ACDC Virtual Park

It didn't look like it belonged in an area as basic ACDC, but sure enough, there it was. A large grassy expanse, complete with plenty of trees, and even had a pond with a squirrel statue in the middle of it, just like the real ACDC Park. The area contained a few picnic tables here and there, for Navis that wanted to enjoy the outdoors without going to a dangerous locale. One would think viruses would be drawn to such an area, but there were none in sight.

The coordinates Ante and Dare had received would place them near a particularly large tree. About 10 feet from where they'd appear, a red Navi flew back and forth, almost as if he was pacing. He had an obvious bird theme, with the large wings on his back, and his helmet strongly resembled a bird's head. The beak part left part of his face in shadows, but his red-brown irised eyes and small frown were clearly visible, at least. He was clearly concerned about something...possibly starting a fire in this place, since with every flap of his wings, he was creating tiny flames, which fortunately died out before they could hit anything flammable. All things considered, it was pretty likely that the individual was the PhoenixMan that had hired them.
Dare appeared with a motorcycle roar and meteoric splash of digital flame, as if the sole occupant of this area wasn't already on track to burn the place to the ground. Dare appeared with her arms crossed and a smug smile on her face, as though she had something to say... but after a cursory glance at her surroundings, Dare simply gave a raised hand in greeting to her new avian acquaintance and took a seat cross-legged on the grass. Apparently uninterested in introducing herself or even moving over to a bench, Dare continued to sit and smile in an intense, expectant, and fixed manner at the spot where she'd just appeared.
Ante appeared on the net, her skirt billowing around her knees briefly before coming to rest upon the floor of the net, along with her boots. She gave a look around, smiling at the pink squirrel statue. "What a silly thing to construct," she chuckled; Ante was probably the last navi alive unfamiliar with the iconic landmarks if ACDC park, having lived her own life in Netopia and having only been operated by Teruko in Electown for a short time.

She next turned to Dare, then PhoenixMan. The feather of her cap fluttered to and fro as her head turned to keep her eyes on him. "Between you an our employer, I half worry that we will burn down the park, Miss Dare. If you were to add in another old acquaintance of mine, that giant, fiery fellow, I feel certain the whole location would be left in ashes," she mused. She wasn't feeling much competitive spirit with her ally yet.

Dare might be waiting, but Ante was not the type to let introductions pass. It just wasn't fitting for cultured navis to go without hearing their ally's names. Approaching PhoenixMan, she afforded him a small curtsey and bow. "Hello, Sir. My name is Ante and this is my partner, Miss Dare. We have come to answer your request," she introduced herself, then resettled her long polearm and stood upright.
The bird Navi stopped his mid-air pacing as two Navis warped in, his concerned appearance lifting a bit as he noticed them. He returned Dare's wave as he landed, and took a couple of steps forward...and waved a few times in front of her face. Her lack of introduction hadn't upset him or anything, at least visibly, though, so possibly he was just ensuring she hadn't taken a trip to Lalaland or anything. He stopped when Ante began to speak, however. Maybe he figured that as long as one of them was willing to talk, it didn't matter if the other was sitting and smiling for no obvious reason?

"Ah, so you're who the GNA sent. I have to admit, they have a knack for sending over excellent assistance, even on short notice." The requestor hopped back, taking flight just above the ground once again. "You know who I am already due to the request, but allow me to formally introduce myself!" A fiery aura surrounded him, though on the bright side, it stopped the embers from coming out of his wings. "I am PhoenixMan, leader of the Sol Battalion, whose only purpose is to bring peace to the Net!...But..." As quickly as he flared up, the revealed Navi doused himself and landed. "Today, I'm simply PhoenixMan, faithful Navi of Bert Reed, owner of Revived PETs! Nice to meet you, Ante and Dare."

"Your mission is simple. Like I posted, Revived PETs is engaging in a bit of friendly competition with a rival of ours, but I'm the only employee. Normally, I'd ask some of my friends to help out, but they'd be found out in an instant. You two, on the other hand, will be new faces, so no one will be any the wiser. It'll be technically true, anyway, since I'm paying you as employees. Just...extremely part-time employees."

"Now, about the other company-"

"Haw caw caw! So I guess you're not ChickenMan after all!" Another Navi flew in from above, landing with an unelegant thud. He looked vaguely like PhoenixMan, but had a black and purple color scheme...and very, very lanky. His gloves were beige and clawed, resembling a bird's foot. The bill of his helmet was both long, and low, to the point where his small, beady eyes were above them, as though it was actually a beak and not just decoration. "And who would've guessed you could actually whip up a complete team? I thought for sure you'd have to copy yourself just to reach a 3 on 3!"

"Sorry to disappoint you, VultureMan. but I'm afraid Revived PETs has made some expansions. Meet Ante and Dare, two new members of our family!" PhoenixMan stepped out of the way, presenting the Navis he had essentially hired off the street moments ago.

The darker Navi snickered, apparently finding something amusing about them where no one else had. "Well, I suppose eye candy helps bring in customers. I just hope you realize...heh heh...that threeways aren't an event here! Haw caw caw!"

"No worries. I think you'll be rather surprised at what they can do!" ...Sure, he might be surprised, too, but that was besides the point. "Incidentally, where are your teammates?"

"Eh? Ugh, don't tell me they couldn't keep up with me! Stupid leadfeet! Not being able to fly should be made illegal!"

"Booooosssss...!!" A HeelNavi ran over to VultureMan, before collapsing at his feet. "Ugh...I hope the marathon isn't one of the events..."

"It's about time you showed up! ...Say, where'd the other one go?"

"BOOOOOSSSSSSSS!!!" Another HeelNavi rushed up, though this one seemed...less spatially challenged, both vertically and horizontally. "SORRY I'M LATE, BOSS! OH HEY, ARE THOSE THE NAVIS WE'LL BE GOING UP AGAINST? HEY LADIES, NICE TO MEET YOU!" He waved over to Ante and Dare, and, against all logic, it was a completely civil wave. No menacing, no ogling, just a regular, friendly wave.

"Enough fraternizing with the enemy! Keep that up and I'm having your pay docked!"


"Heh, what a moron..."

"Well, seems everyone's here. Shall we begin?"

"Oh? You really can't wait to get your beatdown, can you? Fine then! Time to determine the first event!"

"Hold on a sec. Aren't you a bit hasty? We did deliberately withhold the selection process, so that only the two of us knew ahead of time, did we not?"

"...Meh, you really are a stickler for the details. Fine, we'll take it from the top." VultureMan flew up a bit, to get some height over everyone else. "Ladies and gentlemen, and PhoenixMan, I welcome you to the first annual PET Restoration Luau!...Seriously, who picked that name? It reeks! Anyway, there will be food, fun, and most importantly, events that determine who receives...this!" The dark bird Navi snapped his fingers, causing a trophy display case to appear below him. Inside was a generically shaped trophy, though it was made from shimmering crystal. "There will be a series of 7 events, which will be randomly taken from a giant list that PhoenixMan and I and our operators made. Whoever is the first to win four events acquires the much, did we ever decide on a name for it?"

"Nope. Just make one up, and try to make it neutral to both of our businesses."

"Yeah, you'd come up with something lame, so I should do it. about...nah...ah, got it! The Trophy of Life and Death! Because whoever doesn't have it will be filled with so much shame that they'd rather be dead!"

"Plus, the name symbolizes our respective businesses. Not bad."

"Haw caw caw! Of course it is! Now, behold...the Event Randomizer!" A large computer-like machine that looked horribly out of place in an urban park appeared next to the trophy case, which VultureMan took the liberty of perching on. "The list of events has been put in this machine. As any idiot can see, there's a big monitor in the front, and a big red button next to it. We just hit the button, and the event the machine chooses will appear in big letter that any moron could read! Then, we do that event. The machine also has the additional feature of keeping time and score for any event, and also keeps track of overall score. Why? Because, while hard to believe, I really am that brilliant a programmer!"

It was subtle, but if someone looked over at PhoenixMan, he was growing a tad annoyed, as though just hearing the other Navi got on his nerves. "Yes, yes. Also, there will be breaks after events 2, and 4 and 6, if there is a need for further events. The break after event 2 will contain various foods to partake in, mostly standard picnic fare. And I think that covers it."

"Right, since you'll need breaks from your utter humiliation! Now, to turn this baby on! You! Turn it on!"

"But, Boss, I dunno how to do that..."

"Ugh, just hit the big red button! It's multi-purpose!"

"Oh, okay!" The button was pressed, and the screen came alive. To the left side, a fiery phoenix logo with 'Revived PETs' below it. To the right side, a vulture picking at a PET with 'PET Carrion' below it. Below both of them was a nice big 0. "Hey, that's real nice lookin', boss!"


"What, you doubted your almighty leader? There's a reason I'm the boss!"

With that, PhoenixMan turned towards his temporary comrades, and began to rub the back of his neck. "Sorry if that was grating for you. His voice is only slightly better than if he just clawed a chalkboard, I know. Anyway, the events could be nearly anything. We could be running a 500 meter dash, then go right into a pie eating contest. And those are hardly the most outlandish things on the list. I can't give you a complete list of events, though, as per the agreement. Other than that, any questions about what's going on? I think everything was covered, but it never hurts to know as much as you can. If you're ready, just give the word."
Of course, Dare recognized that the Navi who had been circling up until a moment ago was now waving a hand in front of her face, but she continued staring forward as if willing her mission partner into existence. Finally, her effort paid off, as Ante appeared before her. Dare sprung to her feet, striking an action pose as though she expected Ante to begin trying to grapple with her immediately. Disappointingly, however, the polite Navi seemed pre-occupied with the landscape, making small talk, and introducing herself.

"Clever, Ante! Trying to downplay it as if you hadn't been thinking about the same thing the whole time we've been apart! You know what I'm talking about, right?" Dare walked up, continuing right until she was in Ante's face. She pointed a finger to Ante's heart while staring into her eyes behind her mirrored shades. With a smirk, she turned and began actually acknowledging their host, once again assuming her gesture alone would explain everything to her partner.

"Yo! I'm Dare. Sounds like you've got a pretty neat gig with the Sol Battalion, if a bit cliche." Dare grinned while folding her hands behind her head and rocked on her feet a bit as she listened. "No problem, as long as we don't have to fill out any boring paperwork I think we'll both be fine as temps." The Navi smirked a bit as she got a look at who their competition was to be. She could appreciate the natural rivalry that VultureMan and PhoenixMan appeared to have... "But only one rivalry can take center stage tonight!"

Dare wasn't particularly shaken by anything that followed. VultureMan seemed to have a typically bad attitude, but with her mind on other things, she was content to let all of his lip slide. Furthermore, the guy's partners looked strictly backup... which should leave the focus on the passionate rivalries she intended to see culminate tonight.

She continued to stand with folded arms as the rest of the details of the "Luau" were divulged, although she thought the whole thing was a bit strange... with no particular audience in sight, it felt more like two kids working out their problems in a sandbox to her. Not that there was anything wrong with that. However, getting excited at the opportunity for a trophy was a response written into her code. And while VultureMan might be getting a bit too big-headed about a hat to pull numbers out of, a stopwatch, and a scoreboard mashed together, Dare liked where this was going. She'd just taken part in such a thing, but she was beginning to think "random competition" was her specialty... and she certainly hadn't had her fill yet.

Now, the only problem was...

Dare's eyes scanned over their competition and back to her allies, the motion concealed by her shades. Was she really going to be satisfied facing chumps like this? She certainly wouldn't want to rob PhoenixMan of a big showdown, but those facing those HeelNavis one-on-one would be like doing the first act of her previous mission without taking down Ante at the end. Just exactly like that! And the contest set-up didn't really leave her much of a chance for an apples-to-oranges competition... she guessed she'd have to take what she got, there. She wondered if Ante would be okay with that. "Don't think this means you're off the hook for our playdate," Dare discretely whispered to her friend.

"Hey, I've got a question, chief," she spoke up, facing PhoenixMan. "How are the contestants for each matchup determined? I'm assuming it's some sort of pre-determined blocks or random match?" Dare left out the possibility of free decision... if that was the case, PhoenixMan and Ante would just let her be the player in every round, and there was no way VultureMan would agree to those terms.
A look of puzzlement and then mild embarrassment washed over her face. "Come now, Miss Dare! I have many talents, I don't need to use those for every sort of task," she huffed, thinking Dare was implying she planned to use her feminine assets to win the contest again.

Ante had wanted to ask more about the Sol Battalion, but before she could get the scoop, the monster of the day showed up with two lackies. She shuddered for a moment, remembering the not-so-long ago occasion where she payed the role of a sadistic evil bike queen with similar henchmen. At any rate, he made it sound like the Sol Battalion might be under wraps, if he wouldn't bring his friends for fear they'd be "found out," and thus decided to keep her questions to herself.

She listened to VultureMan intently; he had a lot to say, much of it insulting, but sticks and stones. "Good to meet you all. Let's have a fair fight... er, luau," she corrected herself. She thought about that a little harder. "Luau? I wonder why we're not at the beach...?

"You've got a Luau competition thingy?" Teruko piped up. "That's cool. Bruce took me to a pizza palace bar thing with knights and strippers..."


"Good luck!"

"Y-You too," Ante nodded, gripping her staff tighter. As weird as her situations got, she could always be happy they weren't as strange as those of her operator, who had recently sat on another girl's face, taken off her clothes in a bar, and become stranded on top of a kid's ride with a guy in a dinosaur costume. She turned her attention back to PheonixMan. "No, I am fine. I'm certain that things will be fairly clear once we start."

Dare had said not to forget that they'd have to settle the score of their supposed rivalry. Ante was fairly certain she wouldn't and would be far more surprised if there was any chance that her partner would forget about that rivalry herself or even put it aside. Then again, she would be far more surprised if Dare was willing to forsake an opportunity to win something called the Trophy of Life and Death.
"Ah, good question, Dare. Event participants are not selected randomly, but each team selects them. This is to ensure maximum participation in all events. After all, it'd be rough if a flying event came up, and I couldn't be the representative for our side, wouldn't it? That said, VultureMan's a bit of a ball hog, so to speak. Unless he's a glaringly bad fit, expect him to be in every event. But don't worry, I'll make sure the two of you get plenty of action, even if it means I have to warm the bench. I know you didn't come all this way to sit around. Of course, there are a fair number of events for multiple participants on each side, so if we're lucky enough, it won't be an issue." Once it appeared that was all his side needed to know, PhoenixMan waved over at VultureMan, to get his attention. It was hard to tell, but it seemed like he was rallying the troops, though it was pretty hard to make out what it was he was saying. "VultureMan! We're all set!"

"Good, good! Looks like you can't wait for your utter humiliation! Well then, let's get this show on the road! You! Press the button, and we can start our rise to glory!"

"Yes boss!" The regular HeelNavi took a single step forward, then looked back at his larger counterpart awkwardly. "Uh, was he looking at me? Or did he mean you?"


"I know, but was he looking at the space near me, or you?"


"I don't care who does it! Just...GET IT DONE ALREADY!!!"

"Yes boss!!!" "YES, BOSS!!!" The mass produced Navis both raced over to the machine with stunning speed and pressed the button simultaneously; if they got that kind of inspiration before any sort of event involving running, even Dare would probably be left in the dust. Various letters and numbers flashed on the screen, eventually revealing the name of what would be done first...

"And the first event I whip everyone in is...Dramatic Entrances! Ooh, nice one! All right, I'll explain the rules! First, everyone jacks out, and awaits a signal. When it's your turn, you jack back in, in the park...but with the biggest, greatest entrance you can possibly make! The order is randomized before the start, though we'll all alternate by team, so if I'm the lead, I'll be followed by PhoenixMan or some of his arm candy. To maintain objectivity, or something, we have three judge Navis that are on standby, just for events like this!"

"Huh, that was fast. All right, I'll send them e-mails. ...By the way, I couldn't help but notice...why is there a star next to the event name?" Sure enough, there was a nice gold star next to the word Entrances on the monitor.

"Oh, that's something I added to spice things up a little! Essentially, besides the point, we're playing for a prize!"

"...Fine, I'll bite. What's the prize?"

"Patience, fellow avian! First, the judges need to get here so I can explain the rest of things!" As if on cue, one after the other, three Navis were beamed in near the machine. To left was a pretty female Navi in a yellow and black outfit, with twin ponytails that ended as light bulbs. In the middle, a curvaceous purple outfitted female Navi, who almost looked like she could look at someone and read their mind, and to the right, an odd black Navi, wearing a witch doctor's mask. "First up, the judge picked by PhoenixMan, the lackey, Lite!"

"I am NOT his lackey! But anyway, I wanna see some shining entrances!"

"Second up, and my personal choice, the alluring Syki!"

"You know, I'm not entirely sure why I signed up for this...but, oh well. Shake me down to my soul with your entrances, everyone!"

"Heh, I'd rather shake you down another way..."

"Er, wait a sec. I'm not against the decision, but you didn't go with a NetMafia Navi?"

"Of course not! Have you LOOKED at her? What kind of nutjob would say no to that?!"

"......And the other one?"

"What, do you live under a rock or something? That's ShamanMan, co-host of the popular DNN show, 'The Wilde Things'! It's all the rage, you know!"

"Thursday nights at 8 PM! But I'm not here to advertise...I wish to see grand entrances that could bring joy to even the world weariest of Navis!"

"And yeah, I managed to get THE ShamanMan as our neutral judge! How's that for fanciness?"

"Not bad, I admit. Now, explain the scoring."

"The scoring is so simple, even you could understand it! Each judge will rate each entrance on a variety of factors, including visual appeal, technical prowess, and how thematic it is to the Navi performing it. Each judge will rate it on a scale of 1 to 100, with higher numbers being better. Whichever side has the highest grand total is the winner!"

"Simple enough to me, but...what's the prize you were talking about?"

"...Oh, crud, I don't remember! They're specially tailored for each event! Hang on, lemme bring up the list..." A pop-up window appeared in front of VultureMan, who started to rapidly scroll through the (surprisingly long) list of events. "...Aha! The prize is...the winners all obtain an amount of zenny equal to their combined score! This amount is all paid by the captain of the loser team, so I hope you're not broke!"

"So, if the winning side has a combined score of 800, each member of that team gets 800 zenny, correct?"

"Well, at least you're not quite as dumb as you look! All right, anyone have any questions? Can't have any idiots crying foul because they didn't understand the rules!" The beady eyed Navi looked around, almost as if daring someone to ask something. The HeelNavis probably wouldn't ask anything even if they wanted to, and both PhoenixMan and the judges seemed well-informed, so if Ante or Dare needed to know something, they'd probably have to ask themselves.
"You're saying you're going to beat me without even putting your heart in it?" Dare responded to Ante loudly. "You've got more guts than I thought!" The Navi didn't really doubt her partner had guts at all, but she couldn't miss a chance to try and sound cool while riling up her rival.

Dare was surprised to learn she hadn't guessed correctly about the contest after all. She got the impression that PhoenixMan was apparently thinking of himself as the natural contestant candidate... Dare naturally found herself thinking about if she had any way to win a flying event. She quickly set that aside as she realized the first event was about to be announced. She watched the machine finish processing with bated breath...

It finally came to a stop. Reading the screen, Dare made a laugh of disbelief and turned to Ante with a shrug. One might think she was expressing disbelief at how similar this contest was to the kind they'd had at the Festival de Fortune. Dare cleared that thought, though, by holding the gesture a bit too long and equipping a cocky smirk. "Tough luck, I've already won," was the notion she meant to convey. "Nice that we got a competition where we can compete so early and cleanly, huh?" She finally dropped her taunt and turned back to the explanation at hand.

Dare had to admit she didn't have any idea who any of the contestants were. She'd heard of Lite and Syki somewhere before, but in spite of his supposed show and how much TV Bruce watched, she'd never heard of ShamanMan. Still, none of the contestants appeared to be blind, so Dare figured they'd be able to make the right call.

"The only question I have is who you think you're calling Arm Candy, Birdbrain! A numbskull who thinks I'm just here to look good is going to be in for a big surprise right out of the gate." Dare ended her statement pointing at VultureMan and feeling very confident. After all, if she couldn't win a contest like this, she'd have to eat her helmet. If she couldn't at least bring their score high enough to beat out two non-custom HeelNavis... well, she wasn't going to entertain that thought. It may be a bit of overconfidence, as this time she wouldn't have the advantage of Ante's chips or the nearly infinite creative resources... and Ante had shown herself to be very willing to 'bring it to the table,' so to speak, in showmanship.
Ante removed her hat and used it to fan herself; being on a team with two fire navis in the midday sun was mildly uncomfortable. "My intention was nothing of the sort, Miss Dare. But if you continue to see this as a competition between the two of us, it's sure to come back to bite us," she warned her ally, thinking to herself that her partner and her operator were frustratingly similar. "They can't see the forest for all the trophies..."

"Why are you so scared of Dare, huh? You're a super ancient net knight with all kinds of powers and fancy clothes! You'll win for sure," Teruko half-reassured, half-insulted her navi.

"Hmph, the two of you are in league! I'm not running away from a challenge, I'm simply pointing out that we have enough challenges to focus on without becoming needlessly stuck upon a separate, fruitless rivalry," Ante sighed.

"There's no fruit, but there's plenty of chicken!" Teruko teased. She laughed a bit, then changed her attitude. "Wait, I want fruits and not chicken!"

"I'm going to give it my best, but for the sake of our team, not any petty disputes," Ante finished, crossing her arms defiantly. With that bickering out of the way, she observed the judges. Quite a cast of characters. Her frame of reference, however, put them in the embarrassing status of celebrity hosts: she saw them as navis who were presumably best known for hosting staged weekly shows and selling those shows with rehearsed charisma. Really, hearing the name of the Neo-Shogun only worsened that stereotype in her mind. All-in-all, she was beginning to feel vaguely silly as she prepared to perform for them, but that was a worry she was used to encountering.

"No, I don't believe I have any questions. I would simply ask that we be made aware of order and do this one at a time, so as not to overwhelm the judges," she finished, responding to VultureMan without addressing the idiots or arm candy comments. Ante was prideful, bit with everything she had been through lately, it would take more than that to break her composure.
VultureMan was completely content to just look over at Dare, and sneer at her, apparently completely convinced of his superiority. Ante, however, at least got a proper response. "What, you actually thought we were all jacking in at the same time? Ha! Of course we're not doing that, that'd be stupid! Turn order will be decided beforehand, so no one can complain that they weren't ready. Then, we all jack out, and when it's that Navi's turn, they jack in, and make the flashiest entrance they can make! And now...we decide the turn order!" At long last, he hopped off the machine, and glided down to the ground, before pressing the almighty button himself. Pictures of the six Navis showed up on the screen, and rapidly altered locations, until the final order was listed...

- PhoenixMan
- Giant HeelNavi
- Ante
- VultureMan
- Dare
- HeelNavi

", I'm first." PhoenixMan placed a fist on his chin thoughtfully, possibly pondering how he was going to enter. "I'll go ahead and jack out. Let's begin this competition in a blaze of glory, everyone!" With that, he exited in a standard beam of light. Hopefully he wouldn't head back in such a fashion.

"Heh, no point in sticking around now with all you losers!..." The bird Navi flinched as he realized that blind bravado wasn't going to work now that there were others there. "...Uh, judges excluded, of course! Anyway, I'm heading out! Try not to miss me too much!" And there was beam of light #2.

"I'm last? Weaksauce! Eh, I guess I'll be the anchor that wins it for us!" And beam of light #3 withdrew the standard HeelNavi to his PET.

"I'M SECOND! BUT I'M GOING TO BE THE TOP SCORER! STILL, GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE, WHETHER OR NOT YOU'RE STILL HERE TO HEAR THAT!" Beam of light #4 was handily the largest of the beacons, as the giant HeelNavi left.

And that left Ante and Dare to exit as they pleased. The three judges all had holo-screens in front of them, for alerting/scoring purposes, though it did nothing to affect their visions of the entrances. As soon as they were out, the first competition would begin...
Dare's mouth, normally clenched into an unshakable grin or taunting smirk, fell to a frown at Ante's response. Her first impulse was to think maybe she had misjudged Ante after all, and her partner was actually dull dishwater like she'd first seemed. Maybe her own charisma had been rubbing off on Ante, and those earlier exciting moments had just been reactions to her own dynamic decisions? But... they'd won the Festival de Fortune together (at least in Dare's mind)! There was no way...

The Navi clenched her teeth in genuine frustration, feeling not unlike a child whose hide-and-seek partner had suddenly decided to do something else instead. "Maybe this is Ante's game in and of itself? Maybe she KNOWS I'm expecting to be able to rile her up, and that that will be my first move... she knows she can get under my skin by pretending to be above it all. If that's the case, I'll have to crush her and show her I mean business. Sorry, Ante, but I've got to know who is better..."

"Geez! You're really worried about Birdbrain's dog and pony show. It'll be enough for you just to be better than some carrion bird and two faceless goons?" Dare gave her ally a pitying look. She glanced at her nails, inwardly trying to sharpen the nails of her own comments to draw the blood she needed. "But I guess that's what happens to a Navi in your situation, eh? I heard Teruko say you used to be a super ancient net-knight or something, but now look at you! Would have liked to have taken you on in your prime. Well, you can just sit this one out and let me carry us if you want for this, all right?"

Dare turned her head while playing with the shades on her head, not wanting to give Ante a look at her uncharacteristic frown as she jacked out. She'd thought "carry us again" might have cut deeper, but she really couldn't bring herself to undermine Ante's achievement like that. Doing this much was already tough. "If I'm wrong, please show me!" The Navi shot into the air in a roar, leaving behind a circle of cherry-colored embers as she jacked out.
"How are we going to see when to jack our navis back in? I guess the judges will give us a signal somehow," Teruko shrugged. "Now I kind of wish we ha jacked you guys in an actual ACDC port."

"Don't fret; it is a lot easier for us to get from ElectownNet to ACDCNet than for you to get to from Electown to ACDC," Ante reminded Teruko. Besides, if these sorts of issues were sooooo obvious, VultureMan probably has them covered already anyway. What wad more upsetting to her was the behavior of her partner: she seemed to be reacting wholely adverse to Ante's attempts to be a team player. And furthermore...

Ante was hit right in the gut with a devastating insult. "Ancient? Past my prime?! I'm still very well off in competitions and courtship, I will have you know! A-And maybe youth isn't the prize you think it, Miss Dare!" she railed, waving her free hand angrily. It came to rest, finger pointed into her bosom, as if asking "who, me?" "And further to the point-!"

"She's gone,"Teruko informed Ante, grinning. "Ha ha! You're an old lady!"

"I'm not! I'm a prime target for bachelors of any age and all manner of courtship!" Ante protested, nearly sobbing as she clasped both hands to her spear in a tragically elderly motion of stabilization

"... Weren't we talking about fighting though?" Teruko asked, tilting her head in a confused gesture.

"Y-Yes. I'm well suited as a fighter and as a lady of show! It is time I demonstrated to Miss Dare the kind of elegance with which a true lady must conduct herself!" Ante replied, nodding with new resolution. She held one hand to her hat and beamed off the net with a tower of poker chips.
Once all the Navis were jacked out, Lite and Syki turned and gave each other a funny look, confused a bit by Ante's and Dare's reactions. ShamanMan simply stood there, but his mask was shaking from side to side, which was probably the equivalent shaking his head. "...Well, that means that everyone has jacked out. Shall we begin this?"

"Yep, I'm all set! Let's signal the first Navi! It was PhoenixMan, right?"

"Right. I'm all ready, but...Lite? I know he's your friend, but try not to let that influence your score. He's not exactly fighting for your little group this time, you know."

"Relax, if he crashes and burns, he'll get an awful score! And that little group is called the Sol Battalion! You'd better remember it, before-"

"Ladies, there is no need to fight amongst ourselves. This is ultimately a lighthearted affair, is it not?"


"Yes, yes, I suppose I did unnecessarily bait her. Now, who's going to send the signals? I'm sure everyone's getting impatient."

"I think it should be ShamanMan, since he's supposed to be the most neutral judge. Besides, it'd be distracting if the guys got signals from cute girl Navis like us!"

"Fair enough. Now, let this competition formally...begin! The mystical Navi touched his screen, sending the almighty signal to the first Navi on the list. For a moment, all was quiet...

...But up in the sky, a star began to the middle of the day. The three judges watched as it grew bigger and bigger, revealing itself to be a rather large fireball, which crashed into the ground, oddly not leaving a crater, or burning the entire park, or anything that might've reasonably happened, save for a few lingering flames. As they faded, it was revealed that there was oddly absolutely no trace of anything left over, aside from some scattered ashes. However, whether it was due to prescience, the sensing of spirits, or just plain knowing the Navi that was up first, none of three budged an inch, and kept watching. Sure enough, the ashes began to be stirred by an unnatural wind, eventually coming together to form a fiery egg...which burst open in a small fiery explosion, finally revealing the source of the entire scene, PhoenixMan. Wordlessly, he folded his arms as he gently hovered a few inches off the ground, awaiting the judge's results.

90 80 90

"Nice work, PhoenixMan! I've seen you pull off the egg hatching better, though, so I had to take off a few points. Still, you were great!"

"It was quite soul stirring, I admit...but, at the same time, it was just very...expected. I can't really give you a better score if I knew what was going to happen the entire time, even without foresight."

"I admit, it was expected...but it was so masterfully executed that I cannot withhold a high score. Excellent work!

With a silent nod (and a rare smile on his face), the fiery bird Navi moved out of the way, to let the next Navi get started. With a wave of ShamanMan's arm, the next Navi was alerted, and everyone waited...

...And waited...

...And w-wait, what was that? A tremor? In cyberworld? ...Without warning, a fissure formed in the ground, which shot flames out as three figures carrying something...really huge...emerged from it. As they receded, it was revealed that it was three demonic Navis were carrying the giant HeelNavi. With a disgusted look on their faces, they tossed the giant mass of purple onto the grass, before retreating into the depths from whence they came, and being nice enough to close the earth up as they did. The large generic Navi looked up, eagerly awaiting the scores...

90 90 100

"I gotta admit, that was actually really cool! using other Navis in your intro allowed? Because if not, we might have to disqualify you..."

"No, those weren't Navis. Not unless they had no souls whatsoever, which to my knowledge, isn't possible for a Navi. But I'll admit, that left much, MUCH more of an impact on me than I would've thought was even possible for a basic HeelNavi's entrance. Good work."

"It was a rather simple entry, and yet, I could find zero fault in it. It played to the general conception of a HeelNavi, but still managed to be memorable. Excellent!"

"HOORAY!" The HeelNavi happily walked over to the opposite side as PhoenixMan, and sat down to watch the rest of the event. With that, the next signal was sent, causing a small blue will-o-wisp to appear next to Ante, containing the exact coordinates that the entry was to take place...


- PhoenixMan 90 80 90
- Giant HeelNavi 90 90 100
- Ante
- VultureMan
- Dare
- HeelNavi

Revived PETs: 260
PET Carrion: 280
Ante wasn't on the net and thereby hadn't seen anyone's entrances. She expected PhoenixMan would do something fancy, being an organizational leader dressed as a legendary bird, but she had no idea what to expect from the other guy. She wasn't willing to stereotype so far as to suspect that VultureMan was going to cheat, but she would be very surprised if he didn't have something sneaky in store. Still, she would have been surprised if she had been there to see just how sneaky.

"There's the light! Or uh... the alert ghost!" Teruko pointed out, noticing a wisp appear next to Ante. "Go do yo thang!"

"Wait, hrm... they're probably looking for more than a formal introduction. I should have prepared a speech..." Ante murmured, suddenly experiencing stage fright.

Teruko slapped her face, knowing that the only thing more boring than an Ante ramble was an unimprovised Ante ramble. "I guess you're going to have to rake off your clothes again!"

"Let us not wish away the day too quickly," Ante sighed. Thankfully, as she spoke, a potential answer revealed itself.

The entirely black sillhouette of a woman appeared, clothed. in an equally black, lengthy, belled dress with puffed shoulders and a frilled neck. All of the dress seemed to mold hovered with her body, making her one big shadow. The only breach in the entire pitch black form was her face, consisting of two narrow white eyes and a wide smile. "Good evening, Princess," the figure greeted her, giving a small curtsey.

"Er, hello... Have we met before?" Ante asked, surprising her operator. "I'm afraid I don't recall."

"That's cruel! You call on the Kings and Jacks all the time, but you don't recognize your own queen?" the figure asked, looking momentarily hurt. "Well, I suppose I looked a little different back then..."

"Black queen...!? What are you doing in my weapon subroutines?" Ante asked, looking panicked. "That man did this to you, didn't he?!"

"He did! Only recently have you accessed enough of your old power to bring me out, but I've been watching all along," she explained. "My, I never knew our princess was so well versed in poledancing!"

"She isn't! I mean, I'm not! I mean...! Ahem, well, it's nice to meet you again," Ante responded, calming herself and taking it slow enough to get the red out of her face. "This is a pressing moment you've caught me under, I'm afraid... I'm actually did to give a performance at this moment."

"Quite so! And I can assist you in that endeavor. Or, more appropriately, we can! I'm going to round up the old fellows and we will give you a grand introduction,worthy of a princess!" the shadowy figure exclaimed.

".... Ante! I'm confused. Are you two queens or princesses?!" Teruko asked, feeling her head spinning. "And wait, hold it! I didn't even know you were royalty!"

"Not royalty, exactly," Ante explained. "I'll elaborate further later, but for now, I think that it sounds like a splendid idea you've presented. Madam Black Queen, please gather my subjects. I would be honored if you all would escort me."

"And we would be honored to escort you!"


After a pause, wherein the judges would be forced to wait for Ante to sort out old acquaintances, the navi returned atop a fabulous tower of poker chips. Instead or beaming her down, however, they left her atop the pillar and remained on the net. She lifted her spear, then tapped it onto the floor. Beside her, the black queen appeared, then cleared we throat. "Presenting her Highness, the Red Queen of Hearts, Ante.EXE!" she announced in a booming voice, then stepped aside.

Additional figures began to appear: first, the tremendous, shadowy torso of a king, clad in a flowing robe and crown, then many smaller jacks along the ground, each wearing a body-cape and carrying a white, card-designed shield. The king held out one tremendous hand, which Ante stepped upon (while elegantly lifting her skirt just enough to show her heels) then rode down to the procession of Jacks. Each jack turned inward towards her, raised its shield, then stepped back, parting away from the center and creating an aisle for her to walk down.

Ante walked slowly through the center along with the Black Queen, who stopped a few feet behind Ante. As Ante reached the end, one of the Jacks kneeled and offered her his shield,which she accepted. She nodded and he returned to his feet. The shadowy figures slowly vanished, starting with jacks, then king, then queen. "I return," she finished, threading her shield over her spear with its band and then executing a half-curtsey.

"You were a super-ancient net princess all along?!" Teruko inquired, shocked.

Ante held her smile, trying not to let her agitation at being called ancient again show.
Just as the judges were starting to wonder what was going on with Ante, she made her entrance. They all watched with different expressions; ShamanMan was, as always, impossible to determine on looks alone, Syki seemed to be enjoying it, and Lite...had a look that screamed 'What the heck am I watching?'. After taking a few moments to absorb the spectacle, their scores appeared, one by one...

75 100 95

" was well choreographed and all, but I didn't care for it all that much. A lot of my points are for effort, really..."

"Oh, don't listen to her. I can feel the spirit that everyone performed with, and I thought it was wonderful! Definitely the highlight thus far!"

"Yes, it was quite a performance! It was a bit lacking in pure flash, but more than made up for it in pure elegance! I gave a small deduction as I thought it lasted a tad longer than neccessary, but other than that, I have no complaints!"

Once everyone and everything was out of the way, ShamanMan sent over another will-o-wisp, signaling the next Navi. And of course, there was waiting...

...Was everything getting dark all of a sudden? Yeah, it was...Lite's light bulbs and ShamanMan's eyes were definitely brighter than before, against the sheer lack of light in the area. Around where the jacking in would occur, a black and purple sphere appeared in mid-air. A mechanical hook then descended from the heavens, entering the sphere, and apparently hooking something inside. It began to lift itself out, and as the hook entered visible airspace, VultureMan could be seen standing on it with one foot. He hopped off, an began to fly in the air. His wings appeared to be even darker than usual...completely absorbing what light there was. He began to flap them rapidly, causing waves of black energy to hit the sphere, causing it to solidfy, then shatter, causing the lighting to return to normal. The bird Navi then landed, and leered at the judges, as if to say, 'Go ahead, I dare you to not give me a perfect score!'

90 70 90

...They dared.

"I hate to say it, but I thought that was a really cool entrance! No worse than PhoenixMan's, really..."

"Sigh...that...was the flattest entry thus far. It was flashy, yes, but it had no soul to it. It looked like you were just going through the motions."

"I do agree with Syki...but, the name of the event is 'Dramatic Entrances', and I did find it quite dramatic. Thus, I give it high marks!"

The dark bird scowled at the (at least in his eyes) absurdly low scores, then went off over to the giant HeelNavi, who decided that anything he could say at the moment would not be met kindly, and wisely didn't move an inch as his boss walked over. With that, the magic-based Navi sent over the next signal, causing the will-o-wisp to appear by Dare...


- PhoenixMan 90 80 90
- Giant HeelNavi 90 90 100
- Ante 75 100 95
- VultureMan 90 70 90
- Dare
- HeelNavi

Revived PETs: 530
PET Carrion: 530
Dare was sitting cross-legged on the dusty floors of her netspace, deep in the same sort of concentration she'd been exercising while waiting for Ante earlier. Now, though, no playful grin of anticipation was at the corners of her mouth. She rapped her fingers against the floor of the net, trying to exert all of her energy into her strategy. She was still feeling bad about dissing Ante, especially since her friend had seemed so upset (although she hadn't managed to stick around and see exactly why). Dare was confident she could patch it up later, but for now, it was all meaningless if she didn't deliver and come out on top.

She scratched at her frizzy hair and moved her hand to rub down her mouth. Was what she had really good enough? She normally had no doubt in her abilities: the notion practically went against her programming. Ante, however, was currently the only person on the Net Dare could consider her equal. What tore the daredevil Navi up more than anything was that she wasn't getting to see Ante's performance, so all she'd be able to go with was the judge scores... Somehow, she considered their opinions less objective than her own.

Luckily, it didn't seem she'd have to wait long. Dare spotted the will-o-wisp before her, looking out of place in the familiar space around her. She rose to her feet dusted herself off, stretching her legs and cracking her knuckles as if invoking good luck charms. She took off her shades, dropping to the floor and dismissing them in a flash of embers, and replaced them with her motorcycle helmet. She stood for a moment, flexing her gloved fingers, before blitzing off her page in a pillar of flames.


Dare was pretty fond of her usual net entrance, as she'd already designed it to her standards of making a flashy impact upon anyone she met at first appearance. She recognized, however, that special occasions were special occasions. What was called for, then, was a refining of the original: something sure to blow something away, even if it would be a pain to do every time she entered the Net.

The Navi appeared in the park in a flash of light. Before she'd even teleported, she'd already begun dashing forward. As she now appeared, then, she made a point to beeline in a red blur for the virtual park's sandbox, a necessary element for her plan. Once there, she began dashing around in the sand, her ankle pipes billowing smoke and sparks as she performed figure eights. She did this while leaning into the turning radius with her shoulders and then sharply turning with her legs, the motion of which was visible only as a silhouette behind the masking smoke and dirt. She kept this up for a few more seconds, gradually picking up speed, until she finally front flipped out of it. Smoke that clung to her form trailed behind her for a moment, and the sparks arced behind her legs as they cut through the air. Her palms hit the grass and then left it, flipping forward and landing with both feet on the earth. Not content to stop there, she scissored one more kick through the air, this time trailing virtual flames from the pipes attached to the scissoring leg.

She brought the leg back to earth quickly and straightened up. She reached up and unstrapped the helmet in a quick motion, pulling it off and tossing her frizzled hair as it emerged from the helmet. For a split second, this motion hid her closed eyes. In that moment, she tossed the helmet behind her with her right arm, causing the headgear to burst into flames and vanish. With a click, her mirrored shades appeared in the air, and she effortlessly caught them from their fall in the same hand. She quickly dashed the hand through the air to place them on her face, as they were already unfolded. The Navi gave her brightest grin and raised one finger into the air, firing a few blasts of flames from her pipes with engine pops for good measure.

With that, all Dare could do was hold the pose, hoping her breathlessness wouldn't show as she waited for the scorecards. Her eyes dashed back and forth between the judges and Ante as she tried to decide which reaction she cared about catching.
"Thank you all," Ante replied to the judges, moving away from the staging area. She was feeling pretty good with herself; after all, how many judges would be giving their contestants perfect scores? She hated to be immodest, of course, but she couldn't stop a smile of pride from lighting upon her face.

"Cool, Ante! You're the second highest!" Teruko announced, clapping her hands. "Course, second to walk away from the table doesn't mean much in poker, but this isn't poker."

Ante's pride fell as she realized that the admittedly nice-as-can-be HeelNavi had outdone her. At this point she'd have to hope that the second one would not be as on-the-ball as the first. Of course, she also had Dare to back her up and surely if there was one thing Dare knew, it was showmanship. That and a little sex appeal, which she had neglected this time, because honestly, why must it always be about sex?

VultureMan arrived in predictable fashion; Teruko made some remark about how he felt like a comic book character, to which Ante only nodded in response. Next came Dare; probably about as predictable, but Ante felt that her friend always brought a little magic where others couldn't- that when she put on a spectacle, it was always something others would pay to see. Not that she would want anybody paying to see the fire-clad shape of Dare spanking her right in the seat of her black leather shorts, particularly, but she could unable someone paying for it.

"Brava, Miss Dare... and now let us see what the judges think," she finished, crossing her palms at her lap.
Unlike Ante, the judges didn't have to wait long for Dare's entrance. All three just sort of...stared, and watched. Afterward, the ladies turned to ShamanMan, who whipped up a book in front of him: 'VultureMan's Big Book of Rules'. They opened it up, and intensely read...and read...and read. Dare probably couldn't hold that pose for quite that long, but by then the people whose opinions counted were too busy interpreting what the rulebook said. It took a few minutes, but they eventually put up their scores...

60 75 45

"It was really cool and all...but, the rules say that the jacking in part is a very important part of grading, and so I had to cut out a lot of points. Sorry!"

"Oh, I really, really shouldn't have given you that high a score, but you put so much heart and effort into it that I can't give you a bad score!"

"Alas, it is as they said. The actual entrance was forsaken, and too much emphasis was placed on the part afterward. And while one could argue that Ante did the same, her approach was far more seamless to me, whereas yours was a bit...disjointed. I'm afraid I had take off many points for that...

VultureMan sneered at his opponents, while the giant HeelNavi almost looked embarrassed for Dare. PhoenixMan's expression didn't change a bit...

A few moments later, the HeelNavi jacked in. The problem was that it was a standard beam of light, with absolutely nothing special tacked on..."Yo, before I do my super cool jack in, I got a question..."

Syki raised a hand, signaling the other purple Navi to stop talking as the three looked on at the rules once more. And after some more consultation, the scores were up...

1 1 1

"Sorry, but the rules say that when it's your turn, you only have one shot, no matter what. So we had to judge that entry, and, well, it was way past bland..."

"I actually feel a little bad about it, but rules are rules. And while ShamanMan hadn't sent the signal yet, the rules state that it was technically still your turn..."

"Indeed, we were forced to grade that. And a generic entrance is the absolute worst entry in a competition like this..."

And that was that. Final score: Revived PETs, 710, PET Carrion, 533. Which meant...


...Plink? That was the sound effect for a point being given out? Well, at any rate, it was now 1-0, non-jerkwads. Naturally, VultureMan was...a little displeased, and was shrieking at his lackeys for bringing him down, even though the giant HeelNavi got the best score in the entire event. It looked like the worst was saved for the regular one, but from that distance, and the way the dark bird Navi was shrieking, it was kinda hard to make out exactly what he was saying, and who he was saying it to.

"Nice work, you two." PhoenixMan decided to make his existence clear again, as he flew over to his two temps. "I'll collect on VultureMan's prize thing later, but you two can go ahead and claim your part of it now. Our final score was 710, so that's 710z to each of you." The firebird Navi handed over data resembling a gold coin to the two ladies.

Ante and Dare got 710z!


- PhoenixMan 90 80 90
- Giant HeelNavi 90 90 100
- Ante 75 100 95
- VultureMan 90 70 90
- Dare 60 75 45
- HeelNavi 1 1 1

Revived PETs: 710
PET Carrion: 533
Dare's pointing finger involuntarily lowered as confusion clearly registered over her face. Her mind raced with a number of responses that she tactfully dismissed as kneejerk reactions. In her mental list of priorities, "Don't be a sore loser" was pretty high up... unfortunately, right under "Don't be a loser." As such, she swallowed all of her complaints and accepted the bitter pill of her score, frowning with unreadable eyes behind her shades.

More than anything, that first priority was ringing in here ears now as a sad inevitability. No matter how big of a chump that last HeelNavi was, he'd have to screw up big time to ruin Team Vulture's score the way she'd ruined her team's. It was one thing for her to fall, but another thing entirely for her to take Ante and the chief down with her. Never one to give up, her mind was racing to think if there were any courses of action she had left to take...

After watching the spectacle of the last competitor's entrance, however, she realized she wouldn't have to worry about that at all. And yet... she didn't feel any better. On the contrary, she seemed to grow pensive as she reviewed what had happened. Eventually, she raised a hand to tell PhoenixMan to hold his prize for a sec. "Hold up, timeout!" Dare shouted, raising her arms in that universal gesture.

"Look, uh... I know we're not supposed to have breaks between events 1 and 2, but this is pretty lame, isn't it?" the Navi continued, hoping she had everyone's attention and therefore the floor to make her case. "If it was just me, I wouldn't raise a stink, but... TWO rule fouls in the first event? This is on track to be a pretty awful competition."

The Navi realized she probably had a limited time budget to make her point before it devolved into a loser's ramblings in the ears of her audience, so she tried to keep it short and sweet. "As you may or may not know, I am the best there is at everything I do," Dare assured them, a point which she didn't seem to realize might damage her credibility from the start. "Among my many talents, I count a steel trap mind as sharp as a tape recorder. And uh, as I recall, the Navi here who had the distinguished honor of presenting the rules of the Dramatic Entrances was our pal VultureMan."

She turned her head to VultureMan before continuing. "Ol' Carrion-Breath said or didn't say three things of interest I'd like to review:"

"First, he said that in Dramatic Entrances, you jack in and make the biggest, greatest entrance you can possibly can. I think we can all agree that 'entrance' is a pretty vague stretch, right? If we were to compare it to a wrestler's entrance, the way he's phrased it sounds like the event would be judged from their first step out with pyrotechnics, to their ring approach, their entry through the ropes, and finally the point they were in the ring, ready to rumble. The way the rules have it, however, would only be what they did the moment they first walked out from backstage. I think it's pretty easy to see where my confusion came from."

"Second, he said that we'd all be given a signal when to start. As specifically as any of us except dear VultureMan knew, until we see the signal to start, it's not our turn and we're not making an entrance. I don't think I have to say much more than that."

She turned again to the judges. "So, with all that, it sounds like I'm suggesting we sweep my score and the poor final contestant's scores under the rug and have do-overs, right? That would be pretty sporting of me!" Dare said with a grin, not adding that it might tick off her boss who was probably primarily interested in the team's victory and might not be at all unhappy with the current ruling. "But, unfortunately, VultureMan put a pretty clever clause in: just before the event started, he asked all of us to ask if we had any questions about the rules."

Dare laughed, scratching the back of her head. "As you can see, some of us had a pretty darn long list of questions we wish we'd asked! But because we didn't, I say fair's fair and we move on to the next contest. But I also think it's pretty fair to say that the cause of this was VultureMan's conversational cliffnotes version of the contest rules."

She turned again to VultureMan, grinning but with the look in her eyes hidden by her shades. "Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that VultureMan might have some 'hidden rules' he might try to use in later contests to make a surprise turnaround! But just so we have a more exciting competition, I think one of two things need to happen: we can either have the judges look through the rules of the contest beforehand and list each and every rule that seems like a potential stumbling block, leaving out anything they consider to be patently obvious... or, we can offer redoes to anyone who meets with a technical DQ, completely scott-free if we're going to have surprise tripping points like we did here. Trust me, it's gonna take even longer if you guys make me go through a list of every question I can possibly think of to come up with a complete ruleset for however many competitions we have to go."

The Navi crossed her arms, waiting for a response, before starting and adding one more thing. "Oh, and of course, if the judges DID think we needed to redo stuff here, of course, I'm game for it. I'm pretty sure I can win out with an awesome jack-in sequence for my team if I need to, but I don't think it's necessary."
Ante knew for sure that Dare wasn't going to be happy about her score despite winning, and sure enough, she was right. Of course, disputing their own winning score was clearly not in line with achieving the mission, but she did hate to see anything that looked like inadequacy on the part of fairness. "I was thinking that as well, Miss Dare. And I appreciate the judge's efforts and reward, but it feels ill-gotten when one of our opponents didn't get an opportunity to make an adequate entrance," she sighed. "I feel as though if such an overarching danger as receiving an entirely negated score was present, our judges or sponsors should have mentioned explicitly beforehand a list of behaviors to avoid. Especially a premature jack-in. And yes, a proper definition of entrance."

She stepped back to PhoenixMan and removed her hat, holding it in both hands at her chest. "I apologize, Sir, but my friend and I... she especially... are often the type to hold the sanctity of a competition, as well as our pride in our respective crafts, as important. While this is being sorted out, though, I did have a question." She quieted her voice and looked both ways, her club-shaped hood tail bobbing back and forth as she turned her head. "Why did you need a charming woman for this competition?" she asked, paraphrasing a bit. "I'm merely curious."