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.
Goat No Sheep: 1
The Dragon: 1