Clean Slate

((From -> Net Square))

Upon transitioning to the new area, Dare might have been expecting to be free of the strange communication barrier that had kept her and Bruce apart up until now, but while she was, in a manner of speaking, something more worrisome took its place. Arriving here restored her open communication to Bruce, and her PET, but several important functions were now inactive, and returned unhelpful errors if attempted by either of them. The most notable of these, as feared, were the ability to return directly to her PET, and the ability to freely link out to another net location. The location itself, at first, seemed very much to be some kind of trap.

An actual glance around the area didn't provide a great deal of insight right away. It didn't provide much of anything, except white. There was no telling the ground from the sky from anything in between, when the entire setting was nothing but clear white space. A tap of the foot might reveal the ground underfoot to be solid and vaguely metallic-feeling, but the sound of even such a small tap would carry far and serve to illustrate just how empty the place was.

"Cell is closed, guys. All covers in place, all masks aligned, all locks secured. I'm watching all the doors and holding all the keys. You're all clean. Have fun!" The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, though it wasn't particularly loud. It sounded relaxed, though not quite bored yet. It wasn't Hoodwink, certainly, but someone else - likely whoever he'd been talking to for his technical support so far. Hoodwink was, in reality, standing just beside where Dare would appear once she stepped through the link; her normal entrance would function just fine here, despite being transferred by a more generic beam, though there was no visible pad to receive her on this end... just more empty white space.

"One with drive cannot fear failure." Hoodwink's voice had gained a layer of firm intensity as he spoke to her. "Worrying about 'what if' leads to faltering, and one who is true to their Will does not falter." He offered a hand, to see if Dare would take it and step forward with him... the daredevil may have begun to notice that he seemed very fond of such gestures in general, and wouldn't take it to heart if she felt more like walking forward on her own.

A short way ahead of them, another navi stood in the white space, with his back turned. He was tall, wearing a simple black coat the stretched all the way to the ground, and bore equally simple cuffs and a collar, with a thin line of silver trimming. From behind, the coat disguised his figure, and coupled with long silver-grey hair that flowed down to the middle of his back, it wouldn't be until the man turned around that it would be clear that he was a man at all.

He turned to face them as they approached, and Dare would be met with the face of an aged man, with stern, hard features. His skin was smooth, but still bore wrinkles of age to show that he had likely worn the sombre, serious expression for most of his life. His skin was pale, with features that marked him to be designed after someone from Netopia's extreme north, with thick eyebrows that matched his hair, and eyes of a deep, cold blue that watched intently wherever they rested; it was the sort of gaze that never look anywhere 'casually'.

Under the coat, he seemed to be sporting a deep blue waist coat and black trousers, and the whole effect crated a remarkable severe countenance for the man, especially when held beside either Dare or Hoodwink. His eyes passed over Hoodwink to to Dare, taking a brief sweep of her, before fixing on her shades. As much as one couldn't really see her eyes underneath the dark lenses, it still ended up feeling like he was making quite directed eye contact, though that might just have been the severity of his gaze. Hoodwink spoke up, tipping an invisible hat towards the other man.

"Logos, this is Dare, our newest potential. Dare, Logos." He paused in case the wanted to exchange pleasantries, or shake hands, or anything like that; for his part, Logos would reciprocate any greeting gesture, and offered a deliberate polite incline of his head. The only word he actually spoke in greeting to her, however, was a quiet yet firm "Welcome."

"So, a test for one whose Will drives them towards competition and victory; to challenge and to triumph as its own greatest good. An unusually pure drive, wouldn't you say? I have high hopes." Hoodwink seemed positively excited, now that they were getting to it. In return, Logos smiled slowly, and nodded to his compatriot, then turned back to Dare, measuring with a slow look.

"A race, then, for the lady whose fire burns in challenge. I will test her; will you also run, master Hoodwink?" His eyes changed focus while he asked, but returned to Dare afterwards with a small smile to show he meant her no disrespect for talking so while she was standing there. Hoodwink scratched his jaw casually, then shrugged.

"I might just watch this one, and cheer you on from the side... unless you want it otherwise, Dare. What do you think? Does a race sound fair?" Patently, after all the seriousness and precautions and everything else, it wasn't quite going to be as simple as either of them were making it sound, but they were waiting for her go-ahead before setting things up any further.
Dare touched down in the new net. Flames still shot from her pipes and around her feet, but since she'd jumped from the link of another, she didn't get all of her usual entry fanfare. That said, she wasn't worried about standing out: in the space she was in, it looked like all it would take to stand out was coughing or passing gas.

Bruce had evidently taken this moment to look back at his PET, because when he addressed Dare, his voice didn't carry any concern. "Woah, what the heck? You were in the NetSquare, right? What's this place?"

"Ah, I wouldn't worry about it," Dare told her operator, keeping a calm smirk frozen on her face. She hadn't tried it yet, but she could tell a number of her essential functions were blocked. Her personality being what it was, though, she didn't want to show an inch of fear, so she elected not to tell her operator until it became necessary. "This is kind of a challenge from Hoodie, you know? It's no big deal."

"Well, if you say so," Bruce replied. "Just be careful, all right? That dude's a little shifty looking."

"Hah! I'll agree with you there. I'm enjoying myself, though, so you just relax with your show. It might be a little while still before this becomes entertainment worth watching." Having thus assuaged her operator's concerns (for better or worse), the Navi took task of her situation. Whatever tech head she was just listening to sounded like he was having a grand old time setting this up. Dare couldn't understand much of what he was saying, and she figured that was probably the point.

Regardless, Dare pretty much got the point: Hoodwink was here leading her forward, and the guy off in the distance must surely be who she was supposed to meet. She glanced down at Hoodwink's hand, smirked, held her hands up and to the sides, then walked forward of her own accord. If there were invisible holes in what she guessed the floor must be, she was going to feel pretty silly, but she would also be surprised. "No offense, Hoodie, but I think you're already leading me around enough without any literal hand-holding!"

The Navi let her fists fall back to her sides and kept her cool as they moved ahead. She paused with one fist to her hip as the introduction was made, and extended her own hand for a firm shake at the appropriate moment. "A pleasure. I get the feeling you guys might be a little deep for me, but hopefully I'll at least show you some entertainment." The Navi was joking, but her confident smile never faltered.

She listened as the two explained their intentions further. "A race, huh?" she said, cracking her knuckles ahead of her. "Do I think it sounds fair? Uh... no, not at all. And if you join in, two on one, even worse! It's totally unfair to you guys to have me showing both of you up at once when this is supposed to be a test for me!" If Logos was supposed to command a certain air of respect and gravity, it didn't seem like Dare was picking up on it. "But yeah, needless to say, I don't wear these boots just because they make me look bad, you know? If you picked that challenge at random, you sure you don't want to pick another one?"
Dare's boisterous response to the challenge brought another short chuckle from Hoodwink, beside her, and a small, wry smile from the older man. Hoodwink seemed to take her unusually worded acceptance as not insisting that he race as well, so he folded his hands behind his read, smirking, and wandered over to stand alongside Logos as well. The older navi arched an eyebrow to Dare when she suggested that he might want to reconsider.

"Each word is picked with care; none are wasted and none are left to chance. This is because words are our world's truest source of power, Dare." His piercing gaze didn't waver from Dare's shades, but his voice was equal parts amused, yet serious. "You have been assessed; let us begin."

Something rather simple, and something very dramatic began to happen next. Logos lifted one hand palm up in front of himself, and by the time it was raised, a small book only slightly larger than his hands with a blank, black cover had appeared open to an empty page in his grasp. His other hand took hold of a quill pen from the air, and he began to write.

From the moment his quill touched the page, the blank white space around them began to change. The first thing was a soft breeze; the faint sensation of wind picking up from Dare's back, ruffling each of their clothes lightly, though delicate enough not to really discomfit. It carried a faint scent, like fresh rain as it blew, but sharp and crisp as well. Then there was a sound on the breeze, quiet at first but slowly becoming notable; the sound of wind rushing through grass, and between rocks.

As the sound grew, the ground beneath them began to change as well; grass sprung up, revealing itself to be the source of the rushing sound, and stretched out around them, spreading over the white space. it was about a foot long, and thick, but light, blowing and bending freely in the breeze. To Dare's left, the land fell away, grass dying out to reveal a rocky valley, covered in spires of twisted stone, each uniquely shaped where the wind had gradually eroded the softer elements and left artful curves, holes and hollows in the shapes, for the wind to whistle and howl as it played through them. The valley went on to the edge of the white in that direction, but behind them, the land dropped away more gradually, the long grass turning to spinifex, and eventually to a small strip of pale yellow sand, before an ocean that sparkled greenish blue at the edge, and grew into deeper, richer colours as it reached towards the horizon.

It sparkled and glittered, because the warm sunlight reflected and danced on its surface; the light was bright, but soothing, and Dare would be able to feel the warmth of it against her skin and on her clothes as the sun beat down, high overhead, though not quite at its zenith yet. It was accompanied by many small, white wisps of cloud, set it a clear blue sky that was pale in the morning light. To the right, the clouds thinned, becoming long and stretched, while beneath them the land descended into cracked and broken land. The grass died out, replaced by dark brown dirt and black rocks, with many rends and crevasses in the land. A deep red glow emanated from the deepest ones, and in some places, further off, stretches of the land were lost completely in the burning orange of broad magma pits. Smoke rose from many of them, and by the horizon, the cloud-cover was almost complete, in that direction.

The wind blew more strongly at Dare's back, racing forwards ahead of her, where the land rolled steeply downwards. As it turned out, the three of them were standing on the tallest hill in their near surrounds; a single, high grassy ridge, in the middle of extremes. If she looked back, Dare might notice that a single ancient tree was growing on the hill just behind them, gnarled and twisted with age, but still strong. Its roots were shaped in a way that might make for comfortable seating, and the branches fanned out in a way that almost invited climbing. The leaves were green and ridged, trefoil, but otherwise hard to identify.

Ahead, the grass shortened once it reached the bottom of the hill, and its lush green colour shifted to a subtly more blue shade, turning to a hardier, more cold-resistant variety. Soon even that faded away, replaced by sheets of frozen ice and drifts of snow. A small black-ice lake marked the end of a frozen river that snaked away from their hill, into the icy frost-lands ahead, until it eventually began to climb. The land turned harsher and rocky, beginning with rough foothills, before jutting sharply into the intimidating shape of a stark mountain, steep and uninviting, with grey stone and frozen crags. The wind blew the clouds towards the mountain, where they had gathered in a dense, dark storm-head, ringing the peak and casting a blustery blizzard of ice and snow onto the mountainside. Above the clouds, on the peak of the mountain, it was possible to make out a tree similar to the one growing behind them, equally bent and old, and bursting forth healthy leaves, despite its rather more unfriendly location. Faintly, the wind could be heard moaning around the peak, and the inhospitable climb in the distance made the warmth of the sunlight on Dare's shoulders feel all the more inviting, where they stood on their hill top. Logos lifted his quill.

"I owe you apology, Dare, for misleading." He still sounded wryly amused, though from the gravity of his voice, there was a good chance that this was about as jovial as anyone was ever likely to see the old man. "I will not be your opponent in this challenge. You must race another." He put his quill to the page again, but this time wrote only a single name.

A heavy footfall sounded behind the trio, then after a few moments another. If Dare turned to see the new arrival, she would see him approaching slowly, climbing the hill behind them. He was tall and bare-chested, tightly muscled with a goodly pelt of curly fuzz that one could probably curl their fingers in if they were so inclined. The man's hair flowed in waves, a light brown the reached down to the middle of his back and drifted loose in the breeze, blowing forward of him as he approached.

He face had softer features, and he looked rather like a man who smiled a lot; the default passive set of his expression gave a small upward curl to one corner of his lips, and his eyes, a deeper brown than his hair, wandered contentedly about as he approached. The lower half of his face was graced with a short, dark beard, fully covering his lip as well as his chin and though it was rough-cut it remained neat and quite pleasant to look at, presuming one liked that sort of thing. While his chest was bare, the man was wearing a simple pair of dark grey leggings, made of a rough fabric, and held up by a simple cord that looked more like a properly braided rope, tied crudely but tight, in the middle. They ended in ragged trails by about his shins to revealed bare feet below.

When he crested the hill to stand with them, and waved slowly to Logos, it became apparent that he wasn't just tall; he was a giant of a man, towering at least two full feet over Dare herself. The cord tying his leggings didn't just look like rope; it actually was a proper, thick rope, made to serve the purpose of a belt. Logos nodded to him.

"Dare, this is Hugi the Giant. He will be your opponent in the race. The course takes you from here, to the other tree, and back. Let me know when you are ready to begin." As he spoke, the giant man extended a hand to shake Dare's; if she accepted the gesture her own hand would very easily get lost in his huge mitt, but he was very gentle all the same. Without speaking, he nodded to her, then stepped forward to the precipice of the hill, just before the slope became steeper, and stood with a smile on his face, hands behind his back. Hoodwink walked back to take a seat on the roots of the old tree, one foot on his knee and his hands behind his head.

"Offer's still there if you want me to run too, Dare. I'm quite easy on the matter." He called to her while Logos waited to see if Dare wanted to make any final preparations.

"Yeah, I'm a big fan of words myself. You may have noticed!" Dare replied, still grinning. "When it comes down to it, though, I tend to prefer actions." With that, Dare tossed aside her shades into a plume of flames, keeping her eyes shut while she underwent her own, much more localized transformation than the one Logos was currently performing. Her helmet warped in and wrapped around her head, starting from the back at the nape of her neck, working its way to the front beneath the chin. The visor appeared to hide her eyes once again.

She didn't have any reason to give Logos the satisfaction of her gawking at his presentation, so she was happy her helmet hid her face. She had already had some experience in creating scenery and characters on the spot with will, wit, and creativity, thanks to a previous contest she had participated in. Still, this was a guy who was clearly a familiar hand with the practice. "Well, not all of us have the benefit of a friend capable of making a suitable completely-white space for that sort of project," she reminded herself. She initially thought the area would be a good place for a picnic... as it fleshed itself out a bit better, she got the impression it might be better as a tourist destination. "Aw, don't tell me you've only got five completely different environments! I think we can fit an urban desert in here, maybe a tasteful boulevard with some shops, too... That was a joke, by the way! I know everything I say sounds like a challenge, but that one was a joke."

Dare was thinking the frosty foliage in the distance that was starting to look more and more like a finish line would be her biggest surprise that evening. A bigger, or at least more imminent, surprise soon emerged, seemingly bidden to life by the pen of Logos. She gave her own easy grin to the giant, although it would be hidden behind her helmet. "Hey there, Big Guy!" Her bets were on Hugi being a support program of Logos. It was equally possible, she supposed, that he was a construct of this netspace Logos appeared to be able to alter at will. Even if he was, though, she was typically willing to play along. She gave the man a handshake, or a hand, anyway. She liked a firm handshake to convey confidence, but with her size disadvantage on Hugi's own massive mitt, she'd have to settle on letting Hugi take what confidence he would from just engulfing her gesture.

She made her way over to what she was taking as the starting line, based on Hugi's movement. She turned her head back to Hoodwink, smirking behind her visor. "No, I understand if you're looking to take it easy, Hoodie. Nobody's saying you're scared!" She took a low sprinting pose, preparing to take off on a start call she assumed to be coming. "And after all, there's a lot of impressive scenery to take in around here," she added ambiguously, aware that anyone behind her might be taking in the sights of her Navisuit's best side from this position.

Dare was aware there was probably more to this than met the eye. If nothing else, Hugi looked like a healthy guy, and he had a lot of balls if he was about to run into that frozen Netspace ahead of him dressed like that. She was pretty sure his stride length would give him a minor advantage, as well. Dare wasn't stressing it, though: in her mind, as soon as she was challenged to a race, she'd already won. Some combination of heedless bravado and too much alcohol seemed to have temporarily wiped a previous loss to Drisco from her mind. She spoke to Hugi without turning, ready to shoot forward on all cylinders. "So, you talk much, buddy, or are you the strong, silent type?"
With the basics of his artistry complete, Logos spared a small, vaguely wry smile for Dare as she commented on it. He likely wasn't the sort to rise to a bating, but instead seemed to appreciate the remark with a certain amount of humour. The breeze picked up again for a moment, once more at Dare's back, as if urging her towards the contest at hand; the breeze seemed to curl around their hilltop and could gradually shift direction in a way that felt more or less natural.

As Dare might have guessed, her gigantic opponent was as quiet as he was gentle and slow in his movements; he smiled when she took his hand, and inclined his head graciously to her words, but didn't say anything. while the two toed the line, Hookwink let out a soft sigh, grinning broadly enough to show most of his teeth. If Logos wasn't one to rise to a challenger's bait, the same patently couldn't be said about him. He jumped up, stretching his arms out.

"Ah, and what is a man supposed to say to something like that?" He ambled casually over to the imaginary line with her, pausing just by Dare's shoulder close enough that she would feel his chest brush her back briefly. "Besides, scenery's great to look at, but I'm really more of a hands-on person myself..." Behind them, Logos arched one eyebrow and then shook his head softly. Hoodwink was undeterred, taking a slightly more decent place alongside her. To her main question, Hugi simply smiled and shrugged slowly, then drew a deep breath and let it out, apparently enjoying the fresh mountain air. Logos stood froward then, book in hand. He glanced down the line.

"Miss Dare, are you prepared?" Apparently Dare was the only uncertain factor in this; Logos didn't feel the need to check if Hugi or hoodwink were ready. Beside her, Hoodwink turned his head and whispered something quickly.
"Remember, Dare. This is a test of your Will, not simply a race. Logos does not play gently. You must play harder." Despite the worrisome nature of the words, Hoodwink was grinning broadly, the kind of anticipating, adrenalin-fuelled challenger's smirk that the daredevil would probably understand the nature of quite well. Provided Dare confirmed her readiness, however, there would be no whistle or shot, nor any big fanfare. Logos simply inclined his head, gestured outward with one hand and said:

The green grass on the downward slope started off long and the hill was steep, but it tapered into the flat swiftly as the grass shortened into cold-resistant scrub. Beyond that was the black-ice lake and the beginnings of the sleet, hail and the low foothills that began to rise again towards the uninviting mountain. There was no particular path anywhere; just a beginning, and far away at the peak of the jagged mountain, a destination.

"Yeah, well, you can do what you think is appropriate with your hands, but keep your feet on the road if you don't want to keep your eyes on the scenery for the rest of the race," Dare taunted, keeping her eyes ahead. She made a mental note of how fast Hoodwink appeared to work. Was it possible he'd managed to "feel Ante's heartbeat" in the short time the two had been together at the party, after all? She'd have to think about that later.

"I was programmed ready," Dare responded, her cliche response to what she thought was an unnecessary question. She heard Hoodwink's comment and didn't give a response, keeping her ears sharply tuned to whatever start signal Logos decided to give. She didn't need to be told it wouldn't be a straightforward race. So few things on the Net seemed to be that easy.

On hearing the world, the Navi shot off the starting line, gliding down the slope and preparing to sprint across the flat. Although she was moving as quickly as she could, her eyes were constantly scanning ahead to try and plot her next course. The Navi was keenly aware that with the treacherous terrain that lie ahead of her, having the path of least resistance plotted out would be a must. She half expected Hugi to brute force himself around, across, or through whatever obstacle he wanted... and she didn't know what to expect from Hoodwink. If she wanted to rely on sheer speed, she needed to do everything she could to avoid losing top speed.

The Navi wanted to play some of her cards to her chest, but she felt there was a certain amount of sense in obtaining an early lead. The easiest way to do that would be with her Trail Blazer. After descending the slope, if she could make it to the black ice lake, the Navi attempted to kick her native abilities into gear. Fire would stream out of her pipes in a way that might prove dangerous for any competitors who had, for whatever reason, gotten too close. Dare's intention was to make it across this surface quickly, since it felt all-too-much like a trap. Furthermore, her fire might be able to do something to shake up the ice and make it more treacherous for those who had to cross after her. That was, of course, assuming her burst of speed really gave her the advantage she was hoping for...

The daredevil still had plenty more tricks up her sleeve, but for now, she figured she'd wait and see what the other two (and Logos, for that matter) had in store. Hoodwink had mentioned a test of will: it stood to reason someone was going to give her some reason to want to give up in the near future. Naturally, Dare had no intention of letting that happen. She continued to shoot forward on as straight of a course as she could make. Focused on gaining an early lead, she wasn't putting much thought to the idea that she might be directly attacked by an opponent, but if it came to that, her natural reaction speed might see her through. She was putting a lot of faith in her own speed. With her latest upgrades, although she hadn't gotten a chance to push herself to the limit yet, she was feeling better than ever. "Would be nice if the friction heat kept me warm where I'm going... if that's even how it works. Why don't I keep someone who knows this stuff around to ask...?"


1. Movements (1-4, as necessary to reach the black ice lake)
2. Trail Blazer (3 movements + 20 FIRE (Melee)), 2 TCD
3. Movements (any remaining actions)

(Passive: High Gear: Increases base evasion chance (Dodge, Feint, Movement) by 10% for all attempts, and grants immunity to Slow. Does not apply to the Self Slow nerf effect.)
The final pre-race teasings and taunts were delivered and then, at the word, the race began. The wind came more strongly at their back, but was quickly lost as Dare took off like a shot, heading swiftly down the hill. Hoodwink was out of the gate quickly as well, a tooth-flashing grin on his face. Quick and nimble as the man was, he was no speed type and it was quickly clear that there was no way he could keep up with Dare in the straight. Despite her pulling quickly away, there came no interference from behind as she blazed down the hill.

A downhill run to begin with would normally be a tricky thing but keeping her footing as well as her pace proved no trouble for Dare. The wind shifted from pushing at her back to an icy cut coming across from her right as the terrain evened out and it carried flecks of snow and sleet with it, but nothing more terrible than that, as of yet. Hoodwink was still making his way down the hill by the time Dare was on the flat, though in fairness he was making very good time for someone without Dare's own natural inclinations and it didn't seem to bother him that she had a steadily increasing lead. Hugi was... stretching his arms and enjoying the weather on the hill top with his eyes closed. He hadn't taken a step forward yet, but was grinning happily, apparently just for the pleasure of the setting and situation.

Back in the race, Dare's nimbleness as she ran saw her dealing with the heavier snow drifts and uneven ground comfortably; the heat of her transit made steam rise from the snow and left a trail in her wake, but they were only having a very slight impact on her performance. The ground grew subtly rougher the further she went, however, and it was hard to say whether it was changing as she ran, thanks to Logos, or whether it had always been a worsening gradient from the beginning. She had almost reached the dangerously dark, smooth surface of the lake when Hugi opened his eyes, looked down over the hill and down to the lake, then stepped forward.

There was a subtle blur of motion, but Dare wouldn't have felt anything pass her directly; no rush of wind, more than the wind was already blowing, or sound of footfalls... simply a blur of motion, and the Hugi was there, on one knee by the edge of the lake, smiling to himself as he looked down at the frozen surface. He would be in Dare's line of sight as he slowly put out one hand to run fingers over the frozen surface, testing it with care, but he wasn't in her way at all and he seemed quite focused on appreciating whatever he was looking at, rather than thinking about his competitors.

Provided Dare didn't change her plans, she would blow past him a moment later, not hesitating as she scorched out over the ice sheet and reclaiming her lead without a fuss. The sheet itself was dangerously thin, and the water below dark and unfriendly. The wind had come about to her face again, blowing hard and throwing snow and sleet against her protective visor. The addition of Dare's burning assault probably wasn't necessary to causing the sharp crack that followed, but it can't have helped. Predictably, the ice began to split and separate, thin crusts flipping up as the weight of footfalls pushed into the water. It was only through her own impressive agility that Dare was able to avoid getting struck or stabbed by the suddenly jutting shard of ice, any of which would probably have spelled a fall into the dark, frigid waters. As it was, she made it to the mouth of the rive ahead of the ruptures, and there the ice was thick enough that the cracking stopped. At least one foot had ended up almost knee deep, for an instant, and whether from her own fiery nature, or the simple intensity of the setting, it had felt deathly cold. Hugi watched the cracking and sundering of the ice sheet with curiosity, apparently fascinated my it.

Hoodwink reached the damaged lake a short while later, but despite the unpathable-looking surface he didn't slow. The first few steps were simple, but crossing swiftly became an art form of clambering and leaping, balancing here, springing off a tilting shard there and onwards. There was a moment where the edge of his cloak caught and tore but he paid it no heed, having to use both hands and feet to keep himself moving forward and away from a bath. At the last, it looked like he was about to end up going under anyway, but as he fell towards the water both hands pressed outwards and a crack of force thumped against the surface of the lake and threw the navi up and away. he landed with one hand down in the snow, skidding backwards then kicked off and continued on after Dare. He hadn't crossed the lake nearly as fast as she had, but at the same time he hadn't really lost any of his own speed despite the difficult transit. If anything, the mad, adrenalin grin on his face was brighter than ever.

Past the lake, if Dare followed the frozen river towards the hills, she'd find the river ice thicker and more stable, but still sleek and dangerously smooth. the wind was still against her, and now small crags of ice were breaking ad shifting form the crests of the foothills as they began to climb. They were small chunks for now, but still enough to do some real damage if any of them stuck flesh. With the wind growing fiercer and the dull howl and moan of it in the mountain peaks drawing near, the warm air that Dare's own activities were keeping about her couldn't last; it was swiftly blown away by the gale and replaced by an altogether unpleasant freezing feeling.

Ahead of her, the rive twisted and eventually passed between sheer rock, leaving Dare to navigate the swiftly steepening hills on her own. The ground was mostly solid, if frozen and uneven, but occasional slabs of rock shifted underfoot and the chunks of ice being blown down at her were not getting any more friendly. It wouldn't be long before there was less running and more hiking... and after that, it would soon become climbing. At this point she had quite a long lead on Hoodwink and even more of one on Hugi, who was still observing the lake with a smile; keeping that lead would be the trick.

While focused on gaining an early lead, Dare devoted all additional effort she could to keeping track of what her foes in the race were up to. She really wasn't able to look away from the path ahead of her for more than a second before she was forced to snap back to avoid a nasty spill. Still, she got the general gist of it: Hoodwink moved with all the speed and confidence one would expect from his attitude. Hugi, on the other hand, didn't seem to move at all...

... That turned out to be a premature statement, as Dare cast her eyes ahead to find herself passing the mountainous man. She wanted to apply a tortoise and hare metaphor here, but there really wasn't a reasonable way to do it. "Who ever heard of a dude taking it so easy in the middle of a half-race half-mountain climb?" It was apparent to her that figuring out the trick to Hugi's movement and finding a way to counteract it would be imperative. Right now, she had no idea what his method of movement could be. Was he super quick, but prone to long wind-up times? Was he just super quick and super complacent? He had appeared out of nowhere before... was Logos capable of rearranging him with the stroke of a pen?

While Dare knew that would be a big challenge, the lake proved the more immediate concern. Her icebreaker plan had been more of a success than she'd hoped, and the last leg of her trip was especially dangerous. Dare wasn't clumsy, but she wasn't supernaturally graceful, either, and she was paying the price for her reckless speed. Trying to gain any control over her path as necessary to avoid jagged cracks and gaping maws forming ahead of her required a bit more bumbling than she'd care to show off, and very nearly ended up in a bath. Saving her good footing with one leg and drawing the other out of the frigid water it had plunged into, Dare scrambled across the final stretch of the ice.

"H-h-holy... N-note to s-self... gotta dev-v-velop some tolerance t-t-to cold w-w-water..." This was, in actuality, Dare's first exposure to temperatures so low, and as she tried to regain her speed, she made a point of firing her left leg's jet as much as possible. That was going to cost her some speed, but she needed to do everything she could to keep that leg warm...

Really, her concerns about Hugi and Hoodwink were going to have to take back seat to developing some method of dealing with this weather. She hadn't had the good foresight to dress in extra layers, and the chill wind was starting to creep its way through her jacket and frost her visor. The cold was miserable, but the loss of visibility simply wouldn't do. The Navi took a moment to form her Fireknife on her right arm. In the segment still where the traveling was still on treacherous ice, this would be a dangerous move. She would have to maintain her stability while not relying on her right arm to make contact with the ground: to do so would be to compromise the integrity of the path beneath herself. However, she needed the knife to occasionally wipe across the face of her visor, temporarily shedding any blinding frost that tried to form there.

The Navi realized she was losing speed, but taking a fall into freezing water at this point would mean a quick end to her race. There was that, and the equally ruinous prospect of slipping... Dare was sincerely hoping to avoid a loss of balance while she was still the front runner everyone was watching. Furthermore, a spill up here could end with her scraping into some very painful ice. Dare had a feeling enough cold and pain awaited her without that mishap. Slow and steady was the name of the game, then. She never felt comfortable as the tortoise, but then, it was the tortoise who won.

She thought she was already showing plenty of "will" by holding back on her trump cards. She had the fire from her knife, but she had plenty of fire chips that would feel nice and toasty at the present moment. Blowing all of her weapons when she still hadn't felt out Hoodwink and Hugi would be a mistake. Once she got past the ice and was dealing with the more vertical climb, the Fireknife could prove to be a boon, allowing her to sear through snow and pierce rock for a hold. She'd have to deal with the temporary inconvenience until then.

Dare knew she needed to figure out what to do about her opponents if they closed the gap, but for now, her concentration was spent. She'd deal with that when it came to it. Surely, if the ice was bothering a hot-blooded Navi like her, the other two would be feeling it, too...

Well, maybe not Hugi. His getup seemed intentionally defiant of the concept of being cold.


1. Fireknife (utility only, no attack)
2. Movements (any remaining actions)

(Passive: High Gear: Increases base evasion chance (Dodge, Feint, Movement) by 10% for all attempts, and grants immunity to Slow. Does not apply to the Self Slow nerf effect.)
Shaking off the sudden chill of the icy water as best she could, and setting thoughts of her opponents to the back burner, Dare was heading across the low, rough foothills of the mountain and doing her best to avoid the falling chunks of free ice that seemed to be blowing down from the crags ahead. The deep chill settling into the leg she'd gotten wet was more or less balancing out from the extra heat she was giving it, but the cost in body heat was still going to stick around - the weather was increasingly frigid the further she got.

Opting to keep her visor on and simply clear the snow and frosting from it regularly was probably a good choice, as it turned out; despite her nimbleness, one of the wind-blown chunks of ice managed to clip her shoulder as she raced on, and it shattered under the force of meeting the daredevil's speed coming the other way. The chunk might have broken over her shoulder rather than the other way around, but it still hurt like hell; if a chunk like that struck her in the head, then at this point the helmet would probably be saving her life.

Rocks shifted underfoot as the inevitable change in her running balance moved things, but Dare was agile enough to keep her footing and continue. Far behind, Hoodwink came on; still moving at the same respectable clip, but still not as fast as Dare herself and thus still losing ground. He followed a straight path, rather than tracking the bends of the frozen river, moving with an easy agility over the changing ground and slippery ice. One or twice an obstacle led him to spring onto or over it, rather than moving around and with eyes forward and his grin broad, he seemed quite determined to make the shortest, most efficient course he could.

Back at the shattered lake surface, Hugi stood and paused for another long, deep breath, then turned his eyes forward towards the foothills, where further ahead, Hoodwink was just adapting to the rougher terrain, and further ahead still Dare was almost into the mountains proper. His eye rested on the tallest of the hills before the mountain an he stepped forward. As before there was a blur of motion connecting the Giant with his new location; it wasn't a teleport, that much was clear, but there also seemed to be no resistance or wake to his movement. He simply seemed to move, without causing interaction with anything else, and far too fast to follow with the eye. His stopping point this time was the hilltop upon which his eye had lingered, and he was about level with Dare when he showed up, some way off to her right. He wasn't paying her any attention and in a stride she was ahead of him again. Rather, the giant had his hands neatly behind his back, looking up at the intimidating face of the mountain before them, eyes tracing over the jutting outcrops and crags with the same easy smile on his face while the wind and ice whipped about him viciously.

Dare soon reached the stage where she would begin needing her hands as well as fee for progressing, into the more sheer and unforgiving rise of the mountain. There were places ahead and above where she might be able to find something of a path to climb, if she was lucky, though anything that looked like that from down below was also winding and inefficient, and arguable not much safer than climbing the craggy face itself. By the time she was into the vertical, the whipping of the wind had shifted again; the way it curled and blew off the mountain slopes meant that she would be getting a fierce buffet from the right while trying to climb, and the sleet in the wind was a near constant trouble now. The more harmless icy shards sunk into her clothes without trouble, though they would soon beginning to seep through the layers and make her gear dangerously damp. The bigger issue was, as before, the bigger chunks of break-free ice. As well as being potentially harmful, they posed a real threat of dislodging her holds, if she got hit too badly.

"Shake it off, shake it off..." Dare thought to herself, noting that the kind of numb she was feeling right now was probably the dangerous kind. The ice that had just struck her shoulder felt more like a nuisance than an actual threat, and she could tell from the way that shoulder wasn't moving quite right anymore that the feeling might not be representative of the condition.

"Hey, Dare!" Bruce suddenly chimed in. "You look like you're in the middle of something heavy, you need anything?"

"Chips. I'll let you know," Dare barked through gritted teeth, trying to keep moving as fast as she could while acknowledging the fact that the slippery, icy rocks beneath her could themselves slip from the slippery, icy rocks beneath them.

"Yeah... Oh yeah! Speaking of chips," Bruce spoke with an irritatingly conversational tone around a mouthful of some snack, "There's some holiday event going on. You can donate a chip and get a better one. You can also recommend the lady Navis running it wear something... any ideas?"

"Toasty? Warm and inside?" Dare asked, barely restraining the irritation in her voice as she found herself passing Hugi, who was making the most effort-filled climb of her life look more effortless than she thought she'd ever made a step look.

"Uh-huh. There's a fireplace and everything... I think there's even a dude who is a fireplace. He's the only dude there, though..."

"Tell 'em whoever can stay outside in the cold the longest is the Christmas King. Or Queen, or whatever! Look, can't make much small talk right now."

"Oh. Uh, ten four! I'll think up something for the outfits" Bruce said, beginning to do a net search that, thankfully, Dare had taught him to do without her assistance.

The Navi herself had much bigger things on her mind than what sorts of cheesy outfits he wanted to make a bunch of Net Navigators doll up in, and she was finding it physically painful to try and imagine a fireplace right now. She was thinking that if she saw a fireplace guy at this moment, she'd probably be speed-humping him before she took another step...

... Well, step was a bit of a stretch. Dare had reached the point where she truly wouldn't be stepping anywhere. Wishing she had a second Fireknife, Dare resolved herself to the fact that she was just going to have to try and take this one slow. If she only had one point of connection to the grisly wall before her at any given time, it was going to be imperative that she confirmed her footholds and grapple points at all times before moving her staking arm up.

In this method, she began her precarious climb, trying not to think about anything but her surrounding conditions. Hoodwink would probably catch up. Hugi would probably pass. There was no time for that now. For a Navi like her, the return trip downhill would probably actually be the easy part. For now, she was making her slow way up a face that was becoming more and more vertical. The wind was unkind, and as good as she thought her performance was, she had a feeling the weather was going to start throwing things any second. She really had no choice but to exercise the utmost caution. If she made it halfway up and some errant chunk of ice clobbered her, she might lose her hold and fall back down. Furthermore, she'd start to amass injuries, and she didn't want to think about how making this climb would feel with too many of those.

Her pace was slow, and whenever she had a chance, she tried to pull her visor close to her climbing knife arm, warming up any frost that gathered. With the dull wrongness in her shoulder and the numbness in her leg in spite of her best efforts, she really had the feeling of having a hot, fast right half and a cold, slow left half. Whenever it came time to scramble up and make the purchase gained by a higher knife dig pay off, she would find herself bracing weakly with the bad leg, then trying to shoot herself up with the good one. What's more, whenever the wind picked up suddenly, she would be forced to press herself against the face she was climbing and keep her eye to the wind. If she saw anything coming at her, she would need to take emergency measures to get out of the way, or at least minimize the damage.


Movement x3
Dodge x2

(Passive: High Gear: Increases base evasion chance (Dodge, Feint, Movement) by 10% for all attempts, and grants immunity to Slow. Does not apply to the Self Slow nerf effect.)
Inevitably, the pace slowed a bit as the climbing began, though to her credit, not as much as it might have for another navi. Dare was conscious of the dangers around her, and aware of the hazardous factors her body was dealing with already, but the mountain wasn't pulling its punches. The wind was audibly howling around the mountain face as she started climbing, cutting in from her right side and bringing icy darts with it. At the very least, the larger chunks of ice were falling more directly and were a bit easier to look out for; the bigger they were, the less the wind was carrying them. Her knife bit well into the frozen surfaces, but the mountain was as much rock as it was ice, and relying on the blade to hold her just while lodged in the ice was slightly precarious; it became a challenge to find good cracks and crevasses to wedge the blade into, and find a proper purchase, but for now Dare managed. Each dig and pull might feel like small progress, but it was progress all the same.

For the parts of her not wielding a suitable gouging tool, the ice and stone under foot and hand was savage: freezing cold, but still jagged in places that would make it easy to cut herself badly if a numbed or less sensitive limb pressed or grabbed on in the wrong way. Each time she pressed herself to the cliff to avoid a falling chunk of ice or stone, more of the frigid damp seeped into her clothes, and unfortunately for Dare, certain parts that stuck out more than others would probably be quickest to feel the freezing wet seepage. Another chunk of blown ice passed by dangerously close to scraping her off the cliff-face, but the daredevil managed to avoid it. A cracking sound from above became a groan and a creak, and large chunk of rock and ice broke free, shattered by a small piece that had fallen from still further above. It struck an outcrop directly above Dare and broke into pieces; the smaller shards were whipped away by the gale, but it was all Dare could do to keep herself from any further damage as the heavier shards tumbled by. A combination of luck skill and raw grit kept her safe this time, but somewhere along the way the hand not holding her knife had gotten bashed by something; if it had been warmer, it might have felt bruised and slightly crushed, though probably not damaged at all. Currently, it was hard to feel much of anything from it.

By the time Dare was a good distance up the mountain face, the potential other winding paths were mostly gone, leaving her no option but to keep pressing on the direct path. Tall and inhospitable as the mountain was, she was getting there. Far below, a shout cut through the storm. It wasn't articulated as anything, and sounded really more like a challenging cry just for the sake of it. If Dare managed to glance below her, she'd see that Hoodwink had indeed reached the point of needing to climb. The navi had brought out a pair of bladed weapons, though he was so far below through the wind and snow it wasn't really possible to see what, and thrown himself at the cliff face with zeal. where Dare was being fast but calculating, Hoodwink was going at the task with a much more 'take it as it comes' fervour, digging his blades, springing up and throwing himself bodily into lunges that would probably see him tumbling back to the ground in a broken mess if any of them failed to stick. the result was that, far behind as he was, the trailing navi's pace didn't actually seem to slow down at all as he hit the slope, and he was definitely gaining now.

One of the falling chunks of ice hit him in the chest mid lunge and one knife clattered on bluff stone before spinning away with a flash of reflected light. Hoodwink let out another, more obviously painful, shout as the blow him back, but still caught himself with the other blade and one foot, wiped something red from his mouth with the back of his suddenly free hand, then threw himself upward again to make another overhead swing with his remaining knife without any further hesitation. If anything, his eager grin was as fierce as ever. If the pace continued like this between them, Dare would probably still reach the pinnacle first, if only just.

Meanwhile, the passive contender was finished enjoying his view of the mountainside from below and stretched his arms wide, taking a deep lungful of the frigid air. His gaze watched Hoodwink's progress for a while, then travelled up the unfriendly face to Dare. His eyes wandered further after watching her efforts, and in an instant he moved again. this time when it was possible to catch sight of him again he was a fair distance above Dare, and to her right. She would be able to see his profile against the mountain clearly, where the edge of the cliffs caught the sunlight. He looked unfairly relaxed. for starters, Hugi was positioned just on the edge of the sunlight, with one leg bent and his bare foot wedged firmly between a small upturn of stone and the cliff face, toes curled around the edge. His other leg was straighter, gripping mostly with just his toes onto a thin shelf of solid ice that was lower down. He was holding onto the mountain with one hand, bare fingers curled and griping securely to the uneven shape of the icy rock. None of his muscles seemed particularly tense, and he was leaning out from his position in a very cavalier way. His other hand was free, and it hung casually at his side while the icy gale buffeted him. Clearly he was no less affected by it than anyone else; it still whipped and tugged at his pants and hair, and the icy flecks were quickly rendering him wet, but the giant was smiling and closed his eyes to breath deeply again.

He was looking out over the land beyond, away from the mountain, and upwards into the sky as well. More than anything, really, he just seemed to be enjoying the harsh extremes and the inhospitable beauty of the entire scenario. A chunk of ice topped from higher up and his eyes turned towards it quickly; the free arm cam up to shield his head from the falling debris, and the chunk shattered over his raised forearm, much in the same way the earlier one had splintered itself across Dare's shoulder. for his part, the giant seemed unperturbed by this, though it might be a small consolation that he did, in fact, block the chunk of ice, rather than letting it hit him in the face. With the moment passed, he returned to enjoying the view.

Pain and cold were both new sensations for Dare, and ones she'd be happy to put a "check" by in her list of challenges and move on from. "Beach Net... Hades Net... Heck, I bet Sharo is warm this time of year," the Navi complained internally, pressing her frigid chest to the even colder surface of the mountain as yet another harsh wind passed. She knew she should be thankful she'd thought up a measure of safety, but she couldn't help but curse the feeling. She felt a lot better about her choice as she heard the roar of an environmental hazard behind her, temporarily cloaking her in its shadow as it moved past. "I think I'd be happy to trade this damn cold for pain at this point... something to wake my body up..."

Dare began to regret that notion as soon as she'd let it cross her mind, as her knife hand suddenly rang out in agony when it scratched against the rocks for her next grasp. She let out a low moan of pain, but didn't slow down. Dare might be out of her element, but if there was one thing she could handle, it was self-motivation. All the pain and numbness of her current situation just drove her to get out of it faster.

On that note, as she took shelter from another storm, she looked down and saw someone who clearly shared her ideology. The slightly less problematic of her two adversaries was really gunning it up the mountain, now, and he really didn't seem to be willing to take two seconds to give a damn for what the weather around him had in store. Dare could certainly admire that... "Not a safe strategy, but then, Hoodie likes his gambles." The more important point was whether or not it would be a winning strategy.

Closing the gap though he was, Hoodie was a secondary concern when compared to the one already ahead of her. Even as her destination moved into sight, Hugi loomed large, the same unholy combination of the tortoise and the hare from that old fable he'd been throughout the race. Dare acknowledged that she didn't really have a strategy for dealing with that one. "No way I'm gonna let the big guy win without breaking a sweat, though... I just have to make it to the mountain top... Once I'm there. Once I'm there. If the others... aren't already at the finish line... this race'll be mine!"

It was clear to her at this point that no amount of sweat and perseverance alone was going to trump the ease with which Hugi handled this competition. At the same time, she didn't think attacking the others was at all a sure bet. Hugi looked like he could probably take Dare's entire folder of attacks without flinching, and as much as some mean, cold-bitten part of Dare wanted to kick Hoodie in the face when he closed in, Dare wanted to respect the effort he'd put in and beat him fair. "Once I'm at the top..." she repeated to herself again, still making progress at a slow, steady rate, keeping her eyes and ears open for danger.

Gauging her own limits, Dare considered a final push. She tried to estimate the distance between herself and a grasp on the pinnacle. If she judged she could make it in a boosted leap, she'd fire her jets (apologies to Hoodie for whatever fallout happened below her when she did) and make a mad scramble for purchase up the last stretch of mountain.


Movement x2
Dodge x2
Trail Blazer (3 movements + 20 FIRE (Melee)), 2 TCD
By the time Dare drew closer to the summit of the mountain, the cold was coming dangerously close to making parts of her body shut down. The biting cold had been replaced with a dangerously clumsy numbness in some places, and it was only the heat of her knife that kept her stabbing hand dexterous enough to do its job. the cold had made her various minor injuries feel strangely hot by comparison, but if Dare was familiar with the dangers of hypothermia she'd know that for the bad sign it was. Even so, she pushed on and eventually, the cruel storm gave way to clean, clear air and bright sunlight. Below, she heard a crack of thunder and the sounds of more ice splitting off and crashing down, but where dare was now, it was strangely calm.

The wind still blew, and it was crisp and bitingly col,d but it was no longer wet or freezing — just fresh, almost pleasant in a way. Or at least it might be, if she wasn't already mostly frozen. Hugi had turned his gaze to watch her emerge from the cloud bank, still leaning back casually from his hand-hold. He smiled to her, encouraging, but didn't call out. Once she was within burst distance, Dare was able to fire her trail-blazer jets with a roar of fire and heat, rocketing up the last stages of the climb swiftly. the heat returning to her lower half would make her all the more aware of the damage to her leg as it thawed, but that was secondary for the moment. What mattered right now was sticking the landing on the mostly flat summit of the mountain-top, a short distance from the ancient tree that marked her first destination. When she arrived, Dare would find herself the first one to stand on the summit itself, but a moment later that increasingly familiar blur of movement followed, and Hugi was sitting calmly on a rock just ahead of her, one knee up and with his hands wrapped around it. It was clear he hadn't actually touched the tree yet, as was required of them all, but he didn't move from his position at all even if Dare made her way across the small plateau to do so ahead of him, and begin her journey back down. Instead, he watched her, a small, well-meaning smile on his lips.

By the time Dare had touched the tree and turned back, Hugis's eyes turned from her back to the edge of the summit plateau. One hand clenching a dagger stabbed into the ice at the edge, fingers covered in blood. A very damaged and heavily panting hoodwink followed it, the navi dragging himself over the lip with a heavy growl in his throat, and pushing himself upright. There were tracks of blood down his good arm; the other was very clearly broken at the shoulder and he'd tucked the non-responsive hand into his belt to stop the arm moving around too much. Aside the more obvious damage, his clothing was torn in a few places that revealed sliced injuries underneath, likely where jagged shards of ice had glanced him. One on his left side, under the ribs, looked particularly deep, and the red seepage had spread into a large oval on that side. Despite all of this, however, Hoodwink was still grinning, teeth showing and eyes blazing bright with challenge. There was a cut across his scalp as well, that led to a trail of blood down the right side of his face, and it had clearly frozen like that and flaked off in places.

"Playing for keeps, right Dare? Half way. No slowing down." His voice was ragged and laboured, but every bit alight with excitement all the same. If Dare happened to remember that they were all in a state of PET separated lock-down, she might even worry for his condition... or her own for that matter... but the danger of pushing too hard hadn't seemed to have crossed Hoodwink's mind; he was obviously in a lot of pain, but just as obviously disregarding it for the sake of pushing Dare. There was no way Hoodwink could really hope to win this race, but he didn't seem to care. Hugi still hadn't moved, simply breathing slow and deeply, and letting his eyes wander over both of the other participants, taking in their every detail.

For her own part, Dare still had a lead on Hoodwink; he had only crested the top once she had already crossed the plateau and touched the tree, and was likely making her way back. she also had the lead on Hugi, technically, since he had stopped and not moved up to the tree yet, but it was difficult to feel confident of being ahead of the giant, when he seemed to be able to travel more or less as far as he wanted, a fast as he wanted, whenever he wanted... really it looked as though it was only by virtue of the way he seemed to move as his mind wandered, rather than being focused on the race, that he wasn't done yet.

"Damn. Not a bad place to die," Dare thought, speaking quietly in her own helmet. The thought made her laugh, before it suddenly hit her, for the first time, that she might not be melodramatic in her notion. "Not a great way to die, though... if I was gonna freeze to death climbing a mountain... I'd tell some people I was climbing it first... and I'd climb a real one... not Logos' imaginary writing-mountain..." Dare realized she was doing a crummy job motivating herself, so she shifted gears. She put her focus squarely on the summit above, trying to ignore Hugi's gaze as she did so. The better part of her felt somehow certain he didn't have any meanness, but it was hard not to see it as patronizing when he was literally looking down on her.

"Another push..." Deep breathing. "Another push..." Dare found herself wondering, idly, if her Fireknife was stealing precious oxygen from her. "Fire needs oxygen to burn, but how much...? Feeling a little warm, anyway..." The Navi couldn't decide if she was seriously considering extinguishing and dismissing the only thing keeping her from freezing to death and/or plummeting to her death. "If that's a joke, it's not a good one." The idea of getting on horizontal ground again was starting to sound pretty good. Dare figured she had done what she could to make the last jump manageable. If she kept trying to close that distance, she might just be risking losing her grip and making the whole thing pointless.

Trying to avoid thinking about what such a mistake might lead to and another round of witticisms about her own demise nobody else would hear, anyway, the Navi decided to go ahead and fire herself for the jump. That required a leap, and a leap required temporarily releasing her tether from the face of the cliff. She bent her joints to propel herself up and prepare to grab with her numb, knife-less hand, firing her jets in that same moment as she made a scrambling motion to propel herself upward. By some miracle, it was enough, and she was soon scrabbling up onto blessedly flat land. She wondered to herself if some trick hadn't made it look farther than it was.

Dare had expected being the first to touch down and being on flat land, she'd find herself sprinting at full speed once again. Instead, she gave that a shot for a single moment before feeling her legs nearly give out on her. Too proud to take that fall, the Navi caught herself with her free hand, feeling another piston of pain shoot up that arm as she forced herself up to a fast walk again. She made it to the tree, letting out agonized gasps as she leaned against it briefly.

She turned around to find Hoodie cresting the hill. She flipped her visor up, intending to show her usual challenging and confident grin. In her mind, she was: the fact of the matter was the main facets she was revealing were her blue lips and chattering teeth. Still, her dark eyes glittered with life from the dark of her helmet. Dare propped herself against the tree behind her, being careful to keep her pipes fired down and clear of it. It'd hardly be sportsmanly to burn the thing down before the others could reach it... although, that certainly sounded like a nifty idea.

"Always, b-buddy!" Dare shouted back to him. "Half way, though? Hmm... that sounds like a pain. Actually, I'm ab-bout ready to go home." Dare's lips curled into a smile, briefly, indicating she was telling a joke. The Navi began slowly making her way towards the edge of the cliff, taking her time now. She supposed it'd really be smarter to go all out even now, but having an audience made her want to show off. She took off her helmet and felt the breeze, an act that might make it look like she was taking it even less seriously.

In fact, what Dare was really trying to do was check the wind direction as she got closer to the edge of the cliff... She also gauged the distance to the cliff edge, mentally gauging how much running distance she could get from her current spot if she bolted from her spot.


Gauge wind direction and movement required to reach cliff edge (no action)

It was a mark of certain character similarities between Dare and Hoodwink, that even while freezing and injured, and in great amounts of pain, both of them felt the need to banter back and forth in the brief opportunity provided. As well as that, both kept on going as well, with only the briefest of pauses. Hoodwink in particular seemed to enjoy Dare's response as he made his way over to the tree behind her; when he moved, she'd be able to see that his gait was uneven and slightly forced, but not as bad as the broken arm and shoulder. Despite efforts to hide it, she'd also hear a tightly restrained gasp of pain at one or two points while he moved, each followed by a low growl in his throat.

"Well, we're locked in for now, so, home's back that way anyhow!" He laughed, but it turned into an uncomfortable cough that instinctively drew his good arm across his chest to one of the frozen red patches. "So... thought any more about the other part of the test, Dare?" He walked up behind her while she tested the weather and the wind, but seemed to be content, for this brief moment in time, to stay just behind her. Rather than wait for a direct answer, though, he rolled his good shoulder, repositioned his broken one more securely, and spun his dagger over his good hand, shaking himself out for the return trip.

In assessing the climate, Dare would find that the storm clouds continued to roll ferociously below the summit, obscuring much as they blustered. Up here the wind was at her back, heading back towards the start line, but the movement of the clouds below suggested that it was still curling tightly around the mountain. At a guess it was spiralling up the mountain, anti-clockwise and rising until it reached the peak, where she stood, at which point it crested the summit from behind and blew back towards the start line. An odd weather pattern, to be sure, and one that probably meant that, down at ground level, she'd probably find the wind blowing in her face now. As for distance, it would only be a few running strides from where she was to the very edge of the summit, but Hoodwink, at least, appeared to be letting her be the one to call the brief respite to an end, so she could close the distance or take a run up, however she pleased. Hugi's mind didn't seem to have wandered off the mountain summit yet either, and he was calmly watching the exchange between the other two from his rock with interest.

"Other part?" Dare responded absently, her mind only half on her small talk with her adversary as she focused on her surroundings. "Hm... I'm the type of girl who likes to tackle problems one at a time..." She supposed a smarter Navi would probably have predicted the wind wouldn't give her the straight shot she wanted, but it was still a tough pill to swallow. She'd have the wind at her back for the initial leap, but she'd was going to be fighting it on her way down... Not like it would actually push her back up, but there'd be resistance. She tried to remember what Bruce had rambled on about in the past with skydiving, but her computer memory was failing her.

"Well, boys, you know what they say, boys..." she choked out, half-aware that her voice likely wouldn't carry against the wind. "Look before I leap!" Slapping her helmet back on, the Navi built up her run, getting a good sprint now that she'd had a bit of respite from her climb. "Aaaaaaaah-"

The Navi didn't slow down- doing so at this speed and this close to the edge would ruin her plan and likely send her tumbling down the sheer face of the cliff- but she did feel time slow down for her. "This is it... for all my programming, and all the tough talk, this is probably the first time I'm facing... the odds... head on, and they aren't in my favor. Bruce had me programmed to overcome fear. I'll rise to any challenge. I will win. I will win!"

As course correction, Dare had begun skewing to a side in her run, understanding that when she began her long way down, she'd be blown off course if she went straight towards the finish line. "I'm going to win. I won't lose, not to anybody! Not to a teleporting giant... Not-"

"-Aaaaaaah!! she continued yelling, bounding with her jets firing at the precipice. The motion ought to be fast enough to slip her out of the hands of anyone who might be reasonably trying to restrain her. She found herself splayed against gravity and staring at the storm below. "-Not my rival..." The dark clouds swirled below: below them, she knew, the craggy face of the mountain she had very little time to prepare a smooth landing on. "Bruce..."

It was no use. Dare hadn't done this type of skydive before, and she didn't have any way to control her limbs against the gravity that wanted to pull her to her flattest shape. She didn't have time to figure it out. "This'd be a nice time for the whole thing to vanish and the magic guy tell me 'You passed the test!'... But that'd be bad TV, heh." What she'd hoped would be a competitive advantage was going to instead leave her an unrecognizable smear on an imaginary mountain with no name. "Ante... My rival..."

That rivalry hadn't come to much, and that was over now. Maybe Bruce would order another Navi... "One that wouldn't embarrass her former rival in front of total strangers. One that wouldn't kill herself to prove a point to people she's just met. One that'd have a chance to-"

"Screeeew thaaaat!" Dare shouted against the wind, still free-falling. "It's gonna be me! It'll be me! When I survive this and I'm out of this... me and her! I'll make it... I have... an Undershirt! That's right, my undershirt program. I'll probably just about kill myself, but... I'll live! When I land, I'll be way ahead of the pack. But I have to keep moving!"

By this point, maybe there wouldn't be long to reach the ground (at this point, it was anyone's guess). When she finally hit the ground, though... she was going to break her arm. Maybe tear it clean off. "Whatever, I'm a Navi! What's a little arm loss..." The Navi planned to summon the strength of GigasArm and force it into position at the last moment, hopefully giving her a rebound since the ground wouldn't be going anywhere. Losing her arm from that would be better than ending up flat in the ground, unable to move. From that rebound, she planned to psyche up as necessary to "shake it off" and keep moving... where "it," in this case, likely referred to injuries that'd put anyone else in the hospital.

She realized that her plan didn't really include any contingencies for what anyone else was up to, but what they did was their business. Her own plan had her as the center of attention.

In one further instance of negative internal nagging, she realized the possibility that she may not have gotten far enough to clear the portion where the mountain was still largely vertical. If that was the case she would have to adjust and use her remaining fire knife arm to try and dig into the side to avoid simply tumbling to her doom. That'd likely hurt like hell and take her arm with it, too, and all of this planning assumed she even had enough time to react when she had visibility... she'd have to judge her own timing, instincts, and reflexes, but she had faith in her instincts over her judgment.

"Whatever. Bring it on! Bring it on!!"

Bus Jumper [Feintx2 (jumping), Sig Chill to Trail Blazer]
Falling (no action)
IF OVER MOSTLY HORIZONTAL GROUND: GigasArm angled towards ground [Impact+Break]
IF OVER MOSTLY VERTICAL GROUND, INSTEAD: Fireknife to cliff face to slow descent
Psyche Up [Status Cure + 10 Strengthen, reserve Strengthen for later use]
Dare kept her eyes more or less on the first prize of this challenge, and spared only a little more time for banter with her more talkative opponent. For a moment, it looked as though Hoodwink was expecting slightly more chat, despite both his and her injuries, and gave a small start of surprise as she took off, launching from the mountain top before he could react. If she was listening, Dare might be satisfied by the trail end of a sharp "Oh hell..." catching her ear from the man as she went over the edge.

Fortunately for her descent, Dare had enough forward and outward momentum that it looked like she was going to clear most of the mountainside, at least between here and the swirling cloud layer. there was no time to look behind as she went, so she'd have no idea what her opponents were up to, but the challenger had more pressing concerns to deal with anyway.

The lack of practice with this kind of free fall made it difficult for her to keep as much control or stability as she would have liked, and as the icy wind bit at her already chilled limbs and the wind positively howled in her ears, cliffs and crags loomed out of the mists and raced by, each seeming to cut closer and closer each second that she fell. Her outward momentum had helped a lot, but the mountain was only mostly vertical in the upper reaches. Soon the sharp outcrops were looming out of the fog towards her at a rate that there would eventually be no escaping from. Her body curved around one that shot by inches from her view, then twisted past another close enough that it almost spiked her clothing. A second later a sharp impact shuddered her whole body and sent her into a wild rag-doll. Her left arm and shoulder were numb, and there had been a brief momentary sense of something shattering as the impact happened. It might have been the icy precipice, or it might not have been — there was no feeling in the upper left side of her body at all, at least not enough to tell.

Spinning wild, it was hard to get any kind of bearings; her fall had slowed slightly, some of the initial terminal speed absorbed by that first impact, and if her tumbling view was any guide it had also cast her further out from the cliff face, granting Dare a precious few more seconds to respond before she struck again. She was most of the way down the mountain, at least, and even if she couldn't stop her spiralling view from spinning out of control, it was swiftly being filled with more uneven ground and mountainside than there was sky. In a last moment, her reflexes saved her; the turn of her vision became the certainty that she was about to hit rock again, and she managed to respond with a slamming gigas blow against what looked almost certainly like the ground. It had to come from her functioning arm, and, by good chance, the concussive punch counteracted the direction of her tumbling.

Most of Dare's body went numb in the seconds that followed, her ears ringing with the echo of her attack on the rock. A jolt of whiplash followed as most of her speed was absorbed and some of it was redirected, thrusting her out and away from the surface. The next thing was another impact, but this became rough, uncontrolled rolling across blessedly solid ground, before she eventually came to a stop. However badly injured she might be right now — and by all accounts it seemed pretty bad, even if she couldn't feel most of it — Dare was both alive, and at the bottom of the mountain, in the low foothills that had been the precursor to her earlier climb. Grit and determination were about the only things pushing her back to her feet at this point. Her legs seemed mostly fine, but it was hard to get either of her arms to respond right now, and if she dared to take a good look, there was some uncomfortably obvious damage that answered why. Still. Alive. Alive and able to move. That was good, right?

There was no immediate sign of Hugi, either ahead or behind, but a few seconds after Dare herself had gotten her bearings, a series of short cracks from above saw her other competitor apparently following her lead. Hoodwink hadn't, it seemed, planned to throw himself bodily off the cliff to begin with, but once Dare had gone, he had followed, not willing to back down from her challenge. With only one functional arm to begin with, he seemed to be trying to control his fall with intermittent short bursts of pushing force, directed from his hand, but if she watched, she'd see him struggle to maintain control, and then ultimately fail — just shy of the point where the mountainside flattened out into hills, Hoodwink was forced to make a last moment correction to save himself from a series of spiked protrusions, but the blowback flung him against a different rock, and he fell the last remaining distance to the ground apparently stunned. If Dare had looked, and continued to watch, his form landed badly against a rise of sharp rock, badly enough that she would be able to make out a now red-stained protrusion of ice passing up through the back of his clothes. It looked, quite seriously, to have pierced someone on the right of his chest, and this was confirmed by the pained cry that he wasn't able to muffle.

If Dare continued to watch still, the man looked upwards, towards her, panting through a grit-toothed snarl that betrayed blood coating his teeth and drizzling down his chin, before the cold weather could freeze it. A loud, painful curse that doesn't bear repeating in text was his only other comment before he began trying to brace his body for support, and brought out his sword-breaker, setting it aflame and beginning to saw and melt through the ice spike in an effort to free himself from being skewered at least.

Of course, there was every possibility that Dare didn't even pause to see if he was following, and she might miss all of this, in her focus on moving forward and completing her trial. The land ahead was rough and inhospitable, true, but it would seem quite pleasant now, by comparison to what she had just endured. The wind was blowing harsh in her face if she faced forward towards their start point, and injured as she was even the low hills and the icy lake between her and completion might seem like more of a challenge than they ought to be, but for now at least, she was in front of everyone else.

Dare opened her eyes to find sound and color suddenly returning to her world after a series of the hardest impacts she'd yet felt in her time on the Net. She tried to use her arms to push herself up, then fell flat, her helmet jostling against her face as she gritted her teeth. "For the love of... guess that knife is done, huh?" The Navi gave a cough that was briefly wet and then raggedly, painfully dry. Even Dare's internal wit was momentarily as a loss as she spent some time trying to merely return to her feet, her arms more weights she had to work against than appendages to aid the effort. After getting to her knees, Dare finally made it to her feet, doing her best to stand confidently, as much to convince herself as anyone else.

The aching athlete didn't need to look at her arms to tell they were going to be essentially worthless for the remainder of the contest. She didn't feel heat from her fireknife (or much of anything at all from that arm), so she could assume it was done. No, if she ended up relying on her hands again, it would be a last ditch effort... she had so little faith in what was left in the tank, she was afraid to even test it, worrying she could be wasting the last of it instead of using it in a pinch.

Dare turned her head to look behind her, in time to see the aftermath of what had happened to Hoodwink, unsmiling behind her visor. "You idiot," she thought to herself, unvarnished by her usual wit. "Aren't you just doing this for fun...?" The Navi was briefly torn between her desire to be a hero and her drive to be a victor, trying to decide if she should go back get her opponent off the rock, or take advantage of his weak position to end his misery more directly, taking the second place out of commission... "No, there's no point in thinking about it. I don't have what it takes to help him or hurt him right now... all I can do is try and outrun him. If it was me back there, I'd be wanting to win on my own grit too." Dare convinced herself of this and turned back to her remaining path, hoping to get a move on before Hugi showed his face (or worse, his back).

Dare started out by firing her Trail Blazer, burning fuel to move herself forward in quick if clumsy steps. This helped her close her distance to her next obstacle, but the sight of said obstacle caused her to cool her jets immediately. "You idiot!" she said aloud, referring to herself this time. It appeared she would have precious little hard ice to walk before encountering the fruits of her previous labor: the ice ahead had been fragmented, the cold lake yawned below, and Dare wasn't even confident in her ability to swim if she took a dive. The Navi gulped, unable to picture a less pleasing end than sinking in a freezing lake, encumbered by her own arms like metaphorical concrete shoes.

For this reason, Dare had no choice but to move carefully. Any notion of quick progress had to here be abandoned for survival... "Well, in a sense. If I really wanted to survive I'd huddle up on solid ground and wait for someone who isn't halfway to dead to pass the finish line. As usual, it was more about victory than survival... but surviving was a part of winning. If she made it to the fragmented the lake, the Navi would take her time for once, searching for the most solid path, stepping as gingerly as possible, and saying a prayer when a jump became mandatory to progress.

Trail Blazer (3 movements + 20 FIRE (Melee)), 2 TCD
Assess path
(Passive: High Gear: Increases base evasion chance (Dodge, Feint, Movement) by 10% for all attempts, and grants immunity to Slow. Does not apply to the Self Slow nerf effect.)
In the moments that Dare had getting herself to her feet, she made her decision and pushed forward towards her goal rather than back. The last moment of her backward glance showed Hoodwink still grimly working at getting himself unpinned from the icy spikes; he obviously hadn't given up either, despite the injury, but A rough guess of his progress and his previous speeds, probably meant he wouldn't be in contention with Dare, so long as she herself kept moving now.

Propelling herself onward, the cold black depths of the lake showed themselves as what would probably, hopefully, be her final obstacle for this challenge, and someone more detached from the scenario might say that if Dare hadn't easily shown her grit and drive by now then there'd be no pleasing anyone. Even so, she worked to make the crossing carefully. the uneven chunks of ice that remained were large and scattered, but still required jumps here and there, and they still rocked and tipped in a terrifying way whenever Dare had to put her eight on on. the drift sometimes caused broad expanses to open up, and in the moments when she had to pause still, however, briefly, she could feel the last trails of impact shock slipping away, replaced by the odd warring sensation of frigid cold and pulsing heat in her damaged body parts; that feeling where the blood pumping through the limbs felt burning hot, while the skin itself was far too cold for it, and it was a sure sign of heavy damage.

More than that, a clawing sense of sheer weariness was creeping over her. It may have just been the combination of extreme cold and bad injuries, or it might have been something more, making the trial worse and more taxing that simply being out for a run might have otherwise been. The urge to sit and rest was ever in the back of her mind as she pushed forward carefully. One jump, then another. the wind howled at her back, almost pushing her off balance between one chunk of ice and the next. At one point, Dare found herself halfway across the lake, on a tall, up-ended section of ice that curved above the mostly flat piece she'd landed on. It was rotating gradually, and in a few moments, the outward facing section would come close enough to a broader, longer chunk and she could hop across and move on. for now, it left her with a few taunting seconds of having to stay still, and possibly rest her back against the tall curve of ice. the howling wind brought a sound like voice to her, from far behind.

"There is a beauty to her..." It wasn't a voice she'd heard before, but it was deep and calm, and it would be easy to imagine the silent giant speaking with such a voice. It was hard to say how it carried to her, save by a peculiar quirk of the wind and this place — Dare was certainly a long way ahead by now. The voice was answered by one she did recognise as Hoodwink, shot through with effort and pain.

"Erghh... I think her Will burns brightly. Ah-!"
"You will give her a gift?"
"Hahh... Arghh... If she asks for it." A rough expletive followed, followed by two more amidst the sounds of breaking ice from far away. "That did it... Ok... That—" A series of wet coughs broke the words. "...That one cost me... let's see how far I can get on one lung..." About then the wind shifted and the odd trail of conversation was cut off as Dare's moment to jump came around and she had to move on.

She was just about across the lake, but towards the end the chunks of ice were smallest and thinnest, at the point where most of the earlier heat melt had broken things up. There was a precarious moment where, just shy of solid ground, on of Dare's last hops flipped up the slab she was landing on and she ended up suddenly waist deep, splashing into the opaque, sub-zero water. There was no easy bottom that she felt; the water just got colder and colder below the surface, but in the moment of panic, at least one of her arms seemed to respond enough to scramble on the ice and keep her from going in altogether. The solid edge was just a foot away from her, and then the finish just a short run across solid, flat ground, beyond that, so very close and with her opponents still far behind.

Dare's consciousness felt like it was locked in her head, and her head was a dark room she was fumbling through. The icy lake was a pattern of light: the brightest light was the most solid ice, and that was where she moved. Every leap she made, that the depth of darkness yawned below her. She felt that if she fell, there would be no swimming anywhere... Only a long fall and a cold that would kill her before she ever touched the bottom.

Still, however, she moved on, the light slowly returning to her eyes as she found herself leaning against ice, an impossible-seeming protrusion in the dark ice. Dare listened to a conversation she was only dimly aware wasn't in her head, but which seemed to have little meaning in light of her current predicament. "Nobody's coming to help... And nobody's getting ahead. It's just me. Me and this cold... and I'm just about to put that behind me, too." As if in defiance of that quaint notion, the cold seemed to latch onto her skin. Dare couldn't help but feel a less intrinsically hot-blooded Navi would have to be a popsicle by now...

Somewhere in her musing, her instincts had kicked in and seized her moment, crossing another crevice... and another... and another. The Navi's concentration had given way mostly to reflexes. With the presence of mind to realize it, Dare might reflect this was a survival mechanism. Her skill would have to be enough to carry her, because her mind couldn't even travel outside her head: her vision began and ended with a light, her thoughts were only what was immediately in her head, her body-

Suddenly, her vision, mind, and body were nothing but the cold, the Navi letting out a cry as her boot slid from the ice, her tailpipe heel fixture grating horribly against the surface. She felt a harsh cry leave her throat as her soul nearly left her body, her pipes firing in one last, futile struggle, a lit match dropped in a bucket of ice water...

... Dare had to thank her instincts again, after all, having not tested her arm earlier. That was all she could figure had saved her, as her cold, dead hand clung to a piece of ice. "F*ck! I c-c-can't c-can't... f-f-f..." The Navi was hit with the realization that if she spoke any more, she was going to run out of breath and die or, even worse, give up. Trying to make the most of her remaining energy, Dare psyched herself up. Both the heat and the cold were dangerous, but the heat was hers, and the cold was not. She had to use her inner heat to push the cold away. "Win... win... win!..." The Navi repeated her driving mantra, trying to pull herself up, cursing every day she hadn't trained her arm strength until now. As much of her body as she could get above water and onto ice, she strained as hard as she could to inch her way onto the ice, feeling a shuddering combination of shivers from weariness and cold. If she managed to get up, she'd do everything she could to pull herself up and then forward, pulling herself and her useless, frostbitten legs along the ground, unsure of whether she was more excited about the immediate comfort of dry grass or the victory she was striving for behind it. "Win!... Wiin!!

Of course, if she didn't manage to get up... well, no point in thinking about that.

[Status Cure + 10 Strengthen] [(30) + (10)] (1 TCD)
(Passive: High Gear: Increases base evasion chance (Dodge, Feint, Movement) by 10% for all attempts, and grants immunity to Slow. Does not apply to the Self Slow nerf effect.)