SafariMan's Zodiac Challenge

The vast expanse of Netfrica's network was known to hold many untamed savannas, where viruses roamed nearly unchecked, despite the attempts of many enterprising virus busters, who arrived from all corners to combat the menace. These hunters came with all manner of motivations, whether it to be culling the growing virus populations, their own personal training, or perhaps just the thrill of the hunt.

One would likely assume SafariMan's motivation was the third, but they would have to track him down and ask him to be sure. Surprisingly, the jack-in point where DragonierMan and Nightshade had been instructed to jack in was devoid of SafariMan and the various zodiac-themed hunters he had supposedly assembled. The only navi to be seen was one who would be vaguely familiar to DragonierMan: the strong, muscular figure of Roc, from the aerial forces, stood out amongst the tall brush.

With the gold and red plumage of her hair, as well as her feathered and winged navi-suit, it was a bit hard to mistake her for a rooster. That said, her talons evoked the images, but even they were much more suited to a predator than any kind of domestic fowl. She might strike a beautiful figure, if it weren't for her face: her eyes dumbly searched and her lips were parted in a snarl, with her fangs showing. The fresh data on her claws indicated she had already seen battle of some kind.

There was one other distinct feature to be found here in the wilderness: the clouds were partially obscured by signboard with propellers attached to the tops, each with cameras hanging below them. They were relatively soundless, but were extremely numerous, swarming about like flies at a distance, but almost man-sized from close up. As soon as the two jacked in, they would approach faster than Roc herself would notice them. "Please register by stating your zodiac sign clearly into the monitor," two of then prompted in unison.

There was another signboard floating just in the field of vision. Upon it could be read, quite confusingly:

Quote (SafariMan's Zodiac Challenge!)

Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 1
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
Two portals opened up near the designated meeting point. One on the ground and one in the air. DragonierMan and Magistrate came out of the ground portal, while Suzume and Aya, in her dragon form, followed through the aerial portal. Nightshade was possibly riding on Aya's dragon form with Suzume. As Drago was intercepted by swarming camera drones, the dragon circled overhead. Suzume and Aya were scanning the area from above as Magistrate scanned the area from the ground, their heads and bodies swiveling about as they took in everything around them.

Drago stopped in front of the two camera drones with a confident bluster in his movements. His body language suggested that the drones would be committing suicide if they tried to stop him. "My name is DragonierMan and you should have me registered as THE Dragon," he said. As he waited their confirmation he looked around from his position and spotted Roc. He raised a hand and beckoned her over. He opened his mouth to call out her name, but all that came out was "Uuhh!" and he dropped his hand slightly while he thought. Magistrate came up and whispered Roc's name into his ear just before he continued to make a fool of himself, having forgotten her name. "Oh yeah, hey Roc! Yeah, Roc! Over here!" he called out more confidently after that, his arm waving with renewed strength.

Suzume and Aya meanwhile, having located Roc, was looking for Pest. The dragon found a nice open plain nearby to Drago and the others to land on. She came down quickly and alighted upon the dusty ground, stirring up a cloud with her wing-beats. Suzume slid off the dragon's back with practiced grace and landed on her feet. She brushed her clothing and collected herself before walking over to where Drago was standing with Magistrate. She greeted Roc, who was probably heading over to their position. "Good morning Roc... er, afternoon? What time is it in Netfrica right now anyways?" she asked as she summoned a watch and started syncing it to Netfrica time.

Nightshade meanwhile would still be enjoying the company of Aya's dragon form. The little guy was still pretty excited about riding on her back and didn't want to hop off yet. "You know...if I were stronger I'd totally have asked you to be my dragon partner..." he mumbled as he gently petted Aya's neck. He just couldn't get enough of her smooth silky scales.

Seeing the drones approaching for a scan, he remembered that he was there for a mission. He was supposed to represent a sign in the chinese zodiac or something, tho with the refurbished dragonier armor he looked more like Dragonierman than anything. Slipping his boots off, upbuclking the gountlets and helmet, he stored them away. He would also take off the cape, as it kinda hid his tail from view. He would refuse to take off the chest plate for the time being though.

Wiggling his fuzzy paw feet, he was happily surprised that his body didn't cramp up despite wearing fullbody armor for the first time ever. He waved at the drones.

"Heyoo! I'm Nightshade. Nightshade.Rx and I'm the tiger representative!" He greeted, wiggling his tail back and forth non stop. Seeight as Suzume,Drago and Magistrate were busy, he simply took that time to enjoy dragon-Aya's company.
The drones accepted the answers of DragonierMan and NightShade in turn, adding in their designations to the roster, before puttering off to re-engage a seemingly random flight pattern.

For a moment, it seemed like Roc might return the favor and call the name of her briefly introduced acquaintance to mind. "You're that dragon..." she began, the name on the tip of her tongue. "Dragon bastard," she continued. What he had done to deserve being called a bastard was anyone's guess. At any rate, her mood seemed to even out a bit as she approached and stared at NightShade. "This cute little guy's a tiger? NightShade, huh?" she asked, tilting her head slightly as she tasted the data on her talons. "Well, I know this dragon bastard's tough. So I'll assume you are too," she smirked.

At Suzume's question, she narrowed her eyes and stared straight into the lowering sun for a moment. "Uuuh... I guess it's just about sunset in these parts. But look, I got somethin' way more important to talk about," she grunted, clicking her sharp teeth together. "That guy, SafariMan? I ain't heard a thing from him since we joined. Ain't seen the other navis either. Only two things I noticed: my messages are blocked -again- and whoever the Snake is, they lost their one point as soon as the event started practically. Oh, and there's viruses. So three things," she corrected herself, attempting to hold up three fingers, but finding her claw had only two appendages apart from the hooked talon nail on the bottom. "I saw some and the point of the contest is to delete these things, right? So I deleted some. My score didn't even budge, though, with all these flyin' scoreboards watching! Rrrr... half tempted to smash one."

She looked between the others, then motioned to NightShade. "Can you ride around with the dragons a little while longer? I figure our first step should be to find Pest. She's around here somewhere- kinda looks like she signed up for the contest even though she was supposed to hide- but I haven't met up with her yet. There's a couple'a landmarks around... where you guys wanna go first?"

In the distance, the two would see a couple of options: a mountain, with caves at its base... a plume of smoke as though a fire had started... and a forest in the distance. Right now Pest's location, as well as those of the other contestants, was as good as a guess.


Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 1
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
The Dragon: 1
Tiger: 1
Nightshade directed his overall fuzziness at his dragonic friend for the time being. Very much enjoying his positions on Aya's back, the little tiger glued himself to her neck and refused to leave her side. No amount of words would convince him to leave Aya's safety. The huge dragon could easily tell the new addition to their group was yearning for her almost undivided attention.

The only moment the fuzzy cat would leave Aya would be to meet Roc as shs addressed him for the first time. Like any Speed navi, the tiger pounced at her waist with extreme speed and huggled her with extreme prejudice. She was certainly looking super awesome. But nothing was going to top the dragonier family he had wiggled his way in.

"Night to meet ya too!" He squealed, taking in all the colors of her costume. Soon after that little show, it was time to get some more important matters dealt with. The little tiger like navi walked back into Aya's scaly embrace without a care in the world. He was extremely confident around such a powerful being like her. Sje could easily kill him in a single claw swipe if she wished so.

Placing a paw on Aya's scaly chest, Nighty turned his blue eyes towards Suzume and Drago, then to Aya.

"Me and Big Sister Aya will go check the fire. We are the fastest around here, so in case we need to double back or retreat it won't be a problem. Though I doubt anything around here can even think of trying to fight Big Sis. We'll be fine. You can also contact us by radio, so ping us if you need anything."

In one swift motion, Nightshade was back on Aya's back. He sure loved hanging out with her. He huggled tight on her neck for support.

"Let's go, big sis! I bet we can get there in no time!" He chuckled happily.

Suddenly, a jolt of Nightshade's energy would shoot through the dragon, something akin to an adrenaline rush, if she wished to make Nightshade's speed her own. It seemed the little fuzzball had the ability to transfer and overclock other entities.

"Woooo! Smell ya later!" Nighty stated pointing forward, ready for takeoff
"DragonierMan," DragonierMan corrected Roc. He didn't mind being called a 'Dragon bastard', since he kind of was, but he wanted to make sure Roc learned his actual name even if she continued to use it as a nickname. Everyone kind of looked at Nightshade as Roc made the assumption that he was tough just because the tiger navi was assigned the mission with Drago. Nobody moved to correct Roc's assumption. Nightshade's actions during the mission would show his mettle.

Suzume tried to sync with the Atomic Clock in Netfrica, and checking it against Roc's assumptions, while making a few beeping clicks on her watch. Meanwhile, the others paid more attention to what Roc was saying about what had been happening since her arrival. It seemed that prior to their arrival, several things had happened:

1) SafariMan hadn't shown himself yet.
2) None of the other registered members arrived in the same exact area, or had moved on for some reason.
3) Outgoing messages had been blocked.
4) The navi registered as the 'Snake' had lost his point. As everyone had seemed to register with a point, it seemed odd that he/she would have lost it.
5) Viruses pervaded the hunt location. Which, to be fair, was probably standard for what should be a hunt. However, the problem was that when Roc deleted some of those viruses, her score did not improve. Which was also odd if this was supposed to be a hunt.

Aya and Magistrate looked at each other and seemed to have an internal conversation, nodding and shaking their heads as they communicated on their own line. Eventually Magistrate filled in the rest on what they were discussing. "That is some troubling information," she began, unsurprisingly. "If what you are saying is true, it points to some potentially problematic scenarios."

"Such as?" Drago asked.

"Such as," Magistrate continued, "That SafariMan is hunting those registered. A short story by the title of The Most Dangerous Game would be the reference point for this accusation. It is about a big game hunter who gets bored of hunting, due to the lack of a perceived challenge. As such, he captures shipwrecked individuals near his island and gives them a chance to earn their freedom, and possibly other rewards, if they elude him for three days. As you all have started out with one point, viruses hunted does not count toward your score, and 'Snake' lost his/her point... one can rightfully conclude that 'Snake' was taken out. Your score is not an actual system of points, it is just to indicate that you are still in the game," Magistrate concluded.

"Of course," Magistrate added, "This is informed speculation. Some reconnaissance would be required to confirm or deny this theory. It could just as easily be that one of the other registered individuals took out 'Snake'."

Roc then asked Nightshade to find Pest. Apparently, Pest hadn't reported in yet, and a "Fly" entry had strangely appeared on this Zodiac-based Challenge. Nightshade went to go hug Roc and then suggested to go with Aya, still in dragon form, to check out the smoke in the distance. He scrambled back up onto her neck, hugging it tightly, and mushed. Aya snorted a plume of smoke before spreading her wings and taking off. She shot into the air with increadible speed, quickly reaching High Altitude in a matter of moments, before angling towards the smoke (using Aya's Wings [Signature] with Overclock [Speed Subtype]).

"Be careful!" Suzume called after them as they sped away like a harrier jet. Drago turned to Magistrate and Suzume. "You two take to the air and head towards the mountains. Roc and I will take the forest," he commanded. "Understood," Magistrate said and Suzume nodded. They both spread their wings and flew into High Altitude in a similar manner to Aya, angling toward the mountains in the distance. Unlike Aya and Nightshade, however, they didn't reach a ludicrous speed caused by a turbo dose of Overclocking. But they were still very speedy (using Magistrate's/Suzume's Wings [Signature]).

Drago put his hand to his ear and sent a message to everyone in their party. This was not only to try to keep tabs on everyone, and coordinate what each group found, but it was also to test whether outgoing messages were also jammed inside this zone.

Quote (DragonierMan)

<Frequency check, check. Keep comm-links open for the duration of the mission. Report in.>

Assuming the internal messages were not jammed, each of the SP sisters would give an affirmation in turn, including a brief outlook on what they passed over. Nightshade and Roc could also give a report or not, assuming the message reached them. Regardless of the results of the report, Drago turned to Roc. "Are you feeling up to flying over a forest?" he asked non-sarcastically. His tone was checking to see if Roc was in any condition to fly, as they had found her on the ground when they arrived, and she had just finished fighting viruses and could have her wings injured. If Roc wanted to fly, Drago would accompany her into High Altitude. If she wanted to walk, he would stay on the ground. With their movement set, they would travel towards the forest, assuming Roc wanted to go to the forest with Drago.

"So what do you think we'll find at the fire? I bet it's a battle. Or the remains of one. Are you ready to throw down when a fight starts, or will 'Big Sis Aya' have to protect you?"
Aya asked Nightshade as they flew, with a little ribbing thrown in. Her louder than usual draconic voice cutting through the howling of the wind.

"So how is the Aerial Squad doing?" Drago asked Roc as they flew/walked. "I haven't heard whether Mach rejoined or not. He was pretty different the last time I met him too. What happened to him? Whose leading your group? Is it you?"

Roc recoiled a bit from the hug as though she didn't understand the gesture; there were several meanings she knew to take from an embrace, either grappling or a lustful desire, and simple friendliness didn't occur to her immediately. "Alright, alright. Simmer down," Roc warned him, knitting her brow as though she still didn't quite understand what had happened. Nightshade sprang back over to Aya soon enough, regardless, where the two announced their intention. "Splitting up? I guess that's okay. There's... mrrrr..." she grumbled, failing to count all of DragonierMan's companions but offering a few guesses. "Whatever, there's a lot of us, is what I'm getting at."

She hushed for a moment, locking her sharp teeth together and almost managing to close her mouth fully as DragonierMan and Magistrate discussed what the many circumstances framing their current situation could add up to. "That's a pretty wild guess," Roc snickered, still failing to understand how similarly the events of the book and the current scenario fell in line, "but there's just one thing that doesn't add up. You and I can still jack out. I can't say for sure if Pest can, but that's pretty weird, huh? We aren't actually trapped at all..."

With that bit of wisdom imparted, the group none the less had a prerogative to figure out what this hunt was all about, and thus, split up. Soon enough, however, it would become apparent that messages weren't going to get through to each other any better than to Pest. There was no telling if it was they who had been affected or the net they were in... either way, unless their operators were in contact, it would be difficult to communicate at a range here.

Roc didn't seem to notice. She gave a cackling peek of laughter at DragonierMan's inquiry and spread her wings to prepare to take off. "Can I fly? The better question is whether you can keep up!" she taunted him, rocketing suddenly into the air in a plume of fire. It seemed her arc of flight oddly started with a jump rather than a run. After a little while flying, both of them keeping pace rather than actually racing, Roc grunted and responded. "Eh... kinda? We sort of talked him into it, maybe. He wanted to quit, actually not cause'a the whole Shogun thing, but really cause his SPs died on him in a battle, I think," she shrugged. "Hopefully he's back for good now. It feels weird to say, but the group's basically the same otherwise. I became leader for a while, but hell, I'd have given it over to you if I knew everything that goes into it. That Yasu can be one bitchy... bitch."

The two would soon enough come upon the forested area, where DragonierMan would have to go back into a smaller form if he wanted to see anything more than trees. "We'll be lucky if this ends as anything less than another fire," she chuckled, trying to cool the flames that gathered around her as she flapped her wings and just glide naturally instead. "Alright... Let's quiet down and listen..." Assuming DragonierMan followed her advice, he would hear little more than rustic woods noises... until suddenly, a gunshot went off in the distance. There was no sound of an animal, virus, or worse, a navi crying in pain, so whatever the gun wielder had shot at, they'd missed. As the sounds died back down, rustling could be heard in the distance, like someone making a slow crawl away from the gun noise. DragonierMan and Roc could decide whether it was best to head towards the source of the shot or see who was hiding.


Aya and her little buddy would at length find the source of the smoke, further out from the forest than one might have imagined. A raging fire had been started somehow. Data was carried like ashes through the wind, cloying, implying the fresh deletion of not just one but many creatures. The fire continued to spread across the dry grass, inching further away from whatever was its origin point.

A gruff female voice called out to the two of them from somewhere inside the flames... gruff but pleased. "I smell somebody... stay right where you are..." the lady's words beckoned them, while heavy thudding footsteps followed. Here too, there was the sound of a gun firing, followed quickly by the noise of the same shot being deflected by a shield or some kind of armor. The shot sounded very similar to either a typical cannon or perhaps a Cannodumb's shot. "Gonna have to do better than that!" Next, the sound of something being ripped put of the ground, thrown, and smashing a few times as it skipped along with it's new trajectory. "Huuuuaah!" the voice bellowed in a war cry.

Aya and Nightshade may take the time to decide if this was really someone they wanted to meet.


Magistrate and Suzume would find the mountaintop scattered here and there with various viruses, probably best ignored since it seemed they were not actually relevant to scoring here. Many caves dotted the mountain here and there- goof hiding places, should one require them.

The most distinct feature of the mountainside, once they got further in: a wooden tank shaped with a ram's heads making it's way slowly up the mountain whilst rotating a cannon in a 360 panoramic around its circumference. The thing's tires had some amazing traction, allowing it to go to impossible seeming inclines as it travelled.

It didn't seem to notice them yet. If some danger really was going on, it might be best if they met the thing under their own terms, rather than waiting to be discovered. They could also simply ignore it if they wished to check out the dense network of caves instead.


Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 1
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
The Dragon: 1
Tiger: 1
Nightshade snuggled up to Aya, finding a really comfy spot at the base of the huge dragon's neck. Aya could feel the navi's fuzzy hand paws grip tightly on her scales.

The little cat navi pouted slightly and patted his chest armor, proudly showig off the Dragoniers' logo.

"You're my big sister not my babysitter. I can hold my own in battle just fine, you don't have to worry about me. I might not be strong as Drago yet but I'm still a dragonier now. He wouldn't let me join if he didn't think I could do stuff."

Once on the ground, Nightshade hopped off and stood by the side of the huge dragon, one of his paws still placed on Aya's scaly neck. "'re my big dragon sis now, so I am totally not scared to leave my life in your claws."

If it wasn't clear by now that the little cat had taked a liking for Aya's strong persona, all the new info would suffice to prove that Nighty genuinely enjoyed her company more and more by the second. The little kitten pointed up at the dragon's snout with his finger and pouted. The whole scene rather cute.

"And one day I'll beat you and then you'll have to accept me as your dragon knight!" He exclaimed before his cat ear flicked as the speed navi picked up the commotion. Turning over to Aya, then to the noise, then back to his big sister, Nightshade's expression looked serious.

"Looks like someone else is here. We should stick together. I can't hear Big Sis Suzume on commlink. If we really are alone then we should be careful. The fire around here is also bad. Do you have any water chips to put it out? Rainy day maybe?"
Before they had split up, Magistrate looked at Roc with an unreadable expression, but she was probably thinking that Roc did not understand the nuance. "That is correct, we can 'Jack-Out'. However, that is not the point of this exercise. Knowing you can leave at any time, but staying to participate, is what the challenge is all about. If you 'Jack-Out', then you are basically admitting defeat," she tried to explain to Roc.

It became quickly apparent, after they had split up, that no signals were being broadcasted between them. That would limit effective coordination between the three groups. They would just have to get along without backup during these early stages of the mission. Most likely they would have to communicate through other, more inventive, means. Such as using flares, explosions, smoke signals, and the like. Though with the dragoniers penchant for collateral destruction, they would be hard pressed to figure out whether sounds of combat in the distance was a signal that help was needed or not.

DragonierMan listened to Roc as they flew. It seemed that there had been a lot of things going down behind the scenes. It also sounded like MachMan had some massive hardship recently. Perhaps BrainMan's infiltration got the better of MachMan. Drago made a mental note to check in with the various levels of leadership in the Neo-Shoguns when he finished with the mission. Assuming they even wanted to see him.

"Given that she has had to deal with a lot of personal problems, not just herself but also everyone else's, every single day... I don't fault Yasu for being irritable," Drago commented. His head then swiveled toward Roc. "You would have given the job to me to spare yourself the burden? Why me and not someone else? Do all your colleagues feel the same way? Both about not wanting the job, and who they would give the job to if Mach wasn't around?"

He paused for a moment to think. "It's funny. There have been mutterings here and there about people wanting me to take over from Yasu as Head General. Though it was always more of an 'if the time comes' sort of thing than a 'do it right now'. What do you think?" he asked. "I mean, I can't say that I haven't thought of it before. Or voiced my thoughts on the idea."

But his train of thoughts were interrupted as Roc grew quiet and glided closer to the treeline. He kept quiet and followed, listening to the rustic woods noises. Suddenly there was a gunshot, and later, some rustling in the distance. Drago, still trying to be quiet, began gliding just above the tree tops. It was helpful that because he was a program, he didn't actually have to flap his wings in order to fly. He just kept his wings open like a glider, and flew silently toward where he assumed the gunshot came from. He motioned for Roc to split up and follow the rustling.

Magistrate and Suzume found the mountaintop and caves crawling with viruses. They also saw a large wooden tank with a ram's head adorning the prow, similar to how a carved figurehead adorns a sailing vessel. Having seen a variety of vehicles in the past with ornamental decorations, this did not strike the dragoniers as odd. Especially since it didn't seem to be classified as a virus from a distance. As such, it might be the Zodiac entry for The Sheep.

The two women dipped down towards the tank until the rotating gunner could see them clearly. The dragoniers kept their distance, matching the tank's speed the best they could, and trying to wave the crew down. However, they were also ready to immediately engage their barriers and casings, and dodge out of the way of any incoming cannon strikes against them, if they were attacked. If the tank stopped and someone popped out of the top hatch, the girls would fly up and attempt to converse with the crew. "Hello!" Suzume would greet them with a smile and wave. "We just arrived and wanted to know what the situation was. Have you seen the host?"

As Aya and Nightshade flew towards the fire they bantered back and forth. "Ha!" Aya laughed at Nighshade's remarks. "Keep that confidence up and you'll go far. Also, you might hold your own in combat here, with me to watch your back... But don't expect beating me to be that easy."

Reaching the fire, they heard a gruff female voice in the flames, and the sounds of combat. Nightshade asked Aya if she could douse the flames. "Do I have any 'water chips'?" she asked incredulously. "I'll show you 'water chips'. Watch this!" she bellowed as she activated her All for One [Team Subtype], and tried to draw upon The Folder's AquaDragon2Damage: 150 + Ground Attack + Medium Area Sea Terrain Change + Terrain Changer
Accuracy: C
Description: Summons a WaterDragon that attacks enemies as it glides across the ground. Changes terrain to Sea as it passes.
Duration: Once
Element: Aqua
Special: Terrain Changer: Ceases attacking when the Terrain Change effect is completed (once 25% of the terrain is changed).
Trader Rank: C
battlechip. Assuming she could activate the chip, the dragon reared up and it's maw opened wide, and unleashed a raging torrential downpour on the fire below. The serpent of sea water showered the area with heavy storm rains and rising tides, violently crashing against the flameline as waves crash against the shore.

If an area large enough was cleared up, Aya would come in for a landing, and let Nightshade hop down. Aya swept her wings and tail around as she landed in order to help clear out her landing pad, potentially scattering some dirt and ashes around. She would engage her defensive signatures if the voice in the fire turned hostile on them, assuming the navi survived the dousing of the Pot Dragon. Although, the AquaDragon2Damage: 150 + Ground Attack + Medium Area Sea Terrain Change + Terrain Changer
Accuracy: C
Description: Summons a WaterDragon that attacks enemies as it glides across the ground. Changes terrain to Sea as it passes.
Duration: Once
Element: Aqua
Special: Terrain Changer: Ceases attacking when the Terrain Change effect is completed (once 25% of the terrain is changed).
Trader Rank: C
was mostly concerned about the fire, and not the creatures in the fire, so the person in the fire should be relatively unharmed. "I am Aya, cohort of The Dragon," the dragon bellowed. "Ally to the Tiger. If you yet live, step forward and identify yourself!"

"Rrrrgh... You're kinda more straight-laced than the rumors said. It's okay to admit she's a bitch," Roc grumbled in response to DragonierMan, then smirked. "Or are you sweet on her and don't like me badmouthing her? That's okay too. " Her face set back into its neutral position of a vacant frown as she wrapped her head slowly around the other questions. "Well, the leader's got to be somebody strong, right? Like you or MachMan. I'm strong too, but Skywriter and Pest aren't on our level. Plus, Skywriter's, whaddya call it? A pacifist? No, that isn't it.. a wimp, right. She's not the commanding type. Pest is a little better in a fight but come on, she's like the size of my thumb."

Perhaps to his surprise, her eyes narrowed at the next topic; she seemed suddenly alert. "I don't get it all, but I do remember somethin' about her trying to take over the Empire while BrainMan was in her head... and somethin' about you tryin' to take over the Empire without that kinda influence. Should you really be talkin' to me about this kinda thing?" Roc asked in a low, guttural tone. "I mean, I don't get involved in politics or whatever, but if you're stronger than Yasu and you want the position, then take it, and sucks to be her if she can't take it back from you. That's the way it all works, right? I mean, I don't think that's how the rest of these dweebs want it to work... but it still kinda is." She flew in silence for a while, then snickered again. "Ha! I guess I was dead wrong on you being sweet on her, huh?"

The gunshot made it hard to answer that thought, as did the following need for silence. Roc glared at him for a moment, then nodded and followed the source of movement in the under brush. The already split group split further, as Roc disappeared beneath the treetops and DragonierMan observed through the breaks in the foliage, looking for the source of gunfire.

The culprit emerged soon enough: a huge figure, dressed in a brown, canvas-colored safari suit, carrying a double-barreled elephant gun in two huge, gray hands, which looked as though they'd been carved from stone. His high collar and hat made it hard to make out features of his face, especially from high above, but something about his lumbering posture made him seem familiar. A machete was hanging at his waist, but he wasn't making use of it currently. Additionally, a large number of the signboard drones were floating around him like flies. DragonierMan might wonder if it was possible to approach unseen at all, given how prevalent the drones were and that some were seemingly focusing on him from a distance at this very moment.

The rustling grass he'd seen earlier had stopped rustling and Roc had disappeared into the brush, which seemed to strongly indicate she'd found whoever was sneaking around down there and chosen to speak quietly to them, perhaps warning them that their movements were still visible by anyone paying close attention.

The over-sized hunter was loading two shells into his tremendous elephant gun. He was big, but he hardly seemed like a threat that the combined forces of DragonierMan and Roc would need to worry about... or at least, it seemed that way, until DragonierMan noticed out of the corner of his eye a tree-stand. A long-nosed hunting rifle was pointed out of a small window in the stand, slowly working its targeting towards him. He'd need to dodge or obliterate the attacker to avoid getting shot within the next second.


The ram's head suddenly made a cacophonous creak, as the mouth of the creature opened up tall, a man's voice emitting from inside. "MIss Oxybelle! Bogies at six o clock!" it announced, the cannon spinning to face that direction as he spoke.

"Belay your fire! I don't think they're with the enemy," a young girl's voice spoke. The ram's head flicked up on a hatch, after which a young girl's head quickly emerged, followed by raised hands. "Are you participants in the safari too?" she questioned, her voice clearer now that she'd exited the machine. The girl's head was covered in a massive bush of white hair, with bone-yellow horns curving out from the sides. The rest of her ensemble consisted of wooden armor over a white skinsuit. Her face was pale, lightly freckled, with big, green eyes and an unassuming expression. "I'm Oxybelle, with the NetPolice. Officer HoundMan is in here with me. This tank is one of my machines... we came for the Safari but found ourselves attacked by a man in safari gear. I can only assume it was SafariMan. This area is not safe-"

As she was talking, another navi squeezed his way up, sticking out face-first like a dog searching with his snout. Only his black armor had a snout; underneath, the face appeared to be human. The navi was dressed all in black, including a helmet with dog ears and round, green eyes, like night-vision goggles. He had a pretty statuesque but lean male figure otherwise. "You gotta get in here, civilians! It's safe, aroo!" he explained. Judging by how cramped they appeared to be, as Oxybelle struggled between trying to free more of herself or finish climbing out so she wouldn't be scrunched against the hatch's opening, it seemed pretty doubtful there was more room in there for anyone. "Oh, right! Officer HoundMan, reporting for duty! Ma'am! And Ma'am!" he saluted them, even though he probably ought to be considering them civilians for the moment.

"Please excuse his enthusiasm," Oxybelle sighed, as she finished pulling herself free from the mountain. "I'd like to exchange information right away, if that's okay with you... to start from the beginning, we jacked in here at this mountain-side. At the base, we were attacked by a figure we assumed was the host of our part, a man in safari gear with a mountain climber's backpack and a large pick. Rather than engage, we fled, with the man being mostly unable to give chase. Right now we're just looking for the other participants who answered the summons for SafariMan's challenge... I can only assume they were also attacked. There should be more of them on this mountain, somewhere, based on the entries you can see on the boards flying around."

"We don't have any tools for searching the caves, though!" HoundMan added, sticking just his head out from the tank with a lack of self-awareness of how silly that must look. "I can see in the dark, but Oxy here can't bring her robots in with her. That means she won't be able to do much in there... better she stays outside. I don't suppose the two of you have any skills that'd help us search caves for survivors?" he asked eagerly, his ears standing up as he looked between the two of them with a clenched lower jaw.

"W-Well, I notice they can fly... That'd definitely help. So the question is more so, are you two willing to help us try to assemble the others?" Oxybelle asked, petting the wooden ram's head as though to soothe the tank as she talked. "Oh, and are you two registered as participants? I don't recall seeing animal names that seem to match yours... Could you be SPs? I didn't have to register my machines, so I'm guessing machines are exempt from the rules of this game... If there is a game."


Elsewhere, Nightshade was enjoying a little one on one time with his new big sister, Aya. The two struck up a friendly rivalry as they traveled, discussing what might happen in the days ahead. As Nightshade turned his line of questioning to the more practical matter of how the two were going to get through the wall of fire, Aya responded by showing him a powerful, large-area chip attack that would presumably douse the flames. It worked very effectively... so effectively that once the cloud of steam rose, there was no navi left to see inside. Data was still wafting through the air... could the navi have been deleted?

Not so, as a tremendous navi appeared behind Aya and roughly knocked her in the back, sending her flying into the burnt grass patch she'd just cleared out. The huge navi cackled, then grabbed Nightshade by his collar, lifting him up as easily as a human might a cat. The lady was bronze-skinned and clad all over in gold armor, her eyes obscured to total white and her helmet open to allow wicked horns to poke out. Her teeth were sharpened to points; a gold ring clattered, hanging from the nose-piece of the helmet rather than her actual nostrils. A short, red matador's cape hung from one shoulder, while a cow's tail stroked the grass roughly behind her, flapping back and forth excitedly. The woman's boots ended in hoove-shaped ends and looked extremely heavy, making one wonder how she'd managed to sneak up on them, or if perhaps some teleportation had been involved. Her body was so thick with armor and swollen with muscle that it was difficult to even discern her gender at first.

She exhaled and grinned wide, staring into Nightshade's face. "That was some attack you two pulled just now! Quite an arsenal you got there. Shame I don't recognize neither one'a ya from the Bloodhounds roster," she chuckled. "I just got finished clearing out a bunch of viruses and... other trash that got in my way. Heh heh heh... But it looks like this contest ain't about killin' viruses. What I did see change was the number on the board for that other trash! What do ya think? Is this a battle royal contest against each other, where the last man standing wins?" she posited, placing her free hand at her hip while she smirked evilly at the cat navi.

From Nightshade's position: he'd notice something else alarming: the charred, still in tact body of a man in safari gear, lying hidden by the thick grass. It seemed to have dragged itself some distance and was now raising a shotgun... however, it didn't seem like he was being real particular with the aiming, given that he hadn't even raised his head. In a moment, he would probably shoot whatever was still standing there, be that Nightshade, the horned stranger, or both of them at once. If he could find a way to either escape, reposition himself so that only the bull got shot, or somehow quickly reason with the bull to move out of the way, or otherwise, with the man not to shoot, any of these would be to his advantage. Even if Suzume acted, she'd probably be doing so without knowledge of the hidden figure that only Nightshade had so far spotted.


Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 1
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
The Dragon: 1
Tiger: 1
The fluffy tiger navi gagged once as he was abruptly grabbed by the green scarf he had around his neck and lifed up, soon after Aya had been sent tumbling away. He wass left there, dangling limp in front of a...rather voluptuous bull lady as she started rambling about battle royale stuff and deleting things.

In some occasions, one would be scared at this stuff. This wasn't one of them for a bumch of reasons. One: You don't hold an electric, speedy fluffball bare handed. Two, you don't piss off a speedy fluffball of death. Third, you don't approach the speedy electric fluffball of death in a cool, shiny outfit.

Nightshade's eyes would grow big as melons as he took in the bull costume's details. He pointed straight at the lady, which caused his paw finger to boop the lady's nose. "YOU LOOK SO SICK!" He exclaimed with too much glee to EVER be considered a bluff. The little cat navi was dead serious. "THIS IS SO COOL! CAN I TRY IT? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?" He jestured at the lady's costume, still held up there wriggling.

It was clear to him the navi holding him up was one of the contestants. Clearly the Ox and just like any bull, the lady had quite the temper. Still, by admitting to be deleting viruses prior to his and Aya's arrival, she further confirmed the little cat's thoughts. It was also safe to assume that the fire had been caused by her attacks.

Man, that lady was one hot spicy piece of work!

"Actually, the fact that you've not attacked us when you have the chance means you really aren't that bad. You're strong though and cool as hell." The cat addressed the situation at hand. "Also, we kinda have a problem with the contest itself. The host just isn't here. This is why the score isn't rising and whoever you beat up didn't make your score go up either. Which means beating other navis is not how you win this. Besides, if you beat me up you'll piss off my big sis there more than she already is and trust me. You don't want her pissed off. "

Once again, the little tiger looked at the lady's costume. So awesome. It was at that moment that his eyes saw a guy with a gun pointed at them. So that was the reason why the Ox representative was thinking this as a battle royale. Good to know. He turned over to the lady.

"Alright, listen. First of all, I'm Nightshade. I'm the tiger representatie here. My big sis there is Aya. Now, I know it's not that easy to trust a complete stranger, but you have three seconds to let me go or we both get turned into stuffed trophies. I'll even give ya a hug if lemme go."

Whatever Bull lady decide to do, Nightshade already had a contingency plan ready. His speed and the good old Area Grab. With his systems overclocked, he would be able to make it to the shooter's location in time to use his feet paw to kick the gun away. If Ox lady let him go, he'd just rush there. If she kept her grip on his scarf he'd would have to burn a chip use and rely on the chip's teleportation effect to do the trick.

Sure, he could dodge the shot himself, but saving Ox Lady would mean getting a new ally...for how spicy and impulsive Big Mama here was, her power would come in handy.

And he definitely, positively, absolutely not wanted her on his good side so that she'd let him try out her outfit.
(Signatures - DragonierMan's Barrier: Passive 20HP Barrier, and DragonierMan's Scales: Passive 20HP Casing.)

DragonierMan continued to glide toward the huge navi as the hunter began to reload his huge elephant gun. Drago had to admit, if the navi was SafariMan, the navi really looked the part of someone named 'SafariMan'. However, before Drago could call out to the supposed host and get to the bottom of this strange event, his keen eyes pinpointed a disturbance nearby in the forest. How he was able to pick out a fake tree-stand in the middle of a forest was anyone's guess, but good money was probably on the long gun barrel sticking out of it. Instinctively Drago's defensive signatures subconsciously kicked-in and armored him against the potential threat. Now, it was possible that the protection afforded to him by his energy barrier and iron-clad scales would not be enough against the longarm, as he had been on the receiving end of defense-piercing ammunition before. So he took the extra precaution of striking first.

(Signatures - DragonierMan's Blink: Teleport [2 TCD], DragonierMan's Precision: Passive Accuracy Enhancement, and DragonierMan's Wings: Passive Movement. Subtype - Overclock. Buster - Buster Shot: 35 Null + Disarm.)

DragonierMan evaporated in the air, as if he was made of smoke, and appeared approximately above and a little behind where he thought the enemy stood. He hung in the air for a brief moment, looking down to orient himself correctly, and then crashed down upon his opponent... boots first. His descent was quick, hurtling down like a boulder going terminal velocity, and the crash would probably break all the bones in his body if he wasn't a computer program. SafariMan, Roc, and anyone else in the vacinity would have to be deaf to not hear the din of the impact with the ground. Whether Drago managed to 'disarm' his target with his colony drop attack was a matter of waiting until the dust cleared. But he continued his surprise attack with a set of vicious punching, kicking, biting, and basic grappling moves in an effort to relieve the weapon from his opponent.

Secured in the fact that he probably managed to get the drop on his would-be assailant, he attempted to kick/throw/scatter the gun away from the two of them and attempt to finish the combat by putting his opponent in a choke-hold. "YOU WILL NEVER BEAT ME SO EASILY!" he yelled out to all that could hear him, including Roc and the hiding individual, bearing his sharpened canines. "I am the strongest there is. Submit!" he told the guy he was trying to put in a choke-hold. He turned towards who he thought was SafariMan. "Tell me what is going on here?!"

Great, the Net Police are here, thought Suzume. She didn't know if that was a good thing or not though, as their experiences with the NP in the past were always varied. But before she could put her thoughts into words, Magistrate spoke up. "No," she began. "We are not official participants. However, we are here with the Dragon and the Tiger." She paused to listen as Oxybelle filled in more of the situation, her lips curling up in a smile as the officer went on. "As I suspected," she said with a grin, her sound theory made with solid deductive reasoning confirmed.

Suzume gave a little wave as HoundMan popped out of the tank. She giggled as the NP officer, who looked like a dog, tried to lead them away from danger. They were under the mistaken impression that the two ladies in front of them were helpless civilians, instead of battle-hardened warriors. It was cute. And she almost felt like letting them keep their delusions, but they had pressing concerns.

"My name is Suzume, and this is Magistrate," Suzume introduced the two dragoniers to the two NP officers with some pointing gestures. "And that's nice of you to offer your protection, but we can handle ourselves," Suzume stated to HoundMan. Both dragoniers looked to Oxybelle as she stated why they were on this mountain. "Why would you think that some of the participants would be on this mountain?" Magistrate asked. Suzume scratched her head. "Maybe they were trying to find higher ground in an effort to get away from the insane hunter? Not everyone can fly like we can."

"I suppose," Magistrate accepted with a stroke of her chin. "Oh hey!" Suzume interrupted. "We are having problems with our communications. Would you have a working radio? Or know what could be jamming this area?"

"There might be a transmitter tower in the area that is being used to jam the signals."

"What? Like on top of the mountain so it would be high enough to blanket this whole area?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Well then let's find it and smash it to pieces!"

For a brief moment, the two forgot that they weren't the only two people there. A call to action from Oxybelle and HoundMan brought the dragoniers back to the conversation. Magistrate cleared her throat to continue. "*Ahem* Unfortunately, we do not possess additional tools." Suzume brought out a sack and began to rifle through it. After a few daggers and a length of rope with a grappling hook clattered onto the ground beside her, Suzume's shoulders slumped and she gave up with a sigh. "I got nothing."

"You are correct in your assumption, we are classified as 'SPs'," Magistrate said, with a hint of annoyance and hurt pride behind it. Clearly, even though it was true, she was offended by being called such. Having broken her decorum for a moment, she recovered quickly. She rose up and puffed out her chest out a little. "For the moment our goals align, so we will help you in your 'rescue operations'," she proclaimed in her more haughty voice. Suzume grinned and nudged Magistrate's shoulder with her own. "You big softy."

"What would you have us do first?"

Great, the Net Mafia are here, thought Aya. She didn't know if that was a good thing or not though, as their experiences with the NM in the past were always varied. But before she could put her thoughts into words, Nightshade spoke up. Aya's earlier thoughts about the Tiger being just another dumb kid got kicked to the wayside as he brought up some good arguments that showed quick thinking and solid analytical skills. Although it also showed that the cat navi was still a kid, as he fanboyed over the Ox's costume.

Aya pulled herself up from the ground where she was bull-rushed and watched and listened to the conversation between the two. Due to their intimate proximity to each other, an ill-aimed attack might hit her ally, so she held her fire and waited for an opportunity to present itself. Her ears twitched at Nightshade's mention of a timer before they 'get turned into stuffed trophies', followed by his dash/teleport over to a spot Aya couldn't see well from her position. She quickly spread her wings and took to the air to get a better view of the situation. Assuming she saw the charred, safari-gear-wearing, gun-totting navi that Nighshade attacked, she would rush toward it from above to render assistance. The Tiger and Dragon-assistant would most likely make short work of the firearm and grapple/squish the safari navi.

"Speak!" the dragon commanded as it attempted to press a huge taloned-claw down upon the chest/back of the captured navi (assuming they managed to catch him/her). "What is going on here?!"

A tree-stand would make great protection against woodland creatures, but proved little defense against DragonierMan's dive; it shattered easily beneath him as he went for the shooter inside. Perhaps more surprising was the resistance he met once the tree-house was demolished; the navi inside had a body like a stone statue. His appearance wasn't immediately recognizable, at least not until the dust cleared...

... However, even staring at the navi, their identity remained a source of confusion. The huge navi was wearing a battered hunter's uniform with a very familiar high collar... That is, they looked exactly the same as the one stalking the grass that DragonierMan had seen earlier. Wordlessly, the navi stood back up to its feet, no longer holding the gun that DragonierMan had knocked out of its hand. Re-arming itself, it drew some sharp, hand-held implement, a little longer than its fist, out of its coat. It looked like a pick, or chisel, perhaps for mountain climbing.

Elsewhere, Roc abandoned her spot in the grass, diving for the second safari-dressed navi. It quickly leveled its gun with a surprisingly steady hand and leveled the gun in her direction, then, he fired a wide burst of pellets toward her. With a laugh, she performed a loop midair, evading the shot and then setting her course back where it had been. Before the navi could reload, she skid to a landing and smacked its gun from its hands. With her second swipe, she slashed at its face, tearing away the collar masking its face.

The face inside was a near featureless stony mask, holding no expression. DragonierMan would finally place it, if he had the presence of mind: it was one of the same servants Boss Oni had used at his bath-house when DragonierMan and company had infiltrated earlier. Now as then, the guys seemed fairly mindless, like slow-moving puppets, but they also seemed far sturdier than their numbers would indicate. Roc had no particular thoughts one way or another, though, and continued to batter the rocky creature with her over-sized talons. "Don't worry! I'm not the type to complain if I chip a nail, even if this guy's got a pretty thick skull. How's yours?" she called over to him.

DragonierMan probably wouldn't have too much trouble with the one he was facing down; the thing was already disarmed and while his heavy arms swinging the pick would be pretty scary to a normal navi, they were no match for a dragon with defenses raised. After a short time, both of the creatures were down; there was no point in leaving them conscious, as they appeared wholly incapable of speech, and furthermore, it was kind of hard to gauge the limits of their durability in the first place. As if in response, one of the monitors floated closer; a voice began to emit from it. "Jolly good! Jolly good indeed. You are just as you advertise, Sir Dragon. Well then, I will provide you the clarification you so desperately seek, as I sense you are a man who seeks a thrill, just as I am," an elderly voice spoke out. "My name is SafariMan. I prefer to hunt from a remote location. I'll keep my explanation short and sweet-" the voice continued, before Roc smashed the emitter with her claws, easily destroying the drone in one swipe of near-imperceptible speed.

She smirked at DragonierMan, then crossed her arms. "Sounds like a coward, huh? And an idiot, too! We took down his mooks already, what's he goin' on about?" she guffawed.

More of the signboard robots floated in, then began to project the man's voice again in unison. "An impatient one! But patience is the cornerstone of the hunt, my lady. As you likely surmised, this challenge is all a ruse, with the intention of my hunting down prime specimens. Don't you fear; I have no intention of deleting anyone or wiping the net free of their data. I am not so uncouth," he continued, in a very even voice. "My goal is much more noble. I want to find the strongest combatants and tag them. Once tagged, I'll be able to follow them all throughout the net, on and on, studying, hunting, learning, and so on. It is the ultimate of scholarly pursuits, you see, to know your equals or even your betters. My safari spans the entire net-"

"Blah blah blah," Roc interrupted, clapping her talon's claws together in a gesture of a yammering mouth. "You masterminds like to run your mouths, but you always make the stupidest mistakes! So you're basically just telling us we can jack out whenever we wanna go? We haven't been tagged yet, so if we leave now, you've got jack squat. Right?"

"Ah, yes, indeed. That would be a zero sum outcome, for certain. But of course, within acceptable parameters. After all... I am on the premises! If you were to flee now without tracking me down like the prideful predators I hope you are, then that would prove I have no business hunting you to begin with, correct? However, if you think yourselves at the top of the food chain, I don't think you'll be quite so quick to show your tails..." the voice chuckled.

"The guy's not right in the head, but uuuh... Seems like a huge waste of time. Course, if we don't find the others and warn them, and they get tagged, and this jackass can follow them forever on his stupid hunt... that'll be a problem too," she grumbled, her throat clicking in an aggravated animal noise as she bared her fangs. "I don't wanna get tagged either, though. Not that I think any of these slow-motion bastards are going to be able to shoot me, heh..."

"Heh, indeed! I see you are quite confident of your speed. However, the tools I have on loan are much more numerous than you have allowed yourself to believe. Now that I've honed in on your location, well... let's say that the party is going to become much more lively, wot?" the speaker emitted its owner's ominous message.

The heavy thud of footsteps nearby implied that the hunters SafariMan had mentioned were on their way. "Let's just shoot into the air. Those idiots won't be able to shoot us over the treetops," Roc instructed, pointing upward. "Oh, right... The two sneaking through the grass over there are some weirdo with dog-ears and another one in a dress made of chocolate. I'm not even gonna bother with them unless you want to... They just look like trouble and they definitely aren't any of ours..." DragonierMan would want to take the opportunity to decide whether it was better to take into the air, hide in the brush, confront SafariMan's minions directly, or otherwise, meet up with the strangers who were gaining distance in the opposite direction of the footsteps.


"A pleasure to meet you then, Suzume, Magistrate," Oxybelle smiled, then popped down below the hole to root through her storage inside the tank. "Oh, don't worry, keep talking. I'm just grabbing something that'll help us search, since you've been so kind to agree to our request."

"SPs, huh? That means you have a master, right?" HoundMan requested, perhaps underestimating how annoyed the term "master" would make Magistrate. "You were flying just now, though; that's mostly what we need. The tank won't go down into those caves and going by foot is gonna be rough. Though, I could do it, as a dog!" His ears and eyes perked up, as though he was anticipating being praised for that claim.

"... You're not actually a dog, though," Oxybelle reminded him, as her poof of white hair emerged again from beneath the tank. "Alright! I have a couple of flares that can help illuminate the caves. While we patrol around the mountain, you two can search the caves, using these flares to illuminate the area. I've got three... they last a pretty good while. Oh, one thing though," she cautioned, as she handed over the three red sticks, each waiting to be lit by striking against an appropriately rough surface. "Please wait to light them until you're away from my tank. He gets pretty skittish around fire..." The tank coughed indignantly at the accusation. "It's okay," Oxybelle reassured the tank, rubbing its snout.

The group remained a bit more in the dark than DragonierMan's, but they at least had the advantage of a little breathing room while they decided how to proceed. "Would you like to take HoundMan with you? He can follow on foot, as long as you're lighting up the cave for him," the tank-pilot asked them. "I'm afraid we don't have any comms. It might be good to have him with you... his nose can lead you back to my tank once you all are finished in the caves," she reassured the two girls.

"Yes ma'am! I'm very handy to have around!" HoundMan agreed, saluting sharply. "I'll follow close behind while you girls go ahead with the flares! I'll be watching your backs! Aroo!" If the two liked the plan, they could proceed; otherwise, there was still time to decide what to do otherwise.


"Sick? You're one messed up little dude, nya ha ha ha!" the horn-helmeted woman guffawed, not knowing what to make of Nightshade's exclamation. "You're dumb as dirt, but at least you have taste. Truth is, I'm just the type that likes to gab a little before she gets to the fun stuff. Out here in the wilderness? It's like everything is just begging to be burnt or smashed... Don't think you're an exception just cause you're cute. Or her, for that matter..."

Talking aside, she was still listening, perhaps thinking she had no reason to rush. "Heh, you're a little puny to call yourself a tiger. What the heck kinda animal is your sister, anyway? A lizard?" she taunted, tilting her chin up. That might be seen as a dragon joke, until she clarified. "Crawling around in the dirt like that. And you gotta come at me with something better than an empty threat... Don't you know who I am? I'm Bullrun... BloodHounds... ring a bell?" Bullrun had perhaps been bantering a bit too long now; Nightshade was out of time to listen and had to act on his contingency plan. He flashed out of the big lady's grasp with a teleport and knocked away the hidden enemy's gun before they had a chance to get a shot off.

"Ha ha! There was one left. You're an observant little guy... maybe you could be useful after all. Not that chubby's pea-shooter would have done much more than dented my armor," she snickered, then walked over to where Nightshade was. She smiled at him for a moment, then brought her hoof down so hard upon the enemy navi's stoney head that it was crushed into powder. The burnt, smashed navi didn't jack out or begun to fade or evaporate into data, instead staying behind as a big, blocky corpse... there was still no jackout barrier, so it stood to reason something about the creature was a little different than an ordinary navi. "There. Now that he's out of the way, why don't we exchange a little information? You're free to join in too, Lizard."

Once everyone was together, Bullrun knelt down to be on level with Nightshade (and a little lower than Aya, presumably). "So yeah... I came here with a partner. Only problem is, my partner, well, she decided to try and bolt and run, leaving me behind to face all those nasty viruses by myself. We were good friends! That made me so mad, I couldn't control myself, and before I knew it, I'd decked her and every virus in the area. Whoops! At least it's not a long story though, right?" she grinned, showing her pointed teeth. "I must'a caught that guy who was watching me with the big double-barreled rifle too. Smashed a couple of these stupid flying things, but they're all over the damn place," she continued, gesturing to the drones in the air. "Whatcha think? Why not smash a couple? Show me what you're made of and I'll decide if it's worth keepin' ya around or if you're just gonna slow me down, heh heh heh..."

As if she had only just considered it, she looked down to the smashed cranium of the navi who'd attempted to shoot them. She lifted her boot, watching gray pebbles flake off of it. "Whoops! That may have been SafariMan right there, huh? Ha ha ha ha! Not the first time I smashed first and asked questions later!" she guffawed, not sounding overly concerned about the fate of the creature.


Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 1
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
The Dragon: 1
Tiger: 1
The attack went better than expected, with DragonierMan and Roc making short work of the Safarimen. Unfortunately a new wrinkle appeared in the challenge, as the Safarimen were revealed to be little less than solidly built androids. With an army of Stone Safarimen to fight with, and Scout Drones to monitor the whole area, SafariMan had a big advantage in his hunt. Once more, their host said they were on loan. Since they seemed like things that Boss Oni had, it didn't take a genius to assume that either Boss Oni had something to do with this, or whomever supplied Boss Oni had a hand in this. Either way the challenge began to take form and ramp up in the difficulty. They had to find SafariMan to end the hunt in a victory.

While Roc and SafariMan went back and forth, Drago was collecting the non-broken picks and guns and other such weaponry from the two destroyed Safarimen, tying them makeshift to his body with rope. Who knew whether they would come in handy later. Although he noted that the guns they had used didn't have tag ammo. So how were they going to tag them? He even tried to stash the broken drone in a sack after it had come into Roc's reach. Perhaps Magistrate, who was originally an administration program skilled in linking to various systems, could figure out how to use it. The Neo-Shoguns could use any sort of technological edge he could find on his missions.

"I am no mere predator, I am a hunter as well, and a soldier. I will play along with this game only because you paid for the privilege of our presence, and this is a mission. The fact that I will gain satisfaction by hunting you down and showing you who the true power is, will just be a bonus," DragonierMan replied to the drone floating in front of him once he was done scavenging. "So prepare yourself. You have two of the strongest on the Net at your heels now."

Drago turned to Roc as she relayed her opinions and the information about the other people in the area. He nodded and dropped his voice to a whisper, leaning in towards her ear so she could hear him. "They don't sound familiar to me, and we don't have time to deal with them or the pursuit force. SafariMan is probably expecting us to either stay and fight, or take to the air and run. I agree that taking to the air gives us an advantage. We'll fly right over the sneaks and get the hunters to chase us. When they are busy tangling with each other, we'll make a break for the mountain to meet up with Magistrate and Suzume. We'll fill them in and get their help to search for SafariMan. Agreed?"

Assuming Roc agreed, Drago spread his wings and shot into the air. He flew towards where dog-ears and chocolate girl were crawling, trying to pass right over their position. He continued in that direction until he heard something to indicate his plan worked, and then veered towards the mountains. He picked up as much speed as he could in an effort to leave anyone following in the dust. Roc could probably keep up, or at least knew where to go, so he didn't try to wait for her.

Magistrate tsked at the 'Master' line, but held her tongue. She and Suzume drifted down to accept the flares and receive their instructions. "Hold on, didn't you say that he could see in the dark?" Suzume asked Oxybelle. "And how long is 'a while' for the flares' duration?" Magistrate asked Oxybelle. "Are we talking hours?"

"And since you can see in the dark, and you have that nose, I'd rather you lead us to anyone in those caves," Suzume explained to HoundMan. "We'll be the ones watching your back," she reiterated. She then looked further into the sack and some pulled out more rope. She stored one of the three flares in her pack and tied one to her belt. The third flare got tied to Magistrate's belt. She then produced a climbing harness from the bag, along with some steel pitons, to attach to the grappling hook and rope on the ground. She gave them to HoundMan after she was done organizing them.

If HoundMan accepted the gear, Magistrate and Suzume would help him get outfitted. "We may not possess spelunking tools for dark caves, but we do have climbing gear and rope. You got to have plenty of rope. Not that we tend to need them all that much due to our wings. But there have been some areas on our travels that are too narrow to fly through properly. And we also tend to go on missions with people who can't fly. So we come prepared."

"And there," Suzume said tightening the last strap. "That should help you from not falling to your death in there if we keep on our toes. We wouldn't want the people we are trying to save, have to save us. The gear should also help you, should you need to climb or rappel to someone stuck or injured. Since there will be times where we can't fly over to them for one reason or another."

"After you," Magistrate beckoned HoundMan toward the nearest cave. They would wait until they were some distance in before Magistrate struck the first flare. Suzume would hold the two other flares in reserve for now.

The dragon melted into her shadow and reformed in her humanoid, armored body. She stood up as Bullrun introduced herself and talked with Nightshade. "Aya, Neo-Shoguns, she introduced herself. "And if that was SafariMan, then the competition would be over. Probably a grunt, or decoy.

She walked over to the gun. "Dragon," she corrected Bullrun without looking at her. She picked up the gun to examine it. "Not lizard. I don't do that tongue thing."

Seemingly satisfied with a cursory glance down the barrel, and opened the chamber to look at the ammo, Aya produced some rope and tied the gun across her back. "And I am all for the direct approach," she continued as she walked over to where they were standing around the powdered man. "I'd rather fight and kill than skirt around. But unfortunately, the world loves to put me into situations where I have to stop and assess." She knelt down and began examining the body, and whether there were any discernible tracks nearby that showed where the guy came from.

"So what do you think kid?" Aya asked Nightshade.

The little tiger stuck out his tongue in a playful and childish pout. "I am very much a ferocious tiger!" He squeaked, folding his arms together over his armored chest. Despite trying to look grumpy, Nighty's tail was stil wagging at the Bullrun. Her getup was so cool! He couldn't be mad at someone that cool.

A flick of his ears signaled his undivided attention to the voluptuous lady as she kneeled to be eye to eye with him. Nightshade's blue gems clouded with doubt.

"Bloodhounds? What is a bloodhound?" He asked his new acquaintance, not following her train of thought. Then, his big sister decided to poke into the conversation. "Still, leaving people behind is very bad! Who leaves a friend in danger?" He exclaimed, somewhat surprised. "Mh...maybe they weren't friends at all."

The little tiger navi observed the charred remains. "I have no clue what these are. They look like some sort of advanced decoys things. If SafariMan is trying to hunt us, then we shouldn't be fighting and instead we should try to avoid these things for as long as possible." He commented, squatting down to poke the corpse a couple of times.

"Smashing these would just waste our stamina and folder..." He stood back up and pointed at all the buzzing above him. "Same with that."

With his ideas exposed he turned to bull lady as she asked him for a proof of strength. "Hm...maybe we can..."

The orange navi zipped away past the female wall of a navi and went to grab a rather big boulder. He raised one of his fuzzy paw hands up and...*shink* there where his claws.

He sliced the top of the stone thing off with relative ease and then dragged it over to the bull lady with some huffs and puffs. The thing was no bigger than a coffee table.

Nightshade sat down on one side and placed his elbow firmly on the rock, giving Bullrun his paw-hand. A clear invitation.

"Here. Let's see how big and strong you are. If I win, I get to have a copy of your gmo there." He stated, pretty confident in his strength.
"Now that I can answer," stated Aya at Nightshade's question about the Bloodhounds. She stood up and dusted herself off before forming a NET-Window, drawing on it like a chalkboard:


"The Bloodhounds are one of the 'Families' of the NetMafia faction," she began. "They are called in when major muscle is called for. You can consider them the main source of top quality enforcers and soldiers for the Mafia. Their counterparts in the NetPolice, the faction they tend to be at odds with the most, would be the Department of Justice. The DoJ basically fulfills the same function for the NP, as the BH does for the NM, bringing the fight directly to their enemies," she concluded.

"Any questions?" she asked, coming out of her teaching moment. But then she saw that not many were paying attention and an impromptu arm wrestling match was getting started. She put her hands on her hips and furrowed her brow. "And what are you doing? If you didn't notice, we are in the middle of a warzone," she scolded. "We should be working together." However, she had just stopped to give a class on NetMafia organizations, so she didn't have much of an argument to stand on.

"Ho ho ho... A soldier, hunter, and one- nay, two- of the strongest on the net! A fine hunt, if there ever was one. I can promise you, I will take exquisite pleasure in tagging you and following all of your ongoing ventures, for posterity's sake. A hunter must know his prey, and all that rot," the old man's voice chuckled from a nearby drone. One might certainly wonder if SafariMan was biting off more than he could chew.

Barely paying attention to the drones, Roc leaned in to listen to DragonierMan, a slight, impatient snarl visible on her lips. "You got it," she concurred, immediately spreading her arms in preparation for a leap into the air. Hopefully, the two creeping around could avoid getting trampled on by stony hunters pursuing Roc and DragonierMan... Unless one of them just liked getting trampled, of course. But that was unlikely.

As high up as Roc and DragonierMan flew, they wouldn't be able to see the hunters looking for them, but the rumbling in the trees below them made it evident the whole jungle must be abuzz with hunters. Mobs of drones steadily assembled and then dispersed around the two of them... if SafariMan was using the things to track them, they'd never really be free of the eyes of the hunters, but at least they could evade attacks so long as they were in the sky.

The mountains would prove nearly as difficult to pick out targets on as the jungles had; mostly because they'd approached from a different angle than the others, who had immediately found Oxybelle's tank. It would take a bit of searching before they could rendezvous; by the time they did, it would just be Oxybelle left there. Thankfully, by this point, she'd been conditioned to recognize that approaching flyers were probably not the hostiles she needed to look out for. The tank's head spun around and faced them. "Just a moment, you two. This is Officer Oxybelle, of the NetPolice. State your names and business before you come any closer," she instructed them.

"How about you come outta that Trojan Goat before I tear it open and shake you out?" Roc retorted, showing her teeth. DragonierMan might want to defuse the situation with a proper greeting, or he might join his ally on the intimidation route.


Moments before DragonierMan and Roc showed up to Oxybelle's tank, Magistrate and Suzume had been there, sorting out the details of their cave expedition with the two NetPolice officers. "Yes ma'am! I can see in the dark as long as I wear this helmet, ma'am!" HoundMan answered, snapping another salute.

"R-Right... well... be careful nothing happens to your helmet. But you may be right that it's more reliable than the flares," the other officer agreed, smiling in an awkward, apologetic way. "They'll each last nearly an hour, so you'll have plenty of active time, even if you lose one. "

Something about Suzume's comment that HoundMan would be leading seemed to upset the officer; the ears and tail on his armor seemed to be drooping. "Oh, okay, ma'am. I'll lead and you two can follow," he complied, reluctantly. The two officers both did a lot of nodding along as Suzume explained at length that they had rope, why they were going to use it, and how to use it. "You girls sure came prepared! I'll bet you would have won if this was a real safari! Awoo! I'm ready to descend. I'll sniff you out later Oxybelle, ma'am, when we're done! I recognize your scent!"

Oxybelle kept on smiling awkwardly and nodding, trying to decide how she felt about HoundMan distinguishing her scent. She waved goodbye to the others, then hopped into her tank and disappeared, with the tank resuming its slow roll up the mountain.

As soon as she'd resumed movement, HoundMan gave another salute, then grabbed hold of the rope. They weren't actually "descending" yet, so it was more just holding on to it to be ready than actually hanging. Once they started heading down in to the unusual, hive-like tunnel pattern of the cave, HoundMan took point, moving as though the darkness didn't bother him. "There's definitely somebody in here! It smells..." he paused, sniffing the air. "A little like you two! The smell of metal, like armor, and of... a lizard!" he explained enthusiastically, not understanding the nuances of dragons. "Huh, but SafariMan's probably not a lizard. Do you two have any other friends who are missing, aroo?"

The flares were also working as reported, although holding a lit stick felt a little primitive. As it turned out, there wasn't a lot of room to flap one's wings. At certain points, HoundMan even shimmied through crevices to follow scents, or got down on all fours to go through a hole. It ended up being a mixture of hanging, walking, and crawling, that was somewhat disorienting to the senses. One thing they weren't going to be, however, was stealthy in their approach; between the need to hold flares and the officer's small-talk, it wasn't going to be easy to sneak up on anyone.

"Alright guys," he murmured, finally dropping his voice a bit. "I think we'll be on the guy soon." There were no other evident voices besides their own, nor any sign of SafariMan, so far. "How do you two want to go in? Apprehend him first, then ask questions?" HoundMan asked. "If you wanna go that way, just leave the rough stuff to me, aroo! Can't have any civilians getting injured doing police work, after all."


"Ha ha... I could teach you to do a tongue thing or two," Bullrun joked, running her tongue across her teeth as Aya rejoined the conversation. For Aya's part, she would see clear tracks where the very heavy, now headless man had been trudging around. They seemed to come from further out, away from the noteworthy landmarks so far, and into grass even taller than what had been here before Bullrun had burned it down.

She turned her smirk back toward Nightshade. "Bahaha! Normally, I'd take that as a challenge, if you're gonna call yourself a 'ferocious tiger.' But you're right! That gal was very bad, trying to run off like that. She shoulda known better!" Bullrun giggled, the whites of her eyes curving into slits as she grinned wider, seeming to recall a particularly fond memory. "At any rate, I dunno how you'd avoid these things, unless you can smash em all. There might be a few too many fer that, especially cause they keep flying out of my reach. They don't seem to fight back, which makes smashin' em even more boring. Maybe yer right... not worth our time," she shrugged.

She turned to watch Nightshade's impromptu crafting, raising her eyebrow in a dumbfounded expression. "What, you want to... arm wrestle me?" she asked, her sharp teeth showing as her jaw hung open. Her face began to turn into a smile, almost sympathetic, which looked odd on her. "Are you touched in the head? Have you seen the size of these guns?" she asked, patting one of her biceps. "And you want... what, a .GMO? This is my armor, alright, kid? It ain't no .GMO. I don't know what the frick kinda game yer playin', but uh, sure, let's throw arms for a second so I can get any kind of stupid idea that yer gonna beat me in that kinda contest out of your head. That idea's just way too stupid to let it sit there," she chuckled, squatting at the table and putting her elbow down, with the hand up to grip his.

The big lady turned her head with an even more puzzled expression. "The crap? First an arm wrestling contest, now a history lesson? Yer right, of course, but to put those stiffs in Justice next to our Bloodhounds is a mistake of the highest possible magnitude. I got more stoppin' power in my little finger than they got in their whole department," she taunted. "Another big reason why this little strength contest is about the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. Sure you don't wanna do a footrace or somethin', little guy? Not that I won't beat you in that too." She looked between the two, then smirked again. "Let's make it more interesting! I'll let both of you try on my arm. If the two of you get it down together, I'll give you some GMOs, or my armor, or whatever you were askin' for; that's small potatoes for a ranked Bloodhound. If I win, you two give me your clothes instead! That's fair, right?" she grinned, seeming entertained by the prospect of humiliating the two of them.

The sound of rumbling was coming from the grass. It seemed like a safe bet that someone or something was approaching... Bullrun had mentioned viruses being in the grass earlier, but by the tracks Aya had seen, it could just as easily be more of the stony hunters. She had incentive to either stop the game or otherwise keep it extremely short, or else, they'd be facing a swarm of... something, pretty soon.
With his butt and tail wiggling in the air, the little tiger floof focused for the challenge in front of him. Bullrun was too strong. He could never beat her with strenght. Yet there was a little tactic he could count on. Reaction time. She had power,he had speed.

"Okay, ready?" he counted down. The second he finished the world go he immediately pushed to his side of the rock with all the strength and speed he could muster, having overclocked his body beforehand. If he had caught the bull off guard he would surely slam her hand on the rock before she even began pushing against him.

If his plan didn't work out as the little tiger intended, he would end up fighting a losing battle as he struggled to put up a meager resistance against the bloodhound.
"Dragon and Rooster, Sheep!" DragonierMan roared back at Oxybelle. "You better point that turret somewhere else before we slag it," he threatened, making a highly visible display of refreshing his defenses to show that he was serious. He also didn't alter course or slow down. Clearly, without his more diplomatic SPs to hold him back, he defaulted to the intimidation route. "Don't move," he commanded just before his speed carried him over her position. He made an effort to quickly loop around, slow down, and land behind the tank.

"Now," he began, while dusting himself off. "You can tell me why a NetPolice tank is out here in the middle of Netfrica. This is a hunting competition, not one of your juristictions. However, if you have seen SafariMan, you will tell us." He smashed one fist into his other's open palm. "We are going to win this Challenge, one way or the other. He will think twice about calling himself the greatest hunter after the thrashing we give him. And anyone else that stands in our way," he ended with a growling snarl. Clearly his pride was on the line and he was taking it out on innocent bystanders.

"Dragon," Magistrate corrected HoundMan as he made the blunder of thinking lizards and dragons were the same. "Though dragons and lizards tend to be associated," she conceded reluctantly. "Wasn't there a Lizard on the board? They lost their point, so they might have been incapacitated," Suzume commented. Magistrate nodded. "That may be whom he is sensing. We should proceed with caution."

Magistrate and Suzume let their wings dissipate as they quickly found themselves in tight confines. Thankfully, they didn't need their wings to fly, and so used their floating capabilities to assist them in their climbs. Magistrate, who held the lit flare with one hand, benefited the most of not having to need both hands free to traverse obstacles. Suzume, with both hands free, helped steady HoundMan if he ever needed it. Holding onto some of his rope, tying it around her waist and acting as an anchor whenever he needed the additional help. Belaying as necessary.

When HoundMan dropped his voice and explained that they were almost on top of the lizard smell, Magistrate and Suzume looked at each other for a moment. "If the Lizard is wounded, it should not be hard to subdue them," Magistrate said in a similarly lowered voice. Suzume nodded as she produced her pack again. Talking to HoundMan, she began to fish around for a medical kit. "Just go easy on the guy. He's probably wounded. I'll be ready to apply treatment after you subdue him," she added as she got ready.

Though Aya was probably disgusted by Bullrun's jokes, her face was stonifying. Though little cracks of irritation ran all over the bedrock. "You already are," she said, referring to the tongue remark. "We'll see how much you run your mouth by the end of this." She closed the window and clenched her fist, letting the little competition between Nightshade and Bullrun play out.

Aya seemed to tune out Bullrun's further commentary about the game and how Aya should get in on it. Aya was busy scanning around them for further clues while the 'children' played. Suddenly, the tall grass near them began to rumble. A dagger quickly appeared in Aya's hand as she crouched into a spring. "Something's coming!" she hissed loudly enough for them to hear over the arm-wrestling. Aya's defensive processes booted up. Her legs taught, as she got ready to spring into the sky at a moment's notice.

The girl's voice inside the tank sounded only minorly offended as the turret remained focused upon DragonierMan. "I was just here for the contest, like you, I assume. Unless you are saying this unnamed hill in Netfrica Net is your jurisdiction?" Oxybelle responded. "I'll catch you up. SafariMan has gone into hiding and his contest appears to be something dangerous for the competitors, it isn't a real contest. There is nothing to win. I would recommend you just jack out now."

"Rrrr, SafariMan is the contest! We hunt him down and our prize is gettin' to rip him to shreds!" Roc explained their viewpoint, making it clear the two of them were already aware of the treachery at hand.

"I'll thank the two of you to calm down and approach this carefully," Oxybelle sighed through her tank's speakers. "It sounds like you are well informed of the situation, but SafariMan needs to leave in NetPolice cuffs, not in pieces. If you have any information on his whereabouts or anything that could help, we can work together on this. If you aren't jacking out, that is. I've got some intel I can share as well, so long as you two aren't doing anything rash."

She seemed to be calling the threats of the two simply bluster or perhaps a bluff, assuming they wouldn't engage the NetPolice without a good reason. Roc, for her part, seemed encouraged in her initial approach of bull-headed intimidation, and was still showing her fangs.


HoundMan seemed to be impressed with the girl's spelunking knowledge, accepting any help he could get as it pertained to making his way deeper into the caves without plummeting. "Ma'am! If that is your assumption, I respectfully offer that the snake was the one with 0 points! Also, I will respectfully correct myself: the mystery navi has a dragon scent, ma'am! The same dragon scent as the two of you, ma'am!" he saluted, near hitting his arm upon a low cave ceiling as he snapped it into place.

The two girls explained their approach. "Yes, ma'am! I will subdue the target and if he is wounded, the two of you can treat him, ma'am! And if I am wounded, you can treat me! Awoo!" he confirmed, then immediately sprang into action, bounding around the next upcoming corners with unhampered, beast-like speed, moving on all fours.

An elderly man's voice cried out in alarm. "What is the meaning of this?! Unhand me this instant!" At first, that probably seemed encouraging... after all, though they hadn't heard the voice of their host yet, it seemed easy to imagine it would match this one. However, as they turned the corner, it would be hard to imagine that the figure HoundMan was pinning down was SafariMan.

The navi in question was dressed from feet to neck in outdated golden, Electopian-styled armor, with a black cape hitched from the back of the pauldrons. The look would probably be quite regal, if he hadn't been tackled to the floor by HoundMan. Part of him wasn't laying down like the rest of him, though: his head, which looked like a long serpent (or perhaps an eastern dragon depiction), extending from the neck-hole of his armor. His face was that of a dragon, with a long but thin white mustache and beard. Two long, antler-like horns extended trom the front of his forehead, threatening to beat HoundMan either by accident or by purpose as the neck wiggled.

"Awoo! What the heck is it? A snake?" HoundMan asked his captive, making a few grabs for the neck before ultimately pinning the arms down instead.

"I am FeilongMan! Not a snake, nor anyone to be assaulted," the dragon-faced man complained, finally shoving HoundMan off.

The girls would survey at this point the rest of the cavern. It looked as though a broken surveillance robot had been set down upon a flat piece of stone in this small burrow and partially dissected. It also looked like holding FeilongMan was going to take more than just HoundMan, if they were still interested in doing so. The man eyed them suspiciously, but made no move to attack.


Nightshade approached with a plan, but his desire may have been blinding him from an obvious fault in the strategy: Bullrun was already smirking with her arm up on the table and taut biceps bulging in the break of her armor, between glove and pauldron. It ought to have been hard to imagine he would get a fast one over on her...

Aya ignored the game entirely, in favor of watching the grass, where someone or something was coming closer. That was just as well; the game was over quickly. Without her aid, Bullrun readily resisted Nightshade's paw and slammed it (painfully) into the stony table, sparing no strength just because her opponent was cute or this was supposed to be a friendly wager. "Bahaha! You were tryin' to pull a fast start on me, huh? That's a lot easier against someone who isn't tryin' to beat the count themselves! But I don't play nice or honorable neither, hehehe..."

As it turned out, Aya was right to be cautious: her pounce revealed another of the gun-carrying menaces. She was able to divert its gun easily enough, but taking it down with a knife was going to prove a bit tougher. Thankfully, Bullrun was eager to transition into smashing. While Aya held the creature, she beat its chest and stomach in with a series of punches, until it slumped down ineffectually and dropped its armament.

The sound of rumbling hadn't stopped, though. It stood to reason more were approaching. They could stay and fight or try to leave and go to one of the areas that provided better cover. For her part, the laughing Bullrun seemed content to do the former. It would also still occur to Aya, as it had earlier, that tracing the steps of the minions (both living and dead) might provide a clue as to where they were pouring in from.

If anyone was interested to look, the scoreboard had been updated slightly on the faces of the nearby drones:


Ox: 1
Snake: 0
Goat No Sheep: 1
Dog: 1
Dog: 1
Pig: 0
Dragon: 1
Fly: 1
Rooster: 1
The Dragon: 1
Tiger: 1