NFG Season Two - RTZI: Welcome to (New) Zack Island

[Toggle Names]

Description: Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship... o/~ A three hour tour goes awry when an excited group of NFG fighters is confronted by a spectre of the past. They soon find themselves stranded on the island with no clear means to communicate to the outside world and warnings of trials to come. Bienvenida a la Isla Zaca.


The Sprat is a glass-bottomed tour boat of rustic design. A canopy of dried tropical foliage (or perhaps faux-liage?) shields passengers from the sun's rays. A light, refreshing breeze blows across the deck of the open-air vessel. The Sprat has two pontoons in bright white with the name emblazoned across either side. Rows of orange seats arranged in groups of six would allow up to thirty-six customers to enjoy the tour in modest comfort, though today, these are occupied by a small camera crew led by a guy with the name 'Steve' sewn on the pocket of his polo shirt and twenty members of the New Fighting Generation arranged in pairs. The glass bottom of the boat allows riders to view the colourful sea life of the Caribbean reef through the clear turquoise water.

At the back of the boat, positioned ahead of the large outboard motor that propels the vessel, is the captain and pilot of the small ship: 'Loverboy' Lou Harris, dressed in a pink Hawaiian shirt, white Bermuda shorts, black sunglasses and a white captain's hat. Toward the front of the ship stands the tour guide, Tom Bradley, who has a small microphone connected to an overhead PA system.

"Now, we'll be arriving at Zack Island - I mean, New Zack Island - in about ten minutes, ladies, gentlemen, and all of our other friends. So, before we get there, we've got a short video we'd like you all to see. But first, our tech guy Steve would like to know if anybody wants some complimentary rum punch."

"Complimentary rum punch? Don't mind if I do."

Of course Hawksley Moore was never gonna say no to free booze. Especially some with punch in the title. The brash brawler is on board the boat that's taking he and his fellow fighters on a trip to an exotic island. There's also going to be a a party picnic, so he's come prepared. Along with his ever present slim silver flask, he's brought along his magic mug, thirty two bottles of Lucky's Fiery Ale and a selection pack of thirty two packets of Tayto potato crisps. "They're to share, like." "He'd responded when side eyed by one of the camera crew, who are coming along with them.

Hawksley is sitting by his new tag team partner, Henry Smithson-Powers, the blue haired boy with the Hollywood heritage. He's happy enough with the collaboration, despite knowing little about the lad outside of the fights he's seen on the NFG stream. He's hoping that today will be a good chance for the two of them to bond.

The Irishman has dressed simply for the sunny day in a white tank top and blue denim shorts with white swimming shorts beneath them. On his feet are some white canvas sneakers that are already covered in dust. "God, this is grand. Would you look at us all living the life of fecking luxury on this lovely boat now?"

He's not talking to anyone in particular. Just whoever happens to be listening at the time.

Coco has always been one known to blow lukewarm when it comes to the New Fighting Generation and its activities. Most of the time, she seems to participate for a bit of a laugh, or to show off her rockin' yoga bod (even if she can't do stretchy arms). She's never held the tradition of testing martial prowess in much regard, even if it has turned out that she's pretty damned good at it.

But today, things are different.

Sure, the glass-bottomed boat, for all its low-budget tourist-trap kitsch, does feel a bit like home away from home and a familiar sight after the gap year that Coco spent on her own World Tour before joining the NFG, but it's a more recessed memory that's stirring her insides as she leans back against the seat.

It feels like half a lifetime ago to her, but she can still remember when she was a young pre-teen, watching the new 'Trouble in Paradise' reality show on ITV2. It had all the big names: Lightning Spangles, Johnny Cage, Lee Chaolan, Angel, Dr. Tran, Zack himself - along with loads of girls just a bit older than she had been at the time. Most of all, it had featured Tia Langray. The ultimate free spirit, totally confident in her own superiority, giving the censors nightmares and a young Coco dreams of one day being that cool.

And then it had all disappeared.

Tia Langray and Zack had never been seen since, and there was never a second season. What had actually happened to the island was a matter of much debate and little or conflicting disclosure.

But if not for that one amazing season, Constance Coalbridge is sure that she wouldn't be where she is today. Tia Langray and Zack had inspired her to take up Muay Thai on her travels, even if she would usually blame it on the fact that the camp she'd joined was always full of fit blokes taking their tops off. And Zack Island had inspired her to pursue that gap year in pursuit of the perfect party. She might have been running from her responsibilities, but Zack Island was what she was trying to run to.

And now, she'll finally get the chance to see exactly what the real Zack Island was like. Zack Island Season Two is finally happening, and she's going to star in it.

That's why she's gone all-out on her outfit. While superficially a simple look, with sunglasses, swimsuit and sandals, it's anything but ordinary. A pair of diamond-studded Bulgari Flora sunglasses are perched on her head and ready to be deployed at any time to protect her eyes from the sun's rays. Those are real diamonds, not just diamante, and viewers in the know will realise that they're worth something in the ballpark of fifty thousand pounds. Her sandals, a pair of silver vegan Piferi Maggio Flats, would sport a more modest price tag at a mere six hundred pounds. Her pale purple halter bikini and thong bottoms are likely the least expensive items she's wearing; after all, their purpose isn't to flaunt her wealth or her morality, they're meant to flaunt her figure - and between waxing, exercise, and sunbathing, she's already done most of the work, there.

The smile she's wearing, though, is priceless. She's not sure that she's ever been happier, and things are only going to get better. After all, she's about to hear an exclusive message from one of her favourite icons.

Curled up on one of the empty seats next to her is Captain Morgan, who's wearing a designer life jacket and his own pair of child-sized Bulgari Floras. Next to her feet under Morgie's seat is a small portable luxury electric cooler.

"I'll have the punch too, thanks!" Coco calls out to Steve, raising a hand and fluttering her fingers, before turning her smile to Hawksley.

"I know, Lucky. I'm so excited." He's probably aware after she spent most of the previous night regaling him about it. "I mean, did anybody else watch Trouble In Paradise?"

--- But thieves are sneaky, slippery and manipulative, Tom. Isn't good roleplaying supposed to be about pretending to be something you're not? ---

Chevelle Beaumont is pretty easygoing about most things, but having one of the hosts trash-talking her when she's not even present to defend herself does place a burden on her shoulders. At least Tom's still on her side, though! Sure, she *could* confront Lou on his comically inaccurate depiction of her -- but not while he's driving the boat. Aggravating a boat captain is just something that anyone inured to coastal living will avoid on general principle.

Chevy's better off thinking about all the *good* things on this trip instead. One, of course, is the unmitigated cuteness of Captain Morgan. She knows she's here to tour Zack's eponymous island and the surrounding sea life -- but she can't help but smile every time she happens to catch sight of the chattering binturong. And the other, of course, is Coco in a surprisingly good mood! The pretty Brit's good cheer is contagious, and Chevy wants to preserve it as long as she can!

She's certainly not competing on designer clothing or accessories; nothing has a prestige label aside from the Apple logo. A floppy bucket hat with the diagonally-striped Cape Hatteras lighthouse keeps the sun off her scalp; cheap no-name sunglasses keep the sun out of her baby blue eyes. A deer-antler necklace glitters in the sunlight -- a gift from her Oklahoman boyfriend seated nearby. She's wearing a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a white linen shirt with just two buttons fastened. The teal fabric of her bikini is occasionally made visible as her loose shirt flaps about in the breeze. And, underneath her seat is a canvas bag with a number of things inside, most notably two one-liter bottles of water. And, in her lap, secured from the wind by the pressure of her left thumb, rests a character sheet for her D&D work in progress: an aquatic elf rogue named Evie.

"Sure, I'll have some!" The twenty-year-old hasn't passed up a social drinking opportunity yet; it'll be almost a year before she can enjoy that privilege back home in the States. And, knowing that both Buck and Hawksley are present helps to bolster her self-confidence in the matter. Technically, she's sure that her new teammate Tanwen is *old* enough to drink, from a legal standpoint, but... Well, that's a different topic.

Chevy does show -some- interest in the Tayto chips, but she wasn't entirely sure if Hawksley was actually offering them, or just responding to criticism.

"Oh, I did! That whole thing was a blast, warn't it?" Chevy smiles faintly; she remembers wanting to tell her Paw all about the island tournament. It's prophetic, in a sense, that they've come back to visit...

A pencil toggles between her thumb and third finger as she looks out at the crystal blue water. "I just cain't get over how gorgeous the water is out this way. It's so pretty..." But, after squinting at the water a bit, she starts to point her finger. "Oh hey, look!" She brushes Tanwen on the shoulder, before giving a light pop to Buck's shoulder as well. "There's a couple bottleneck dolphins out there, you see 'em?"

Sometimes, Roxana Page still can't believe what her life has become. As she looks out at the beautiful turquoise water of the Carribean Sea, she almost catches her breath at its beauty. From her seat next to Constance 'Coco' Coalbridge, she dangles a honey coloured arm into the cool, calm, cerulean liquid, letting it lap over her soft skin. Looking beneath her feet at the glass bottom of the boat, she can see exotic fish swimming around. It's simply stunning and to top it off, she's in wonderful company.

Looking along the line of now familiar faces, she can't help but smile. Some of them she has started to consider as friends or at least potential ones, others she has yet to converse with but hopes to do so when she next gets a chance. The atmosphere on the boat is buzzing, as excited occupants, both young and not so young anticipate a fun filled day ahead. This will be Roxana's first ever beach picnic and she has packed a big bowl of fruit salad, so the fighters will all have something fresh to enjoy. Of course, there may be fruit growing on the trees or perhaps even coconuts! Despite her naturally calm demeanor, she could almost cry out with pleasure.

Like her mentor, Rox has gone for glamour, though she lacks the bulging budget to back it up. Her clothes are more high street than haute couture but she knows what suits her and has chosen her swimming costume with care. Whilst at the party on the sun deck, the scorpian-woman had sported a one piece swimsuit, this time she has opted for a bikini. It's coconut white in colour and the top fastens around her neck in a halter style. The bust area has underwired cups and an oval-shaped diamante stone between them, surrounded by smaller stones. The bikini bottoms are high-waisted and rest on her hips with a belted band. A stone identical to the one on the bikini top is positioned at the centre of this band. Over this, she has put on a sheer coconut white maxi-length beach cover up that doesn't really cover that much, truth be told. It has three quarter length sleeves and fastens at the waist with a drawstring but the front has been left to drape open, revealing Rox's legs. On her feet are a pair of pretty diamante sandals with espadrille wedge heels. Her silken black hair has been swept back into a long braid that swings each time she moves her head and a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses with tinted dark lens and gold arms are covering her dramatic dark eyes. Those positioned close enough to pick up on such a thing, will likely detect the scent of something reminiscent of a pina colada on her skin but she hasn't been indulging in some morning drinking. She's simply made sure to apply her sunscreen before stepping out into the twenty five degrees celsius sun.

"I wouldn't mind some rum punch." Rox responds to Tom, feeling a little starstruck to be in such close quarters to the commentator. She was glued to the screen last year, watching he and Lou discuss the season one fighters and their exploits, both on and off the screen. Someone they always had plenty to say about is Coco. The pretty purple haired pugilist who is now her partner in combat gave them plenty to gossip about. As did Chevy, and it seems Lou has been casting aspersions on her good character. Despite the ex wrestler always being full of praise for herself, this isn't something Roxana approves of. Should she get her chance to defend the redhead, she will certainly take it. She smiles at her now, working away on her character sheet. She hasn't got around to putting pen to paper on 'Soraya the fighter lady' but maybe one day. For now though, she's content to close her eyes, feel the stray rays of sun on her face, that have slipped past the boat's canopy, and sip the cocktail that has been passed along to her.

"I missed Trouble in Paradise." She confesses to Coco. "We didn't have a television where I grew up. In fact, the first thing I ever watched was the New Fighting Generation."

Most of the trip over to the island has had Tanwen leaning over the railing to watch the brightly-coloured fish and sea turtles pass beneath the boat, though every now and then she's stolen glances at the diamond and diamante-studded accessories sported by Coco and Roxana with an envious glint in her eyes, wondering if there might be a way she could secure them for her hoard. Her attention is grabbed when the announcement is made, her amber eyes flitting toward Tom curiously. "Oh! Can I have some rum punch, Winn?"

"Best not, Tan. You know what happens when you drink," Winn says. The dragon-girl's guardian is sat in the seat on the other side of her from Chevy, wearing a white beach shirt, a straw hat, blue jean shorts and flip-flops, presently reading a paperback titled 'Murdoch's Choice.'

"Aww, Winn! But I'll never know what it's like being a proper pirate, will I?"

She sits back in a sulk against the seat. She's wearing a bikini as well, with each cup and both sides of the bottoms decorated with the green, white and red of the Welsh flag, while her feet are bare. The sun is bringing out the coppery-red notes in her hair.

She's saved from her sulking by a brush on the shoulder from Chevy, and she turns around and props herself up on the boat's side railing for a better look at the sight that's being indicated. She lets out a squeal of glee, her hips wiggling despite the present absence of her actual tail to wag.

"Oh, look! Dolphins, Winn! Do you think they'll let me ride them?"

"I don't think so, Tan. Dolphins don't like people riding them," Winn says, continuing to read his book.

"Coc y gath!" Tanwen says tersely.

"They don't like swearing, either, Tan," Winn adds.

"Oh! Sorry, Mister Dolphin!" Tanwen shouts.

Steve the Tech Guy is quick to count up the orders for free rum punch. One of the camera handlers who's not otherwise occupied starts pouring them out from the standing cooler into disposable paper cups, which are in turn placed on a tray for Steve to begin passing around. Once everyone who wanted one has a drink, Tom turns the volume up on the television he's positioned toward the front of the boat.

"Alright, everybody! As promised, here's the message for you all from the late Zack... uh... just Zack, as far as we know."

Tom hits a button on a remote, and a video starts to play on the display, the slightly low resolution dating the footage somewhat. It shows the face of a once-notorious figure in the fighting world, an African-American man sporting questionably-coloured hair and fashionable shades: the one and only Zack.

"~~~Hel-LO, all you love-lee ladies~~~!"

The infamous gambler flashes a brilliant smile. After what seems to be some prompting from off-screen, he continues:

"... and gentlemen! I am -=Zack=-, King of ~=Zack Island!=~ And it seems that, well, for one reason or another, I am no longer with you."

Although the fifty-megawatt smile persists, a single tear seems to trickle from behind the sunglasses. Zack quickly flicks it away with a single sniff before continuing.

"Now, as I already mentioned in my will, in the event of my demise, Zack Island shall be inherited by my lovely Queen, Niki."

Both Tom and Lou make the sign of the cross at the mention of Zack Island.

"But that still leaves the -other- ~=Zack Island=~! And since I -never- got the opportunity to host the most wonderful tournament ever dreamed of on this -new- ~=Zack Island=~, I am now turning it over to the charitable venture Professional Fighting Worldwide to host the tournament in my absence! A tournament dedicated to the greatest force in the world...


Zack spins his chair around before facing the camera again, now having adopted a more alluring and relaxed posture.

"So, each of you ~lucky~ couples have been selected by Professional Fighting Worldwide, based on the very serious and sexy cool criteria I have given, to compete in this tournament to crown the new King and Queen of ~=New Zack Island=~! The winners will become the new joint owners of New Zack Island, which they may freely rename to whatever they like! Perhaps a celebrity couple name, like Chun-Ryu Island or the Isle of M. Bis-umi!"

Lou quickly interjects, "We've, uh, taken a very loose interpretation of what constitutes a 'couple' for the purposes of the tournament. Don't worry, the lawyers have given us the go-ahead!"

On-screen, Zack props his feet up on the desk. "And to make things a little more sexy cool, I've had special Zack Coins hidden all over the island for you crazy lovebirds to find! You'll be able to redeem them for special prizes! And, of course, what you get up to while you're exploring is your own business!"

One gets the sense that Zack is winking, even in spite of the opaque shades he's wearing.

"And until the end of the tournament, you'll all be invited to stay and enjoy all the luxurious activities we have for you, such as volleyball, swimming pools, sunbathing, volleyball, our casino, professionally competitive keijo, and of course, volleyball! As for me, my only regret is that I won't be able to join you while you are whipping those hips."

Zack leans forward, rolling his chair up to fill the frame with his face.

"So, good luck, lovebirds! And I'll be seeing you... on New Zack Island!"

The camera freezes on the image of Zack blowing a kiss to the viewers.

Tom turns to the passengers, his hair ruffled lightly by the sea breeze. "Any questions?"

"I've got a question." Hawksley pipes up. "Have you done something different with your hair?" His teasing of Tom is followed by a cheery chortle and some consideration as to whether he actually has anything genuine he wants to ask. Eventually he comes up with. "Who exactly was this Zack fella? Was he a fighter himself or something?"

Coco will likely be horrified by Hawksley's enquiry. It will betray the fact that the brawler wasn't paying close attention to her lengthy explanation of the ins and outs of Trouble in Paradise. He mostly remembers her saying something about meerkats but he might have been wasted by that point because the plot sounded highly unlikely.

Oblivious to any faux pas he may be falling in to, the Irishman wraps a muscular arm around his girlfriend's shoulder. "I'm glad you're having a grand time, darling. It's good to see you in such fine form, so it is. His eyes flit down to her cute costume, giving his words a dual meaning.

As he receives his rum punch, he raises a toast to the other passengers on the boat. "May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live." This said, he downs the drink in one, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and letting out a satisfied sigh.

Looking towards his dear friend, Chevy and her new tag team partner, Tanwen, he can't help but smile at their sense of wonder as they watch the dolphins at play. Then there's the contrast of Coco's cool and calm charge, Roxana. Like in the first season, all of this next generation seem to have their own unique characteristics and it's refreshing to be around. With this grand group of people gathered, the stunning sunshine and sparkling sea, it feels like one of those days where nothing could possibly go wrong.

Coco gapes plainly at Hawksley. "Come on, Lucky! You know who Zack is! He's a famous gambler, a Muay Thai icon! He hosted the Trouble in Paradise tournament, which I spent most of the night last night telling you about during a period where I felt confident that I had your undivided attention!" She scowls a little, and, as if sensing his mistress's displeasure, the binturong that Hawksley has to lean over to reach an arm around her starts chittering and nipping the air near the brawler's bicep.

"You're right, Morgie. This is Team Toxique territory. You're offsides, Lucky."

That doesn't stop her from downing her own punch in one go along with Hawksley, the heat in her cheeks nearly matching the colour of the cloudy red liquid.

She turns her attention toward the front of the boat after licking her lips.

"Mister Bradley, can we have the assurances of the organisers that no meerkats will be harmed during the course of the tournament? And what's this about couples? Was this supposed to be the fighting version of Love Island or something?"

There's a lot going on, all at once. In the first season, Chevy would have been mortified at the thought of matching her pale and freckled skin, farmhand shoulders, and uninspired fashion choices against the whip-smart fashion sensibilities of Coco and Roxana. But now... things are different. Not only is the farmgirl sporting a tan -- a real one and not just the dreaded 'farmer's tan,' even! -- but a few Mediterranean side trips with Buck had worked wonders for her self-esteem. The concerns of random internet people just... don't -bother- her now.

Of course, it wouldn't have -hurt- if it had been Tom watching her from the boat's stern rather than that trash-talking Lou...

Now, of course, the most pressing matter on her mind is why she'd said 'bottleneck' instead of 'bottlenose' -- a thought that has her frowning in mild embarassment. "Eh... I ain't ever seen 'em get close enough to play pattycake with. Most dolphins I seen back home just like to play around in the boat's wake..."

She glances back to Roxana -- who Hawksley had playfully compared to a Kardashian at the party -- and grins. "Oh, it was huge! Though a lot of the big stars just ain't been seen since..."

Truth be told, Chevy never gave much thought about that until now. Her brow creases for a moment, but only just so, until Steve the tech guy takes center stage. And then her eyes widen as she realizes a very good reason for -why- some stars haven't been on parade lately.

"Oh man, he's--?"
She blurts out.
And then her hands clamp over her mouth.
Drawing in her breath, she remains quiet for the rest of the playback, with her brow furrowing at the continued mention of... love. And lovebirds.

She lowers her hands.
Her lips part, as she starts to form the start of a question.
Only to be silenced by Hawksley's teasing question, and the innocent question that follows; both are met with a light chuckle from Chevy.

In the wake of the slight bickering that follows, she remains lost in thought -- only for her her ear to twitch at the word offsides. A rose color springs to her cheeks as she breaks into a girlish giggle: Coco said it, she said the thing!

After a brief break to compose herself, Chevy finally settles on her thought. "Well, I mean, it's *fair* this way, ain't it? Ten groups of two, split up more or less evenly. If it didn't shake out like that, y'all know Team South 'd be goin' all the way..." Grinning with pride, she leans over to give Buck a playful shove to the shoulder.

Resting back in her seat as her rare moment of confidence fades away, she lifts the brim of her hat, securing it against the breeze.

"Okay, seriously, Tom, I got a question... how's the scoring gonna work? It's separate from the points we already got from the Odyssey, right?"

Amidst the boisterous exchange of jovial conversation, Dr. Maeda's soft sigh is lost in the breeze. The dour scientist sits quietly at the back of the boat, isolated both physically and socially from the main group. Her presence here is one of necessity rather than choice. She isn't a part of this contest, at least not in the way that the fighters are. Nor does she share their enthusiasm for the current circumstances.

Experience tells her that looking -too- disinterested is a good way to draw attention from social butterflies. So instead, she does her best to look busy, hoping it will deflect any potential attempts at well-meaning but ultimately unwanted social engagement.

The thick pair of goggles that normally rest upon her brow now sit snuggly in place over her eyes. Thin lines of vibrant color scroll vertically across the glass lenses as her fingers flick idly through empty space, tapping away at a holographic keyboard only she can see. Augmented reality of this sort tends to be monstrously expensive, not to mention far bulkier. Then again, most smart glasses aren't based on magi-tech.

Without much of real interest to do however, Eiko finds herself mostly making casual notes. Tidbits about personal interactions between the contestants. Remarks regarding their choice of attire. Potential strengths and weaknesses of the various team pairings based on previous combat data. A widespread inclination towards alcoholism. The mislabeling of local wildlife.

The scientist sighs again. All things considered, she'd much rather be back in her labs. For many people, being cooped up inside a secret bunker buried in the side of a mountain for months at a time would be a trial - for her it was a perk of the job. If only that damned Command Gear hadn't gone rogue, she could still be spending her days compiling data on theoretical genetics and running experiments to see which magic particles could be combined to create the best results. While Max was a cutting-edge triumph of their current understanding, with just a few more years to conduct further trials they could--

Wait. Where's Max?

Furrowing her brow, Dr. Maeda lifts the goggles away from her face and slowly scans the boat. She'd seen the little fuzzball loitering on the edge of the main group not more than a few minutes ago. No doubt trying to learn what she could about her new teammate. The man called Buck wasn't what either of them had expected to find the Gear paired up with. Perhaps his capacity for transformation might offer some insight for the girl to learn a bit of control. Her changeling powers are strong but burn through seithr faster than Max demolishes food.

After several long seconds of searching without results a tinge of worry worms its way into the doctor's expression. She doesn't say anything right away; bringing attention to the situation is only likely to cause more trouble. Her gaze instead sweeps out towards the ocean on either side of the small boat looking for signs that the fool has decided to go swimming. Despite her feline genetics, Max takes to water like a fish. She might very well be better swimmers than those dolph--oh no.

A sinking suspicion sends a chill down the woman's spine. Now she stands up, heedless of who notices, and turns to cast her scrutiny in the direction of the playful porpoises. It doesn't take long for her to find what she's looking for - a dark shadow in the water and the ripple of waves indicating powerful movement.

Muttering arcane words of power under her breath, Eiko's fingers flex in the air in front of her as she calls upon some of her own meager talent. While her aptitude for spellcraft has never been particularly strong, certainly nothing capable of posing a real threat in combat, there is one particular application of magic theory that she has learned to apply to practical use.

Her preparations prove timely. Just as the spell finishes building up strength the water behind the closest of the dolphins suddenly erupts in a vertical plume disgorging the fully transformed young Gear. Launching herself into a ballistic arc, Max's jaw opens inhumanly wide, revealing twin rows of razor-sharp triangular teeth as she plummets towards the panicked sealife like a fuzzy orca.

Moments before the crowd of onlookers can be traumatized by this unexpected episode of National Geographic, the scientist yanks her hand back through the air. As if slapped by some invisible ping-pong paddle, the Gear suddenly flies sideways, her trajectory redirecting ninety degrees towards the boat. This new flight path proves far too accurate to be anything natural, literally planting the confused and wide-eyed teenager in a heap square at the feet of her irritated guardian.

"What... what happened?!"

With a sigh, this one tinged with a bit of exhaustion, Eiko plops back down onto her seat. Leaning forward, she extends a single finger, digging it squarely into the tip of Max's lilac-tinted nose. She scowls menacingly, eyes narrowed, displaying one of the first obvious examples of emotion other than mild indifference this entire trip.

"Stay. On. The Boat."

The Gear blinks owlishly, staring back at down the length of her guardian's finger as if it were a loaded gun.


"I wonder if dolphins can understand us." Roxana contemplates in response to Tanwen's attempt to apologise to one. Before she can give the matter much more thought, the video starts to play and the scorpion-girl is glued to the screen.

This Zack seems to have been a colourful character and Rox can't help lament the fact she won't get to make his acquaintance. "What happened to him?" She wonders, loud enough to be heard by the other occupants of the boat but not noisy enough to drown out the dialogue of the video. She looks back towards the star of the show as he says the word love and spins around. He has a real sense for drama.

As he goes on to describe the experience ahead, the Nebraskan nods her head at all the exciting exploits that have been planned for the contestants. It feels like it's going to be more than just a tag team tournament. It sounds like the adventure of a lifetime!

She sips her drink as Hawksley toasts them, approving of the wise words he speaks. It tastes pretty strong to her, like it's laced liberally with alcohol but then she's still realtively new to the world of drinking. She smiles at the lad from Eire and then looks towards his amore when she starts to berate him. Their bickering doesn't bother her though. It's something she saw plenty of between her siblings.

The mention of her and the Muay Thai fighter's team name has her laughing lightly. It's a fitting one for both of the battle babes with her scorpion sting and Coco's cobra like ways. Rox had agreed readily when the Brit had suggested it and now apparently their brand is being released into the public domain. Reaching out cautiously to pet Captain Morgan, she finds his attention switching from the Irishman's muscles to her hand. "Can I feed him some grapes?" She checks with Coco. She's still growing accustomed to the creatures's company having never had a pet of her own but she can't deny that he's pretty cute.

Chevy's comments on Trouble in Paradise pique Rox's interest. "That's really strange. Perhaps they should do a true crime documentary about the case. I understand that those are very popular with people."

As the video finishes, the black haired beauty takes the time to look around the faces of the other passengers. They settle on the unassuming figure of Eiko, who seems to be concerned about something. When the woman rises to her feet, Rox tracks her progress, tilting her head towards the powerful movement detected by the doctor. What happens next has the younger female gasping. What exactly is the woman doing? It seems she has the ability to keep control of Max in some way, which given what Rox has witnessed so far, may not be an entirely bad thing. Still, the image is still disconcerting to the other gear girl. "Are you okay?" She mutters to Max, once she's safely back on the boat.

"Oh, pattycake with a dolphin would be smashing," Tanwen remarks with awe in her eyes and voice as she gazes at the exquisite aquatic mammalia. "Do dolphins like pattycake? Do they even know what a baker's man is? I'm not even sure what a baker's man is."

She's still watching the dolphins keenly when she senses the presence of the predator beneath the surface, then sees it leaping from the waves like a sea-dragon divebombing a herd of ocean-sheep. Part of Tanwen - the part that shows on her face - is horrified.

Part of her feels a bit jealous, like.

She turns around to face Max, letting her legs dangle over the side of the seat as she sits back down on her bum.

"Welcome back, Max! I didn't know your mum was a wizard. Is the water very nice? Have you and Buck picked a team name yet? Me and Chevy are calling ours Team Atlantis, because Atlantis is all watery and full of dragons."

She looks over her shoulder at Chevy, raising an eyebrow questioningly. "Or were you saying it's Team South now?"

It was... a statistical anomaly for Ishida to have as much to say as he did in Rodrigo's party. Normally he's quiet, and keeps to himself. This is especially true when he's on a tiny little boat, unmoored from terra firma and subject to the whims and desires of a fickle and temperamental sea. It's not... something he's used to. Which is to say, his stomach is doing flips right now.

Suffice to say, there's one thing that Ishida learned real quickly about sea travel: be as close to the center of the ship as possible. Once he'd found the place that minimized rocking side-to-side from the waves, he rooted himself into position and has moved as little as possible since. He has been riveted in place since the Zack video started, finding that focusing his attention on the comparatively tiny little box felt good for a moment.

It was just, well, when that video was -over-, that he realized it could get much, much worse.

It's... hard to keep track again. He's come to understand from the first season that Coco bickering with Hawksley is par for the course. He sees Chevy and Tanwen chirping about dolphins, and Winn and Dr Maeda playing their respective chaperone roles to the best of their respective abilities. And he sees Roxana -- who seems to be radiating an aura of calm in the midst of it all.

But he's also feeling, like, *everything* he'd had for breakfast gurgling about in his stomach.

It's... mostly under control until Dr Maeda stands up. She might not notice the boat rock under her feet. Ishida does. One hand clasps over his mouth.

His eyes, naturally, follow her gaze towards the dolphins and that dark shadow rapidly approaching them, barely visible beneath the waves. The far focus makes the side-to-side lurching of the boat even more prominent to him. Near to him, he can feel, if not quite -see-, the doctor accessing her arcane cantrip. He might not know what it does yet. But he narrows his eyes in anticipation of what might happen next.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ishida pushes those out of his mind, focusing on the calming rhythm of his own body. Hffff.... haaaa. Hfff..... haaaaaaa.

And then... enter Max.
One moment, she was about to feast on fresh dolphin.
The next, she was flung through the air.
And the next after that, she lands on deck.
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

The boat lurches violently from side-to-side as it adapts to both the sudden addition of Max's weight and the burden of counteracting her sideways momentum. Ishida's knuckles turn white as he grips tightly onto the edge of his seat. His eyes shut, so that he can't see the horizon rocking back and forth, focusing on the simple act of breathing. Hff.... haaa...

The boat doesn't take long to settle; the contributions of a certain waterbender might not be fully apparent to everyone just yet. But suffice to say... it's a good long while before a pale-faced Ishida finally lets out his breath in a long, long exhale.

"... I have a question,"
He speaks up, finally.
"... How long until we reach the island?"

"Zack is - was - a Las Vegas disc jockey turned Muay Thai fighter with what many have called 'uncanny luck.' He took his winnings from surprise victories in Dead or Alive tournaments in the early two-thousands to the tables in his home city, where he multiplied his wealth. He used that money to purchase an island resort - the original Zack Island - which was the host of the Trouble in Paradise tournament. With the proceeds from sponsorships ahead of that tournament, he apparently secretly hit the tables again and used his winnings to buy a second Zack Island, for which he had a construction contractor complete a large-scale project to duplicate the first Zack Island, which he wanted to use for what would have been - in his wording - 'Love Island, but for fighters.' Professional Fighting Worldwide believes that by hosting a tag tournament on New Zack Island, it is engaging the spirit of Zack's intent, and the technical requirements of his final will and testament," Tom says, the words reverberating throughout the vessel over the P.A. system. "And, yes - I have changed conditioners; thank you for asking. Next - ah, yes. Miss Coalbridge. I believe I've answered your second question. As for the first, to my knowledge, there are no meerkats native to New Zack Island, and therefore no cause for concern. Actually, they're known to inhabit deserts and places with low humidity, which raises the question of why they -"

==*== ELSEWHERE ==*==

A small, well-ventilated wooden shipping container labelled 'Botswana' starts to crack before one of the softwood planks gives out. A dark-eyed mammal pokes its head out of the gap before crawling through to find itself in a large warehouse lit by natural sunlight through the windows above. It slinks out through the gap before standing on its hind legs to peer out at the surrounding sea of similarly-labelled, shuffling wooden crates.

==*== BACK ON THE BOAT ==*==

"- can only assume that meerkats were a personal favourite of Zack himself," Tom finishes saying. "Now, as for the scoring, you will each earn NFG points individually based on your teams' placements in the New Zack Island tag tournament. These will be cumulative toward the end-of-year NFG point standings. However, there will also be bonus activities available for which you can earn Zack Coins."

"Zack wanted us to have Zack Coins and he filled the island with Zack Coins, so we figured we'd do somethin' with 'em," Lou calls out over the sound of the motor. "Apparently they're like easter eggs, hidden all over the island. And once the shops are running, you can buy stuff with 'em, too. Mostly swimsuits."

"Zack Coins earned will translate directly to NFG points," Tom continues. "So those who've been eliminated early will still have opportunities to earn points."

"Hope you guys like volleyball," Lou calls out. "But really, think about it like FightFest 2023. It'll basically be that, but in teams. By the way, Tom, you forgot to mention what a notorious ladies' man Zack was."

"I didn't feel it was an appropriate point of address, Lou, but I can understand why it would be of concern to you," Tom calls out in an even tone.

When Max is deposited back onto the boat, Tom and Lou exchange a look.

"The captain would like to remind all aboard to stay on the deck until we come to a complete stop," Lou announces.

"As for our time of arrival in port - I'd estimate about five more minutes," Tom adds.

"Oh right. That Zack." Hawksley responds to Coco with an amused expression. He receives further explanation about the fella from Tom and Lou as they tell the tale of the fighter's rise and fall. "He sounds like a right laugh. Shame he's dead and all. I wouldn't have minded downing a few drinks with him."

He looks between the two bikini wearing babes who form Team Toxique. "So that's the name you've gone with. Myself and Henry have chosen Hollywood Heat. He brings the former and I bring the latter, plus it works with our initials, so it does." He throws a wink the blue haired boy's way.

The reality show that Coco and Chevy are sharing memories about sounds like something his sister Sammy would lap up. He'll have to ask her about it the next time they talk. She's always been his favourite sibling and not just because they are so close in age. She has the same sense of mischief as Hawksley and the two have got into tons of trouble together over the years.

Speaking of trouble, Max has made herself known again and this time she's threatening sea mammals rather than just the seafood buffet. He loves the lasses chaotic energy but he can't help but feel relieved that he's not the one who has to keep her in line. He looks towards his buddy Buck with sympathy, between the gear and the dragonette, he and Chevy have got their hands full.

Ishida is a whole different story. He seems somewhat sensible like the scorpion girl who's smiling at him. The lad seems to struggle with seasickness though by the look of him. Reaching for one of his bottles of Lucky's Fiery Ale, Hawksley cracks the top off with his teeth and hands it to him. "There you go, fella. That's got ginger in. It should sort your stomach right out."

When Dr. Maeda lands the giant cat-fish, Captain Morgan, who was enjoying a petting from Roxana, falls backward into Coco's lap, flailing and chittering in shock and nearly losing his extremely expensive eyewear. The posh purple-haired girl strokes the bearcat's fur reassuringly.

"I bet that I could talk to a dolphin," Coco brags (?) to Roxana in response to her contemplation. "And sure - they're in the cooler." She bends down to lift the device out from under her seat and offers it to her tag partner. It's got a bunch of chilled grapes, a canned pina colada, and a pomegranate inside. "I've listened to loads of podcasts with different theories about what happened to Zack Island. Do you know, there's one theory that a bunch of meerkats formed a society of their own to overthrow the islanders after their mistreatment at the hands of that psycho American soldier? And another that it was supposed to be a shrine to the Japanese god Fujin, and he got so angry that Zack was being treated as the new lord of the island that he blew the island straight off the face of the Earth. And another that there was a secret base full of World War II war criminals who destroyed the island so they wouldn't be found."

Coco considers Hawksley's announcement of his tag team's title. "Hollywood Heat. Not too bad, Lucky. And Zack might not be dead. Half the podcasts think he isn't, for various reasons. They never found a body, after all. Actually, the only bodies they found were meerkats." She sniffs gently in sympathy, frowning.

There's a lot of things Chevy doesn't realize about her own accent: not just words she says differently than others, but entire stock phrases. It's usually not until someone pulls those dialectical differences out for examination that Chevy even realizes how -odd- they must sound to someone outside of her own little pocket of existence.

"I mean, it's just a saying..." stammers the Carolina girl, trying desperately to keep up with Tanwen's mile-a-minute conversational cadence. "I mean, it could be fun to try!" She shares a brief look with noted animal-rights activist Constance Coalbridge for her take...

But then, well. Something feels off.

The waterbender looks back to the dolphins, worriedly taking note of the approaching shadow. Dr Maeda stands up in her periphery; Chevy, more concerned for the dolphins themselves, lets out a gasp.

And then the -weirdest- thing happens, as Max is plucked right out of the water and -pulled- to the boat, her figure growing larger by the instant like some weird late-90s shooting game. (Minus the horrendous pixel scaling, of course!) Chevy raises a hand in defense -- only to realize that Dr Maeda has that situation under control!

But... then there's another situation: the boat rocking sideways, crashing into the waves and churning up a misty cloud of sea spray! Chevy grabs hold of the railing with one hand, splaying the fingers of her other hand out as she gestures out to the water. She already knows Homura's prone to seasickness -- and she'd had some concerns about Ishida as well. But with all the motion, the real fear isn' just stomach sickness, but the possibility of the boat tipping over!

Her forehead creases in concentration. While she's ridden in many boats before, actually being able to -use- her abilities to calm the waves is... well. It's new! And as the boat rocks back to a more normal frequency, Chevy swells with pride -- even though, as she notes with a faint smile, people might not even notice.

And that's fine with her! Because she wouldn't want -anything- bad to happen to this wonderful group of fighters.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, she flashes a grin back to Max. She's got no doubt that she'll probably be helping Buck in keeping her reined in -- but she's glad to have Dr. Maeda's help in that regard!

"Haha! I don't think them dolphins planned to be joining us for this picnic!" She laughs faintly, adjusting the brim of her hat as she looks back at Buck and Max. "Yeah, I was kinda wonderin' about that..."

Tanwen's next question derails her train of thought, though. Or, well... gets it back on a different rail. "... Oh. Naw, Buck and me are from the South. I was just bein' silly." Her cheeks redden in mild embarassment.

It's good that other conversations are going on for her to latch onto, though: "Oh... Hollywood Heat's a great name! You two're gonna be great together!"

She seems a bit more concerned about the things she can spend Zack Coins on, though.

"So, huh, hol' up, guys. Does that mean if we cash in Zack Coins for a swimsuit we cain't use it for NFG points?" She pauses a moment. There's -so- many other possibilities in mind for this fanciful new currency...!

In the back of the boat, somehow having claimed an entire row of seats all to himself with his large arms sprawled across the back of several seats and his seven foot long frame stretched out as he slouches both bruitshly and languidly over the immediate area he occupies is the roguish beastman, Braun. Like the good minder of the feline aspected Gear, he's elected for a more anti-social approach to matters but unlike her he's making no effort to disguise that and has largely limited his engagement and interactivity with anyone else with absent grunts or bored looking waves of his clawed hand if he's acknowledged. He's not rude after all.

Or as rude as he usually is.

Which begs the question as to why? Braun's no stranger to those present and, for all his attempts at cultivating a 'bad boy' persona both on and off the channel has...ultimately been far more personable to most people then your average 'heel' might be expected to be. This sense of being standoffish isn't really like him. Close study of him, however, might reveal that he's not exactly as relaxed as he is attempting to appear to be. There's a certain tension about him and a lack of movement. A staring straight ahead with dark shades hiding his eyes and a refusal to look at the glass bottom of the boat. He's also starkly in the middle of the row of seats, not close to the edge by any means. In short...he's not enjoying this ride.

Which, fair, but he was also just on a cruise ship so there shouldn't be some fear of boats or water. Then again that was a cruise ship. Effectively a floating city and it wasn't like he had to look right at the seeming bottomless depths of the sea right under his feet at all times.

When Max's antics cause the boat to lurch, his clawed hands grip the seats on either side of his outstreched arms, digging into them tightly and scrunching the seats up from the force of his grasp. A large spray of water douses him, drenching his body and the loudly colored open tee-shirt he's got drapped over his menacingly huge torso. The beastman furrows his brow, and remains still. only a slight curling of his lips and a rumbling, "Hrrnnnn...." escaping him.

You know how Ishida is in the middle of the glass-bottomed boat, doing breathing exercises to marshal his breakfast? You know how Braun is also doing exactly that same thing? This is a reasonable reaction, and there is a big difference between the small tourista schooner and the comparably and vastly more grandiose Mermaid. Everything in the little boat is amped by an order of magnitude, the roll and pitch and sway being done very few favors by the rambunctious Gear activity. The sense of balance in the inner ear benefits even less from the silken magic that is Zack's reproduced voice recording coming from what really feels like the bones. Even so, the two nauseous guys seem to be holding up ... comparably well, all things considered.

And then there's Homura.

The shugenja was barely able to tolerate the roll of the Mermaid. Then he was stuffed onto something much, much smaller. Currently, the boy is all but paralyzed on the very edge of the railing, half-thrown over the side like a well beaten rug. Oh, he's prepared for the island -- the boy has a change of clothes all bundled up in a bag at his back that is carrying three swords, a litttle shovel, a hat and what looks like a rolled up mat -- but he's currently still wearing his street clothes right down to the sneakers, and also apparently didn't get the memo about staying in the center of the boat. Not that it'd work. Now, the shugenja is in the process of living out a particularly miserable involuntary self exorcism.

Of course, the gathering of so many lovely people in their equally lovely swimwear would have caused the boy to possibly blush a bright shade of red, right now it's all a bit lost on him. It's debatable if Homura would actually notice a nuclear blast right now. Though, interestingly? If one listens, one can still hear the young boy's watery voice contributing from somewhere over the railside. " -- it seems -- ugghh! - like maybe points and coins are separate? guh.. are there achievements for getting all the -- urrp -- coins? .. and is the loud recorded guy going to talk at us again?" Please say no. huu-!!

There's no worse fate than this.

Max proves quick to recover from her rebuke, eagerly using the bevy of questions and stares directed her way as an excuse to turn away from the doctor's disapproving glower. But not before shaking herself off like a dog, buffeting everyone aboard the boat with yet more sea water even as her body shrinks and reforms down to its normal diminutive human mode.

Turning to the first person to address her, the tiny Gear peers up at Roxanna with bright fuchsia eyes. She blinks once, staring in silence for a few long seconds as she tries to remember the woman's name. Recognition sets in from a prior encounter, during the initial boarding - at least, she hasn't met anyone else who dresses half as fancy. But her name was... Box? Socks? Rocks? That was it, something to do with rocks.

"Oh, I'm great, Rocks!"

The teenager gives a big toothy grin and flashes the peace sign, something she picked up from watching videos on the Internet.

"Kinda hungry though. I was about to catch that huge fish but then I ended up here."

Her head swivels to regard the distant pair of dolphins, a look of wistful longing on her face. The two aquatic creatures stare back, maintaining a healthy distance from the boat. Then both of them start squeaking noisily at the Gear, flapping their fins on the surface of the water. It distinctly sounds like they're laughing at her.

"Hey," Max cries, rushing over to the edge of the boat. She leans over the side, heedless of how her sudden shift of position might affect the craft's balance, shaking a tiny purple fist at the distant dolphins. "Don't you laugh at me! We're staying here for weeks! Weeks, you hear me! You're going to be breakfast one day, mark my words, Flipper!"

Seemingly unimpressed by her threats, the dolphins continue to mockingly chitter at the Gear. Unwilling to indulge their harassment any further, she turns her back to them rather pointedly and flops down on the glass deck. Her partner in youthful exuberance's barrage of questions make for a good distraction from her sore ego.

"Hey, Tanwen."

Eiko frowns at the term 'wizard' but Max is quick to answer that allegation for her.

"She's not a wizard! At least, not like the ones from Dungeons and Dragons. She's a scientist! Who studies magic."

"Magic Particle Theory, to be precise," the doctor adds. "I don't cast spells, I figure out how to use these phenomenon to create specific outcomes that would normally be impossible under the regular Laws of physics. It's more like solving complex math equations."

"The water's fine," Max says, quickly changing the subject before her mother can settle into talking about her work. No one wants to endure a lecture for the remainder of their trip."You should swim with me later! I'll teach you how to catch fish with your teeth!"

The Gear shifts her gaze towards her taciturn partner who has yet to weigh in on the matter of their team up then shrugs.

"Not yet. Mom says he can turn into animals too, so maybe we'll do something with that theme. I was sorta hoping to team up with Mister Braun, since we're both big scary cats! But the organizers said he already teamed up with someone else."

As if only just remembering that the big fuzzy lug is present, Max hops to her feet and scampers over to stand in front of her fellow feline. Her bright eyes sparkle with genuine adoration, a tiny bit of hero worship evident in the way she addresses him compared to everyone else.

"Mister Braun, Mister Braun! Who did you team up with, huh? Are they as big and strong as you? I bet they aren't! It's a shame you didn't pick me as your partner, we could have been Team Tiger! I have mostly puma DNA though, Mom says, but that doesn't sound as good. It's alliteration, see? I learned that from a book."

Rox isn't sure if dolphins know what pattycake is but she's pretty sure she doesn't. It sounds like it may be edible but she suspects that cake wouldn't be on the menu of most dolphins. It could even be dangerous for them to eat. Grapes are a good option for Morgie though and the dark-haired teen is delighted when Coco fetches the cooler containing them. She passes on the pina colada and pomegranate though, since there only seems to be enough for solo servings and she suspects the Brit brought them for herself.

As the bearcat devours the fruit faster than Hawksley chugging a pint, Rox takes in the information about the podcasts and conspiracy theories featured on them. "Do you believe any of these stories, Coco?" Roxana checks curiously. They all sound a bit far-fetched to the scorpion-girl but stranger things have happened.

Rox removes her sunglasses, blinking into the sun and finds her eyes fixing on Ishida. "Are you okay?" She asks softly, seeming concerned. Apparently he's not the only one who's struggling though and she's soon extending her question to Braun and Homura too.

Things on board the boat are certainly getting a lot rockier and the binutrong sitting by her starts chuckling away at the chaos. "It's okay, Captain." She attempts to soothe him. "I suspect we are perfectly safe and it seems like we will soon be reaching our destination."

Roxana listens as Tom talks more about the life and times of the lucky man named Zack. The idea of the Zack coins is of interest to her and she awaits the answer to Chevy's question eagerly. The prospect of being able to purchase more bathing suits and bikinis during their time on the island is tempting, especially since they are likely to spend most of their time dressed in them. She wouldn't place their importance above earning actual points though.

Once Max is safely settled back in the boat, she responds to Rox's question, bringing a bright smile to the Nebraskan's face. "That's a relief. Would you like some fruit salad? I made sure to make lots, so there'll be enough for everyone. It's a really delicious one with mango, pineapple, kiwi, papaya and passion fruit."

Before she can get her answer, the other gear girl is busy berating the dolphins. Roxana starts to giggle. There's something incredibly comical to her about the one-sided conversation. Although perhaps Coco can understand what the sea creatures are saying! She seemed pretty confident in her claim.

Tanwen seems to be mostly unaware of the suffering of her peers at the heaving of the sea. After all, as was mentioned in her pre-season interview, her own Fortitude save is high enough for such things not to concern her. Keeping her balance would be another issue, but she's happy to stick to the seating for the time being. "Oh! I've got a question!" Tanwen says, raising a hand and waving it about before voicing it: "Are Zack Coins made of real gold? And can we trade things for other people's Zack Coins? If they're shiny then I'd like all the Zack Coins, I would."

She turns back to Eiko and Max, head tilting as Max starts to explain that Eiko is not, in fact, a wizard, and then Eiko goes on to explain how what she does is not at all like what Tanwen imagines a wizard to be, even if it sounds suspiciously like exactly what Tanwen imagines a wizard to be. After all, they keep science in books, and maths in books, and wizards love using books. Tanwen decides that she probably had it right in the first place, but she remembers what happened when she tried to correct her teachers when Winn made her take a year in school, so she keeps it to herself.

After all, wizards are probably even grumpier than teachers, and she doesn't want to be turned into a newt. Years as a slow worm was boring enough.

"Ooh! That sounds SO fun!" Tanwen says as Max suggests that they go swimming and catch fish in their teeth.

As is often the case with children, and apparently also forty-seven-year-old dragons, Max's shifting attention is contagious, and Tanwen gets up off of the seat, grabbing a satchel from beneath it and stumbling after the Gear as her tail and land-legs struggle to maintain as much balance as momentum.

"Hello, Mister Braun! I brought a character sheet for you, too, if you want to join our Dungeons and Dragons party! I thought we can play while we have the picnic on the beach." She fishes in her satchel before producing a piece of paper with a bunch of blank spaces waiting to be filled in.


Braun must be audtioning for a run as Sideshow Bob for all the grumbling and frustrated rumbling he makes as he reaches up and pulls his glasses off and then peers down at his soaked body. He stares at himself for a long period of time as if waiting for his own fuming glare to dry himself off but ultimately just gives up and finally corrects his slouch so that he's sitting more upright as he tucks his glasses into soggy pocket of his open shirt.

"Hmm?" he rumbles, finally turning his attention back towards the boat proper just as Max comes bounding up to him excitedly. It figures she'd be one of the first to try and engage the large beastman with her bubbling excitment overwhelming any would be barrier his prior standoffishness might have caused anyone else to give him his space.

He recoils at first but then seems to think differently as he relaxes and reaches up and runs a massive hand through the mess of his hair.

"...Hey max. Whazzat now? Nnn,..Team Tiger sounds mighta been fun but..."

He gives a side glance towards Max's minder, "I had my reasons for not wanting to team up...."

After a pause he looks back to the young gear and offers, "B' should get a good handful on a variety o'styles and ways of fighting by workin' with Buck....and....Of course...that don't mean that you and I can't still learn some things, yeah? Anyway I'm workin' with Skye... Should be fun..."

He rubs a hand across the beard framing his big jaw and then looks on in surprise as a D&D sheet is placed infront of him by Tanwen. He sputters at first but then ultimately reaches for the sheet after making sure his hands are dry enough.

"D&D eh? How on brand o'ya..." he considers her, "..I don't even know what th'heck I'd make! You know somma this isn't exactly make believe for folk like me... What's missing in yer party?"

Ishida focuses on the rhythm of his breathing, as Hawksley offers him the ale sharing his nickname. For a moment, there is a look of unease; the boat ride is beginning to erode upon his usual stoic nature. But once Hawksley mentions the word 'ginger,' Ishida's expression brightens considerably. And he reaches out for the bottle, accepting it gingerly.

"Thank you, Moore-san." He musters a brief smile.

He might have taken a sip, but for Roxana asking him more directly about -how- he feels. "I... will be, I think. Once we reach land." Another brief smile, as he nods to Roxana, and once more to Hawksley, as a way of indicating his appreciation. "Ginger has helped to calm my stomach often."

He's familiar with the taste of ginger. But Ishida is a bit -less- familiar with the taste of ale; his mask slips a little, once again, before he replaces it with an appreciative smile.

Something to get used to. And he can warm up to it, as it helps draw his focus away from the sound of Homura baling the contents of his stomach overboard. He continues to sip at the bottle periodically, as Tom and Lou answer their questions. Five more minutes? Thank goodness for that.

He might have been fine like this, if not for Max discussing her hunger. He doesn't -want- to be hungry, with his stomach so upset... but sure enough, the thought about food has him considering a little snack of his own. As Coco boasts about her affinity with animals, and Chevy chatters on about whatever Chevies chatter on about, Ishida rummages around in the shoulder bag he pulls out from beneath his seat, soon withdrawing a zippered bag of dried cuttlefish. He... pauses to consider if he -really- wants to dig in on that, just as Tanwen and Max decide to head astern to talk with Braun.

He draws in his breath. Maybe just... one thing at a time, he resolves, pushing the cuttlefish back into his bag. It's just five more minutes.

Perhaps it is of little comfort to the more kinetosis-prone passengers of the Sprat that the ocean around them is comparatively calm as they continue, with only the gentle rolling of the tide to rock the boat aside from the occasional disturbance from within the vessel. Of greater comfort may be the rising peak of the mountain in the middle of Zack Island as terra firma looms ever nearer, the lush jungle canopy stretching to fill the blue void of the horizon beyond.

"Unfortunately, neither Lou, nor I, nor Professional Fighting Worldwide itself can offer any insights into the events around the conclusion of Trouble In Paradise, with which we are not affiliated in any capacity, managerial or otherwise," Tom comments (or fails to comment) in response to Coco's words.

"As for the scoring system, as long as Lou and I or our staff are able to register any Zack Coins before purchases are made, we'll allow them to count for points, even if you choose to spend them at one of the island's many venues."

"Yeah. It ain't like we wanna scam you guys out of your Zack Coins so we can buy ourselves snacks and volleyballs," Lou says with a stilted laugh over the noise of the boat.

"Yes, that idea was shot down during the brainstorming phase," Tom says with an even tone. "We hadn't considered achievements for collecting all of the coins."

"It's not like you guys'll be stuck on the island long enough to wanna go finding all the coins, anyway. You'll have other stuff to do! Like karaoke, or keijo battles," Lou pipes up again. "Not to mention the amenities of a five-star hotel."

"Well, technically as-yet-to-be-classified five-star hotel," Tom adds. "The old one was; this one has yet to open, so they haven't been given a star rating yet. And, sorry, Miss Cadwallader - the coins are not made of actual gold."

"I think I heard they were made of pyrite," Lou remarks. "So they'll probably look like real gold. Look alive, folks! We're coming into harbor."

Indeed, as the vessel rounds the curvature of the island's sandy shore, a marina comes into view. Strangely, it appears unmanned, as does the rest of the island behind it - what appears to be an entire tropical resort sitting pristine and empty. Lou kills the motor as he pulls the Sprat up alongside the dock, and Steve the Tech Guy disembarks with a deft leap, moving to help guide the boat to a mooring, where he sets about tying it to the plank.

"Now, ladies, gentlemen, and all of our other friends - allow me to say 'bienvenidos a Isla Zaca.' Please remain in the boat until the Captain gives the go-ahead, and deposit any empty punch cups in the bucket as you exit."

A rather basic-looking wooden sign juts out from the sandy shore at the base of the dock. It reads:

Isla Zaca

Site B

"Alright, kids. We're good to go. Remember to stick with your tag partners, and teams, stay with the group. We're gonna give you guys a quick tour in those Jeeps up there before we all settle down back on the beach here for a picnic."

"Watch yourself, Morgie. Have you been on my beer?" Hawksley banters with the bearcat. "You don't wanna be losing your fancy shades now. They probably cost more than my whole wardrobe combined, knowing Coco." As for his romantic partner's choice of podcasts, he looks unimpressed. "It sounds like a load of old shite to me. Probably people with too much time on their hands making it all up. I mean, meerkats overthrowing people? Who'd believe that malarky?"

He seems pleased with the posh girl's praise on he and Henry's tag team name though and Chevy clearly approves too. "Cheers, cailins. I thought it sounded a bit like a late night American drama from the eighties but that's not necessarily a bad thing."

He catches the North Carolinian smiling to herself and wonders what she's been up to. Things certainly appear to have calmed down on the boat and the Cork lad can't help but ponder if that's her doing. Which, along with his fiery ale, is likely to help Ishida. "My mammy swears by ginger for sickness." He tells him. "When our Sharon was pregnant she was always baking her ginger biscuits, so she was. It was about all she could tolerate for most of the day. It's funny because our Conor came out ginger. Although that might have had more to do with the fact his da has red hair."

As soon as Hawksley realises some other fighters are in need, he's quick to pass more drinks out to Homura and Braun. He likes the young lad who took the time to come along to his birthday bash and Braun is his former Blaze bestie from back in Metro City. "There you go, fellas. Get those into you like Ishida and you'll be just grand."

He overhears Max's suggestion of Team Tiger and mourns the loss of that marvelous name. He's curious what she and Buck will come up with though. Maximum Wild would be his shout. As for who Braun will play in a Dungeons and Dragons party, he can't wait to find out. Right now though, there's other things to consider, like the fact the glass bottomed boat is pulling up to the infamous Zack Island! (The sequel.)

The beach is undoubtedly beautiful, as one would expect of a Carribbean resort. There's something eerie about its apparent emptiness though. As they're instructed to deposit empty cups in the bucket, Hawksley decides to get a head start and aim his towards it with an impressive throw. It manages to make its way in, causing the lad to let out a loud cheer in celebration. He's still looking pleased as punch when they're given the go ahead to disembark from the boat. Checking Henry is right behind him, Hawksley makes his way to dry land.

They've finally arrived at the island, and they're all coming ashore.

Including that cute disk jockey with blonde hair and blue eyes, known for going barefoot just about all of the time and her signature baseball cap. Also known for going by the alias DJ Supernova and having an upbeat demeanor no matter how difficult things get.

Unlike the others who may have came onto the dock normally, Sarah isn't the type to just make a normal entrance. Instead, she leaps off of the boat and proceeds to land rolling twice before coming up onto both feet effortlessly. After that, she takes off her cap and dusts herself off with it before putting it back on.

From there, she's all smiles as she says, "Hey, one and all, it's Sarah Ashley Kuzumi, a.k.a. DJ Supernova! With my partner, Rodrigo, we are going to be known as the Rhythm Renegades, and we're gonna put on a show for you!"

With that, Sarah does a brief Capoeira-style routine with a few acrobatic tricks thrown in for good measure before returning to her standing position. She then looks around at the general atmosphere and grins. "A beach resort, this is gonna be perfect." The barefoot disk jockey wiggles her toes. "No need for shoes here!" The girl does have her flip-flops on hand if the need should arise, but that hopefully won't happen.

A flicker of concern crosses Coco's face as Max starts to shout about the dolphins being breakfast one day. Surely that won't actually happen, right? She's about to offer to mediate, but Roxana has a more pressing query for Coco, and the purple-clad Brit turns her attentions to her blessed apprentice, prepared to dish out her worldly wisdom.

"Well, the way I see it is, it was probably actually a cover-up by the American military. Think about it: they already had a Special Forces commando on-site. Why would they have allowed that unless they had a vested interest in either the island itself, or the competitors? Eyewitness accounts have it that Tia Langray and the army lady were last seen leaving the island on a helicopter together, and the army lady was always giving Zack funny looks. I think that Sergeant Delaney secretly recruited Tia and Zack for that project that Major Nash announced, and they've been carrying out black ops missions against rogue fighters in Central America ever since. The island disappearing, though? Probably a volcanic eruption. Oh, look! They've got a volcano on this island, too."

She draws in a deep breath through her nostrils, inhaling the scent of the sea and the island and beaming brightly as the boat pulls up toward the docks. She's eager to get off of the boat, not because of any sense of seasickness, but because of - well - all of the reasons that she's already been going on about. She collects her cooler and her binturong, bustling her way to the front of the queue to unload.

"Come on, Roxie! Oh, look! This must be Niki Marina! It's named after Zack's girlfriend. Are those Jeeps electric?"

With the help of Steve, Coco daintily disembarks onto the dock, her vegan sandals clip-clopping on the wooden boards as she starts to drift toward the vehicles. Morgie jumps out of her arms once they're on dry land, and Coco takes out her phone, raising it up to snap a picture, then switching to selfie mode as she moves over next to the 'Isla Zaca' sign. "Here, let's get one of Team Toxique arriving on the island!" she shouts to Roxana. "Oh, is there no wifi? Ah, well. I'm sure it will be online by the time we come back for the tournament."

Chevy is, in a word, ecstatic. In general, she's happy because she's surrounded by friends and everyone is -- for the most part -- getting along! And in specific -- she got a positive response to her query. Which means, yes, she can purchase any cute swimsuits she might find available. And, judging from Zack's behavior on the video and Tom and Lou's in person, it seems the gentlemen are in favor of the ladies' swimsuit purchases as well.

She grins, still pleased at her being able to calm the waters. It's not -great- for the guys in back, but... Then she thinks about that. And dealing with drunks back in her hometown.

"My ears are burnin' with all this talk about ginger," she notes with a laugh... "But hey, if you guys wanna get well faster, water's a ton better for you than alcohol..." She finds a one-liter bottle of water in her canvas bag, but just as she's about to withdraw it, she glances up at the seasick trio of Ishida, Homura, and Braun: "... Guys, I got water here if any y'all want it. No pressure!"

She turns her attention back to Tom and Lou, nodding along like a good listener. She'd heard talk about 'keijo', but it isn't till the island is looming in sight that she remembers to ask: "Oh hey, yeah, what's this 'keijo' thing y'all're-- " She's cut off by the captain announcing an exhortation to look alive. Thankfully, Chevy is a pro at that, and pumps a triumphant fist into the air. "Awesome, we're here!" ... And she entirely forgets about her question in the process.

As the boat pulls in to shore, she pulls her bag out from beneath the seat and sets it up on her lap. While she snickers at Hawksley's take on Coco's theories on the last Zack Island, she hesitates to say any more than that out of consideration for Coco's good mood.

With the waning moments of the boat trip, she gives Buck a friendly clap on the shoulder. "Hope y'all are ready!" She flashes a brief glance over to Max, and Dr Maeda, rising to her feet.

And then, well, it's her turn to clap Tanwen on the shoulder as well. "C'mon, Tanwen, let's goooo!"

She seems... Surprised, actually, to find Sarah bolting off the boat as soon as she can. And introducing herself! "... Huh, are there already cameras set up here? Wow!"

As enthusiastic as she is to be out and about, she minds her manners and shadows along behind Tanwen. She -hears- Coco say something about the lack of wifi, but with her phone tucked away in a back pocket, she doesn't seem to have a care in the world.

"This trip is gonna be -great!-"

Max's gaze shifts sideways to follow the surreptitious glance that the big mancat gives her mother as he attempts to tactfully deflect the little Gear's curiosity regarding his choice of team partner. By the time most people are her age, or the age she -looks-, they've learned the nuances of social interaction well enough to understand when someone is trying to be coy. Unfortunately, etiquette was not high on the priority list of things that she had been taught in the handful of years since her creation.

The girl blinks once, a gesture that has become an obvious visual indicator of confusion or deep thought as she clearly shows no signs of needing to blink on a regular basis; one of the many small reminders that she is not human. Turning back to Braun, she gives him the sort of look that a child gives when they are about to ask a very awkward question.

"Are you talking about my moth-"

By some stroke of luck, the presence of another energetic youth manages to rescue everyone from having to deal with that nonsense again. Tanwen scampers up next to the Gear and shoves one of the sheets from her apparently ever-ready bag of tabletop paraphernalia at the beastman. Max blinks again as her brain shifts gears but proves happy to change the topic to something more interesting.

"I'm Xam the barbarian," she announces proudly, puffing her chest up with fists on hips. "But I don't have my axe with me. Mom said the sea air wouldn't be good for it."

Everyone on board can thank the scientist for sparing them that terrible fate, though she mostly did it to protect her own sanity. She had encouraged the Gear to take up a few hobbies, something that would both provide Max activities to keep her idle hands from getting into trouble and perhaps offer some insight into human lives. Little did she realize what sort of Pandora's Box that decision would prove to be.

The sudden commotion and excitement from the dynamic duo on the mic draws Max's attention aside yet again. Spinning around, she casts her neon gaze out towards the vast island, eyes widening at the beautiful sight. She's seen beaches before, of course, in movies and along the coast of their first stop but nothing nearly so pristine and unblemished as this. Most of her life had been spent in the deep forests of Europe so the huge jungle isn't quite as awe-inspiring - at least until she realizes that there are massive clusters of fruit hanging off some of them. The trees back home didn't have those, mostly pinecones and acorns.

A soft rumble emanates from the Gear's stomach, reminding everyone of the hunger she'd professed only a few minutes ago. The teen's face splits into a wide toothy grin now that she's spied a solution to that problem. Still apparently oblivious to the basic premise of force and counter-force, Max crouches down as the air fills with the unsettling sound of her anatomy rearranging. Rippling cords of thick muscle bulge through the bio-weapon's arms and legs, purple fur spreading across her shifting limbs like creeping mold.

The boat visibly dips towards the rear as the tiny Gear's body nearly doubles in mass giving all of the passengers just enough warning to realize what's about to happen but preciously time to actually do anything about it. With a growl of excitement, Max catapults herself from the boat into the air, leaping like the Hulk towards the nearest bounty of fresh bananas she can see.

When Tanwen asks if the Zack Coins are made of real gold, Roxana feels her lips curling up at the corners. The Welsh woman certainly seems fond of all things shiny. Rox recalls the reactions to her sneakers on their first day on the cruise ship and her swimming costume at Rodrigo's party.

As for Hawksley's seasickness remedy, Rox is unconvinced. Yes, ginger is a known aid for nausea but alcohol definitley isn't and she's pretty sure any positive effects will be cancelled out by consumption of the ale. She's considering whether to speak out when Chevy saves her the trouble, offering water as a replacement. The scorpion-girl smiles at her gratefully and returns her attention to the approaching shore.

what she witnesses is wonderful. As well as the beach itself, there is a mountain and jungle. There will be all kinds of exciting new environments to explore. This combined with the fact they can use their Zack coins for both points and purchases pleases Roxana greatly but she's still curious about some things. "Karaoke I am aware of, though I have never participated. Keijo though? Like Chevy, I have no idea."

By the time the boat comes to a stop, Rox is ready to get going. Rising to her feet, she follows Coco's lead, though she is far from comfortable with the purple-haired posh girl pushing her way to the front of the queue. She glances back at he other occupants apologetically as Team Toxique are the first of the fighters to find their way to solid ground.

Her mentor had told her to think about the theories put forward on the podcasts and Rox is doing just that as she slings her beach bag over her shoulder containing the collection of things she thought she'd need for today's trip. Taking out a rosewater spray, she mists it across her face, enjoying the cooling sensation and soothing scent. She's only stirred from the unsettling thoughts by Sarah's energetic arrival. The blonde had been pretty quiet on the boat but it seems now they've reached their destination she's her usual lively self. "I like the Rhythm Renegades." Rox compliments, glancing towards Rodrigo, to include him in the compliment. "I'm sure you two will be a terrific team."

Coco's call to captire a selfie has the Nebraskan moving nearer to her, so they can both get in the shot. Like the party girl, she's adept at pouting and posing, allowing the delicous duo to get the perfect picture. "I think it will be nice not to have the internet for a while. We can just focus on each other's company and seeing all the beautiful nature around us. I particularly like the look of those..."

Roxana was about to reference the abudant fruit trees but is silenced by the sight of Max flying through the air towards one. Whatever happens today, it's sure to be eventful.

Tanwen doesn't seem to take in any of the subtext that Braun is providing with regards to how the teams have shaken out, but she does offer her own take on it.

"It's lovely that you get to work with Mister Buck," Tanwen tells Max. "Since he is courting with Evie - I mean, Chevy - that means we can hang out loads, since they'll be wanting to be seeing each other! By the way," she leans a bit closer to whisper, though not all that quietly, "Can you ask him if he's really a secret dragon for me? I wanted to team up with him so I could ask but I didn't get to."

She turns back to Braun, having only taken a matter of seconds to deliver all of that dialogue. "Oh, yes! I've even been in a dungeon once! But there wasn't any treasure. Let's see - we've got a barbarian queen called Xam, a fighter lady called Soraya, a rogue sea elf called Evie, a kobold cleric called Tiptup, a dwarf paladin called Lucky, an also-dwarf bard called Flea, and a wizard and an artificer called... eumm... Albert and Kenzo. We don't have a druid or a ranger, though. Do you prefer being a bear or being best friends with a bear?"

She turns to Tom, then Lou in turn when they explain about the coins not being made of actual gold, but apparently pyrite. "Pyrite? You mean fool's gold? Oh, hurray! That's the next best thing to real gold! I'm going to start a hoard, I am!" she says, clapping her hands together. "And I'm teaming with a rogue! I can get her to nick everybody else's coins!" She pumps her fist in victory.

"Tanwen, you're getting too into character again," Winn warns her.

"Oh, right." Tanwen's expression sinks. "Stealing is only okay for make-believe adventurers."

Fortunately, the funk of reality fades away as Chevy claps her on the shoulder and the realisation that they've arrived reaches her.

"Oh, lovely! I can't wait to be back on an island again!"

She teeters backward as the back of the boat dips when her partner-in-crime suddenly transmogrifies and leaps inland.

"Wah? Wait for meee!" She tries to take after both Sarah and Max as she staggers up the rolling deck and leaps toward the dock - only to barely manage to grab onto it with her arms and catch herself against the parallel planks with her midsection. She kicks her legs a few times before starting to shimmy up and over the edge.

"Hello, everybody! I am Tiptup - I mean, Tanwen - from Team Atlantis, with Chevy!" she calls out to the empty marina, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to introduce herself - though she looks around in confusion once she staggers off of the dock and onto the sand, toes scrunching testingly against the beach turf. "Oh. Has everybody cast invisibility or something? I can't see anybody. Hey, Max! Save some bananas for me!"

"Yup." says Braun without hestitation even though Max gets distracted and doesn't completely finished. He's no problem being honest he just didn't feel the need to come right out and say it.

"We clash. My methods and approach might not have been ideal."

Good luck to Buck, as he sees it. Braun could do without any third party hanging over his head no matter any insistence of non interference. Dealing with the NFG Organizers is already enough for his tastes.

Though speaking of being 'on brand' - "Barbarian huh? That's what -I- woulda done." he rumbles though it's in good enough cheer to show he doesn't actually mind.

His attention ended up settling back on Tanwen as he considers his options and then finally he simply gives a coy, "Druid eh? Hmm....I'll think about it..." and reaches out to take hold of the sheet to show he is indeed intersted but also not in any hurry to be pressured into picking right here and now.

Ultimately, the eventual arrival to the island does draw his attention and he begins making an actual attempt at starting to pay more attention to Sam and Lou and the flurry of information that's been getting tossed back and forth by the NFG organizers and guides. In truth - he'd not been fully paying attention. As Max and Tanwen blur into movement past him..he finally languidly begins to push up from his seat and approach the other less excitable but still no doubt excited members of this NFG expedition.

"Good luck..." he rumbles towards Coco, Hawksley and Chevy, letting a slight smirk curl across his fanged visage.

One would think that Ishida, Braun, and Homura might want to be the first ones off the boat. But... moving fast is -not- something the motion-sick Nara native wants to contemplate at the moment, particularly now that his stomach is full of ale. Grimacing, Ishida rifles around in his backpack as the young-at-heart competitors scramble off the ship. He fishes out that bag of dried cuttlefish and grabs himself a few, hoping to do what he can to complement the ginger from Hawksley with something more tangible. He hadn't needed water from Chevy since he already had a one-liter bottle -- but he figures he'll crack into that later.

For now, though, he nods back in response to those looking to him. "I will be fine in a few minutes." He offers a brief nod towards Kenzo, and begins making his way off the boat.

... It's almost night and day, as soon as he steps on shore. Not literally, of course, but his mood perks up considerably now that he isn't being buffeted about by waves. Pleased at the feel of the shore on his feet, Ishida stops for a moment to toss his canvas shoes into the bag. It's time for some barefoot beaching!

Now that he's ashore, it shouldn't be long before he's able to catch up with the others. Well, the non-hyperactive members of the troupe, at least.

"Well, we're going to be heading straight inland, so you may all want to keep your footwear handy," Tom mentions as the camera crew start taking sweeping shots of the scenery and candid shots of the crew as they disembark. One of the shots swings over from Sarah's introduction toward where Max is leaping onto a banana tree. Another is sure to capture Coco's conspiracy theory, although for some reason, that particular recording will never see daylight again other than a heavily censored cut that simply has Coco saying 'Oh, look! They've got a volcano on this island, too.' It won't be nearly as flattering to Coco's worldly pride as she would hope.

"The Jeeps definitely have electrical components," Lou says diplomatically in response to Coco's question as he walks over to one of them, swinging a keyring on his finger. "Alright. Teams Toxique, Hollywood Heat, Rhythm Renegades, and, uhh, Skye and Braun, you're with me. Team Atlantis, Max and Buck, and Iris and Al are with Tom. Kenzo and Ishida, Zarine and Homura, and Genie and Arisa are with Steve. Informally, the Party Jeep, the Magic Jeep, and the Chill Jeep."

Tom and Steve are already approaching their respective Jeeps as well. The vehicles are configured for tour group purposes, with bench seating in an open cage with a roof above to shield from the sun on each, though the Magic Jeep and Party Jeep will be packed a bit tighter than the Chill Jeep.

"Please be sure to keep your limbs inside the vehicles at all times," Tom drones as the teams are ushered into their respective vehicles, which might take a bit of extra time in the case of the vehicle that's supposed to be taking the dragon and the Gear that's going Donkey Kong for bananas. "And please, no stealing coins from your rival teams. We would like everyone to enjoy the spirit of Zack Island while reserving any violence strictly for sanctioned events."


The small convoy fires up their vehicles, which have had their gas tanks pre-filled, and soon they're off on their tour.

"So, we're now pulling onto Niki Beach - technically Niki Beach Two, but for the purposes of our tour, we'll stick to the original names of these locales," Tour Guide Tom announces, his voice projected to all three vehicles by short-range radio. "On your left, you'll see the pool area, which is perfect for a swim on a hot day."

"And keijo," Lou chimes in on his radio transceiver.

"And keijo," Tom concedes. "As you can see, there are volleyball courts throughout the island. On the right, we've got the Seabreeze Cottages, which will serve as accommodations for those who prefer to live closer to the seaside. If you look to the right and behind us, you'll be able to see the secluded aquarium slash discoteque of Bass Island.

Ahead and on the left is the Casino and buffet area, which will host poker, blackjack, roulette, and slot machines once it's opened. Ahead and on the right, you have the radio station, which would double as Zack's home away from home, from which he would host his all-day local radio show and occasional dance parties in the evenings. It's currently set to permanent auto-DJ mode."

As if on cue, the radio crackles to life with Zack's voice.

<< Hello, all you sexy people! It's now NOON o'clock! Why not head over to the casino and grab some jerk? Jerk chicken, that is - don't be starting any fights, now! >>

"Yeah, it's gonna be doing that every hour," Lou chips in. "Frankly, I think it's kinda creepy."

"It won't seem so creepy once the facilities here have opened up," Tom contends. "Instead, I imagine it will simply be a reminder that the spirit of Zack lives on in his absence. Now, as we enter the jungle, you can see that up ahead is the Gemstone, the first-class hotel where you've all been booked in. And here on the left, once again, is another volleyball court..."

He's certainly glad to be on solid ground that's for sure. Braun doesn't say to much but it's clear from the way he's relaxed bottom boats aren't for him.

"Thundercats." says Braun, grinning cheekily as he puts his sunglasses back on before hopping into the jeep, "That is unless we change our minds because we feel like it."

The Jeep names aren't entirely lost on him either as he hops into the jeeps and notes how the teams are being divided up.

"This some sorta 'hint'?" he rumbles absently as he slouches back ...and then ultimately scrunches up abit to make more room for the others as no doubt part of the Jeep being so crowded is very much his fault.

As the tour begins, he turns his attention towards the pointed out sights and landmarks and he falls silent thoughtfully and rubs his jaw.

"Is this a fightin' tournament or some sorta vacation? Should I be worried about the NFG employin' some sorta secret tech t'trap us here under a cyclone or somethin'?"

There's a pause and he grunts with an unamused looking smirk,

"Forget I said that. Don't let me give y'all any ideas..."

"Sarah! How's it going, cailin?" Hawksley checks with her. He'd been so caught up in the chatter at his end of the boat that he'd not had a chance to speak to her on the trip. She's certainly made sure she can't be missed now though with her eyecatching entrance.

Coco continues to make the most of her captive audience in Rox by telling her tall tales of the history of the original Zack Island. The Irishman shakes his head and fails to suppress an amused smile. He does pay attention when the posh totty points out the volcano though. As someone with the nickname 'Irish Inferno" it's of obvious interest to him.

As the fighters find their way towards land, Hawksley is in no hurry to exit their transport for the first part of the trip. He's satisfied with the sun on his face and the feeling of a fresh breeze ruffling his short dark locks. Casually carrying the cool bag full of drinks and balancing the box of potato crisps he hums a tune to himself. Those in the know would recognise it as 'Walking Barefoot' by Ash.

The brawler seems to take it all in his stride when Max makes a beeline for the bananas. Her chaotic energy is no challenge to the Cork lad, since he's spent most of his life around boisterous behaviour and out there antics. He figures there's no harm in the lass burning off some excess energy and she seems to have found her perfect playmate in Tanwen. Looking back towards Braun as he wishes him luck, he replies with. "Appreciated, fella. May you have a wonderful time with the wrestler." The mention of this word has him wondering what Brian Storm might be up to right now. The last he'd heard he was still dating the pop princess, Lucky Chloe.

It's not surprising when Hawksley is designated as a passenger of the party jeep. Looking over his companions, he can see why each of them have been chosen. Rox is probably the quietest of them but he's sure she can turn on a show if needed and if she's gonna partner up with the purple haired party girl that is Coco, then she's sure to catch on fast.

Hawksley finds himself between the British babe and his partner, Henry. It's cosily close but still comfortable enough to enjoy the journey. "This is all grand." He comments cheerily. "I like the look of those cottages, so I do. Maybe Deejay Supernova can take a turn on the radio show, if it's possible to turn off the automatic play that is." As soon as he's said this, he realises it may have been setup to keep track of the time for guests on the island. "Not that I mind this Zack fella talking at us. Fair play to him if he can still capture our attention when he's dead and gone."

"Keijo? It's a game where you try and knock someone off of a floaty platform in the middle of a pool," Coco informs Chevy, not bothering to mention /how/ one is meant to knock the opponent off of the floaty platform. "I got really good at it on my gap year. I could probably teach anyone who wants to learn. And defo. This is going to be lit."

Her eyes flit off to one side to follow the arc of the Gear launching itself at the bananas while she's still posing for her selfie next to Rox, resulting in a rather interesting take where she's pouting while glancing askance. She decides to keep it anyway.

"No internet is alright, I suppose, as long as we have rum. We have more rum, right?"

She beams with delight when her transport is announced as the 'Party Jeep.'

"WOOOO! Party Jeep all the way! Dibs on sitting next to Lucky!"

Of course, 'next to' is likely to end up meaning 'on' by the time that all four teams have piled into the 'Party Jeep,' particularly with one passenger in Braun taking up enough space for two or more.

"What do you think it's hinting at? Do you think they're going to bring back those big teams, like Metal and Blaze and Frost or something? I think it's probably just Lou's way of saying how awesome we are. We all like to party, don't we?"

As she makes herself as comfortable as she can be and the tour gets underway, she cranes her neck to try and take in every sight she can. A shiver runs down her spine at the sound of Zack's voice ringing out, and she opens her mouth to ask the question before Lou immediately answers it. She frowns a little.

"Don't be silly, nobody's got any reason to trap us here," Coco says, dismissing the idea with a laugh and a smile. "I mean, talk about trapped in paradise. Imagine if we had the island all to ourselves for weeks!"

She tilts her head a little, looking the beastman of the NFG up and down. "You know, you and Zarine are the only ones left from the Oh-Gee NFGers that I haven't had the chance to fight, yet. Or beaten, for that matter, other than Lucky."

She turns a look over her shoulder his way. "Lucky always seems to get one over on me, even when I think I've got him where I want him." She sticks her tongue out playfully at the Irishman, then lets out a squeal as one of the Jeep's tires hits a pothole. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to slow the vehicle down.

The nearest of the large fruit-bearing trees creaks audibly as the tiny Gear digs her claws into its thick bark. Her momentum spins her around its trunk thrice, gouging out a corkscrew pattern as she bleeds momentum off like an acrobat performing at the circus. Once her foothold is steady, Max promptly scampers up to the top of the towering banana tree to indulge in the golden treasure hanging enticingly from its branches.

Not being much of a botanist, her attempt to dislodge the massive bunch of upside-down fruit ends up being rather simple. Hopping away from the main trunk, the teenager simply throws herself at the huge cluster of fruit and lets gravity do the rest. Unable to bear the weight of a fully transformed bio-weapon, even a tiny one, a sharp crack fills the air as the branch gives way and both hunter and prey go plummeting towards the beach.

But, a short fall of only twenty or so feet proves little challenge for the intrepid Gear, who lands nimbly on the sand without incident. She turns to the crowd, but mostly Tanwen since she's proven the most likely to appreciate Max's antics plus she expressed interest in the bananas too, and hoists the huge haul of fresh produce over her head like Link plucking a new item out of a dungeon chest.

"Woo! Banana time!"

Snapping one of the ripe fruits off the huge bundle, she is the first partake of this bounty of potassium, as is her due. Rather than peel the banana, however, the girl gives everyone another look at her wicked chompers as she devours the entire thing whole in two quick bites, barely even bothering to chew before swallowing a fist-sized lump.

Dr. Maeda, meanwhile, makes a far more dignified exit from the boat, waiting until everyone else has departed before finally stepping onto dry land herself. Braun's comment regarding his reasons for denying the Gear a potential partner did not slip her notice, nor is she particularly surprised. Of all those who took offense at her attempt to explain the potential dangers of introducing an untested bio-weapon into their midst, the large man-cat was the most vocal. She had hoped that the friction of their initial meeting wouldn't affect Max's relationship with the other contenders but it would seem that isn't the case. Unfortunate, but there's not much she can do about it now other than try to minimize any further impact her presence might create. Were it not important that she keep an eye on the little troublemaker, she'd have been content to remain on the cruise ship and let things play out on their own.

Now that her munchies have been attended to, Max proves quite easy to corral into the jeep. Of course, she insists that the entire bunch of bananas joins her on this tour, which makes the seating arrangements slightly more awkward. In the end, Eiko winds up nestled in the center of the rear seat with the Gear and her bushel resting on her lap. So much for staying out of the way. Max at least seems happy with the arrangement, content to be the purveyor of bananas to the rest of the crew of the Magic Jeep, though the vast majority of them quickly disappear down the bottomless hole that is her appetite.

With her mouth busy nomming on snacks, Max proves uncharacteristically quiet as the tour carries them around the island's various attractions. Her wide eyes scan the buildings with interest as their guides explain each one's name and function, perking up noticeably at the mention of a buffet. There is one bit of curiosity that manages to escalate higher on her priority list than stuffing more bananas into her gob, since she missed Coco's vague explanation due to being halfway across the beach.

"What's keijo?"

"... I'm not gonna steal for -real-..." Chevy insists. Though, Winn's caution makes things a bit more clear for Tanwen.

Chevy had been doing a decent job of helping to keep the boat stable. She's... relieved once the boat pulls into shore and her job is done.

She's a bit *less* pleased when Max's sudden transformation rocks the boat and threatens to trebuchet those at the aft of the boat overboard -- a motion the boat-savvy Southerner counterbalances by leaning herself aftward. Waterbending is not -always- required for boat stability!

Still -- Chevy has -other- jobs to do, like keeping track of the little Welsh dragon. She races after Tanwen to try and help her back onto the dock; she's relieved to see that her help isn't -required-, but gives Tanwen a consoling pat to the shoulder just to let her know she had backup!

"Oh." Chevy looks back at Coco during her explanation of Coco. "... Just... knock 'em off the platform? I mean, that... sounds simple enough." She doesn't give the matter a whole lot of thought, as she's keeping an eye on Tanwen, keeping a -vague- handle on Winn, and trusting Buck and Dr. Maeda to keep track of Max, as Tom and Lou talk about the jeep arrangements.

... Of course, once they're actually boarding the jeeps, it's a bit of a different story. She flashes a brief smile to Iris and Albert. "Hey, you two... Got some water if y'all need it... But once she sees how not-huge they are inside, she scratches her cheek... "Hmm... a bit of a squeeze..."

The Southerner just... decides she can make more space for the others by sitting partway on Buck's lap, bracing herself by holding the vehicle's rollcage for security. Not -much- room, but a little!

She had been letting the comments about volleyball and keijo slide. She -still- thinks something's up with that. With Tom and Lou separated for a moment, she's starting to work up the nerve for another question.

But then the cottages are pointed out, momentarily distracting her. "Ooh, wow, we can -stay- in those?" She elbows Buck lightly, suppressing all but a giggle of enthusiasm. "It has been about -forever- since I've stayed in a beach cottage."

But... once it's a bit quieter, she leans forward to get a word in with their jeep's driver.

"... Hey Tom -- thanks for drivin' for us! But I noticed, y'all keep talkin' about keijo. The winner's the one who can stay on the platform, right? So, uh... what's the catch?" She looks back at his reflection in the rear-view mirror with a lopsided smile -- as if she -might- have already figured out why the guys are so intent on talking about it!

"And I haven't had a match against ol'Buck even though we're both some sorta 'supernatural shapeshifters'. Or an official one against Hawksley even though he cleaned m'clock when we were sparrin'. Course I was just lettin' him have a chance to blow off some steam..."

Braun grins a little bit at Coco at the end of that. For whatever reason could Hawksley have needed something like that? Probably best left for the tabloids....

"You want a match...I'm game anytime. Who knows what's in the heads of the organizers when they put these things t'gether. Beats me. Now, Zarine I had to fight for a chance to get into the final tournament last time. That was....messy..." Braun's grin remains so he likely means messy in the best possible way that only a vampiric being versus some sort of shifter being could mean."

"Trapped in paradise sounds fine with me though with you folk I imagine if it's too long it'll get to be less paradise and more entertaining chaos. .."

His shades are back on now as he begins to look over the island sights as the tour continues.

All the talk about keijo seems to go in one ear and out the other. He's only been half paying attention to everything, focusing on this and that as his mercurial mood drifts from one side to the other.

Warnings to keep one's footwear handy are appreciated, though Ishida doesn't really heed them. He'll just quietly keep his shoes in his backback unless he comes across a need to walk across, like, *lava* or something. And even then, going around is probably safer!

Once aboard the jeep though, he ... settles down considerably. This is... definitely the chill jeep. He does, however, have one thing to call out. When the time comes, he's quick to be the first one to reach for the front passenger-side door handle.

He's seen enough movies to know that it's a thing.

Ishida takes his seat across from Steve, collects his shoulder backpack into his lap, and buckles up for the tour.

"Will it take a long time before food service starts up?" he asks, during a lull of silence.

Tanwen can't wait to get back on an island but Roxana has never been on one. All of her matches had taken place in Mainland Greece and prior to joining the competition she had only been to Metro City, outside of Nebraska. The idea of getting to spend the day on one as lovely as this, followed by weeks in the resort has Rox practically hugging herself with glee. Not that any of this shows on her serene face. She simply situates herself in the jeep besides Coco and neatly crosses her legs to take up as little space as possible on the seat.

She glances between the brash brawlers, Braun and Hawksley, readying herself for any rowdy behaviour from the former Blaze boys. She's relieved for the man with the mane, as well as Ishida and Homura that they can be free of the boat trip and the sorry side effects it caused in them. Although Ishida can't be feeling too off colour, since he's munching away on some cuttlefish.

Being positioned in the party jeep is probably not where she would have placed herself but given that she's partnering with Coco, Roxana isn't too shocked to find herself there. She is probably a more natural fit for the chill jeep, truth be told. Still, she makes no complaints and looks from side to side as they pass the stunning scenery on show. There's so many fantastic facilities too, with a pool, some pretty cottages and volleyball courts amongst them. Rox hasn't tried the beach based sport before but she's more than willing to give it a go, as well as keijo, which Coco seems to have some experience of. "I'd love to learn" she tells her. Who knows? Perhaps I will be a natural."

The sound of Zack over the airways has the scorpion-girl giggling for some reason. As Lou says he finds it creepy, Roxana is curious about the reasons. "Why does it make you uncomfortable, Lou? Did you ever meet him before the vanishing happened?"

The talk turns to bouts from last season and Roxana finds herself reminiscing about some of her favourite fights. She has to admit she would have loved to see a match between Braun and Buck. It's news to her that Braun and Hawksley had a tussle too but apparently it was off camera, alas.

So far, the only person who seems to have acknowledged Sarah is Hawksley. She turns and gives him a thumbs up. "I'm liking what I'm seeing so far," The blonde haired disk jockey says with her usual smile there. "This is gonna be a great place I can tell. Lots of great places to visit plus it looks like there are many great places to go free running too!"

The girl then points to her bare feet. "Plus, since it's a beach resort, I didn't need to pack many shoes." A pause. "But I did pack a few anyway, because you never know what we might be up against." She giggles. "Nevertheless, it's lookin' like a great place so far."

Sarah also looks to Roxana and gives her a smile. "It's a clever name, I have to admit. Although Rodrigo was the one who helped come up with it mainly. He deserves a good amount of credit too."

Tanwen turns to Tom, eyes wide with wonder as she realises what her vehicular assignment entails, attention successfully diverted from the acquisition of bananas. "Really? Ours is a ~>magic<~ Jeep?"

She lets out a squeal, bouncing up and down and clapping her hands together like a child who's just found out they've just won tickets to a concert by their favourite boy band after consuming an entire rainbow's worth of pixie sticks.

This is also why Tanwen isn't actually allowed pixie sticks when it's not her birthday.

"WINN! Hurry up, Winn! We don't want to miss riding the Magic Jeep!" she turns around to shout to her guardian, jumping up and waving her arms in case he could somehow be confused as to her location before turning and bounding up to take her spot in the back of the vehicle between Max and Eiko and Chevy and Buck. Winn, being slow to arrive, ends up sitting in his own corner, taking the opportunity to rest his eyes behind his sunglasses. The dragonette doesn't even seem to consider the idea that she could have changed to her dragon form and made things more comfortable for everyone involved.

"Oh, cheers, Max," Tanwen says as she takes a banana for herself. She seems to prefer to peel hers and eat it more slowly, but nevertheless steadily. "Hello, Sir Albert! And Miss Iris!" she greets that duo as she chews, seeming to take on that look of awe once again and stare at the sorceress upon introduction. After all, she hasn't had a chance to meet the real-life wizard of the NFG yet. She's too shy to ask anything pertinent, though.

"Oh! I think I've seen keijo on the telly! Winn, isn't that the show that's on at two o'clock in the morning where they're not allowed to use their hands?" she calls out over the roar of the Jeep, before realising that what she thought was the roar of the Jeep is actually Winn's snoring. "Oh, nevermind. He's sleeping, he is."

She tilts her head, turning an ear toward the nearest source of the sound being broadcast over the radio as the tour gets underway. "Are you sure it's not a ghost who's using the radio?" she wonders. Somehow, ghosts seem just as plausible to her as the posthumous use of recordings. "I want to learn how to play volley-ball. Are you allowed to use your hands in that?"

"Nah, I just came up with 'em off the top of my head," Lou replies to Braun. "We divvied everyone up to try and make it so everyone could fit comfortably. Of course, I was kinda assuming we'd have one seat per passenger, but who cares? It's just a little tour."

He shudders visibly when the conversation carries on about the voice coming on over the radio. "Yeah, maybe Supernova can take over Zack's DJ duties once everything gets going. I mean, I'm all for respectin' the deceased, but it feels just a little apocalyptic, havin' a disappeared disc jockey givin' the hourly update on an empty island. Tom's right, though - it'll be better when it's officially open."

"Keijo is a competitive sport sanctioned around the time of the original Zack Island," Tour Guide Tom-pedia tells the passengers of his Jeep as they drive through the jungle. "According to the original Zack Island rules, competitors stood on a platform in the middle of a pool and attempted to push each other off by taking turns colliding their posteriors into their opponents while trying to maintain their own balance. The first to fall off into the water would lose. Other regional variations are also recognized, with the common theme of buttock-based offensive action, though some also allow any surface other than the limbs and head to be used. It began traditionally as a female-dominated sport, but as with other forms of combat, all genders may participate competitively, with one famous example pioneered during the Golden Angel tournament."

He continues without skipping a beat, "And up here on the left, we have the volcano! There is some dispute over whether the volcano was intended to be named 'Niki Volcano' or 'Zack Mountain' or simply 'the volcano on Zack Island.' What we do know is that this is the source of the island's formation. It's also used as a geothermal power source, providing electricity to the rest of the island. You can see the caldera above, indicating that the volcano is live - but we're assured by seismologists that there is essentially no risk of eruption during the tournament. And since we currently lack access to the hotel, this will pretty much conclude our tour. We'll be turning around up here to head back."

The convoy pulls onto a secluded beach on the other side of the volcano, the trio of vehicles digging tracks through the undisturbed sand. There's a little volleyball court set up even on the quiet corner of the island. The open sand is used to turn the vehicles around to head back the other way through the jungle.


"And here we are, coming back full circle to Zack Resort. Niki Marina is just ahead. Now, once we get parked, we're going to let you all have some free time to have a little picnic. We've got sandwiches, gluten-free and vegan options for those who need them, and you're obviously all welcome to have what you've brought with you. Just remember to stay on the beach until it's time to leave-" Tom is saying as the vehicles start to break out of the jungle once more when Lou cuts in on the radio.

"Uhh, Tom. Did we leave one of the techies behind to get a bonfire going for the picnic?"

"No, Lou, Professional Fighting Worldwide decided that that would pose a health and safety risk. Why do you ask?"

"...I'm just wondering where all that smoke is coming from."

With the folks in the Party Jeep and the Chill Jeep out of earshot, Chevy finally feels like she can start to relax a bit. Getting everyone settled into proper seats helps out a bit -- though of course she stays somewhat close to her beau. (Not Beau Finley, but her beau, Buck.)

That doesn't stop her from devoting the lion's share of attention to her Welsh mentee. Particularly as it's noted that Winn has fallen asleep.

"Oh... at two o'clock?" She narrows her eyes a little, showcasing the -barest- glimmer of big-sister energy, as she asks, "What're you doin' watchin' TV at two in the mornin'?" She grins, leaning back as she can. "Sheesh, I must be the only person who don't already know about this 'keijo' thing..."

Her forehead wrinkles just a bit at the statements from her less-favored NFG announcer. Not just because it's Lou talking, but because it's making her think about the guy she didn't even realize had passed away until, what, maybe a half hour ago? She nods in grateful and silent assent for Hawksley's suggestion of having DJ Supernova fill up the airwaves at some point.

"... I mean, it -could- be, Tanwen." Beat. "... Is it weird if I call you 'Tan' too? It's a cute nickname." She laughs softly, continuing. "You can use your hands in volleyball but you cain't -catch- the ball, just touch it." She demonstrates as best she can in the limited confines: "You can 'bump' it with both hands, 'spike' it with your wrist and palm like this, or give it a light shove with all ten fingers at once -- that's called a 'set'. Anythin' else is prob'ly illegal accordin' to the rules."

Conversely to when Lou was speaking, she's more than happy to listen to Tom talk. The announcer has not made any secret of favoring redheads in general, and her in particular, so the smile on her face as he runs down the full history of keijo should come as no surprise.

She can't stop from snickering at the words 'buttock-based offensive action,' though.

She glances over at Max, grinning. "D'you get all that, Max? I cain't help but feel like you and Buck might have some sort of advantage in that game, if you can manage to keep your balance..."

She ponders for a moment, considering. "Though, it's -kinda- like fightin', but..." She glances over towards Iris and Henry. "We ain't gonna be able to use our weapons, so it might take us a bit 'a gettin' used to, yeah?"

Even though the volcano is still a ways away, she snags the collar of her shirt and starts to fan herself with the fabric, as if the mere -thought- of the volcano is enough to raise the temperature. "Oh, thank goodness," she says, when the volcano's inert status is clarified.

It doesn't seem like that's it for her train of thought, though. With the rise in perceived temperature comes an increased sense of thirst -- and Chevy fishes a water bottle out of her bag in response. The thoughts of a volcano have brought back certain, well, *memories*. She takes a few sips of water as she shifts about in her seat, watching the jeep go through the motions.

"-- ahaha!" she laughs awkwardly, pleased to offer a new subject. "Zack sure like to give folks a ton of places to play volleyball, yeah?"

She remains mostly quiet on the way back. Until Tom mentions... sandwiches. And her stomach rumbles a bit.

She doesn't get time to follow up on that, though, as the scans the thinning treeline for the smoke clouds Lou is talking about.

"Smoke clouds?" she mumbles, mostly to herself. "What's he goin' on about...?"

And in the pit of her stomach, she starts to worry again. She hasn't felt this sort of pressure for -months- now.

There was a volleyball net set up on Niki Marina. There was one on Niki Beach. And all throughout this tour... Ishida has been wondering if the tour would stop long enough to get a game in.

He's trying not to fidget, really. But after catching sight of a third volleyball net, the Japanese fighter reaches into his backpack, and pulls out... a volleyball. Never been used -- still has a sticker on it, which he takes the time to slowly peel off. Only a -little- of the gummy glue residue is left, and he sets about working that free as he hears Tom and Lou over the radio.

He flashes a brief smile to the fellow inhabitants of the Chill Jeep -- but, by and large, he sticks to his role as patient, and silent, tourist.

Keeping his fingers pressed securely against that volleyball in his lap. Trying -not- to think of the last time he was on a field trip with several of his peers around a treacherous, winding path.

"For coming up with a name on the fly you sure nailed the personality of each group by and large." responds Braun to Tom but his tone is cheerful and amused and that seems to be all he has to say on the matter now that Tom has explained himself.
5rShades down and a mildly amused look on his face he simply remains quiet unless directly spoken to again while absently drumming his fingers against the side of the jeep as his massive arm hangs out against its side. Occasionally he lifts his hand up to let passing leaves or branches slap into them as he fidgets about absent mindly but beyond that ...remains quiet.

Until the talk of the bonfire that's not supposed to be there is overheard. His ears twitch slightly and his eyes narrow a touch.

"Eh? What's all this now?" he rumbles while leaning forward abit and dragging his large arm back into the jeep to rest it upon his knee. His other arm lifts and he pushes his sunglasses up, revealing his golden-brown eyes which narrow and then squint abit - calling upon his bestial side to enhance his vision and senses to try and see if he can pierce the haze up ahead to see what's happening.

"There a problem, fellas?"

As the convoy of tour jeeps steadily wind their way back through the dense foliage, it quickly becomes apparent that the increase in heat isn't solely the purview of Chevy's worried imagination. The temperature starts to climb at an alarming rate, as if someone has put a magnifying glass between the sun and their little corner of the world. The change is more than simple heat, however. There is an oppressive density to the air, a smothering heavy miasma of invisible pressure that wraps around the entire crew as if trying to strangle the life out of them by inches. Those with supernatural acumen might recognize this phenomenon as deeply unnatural. It's so thoroughly off putting even the normies will get a clear feeling of something not quite right.

With the drivers speeding along the final bend towards the beach it doesn't take long for the answer to this mystery to reveal itself.

An intense wave of heat slams into the vehicles and their passengers as they clear the jungle and emerge once more into the open, a wall of raw seething energy so thick it is nearly a physical barrier. At the end of the pier - well, the smoldering remains of what used to be the pier - a massive conflagration rages atop the very ocean itself in defiance of all natural law. Said bonfire is conspicuously located right where the glass-bottomed boat that brought them all ashore used to be moored. Of that unfortunate vessel there are no signs to be found. Not even a bit of burning flotsam or splintered wood scattered across the sands. It's simply gone.

And before that raging hellstorm stands an angel of scarlet fury.

Only a few among them are likely to recognize the figure that looms ominously in the distance, a slender figure silhouetted in seething unnatural flame; of those that do, only two would remember her as she is now. Though even they caught but a fleeting glimpse of the terrible creature that was unleashed that day, more concerned with fleeing for their lives than gawking at the spectacle of a new-born god.

In many ways, Junko looks much as she did when she was but a mortal child. Her eclectic sense of fashion, a bizarre mix of modern chic and traditional shinto, seems to yet suit the girl's tastes. Her hygiene seems to have improved, however, the clothing far more clean and well-kept than ever they were when she was a participant in the tournament, her snowy white hair neatly tied up with a massive ofuda that yet bears the kanji of her spiritual cohabitator. Perhaps the kami finds it amusing to maintain such a keepsake - a taunting little reminder that such feeble barriers pose no threat to it any longer.

It is, however, impossible to mistake the being that they now see as that poor tormented soul. Twin wings of blazing sanguine fire stretch wide from the kami's back, each bird-like in appearance, each a master-piece of artistic beauty. Every feather is rendered in loving detail, the very flames molded by a divine hand into images of something that hasn't been seen by mortal eyes for nigh on a millennia - the Phoenix's legendary plumage.

Almost immediately upon their arrival, Junko turns to regard the various groups. Writhing flame dances in her scarlet eyes as she drags her gaze across each of the vehicles in turn, eyes that now very clearly see the world before her as it is. The suffocating pressure of the god's presence intensifies under that scrutiny, escalating from uncomfortable to distressing. The mass of her corrupted soul is like an inkblot on reality, a wellspring of bottomless rage and contempt that spills out to stain the world around her. Many who have been exposed directly to this spiritual rot have found it distinctly uncomfortable if not physically nauseating, but each individual's tolerance or protections against such things are unique.

Moving with a sense of easy confidence that the mortal girl never had before, Junko fully turns to face the assembled crew and slowly drifts her way towards them. As she alights upon the warm sands tendrils of black corruption begin to seep out from the soles of her feet, staining the beach with the raw contempt that wafts off her like a foul miasma. That same contempt is reflected in her expression as she regards the mortals with a dark glower, arms crossing over her chest slowly.

"Harken to me, mortals," she says with deliberate emphasis, the last word twisting her mouth into a grimace as if merely uttering it filled her throat with bile. Though her voice carries well enough to be heard without any need for theatrics, her words resonate within the minds of those present as if being engraved upon their consciousness with a burning nail.

"I am Suzaku, the Eternal Flame, and I have come to stand in judgement of your sins."

With Coco on his lap, Hawksley holds on tight to her, keeping her safe as the jeep journeys through the scenery of Zack Island. "We certainly do like to party, Coco Pops." He confirms her comment. "As for being stuck on the island, I can think of worse fates. As long as there's a bar and some beds, we'd be grand." The Irishman teasingly tickles the London lass as she refers to him always getting one over on her. "I just like to keep you on your toes, so I do." Her tongue poking out at him, has him returning the gesture, then he licks her earlobe for good measure, looking to make her squirm.

'Lucky' lets his eyes wander towards the other jeeps, listening to the snatches of conversation he can hear. Apparently it's banana time in the magic vehicle, whilst as advertised, the chill jeep is seeming pretty quiet. Braun starts to banter with him, dragging his attention back to their own tour transport as a result. "Sure you were, fella." He laughs, playfully punching his Blaze buddy on his hairy arm. In all honesty though, Hawksley had needed Braun that night. He'd been there to brawl with, pour out his heart to and share pizza with in one of the darkest times he can remember in his young life so far. With Coco horribly hurt in the hospital, he'd felt something close to despair, which is a very rare thing for the cheery Cork fella.

Smiling at Sarah, Hawksley nods his head happily. "Gorgeous ain't it?" He lets himself lean back against the leather of the seat, luxuriating in the ride. He gives out a loud whistle at Tom's explantion of keijo. "Now that's my kind of sport. To watch anyway. I might be less keen on participating."

The sound of the commentator's voice carries on as the stunning vision of the volcano comes into focus. Hawksley can almost feel the fire inside him stirring. Perhaps that's why he's suddenly feeling so damn hot. Lifting up his white tank top, he wipes his face on the cool cotton. "Jesus, it's a warm day. I dunno about the rest of you but I'm ready for a drink or five. I wouldn't mind some Taytos too. I'm hankering after some smoky bacon."

Speaking of smoke, the scent of it is becoming stronger. Hawksley can also feel himself starting to sweat. Okay, so it's a sunny day on a tropical island, but surely it's not possible for the temperature to rise this fast? He swears he can feel his heart getting heavier and starting to pound, and his pulse is racing too.

"Have you got any aircon, Lou?" The lad from Eire asks, but as they drive on to the beach, he suddenly realises that isn't going to help. Hawksley's first instinct is to cover Coco's eyes. His rough hands move in from behind her to block her view of her worst nightmare right in front of them. Sure, the boat is gone but that's the least of their worries. He's desperately wondering how he can get his girlfriend out of here without her realising what's going down.

Hawksley had last seen Junko at the end of season Christmas party, on the night Djamila took the title. The enduring image of her in his mind though, is of the fiasco at the semi-final. A night where he and Coco had fought through flames to free themselves from the fiery inferno inside the Metro City Arena. As he stares at the scary but striking sight that says she is Suzaku, he can only manage to mutter one word. "Feck."

Whilst his mistress has been relegated to sharing a seat, Captain Morgan is happily lounging on his own personal seat, finishing off the last of the grapes before snuffling around for more food. He gazes enviously at the banana pile in the next Jeep back from behind his diamond-studded sunglasses before sinking down onto his haunches wistfully.

"Blowing off steam, hmm? I must have been indisposed," Coco says to Braun, then squirms a little - granting Hawksley's wish - as her boyfriend licks her ear. "Morgie! Are you after some more grapes - oh, it's you."

She leans back against him so that the couple are cheek to cheek with the intent of preventing him from doing the same again. Meanwhile, she addresses Roxana.

"I think you've got the build to give it a go. I'm not sure if there are rules about using a tail, though. I mean, technically not your hands or legs, but probably against the spirit of the competition."

She quirks her lips thoughtfully, then smiles at Sarah. "Hey, maybe we could all go to the casino and you could have a go on the turnstables after we've hit the beach! Surely they won't mind letting their star fighters, some of whom are incredibly wealthy, have an extra little party?"

She turns to flutter her eyelashes at Lou in the rearview mirror.

As Tom's keijo rundown ends up playing over the radio, Coco quirks an eyebrow in bemusement. "Isn't that basically what I said?" she mutters. "Anyway, I used to be on the school's team, but I could never get to grips with the advanced techniques, and I can't stand turnips, so I never went pro, but I've incorporated some of the moves into my fighting style." She flips her hair, brushing her fingers through it as if what she's just said is some kind of humble brag.

The cool and confident expression on her face slowly melts away when the two commentators start to discuss the bonfire up ahead. "It's a bit early for a bonfire, anyway, isn't it?"

She doesn't have the same sharpened senses that Braun and likely some others inside the Jeeps possess, but she does possess a sixth sense - a mind's eye that she's learned to keep closed most of the time. Today, it's been easier than ever. She's never felt as relaxed and excited and self-assured and optimistic at the same time. Which is fortunate, considering that the empath was trapped in a boat with multiple seasick fellow travellers for nearly an hour.

But there are some things that the eye can't help but perceive, even when it is closed. And like the light of the sun bleeding through the eyelids, the psychic pressure is undeniable, and the impression instantly recognisable - one that is indelibly burned into the retina of her mind.

In spite of the heat, Coco breaks out into a cold sweat.

And before they've rounded the bend to fully unveil the mystery, Coco suddenly lurches to her feet, leaning past the headrests of the front seats to shout at Lou.

"Turn the Jeep around, NOW!"

But it's too late.

They come face to face with the reality of the tour boat's destruction, the implication clear. Somehow, Junko has found them, and now they're trapped on the island with her. The Jeep skids to a halt, causing the already-imbalanced teen to topple over toward Morgie as she moves to shield him. The bearcat quickly dives out of the way, landing on Roxana's lap.

"No, no, no. I am not having this! She is not here! She is not going to ruin my party island dream!" Coco closes her eyes and throws her arms over her head as she starts to shout feverishly. But protest as she might, the purple-haired girl has yet to master the ability to reshape reality according to her will, and when she opens her eyes again, Junko is still there.

She turns to Lou. "Can't you do something? Tell her she's banned or something!"

From looking at her, Roxana would guess that Tanwen is close to her own age. Something about her childlike sense of wonder makes her appear younger though. Rox would put her at around six or seven just based on behaviour. Not that she's judging her. She actually finds the enthusiasm of she and Max somewhat endearing and it reminds Rox of when her youngest sibling, Marina was that age.

She accepts Lou's explanation without further questioning, sensing that he's ill at ease with the whole Zack situation. Instead she listens along to Tom telling them about the rules of keijo. The idea of bashing her booty into someone has her blushing, even if Coco does seem to think she has the right build, but perhaps she will feel more confident once she's had lessons from her tag teammate. The volcano captures her attention briefly but Rox has always favoured water over fire. She starts thinking about when they get back to the beach and she can take a swim in the sea after some of those sandwiches Tom mentioned. The talk of smoke though has her wondering if lunch is actually going to be a barbecue. If so, she really hopes they have steak. She can think of nothing better than some lean beef. The bloodier the better.

As the party of jeeps edges closer to their dining destination, Rox feels a need to fan herself. Using the flimsy fabric of her beach coverup, she starts to waft it back and forth to create a breeze. If it's going to be this hot, she's really glad she brought her bottle of sun protection oil with her. She can practically feel her pores drying out. She hasn't considered much of a problem beyond this though until Braun pipes up.

Closing her eyes, Rox realises that she's starting to feel faint. She has a sudden urge to get out of the vehicle and be by herself. The idea of losing her cool in public is not appealing at all. She clutches a hand to her throat and tries to concentrate on her breathing. "Something is wrong." She manages to murmur.

When the wave of heat washes over them, the scorpion-girl starts to slump in her seat. She sees the burned pier and what used to be the glass-bottomed boat that brought them here and then she spies the fiery figure. "Who or what is that?" She wonders, though her normally silky smooth voice catches. Something about the presence feels familiar but Rox can't quite seem to recognise her. Whatever the creature is, the Nebraskan can't help but notice her beauty. But by the time the angelic fire bird speaks up, Roxana is convinced that she is bad news.

Her theory is backed up further by the reaction of Hawksley. He's not the kind to feel fear easily, that much is obvious, but Rox can tell it's radiating off him right now. It's more for Coco than himself though. He's even covering her eyes. Why would it cause her more problems than anyone else in their jeep? Before the thought is fully formed, she suddenly suspects exactly who this is, and if she's right, then there's going to be trouble in paradise.

As her purple haired partner leaps to her feet, her pet lands in Rox's lap, chuckling away nervously. Stroking him softly, Rox stares ahead, figuratively seeming to be frozen in her seat. "Surely she's not going to compete." She tries to comfort Coco, though deep down she knows it's a lot more complicated than that.

Max listens attentively as her idle question gets answered in considerable detail. Years of living with the good doctor have given her plenty of practice at absorbing long-winded explanations about even the most mundane subject. Her mother's enthusiasm for cramming information into the little Gear's sponge of a brain is surpassed only by her love of analyzing new data. The girl learned early in her life that interrupting such expository monologues tends to make the woman cranky - and the last thing anyone wants to experience is Dr. Maeda when she's actively being spiteful.

As such, Tom's extensive expertise upon the subject of keijo goes uninterrupted. And what a strange picture it paints in her mind. The bio-weapon has a rather extensive list of ways to modify her body into deadly weapons. The cat-gorilla form that she has favored in the NFG is but one of many deadly transformations. Those who were present at her initial appearance upon the Mermaid got to witness a glimpse of some of the more monstrous elements of her magical repertoire. However, even she's never considered using her backside as a weapon. What a bizarre concept!

"I'm really good at keeping my balance," she boasts to Tanwen as she hands over a banana, once Tom is finished laying out the basic framework of keijo competitions. "I bet I could beat you at keijo, Tiny!"

Dr. Maeda chooses to strategically remain distant from the talk of sports activity lest anyone - namely her excitable ward - decide to try and include her in talks of engaging in such physical exertion. It's bad enough having to be out in this bright sweltering jungle without being dragged into some meaningless competition. Instead, she turns her gaze idly towards the volcano as their guide rambles on without pause. Perhaps she might be able to go and take some samples before their trip comes to an end. Fiddling around with geological curiosities sounds far more interesting than volleyball or keijo.

The rest of the tour mercifully goes by quickly. Max somehow manages to devour every last one of the bananas that aren't claimed by others despite the bushel of fruit being at least half her size when they started out. No longer distracted by food, she proves quick to get antsy at being forced to sit still. Despite her valiant attempt to keep the Gear wrangled in, the doctor's noodle arms prove no match for the girl's fidgeting and she eventually finds her way into the front of the jeep, crawling over whoever happens to get in her way as she tries to get a better view out the windshield. At least she put her claws away first.


Despite being recently fed, Max perks up at the idea of there being yet more food awaiting them back at the beach. Grinning, she closes her eyes and sniffs at the air, trying to get a whiff of what sort of vittles might be on offer. Instead of fresh food, however, the acrid smoke drifting their way carries only the scent of something foul and rotten.

A peculiar look crosses Max's face as something inside of her reacts to that stench. Her eyes snap open and go unnaturally wide, her pupils narrowing into thin vertical slits as instinct kicks into high gear. It takes a few moments for the realization to dawn on the girl and when it does she snaps her head around to look at Eiko in confusion.

"Mom? Is that...?"

Understanding dawns on the scientist's face quickly. The expression of seemingly unshakeable calm turns into a worried grimace - a clear sign that something is very wrong.

"Max. Come here."

The soft-spoken woman's voice rings out with an unusual edge of authority as she issues the command. Max is quick to comply, sliding nimbly back into her mother's lap and allowing herself to be encircled by her protective embrace once more. The magic goggles atop her forehead start to flicker with a dizzying onslaught of flashing red warnings but the woman doesn't even bother to pull them down over their eyes to check the readings. She can feel it in the air already, that cloying feeling of oppressive power. Something is waiting for them ahead - something that possesses an alarming amount of magical energy.

The sight of the kami in all her divine glory isn't even surprising as they come around the bend. Only something as absurdly powerful as a minor deity or a Command Gear could create that sort of psychic pressure simply by being nearby. But, surprised or no, the sheer suffocating intensity of that malignant aura is enough to make the scientist wretch, her vision swimming as she struggles to keep from painting the interior of their jeep with the remains of her breakfast.

Max's reaction is the exact opposite. Her shoulders hunch, feline eyes narrowing dangerously at the sight of the goddess. The girl's lips peel back in an involuntary snarl, her teeth cracking softly as they start to shift into triangular fangs.


Dr. Maeda manages to gasp out a rebuke, squeezing her arms around the Gear's midsection as tightly as she can to keep the bio-weapon from launching herself out the nearest window on sheer instinct. But, even if she were healthy and hale, that isn't a fight she would ever win. Instead, she resorts to a failsafe.

"Command: Restrict... level zero."

Max goes stiff for a moment, her muscles locking up as the magic command flows into her ears. The tips of her fingers begin to shrink and retract, the long claws that were already starting to emerge from her lilac skin retracting once more. When the embedded kill-switch fades a few moments later the Gear blinks in confusion, turning to stare at the scientist with a look of betrayal on her face.

"Mom... why?"

Dr. Maeda's jaw clenches as she sucks in a sharp breath through clenched teeth, sweat forming on her forehead from the heat and stress. Her arms tighten around the teen's waist, just in case she gets any funny ideas. After a moment she turns her face to meet Max's questioning stare directly.

"Because you can't win," she says, matter-of-factly. " So... sit still. And try not to provoke her." Her eyes flick around the interior of the jeep, staring down each of the other passengers as necessary if they look like they plan on doing anything foolish. "That goes for the rest of you! Let's just... see what she wants."

Lo and behold, there's someone who likes glass-bottomed boats even less than Braun.

Chevy... isn't smiling any more. Her fingertips turn white from pressure as she lifts herself up a few inches for a better view. Her eyes squint.

But she can feel something. A terrible pressure wave. She raises her palm out, even as the fiery blast comes towards her.

The water vapor around her responds instantly. One instant, there is nothing; the next, a flurry of snowflakes. At that rate of accumulation, the next would be hail...

That's what -might- have happened, anyway.
As it is, there's a wet -splash- of water across the windshield.
Blink and you'd miss it though.
Because it turns to steam an instant later.

Chevy stares ahead blankly through her fingertips. She'd wanted to form an icy shield to protect the Magic Jeep from the worst of it. The good news is, it wasn't needed. But the disheartening news is that she'd proven herself incapable of stopping it, in that one heartbeat of time.

In the aftermath of that wall of heat, the vehicle rocks violently back and forth upon its off-road suspension. A mix of emotions is written upon her face. Panic. Fear. Concern. And a glimmer of *defiance*.

Max is about to rise to the challenge. She can tell that Tanwen -might-. And she knows that Buck and Iris would have her back if she'd leapt up to charge in.

But Chevy just finds herself frozen in place, aside from her ribcage heaving with each labored breath in the heated air. Sweat drips from her brow as she stares back at the kajin.

"Junko..." she starts, before narrowing her eyes. It's Suzaku now... Isn't it?

Dr Maeda calls to her charge. It's only then that Chevy stands down, leaning out of the girl's way. Defiance gives way to resignation -- knowing that without a bit -more- of a plan, charging out there is suicide.

"I don't like that plan," Chevy notes. "But we better hear her out, yeah. Sorry Tanwen... I know you wanna get up out there."

The air around her does -- belatedly -- begin to grow a bit cold. Ice crystals form upon her arms, her brow, her bared midriff, her thighs. If nothing else... at least she can turn herself into a frosty popsicle to help cool down the jeep's inhabitants.

It's a long moment before she speaks again, barely raising her voice above a whisper. She isn't going to shout from within the jeep -- not when she can -hear- the discordant rumbling in her own head.

"What 'sins?' All I ever did was try an' help you... *Junko.*"

Chevy sits back down upon Buck's lap, wrapping her chilled arm about his.

"Are you kidding me..." growls out Braun a mere half instant before the situation is made known to everyone else.

"Looks like the short-sighted NFG organizers strikes again. So much for it being a good idea t'not have some of the older mentors from before involved at all so they'd be around to sic 'em on her ass..." he growls out. "So much for security...." He almost seems more irrate with his view of how this entire trip's been handled so far then with the kami's presence but internally his mind is a whirl, eyes flickering over the area rapidly to ascertain escape options and strategies in case this (likely) goes even further south.

He seems to weather the atmospheric change, outwardly at least. The Blaze Boys were built tough courtesy of their mentors and his own supernatural capabilities are not without some merit here - but he's also no fool and about to leap in where the angels present are fearing to tread. His experience with The Makai and awareness of the world behind the closed curtain give him enough sense for that as well so there's no desire to play hero here.

Not that his mind isn't working through options though.

"One on one maybe but that aint the case here, push comes ot shove.." he murmurs upon hearing Dr. Maeda, even at this distant, thanks to his amped senses.

"Take it easy pal..." he rumbles to Hawksley, resting a hand onto the irishman's shoulder, "Aint nobody here by themselves if it gets nasty. Doc's right on this much - best to just see what she wants. Attention and recognition, I wager..."

"I've always wanted to see a real-life volcano. Do you think there's any caves under it?" Tanwen asks everyone in the Magic Jeep as Tom points out the volcano that they're driving past. "I'm only wondering because I'm almost an adult dragon now, and I'll need to find a nice lair to move into, and I reckon a volcano would be a lovely place for a red dragon to be lairing, it would. Especially if I can find loads of Zack Coins to keep in it."

She turns her head to Chevy and smiles. "Oh, Winn likes to go to bed early, but he used to stay up later whenever the wrestling or the keijo was on. Now he usually falls asleep, but I still watch the telly anyways. We haven't been watching much telly on the boat, though." She cocks her head to the side, lifting her shoulders slightly. "And sure! You can call me Tan if you like. Is it okay if I still call you Chevy though? I think it's easier than 'Chev.'"

She listens to her mentor's explanation of the rules of volleyball briefly. "So, does that mean I'm not allowed to be volleying the ball with my tail? I'll have to try and remember." She tries to imitate the motions demonstrated for bumping, spiking and setting the ball, her eyes lighting up with imagination.

She takes another banana from Max and beams as she's effectively challenged to keijo by her compatriot. "Oh! Well, I'm very good at keeping my balance too, I am! Especially if I'm allowed to use me tail!" she says, puffing her chest up. "But even if you beat me at keijo, I bet I can beat you at volley-ball! I know all the moves, see?"

She demonstrates the three hand gestures with all the precision and reverence of someone who thinks she's been taught how to weave wizardry.

Strangely, the young dragon girl doesn't seem to take immediate notice of the shift in the atmosphere the way that the others do, at least at first. It's thus with little sense of gravitas that she replies indignantly to the question posed by Lou: "But why would anyone be needing to start a bonfire, anyway? Don't they know that I'm a dragon? Starting fires is as easy as breathing for me!"

Then, after a beat, she adds, "It's the stopping fires that's the hard part, it is."

Sniffing the air herself and smelling the strange smoke, she turns to look toward the beach up ahead. The fiery conflagration reflects in the amber irises of her eyes, and her jaw drops open in wonder. "Oh my goodness!!"

The teenage-looking girl starts to visibly quake in her seat. Then, after a few seconds, she suddenly leaps up, throws her arms up and squeals at the top of her lungs:


Winn jolts awake with a snort at the high-pitched trill of... delight?!

"Junko! Are you coming back to the NFG?!" she shouts out, standing and waving her arms over her head. "Oh, this is a lovely plot twist, it is! We get to have a real villain! Is there going to be a boss fight? Is everyone okay waiting if I go and get my weapons first?"

She turns around when Chevy urges her to stay in the Jeep, tilting her head.

"Oh, I understand! I'll wait till she's give us her villain speech, /then/ I'll go and get me weapons!"

She looks over toward the blaze where the glass-bottomed boat used to be and frowns.

"Umm, except I would have to know where the boat is, because my weapons are on it."

She looks around, apparently still trying to figure out where the tour boat has gone.

Left, then right.

Then left.

Then right.

"Oh, dear."

Though synchronous in pulling their vehicles to a complete and violent stop as they come onto the beach, the reactions of the drivers of the three Jeeps are quite different.

Tom remains composed as he processes what's going on, before saying, "I'm sure that everything is fine, ladies, gentlemen, and all of our other friends. However, it seems that our three hour tour may, at present, be extended indefinitely. I would suggest that everyone take a deep breath, remain calm, and, in a peaceful and orderly manner, spread out to avoid A-O-E."

"The A/C ain't workin', Hawks," Lou says, sweat pouring down his face and drenching his Hawaiian shirt as he quivers in fear. "You wanna pass me one of them bottles of ale?"

"Alright. Steady cam, get a close-up on Junko. Drone two, take us out for a long shot of all the vehicles and the burning boat. Camera five, zoom in on the dragon girl's face. I think we're about to get some tears. And Danny, keep trying to call Kim and Gordie on the cell so I can tell them I love them," Steve is saying over his team's internal comms in a professionally quiet tone to avoid disrupting the scene that's playing out. The show must go on, after all, even if there's no broadcast outgoing right now.

The kami's gaze sweeps across the beach slowly, the divine fire swirling in her eyes as if eager to be unleashed. Though she seems outwardly calm, body language and voice relaxed and measured, palpable rage rolls off her in waves, emotion so intense and deep that it manifests as a sensation. She looks upon those assembled before her as an exterminator might who has just peeled away a section of the wall to find it infested with all manner of vile pests. Shades of disgust and hatred intermingle with the aura of fury, blending seamlessly into a cocktail of psychic pressure that seems purpose built to fill her audience with dread and anxiety.

Judging by the expressions on their faces, she has instilled them with an appropriate level of respect for the situation they now find themselves in. No one rises up to give challenge to her in a display of pointless bravado. None among them turns their back on her, dismissing her as little more than an unwanted irritation. There are no insults hurled, no mocking attempts to downplay the threat she poses. Only the furtive whispers of warning passing between terrified mortals as they face the possibility of their imminent do--

Junko literally flinches in baffled surprise as the shrill voice of the young dragon squeals out her name - not in terror or panic but... joy? The kami's intense glare shifts into a questioning stare as she turns to quirk an eyebrow at Tanwen, bafflement and a bit of irritation writ large on her face.

Well that's gone and ruined the moment. Even the intensity of the crushing mental pressure eases off a fair bit as the goddess reels at having her momentum disrupted in such a manner. After a moment of slack-jawed staring as the creature rattles off her own bizarre fan-fic about the situation, Junko lets out a long exasperated sigh, head tilting back to beseech the universe for strength as she attempts to regain her bearings.

"Heavens above... No, wyrmling, I am not here to -compete-."

Unsurprisingly, the truth of Tanwen's nature does not elude the kami's sight. Though she may have been blind when last she met most of those present the rejuvenating flames of Suzaku's divine power have since cast the scales from her eyes. Her perception has never been more clear. Nor does it miss the brief attempt by one of the passengers to combat the heat she creates, as if a few droplets of moisture would be able to stand up to her righteous fury.

However, as she casts her senses out towards this display of mortal power, another look of surprise washes across her pale features. She recognizes it. Flashes of memory rise up unbidden, not pictures but feelings, for they came from a time when she was blind to the world. A soft voice and gentle hands that reached out not in fear but concern. Amidst a sea of scorn and fear, the one person who treated her with respect and made an attempt to understand her pain.


The word is spoken softly, a hint of what might be reverence or respect laced through her tone. Her eyes meet with those of the water-bending hayseed, gentle blue and scarlet red standing in stark opposition as she finally puts a face to the name. For a moment, the fiery goddess looks uncertain, turning her head away from the crowd to stare into some nebulous middle distance as she contends with complicated emotions.

But the reprieve is brief. Junko's heart hardens quickly, her expression once more adopting a mien of aloof contempt. The tips of her waterfall of snowy hair begin to glow orange-red like stirred embers as she burns away those feelings of hesitation and regret, replacing them with redoubled scorn.

"It matters not," she hisses, quiet anger pulsing with every word. "One act of kindness will not quench the fire that burns within my soul."

Turning her blazing stare back upon the crowd, the miko sweeps an arm out dramatically, her hand aglow with holy power as dancing flames writhe around her fingertips. Her lips peel back in a sneer of disgust and the psychic curtain drops once more, slamming down with renewed malice.

"Hear me, children of man! For nigh on a thousand years I have languished in the darkness, bound by treacherous sorcery. In that time, you have forgotten the lessons that We taught you! You have cast down the gods, leaving our shrines and monuments to decay as you erect steel chapels to your own hubris! You have taken the bounty of prosperity that I granted and, ever greedy for more, defiled the natural beauty of this world!"

The kami's words resound with shocking force, echoing through the minds of those present, engraving themselves into their memory so that they may never be forgotten. It is not simply an accusation that she levels but a divine judgement cast down from the heavens above. The other gods may have passed from this realm, content to fade and be forgotten, their stories and legends passing into the realm of mere myth and superstition, but not she. These mortals, and all of mankind, will remember what it means to be addressed by a god and know their place in the cosmos!

The phoenix spreads her wings wide, the majestic plumage taking on a multitude of colorful patterns as if a peacock's feathers have been manifested from raw flame. From those scorching pinions, twin waves of flame erupt, towering sheets of crimson power that rip across the beach in opposite directions. Within seconds the entirety of the beach's sandy crescent has been cordoned off, access to the ocean blocked by a twenty foot high barrier of brilliant fire. Nor does it stop there as the flames curve around the contours of the land, tracing a path into the distance until no longer in sight as they make their way around the outer perimeter of the entire island.

"Long did I try to guide your kind away from such a path," the girl continues, her voice growing softer though no less full of rage. "Again and again I showered the corners of the world with abundance, giving life to fallow fields, bringing rain to parched wells, filling every net with ample fish. And still, time and time again, you turned to greed. Wars raged. Blood flowed. Death reigned. Brother turned upon brother, the helpless and needy downtrodden under armored boots."

A look of sadness touches the kami's face briefly as she closes her eyes, sighing wistfully.

"And here you all stand, champions of violence. Celebrities who would publicly pursue the art of warfare. And for what? -Entertainment-." She sneers at the word, fingers clenching into tight fists.

"Even when there exists no need for bloodshed your kind glorifies it. -Revels- in it." Her eyes open and she glares pointedly at scientist and the abomination clutched tightly in her arms. "Creates blasphemies in the pursuit of it."

The girl's wings fold against her back, the final gap in the blazing curtain she has erected snapping shut behind her as she takes a step forward. They are now well and truly trapped on this island, cut off from the outside world and any hope of assistance.

"Such are your sins, mortals. And thus shall you face my trials to determine your fate."

As the London lass lurches to her feet, Hawksley reaches out to try and stop her. For a mad moment he thinks she is going to confront their hellish enemy. In reality, she is just hoping for an escape, and who can blame her? The last time the two females had fought, the beautiful Brit had her face burned off. The Cork fella knows how much that cost Coco and not just in physical terms. Her mental and emotional health had took a beating and she's just getting back to her best self. The last thing she needs is a cruel reminder of such a terrible time.

"It's okay, cailin." He tries to comfort her, but it probably sounds somewhat lacking in sincerity, since he is far from sure it is. He doesn't for one moment think that Junko has been allowed back in the competition. Professional Fighting Worldwide wouldn't wanna risk another lawsuit from the Coalbridges or any other pissed off parties. He's aware of her power though. Even if his mind can't quite absorb how much of it there is, his body is throbbing with the intensity of it so close to him. Someone in such a position could well come looking for those she feels wronged by, which is probably all of them other than Chevy.

"Can you reason with her or something?" He calls out to the redhead. "I don't suppose you've got any strawberry shortcake have you?" He's half-joking. A dark attempt at humour in a desperate situation.

The calm authority of Doctor Maeda causes Hawksley to pay attention. She's right. Of course she's right, but it doesn't stop the brawler having the urge to go over and batter the cause for their concern. The hand from Braun on his shoulder helps him to resist and he turns his brown eyes to look at him, nodding his head in resignation.

The sound of delight amidst all the despair has Hawksley looking towards the magic jeep in confusion. The Welsh dragon weirdly seems excited that Junko is back. Could it possibly be true that this is all part of some plot or scheme to liven up this leg of the contest? Surely they wouldn't sink that low. Shaking off the thought, the Irishman returns to his previous position on the idea, that it wouldn't be worth the risk.

It's lucky for Lou that the lad has decided this, as it means that the former wrestler has his request for a drink granted. Reaching into his cool bag, Hawksley screws the top off with his hand, leaving a scratch on his palm, and then passes it towards the driver's seat. "Knock yourself out, fella. I think I'll join you. Anyone else?" He grabs another bottle, placing it against his forehead for a few seconds to feel the coolness and then cracking it open to take a thirsty swig. He therefore has a refreshment whilst Junko delivers her villain speech. It's one that Tanwen is likely to be impressed by. As for Hawksley? A lot of it goes over his head. Though far from stupid, he's also not the brighest boy around and she does like to use a lot of long words, so she does.

The bits he manages to catch, can be summarised as such:

The kami confirms his belief that she's not back to compete.

She still recognises and remembers her friendship with Chevy. He swears the creature's voice softens slightly when she says her name. This is perhaps something that can be used against her, despite her dismissal of the kindness that was shown to her.

Junko is really fecking old and she's mad at mankind for messing up the world, which to be fair, well, she has a point.

Her mates didn't have the staying power she does, which as someone who has remained standing for more sessions than most at his local pub, he gets.

She's not into fighting as sport or entertainment, which is something they definitely differ on. He can't believe his luck that he gets paid to put on a show for people and have fun fighting in the process.

They are well and truly trapped on this island, so they better get bloody used to it.

As it turns out, the reason that Tanwen said 'Oh, dear' isn't that the penny finally dropped - she's still mystified as to where the boat has gone.

The real reason is that a practical blur of purple and pale flesh has launched itself from the next Jeep over, one foot hurtling like the head of a spear directly toward the dragon girl's head.

"You bloody idiot!!"

At first, it looks as if Coco has simply flying-Muay-Thai-kicked Tanwen straight out of existence, leaving behind nothing but a pair of tied-off Welsh flags fluttering in the breeze where she once stood, but it soon becomes clear that the tiny dragon has swiftly shifted to its adorbs-sized true form to avoid getting blasted out of the Jeep by the angry Brit.

Coco follows up by lashing out with seemingly hundreds of rapid kicks aimed at the flittering reptile as it's forced to deftly dodge the Queen Cobra's totally-original-do-not-steal special move, squeaking in terror every time a set of polished nails narrowly misses it.

"Were you seriously cheering for the psychopath who burnt my face off?? How could you be so cold-blooded?!" Coco yells as she directs the wrath of her raging amygdala toward the dragonling.

"Sorry! I'm sorry!" Tanwen squeaks as she tumbles through the air on the breeze generated by Coco's flying foot. She stops her flitting to turn and shout in as loud a voice as she can at the kami. "Umm, by the way, Miss Junko! That was a very good speech, but I'm not a children of man! I'm a dragon, I am! So that means I'm not in trouble, right? Eep!"

That gives just enough of an opening for the wyrmling to find itself kicked right over into the Chill Jeep, flying right toward Ishida!

The seething Brit reduces her boiling anger to a simmer as she turns to face Junko. "It's well rich, you preaching at us about loving violence. Or do you not remember what you did to me? Why don't you just tell us what you're really here for, then? What 'trials?'"

Morgie has made himself comfortable on Roxana's lap, curling up and clawing lightly at her bare legs. She ponders protesting but when put into perspective against the events evolving, her pain seems somewhat trivial. Instead she pulls him into a cuddle. It gives her something to focus on other than the fiery fiend and it feels surprisingly comforting.

As she pets the bearcat, the Nebraskan observes the behaviour of her fellow fighters. Max has her mother to mollify her and the scientist is talking sense about the situation. Yes, they should definitely see what Suzaku wants. Perhaps Braun is right and it's simply attention or aknowledgement.

Chevy is trying her best to manage the temperature and seek a connection with their foe. Rox suspects it is futile but she appreciates the efforts nonetheless. Hawksley is having to hold himself back from engaging with his desire for violence. It's hurting him but he's having a go at brushing it off and being his usual light-hearted self.

Tanwen meanwhile is enjoying the whole experience. How strange this seems to the scorpion-girl. Seeing it from the point of view that the spectator she was last season though, this would be a sure-fire ratings winner. Bringing back the villain who got under the skin of most of the returning contestants is a classic reality television trope.

She looks towards Lou as he speaks up. Apparently he's not got any words of wisdom for them. He's just after a beer and who could blame him? "I'm fine, thanks." She responds to Hawksley's offer of a drink. Any temporary comfort the alcohol is likely to bring will be paid for later with increased dehydration. Rox is starting to consider the question of supplies for however long they may be stranded here.

Suzaku's speech is stirring and Rox gives her the respect of listening to it in silence. When she's done, she simply nods her head, not expressing an opinion on any of the content. She's still contemplating the creature's words when Coco's anger boils over and she launches her attack on Tanwen. The Welsh Woman uses her wits to turn into her tiny dragon form, causing Coco to kick out at thin air repeatedley. Rox calls out to her mentor, attempting to make herself heard despite the softness of her voice. "Leave her! She's just confused about what's happening. I don't think there's any malice meant."

Too late. Tanwen is sent tumbling through the air towards Ishida with Roxana's dark eyes following the dragonette's trip. Realising that Ishida hasn't yet spoken up since Suzaku's arrival, Rox asks him. "Are you alright?"

Ishida is about to pop.
The volleyball, specifically.
From how tightly he's gripping it as the wave of fire washes over the jeep.
It's bringing back a host of bad memories.
And it's sure to start some new ones.

He doesn't think twice, though, about exiting the vehicle as soon as it's suggested to spread out. One reason he called for shotgun, of course. He vaguely recalls reading -something- like that in the game's rulebook.

But what's -really- got the tacit warrior fired up is the buzzing in his head, and the impending threat of -even more fire-. And once he sees that slight betrayal of emotion, he knows that Junko -- Suzaku, really -- *might* be of a mind to send another blast of fire their way.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Everyone seems to have their own opinion for what to do -- and for a moment it looks like he's pacing in front of the Chill Jeep as Suzaku unleashes the 'villain speech' Tanwen was waiting for.

His work doesn't become clear until he turns, and stabs his heel into the ground as he thunders down into a horse stance. (Which looks a little off, as he's still holding that volleyball in one hand.) The path he'd walked erupts upwards -- forming an earthen berm, about a meter high. Enough to provide cover for the Chill Jeep riders in the event of another fire strike.

Like Ishida, the motion is quiet -- perhaps easily dismissed. But it's nonetheless there.

... He is a -bit- surprised at the sudden commotion around Tanwen - perhaps the only distraction from his task. Ishida turns to face them -- and as the dragonlet flies towards him, he lets the volleyball drop so that he can catch her.

"Whoa, easy there, Cadawaller-san..."

He flashes a softening smile towards Coco -- an apology, as he doesn't intend to take sides, but rather, to comfort the dragoness.

He spends a brief glance looking at each of the others in turn -- assessing to make sure each is okay. To Roxana, his answer is a bit more direct: "I am fine."

His grey gaze passes to the others present. A note of concern is offered towards the barefooted Sarah. A brief smile is offered to Hawksley, and to Chevy, and to Braun.

"And ready."

Buck gives a little jump as an ice cold Chevy plops down in his lap. "Huh? What?" He starts, blinking a few times as he looks around from his seat on the jeep. Was he... napping? Well, there's nothing like a bucket of ice water, or ice girlfriend to wake you up from a bouncing car induced coma. "Did I miss something?" He asks more than a little dopily.

Blinking a few tmes he casts his gaze around the area, squinting as he tries to figure out why it's so bright, and so hot. Well, hot where the iced out Chevy isn't keeping him cool. Though almost as a reflx, some scales start to cover his skin, protecting him from the heat of the flames, and then his eyes finally find Junko/Suzaku, and he just frowns.

"Oh. This again." He sounds irritated. Which is not a common tone for Buck. Happy, usually, jovial, commonly, irritated? Almost never. In fact, is that an edge of annoyance in his tone?

Strangely being confronted by a "god" seems to impact the Oklahoman country boy barely at all. But that's part of something that happens when you've met another deity and they've laid claim to you as theirs, that nameless near forgotten god of the wilds that fuels Buck's powers. In the words of Ms. Twain, 'That don't impress me much'. Which may be a foolish reaction, but Buck is the type that follows his gut in most situations to his benefit or detriment.

So he stays put in the jeep, one arm going around Chevy's waist for a light squeeze and a tacit reassurance. Either trying to say they'll be fine despite the flaming crazy bird, or that he'll back her up whatever. It's Buck, both can be true.

Henry, well, he's just tried to be quiet this whole ride. Ostentatious displays of wealth aren't really something that interestes him, or is all that new. So he's just lais back in the jeep looking bored until something interesting happened.

Unfortunately this is the type of interesting he wasn't quite prepared for, and he doesn't even have his weapons on him right now so as to save some room in the jeep. All he can really do is look towards his assigned mentor for this part of the tournament, his eyes fixing on Hawksley as he arches a brow. If the Irishman even manages to catch the glance with the attention mostly on Coco.

Everyone's mad again. Just like at the hospital ward.

The targets are all over the place though. Braun's mad at the unseen NFG orchestrators. Max is mad that she can't get out there and be the heroine she wants to be. Tanwen is madly infatuated with the -concept- of Junko's apotheosis more than the actual reality of it. Dr Maeda's a mad scientist in general. Roxana, Henry and Ishida are mad -calm-, somehow. Sarah's-- well, she might have some ideas! And then there's Coco, mad at her partner! Unfortunately, that last one requires a bit of reaction -- and as Chevy taps Buck's thigh as a signal, she's about to -go-.

Besides, Hawksley's response gets -her- a little hot under the collar. "Tch... this ain't no time to be mommickin' me, Hawksley!" The strawberry shortcake line will live forever in infamy on the Chevaliers' subreddit and she's never been -more- ready to move on from that -- but, well, here she is now.

Ice slides off her arms as she exits the jeep, turning to meltwater before it can even hit the ground. She may not be quick enough to -defend- against Coco's assaults on her partner -- dragons are cold-blooded by nature, aren't they? -- but she does take the opportunity to step between them once Tanwen is kicked!

If Coco's still even -considering- it, she'll get a blue-eyed stare from the Carolinian. "Alright, that's enough! Let's stay focused on the one who burned dayn our ship!"

And now with attention turned back towards Suzaku, Chevy lets Coco's words stand out a bit more. It's a challenge, to be sure... But it's one that is voiced a bit more clearly than the muddled thoughts tumbling around inside Chevy's head. Watching the phoenix-god warily, Miss Beaumont edges back to Buck's side.

The last statement just seems to make her angrier.

"It warn't just *one* kindness, Junko. I stood up for you time an' time again, and every time, you jus' 'bout ruint everythin' that had ever mattered to me. You wanna talk about 'trials' -- standin' up for *you* was a trial and a half!"

She lowers her chin -- even the frost is starting to melt. But she finds her nerve as she leans against Buck for support.

"So, I'm with Coco. You're kinda one to talk here!"

Yup, he's mad. This could have been avoided with some foresight given the events of before but organizers are gonna do what they're going to do. Was probably too expensive.

And of course they're giving her respect as is warrented. None here individually are capable of taking her on, one on one, and the situation hasn't warrented an immediate all hands on deck assault. But healthy caution and strategic thinking against a superior threat isn't the same as terror and some here are cautious but not willing to back down either. Waking up to seeing Akuma standing in front of your bed, staring at you, three mornings a week, will do that to you.

Braun demonstrates this by leaning forward to address Junko openly and brusquely, "Wait a damn second. Hold up, this doesn't make any sense. You're mad at the world at large're choosing to come -here-? To -Us-? A group of new entries into the fightin' tournament world when you got an entire planet out there of folk actually making the decisions and pulling the strings? This sounds more like personal attachment t'me and not about anything to do with the world at large, girl. What're you -really- hear for? Validation? Is it that you think you can get it from us easier then y'can rolling up on The NOL or The Sacred Order or Shadoloo? We're vulnerable, is that it?"

"Quite a gorgeous place," Sarah says to Hawksley as she admires the beautiful scenery of Zack Island. "I'm glad I came here, it looks like a good place." She brings her legs up to sit cross-legged, still smiling.

When Coco suggests Sarah use the turntables at the casino, her smile increases. "That's a wonderful idea!" She says. "I'll show them the magic that DJ Supernova is capable of when she gets on the turntables!"

Ishida need not worry about how Sarah is barefoot, as she's used to doing that. But Sarah is genuinely concerned about the fires that have just incinerated the nearby boat. The flames that come up and cover the beach are more than enough to wipe Sarah's smile off of her face. She grits her teeth a little as she looks up at Junko, her eyes narrowed a little.

When Coco speaks, Sarah finds the courage to speak as well. "There's no need to be trying to fry us to a crisp, you know! There are better ways of resolving your issues!" Sarah's usual smile is now replaced with an angry scowl. "And I don't know what your so-called 'trials' are supposed to be, but I do know that I'm willing to take them on however necessary!"

It is surprising how quickly the tides start to shift.

Now that the initial shock of her sudden appearance has worn off, those held in captive assembly before the fiery goddess start to show some spine. Perhaps it is the extremely vocal displeasure voiced by her former victim that stirs them all to action. Or the quiet resolve of the more level-headed members of the crew that reminds them that none stand here alone. Even the normally kind-hearted Southern belle starts to push back against the accusations being leveled upon them, venting some pent up frustrations of her own. By the time Braun has started in on her, it's become evidently clear that these mortals are starting to think they can talk back to her as if they are her equal.

And that just won't do.

The swell of intense rage that boils up within the goddess can be felt as it starts to build, pulsing out from her in short rapid bursts in time with her escalating heart rate. The miko's eyes close slowly, jaw clenching so tight that the sound of her molars grinding is audible. Slender fingers squeeze into white-knuckled fists that tremor at her sides with barely restrained emotion as she endures the words hurled back at her by insects that she could incinerate with a thought. The ember-like glow at the tips of her hair starts to spread, cherry red heat spreading upwards in a visible manifestation of her rapidly depleting temper.


The dam bursts in a sudden and violent eruption of sound and fury. A pillar of scarlet flame explodes around Junko, a finger of destruction that lances up into the sky. The force of the blast slams into the beach like a small bomb detonating, a shockwave rippling out in all directions that bends the very trees away from her as if they are cowering at her outrage. Divine fire consumes the kami from the inside, her eyes becoming pools of molten fury upon whose surface flecks of black corruption swirl. Even her hair bursts into scarlet flame, the snowy white mass whipping wildly above her like a bonfire amidst a raging storm.

For a few brief uncertain seconds, it is unclear if the goddess means to reign in her power. The raw malice that leaks out of her twisted soul burns in a mighty conflagration that threatens to consume her reason, eager to feast upon the bounty of kindling that is their mortal flesh. Heat so intense that it threatens to scorch their very souls radiates out from the pyre of unrestrained energy, washing over the beach and its inhabitants in tidal wave. Several of the smaller plants outright burst into flame, withering into burnt charred husks within moments. Among the trees, clusters of fruit hiss and pop as they burst apart, exploding into messy chunks like hotdogs left in the microwave too long.

And, just as rapidly as it had begun, the outburst comes to a sudden abrupt end.

Junko staggers backwards and clutches at her head, grimacing like someone who has just experienced the worst ice cream headache of their entire life. The raging inferno around her snuffs out like a candle flame, power retreating into her body once more and with it the crushing psychic rage. The kami sucks in heavy ragged breaths, eyes squeezed tightly shut as she attempts to regain her composure.

"You will all... be silent..."

The words come out soft, almost a sharp hissing whisper, but her tone is still commanding, spoken with the quiet intensity of someone who knows they have just lost control but is attempting to minimize the fallout. Judging by how quickly she adapts it's clear that this isn't the first time the kami's temper has literally flared up.

A final deep exhale seems to expel the last of the rage from her body though the air remains stained with a greasy unclean feeling as the taint lingers. When she once more opens her eyes and turns her scowl upon the crowd the crimson orbs yet burn with power but no longer with wild unrestrained abandon.

"You all labor under a misunderstanding," she begins, keeping her voice calm and measured, attempting to maintain a modicum of dignity in the wake of this unexpected outburst. Her eye flit from one side of the group to the other, starting with Coco, then moving to Chevy, and finally Braun. The three people here who have the most reason to hate her and the same three who have boldly stepped forward to challenge her.

"The mortal child who once inhabited this vessel of flesh - she is no more."

This statement is delivered matter-of-factly, her tone flat and without emotion though her gaze does dip downwards to stare at the earth for a few moments as she speaks. Perhaps a brief moment of reverence for the departed? Or a hint of guilt at the manner in which she was brought into the world? Whatever thoughts the kami has on this matter, they remain impossible to discern from her expression.

"Naught remains but fractured memories. Whatever grievances you held with Junko Daidoji, they perished along with her. You will find no satisfaction to be had here."

Pulling herself up as straight as possible, the miko spreads her wings once more and rises several feet into the air. From her vantage on high, she looks down at the humans before her with renewed contempt. Slowly, deliberately, the goddess holds each of her hands out in front of her as scarlet flame gathers between her fingers forming into balls of churning fire that flicker with a hunger for destruction as they rest on her upturned palms.

"I will say it again, mortals. I am Suzaku, born of the divine, keeper of the eternal flame. And I am above the reproach of your misbegotten kind."

The kami's gaze shifts to Coco, meeting the gaze of the previously charred warrior who suffered at her host's unfettered rage. A rage born from the corruption that she harbored within. From her foolish attempt to restrain a power that she could not comprehend. From Suzaku.

"Yet, I am not without reason. As I would hold each of you responsible for the actions of your forebearers, so shall I take a measure of accountability for this vessel I now inhabit. For you, Constance Coalbridge, I sense... regret. The grievous harm inflicted upon you was not done out of malice. As compensation, I grant you... mercy. Though your words of disrespect are deserving of divine punishment, I shall stay my hand. This once."

Though Chevy is the next in line, Suzaku's focus turns next to the burly mancat. Her eyes narrow slightly at his accusations but it would seem her previous outburst managed to burn off enough of the excess fury to keep her from lashing out again.

"And you, Braun Jaegerbrud. For you there is... respect. While I do not share the girl's enthusiasm for violence, there is honor to be found in courage. To you I grant... honesty."

The miko's eyes close, her expression twisting as if she just took a big bite of lemon. "You assume correctly. As I am now, I lack the strength necessary to challenge humanity's guardians. Once already they have attempted to silence me and though I emerged victorious it was made clear to me the gulf between what I once was and what I have now become." She opens them again and fixes the brute with a hard stare. "But more than that, the eyes of the world are upon you. Whatever your fate, it shall be known and my message heard."

Finally, almost reluctantly, the girl turns to face her last accuser. Though she attempts to maintain a stoic expression, it's clear that a storm of complicated emotions rages just below the surface. Of all the memories that haunt her fractured mind, those of her time with Chevy are the most clear and evoke the strongest reaction. Some are full of love and adoration while others seethe with bitter spite.

"Chevelle Beaumont. For you, there is... "

Hesitation stays the kami's words briefly as she struggles to determine what should be said and what should be left in the past. Even the use of the hayseed's full name is a deliberate choice, an attempt to wedge a barrier between the past and present.

"Gratitude," she says, settling on the word gently. "When all others turned away, you tried to understand. If only the rest of your kind would walk that path, perhaps we would not be here now." She shakes her head sadly. "Alas, I no longer have faith in humans. And so, to you I grant... insight. And a chance to change my mind."

Lifting her eyes to the horizon, Suzaku holds the twin orbs of flame aloft over her head. The blazing fireballs rise upwards, merging together into a larger and steadily expanding scarlet sphere. When it has grown to roughly the size of a small house the goddess lowers her hands and points all of her fingers into the vast jungle of the island. Dozens, if not hundreds, of thin red beams explode from the surface of the massive construct. Twisting about like buzzing fireflies they dart off on curving paths towards the interior of the land mass, crashing down in a ripple of fiery explosions that rocks the entire island.

Suzaku watches the meteors rain destruction for several seconds, only turning her attention back to the water-bender when she is satisfied with her work. One hand lifts for all to see, three fingers extending together.

"Three trials have I set before you, mortals. It was originally my intention to simply strand you here and let you fumble about in the dark. But to ensure that there are no more debts between us I shall tell you of them now."

She retracts two of the fingers, holding up only her pointer.

"The first trial will be one of sacrifice. I have just destroyed the majority of edible plants and animals that inhabited this island. By this wall of flame shall all assistance be denied. And should any of your kind attempt to bypass it through the air, they will find my flames waiting for them. Only enough food remains to keep perhaps half of your bellies full. How then, I wonder, shall you act when resources grow scarce?"

Her middle finger rises to the join the first.

"The second will be a trial of blood. Long has mankind sought to master the art of killing, seeking ever to create more deadly weapons. Without the fear of divine retribution, you have even sought to master that which should never be tampered with. This seed of sin was planted on the island long ago and now the fruits of that dark research roam free upon this forgotten land. Find a way to face these heretics and triumph or perish as karma dictates."

The last finger extends once again before Suzaku turns her hand to point at the distant peak of the simmering volcano.

"The third and final trial shall be of fire. At the top of that burning mount I shall await those of you who yet remain fit enough to fight, should any of you survive at all."

Crossing her arms, the kami sweeps her gaze across the assembled warriors below one final time. Contempt rolls off her in waves, her expression one of scorn and judgement. There is little she expects of these inexperienced whelps and it shows. By her actions she has condemned them to choose between a slow death of starvation or the promise of a quick one within the jungle's unknown depths.

"Show me the strength of your resolve. Prove you are more than simply monkeys who learned how to sharpen sticks. Only then will have earned the right to live."

Uninterested in further debate or rebuke, her ultimatum delivered, Suzaku takes to the air on blazing wings. The phoenix quickly turns into a red smear on the pale blue sky, zipping across the clouds like a shooting star on a trail of fire to alight upon the edge of the distant volcano. There she comes to rest, a small but consistent point of brilliant red light on the horizon that in the coming days will remain unmoving and undimmed as she awaits their arrival.

By the time that Suzaku has finished her speech, even the composed figure of Tom Bradley is visibly drenched in sweat. He and Lou look at each other through their sunglasses as a silence hangs heavy in the air for a few seconds. Then, Tom is the first to speak.

After all, if there is one thing that he and his partner are able to provide for the suddenly disaster-stricken charges of the NFG, it's commentary.

"Well, Lou, I have to say, I am not in favour of this development."

The pallor in Lou's face slowly flushes as the immediate fear subsides, slowly lulled toward the unflappable commmentator's mindset that Tom exhibits. He hesitates for just a moment, then replies:


Tom continues, gathering his cool confidence:

"Ladies, gentlemen, and all of our other friends: apologies, but it appears that our three-hour tour has been extended indefinitely. Fortunately, it appears that none of us have been hurt -"

"I've been hurt," Tanwen whines from Ishida's arms."

"- and we can go ahead with our picnic as planned, sans rum punch. Unfortunately, it looks like Junko - I mean, Suzaku - isn't going to let anyone on or off of the island until you defeat her at the peak of Zack Mountain."

Lou chimes in, a camera swiveling to a close-up on his face as he raises an eyebrow. "What I wanna know is... dark research? Heretics? What the heck's she talkin' about?"

==*== ELSEWHERE ==*==

The cool tones of a large monitor screen illuminate the darkened room, showing the scene play out from the perspective of an aerial drone, the advanced directional microphone capturing the conversation and transmitting it by radio signal.

<< Dark research? Heretics? What the heck's she talkin' about? >>

"So, it appears that the firebird is aware of our project," a cool and calculated baritone resonates in the silence, the speaker's laboratory coat a ghostly white against the ethereal lighting, eyes hidden behind the screen's reflection in a pair of glasses. "Is your signal clear?"

<< Crystal, >> a woman's voice replies over the connection. << Should we go public with this? Bring in the big guns, mount an extraction? >>

"Of course not," the man in the white coat replies, his voice hardening to a sharp edge before softening again. "This is a golden opportunity, and it seems that the will of the goddess aligns with our own aims perfectly - for now."

With that said, the corner of the man's lips turns upward for a flickering moment before flattening again. He speaks once more.

"We'll need to get ahead of this. You have twenty-four hours. Prepare a small team. Tell them that you're going to investigate the delay in the prospects' return. Let's see if this firebird is as vigilant as she claims."

<< ...Are you sure that's a good idea, Doctor? >>

"Consider it an order, Sullivan," the doctor says, turning his back to the screen. "Needless to say... you should bring a parachute."

Log created on 09:07:46 05/08/2024 by Pringer X, and last modified on 11:41:37 05/22/2024.