An Attempt in Schadenfreude

((From -> Jenny's Home))

A darkened cave in the Hades Net groaned with the sounds of slow wind movement and languid heat. One patch of the shadowy subterranean cavern grew darker for a moment, if that were possible, and a slow, timid, and above all -careful- Courser emerged a few moments later. His hands were already coated in their wave whips, flicking back and forth, and the Aqua navi looked about with obvious trepidation.

Beside him, a second CourseMan was looking about, covering the blind spot of the first wherever he turned. Over his shoulder he glanced at the original.

"This is really stupid. You know that, don't you?" The first Courser grimaced.
"Maybe. But we might get something nice for Jen here."
"Or we could get squashed into smithereens."
"Maybe some mutual difficulties will put a smile on her face then." For a moment a third shadow clone slipped out of the wall beside them, shaking his head.
"If you wanted to test the new chips, there are much safer fire-oriented nets, you know. You're both daft!"
"Oh shut it, you, leave the boss alone. He's doing this for her, you know."

It was probably a sign of nerves, the was the single navi was talking with his own self-controlled clones.... Or maybe that was just CourseMan, being CourseMan. The third Courser shook his head in disgust and faded back into shadow, while the other two continued forward, probing slowly into the cave system.

"Hey... Where on earth did you go, Courser?" Jenny's voice was still very lack-lustre, but at least she seemed curious.
"Ah... Hades net?"
"What? That Volcanic island? Don't they have like, no security there, because the virus presence is enough to handle anything?"
".... Maybe?"
"Are you trying to impress me to make me feel better?"
".... Maybe?" Courser ducked his head, then turned his attention back to the area around him as he moved forward. He was rewarded though, with a sound that was something like an appreciate coo, if all the air had been let out of it.
"Awww... Well, you be careful, alright, and if it gets nasty, come back."
"I will, Jen, don't worry."

She might not have to worry, but Courser himself was still very much concerned about what he was trying. Even so, he pushed on, slowly. Carefully. He had to find something to fight for her... but he hope desperately it wouldn't be too horrible.

((TotallyNotReady for Battle 1... ))
Burning coals and the odd vein of magma bathe the light within the cave in dim, incandescent light. If CourseMan weren't already hot, even the perpetually-cool Navi would find the molten rock sweat-inducing. A dull moaning of wind is all that the Navi and his decoy can hear...that is, until another moan joins in. And then another...what's going on here?

With a quiet snap and a gentle hiss of flame on wax, two flickering lights appear in the gloom, illuminating just enough for CourseMan to see his company. Two HauntedCandles wave their arm-stumps at the intruder, glowing eyes set in sunken glares. They don't seem too happy at the Navi for interrupting their dark cave spooky-time, poor things.

It looks to at first be a simple, two-on-one scrap. Then one more virus makes its entrance, not visibly but nonetheless quite plainly announcing its presence. From one patch of particularly deep darkness, a heavy...something is placed against the stones. It isn't entirely clear what has just arrived, at least until a bright red '2' blares from the shadows. All too quickly, it counts down to '1'...and then detonates, scattering flecks of rock everywhere. A brightly-glowing vein of coals is left where the CountBomb had just exploded, revealed from the powerful blast. In the dim light given off by the burning rock, a giant glove flexes its fingers...and then sends CourseMan a very distinct message by cocking into a classic 'gun-fingers' and miming shooting him. It was time for a turf war!

HauntedCandleA: 100HP [Normal]
HauntedCandleB: 100HP [Normal]
Handy: 80HP [Coal]

75% Normal (Soft Rock)
20% Coal (Large vein under Handy)
5% Lava (Small patch near CourseMan)

CourseMan.EXE: 100HP [Normal]


Soft Rock: The walls and floor of this cave are but a thin layer of steady rock, concealing untold amounts of Coal, Lava, and goodness knows what else. Attacks that make contact with the walls or ground in any manner will break off more of the Soft Rock, and reveal what it was hiding.

The sounds of the moaning grew, accompanied by the flickering lights of some distinctly unfriendly candles, and Courser found himself eager to hug what shadows remained. The eerie flames cast less light into the cave than one might expect, but he doubted it was enough to really give him much in the way of surprise. All thoughts of getting the drop on the viruses were dispelled as the Handy announced its arrival with a bang, and CourseMan jumped right to battle stations instead.

"Jen, give us one of the new ones. Let's see how the knife cuts." There was no answer from the girl, but he felt the data arrive quickly enough, and flexed his fingers. His wave whips lashed and retracted, thinning down and sharpening until he was left with a pair of long knives in each hand. Rather, he was holding his hands as thought gripping knives, but the reality was that each hand was covered in a small all-encompassing glob of water, with the long blades of tightly swirling water stabbing outward in a back-handed grip.

First order of business was putting out the lights, as far as he was concerned. The handy could just wait. Beside him, his clone ran off to the side, visually bearing a pair of knives identical to his own. It moved at an angle to the two candles, and looked back over its shoulder, shouting as it did.

"Distract 'em for me, would ya?" The yell was quite obvious and boisterous, despite the actual words, and the decoy made as though it meant to duck behind cover, but didn't actually find any or break line of sight with the viruses at all. Courser, on the other hand, kept silent, and dodged inwards towards the two, water kicking up at his feet as he manoeuvred. Sliding low, he put himself between the two and cut out quickly, slicing at the wick of the first virus with the watery knife in his right hand in a cut that brought the arm forward across his body, even as he struck down and back with his left, making a vicious back-handed stab at the second candle. The action had taken all of a moment or two, and he let the momentum turn him around until he was behind where the two had been facing where their backs ought to have been. Absently, he caught his mind wondering just how well the immobile little candles could track.

In the moment he had spare, Courser looked about for the Handy, knives raised still. Where was it, and where was its next bomb?


*) Decoy: "I'm Spartacus!"
1) Dodge - Inward, towards the Candles.
2) AquaKnife: (60(+5)Aqua, Slash, B (6 uses) at HauntedCandleB)
3) AquaKnife: (60(+5)Aqua, Slash, B (6 uses) at HauntedCandleA)

Courser's decoy makes a valiant stand against the infernal virus horde, drawing one HauntedCandle's ire. The flaming spirit's eyes flash, and the ground about the faux Navi lights up in flame, dispelling it in a puff of smoke and leaving the ground glowing red-hot. Farewell, brave Decoy, you did your job well.

Unfortunately for the real CourseMan, the other HauntedCandle isn't having any of his shenanigans, and the lady-killer feels the ground flash hot under his dress shoes. His water streams carry him out of range just in time: a patch of lava opens up right behind him, rocks crumbled and withered from the heat of the candle-virus' wrath. His water whip sharpens into an aqueous dagger as he moves to unleash his vengeance, in the name of his almost-burned shoes. His AquaKnife lashes out twice, but only manages to bite into one HauntedCandle, which fizzles out with a wisp of smoke and promptly fades to deletion. The other is either too hidden in the shadows, or CourseMan's vision is too poor - either way, the end result is a very-much alive virus, looking rather disgruntled at the attempt to destroy it.

All but unnoticed, the Handy takes the time to disappear into the gloom, reappearing with a large bomb in hand. A '2' appears in large green font on the front, along with a very obvious beeping noise; deleting the explosive may be a good idea!

HauntedCandleA: 100HP [Normal]
HauntedCandleB: DELETED
Handy: 80HP [Coal]

CountBomb: 100HP [2 Turns to detonation] [Coal]

65% Normal (Soft Rock)
25% Coal (20%: Large vein under Handy, 5%: patch near CourseMan)
10% Lava (Two small patches behind CourseMan)

CourseMan.EXE: 100HP [Normal] [AquaKnife: 4/6 uses]


Soft Rock: The walls and floor of this cave are but a thin layer of steady rock, concealing untold amounts of Coal, Lava, and goodness knows what else. Attacks that make contact with the walls or ground in any manner will break off more of the Soft Rock, and reveal what it was hiding.
Courser couldn't hold back the short gasp of surprise as the candle's vent of fire begins to bring down the rocks around them. If more rocks fell, they might all end up getting deleted. The fact that the column of fire had very nearly torched him was equally unsettling, if not more so. It was bad form, missing that first swipe like he had, but better to correct quickly, before it could have another go at him.

In a quick slide, Courser twisted to the candle's left, circling until he was at its back. As he began to move, his body split again, the clone looping in the other direction, and outward, rather than in, until it stood in front of the ghost flame, brandishing it's copied knives fiercely. The decoy gave a low growl, then crouched and dashed towards the candle with its knife thrusting forwards.

"No escape this time!" The decoy was probably a little slow off the mark in making its attack, and it probably telegraphed its intention more clearly than it ought to have, but then again... it was a clone, after all. Meanwhile, CourseMan himself was doing some similar, though more quietly, behind the Candle, crouching down low and aiming more carefully this time. At the same time as his decoy shouted out, Courser thrust forward. His right hand held the watery dagger in a back-handed grip, but his left had joined it too, putting palm to hilt in a way that let him both stabilise and strengthen the strike as he drove it towards the centre of the abundantly waxy virus.

As soon as he reached full extension with his arms, Courser pulled back again, kicking off hard with his toes and springing up from his crouch with as much reflexive speed as he could muster, turning over neatly in a small flip that gave him enough momentum to wash back and around in an arc once his feet touched and resumed their water eddy, to a spot at least partially behind one of the long-since joined up stalacto-stalagmite columns.

In his ear he heard Jenny Mumble something at him.

"Something's beeping. Sounds like a time bomb." As unsafe as the situation was, he did his best not to respond sharply at the poor girl, instead taking a breath before he answered, in between stealing a glance from behind his position to see how the battlefield fared.

"Yes Jen. I imagine that's exactly what it is. I'll get to it in due Course, but I'd rather take care of the things actively trying to kill me first. Don't worry, this knife should be good for a little longer yet. It's working out fine so far." He sincerely hoped he had managed to make his voice sound more confident than he felt.


*) Vengeance is Mine! (Self-Decoy; Lime-lighting an attack in front of the HauntedCandle)
1) Take Aim
2) AquaKnife: (60(+5)Aqua, Slash, B → A (3 uses left) at HauntedCandleA)
3) Dodge (The force flows from needless acrobatics!)
CourseMan's decoy successfully takes advantage of the HauntedCandle's trigger-happy blasting impulse: the flaming spirit swallows the bait, and the faux-Courser swallows a healthy dosage of fiery destruction. More ground melts away, leaving yet more lava directly in front of the candle-virus. The real CourseMan takes the opportunity to plunge his AquaKnife deep into layers upon layers of hot wax. His foe roars in agony as the knife buries itself farther and farther until finally, the Navi feels something deep inside the virus give, and the HauntedCandle explodes into a flurry of pixels and data clusters. The sudden lack of resistance sends Courser stumbling forward ever so slightly, but his artful acrobatics (however unnecessary) manage to save him from stumbling straight into the just-open pit of lava.

The Handy, choosing not to interfere with the duel, simply waits floating above its bed of coals, grasping rhythmically at the air. The CountBomb, set just near it, ticks down another digit, the beeping noises increasing in pitch as the detonation nears ever closer. Defences might be a good idea!

HauntedCandleA: DELETED
HauntedCandleB: DELETED
Handy: 80HP [Coal]

CountBomb: 100HP [1 Turn to detonation] [Coal]

65% Normal (Soft Rock)
25% Coal (20%: Large vein under Handy, 5%: patch near CourseMan)
15% Lava (Two small patches behind CourseMan, one right beside him)

CourseMan.EXE: 100HP [Normal] [AquaKnife: 3/6 uses]


Soft Rock: The walls and floor of this cave are but a thin layer of steady rock, concealing untold amounts of Coal, Lava, and goodness knows what else. Attacks that make contact with the walls or ground in any manner will break off more of the Soft Rock, and reveal what it was hiding.
With the last major opponent defeated, Courser took a moment to catch his breath. That wasn't so bad after all. His breather didn't last very long, unfortunately, as the slow beeping increased to a more dangerous trill. Oh, right. That.

He took a peek out from his cover, but it became a longer, more curious stare as he watched the Handy, drifting idly by, while its bomb counted down. It didn't honestly seem that aggressive, really. Just, floating there, doing its own thing in between bombs, and... right, bombs. Taking a gamble, he darted out, getting closer so he could look at the thing. On the whole, it seemed like a simple device, but simple, in this case, meant no easy way to stop it from exploding, save raw power, which was something, Courser didn't like to admit, he was a little lacking in. He looked again to the handy, wondering what it was going to do about the blast, but a word from Jenny to him moving again.

"Are you going to try and glare it into not exploding?" He jumped back, trying to think.
"No, Jenny, I'm not." An idea came to him and he took a deep breath. "In fact, I don't think I'm going to stop it at all. Just watch." More than just his pride and personal image were on the line. As important as saving face was, actually saving his actual face was far moreso, as far as Courser was concerned. He really hoped this worked...

Drawing up water from his whips, he transferred the dagger to his left hand, and held the right out, flat in front of him ,pointing his palm towards the bomb. The water spread, rushing out and stretching wide into a broad curve that started as a small, round disc, but quickly grew to become a full-sized field of rushing water in front of him, guarding the navi from head to toe. It looked only thin, but the water rushed quickly outward from the boss of the shield, until it reached the edges, where it gathered again to keep cycling, and between the speed of the flow, and the boost of stability it got from his actual shielding program, it actually formed a fairly solid wall. That size was about as large as he could spread the water, before it would become too weak to stop anything, but with luck, it would be enough.

A glance around the area, with its crumbling rock, gave Courser pause. Even if the explosion wouldn't get past his wall of water, there was nothing saying it wouldn't also bring half the cave down around him as well. He crouched down, the water eddy swirling at his feet violently. If anything unexpected did come his way, he planned to be ready to get out of said way before it got to him.

Next to the Handy, an entirely unconcerned Courser slipped out of the shadows. It put one hand to its chin as it looked first at the bomb, then the hand that placed it.
"You do know that thing's going to explode, right? It is going to explode, isn't it? And you're just sitting there? Bombs aren't god for your health you know. You sure you're safe there?" The clone continued to chat to the handy, though it reasons for doing so were hard to put any sort of reason to. "Are you sure you're qualified to be handling live explosives? I mean, really? Well I don't know what to say. You're either mad, or you know something I don't. either way, I think you're a braver man than I to sit there and watch it go, without any sort of protection. Let me shake your hand, sir." And with that, he did, indeed, extend a friendly hand to the, ah, Hand, of the Handy.

Courser was fighting the urge to hiss at his clone to stop messing around, which was particularly strange, since he was also the one controlling and speaking for the lone, too.


1) Shield [1-hit], facing between the bomb, and Courser.
2) Prepared Dodge (If rocks fall, don't die)
*) Decoy: chat to the handy about why it's just waiting. Shake hands?
3) Prepared Dodge (no rocks or rubble to the head please, or anywhere else)
In the dark, magma-lit cave, three things happened in very rapid succession. The first of which was the Handy...surprisingly enough, accepting the Decoy's request for a handshake. Of course, given how large the Handy was in relation to the Navi-sized hand it was shaking, it rather overestimated the firmness of its giant grip, and the last thing the decoy heard before the stress became too much for its fragile frame was the sickly crunch of a thoroughly crushed hand.

Secondly, the real CourseMan set up a shield. The aquatic barrier didn't seem all that stable, especially given the threat of what was to come, but Courser felt confident enough to stand his guard.

Lastly, the CountBomb's beeping stopped. There was a tiny instant of calm following the final note, that somehow felt like an eternity to Navi and virus alike; in the split-second where the data contained within the CountBomb reached critical mass and prepared to break free of its containment, the spacetime of the Net felt almost seemed to bloat. CourseMan found himself with far more time than he might've expected to properly appreciate the glowing explosive through his translucent Guard...and then time reasserted itself, and the inevitable happened.


It was all CourseMan could to to keep his shield up, and ride out the crushing pressure of the blast wave. His Guard held up just long enough to absorb the blast front, dissipating immediately after and relieving precisely none of the intense heat left behind by the explosion. If the room had been hot before, the amount of heat the explosion gave off made it nigh-unbearable. The smoke cleared, and CourseMan could see a large crater in the floor of the cave, the soft rock easily shredded by the blast force. The Handy simply grasped at nothing from its little raised coal-bed, across the crater from the Navi.

It felt as though the worst of it might be over, but an ear-splitting crack announced itself from the cave at large. Fissures started spreading from the deep hole in the ground, spreading up the wall and onto the ceiling in seconds. The pressure from the weakened stability had to go somewhere, and a great deal of heavy rocks plummeted from the ceiling, pulverizing the ground even further. CourseMan's nimble feet carried him away from the carnage, but the worst was yet to come. Each and every crack in the ground, and even some in the walls started glowing cherry-red, with the initial crater now more resembling a flaming portal to hell.

And that was when the lava came. Flooding through the cracks at an astounding rate, the entire cave was completely overrun with molten rock, as the cavern began systematically collapsing. More rocks crashed down from the ceiling, speeding up the process further still, and before CourseMan knew it, a burning pain from his feet announced a splash of magma over his shoes. Acting quick, he was lucky enough to evade the liquid fire just as it washed over where he'd been standing, dodging over to the relative safety of a stalagmite...but how long would even that remain safe?

Almost mockingly, the Handy didn't react at all. Even as it spontaneously burst into flame from the hot coals it was floating under, it simply dove into its portal and retrieved yet another CountBomb, setting it down with a clang of metal on stone. If one CountBomb had been enough to cause this much carnage in this fragile little cavern, what would another do?

HauntedCandleA: DELETED
HauntedCandleB: DELETED
Handy: 70HP [Coal]

CountBomb: 100HP [2 Turns to detonation] [Coal]

10% Normal (Soft Rock) [Two large stalagmites, safe...for now...]
10% Coal (Raised bed under Handy and CountBomb)
80% Lava (Everywhere else, rising!)

CourseMan.EXE: 95HP [Normal] [AquaKnife: 3/6 uses]


Soft Rock: The walls and floor of this cave are but a thin layer of steady rock, concealing untold amounts of Coal, Lava, and goodness knows what else. Attacks that make contact with the walls or ground in any manner will break off more of the Soft Rock, and reveal what it was hiding.

Rising Lava: Every turn, more and more ground becomes unsafe. The Handy's Coal bed will be the first to go, followed by CourseMan's stalagmite...and soon after, the entire cave could be flooded.

Falling Rocks: Rocks continue falling from the ceiling every turn; taking an action to dodge potential dangers from above may be a wise choice.
In the moment of hanging time, just as the count hit zero and the bomb detonated; for that eternity where everything stood still, far too far gone beyond the point of changing course, there was a moment of crystal clarity, just long enough for Courser to realise something: this was a terrible, terrible plan.

Then the moment was over, and the blast drove his watery guard away with the shearing force of, well, an explosion. His eyes watered and he choked on smoke from the blast as he did his best to dodge the explosive debris and falling rock, and the sky-rocketing heat made the air feel like it was literally burning in the aqua navi's lungs. By the time his vision cleared, the cave was filling up with boiling magma. As he made for higher ground, one of his shadows blinked into sigh on the bed of coals, and looked around in a state of panic.
"You're on your own, boss. I was never very good at 'the floor is lava!'" A moment later the residual heat from the coals forced the distinctly non-fire decoy out of existence again, but CourseMan was too preoccupied to notice.

"CourseMan!? Are you alright? What happened? I heard an explosion... oh god, there's lava everywhere!" Jenny sounded increasingly panicked, despite the fact that she was in a comfortable bed, and Courser himself was clinging to a spike of unstable rock over a boiling chamber full of lava, with a vindictive hand virus and another bomb primed to go off. All things considered, Courser thought he kept his voice entirely reasonable.
"I noticed!" Loud and slightly shouty was entirely reasonable, given the circumstance, right?
"Um..! Here, here!" More of their newer chip data flowed to the out-of-his-element navi and Courser braced himself for what he'd need to do to make use of them. Certainly, his knife wasn't going to help as long as he was stranded on an ever-shrinking spire of rock.

More rocks were falling from the ceiling, and the lava continued to rise as Courser sighted on the small island of coal with its two passengers. He leapt towards them, away from his perch, though rather than a ledge-to ledge leap, his body arced, more in preparation for a dive. It was clear he was going to fall just short of the small bastion of coal, and for a moment it looked like he planned to dive hands and head first into the molten lava, but as he began to drop his left hand opened, thrusting a small globe of water just ahead of him.

It hit the lava just ahead of his reaching fingertips, causing a sharp crack and hiss of smoke and steam, before the tiny sea seed burst, spreading fresh, deep water out from where it touched in a broad circle, converting much of the lava, and the coal ledge in the process. Courser hit the water even as it was still spreading and dived deep, stopping only as he reached the lowest point of the converted sphere. Where the conversion ended, the weight of water had flash-cooled the magma into a solid bottom, but he wasn't game enough to actually touch down on it; it was probably still scalding hot.

Looking up again from deep beneath the surface, he set his sights on the countbomb. It didn't much matter to him whether it, or the Handy, sank or swam at this point; he was not going to tangle with more explosions of that magnitude. Once he had reoriented himself and lined up, CourseMan thrust his hands outwards and upwards at the explosive, palms out and slightly cupped. He'd never used this one before, but the motion felt right as the data surged up his arms and welled in the base of each palm. A focused wave of pulsing, sonic energy rippled out through the water with enough force to push him back slightly, aimed directly for the bomb itself. With any luck, the resulting fall off from the pulsar would catch the Handy in its wake as well; Courser was hopeful: they had been right next to each other, after all.

One way or the other it didn't seem like his aquatic haven was going to last long. If the lava kept pouring in at this rate, it would swiftly reclaim his pool in the form of fast-cooled rock. He needed to get well clear of the cave-in, and fast, but not while that bomb was still ticking.


*) Decoy: Above my pay grade!
1) Dodge/Dive in deep (simultaneous with 2)
2) SeaSeed: (Med Sea Terrain at point of contact, OR 10damage and single panel if targeted on enemy)
3) Pulsar1: (70, Object Triggered Blast2, A(Blast B), @ CountBomb)
Everything seems to converge on CourseMan at once: a sizable chunk of the ceiling caves away, and his footing starts to slip...and he just barely manages to set himself up with a safe landing spot; in defiance of physics, rather than the outpouring of water being rapidly converted into enough steam to make the entire cavern implode around them, a sizable sphere of lava was neatly converted just in time for the snappy-dressed sailor man to dive inside. The water instantly heated to hot-spring temperatures and the lava gradually started trying to seep through the little ball, but there was just enough water to flash-cool some of the surrounding lava into rock. The aquatic Navi was safe, for the moment.

Capitalizing on the moment of opportunity, CourseMan takes the time to prime a new attack. His sonic wave rips through the water (hey, water does conduct sound after all!) and smacks into the CountBomb; the ticking is replaced by the ringing squeal of a Pulsar successfully going off. Whether it was the burning of the molten rock rushing over it, the flames already coating it, or the force of the shockwave, one of the above managed to put the Handy to a very explosive rest.

HauntedCandleA: DELETED
HauntedCandleB: DELETED

CountBomb: DELETED

10% Normal (Soft Rock) [Two large stalagmites, nearly swallowed!]
25% Sea [Egg in the middle of the lava, getting swallowed!]
90% Lava [Everywhere else, rising!]

CourseMan.EXE: 95HP [Sea] [AquaKnife: 3/6 uses]

Rewards: CountBomb1, 600z

Quote ()

HP: 100
Properties: Anchored
Object Damage: 50 + Impact
Damage Method: Telekinesis
Attack Damage: 100 + To-All-Clause
Accuracy: S
Description: Bomb placed in enemies area that explodes after two turns
Duration: 2 turns or until destroyed.
Element: Null

Beeping silenced, there was no sound in the once-battleground but for the liquid rushing of the rising magma. In a small mercy, the glowing pool was throwing off more than enough light to illuminate the walls of the cavern. CourseMan's entrance into the little hellhole was completely submerged in magma by now, leaving escape the way he'd come impossible. Another tunnel loomed across the cavern; his improvised magma-rock fishbowl had cooled enough of a foothold that, were he feeling daring, he could use to leap to the stalagmite, and from there to the exit.

...That is, until another series of rockfalls, this one particularly violent, carved out enough ceiling to expose what appeared to be some kind of tunnel, crossing right overhead. A stalactite loomed ever-so-temptingly right near the dark entrance...but even the bottom of the jutting rock was quite high up, and that's not getting into the kind of climbing skill that would be necessary to manouvre oneself up into the little opening. Attempting the feat would go screaming past brave, blow by brave, and land somewhere in the field of sheer the lava rose, the question begged, how lucky did CourseMan feel in that little cavernous hellhole?

The 'Safe' Route: Lava hopscotch! (Don't burn your feet!)
The 'WTF' Route: Up and out?! (Is it even possible?!)
Despite the fact that the counting bomb fizzled and the virus that placed it was reduced to junk, it didn't truly feel like th4e battle was over, or that anything had calmed, from CourseMan's perspective. The lava was still rising, and quickly encroaching on his have of rapidly heating up water, and the rumble and shake of the rockfall hadn't grown any less. More than anything, the aqua navi was truly beginning to regret letting that first explosive detonate.

Cautiously, he let himself rise to the surface of his pool, keeping an eye above for more falling rocks just in case. He kept a low profile, crouched and spread with just his toes and one hand pressed against the surface of the shrinking water, with the hand bearing his knife free. The lava bubbled all around and the cave rumbled as more rocks fell. Anywhere would be better than here, right about now, but that left the issue of how to get there, and stop being 'here'.

A backward glance was all he needed to know that the way back was lost, and the way forward didn't seem much better. About then, the most violent shake and crumble yet caved in more of the space, chunks of rock sending lava splashes dangerously close to him, but they revealed something else as well; an upper tunnel that, as a feature most notable to his current eye, was not full of lava. Up was also the direction that would take him away from the rising lake of certain death, but, how to get up there?

Above, another courser slipped into sight, clutching the top of a stalactite right near the opened hole, with one foot braced for support lower down. He looked up into the tunnel, then back down to CourseMan.

"Looks safe boss. You've gotta make the jump though, come on!" The decoy slipped around the precarious perch until he was on the side nearest his navi, leaning out and reaching a hand down. "You can't stay there, sir!" It would have been really nice if the clone's supporting gesture could have been an actual hand he could grab.

In the few seconds he had, Courser tried to gauge the work he'd need to pull off to make it. It went beyond brave confidence and deep into foolhardy... but then, he came here today with only one goal in mind, and two ways of achieving it. Either he could suffer and fail, and help Jenny feel a bit better through some mutual hardship... Or, he could be spectacular, and flush with the dashing defiance of insurmountable and improbably odds, all with grace, charm and a dare-devil grin. There was no room for middle ground with his mission today, and this gamble was a perfect example of that. Daring heroics and foolhardiness occupied the same turf anyway, right?

The thought steeled his nerves and the daring grin found its way back onto his lips. If ever he'd needed to be dashing and daring, this would be it, and he was damn well going to give it his all.
"Then you'd best get out of my way!" He called back tot he clone, and gathered himself. The water of the pool eddied and fluctuated around him. His ability to manipulate water that wasn't his own was far less, but every little bit of extra oomph would count here. By the time he sprang up towards the hanging spike, the jump was assisted by a sharp burst of most of the water in his puddle exploding up and out along with him. The decoy vanished as the real Courser launched himself at its position, one hand finding the tip of the formation and curling around it as his momentum carried him past.

The all or nothing adrenalin rush held him tight as the motion carried him once around the spike, hand sliding up along with him, as he curled his body in, until he 'landed' with both feet braced together in a crouch against a point near the top, looking up and outward towards the broken edge of the upper tunnel. Another clone was there, lying at the lip, a hand reaching our towards him, as though it was ready to catch. Courser felt a growled shout escape his throat as he kicked off from the stalactite, reaching towards the lip with his extended hand. The challenging grin was plastered to his face, determined and generally defiant of the hundreds of ways everything might go horribly wrong for him; the most likely was that the spike itself would give out under the force of him kicking off it, but beyond that, he might not make the last jump, or the edge itself might crumble even if he grabbed it. All of this was set to the back of his mind as unimportant as he reached, fingers outstretched, for his goal.

((Onward and Upward! .... Maybe))
Against all odds, CourseMan's hands wrapped around the lip of the opening, and not a moment too soon; a quick look down confirmed that the last of the solid ground in the cavern had been completely submerged, leaving nothing but a glowing lava pit. The rock in CourseMan's hands, though rough and craggy to the touch, was mercifully solid, and he heaved himself up into the tunnel without issue.

Lit up by tiny red rocks that resembled luminescent rubies, the two-way passage was lit enough that seeing wouldn't be a problem. The question was, which way to travel? One path faded into shadows, the way beyond just out of view...but every few seconds, a muffled clang of metal on stone echoed down the tunnel...and less frequently, a much more startling BOOM of some manner of explosive. In the other direction, no sounds but a low pulse almost like a heartbeat sounded, but the path was much more visible thanks to a red glow in the throat of the pathway.

Left: *clang ting KA-BOOM*
Right: *ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump...*
As Courser gripped the edge with one hand, and managed to haul himself up and away from the swiftly filling lava room of death, he rolled over onto his back and laughed at the ceiling for a moment or two. I couldn't quite believe that he'd actually made it, in the end. Fortunately for all concerned, he recovered his composure after a few deep breaths and picked himself up, dusting down his coat and stretching his arms.

"You're right mad, you know that, boss?"
"Yeah, you're going to get us all killed." Two clones slipped out of the shadows to either side of the navi and neither seemed too pleased, though the left one was more smirking and shaking his head than annoyed. Courser waved them away.
"Oh hush, the both of you. I made it. And I looked pretty fantastic doing it too, didn't I, Jen?" He smirked showing teeth as both of the clones faded away. The response from his operator wasn't quite as enthusiastic as he was hoping for, but at least she sounded a bit perked up and distracted.

"That was pretty cool... I was worried for a bit there. Are you alright? Do you want to come out?" Her tone said she was still worried, but Courser stretched and laughed. It was mostly bravado, and he was still quite afraid underneath, but no sense letting Jenny see that.
"I'm fine, Jen, don't you worry about me. I think I'm going to keep exploring." Hopefully to somewhere with no lava... though there seemed to be small chance of that, around here.
"Well, alright, if you're sure. You're being very brave." Her words made him chuckle, and he winked.
"Anything to cheer up a beautiful young lady!"

Before he set off, though, CourseMan took a moment to examine the glowing rocks in the wall. If he was heading deeper into the caves, it might get quite dark, and he had no lights, but maybe... He honed the edge of one of his wave whips to a narrow edge and began trying to pry one of the stones out of the wall. If he could free one or two and take them with him, then he'd have something small, at least, to light his way if he ended up somewhere without inbuilt lighting. Whether that endeavour was a success or not, he paused to consider his options. the loud boom from one direction helped him make up his mind quickly, though. This navi had had more than enough of explosions for the time being, thank you very much. He set off in the other direction, towards the more rhythmic thumping.

((Ready for anything))
CourseMan attempted to pry the glowing rock from the wall, only to find his wave whip shriek and hiss with steam as it tried to work the stone from the wall. He was able to pry it loose, but given that they were apparently burning hot to the touch, trying to directly touch the lights may not have been the best idea.

The lady-killer continued along his chosen path, forgoing explosions for a pulsing beat and glowing light. The heat intensifies to a degree that, having just come from the flooding room, he would be very familiar with...and his hopes for no lava would be dashed upon opening up into yet another cavern filled with glowing, molten rock. Contrary to the previous cave, there was already a very sizable pool opened up in the middle of this one, though thankfully it didn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. A pentagon of spires, made of what looked to be burning coal, jutted from the magma, with one more marking the exact centre of the proverbial ring of fire. Only a thin strip of stable ground existed for CourseMan's safe footing, wrapping around the pool...and across the pool rested the source of the curious thumping noise.

A Tromby, at almost comical odds with its clearly brassy design, blared its horn away, only for a thudding timpani beat to issue forth instead. The low heartbeat turned into a thundering roar that trembled CourseMan's virtual heart, freezing him in his dress shoes. As he watched, two Mettfires appeared from around the pentacle of coal spires, wailing and waving their staffs in the air along to the drumbeat. Above them, a FirePhoenix hovered majestically in the middle of the cavern, scattering embers with every beat of its burning wings. It threw its head back and let loose a powerful, sorrowful cry, adding to the power of what was clearly a ritual.

Finally, the firebird stopped its cry and focused its regal gaze on CourseMan, noticing the intruder. The other three viruses stopped in their tracks, their chanting and drumming interrupted. Then, as a warning shot, one Mettfire darted behind a pillar, and suddenly a trio of burning meteors dropped from the stone ceiling, slamming into the ground by the Navi's feet as a warning shot.

=Ritual Performers=
MettfireA: 100HP [Lava]
MettfireB: 100HP [Lava]
FirePhoenix: 110HP [Lava] [Omnishoes]
Tromby: 90HP [Normal]

Spires A-F: 100HP each [Each spire comprises 5% of Coal terrain; upon destruction, Coal terrain will revert to Lava]

60% Lava [Large pool]
30% Coal [6 5% spires in the Lava pool; five arranged in a pentagon, one in the centre]
10% Normal [Ring around the Lava pool]

=Ritual Interrupter=
CourseMan.EXE: 95HP [Normal]

The sharp hiss of water flash steaming against the stone made Courser exceptionally glad he hadn't opted to touch any of them with his bare hands; gloves or not, that would likely leave a mark. He held the one he had managed to free away from his body, while it hissed and sizzled at the water encasing it, swiftly losing its glow the more it cooled. So much for that plan. He let it drop to the ground before continuing.

Having just climbed away from a whole room full of lava, Courser paused and winced as his choice for direction brought him face to face with another pool of the stuff. At least this time it wasn't pouring in from all sides, but even so... He drew a breath and moved in anyway; this was what he'd signed up for, after all.

What exactly it was he'd walked in on, Courser couldn't really say, but it looked old and ritualistic, and anything like that being conducted by viruses, in the middle of Hades, couldn't be good. Not for him, anyway. About to shout out, the notes of the music sent a strangely out of place chill through him, and the call froze in his throat, much like the rest of his movements. The hold lasted only a moment, but it was enough to get him noticed by the ritualists, and apparently they didn't want his company.

He jumped back from the crash down of small meteors and his mind joined the unpleasant dots between the horn's music being able to hold him in his tracks, and burning rocks falling from the ceiling. He silently thanked Rachel again for the basic database of common virus lore she'd programmed him with, but while it let him identify the Mettfire's and the Tromby, the fire bird, clearly the biggest and most dangerous virus here, wasn't in any of his lists, and that was cause for worry.

"Jen? I really don't think I want to stick around and let them finish whatever ritual they're working on there. For all I know they're trying to summon the Hades Dragon, and meeting a Cybeast really isn't on my agenda today." He kept his voice low, but there was no disguising the serious, urgent tone his words took on. Jenny... apparently wasn't seeing the urgency of the matter.

"Oh! I've read some reports about that. No-one really knows exactly what it looks like. Wouldn't it be great if we could get some good footage of it?" Her navi grit his teeth in the face of the viruses, who showed no inclination to wait for his polite conversation to end, and, with no chips incoming, raised one hand in front of himself. The left wave-whip drew in, then spread, more water welling up from his palm and reaching out to form a broad shell of fast-rushing water that ran out from the central boss in all directions, then cycled back around on the inside. Given the situation, he held his arm high, keeping the shield raised at an angle, so that the upper edge of it reached as far as covering his head, with the boss pointed directly at the unknown fire bird.

"How about I cut you deal, Jen..." He tried not to speak between clenched teeth, but even if his emergency system would keep him safe, pain was still pain, and he wanted to avoid cybeast levels of it, if he could. "Give me the chip we just got; if they do something interesting before it goes off, then you'll get your show, sound fair?" It took all his calm to stop from making a vexed sound as she giggled.

"Aww, alright. I thought you didn't like explosions any more though, hmm?" He wanted snap back, at first, but she had giggled, and that meant she was suitably distracted from her own discomforts, which was what he wanted, after all. He did his best to grin for her, despite the circumstance.
"Oh, I think we can make an exception, just this once. Besides, I'm sure we've moved far enough from the cave in earlier, by now." Had they? He hadn't really moved all that far. Courser did the most sensible thing he could once he felt her send him the requested chip: he tried not to think about it.

Instead, he did his best to dart towards the nearest spire, and block his line of sight with the viruses arrayed against him. The water eddy under his feet kicked high as he made the short dash, one whip trailing behind him as he held the shield up.

"So! What're you all doing here then, huh?" He shouted as he moved, putting on as much of a comfortable, casual air as he could. This navi knew what he was doing. This navi wasn't fussed by them or their fire, and lava, and strange rituals. No sir, This navi was completely in control. His main goal was to get to cover before the Tromby played another immobilising note; he dind't plan to move once he was there anyway, and could do his best to ignore the heart-clutching sensation that went along with the freeze.

Provided eh reached it, CourseMan skidded a sharp turn, putting his back to the spire with the shield over his head, but a second Courser continued on without slowing, re-appearing form the other side of the pillar as if he'd never slowed. This decoy also held a shield raised high, but the decoy wasn't equipped with the code structure to actually make it work like one.

"Because you know... Looks kinda dark and creepy if you ask me!" The clone continued where Course himself had fallen silent, darting on and past the next pillar in the circle, taunting as he went. "If you're cooking something, I've got a really great Shrimpy stew recipe you should try out!" It feigned taking cover behind the third pillar in the loop, provided it made it that far, but peeked out to meet eyes with the viruses it was trying to banter with.

While this was going on, courser himself moved his other hand close to the ground from his cover point, setting the data from the chip as delicately as he could. What actually materialised was quite small, considering the punch it claimed to pack. Coming from Courser's hand, it took the form of a round sea mine, with many short, blunt-ended protrusions that should have been contact triggers on a real mine, but in this case actually served more to let it stay balanced and stable on dry land. An electronic panel was visible on the face nearest Courser's hand, displaying a red-lit number two. While the mine was small enough to not be seen behind the pillar, it also, quite unfortunately, began a distinctly audible ticking. Courser winced; he'd forgotten about that aspect of the count bombs. Oh well, it might get lost beneath the Tromby's music, if he was lucky.


C1) Shield (1-hit shield, raised at an upward-covering angle)
C*) Decoy: Continue movement loop around the circle, taunting all the way, to cover behind the rear-most one, if he makes it that far.
C2) Dodge (Move if required), to behind nearest spire, breaking LoS with FirePhoenix
C3) CountBomb1: (100Hp object, 100 To-All(enemies) after 2 turns, S), placed at feet, behind Spire
CourseMan's shield didn't exactly look confidence-inspiring, but it was certainly a good thing he'd thought to raise it up: the FirePhoenix was high enough above surface level that it spotted the faux-Courser appearing from the shadows, and it strafed around to eye the Navi with a distinctly unimpressed air. It spread its wings with a piercing cry, unleashing a burning aura in its own likeness at the intruder; the attack collided with CourseMan's shield with a gout of hissing steam, annihilating the wave whip but leaving him unharmed.

Undeterred, the dapper gent went to place his CountBomb down behind the spire, letting it clink to the ground.

The Mettfires darted to the Tromby, clearly in the midst of discussion with it. It somehow bent its rigid-looking metal neck in a nod, and heaved back as though taking a deep breath. The drums issued forth in a sonic blast, and CourseMan found himself unable to move, locked in place by the powerful beat. At once, both Mettfires happily bounced across the lava, coming to rest right up against pillars of their own and raising their staffs to the sky. A horde of meteors appeared from the darkness, guided by the Mettfires' intent to rain down upon the interrupter...sadly, the two of them had entirely different ideas on which one was the interrupter.

The decoy was obliterated mid-taunt by a trio of meteors; it had at least fooled one of the Mettfires. Two more crash into the dirt and stone around the real CourseMan, glowing like hot coals for an instant before vanishing, but the last slams home against CourseMan's handsome jacket, scattering painful embers everywhere from the impact. The Mettfire responsible for the hit stood back up and raised its staff in triumph; the other beguiled one gave the spire before it a disappointed thwack.

=Ritual Performers=
MettfireA: 100HP [Lava] [Behind Spire D]
MettfireB: 100HP [Lava] [Behind Spire E]
FirePhoenix: 110HP [Lava] [Omnishoes]
Tromby: 90HP [Normal]

Spires A-F: 100HP each [Each spire comprises 5% of Coal terrain; upon destruction, Coal terrain will revert to Lava]
CountBomb: 100HP [Normal] [2 Turns 'til Boomtown] [Behind Spire A]

60% Lava [Large pool]
30% Coal [6 5% spires in the Lava pool; five arranged in a pentagon, one in the centre]
10% Normal [Ring around the Lava pool]

=Ritual Interrupter=
CourseMan.EXE: 65HP [Normal] [Burn5] [Paralyzed] [Shield Broken]
CourseMan felt his arm whip back from the recoil of the Phoenix's fire blast, his hand struggling to refresh and reform its normal watery shell after the shield evaporated. The force of the collision was something he felt all the way to his feet, and he didn't much fancy taking another one. The sound of raining meteors wasn't particularly comforting as he struggled to bring his combat systems back up to scratch, the water in his left hand gradually spreading back out and beginning to extend down into a fresh whip.

It wasn't fast enough, though, as the rain of burning rocks went from over the other side, with his wing man, to dangerously close. The last crashed down over his shoulder, leaving a lingering sense of fire and driving him down to one knee with a grunt. Not good. He could still feel some of the errant embers under his clothes and down the back of his collar, burning uncomfortably as they cooled.

The fire bird above was watching him, and he cast an eye back at it as he forced himself to his feet.
"Huh... no flies on you, eh? Can't blame a man for trying though, right?" He kept his voice low, even so; there was no telling how long the MettFire's would stay distracted.

"I'm sure he can! You'd best watch it, or this expedition's going to get a whole lot shorter right quick!" The other CourseMan called out to him from behind the pillar on the opposite side of the area, ducking out for long enough to gesture at the two MettFire's. The action itself was a casual turn of his hand so he could raise his first and second fingers at them in a reversed 'v'. The first time Jenny had seen the gesture, she hadn't understood it, so courser had explained it to her as meaning simply 'You missed me'. It wasn't really that far from the, slightly rougher, original meaning, and it served well enough, all things considered.

One was or the other, he decided that the best course would be to get moving and try to at least make himself harder for the fire bird to hit, and prepared himself to dash further around the ring. Even as he made to move, however, another soul-shuddering tremor sounded from the Tromby and it sent a tight, immobilising sensation through the navi, and sending him back to one knee with a gasp. He tried to pick himself up, but all he managed was another pained, struggling sound of effort, and very little actual movement.

"Courser? Courser! What's happened, are you all right?" Jenny's voice cut over the blare of sound and Courser tried to grit his teeth and answer her.
"I'm... I can't... I can't get up. That... it's that Tromby, it's doing something... not letting me move." Not really the most cool or in control response he might have mustered, but it was the best he could do for the moment. Across the way, his clone came out from around the pillar and cupped both hands to his mouth, shouting.

"Oi, HotWings! You're wasting your time attacking the boss! You know he's just going to keep blocking you, right? You can't put a scratch on us!" He lowered his hands enough to flick his collar with his thumbs and chuckle. After a second, it looked down to the pillar that Courser was hiding behind. "Hey Boss... you want to do something about all this lava, maybe? It's really not fun stuff, you know."

Course himself wasn't feeling quite so cocky, and the first thing he did was focus as much water pressure as he could into a fresh warding over his head. Despite the earlier blowback, the extended shell of running water reformed, though this time it bore and even more curved shape. The chances of him being able to avoid things directly were slim until he could shake off whatever the Tromby had done to him, so he focused more on making the shield itself better equipped to divert incoming shots. He looked up at it through the Phoenix above, and allowed himself a wry smirk and a shrug. It wasn't like his clone was lying.
"Oh, I can help with that!" Jenny sounded hopeful all of a sudden, and it took him a moment to realise that she was responding to what his decoy had said, rather them him. A moment later the data from her terrain chip reached him. Well, less lava was always a good thing, in his book, and he didn't have much else to do for the moment while he struggled to regain control of his body. The wave whip on his right hand dissipated as the seed formed. Useful as they were for fighting, sometimes you needed your own fingers, after all. He gauged its weight carefully, then, still holding his shield high, Courser struggled to lean out around his pillar far enough so that he could whip his hand forward and fling the seed to land directly at the base of the central spire, causing it to crack open and spread, converting the lava pool into a much more pleasing pool of fresh water.

It they were actually preforming some sort of dark ritual, that probably well and truly threw a spanner in it, he guessed, but that likely wouldn't make them any happier at him.
"Jen, I still can't quite move properly, but I think it's fading. Can you give me something to keep them on the defensive for a few more seconds?" It was a quick mutter, and he kept his eyes focused on the phoenix above him, looking through the rushing water of his shield, but fortunately, it seemed like she was ready and anticipating, because the data arrived almost as soon as he finished speaking. "Great, thanks Jenny." He managed to push himself up to a suitably more gallant defensive pose on one knee, shield high and with his right hand back as the wave whip reformed and stretched out to its full length.

He fed it the chip data and felt the stream of water split and branch, forming high-pressure, self-contained spikes of faster-moving water within its flow. They started out as man fragmented slivers of circling current, but he pulled them together and crushed the pressure tighter and tighter until three large, tangible barbs stood out along the main column of the watery tendril. Still focusing on the fire bird, he swung his arm up and around, towards it, letting the wave-whip curl around the outside of his shield, and then expels the three water spikes in a sudden burst of pressure as the moving arc pointed them at his target. They raced up towards it at an impressive speed while Courser pulled himself more tightly behind the shield, gathering himself to stand and start moving again. He was nearly there. Beside him, the little mine's display clicked over from two, to one, and Courser took a deep breath.


C1) Shield up! [1-hit Shield]
C*) Decoy, mocking and taunting for all he's worth.
C2) SeaSeed: (Med Sea Terrain, centred on lava pool)
C3) AquaNeedle1: (20 (25 -> 50 against fire)x3Aqua, Variable, Drop-type, B all at FirePhoenix)
For all the FirePhoenix's majesty, it seemed quite unable to learn from past mistakes; it launched another fiery aura at CourseMan, who once again raised a shield to defend himself. The embers left behind by the meteor strike seared at him, but he remained unscathed from the PhoenixShot. The firebird looked most irritable at having been denied yet again, giving a down-its-beak stare that screamed 'condescending' at the irritating decoy. If it could talk, more than likely it would be saying something like, "At least I have manners...and HP."

In retaliation, CourseMan threw his SeaSeed, and like magic, a cooled-magma basin of water formed in the middle of the lava pit. The Mettfires shrieked in dismay, batting their staffs at the water as though splashing it would make it go away, and turned to give the perpetrator the dirtiest look he'd ever seen coming from things without proper faces. How exactly they got away with glaring without any sort of facial features, we may never know, but they most certainly weren't happy in the least.

The FirePhoenix turned his condescending stare down to eye the water, staring most displeased at it...and utterly failed to notice the barrage of razor-tipped water spikes descending from above; clearly, it never thought it would ever need to look up. One, two, three tore through it, and the regal bird burned itself away to nothing but damp ash. Any thoughts it might have had of rebirthing were dashed when the ashes kerplunked straight into the pool of water, doomed to never relight.

The Mettfires were caught up in glaring at CourseMan, and the Tromby was caught up in hopping about aimlessly. Only the Navi was aware, and thus able to worry about the CountBomb, slowly ticking down behind its pillar. Oh well, at least he wasn't trapped in Tromby-induced paralysis anymore.

=Ritual Performers=
MettfireA: 100HP [Lava] [Behind Spire D]
MettfireB: 100HP [Lava] [Behind Spire E]
FirePhoenix: DELETED
Tromby: 90HP [Normal]

Spires A-F: 100HP each [Each spire comprises 5% of Coal terrain; upon destruction, Coal terrain will revert to Lava]
CountBomb: 100HP [Normal] [1 Turn 'til Boomtown] [Behind Spire A]

35% Lava [Large donut-shape]
30% Coal [6 5% spires in the Lava pool; five arranged in a pentagon, one in the centre]
25% Sea [Donut hole in centre of Lava]
10% Normal [Ring around the Lava pool]

=Ritual Interrupter=
CourseMan.EXE: 50HP [Normal] [Shield Broken]
One of them had hit points and regal bearing, and the other had neither, but at the end of the day, it was still Courser's wing man that was left standing. As the ashes dropped into the pool beneath, the clone laughed and flicked his collar again, casting his own condescending glance at the remnants of the ashes as they dissipated.

"Told you..." With a small shake of his head, he turned his attention to the, apparently distressed MettFire's. A refresh from Courser boosted the clone's integrity back up without missing a beat and he called out to them as they fussed at the edge of the unwanted water.

"Don't worry, duckies, it doesn't bite! Well, not me anyway." He took a long leap backwards, arcing over gracefully across the ring of lava, to dive into the pool. When he surfaced, he raised both hands, palms inward, and waved the remaining viruses in. "Come on, give it a try, huh? Water's great!"

If his flagrant and casual mockery of their ruined ritual wasn't enough to incite the pair to rash retaliation, the incorrigible clone kicked himself high in the water and raised two fingers to his lips, blowing a kiss to the nearest one with a smirk.

Elsewhere, the real CourseMan was subtly making sure all his limbs were working properly again, and shaking out his shield arm after the jarring force of the second fire blast. He wasn't sure whether being able to move again, or having the strange fire bird dealt with was more of a relief; both bordered on cause for celebration at the moment.

Picking his moment, he darted out from the spire he was nearest and made a low-profile leap over the ring of lava, to dive in at roughly the same time his clone did, over the other side. While his decoy rose back to the surface, however, Courser himself let himself sink low, to the bottom of the pool, as he twisted and shook the remaining jagged embers from his clothes. The water was blissfully cool against the scorched patches, but alone it wouldn't do anything to patch him up. He didn't much care to admit it, but the hostile network was taking far more of a toll on him than he wanted it to, and he hadn't really found anything worth while to bring back for Jenny yet.

His major thought was for the MettFires, and their far too numerous meteors, but a second train of thought was equally concerned about the dangerously paralytic effects of the Tromby's base note. Crouched on the bottom, he raised one hand just above his head,letting his own water currents blend with the water around him to reform the high pressurised shell of swirling water over his body. With the extra water around, it ought to be able to divert anything that made it that far, much more easily, but he still doubted his ability to hold it steady through more than one meteor. The disk was easy enough to move, though, and he braced himself against the bottom of the pool, ready to dart one way or the other if he needed to.

It was his vague hope that, underneath the water's surface, and with the rapid motion of the various currents all around rushing in his ears, it might be enough to drown out the Tromby's music, but he knew it was mostly a vain hope. Still, he didn't need to hold out that much longer. Back on land, the counting mine's display clicked down again and Courser breathed the water deeply. Tick Tock.


C*) Decoy: Taunt, mock, and generally be a right scoundrel about messing up their plans.
C1) Movement: Dive in and stay low.
C2) Shield Up! [1-hit shield]
C3) Prepared to Dodge
Several things happened almost simultaneously:

    [li]CourseMan dove into a pool of his own creation, defending himself as best as he could from the depths.

    [li]One Mettfire got rightfully enraged at the aggravating faux-Courser, and sent its meteors right after it like clockwork; clearly it had understood the meaning of the gesture.

    [li]The other Mettfire spotted the original jumping in, and aimed its meteors accordingly. Two missed entirely, while the third one smashed against the current shielding CourseMan. Thankfully, no further damage was inflicted on his person.

    [li]The Tromby played its song, and the aquatic Navi found himself unable to move in his little watery hidey-hole.

  • The CountBomb ticked zero.

The last of these had, as it were, rather the most impact.


The cavern was utterly annihilated, spires crumbling and falling into the lava, wiping the viruses off the face of the Net, and sending a small wave of lava splashing out from Ground Zero. Fortunately for CourseMan, this sent the viral remnants splashing into his one-man ocean, ever so conveniently. Unfortunately for CourseMan, the radius of the lava wave included overtop his Sea eggshell, and a lid was flash-cooled over his pool. The darkness became complete; if the dapper gent had even a shred of claustrophobia about him, this was the perfect place to cultivate it...but hey, he got the Zenny, right?

=Ritual Performers=
MettfireA: KA-
MettfireB: -FREAKING-
FirePhoenix: DELETED

Spires A-F: KABOOM
CountBomb: KABOOM

65% Lava [Large donut-shape]
25% Sea [Donut hole in centre of Lava]
10% Normal [Ring around the Lava pool]

=Ritual Interrupter=
CourseMan.EXE: 50HP [Sea] [Submerged...but Trapped!]

Rewards: 1100z

A distinct rumbling could be felt through the walls of the dark egg, as the lava shifted and bubbled around CourseMan. Jacking out was a definite option at this was seeing what would come of this, if one was feeling particularly foolhardy brave.

<(Battle #3: ...Ready?)>