slow lap around the fire hall's gym. Stretching and unsubtly flexing for the camera, the mottled red of old burn scars were plainly evident along one arm and shoulder. At that point another fireman in athletic wear appeared in the doorway and wolf-whistled, prompting Griffin to bring his arms up, bracket his head with his biceps, and affect a pin-up pose for maximum peacocking. His voice filled the small room, "Yeah, can't say we've been doing this long, but ScorchMan over here? Pretty badass in a fight."

"Yeah, well, I had help." With an emphatic lean towards Griffin's voice, the flames licking from ScorchMan's armour flared back up to a strong yellow burn. Despite the imposing stance, his words were almost hesitant, "So, as long as I'm working with you, can I ask...what was that thing, anyway?"
At the mild scolding, Jazz's employer put a hand quickly to her mouth, stifling another little giggle. “No way, that's you? I should have recognised! My mum totally left last year's up for, like six months—” She cut herself off with a quick shake of her head. “Sorry, business...” A faint blush at her cheeks where the fur was thinnest accompanied the small bunny woman clearing her throat. She busied herself with the reconstruction while ScorchMan and Griffin alternated giving the details of their story. When they were done, she turned back, folding her arms with a frown.

“So you weren't doing anything shifty at all... just regular busting and exploring, up here on the normals? You're sure?” One small pointed fang gnawed at her lower lip as the tapped her fingers. “That's not good...” she returned to stand closer to ScorchMan and give him another appraising glance as the thought about his information.

“That thing was a Myriad – it's a special kind of virus entity, a hunter, but it also subtly balances various network features, mostly to do with terrain and structure retention. They're not really aware of doing so, it's just a by-product of their hunting patterns and predation. They're very elegant pieces of work, or they were, originally.” She shook her head and wandered back to the point in the ground where it had burrowed away, then back across to the place where it had emerged.

“But, they live in the chaos and the rogues, for the most part. Mostly consuming broken code and damaged programs, and refactoring scrambled terrain in the process. No real hope of getting anything in order down there, of course – legacy from an older time, more than anything. They don't come up to the higher nets – they've got no reason to. Their preferred prey tends to be programs with lasting or permanent damage of some sort, and that's a rarity up here.” Here, she looked at ScorchMan again and ducked her head, apologetic.

“I don't mean to upset or offend, but your situation alone wouldn't be enough to draw one. It was already up here and just found you, most likely... But it shouldn't have been up here at all... this has to be taken care of.” Here, she paused and grinned up at ScorchMan with a more playful smirk, though it was likely wasted on him unless Griffin was also seeing. Even so, her voice took on a more mischievous tone as well. “But that's what you wanted to do anyway, right?” After a moment she frowned again, glancing between ScorchMan and the last place the spider creature had been seen.

“I should probably file this before we start.... but I'm not supposed to spend extended time around individual navigators... Easier to ask forgiveness, right? Besides, this is your hunt, and if I get told to clean it up alone that's not going to give you the closure you need, is it? The Myriad will have probably dropped closer to the deeper nets. I don't know why it's up here, or what drove it here, but it'll still prefer to lurk where it won't be detected easily as much as it can in a normal net, and that means the roads less travelled. We're in luck though... You're just the guy that will make this easier, after all. I can boost whatever trail it left behind, at least as long as we don't lose it entirely, and if you've got good senses for heat tracing, that ought to be enough to let you follow it. It's going to be pretty dangerous, just so you know, but I'm guessing that's no surprise to you, right? You ready to do this?” She bounced on her toes and made a brief show of stretching and flexing her arms, though overall it looked more like she was warming up for a dance party than for serious hunting. Her exposed fur and simple denim attire didn't really seem too suitable for the heat they were chasing, but the bunny girl didn't seem worried. She looked to ScorchMan and then towards Griffin's display as well, checking to see if either of them had any questions or reservations before setting out.
Speaking in relative terms, ScorchMan was young and untested for a Navi. As with many of his kind, he was built for specialized job support, with his daily life a regimented, routine closed circuit that neatly separated everything he knew from everything he didn't. Only rarely did ScorchMan's world expand to fit a new depth in his understanding, each instance a milestone - and this conversation seemed like it was going to be another one. Several times, Prose's explanation used terms the Navi had no context for, and his face made no secret of the fact from 'rogues' onward, but he could piece enough dots together to make a game attempt at nodding along. "I think I get it," he said cautiously, once Prose finished her outline, "at any rate, seems like I'll be doing the Net a favour by getting rid of it."

"Too right," Griffin nodded his agreement. Finishing off his stretches, he segued into squats without missing a beat, first on bodyweight, then with a loaded barbell across his shoulders. Even with the weight, he didn't sound the least bit breathless when he spoke up, "So assuming big ugly didn't get chased up here by something bigger and uglier, there must be something screwed up underground, right? Something that drew it up to the...normals, right?" A slight adjustment of stance put Griffin in profile; the smooth glide of quads and hamstrings resumed. "It couldn't have been that far away, if it noticed ScorchMan's bathtub and came to see what's up. Dive down there, and you'll probably find both your bogie and whatever's distracting it from heading home," the firefighter continued, casually putting lie to the notion that more brawn equalled less brains.

The slighter half of the Beefcake Duo had gone quiet, mulling over Prose's words. A small shard of shiny black carapace blinked into ScorchMan's glove, who didn't seem to notice he was fidgeting with it until he pricked his thumb by accident. "I think you're right," he started, facing a point between Griffin and Prose's voices and addressing both at once. To Prose he nodded, gesturing down to the fragment, "It's not exactly closure I'm after. Yeah, I could've just pointed the authorities at the problem and washed my hands, but if it's something I can do something about..." the words fled him.

Hesitant, ScorchMan tried again, "I guess I don't like the thought of giving the Myriad a chance to find someone unprepared for it. That's just, no. Not happening, not on...heh! Not on my watch." The Navi's jaw curled into a rueful smirk, and let the fragment blip away. From beside him came a very Griffin-y 'eyyyyyy', but ScorchMan paid it no mind, choosing instead to reach down for those deep parts in his core that governed fire and heat, and pull. "Yeah," the burning man said, his body awash with curling flames, "I'm ready. If you've got a plan, then just tell me what you need and I'll do what I can. Oh, and uh, maybe stand back."
As the pair followed along, Prose made sure they understood, but her ears stood up straighter and her eyebrows rose at some of their slightly less certain answers. She folded her arms and tilted her head.

“Not underground, not exactly... You guys know how the net levels work, right? Er... Okay, so...” She paused as if collecting her thoughts. “So, we're in the general, standard network space right now. This is the internet that everyone uses every day. It's what most people see and it's all pretty... closely maintained... by the powers that be to keep it safe... or, um, as safe as possible for programs that traverse it.” As she spoke, her words slowed on occasion as her eyes trailed sideways to linger on Griffin's work-out routine. She bobbed up and down on her toes in a slow, seemingly unconscious rhythm.

“But the net... it's pretty old at this point, right? And people have been... Ah, building more and more on top of old architecture, and such, for more than a couple of generations now. So... Right, so, there are older layers that still have most of their structure, but it's been... ah, forgotten about, mostly, and it's mostly locked off for net safety. Old systems, outdated programs, depreciated architectures. Get past the safety barriers, and... you'll ah... find yourself... ah, you'll end up in what these days folks call the rogue networks. It's still mostly functional, but it's not maintained or regulated. Lots of bad stuff and under the table things go down there, out of sight, and things that are all taken care of by automated systems these days don't happen, like terrain restoration, because they used to be handled by physically net-present programs instead... and a lot of those are still roaming around down there, doing their old jobs, or not doing them and going broken or haywire or glitched. Myriads are one of those. You'd call them viruses now, but they used to have a proper purpose.” The small woman's intermittent distraction non-withstanding, she eventually got through her explanation.

“Dig further, and you get down to a chaotic mess of wild and broken code that's been all crushed and broken and barely hands together... barely liveable even for modern programs... and then there's two more layers that we know of below that, but let's not get in over our heads. Hopefully, we can find your Myriad wherever it's hiding up here, and either send it how or take it apart. After that I'm probably going to have to look into what caused it... and then get no time off at all before they want me back in costume and handing out presents again. Oh well. Come on, let's go!” She started to move towards the point that the reconstruction had shown it escaping, but Griffin's suggestion drew her up short(er), and she turned, thoughtful.

“That's a good idea, actually. If it's fled her, and is hunting prey, it must have made a recall point... ah... a lair, or a home base, sort of. Where it takes standby frames and repairs itself. So, if you guys really hurt it badly, that'll be where it will go, eventually. And the path it took coming out, to find you, will be easier to follow than the one it took running away... So you're smart as well as sexy, huh?” She stifled a small giggle, biting her lip, then seemed to refocus her attention.

“Okay, Scorch... can I call you Scorch? I always stumble over all the '-man' name bits...” She approached again, looking him up and down from a few feet away, then nodded and tracked back to the place where the lava pool had been before. “So, you made the pool that was here, right? The network repaired itself,f but that's only a surface layer repair, most of the time – deep repairs only go through at longer intervals. So, if you get this all magma'd up again, you should be able to find, down a little deeper, a trail of an actual lava tunnel through the normal network space. That'll be the Myriad's doing, when it came to get you – so, if we can find that, then it should be easy enough to start tracing back to wherever it's lairing here. If you find the chute, just keep going, I'll be right behind you.”

She stood back a few paces, watching from around behind ScorchMan to let him turn the peaceful network space back into a bubbling magma pool again; it was no sooner done, however, than a section of the pool left of centre sank inwards with a very slow-paced suction. If ScorchMan waded in, he'd find that the bottom of the pool, where his terrain shift edged out, a section continued to drop away, leaving him slowly sinking. The suction grew much stronger at the edge of the sink, however, and willing or not the slow sink soon became an almost inexorable pull that carried him downward into the unknown.

The current, such as it was, rapidly accelerated once ScorchMan was in the lava chute; being under the molten substance didn't impair him particularly, but it soon became a struggle to control his progress and steer with the gradual twists and bends as it moved through the ground. The lava-slide continued to drag him along every more quickly as other back-angled tributaries joined with his and his joined in turn with others, but the strangest part, however, was the flow wasn't just heading downward. Rather it seemed to level out, and then, after more than a minute or two of rapid flow, against all reason, begin to gradually spiral and climb upwards.

Here, ScorchMan's other senses began to note that the lava chute itself was no longer bored through the terrain, and was smooth in its gradual curve; almost like running through an actual metal conduit instead. Surely he'd travel up high enough to be back above ground now? Still fully enclosed, the journey continued until, after another minute, the sense of motion broke into open air, and a brief free-fall. A heavy, sludgey splash followed as he landed in another magma pool. This one felt smaller, and was only about four feet deep before hitting a bottom that felt more like a cross-hashed grate. The lava itself continued to be pulled down, but more flowed in from the chute above.

To ScorchMan's senses, he was in some kind of closed chamber, large, with a high roof, but with all the defined hard edges and smooth walls of something deliberately made; everything seemed to reflect heat or safely absorb it. On Griffin's screen, the room was dark, save for the glow of lava pouring from a vent in one wall, into a grated pool below. The pool was raised up, the top of some deeper tank, and other similar ones, all empty, were dotted around the room, with thick pipelines running between them. Many of the pipes were broken as well. A bank of consoles were on raised platform gantry on one side of the room, but for the time being their screens seemed to be dark. The trail of lava continued from the large vat, down a thick pipeline to a secondary pool that had burst one side; lava covered about a quarter of the back end of the chamber, though it didn't seem to be actively melting through anything – the room seemed designed to be heat proof, more or less. A large hole in one wall looked like it had been melted through anyway, leading further into the dark – the lava puddle spread part way into the gap, but didn't manage to illuminate much.
There wasn't much time for Griffin and ScorchMan to ponder the implications of the rogues and the recall point. Perhaps there could have been, had the Navi not chosen to silently nod his understanding and skip to the action, making his way to the Myriad's point of entrance. As ScorchMan walked, a burst of yellow-white flame erupted from one boot and curled itself into a tight sheathe around his cuisses. Stamping the ground and pushing his weight down on his burning limb, a glowing red patch bloomed across the Net's checkerboard floor, radiant with heat. In seconds, a swimming pool's worth of molten metal bubbled and shimmered before ScorchMan and Prose. The hot air buffeted ScorchMan's armour and sent ribbons of fire fluttering from his vents, while over his boots lapped the consistent pull of a current, suggesting a shoreline to a nearby river.

The living furnace waded into the lava like a hot bath, with all the sighing and languidity that entailed. Though he couldn't see his feet, ScorchMan's head still tipped down as though considering them, then kicked off into a slow backstroke. He shrugged an arm out to wave to Prose before arching back and diving, surrendering to the pull of the current. "Yell if you need me," Griffin called out just as his viewscreen sank into a glowing red blur. ScorchMan was the barest hint of a silhouette, kicking to keep the current at his back, arms out for when he inevitably found a wall.

A muffled 'oof' - and there was a wall. 'Brrf' - and there was another. Swimming blind was one thing, and as ScorchMan quickly discovered, swimming blind down a twisting chute added a whole new dimension of awful. There was nothing for it but to stay braced for impact, keep kicking, and occasionally scrabble along the walls when the magma pushed him into a corner. As first impressions went, it was hardly the most flattering display Prose had likely seen, if she was indeed following close enough to catch ScorchMan's fumbling.

One more curve made its presence known to ScorchMan's senses, namely the tactile subset. Gauntlets and helmet met wall with a muffled clong of metal on metal, and then he was shooting upward: strange, but now was not the time to be asking questions. Now he was - falling falling oh jiminy what the f- - splashing down into a lava pool, and finally ScorchMan felt level ground. "Well," he grunted, chest-deep and slowly wading out, "that went well. Still there, Griffin?"

"You know it," came Griffin's voice between grunts of exertion. The window floated obediently behind ScorchMan as he pulled himself free, now displaying a full quarter of the Charity Calender. If Prose had made any close study of its contents, she might have recognized the fridge-like proportions of Mr. August, leaned up against the squat rack and shooting the breeze with Mr. April, who was nothing resembling small but still appeared dwarfed by the giant man. Hair and beard both shaved to the skin, the giant man's outfit matched his calendar getup, namely a pair of tiny scrum shorts, a sweatband on his forehead, and absolutely nothing else but a thick coating of wiry brown body hair. Mr. April, built like a runner, was in somewhat more conservative jogging getup, but clearly thought nothing of playfully swooning into his coworker's naked chest as he cheered Griffin on.

Griffin was the middle ground of the three men, both in proportions and dress. He was also the only one actually working out so far, pumping himself on the pullup bar like he weighed nothing. "Light up a little, ScorchMan? It's pretty dark wherever you landed," he paused midway to peer at the PET-projected screen. His Navi obliged by venting fire until he'd made himself into a walking torch. Flickering light bounced across the metal cavern, Griffin's brow furrowing as he took in what he could from ScorchMan's position. "Well, big ugly didn't make this space by itself, that's for sure. Probably found this space and set up camp? Check that back corner, can you tell where it got all melted? Yeah, that way, maybe that's its way in and out."

"Copy that." Feeling his way in, ScorchMan felt for the lava's heat, bouncing his own fire off it to feel where the walls were resistant, where they'd weakened. "Say, Griffin?" ScorchMan called out, while it was still just the two of them. His Operator grunted in reply; a little hesitant, ScorchMan asked, "Did Prose seem alright to you, while she was explaining the Rogue Networks? She sounded a little, uh, off." He stopped at the end of the room, illuminating as much as he could for when the other Navi rejoined them. He got the feeling fumbling around blind wouldn't end well, not when they were presumably right in the predator's den.

"No clue, bud. Maybe she was thinking about something else?" Butter wouldn't melt in Griffin's mouth. He finished his pullups, clapping Mr. April on the shoulder while the slighter man made to take his place. If the camera feed still pointed at the cage, and if Griffin sidled right into frame to start throwing a weighted medicine ball back and forth with Mr. August, that was clearly just coincidence.
As ScorchMan pulled himself out of the pool dropped to the floor, he found the descent on the outside of the pool about the double the drop he'd been expecting; the metal grid that had supported him beneath the lava was, it seemed, situated about halfway up the full height of the tank, leaving the lip of it above his head height, once he was on the floor outside.

The floor itself was buckled in places and ill-maintained; structure that had warped or degraded over time, or been damaged in accidents, and then not repaired, or just plain neglected. Every few steps as he made his way forward saw him having to step over a snaking conduit or tangled cable mass. He passed by several other cylindrical tanks that seemed to be of the same size as the one he'd climbed out of, though his senses confirmed that none of them were full of lava – one, ruptured and split on the side, was clogged full of a smooth, hardened black stone; presumably the result of still magma sitting and cooling eventually, apart from its source terrain.

When he was part way across the room a rushing sound heralded a thump and a second molten splash behind him; something heavy and metallic hitting the lava, a little bigger than a person, perhaps. On Griffin's screen, if he glanced, he might see a small blue steel submersible shoot out of the lava pipe and drop down into the pool with a splash. It was very much the image of an arch-typical submarine, complete with raised periscope and a small propeller on the back, though it looked barely large enough to hold a single individual. After a moment of settling in the magma, the hatch popped open and Prose emerged; her fur seemed slightly sweat-dampened in the heat, and she was now wearing a slightly different outfit; her chest band was read, and had the appearance of swim-wear material, and her skirt had been replaced by a red bikini-bottom piece instead. She stretched with a luxuriant sigh at the top of the ladder, rolled her neck and shoulders, then skipped down lightly off the edge of the submersible and over the lip to land on the floor of the chamber. With a small flick of one hand, she gestured back at the probably one-person lava craft and it reduced to a series of wireframes, then collapsed into a small oblong crystal that flicked across to her fingers a moment later. In turn, it got tucked away into the front of her chest band, out of sight.

“Okay, what have we got... hmm.” Her bright, focused voice hitched as though she'd bitten her lip. Those watching the diminutive woman could see her looking about the chamber, but surreptitiously side-eyeing the display going on through the screen the whole time, while poorly doing her best not to linger on it too long... or at least to not be seen to be doing so.

“Ah, um, okay... We're... in the mid floors of an old processing plant. Abandoned... a year and a half ago...” She began to move quickly through the chamber to catch up to ScorchMan, still eyeing off the show that was being put on. “It should be taking lava in from different sources, then storing it in... um.. in the lower floor chambers and using the energy that... comes from it degrading to um,” She blinked and shook her head, then tentatively shot an accusing look in Griffin's direction. “It generates energy to feed back into the grid while cleaning up overflow from terrain corruptions and spillages. But it's been abandoned. We're in a neglected part of the grid here anyway. Most of the structures here have been just forgotten about.” When she arrived next to ScorchMan, she looked at the melted hole he was examining.

It was a large, clear section of the wall at the far end of the chamber, but at one edge of the melted point, there were signs that there had at one time been a doorway here, possibly. The bore itself punched through what looked like several layers of differing heat insulation, against which black rocky elements had built up, from where the spilled lava pool had crept in. Prose herself had lightly avoided the still molten sections, bare feet skipping with nimble steps as she moved, though she didn't seem to hold any actual fear of the substance, and stood alongside it without any apparent concern. The bored tunnel extended about another fifteen feet, from ScorchMan's illumination, before opening into a different chamber – this one wasn't as obviously insulated, and bore the melted signs of wrecked furniture, old machines and other devices that hadn't taken well at all to a the trail of now hardened lava that had obliterated most of the space. The back corner of the chamber was a mass of dark black, though from this distance it was hard to tell whether it was another gap, or a dark obstruction. The other side held a series of metal shutters, battered and dented, but all closed except for one set which seemed to have been splashed by a jet of errant lava – the shutters were melted down the middle, caked in black rock, and were letting slim bars of afternoon light filter into the room from outside.

“We could probably get those consoles back online if you wanted. It might tell us... a bit about this place and why it was disused. If it was left for a reason, it could, umm... Um, we might be able to learn something that'll be useful to us, in dealing with the Myriad. If it just escaped, and then you hurt it when it went hunting, it'll be holding up and reinforcing its recall point now, to recover. More dangerous trying to tackle it when it's like that, so any edge might help.” She glanced back towards the bank of consoles behind them, then forward again and shrugged.

“But if you hurt it really badly, then the sooner we get there, the less time it'll have to regenerate, and the easier it'll be to disable and recapture...” Her eyes continued to linger where they probably shouldn't and her words trailed occasionally before she noticed her distraction. Even so, her serious discussion was underpinned by a bubbly amiable tone as she left the decisions up to ScorchMan.
Bit by bit, the subterranean room revealed itself. Following behind Prose, ScorchMan's map of the room started with a rough outline traced in heat: in smooth walls gleaned from his flames brushing at even planes; in the gusts of thick hot air above the lava floes, how high they rose and where the heat settled in the room. All of this, ScorchMan learned as it intersected his own sphere of influence, which he drove around the room one careful step at a time. Clearly in no hurry, he seemed content to run careful hands over console banks and guardrails, feet shuffling unconcerned over bits of melted terrain.

The accidental streaming service floated along beside ScorchMan - the two men had begun squatting with every catch of the medicine ball. "You ever skip a leg day in your life, Leo?" he called over to the titanic Mr. August, and received a cheerful finger with the next toss. At the bottom of his squat, rugby shorts rode high, Griffin glanced aside to the camera just in time to catch the affronted look on Prose's face. Already grinning from the exertion and bro-time, his handsome mug flashed for just a moment a wordless, coquettish 'who, me?'. "So!" he summed up, addressing the PET while still facing Leo, "We know, or at least we're pretty sure the Myriad came from this place, on account of him digging up into ScorchMan's hot tub. Why..." he popped a squat, sank a second one even lower, and sent the ball back with a deep, emphatic thrust of his hips, "...would it have been in here?"

"It feeds off corruption...stored energy going stagnant?" ScorchMan mused, tracing a guardrail through the living quarters. At this point the Navi was more or less a walking torch for Prose and Griffin's benefit: from his back and shoulders, a crackling yellow bonfire swayed around his head. The shadows he cast seemed almost alive in the forgotten room, jumping like ghosts between the banks of consoles. "If you think you can get something from these, go ahead," he motioned towards the console banks, indecipherable without Griffin's assistance. He could call his Operator - but any danger seemed far off yet, and anyway the grunts of exertion were starting to sound...involved. Better leave the man's gym time be. Instead he called behind him, "I'm going further in, yell if you find anything," and proceeded further through the bored tunnel.

Somewhere in Kotobuki, the squat-off of Mr. August and Mr. December had ceased to involve anything resembling actual squats. Each pass of the medicine ball now prompted a quick dance, albeit typically involving enough gyrating and thrusting to still count as exercise. Griffin made a loop of his arms and basketball-hooped the ball before winging it to Leo, who flipped an arm around to swing the ball between his legs for a teabag fit to crush a lesser man's pelvis. It was truly impossible to tell whether the show was explicitly done for the PET's camera, an unconscious reaction to simply having a camera present, or completely natural behaviour for the two men.

Finally, Griffin began to flag. Ruddy-faced and wearing the beginnings of a good sweat, he tossed the ball back and stepped back, splashing a proffered water bottle over his head before downing the rest. "Alright, whatcha got bud?" he ambled over to the PET, peering into the darkness at the back of the structure. "Still dark as hell back there. ScorchMan, while Prose does her thing, can you check the back of the room behind you? Just uh, maybe cool your jets, it looks a little flammable in there." Watching as his Navi dimmed his burn to a cool red glow before heading in, Griffin stepped back towards the mats for another round. Onscreen, it looked almost as though ScorchMan were falling into a dark hole; hands outstretched, a dim outline in a lightless metal cavern, his blindness lent experience to his careful footsteps.
As they looked around the second room's entryway, Prose nodded towards Griffin's viewscreen without making direct eye contact – indeed her eyes, if anyone perceptive was watching, were following other motions across the screen instead.

“Ah... yeah, that's just... Mm, this is just the sort of place that it would be drawn to, to form a new recall point, if its old one wasn't reachable any more. There were even some reports that facilities like this had problems, sometimes, with... older network programs attacking them.... not this one, but, older ones, ones like it, a bit... they were drawn to...” Prose ran out of words for her brief stint on vocal auto-pilot and blinked, shaking her head.

“Anyway. Yes, if that's what you want, Scorch. I'll see if I can get these old things working...” She refocused and nodded in response to ScorchMan's indication towards the dark console banks, then skipped over to them in a couple of light steps and began inspecting them for damage.

While his diminutive guide was occupied, ScorchMan progressed further towards the back of the room, towards the blackened, dark section. Moving past the melted shutter at the end of the window panels, he was able to catch a glimpse outside – the soft afternoon light gave a brief glance over a broad section in run down, partially industrialised network structures. They were actually several stories up, as they'd suspected, and the view was pretty decent, all things considered. The surrounding landscape didn't seem like it was being used for much – the whole district looked forgotten, not just the building they were in... or at the very least, it was far out enough in the network sticks to give that impression.

The blackened section at the back of the room was covered in hardened stone, formed from the dried magma that coated the whole area, and several slagged lumps made irregular shaped that may once have been furniture or other office structures. Towards the very back, what had once been the corner of a rectangular room bored slightly further and then down. Not quite enough to be called a new tunnel, not entirely, but it descended into a depressed pit that was itself sealed over; it crunched quietly under ScorchMan's feet. The material in the depression was definitely fresher than the surrounding black. It wasn't warm, exactly, but it lacked the old, hard-caked feeling that the rest did. As he stepped down into the depression to explore, slender orange cracks began to spiderweb out from the centre of it. The same was clear to ScorchMan's own vision as well. Aside from the brightly glowing bunnygirl-shaped point that was Prose, nearby, the floor beneath him welled with heat in response to his presence, reaching up tendrils through the blocked passage. Beneath it, just visible at the edge of his senses, through the faults in the gorund, dozens of much smaller points of heat, moving rapidly and rushing upwards. It was hard to get a sense of scale – each individual skittering bead of heat was small, but they resembled almost a swarm, drawing the shape of a tunnel that continued downward beyond the plug, as they rushed up its sides towards the intruder. ScorchMan had probably a handful of seconds before the little beads of heat would reach the spreading web of heat cracks beneath his feet.

Over by the console bank, Prose hummed to herself, her body swaying and bouncing ever so slightly to whatever tune she had in her mind and her voice just barely audible to ScorchMan still, sounding relaxed. Somehow, she had what looked like a duplicate of Griffin's screen, split off from the one that remained with ScorchMan and connected to it by a thing tether of red light, and she seemed to be watching it more than actually working. She frowned as she finished her inspection, then glanced in ScorchMan's direction, shrugged and cracked her knuckles.

“Well, I might not be very good at explaining things, or talking in general...” she spoke in a low, quiet tone, easy for ScorchMan to miss, and just as easy for Griffin to hear, maybe. Her gaze more directly locked towards Griffin with the curl of a smirk. “Like I said, I even have trouble wrapping my tongue around those odd, unwieldy -man bits... but I'm magic with my fingers, promise.” If he was watching, there was definitely a wink there.
Upon leaving Prose to her own devices, ScorchMan found himself immersed in the deep sort of quiet that only large empty spaces could contain. Finding a window confirmed the theory, a resounding lack of noise a telltale sign of abandoned wildspace. Even the atmosphere felt stagnant; had there been any wind, the rush of air through the industrial corridors might have hinted at their elevation. Griffin might have said something, but occupied as he was with his workout, ScorchMan's perception stayed limited to his own senses.

Metal gave way to brittle gravel underfoot, and very soon to an altogether new texture. Curious, ScorchMan kneeled to run a glove through the cooled stone. The sensation felt oddly moist, comparable to a fresh-baked loaf of bread: solid on top, but soft enough to give if pressed. He inched a little closer, reached a little further out to the residual warmth - and all at once his senses came alive. Smoky tang of melting rock and skittering scrabbling tapping crawling all along a tunnel wall filled to bursting with tiny moving starbursts of heat heat heat and the deeper he felt the more the plug of the tunnel began to feel very, very thin.

A vision only for the sighted: Griffin rolling his shoulders, PET in hand, setting it down in front of him as he knelt on the gym mats. It was time for the Griffin Reim Abdominal Power Hour (GRAPH for short) that had landed the fireman the December page three years in a row, and a few interviews in fitness magazines besides which. "Dude, save some for the rest of us!" Mr. April cried out in dismay as Griffin arched his spine in a yoga-inspired stretch that highlighted just a couple of things. To Prose's viewscreen, positioned on the floor just in front of Griffin, he almost looked to be crawling towards the camera.
{some thoughts}
A confession not to leave Griffin's head: he didn't really know what he was doing, this particular moment. His tastes in women had never strayed far from what was physically there in front of him, and most all of the Navis he'd actually interacted with had been purpose-built, virtual creatures content without, shall it be said, any organic proclivity, ScorchMan included. Indeed, a Navi had never before appeared to Griffin as any sort of sexual being, let alone one compatible with him.

These were not the thoughts predominant in Griffin's head, true enough they might have been. At the end of the day, he was young, straight, and had been single awhile, and here was a girl who clearly liked what she saw and wasn't shy about saying so. Where Griffin was concerned, it didn't need to be any more complicated than that.

With the PET on the floor, Leo and Mr. April were out of frame, their voices fading to background noise with the microphone pointed away. Griffin's face looked just as good wearing mirthful humour as it did when the laughter died off, and what was left seemed considering. A world away, this close to a viewscreen, Prose had a solid chance of feeling strongly and distinctly eyed up and down. He opened his mouth, ready to say or do something that would no doubt escalate things further, when the other screen on his end lit up yellow-orange.

"Griffin, I'm gonna need chips very soon!" ScorchMan shouted. His Operator didn't reply verbally, but the ensuing scrabble and receding pound of footsteps as Griffin booked it out the room told him enough. A blast of flame propelled ScorchMan back through the bottleneck between rooms, busters trained on the growing sensation of heat. "Prose, we've got incoming," he turned partially towards the other Navi, too aware of how little time he had. All in a rush he called out, "Keep doing your thing, I'll try to hold them off!"
As Griffin put on a show for his much-invested audience, the fire-fighter might well pick up on the tell-tale signs of a lady-viewer being influenced by her subconscious; the way she swayed back and forth, her waist leading the rhythm of her fragmented humming while she made a pretence of working; the way her head tilted slowly to one side, eyes focused far too firmly on her view screen and not nearly enough on the console in front of her; the way her lips had drifted apart while one small, pointed fang caught at her lower lip and her tongue played slowly over the revealed point on the opposite side. Program or not, he clearly had her attention – possibly too much of it, all things considered.

She seemed to start upon realising that Griffin was actually watching her back, and a fresh blush, just faintly visible through the patches on her cheeks where the fur was thinnest, broke out above a playful grin. She averted her own eyes long enough to look away, and turned to one side, offering a better angle on her profile; the console itself was still dormant and now the easily distracted bunny peered across one side of the device. She gave a small “Ah...” under her breath, and then leaned over the console, and over further still, and then a little more, hoisting herself up onto it until she was bent over at the hip, seemingly reaching back to fiddle with something else out of sight. The obvious view for Griffin, of course, was the graceful line of her back and side, down to the point where the soft white fur was covered by her racy red bikini bottoms. From this angle, he had a good view of the way her dainty white tail stood up from the back of her swim wear, showing the brighter white of its underside – a gesture which likely meant little to any watching humans even if the display might have carried meaning to creatures of her own type; even so, it still afforded him a chance to enjoy the rest of her more universally appreciable assets while she worked.

The mutual teasing couldn't go on forever, unfortunately; within moments a more serious alarm was raised and Prose slipped back off the console and stood straight as ScorchMan returned to the first room with his warning. A watching Griffin might get the impression that she'd scooted back very suddenly indeed, and the faint blush from before was several notches more visible now, like she'd been caught out misbehaving.

“Ah... um, right... getting this going... working on it!” She glanced at the still dead screen and hurriedly put her hand on one side of the machine; a moment later it flickered online, beginning whatever startup protocols it needed to get through after a long hibernation. The other connected consoles were still wrecked, broken and dead, but at least this one had power now.

“Um, what have you got there? Are you going to be alright to handle it? Defence system? Dispersal units? She peered past ScorchMan into the gloom, trying to see what he'd retreated from. A half dozen streams of minuscule orange, yellow and white glows began to stream up through the faults in the tunnel plug and snake their way through the chamber. Prose brightened.

“Oh, mites! Ember-mites. That's good, actually. That means it's definitely here, and it's dug in properly! That's good.” ScorchMan felt a light contact somewhere around his hip region as Prose reached up to give him a reassuring pat. “You've got these, I'll work. Just, um... don't let any of them get into any open injuries or anything. That's real bad. Other than that, you'll be fine!” She darted back to the console again, turning to it as though to work, though she kept one eye on the tunnel even so. The many streams of swarming mites surged and closed in.

-=Ember-Mite Pests=-

Mite.F.swrm A: 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]
Mite.F.swrm B 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]
Mite.F.swrm C 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]
Mite.F.swrm D: 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]
Mite.F.swrm E: 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]
Mite.F.swrm F: 60Hp [2 Segments] [Lava, Coal]

- Mite swarms move by extending, and grow by two segments each turn.
- Each segment can be destroy separately.
- Segments cut off from their source will continue to move and attack but will not grow
- Swarms can turn the tiles they are on to lava, with enough exposure; this happens faster on coal.

-=Scorching Exterminator=-

ScorchMan.Exe: 120Hp [Normal][In the breach between the rooms]

Prosopoppoeia.lapin: [Integrity Masked][Normal][Behind and to SocrchMan's left, at one of the terminals]

-=Potential Collateral=-

Access Terminals (4): 40Hp each [left side of the near room]

Lava Tanks (6): 60Hp each [HeatBody][MetalBody][two lines of three, the length of the near room The right three seem empty, the left three are full of black rock, the middle one is already ruptured]

-=Battle Space=-

10% Lava
  • Non-Fire Elementals lose 5 HP/action standing, 10 HP/action submerged. Doubled for Wood Elementals, nullified for Fire Elementals.
  • Aqua attacks: Panel explodes, +100% Source Aqua Damage, change terrain hit to Normal.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Fire.
(Back of the far room, where the bore is)
30% Coal
  • Fire Elementals gain +20 Strengthen/turn, but must be allocated to Fire Element attacks only. Any Coal Strengthen vanishes after moving off of it.
  • Non-Fire Elementals get Burn (5 Fire/action for 1 turn or until cured) the turn after they come into contact with Coal Terrain.
  • 100 Damage Aqua attacks: Change terrain hit to Soil.
  • 100 Damage Fire attacks: Change terrain hit to to Lava.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Fire.
(Back end of the far room; the blackened area around the tunnel]
40% Normal
  • No effects.
(Near end of the far room and most of the near room)
20% Metal
  • Cannot be Broken or Cracked except with Geddon/PanelShot, cannot be Burrowed into.
  • Elec attacks: +100% Source Damage.
  • 100 Damage Aqua attacks: Change terrain hit to Cracked.
  • 100 Damage Fire attacks: Change terrain hit to Furnace.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Elec + Break.
(Gantry work and lava tanks in the near room)

Area is two large chambers conjoined by a melted breach between them. The near room contains numerous lava storage tanks, with climbable gantry surrounding them, all empty or hardened (will count as coal if broken open). The far room is littered with ruined furniture and other structures, that have become an uneven landscape of small hills and obstructions, as they were covered in now-dried lava. At the back of the far room, the dark bore is still blocked by a molten magma plug, from which the swarms are emerging. At the back of the near room, a broad pool of magma remains, where SorchMan entered the area.

-=Battle Mode: Survival=-

- The swarms seem to keep coming in vast numbers.
- Endure the swarms until they stop coming without being overwhelmed.
- There may be ways to break the assault early.

-=Battle, Start!=-
"Here!" Griffin's return was punctuated with the of a PET being jostled about, the man having crashed into the room at a dead sprint, dove for his PET, and slammed a chip home like he was scoring a touchdown. The workout had primed the pump of his adrenaline, so his grin had a bit of a wild edge to it. "Defences up and get ready to dive in!" Griffin called, Battlechips clattering between his fingers. The gym had no table, so he just knelt on the mats and spread his chip folder across the floor, squinting at the tiny printed names.

The Guard was a welcome weight on ScorchMan's arm, comfortably large and reassuring in its heft. It would give him enough room for what came next: a flash of fluorescent light more felt than processed, a second Battlechip slotted in seconds after the first. Griffin was barking in his ear, "Quick, get a clear shot at the tunnel!" The skittering was getting louder.

A quick pulse of heat sent hot air buffeting through the far room. Keeping the far room from being overrun was sure to be a battle decided in seconds; ScorchMan used one of the few left to scan the heat as it rushed against the walls, feeling for where it caught at the tunnel's mouth, and then it was time to run.

With a dark grey Guard held high like a tower shield, ScorchMan took one, two, three bounding strides into the room. His free gauntlet unfolded a set of long metal rods, already crackling; at the back of his throat, the pungent sharpness of ozone. Trying to track just one Mite was the wrong play - better to light up the tunnel and catch the swarm in the bottleneck, and clean up the stragglers. Only thing was, he was blind - but, thankfully, not helpless. The bore was a heat source all on its own, tangible even across the room. It was just a matter of reaching out to feel for the hottest point in the room, and letting loose the DollThunder.

For a moment Griffin was flash-blind, staring as he was into a screen full of lightning. He took a moment to blink away the worst of the glare, and returned to planking (it was still core hour). His chip-trading spree during ScorchMan's aborted busting run had landed them with almost more options than Griffin knew what to do with - it took a few moments just to remember what they all did. "Gotta keep throwing em out big, catch em while they're still grouped close," he thought aloud, mostly focused on his Navi (though, it must be said, his eyes couldn't quite stay off the other screen that had popped up, and the way Prose's, ah, dimensions were so perfectly framed as she clambered over the console). ScorchMan, for his part, leaned into his Guard and grunted his assent. Where was he again? Right, Battlechips. He shifted to take his bodyweight on one arm, freeing the other to pluck one from the lot and slap it into the PET. "Alright, Scorch, got a nice big bum - boom, big boom for you here," Griffin said. Unseen by his Navi, he brought a hand to his lips and blew his eyes wide for the camera for a playful, wordless 'oops!'

"So glad you're taking this seriously," ScorchMan snarked. Seemed Griffin was taking cues from Prose as far as the level of danger was concerned. It might have felt reassuring, but the arrhythmic skittering was loud enough to drown out any peace of mind. Still, the FlameLine was hot in his chest, and that was something. Feeling for the far wall was as much aiming as ScorchMan allowed himself, still facing the borehole, before stomping a boot down. A wave of heat sent embers scattering off the coal bed, breaking in a curling wall of fire against the lava's shore. "Alright!" ScorchMan huffed once the rush of burning died down, "What else have we got, Griffin?"

For a few seconds the Navi heard only a low hum of thought. ScorchMan thought his Operator was trying to choose another chips. He was incorrect; the chips lay momentarily forgotten, in favour of the much more engaging thought of 'what business does a Navi have going around with a butt like that?' For a guy whose definition of Navi had previously stopped at ScorchMan, it was a hell of a thing to contemplate. Griffin adjusted his shorts and resumed the thought: what else did they have? "We have options," he started, "but most of em aren't quite enough on their own. Either we start a daisy chain, or get more oomph from somewhere else..."

"On it." ScorchMan was moving before Griffin finished. The far side of the room was a swirling red glow, tangibly full of latent heat. His furnace, that inner welter of heat that defined his virtual makeup, longed to bask in that heat, knew in some wordless, instinctual sense that he could channel the energy seeping from the coalbed. He could even make more if he chose, immolate the room at his leisure, but for the sake of keeping Prose's console from taking any further damage, best to avoid damaging the facility if he could help it.

So, ScorchMan crouched low and felt for the Mites, listening for their scrabbling legs and keeping his Guard facing the worst of the noise. All the while he waited for one to commit to a lunge, and took the opportunity to dash past them, closer to the bore. Griffin would warn him if any started making for the breach, and he'd do his best to keep the Mites' attention on him. The thought made his teeth grind - he leaned into the feeling, let it fuel him as he roared out, "That lightning taste good? You want more? Well, go ahead and try me!" Heat swirled tantalizing just a little further, just one more leap and roll deeper into the fray, one more and you're there, just don't let them catch you.

-Turn Summary-
1. Guard2Effect: (1 Hit Shield) + (Reflect(up to 120 + Piercing + Line Attack): On Hit)
Accuracy: S
Description: Generates a 1-Hit Shield upon activation. When this shield blocks one hit from a non-Break attack, it responds with a hyper-fast damage ray.
Duration: Until broken or overridden.
Element: Null
Special: Negated by Break. Ignores Impact.
Special: Reflect: Damage returned is equal to the damage of the attack blocked or the damage cap listed, whichever comes first. Reflect is not subject to negation by Impact.
Special: Status Guard: This chip blocks debuffs.
Trader Rank: C
[1-Hit Shield, Reflect [≤120, Piercing, Line Attack]
2. Feint: dash towards bore-tunnel
3. DollThunder1Damage: 80 + Line-Attack5
Accuracy: B
Description: Fires a powerful bolt of lightning that pierces through objects and enemies alike.
Duration: Once
Element: Elec
Trader Rank: D
: Mite A [80 Elec {B}, Line Attack 5 aimed down bore-tunnel]
4. FlameLine1Damage: 70 + Ground Attack + Wide Attack
Accuracy: B
Description: A wall of fire erupts from the ground, burning up to 3 targets.
Duration: Once
Element: Fire
Trader Rank: D
: Mite Swarm [70 Fire {B}, Ground Attack, Wide Attack, aimed at back of Coal terrain]
5. Dodge towards Coal
6. Dodge further towards Coal
While Griffin was left to ponder the philosophical implications of navis with appealing designs – and a playful attitude to go with them – ScorchMan had business to focus on. The curving, skittering swarms snaked their way up and out of the bore, spreading into the ruined room as long tendrils of head that swiftly began the melt the coal beneath them into more magma. At the back of the room, the cracks across the bore hole continued to pulse with heat and the plug began to melt inwards as the mites surged through it to attack.

ScorchMan got his defences ready and charged in, moving towards the focus point of the swarms, crossing the uneven terrain of the room more easily than he might have at other times; the radiant heat flooding through the baked coal layer as the burning swarms moved across it gave him a fairly clear view of what he was working with. The movement of each stream of mites came on to meet him, though, growing as the five individual tendrils filled more of the room. Just as they were about too meet, however, ScorchMan opened up with his first attack, sending a blast of lighting through the room and directly towards the bore itself, where the swarms were pouring from.

The heads of the two swarms nearest ScorchMan were obliterated just as they reared up in his senses, leaving the remainder of the mite column to collapse back to the ground, while the blast of electricity seared onward to tear through several more chunks of mites near to the bore; three of the tendrils seemed to be severed at their source, destroying enough of the mite columns there to leave the snaking segments formerly attached to them bereft of connection. Masses of ember mites bubbled at the bore's plug, but those sections didn't seem to be stretching out into the room again right away – at least for now.

Unfortunately, ScorchMan had other problems, and he was now quite surrounded by the heated steams of tiny entities, many of which seemed to have focused on his presence as the threat they were here to address. Even the ones he'd cut off continued to shift and circle, turning back on themselves to angle towards ScorchMan now. Cutting them off at their entry point might stall the swarms, it seemed, but he'd still need to exterminate every segment that remained in the room, too, if he wanted them to give him any respite.

He managed to dodge and move amongst the writhing heat points, avoiding attempts by some of the mites to lunge at him en masse, but as he did, the two sections he'd destroyed the heads of continued to push forward from the bore, extending back outward and beginning to surround him as, beneath the trails, more of the floor became lava... that that was a game ScorchMan was particularly well suited to playing regardless.

His second attack, as he moved closer to the source of the heat, erupted in heat and fire around the bore itself, melting the rest of the plug even as it scorched more of the surging trailed of mites – fire they might be, but the navi might be relieved to see that too much fire was still bad for them. Two more of the tendrils were interrupted by the attack, leaving the remainder of their trails to turn back on ScorchMan with increased focus. Near him, the edge of the bore dropped away into a heat-blasted tunnel that went down, and from it, the spiralling streams of mites continued to rise. For now, only one line of them continued to feed out into the room, while the rest massed at the lip, preparing themselves to surge out again.

In the room with him, however, the remaining sections of mite swarm sought to purge the threat. ScorchMan dodged again as another swarm attempted to rush him, but barely got his guard up as another disconnected mass dashed itself against him; a near overwhelming storm of tiny heat pinpricks hailed across the surface of the shield before it recoiled with a blast that eliminated the attacking swarm entirely, and chewed a clean line through the middle of the one that was still connected to the bore. The longest swarm had been heading past him towards the tunnel, but now its 'head', cut off from the tail, as well as the new head that remained connected to the bore writhed and twisted, turning back to identify ScorchMan as the biggest problem. The severed section pulsed briefly, before the end nearest ScorchMan lifted up instead, acting as the new head of the segment, and attempted to swarm over him. This time a large volume of the tiny mites managed to wash over his form, scrambling across his exterior as micro-fine razors of heat that weren't at all like the friendly, welcoming fires he knew – as with the myriad he had fought before, this fire was searing hot, invasive and hostile towards his own system.

Out in the far room, Griffin could see Prose glance into the tunnel again and grit her teeth before looking back to the console. After another moment of tapping she darted to the entrance of the tunnel and called out.

“Just keep them away from you, and keep their attention on you! Kite if you have to! It won't be able to keep the mite swarm this aggressive for long, and if you destroy enough of them before that, it might pull back sooner!” She watched the fight for another couple of moments, anxiously bouncing on her toes as she took the measure of how ScorchMan was faring. If he was paying close attention, griffin might see her force herself to relax and step with more purpose back to the console and continue her work – sadly, for now, it seemed that the time for playful teasing was on hold.

-=Ember-Mite Pests=-

Mite.F.swrm A: [severed at bore – no segments visible]
Mite.F.swrm B [severed at bore – no segments visible]
Mite.F.swrm C [severed at bore – no segments visible]
Mite.F.swrm D: [severed at bore – no segments visible]
Mite.F.swrm E: [severed at bore – no segments visible]
Mite.F.swrm F: 30Hp [1 Segment] [Lava]

Severed Swarm A: 60Hp [2 segments][Middle of second room][Coal, Lava]
Severed Swarm B: 60Hp [2 segments][Middle of second room][Coal, Lava]
Severed Swarm C: 60Hp [2 segments][Close to the breach tunnel][Coal, Normal]
Severed Swarm D: 60Hp [2 segments][Close to the breach tunnel][Coal, Normal]
Severed Swarm F: 30Hp [1 segment][Next to ScorchMan][Lava]

Mite Tally: 11 Segments Destroyed

- Mite swarms move by extending, and grow by two segments each turn.
- Each segment can be destroy separately.
- Segments cut off from their source (the bore) will continue to move and attack but will not grow
- Swarms cut off at the source will not grow further for that turn.
- Swarms can turn the tiles they are on to lava, with enough exposure; this happens faster on coal.

-=Scorching Exterminator=-

ScorchMan.Exe: 90Hp [Lava][Close to the bore]

Prosopoppoeia.lapin: [Integrity Masked][Normal][In the first room]

-=Potential Collateral=-

Access Terminals (4): 40Hp each [left side of the first room]

Lava Tanks (6): 60Hp each [HeatBody][MetalBody][two lines of three, the length of the first room The right three seem empty, the left three are full of black rock, the middle one is already ruptured]

-=Battle Space=-

30% Lava
  • Non-Fire Elementals lose 5 HP/action standing, 10 HP/action submerged. Doubled for Wood Elementals, nullified for Fire Elementals.
  • Aqua attacks: Panel explodes, +100% Source Aqua Damage, change terrain hit to Normal.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Fire.
(Back of the far room, where the bore is, spreading)
10% Coal
  • Fire Elementals gain +20 Strengthen/turn, but must be allocated to Fire Element attacks only. Any Coal Strengthen vanishes after moving off of it.
  • Non-Fire Elementals get Burn (5 Fire/action for 1 turn or until cured) the turn after they come into contact with Coal Terrain.
  • 100 Damage Aqua attacks: Change terrain hit to Soil.
  • 100 Damage Fire attacks: Change terrain hit to to Lava.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Fire.
(Back end of the far room; the blackened area around the tunnel]
40% Normal
  • No effects.
(Near end of the far room and most of the near room)
20% Metal
  • Cannot be Broken or Cracked except with Geddon/PanelShot, cannot be Burrowed into.
  • Elec attacks: +100% Source Damage.
  • 100 Damage Aqua attacks: Change terrain hit to Cracked.
  • 100 Damage Fire attacks: Change terrain hit to Furnace.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Elec + Break.
(Gantry work and lava tanks in the near room)

Area is two large chambers conjoined by a melted breach between them. The near room contains numerous lava storage tanks, with climbable gantry surrounding them, all empty or hardened (will count as coal if broken open). The far room is littered with ruined furniture and other structures, that have become an uneven landscape of small hills and obstructions, as they were covered in now-dried lava. At the back of the far room, the dark bore is still blocked by a molten magma plug, from which the swarms are emerging. At the back of the near room, a broad pool of magma remains, where SorchMan entered the area.

-=Battle Mode: Survival=-

- The swarms seem to keep coming in vast numbers.
- Endure the swarms until they stop coming without being overwhelmed.
- There may be ways to break the assault early.