Myriad Hunters [Mission for ScorchMan]

"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!=-