Disclaimer: Bought Zip at $2.52, then more at $2.17 for base cost of $2.32, hoped for an entry to the US market via QuadPay as they had a 15% stake. Bought more at $5.50 after announcement. Base cost now $2.93. Will likely buy into Sezzle soon, as well. All information here could be wrong, DYOR. Mkt caps are from Friday's close price. Splitit and Sezzle USD converted to AUD at a rate of <1 USD = 1.45716 AUD> TLDR at the end. submitted by
Zip Co. ($Z1P) Mkt Cap: 2.55b
Quarter ending March 31, 2020.
| ||March Quarter ||December Quarter ||Change |
|Customers ||1.95m ||1.8m ||↑11% |
|Merchants ||22.7k ||20.8k ||↑ 9% |
|TTV ||518m ||562m ||↓ 8% |
|Revenue ||45m ||38.5m ||↑17% |
QuadPay Acquired for 403m by Zip Co.
Quarter ending March 31, 2020.
| ||March Quarter ||December Quarter ||Change |
|Customers ||1.5m ||?? ||?? |
|Merchants ||3.5k ||?? ||?? |
|TTV ||225m ||245m ||↓8% |
|Revenue ||17.8m ||18m ||↓1% |
- Can't find December Quarter customer and merchant numbers.
OpenPay ($OPY) Mkt Cap: 257m
Quarter ending March 31, 2020.
| ||March Quarter ||December Quarter ||Change |
|Customers ||250k ||206k ||↑19% |
|Merchants ||2k ||1.8k ||↑10% |
|TTV ||45m ||49.5m ||↓9.5% |
|Revenue ||5.3m ||4.6m ||↑14% |
Splitit ($SPT) Mkt Cap: 250m
Quarter ending March 31, 2020.
| ||March Quarter ||December Quarter ||Change |
|Customers ||107k ||118k ||↓9.7% |
|Merchants ||862 ||720 ||↑18% |
|TTV ||34.5m ||39.5m ||↓13% |
|Revenue ||957k ||630k ||↑41% |
- Splitit lists their revenue growth as a 51% increase over the previous quarter with the two above numbers. Typo, they're not good at math, or I'm retarded. You pick.
- Of those 862 merchants, only 434 processed a payment in the last 12 months.
- Quarter preceding December customers was at 126k, showing a steady decline.
- Due to timing of funding, 103k from funded plans in the December Quarter was rolled into the March Quarter.
Sezzle ($SZL) Mkt Cap: 606m
Quarter ending March 31, 2020.
| ||March Quarter ||December Quarter ||Change |
|Customers ||1.15m ||914k ||↑22% |
|Merchants ||12.7k ||10k ||↑23% |
|TTV ||173.5m ||153m ||↑12.5% |
|Revenue ||?? ||?? ||?? |
- Can only find revenue generated through merchant fees on a per quarter basis, don't want to include it if it's incomplete.
OPY was overpriced at $3.50 (Mkt Cap: 380m) in comparison to its listed competitors for where they are currently. They're only usable where OpenPay is accepted, for which there aren't many places outside of automotive and healthcare. The "big names" OpenPay tout, like Smiggle and Bonds, are what I call BNPL whores. They accept anyone: Afterpay, Zip, OpenPay, Humm, your mum's necklace. At retailers that offer multiple BNPLs, customers will just choose who they're familiar with, and they're unlikely to be familiar with OpenPay.
You should also note that as of their April 30th Update they said that they have a "strong balance sheet and growth funding positions means no immediate need for any equity raising". Of course, one month later after the explosion of their Share Price they committed to an equity raise. This is either a sudden change of course, or an opportune decision to take advantage of a bloated Share Price. New shares priced at $2.40. Either way I don't like it.
Not confident for their long-term survival. But they are showing good growth, and if you're one to bet it all on the small dogs for the mid-term, OpenPay beats out Splitit handily. Personally, I need to have faith in the execs to invest, which I don't, and for that reason: I'm out.
If Afterpay, Klarna and Affirm are the Year 12 cool kids, and Zip and Sezzle are the younger, more hip cool kids in year 10, then Splitit is the special needs kid who hasn't realised he's soiled himself until he's told. Splitit operates in the US, uses the Stripe platform with QuadPay, and is partnered with Visa as is Afterpay. I don't think the 'partnerships' are as exciting as they sound. Just provides access to their tools.
Like Sezzle, Splitit can be integrated into retailers Shopify sites if they choose to. Not too sure how long this will last, as Shopify has recently stated they will be coming out with their own BNPL solution called Shop Pay Instalments. Besides, while they're both currently small and relatively unknown overall, Sezzle is more well-known in the states over Splitit. If Shopify merchants choose these integrations they will more than likely go with whichever they're familiar with: Sezzle.
Splitit's "Active Shoppers" has fallen slightly for the 3rd straight quarter, dating back to Q32019, and is only up 2% since this same time last year (Q12019). Pretty poor for a rapidly growing space.
Now for why they're special needs. One of the most 'popular' retailers on the Splitit site is Purple, which was announced as an addition last month. However, Purple doesn't even offer Splitit, Affirm straight yoinked Purple from underneath them and they are now their BNPL solution. Splitit is either too slow to realise, or just don't update their site enough. Their quarterly update listed Scorptec as a new addition, but what's the first thing you see on Scorptec's website? Zip Money. I randomly selected other merchants on their store directory, and it is very difficult to tell if they even offer Splitit in a lot of cases. You've gotta do some digging. Their exposure and branding is trash. It's great that you can offer your services "anywhere Visa is accepted", but you have to have people using your app for that. No one is using your app if they don't know who the fuck you are.
In complete contrast to Splitit, for the most part it's easy to tell when a site offers Sezzle. The logo is subjectively appealing, and can often be seen on the retailers homepage. Also unlike Splitit, the stores in their directory actually offer Sezzle, which probably points to them being aware and updating their page; Splitit could learn something.
Currently, the downside to Sezzle is they only offer their services with retailers who are signed up with them. Although, focusing on retailer expansion should help with brand exposure. BNPL solutions get a good chuck of money from Merchant Fees, fees they don't see when users use their "anywhere" solutions through their respective apps. But, when customers use their 'anywhere' solutions through the app at retailers, the BNPL provider will then approach the retailer to get them to sign up, further expanding their exclusive offerings. Sezzle will be looking to take advantage of this with Sezzle Up. A virtual card will be created, much like Zip and QuadPay do, but with Sezzle rewards and credit integrated. Sezzle looks to be trying to innovate in the space, which is a good look for them.
In comparison, Sezzle's active customer base is up 22% for the quarter, compared to Splitit's %2 for the year. (Period ending March).
Zip Co. & QuadPay ($Z1P not $ZIP)
With this acquisition, ZIP will be looking at a combined annualised TTV of $3b, Revenue of $250m, 26k merchants and 3.5m customers. However, 1Q2020 showed a TTV of 225m for QuadPay, 4Q2019 showed a TTV of 245m and 3Q2019 showed a TTV of 71m
. QuadPay was previously the BNPL solution for Amazon US from my previous research late April, which no longer seems to be the case post acquisition news. In my opinion, QuadPay was likely added to Amazon US sometime late Q3 or early Q4, which resulted in the huge TTV jump. If this is true, you should expect a dramatic decrease in performance in QuadPay's 2Q2020 results, which you might not hear about as QuadPay is private and the acquisition doesn't complete until 1Q2021. This should siginificantly impact the pro-forma numbers of Zip+Quad.
The way I see it, Klarna is the big pimp daddy in Europe. Afterpay is the big pimp daddy in Australia. They're both, with Affirm, still fighting for market share in the US with a grand pimp yet to be decided. If they're top 3 in US currently, Zip will be entering the race in 4th place post acquisition.
Both Zip and QuadPay offer their services at any retailer through the use of a virtual card, this is where QuadPay uses the services of Stripe. They also have some big name retailers helping with exposure to drive users to their app. Zip has Amazon AU, and was trailed by Apple in Australia for use on their online store. CFO Martin Brooke thinks the trial was 'successful' and they're currently "taking the next steps". Although Apple does already do similar financing through their Apple Card. QuadPay was
exclusively available on Amazon US before the acquisition announcement. Amazon US was likely providing massive amounts of exposure for QuadPay. I emailed Zip's investor email to find out if I'm mistaken that they were Amazon's BNPL provider during my research late April.
For future outlook, Zip has a 25% stake in PayFlex, which is a South African company. Other acquisitions already completed include PartPay, PocketBoook, Spotcap. Their brands are Zip Pay, Zip Money and Zip Biz. Quadpay and Sezzle are at similar stages of growth in the US, and Zip will be looking to leverage the $200m investment from Susquehanna International (100m Convertible Notes & 100m Warrants) to quickly scale their operations in the US to steam ahead of Sezzle.
The downtick in TTV across the board, barring Sezzle, is expected with the March quarter coming off from a busy holiday period in the December quarter.
Everyone's trying to snag the US market right now. Afterpay is one of the last holdouts for the "use anywhere" solution everyone else is peddling through their apps. Klarna, Affirm, Splitit, Zip, QuadPay are going this route, and Sezzle will soon follow. Just have to wait and see if Afterpay follows. Winners will be whoever can snag the big name/popular retailers in with exclusivity deals, to drive exposure and push users to their apps, snowballing retailer on-boarding. Revenue and TTV are more important than Merchant Numbers. It's better to have a few quality, big name merchants with hundreds of thousands to millions of customers, over thousands of no-name merchants with hundreds to thousands of customers on each. Right now Afterpay has Ebay, Zip has Amazon AU (not that big in this country, was expecting them to have Amazon US post acquisition), Affirm has Walmart, Klarna's snagging popular clothing retailers.
I think Afterpay is going to need to join the "Use Anywhere" party, although with the amount of retailers they're on-boarding it's not necessary right now. They encourage their users to message retailers that don't offer Afterpay to encourage them to come onboard. The "Use Anywhere" solution is great, but it brings in less money, and in Splitit's case with no one knowing who you are and therefore not using your app, altogether useless.
Sezzle will do all right grabbing the 'hip' retailers, and will show good growth in the short to mid-term. Zip will be strong in the short to mid-term post acquisition, and have a strong footing in the US out the gate for a potential long-term future. I'm already onboard Zip, but I'll be jumping Sezzle as well. I would be onboard Afterpay, but imo it's too late and you'll see more %capitalgrowth with the first two from here. TLDR; OpenPay was overpriced at $3.50 but is better than Splitit and should be priced higher than them. Snap decision change within a month or dodgy capital snagging? Who knows. Splitit suffering from very poor brand exposure + poor user growth. Sezzle fresh, innovating in the BNPL space with Sezzle Up but might get outpaced by QuadPay post-acquisition. Will buy them to benefit from short to mid-term growth. Zip on potentially shaky ground, will need to get some big names early for their US push. They're a high risk speculative buy with a lot of potential upside. After a rocky March, BNPL's across the board are seeing large upticks across April, May and June. Possibly a combination of the stimulus announcements/rollouts and isolation. Might update this once the next quarter results are out.
Other BNPLs are available: Humm, Bundll, LayBuy, Latitude Pay, DivideBuy, PayItLater, PayRight, LimePay, Make it Mine, Shop Pay Instalments, FuturePay, LaterPay, Four, SunBit, (insert your own).
“届けて, 切なさには名前をつけようか ‘Snow halation!’”
The harpoon lodged itself into the Ocean Soul’s chest following a powerful toss from Pork Soda, the beast desperately trying to hit the tether to destroy it and release the harpoon, to no avail. The Ocean Soul had underestimated its opponents, who were currently singing some sort of song, perhaps a sort of war cry, meant to display their superior strength.
It had to do something! It released the Calamus Root in store within its mouth, ready to spit it out, before Sayonara Kodoku picked the Ocean Soul up, shut its mouth tight, and tossed it over to Pork Soda. With a thrust of its fingers, the porcine stand pierced the Ocean Soul’s eyes, blinding it.
Then, the two stands rushed at it, sending forwards a barrage of blows, breaking bones, claws, and disorientating it, before getting ready for a finisher. Pork Soda picked the Ocean Soul up by its tail and began spinning around, the rapid movement disorientating the fish and sending it closer and closer to its doom.
No, no! It couldn’t let this be! The Ocean Soul was a hunter, and even if its prey had gotten a leg up on it this time, it wasn’t going to give up! It could barely remain conscious under the pressure as the porcine stand spun it around, its already severe wounds getting exacerbated, but it had to do something!
Just one shot! Just one precise shot and it could use the opportunity to escape, to recover! The porcine stand was spinning it around by its tail, so the Ocean Soul could calculate the stand’s position! It just needed to regain its bearings, focus on getting a shot aimed, and it could use its spit to- SLAM!
With a brutal impact, the Ocean Soul was slammed into a nearby rock. It felt itself sinking in the water as the two stands approached it, its imminent doom coming closer and closer with every movement they made.
It needed to escape, but it couldn’t bring itself to move. The two stands made their way towards it, floating above the ground as they loomed over the barely conscious beast.
Was this going to be it for the Ocean Soul?
“微熱の中 ためらってもダメだね, 飛び込む勇気に賛成 まもなく start!”
Like hell it was.
Gathering the little remaining energy it had, the Ocean Soul spat out the Calamus Root stored within its mouth, mixed with its saliva. Hitting the ground underneath the two stands, two long spikes quickly sprouted out of it and towards their bodies.
Though Sayonara Kodoku’s tough skin didn’t get pierced, the force of the growing spike sent it flying into the air, incapacitating it, if only for a moment. Meanwhile, Pork Soda wasn’t as lucky as it, the spike piercing through the left side of its body, tearing through its left leg and shoulder. The Ocean Soul couldn’t hear anything from underwater, but it was sure that its user was reeling in pain right about now.
Using the remainder of its energy, the Ocean Soul bolted away, desperately trying to remain conscious as it swam away from what it once considered its prey. It didn’t even look backwards, fearing that doing so would give its opponents the time they needed to finish it off for good. It didn’t even keep track of how far it swam, or for how long its opponents had chased it, or if they had done so at all. Its body was searing in pain, broken bones and wounds all over it.
Eventually, it couldn’t bring itself to swim any further, losing consciousness and sinking down into the ocean, not even the searing pain keeping it awake as it began to rest.
The Ocean Soul had lost, but this wasn’t the end of the beast. Though barely, it had managed to escape this encounter with its life. The results are in for Match 10. The winner is… ‘Agnes’ Bayley and Prince Cosmo, with a score of 80 to the Ocean Soul’s 60!
|Category ||Winner ||Point Totals ||Comments |
|Popularity ||Players ||25-5 ||The word of the voterbase was clear: the vast majority felt that the Ocean Soul was handily defeated by the players. |
|Quality ||Players ||23-22 ||Reasoning |
|JoJolity ||Ocean Soul ||22-23 ||Reasoning |
|Conduct ||Tie ||10-10 || |
“AAAAGH! GODDAMIT, STUPID FUCKING FISH!!” Agnes screamed in pain while clutching his leg, body strewn onto the nearest island, carried by Sayonara Kodoku. “IT STABBED THROUGH MY GODDAMN LEG!! FROM THE FOOT, TO MY WAIST, TO MY FUCKING SHOULDER! AAARGH, DAMMIT, WHERE’S JENNY WHEN YOU NEED HER!!”
“You should be happy we got away with our lives. The Ocean Soul isn’t going to come finish us off any time soon after what we did to it.”
“OH, REAL RICH COMING FROM THE ONE WHO DIDN’T GET STABBED IN THE FUCKING LEG BY THAT MONSTER.
DO YOU WANT ME TO STAB YOU AS WELL SO YOU CAN SEE HOW IT FEELS?!” Agnes started rummaging around his surroundings with his right hand, searching for a sharp object to use for his “demonstration”.
“Frankly, you deserve it. Don’t forget that you are the cause for this all. Were it not for your foolishness, Webb would still be alive, and this would not have happened to you.” Cosmo chided.
“PFFF- WHATEVER!” In between his heavy breathing and pained cries, Agnes let out an audible sigh. “Fffffuck this, I’m gonna check my phone to see if there’s any connection here so that we can get the hell out of this place ASAP!” Agnes picked up his phone and pulled it up, taking a look at it.
“That will not be necessary. There is no connection here anyways, and I am certain that a helicopter has been sent out to retrieve us, or at the very least ascertain what might have happened to-” “Shut up, I’m getting a message from Cairo. ‘Don’t worry, Agnes, we have sent your location over to Vitus, and help should arrive in about fifteen minutes.’” Agnes looked at his phone in confusion. “Vitus? Who’s that asshole?”
“Vitus is the man who sent the helicopters out. The one which you indirectly crashed. Nonetheless, let me see that - I have a hard time believing that your phone is capable of picking up a signal when we’re so far away from any cellular towers.”
“And why should I care about what you believe, huh? Here, take a look for yourself!” Agnes shoved the phone in front of Cosmo's face, the dog looking intently at it and seeing… nothing beyond a simple homescreen. “What is this supposed to be. This is your phone’s home screen, and though that horrendous chimera at its center is an affront to anything and everything I believe in, there is no notification here. Could it be that you are perhaps hallucinating from the pain?”
“Wh- you can’t see it?! Don’t fuck with me!” Looking at the dog’s deadpan expression, Agnes could tell that that wasn’t the case. He looked over at the phone, spotting it right there, as clear as day - a notification for an sms from Cairo themselves, containing what he read out loud! “Fuck you, I’m not hallucinating! If anything, you are!”
Cosmo was about to retort, when he spotted something over the distance - a sailboat. It was old and decrepit, seemingly having gone through significant damage and yet still remaining intact, somehow. It clearly didn’t belong to Vitus, and likely wasn’t Cairo’s either. On the boat, he saw a silhouette of a haggard man, but the distance meant that he couldn’t exactly tell exactly what he looked like.
“Someone is coming.” It wouldn’t be much longer before Agnes and Cosmo were able to get back onland, learn what terrible things they’d missed, even if they still had a wait and a talk ahead of them. Left to nurse grievous wounds, this seaborne menace has seen this chapter of aggression momentarily closed, but further inland, the waters of a laundromat are being braved by a time traveler and a woman in chains. Scenario:
Sound’s Garden Eastern Strip - A Golden Limousine
The evening was beginning to set in, the lights of the islands of the area beginning to flash on and dot the sky as two women rode through the city, looking out through the windows as they relaxed in luxury. Cybil Antoine was one to travel in style, and now, with a companion in tow, was no exception.
“A strip that absolutely comes alive at night… Makes me feel almost nostalgic for Vegas,” her redheaded travel companion mused as she looked out, “speakin’ of which… you ever play anything like that, Cyby? Cards, slots, so on. We could try Heartache Casino, maybe, if we have time sometime… I bet you’d just have to throw your name around to get up on its higher floors.”
“It’s Cybil,” the wealthy woman emphasized, with an exhaustion begotten by this having been far from the first time, “or Miss Antoine… Either way, I am not a ‘Cyby.’ Get it right next time, alright?”
“Right, yeah, I know you’ve told me… I’m just a nicknamer by heart. Cross my heart, though! It won’t happen again!” Alexis Williams seemed… As serious as she could get about something like that, as curiously carefree, even devil-may-care, as the performer could get.
“Commit it to memory, then. Despite how much a fool you can act, I’m sure you know how much I had to pull to get you onto this stage.”
“Believe me, I do appreciate it!” Alexis answered, focus now turned away from the topic of gambling and onto that. “Putting on a show at one of the biggest stages in Los Fortuna, bigger than anything I’ve done before… I know our group has had some bad luck lately, with Bucket causing that trouble down at the fish market, and how down on herself Leo has been since that dumb show she said she got roped into, but we’re still the freakin’ Judecca Highrollers, right? I want to show the world that, and from their box, I want to show the rest of our team that we’ve got no better option than to face it all with a grin.”
“How very like you,” Cybil answered, neutral in her tone, careful not to betray the affection in such a statement as she pondered their current status, where they would be playing.
Alexis wouldn’t be headlining, unfortunately, though admittedly, her act wasn’t the sort of thing that did that anyway. Rather, a certain piece of immensely beloved local talent, a rocking performer who went by TD/MD, would be having her play immediately before her at the Alexander Dickinson Amphitheater, just a drive over a rapidly approaching bridge away. Cybil had been a little annoyed that one of her statues had been overshadowed by a plane crashing near it, not to mention had a desire to spread further the local influence of their team, and so she had arranged with the heads of the entertainment industry of Los Fortuna to see to it that her personal favorite performer among the allies and associates she’d made was onstage at the best possible place for a person wanting to be noticed.
She curled her lips at a cell phone which found its way to its hand, then, narrowing her eyes at its screen. “No word back from your backing band… Where are they? How inconsiderate not to send word on this, especially at how that Mr. Sins recommended them so glowingly.”
“I’m sure they’ll show,” Alexis answered, “and if not… We can make do, can’t we?”
“Of course,” Cybil answered, only to have her eye finally drawn back out the window by the sight of a vehicle which had pulled into the lane directly next to theirs as their limousine crossed the bridge.
Another golden limousine was directly next to them now, this one almost pointedly bigger, longer, more decked out in jewelry, and it seemed to be headed exactly the same way. Cybil, rather than confused or alarmed at the coincidence, simply thought aloud, “that would probably be Mr. Sins… Speak of the devil.”
“Amazing how quickly his casino recovered from nearly burning down…” Alexis mused aloud. “I heard that one of the people who trashed it sent him to the hospital, too.”
“An overreaction I’m certain, from what I know about the man. Absolutely terrified of a little pain, a little elbow grease… I’m not one to gossip, but I can’t help but wonder how a man like him even managed to become so prominent, so consistently successful.”
“Right,” Alexis answered, smirking and putting her finger up to her lips, “I won’t spread that around, then. I know how to schmooze with that type if the need arises.”
Los Fortuna Canals - The SS Sledge Sister
Admiral Pineapples was more comfortable on his own boat, but as far as the fleet of the Masters of Funky Action went, there was no real reason to send out more than one boat for this right now.
“Man, I can’t believe nobody else is ridin’ with me,” his companion, Rudolf Pavlova, said after downing an entire bottle of water in a single gulp, on the tail end of an hourlong keytar solo. “The rest of the Masters better at least make it to the Alexander! It’d really bum me out harder than when Wrenn shot me down if none a’them made it!”
Sorry, but I’m really more the headlining type! Playing second-fiddle to a man in a speedo opening for some local star sounds fun and all, but, I’d totally just overshadow them, I bet! So I should really probably stay out of it! That sentence, clear in its passive-aggressive scathingness, had put Wrenn Aflight’s declining of this gig pretty succinctly. As the man more or less everybody on the team could tolerate, listen to, and generally have a good time with, Admiral had been tasked with asking the other star performer of the team to join Rudolf on the gig he’d accepted opening up for locally beloved rock star and all-around idol TD/MD.
Not wanting to break Rudolf’s heart, he more or less told him the short version, ‘he couldn’t make it,’ and then volunteered his own services for the younger man. “You won’t be out there with none of your allies, though, Nureyev! For I, Admiral Pineapples, will aid you in coordinating every moment of your work! This will be one of the worthiest usages of my tactical mind in a long time, I’m sure!”
“I hope you’ve gotten those hour-long solos out of your system now, Nureyev,” Pineapples warned with an amused, lax tone, “you’re only going to have thirty minutes onstage before the headliner has to get ready, and there’ll be trouble if you bleed into that.”
“I know, I know,” Rudolf answered, casually, as he slipped into an open-chested bathrobe mainly meant to function as the legal requirement of public decency until it was time to perform, “I’m not one to step on anyone’s toes, let alone the star of the show. Live and let live, yeah?”
“I’m curious, though, and you never told me…” The Admiral asked, cracking open a beverage of his own and taking a sip, “how did you manage to get such a part as this in the first place?”
“Oh, that’s simple!” Rudolf said, the thought to answer having simply not occurred to him.
A few weeks ago - A beach in the Waterfront District.
“Alright! Thank you, Los Fortuna! I’m here all day, and all night, and all tomorrow too, baby! Party never stops!” Rudolf had just finished the latest of his performances to a small crowd of beachgoers, shredding through the end of his one-man keytar rendition of 2112 and transitioning into a truly epic medley of the extended Family Guy, American Dad, and Cleveland Show OPs.
As the crowd dispersed, a corporate suit-looking type of guy, bronze-skinned with neatly-groomed hair, remained, eyeing his keytar curiously and smiling artificially. “That was an excellent show, Mr… Pavlova, I think it was? You have such an undeniable energy about you that I can see when I lay eyes upon you… You’ve star material.”
“Am I being poached?” Rudolf asked, tilting his head, “‘cuz I assure you, I am a free agent! Not about to be scooped up by some label and forced to chill out the party churnin’ out music I don’t feel in my soul.”
“Nothing so abrupt, no… I’m a Manager, representing TD/MD. You can call me Thutmose. Anyway, she has a concert approaching rapidly, and we’re struggling and scrambling to find local, new talent and performers to open for her. We’ve managed to secure a lot of artists already, but the most important spot… Playing right before her… That, still, we have a particular need for, and I think you would serve it perfectly.”
“So I accepted!” In the present day, Rudolf finished, “why not, yeah? I can spread the party to tens of thousands at one of the biggest venues in town!”
“Scouted on the street, hm… That’s awfully lucky.” Something about this struck Admiral as odd, but he supposed it was all the more reason it was good he was backing his friend and ally up. He had a strong hunch there was more to it than appeared.
Rudolf’s party yacht would disembark soon, ported on the central-most island of the places which made up Sound’s Garden, and the party would make their way forward from there.
Sound’s Garden West Side - Outside the Alexander Dickinson Amphitheater
At the same time, a self-important first step was taken out of a pair of golden limousines, one a heel clacking first out of it and a short, stocky woman in pinstripe emerging, the other dress shoes leading up to a tall, lean man in a gold and yellow tux, grinning and running a hand through his slicked-back hair.
Cybil Antoine hadn’t had the “pleasure” of a personal conversation with Tigran Sins before, but had happened to overhear some of him during her meeting with that Thutmose man, and then and there, she had known everything about him, and knew that she had already had the displeasure of knowing dozens of men like him.
Still, though, one needed to be cordial in times like this, so as Alexis came out behind her, and a very strongly built-looking, mean-looking man with brown hair and a nice vest, attached to the lapel of which was a Heartache Casino brooch (a bouncer? A bodyguard?) stood by Tigran waiting to see what he wanted or what he did, she approached the man who dared to try and be more golden than her Stand. “Mr. Sins, I believe… I believe we’ve crossed paths, briefly, but we didn’t really have a chance to speak.”
The man tensed a bit, only to relax slightly again when he saw that Cybil intended only to speak. “Cybil Antoine, right? I’ve heard you’ve been making a hell of a lot of waves around town lately, so I must say I’m excited to meet you too.” He looked back past her, towards Alexis standing and stretching outside of her team’s limo. “Would that be your star you’ve got going on? Certainly she’s got charm.”
“Hi, right in front of you,” Alexis answered, teasingly passive-aggressively waving, “yeah, I’m going up before TD/MD.”
“She’s a very important star around here, you know… So you’d better put on a show that leaves them wanting for more of the best.” Tigran’s attendant spoke, then, sounding dead serious as he looked them over. “A lot of people have come here just for this, just for her sake… It is completely imperative you keep that in mind.”
Tigran simply nodded, concurring, “couldn’t have said it better myself, Fox.”
Shortly after that, the pairs went their separate ways, shifting through VIP areas of the area of the main structure of the amphitheater, series of comfortably shielded stadium halls that it was.
“Still no sign of the band… Still no word from them either. I’m cross now.”
Alexis, then, stopped in her trail, looking at a schedule which had been printed out and emblazoned upon a green room wall. “Uh, Cybil, you’re gonna wanna take a look at this.”
“Hm?” Cybil raised an eyebrow, turning to face what her partner was pointing at, and then glared again. “Who the hell is Nureyev, and why are they listed at the same time as you?”
“There’s gotta be some kinda mixup or somethin’, man… I know about this ‘Alexis Williams’ it talks about, and hear she’s a Vegas Performer, damn fine one at that who can really strut her stuff. But we ain’t in Vegas at all, so what gives?” Rudolf himself was gesturing at a printout version of much the same piece of programming, he and Admiral Pineapples having wandered much the same series of halls.
“Hrm…” Admiral, now, took a look at the sheet himself, combing over the names before Rudolf on the list and speaking names aloud. “‘Arancini,’ ‘Tenacious-er E,’ ‘Guy and the Fieris’ Heavy Metal Barbershop Quarter,’ all as scheduled… What the hell? Yeah. We’re the only acts double-booked like this, and you say you don’t know this woman personally?”
“Not in the slightest,” Rudolf said, “never laid personal eyes upon her! So maybe there’s a typo, yeah… I know! We could track down Thutmose! But, uh… Where the hell’s Thutmose right now?”
A distorted voice shout-whispered, “I heard that he was visiting TD/MD’s green room.”
“Huh? Oh, thanks!” Rudolf accepted that advice uncritically, beginning to make his way, but Pineapples looked, at least, in the direction it came from, seeing then flashes of a short-looking person in a maroon turban, face bandaged but mouth section bulging with something hidden underneath, and a pair of aviator goggles, as well as a tunic, trousers, and many bulky scarves adorned in the forms of climbing stick figures.
Looking at the man, Pineapples couldn’t help but feel suspicious, but hell, there was a lot shady going on here. “Yes, thank you, Mister… Who am I thanking?”
“No,” the figure answered dismissively, “think little of it… I’m just another interested party watching the show. If there’s confusion, then, I want to see it resolved fast! If you’ll excuse me, though, I need to make my way to my box…”
“Strange man…” Pineapples shook his head, not wanting to leave Rudolf alone to deal with this strange situation. He knew from hearsay and rumor that there were some truly dangerous things lurking in the bowels of Sound’s Garden, and Rudolf, more heart than head, was bound to be barreling into it.
Sound’s Garden - The largest and nicest green room in the halls of the Alexander Dickinson Amphitheater.
Metra Doria sat before a makeup chair as assistants fussed and fussed with her hair, her face, her clothes, occasionally being met with polite thanks, compliments, or idle chit-chat, representing a sort of familiarity the team had had with the pale, short-dark-haired girl with a single blue streak through her front left locks. She stared at her own dressed-up eyes in the mirror, one silver, one blue and at once black-striped through the iris. As she sat here, initially clad pretty casually and low-key, she was Metra, but as the outfit she had selected was put together, she would become TD/MD.
She was being cordial before now, but all of the small talk had ended as soon as her manager came into the scene, knocking, being invited to come in, and then doing so.
“How’s the show going, Thutmose? I wish I could see Guy and the Fieris do their thing, but… Makeup, I swear.”
“There’s… People insisting upon speaking, Metra. They’re performers, the ones before you, and they seem annoyed. I tried to shoo them away and tell them to work it out, but that only incensed the old-timers with them, and now they want to speak to you. I tried telling them it was a waste of your time, but-”
“This close to going on?” Metra narrowed her eyes at the reflected form of her manager. Always, it was one thing after another with this guy. Though most of the time, one might assume there was something not worth it going on here, she knew Thutmose well enough to know there might be problems. She sighed, shutting her eyes now. “It had better be important… Let ‘em in.”
And like that, a quartet of two twenty-somethings, a middle-aged woman, and an old man barreled in through the door at once, all talking over one another and expressing confusion with the other’s very existence and presence. It was making the half-prepared girl more uncomfortable than sitting in a chair for awhile just to get ready for a show often did, so she raised her voice, calmly but authoritatively, literally seeming to drown out their babbling in the process. “Quiet down, alright?! One at a time.”
There was a little more whispering among the four, then, and it was the pinstripe-suited woman who stepped forward among them to speak the crowd’s mind. “TD/MD, I presume… This ‘Thutmose’ man, he has made a grave mistake in the scheduling. My associate Alexis here, and this half-nude man carrying a keytar around, they have not met before today, and they certainly did not intend to collaborate before you. Your manager has refused to listen to reason about this, so we are taking the matter straight past him to you… Resolve it at once, and we can be on our way.”
“What?” Metra, facing them all, blinked, shaking her head and glaring at Thutmose. “Again? How does this keep happening? You overbook acts right before me, and it’s such a disaster I’ve started to need to allot extra time to cleanup guys after those sets… It was bad enough before, but it’s seriously getting out of hand, man. I can’t keep dealing with you if you treat everyone else you deal with like this. You’re done working with me. We’re through.”
“B-but… But Metra..!” Thutmose was flabbergasted, looking almost terrified at the prospect. “Please, be reasonable..! I need this job, understand? I’ve got gambling debts, and-”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” the keytarist (Rudolf, or Nureyev, according to the program) interjected then, “let’s not ruin a man’s life over me and Lexy here, yeah? I looked into the history of this place, the Alexander Dickinson… Named after a big dead deal Philanthropist, so basically a dude from the 90's who gave his all to culture in this city, funded all kinds’a stuff! Would a man like that want a man to be fired in his own memorial stadium?”
The logic seemed to confuse nearly everyone there, not least of all Metra, whose response, after a moment, was, “Huh? You… Are you saying it doesn’t bother you?”
“He’s saying that!” Thutmose pleaded. “I am certain he’s saying that!”
“I don’t mind, either…” The redheaded Alexis said next, nodding and looking around at nothing in particular. “Yeah, I think we can work with that… The band he set us up with bailed on us anyway, right? So… Music might help, and it’s not like the things we do step on each other’s toes, yeah? So whatever, I’m sure we’ll still leave a bigger impression.”
Cybil, then, pursed her lips. “If it doesn’t make a difference to you, then, and we’re all on the same page… But still, this is so very inconvenient.”
“Agreed…” Pineapples looked to Thutmose. “Be more responsible in the future, aye? I think even if you keep your job right now, you’re gonna be on thin ice for now. And give up on gambling, if it’s sunken you this far.”
Metra nodded. “Agreed. I can’t guarantee I won’t start looking for a new manager, but… You’ve been good to me, at least. Clean up your act.” Then, she looked over the quartet. “I’m seriously sorry about this… You say you had backup, but they’re not showing up now? I, uh… I don’t know what happened to whoever those were, or why they fell through, but I have something I can do to help both of your shows exist at once: six of the best stagehands I've got.”
At that, the star snapped her fingers, and from the shadowy corners of the room emerged two trios, three men in a pose one well-versed on incidents in the early 20th century Roman Colosseum might compare to Awakening One’s Masters appearing before the Masters of Funky Action, three women in turn also sliding in before the Judecca Highrollers in perfect sync, stepping in with the coordination one might associate with, as a weird example, teenage mobsters jazzed about a dude being sent to the ninth circle of hell.
All six were muscular, clad in black sleeveless shirts, leather gloves, pants, boots, and bandannas over their heads, and all around, they gave off auras of immense reliability.
“Harry, Mark, and John, and Thorn, Dusk, and Luna… I kid you not, these guys can basically do anything and everything you ask of them. If they didn’t much prefer supporting other people to being in the limelight themselves, they would be as big as I am. Treat them well, they’ll learn fast, and they’ll be invaluable to making your bits work. But, uh… I’d hurry it up. Guy and the Fieris probably only have a couple more encores in them, and then you’ll have fifteen to set up. I wish you all luck..!”
Metra Doria had been a bit of a miracle for the grateful performers and put-off older supporters, who had in turn both begun to explain their intended strategies and how those might change to their crew members, who understood alarmingly fast.
“Man…” Rudolf whistled in relief, chuckling. “What a scare that was… But you, Lexy? You’re alright, actually.”
“Thanks,” Alexis answered in turn, still trying to figure this guy out, “you don’t seem bad yourself… I almost kinda feel bad that we’re gonna totally eclipse you out there.”
“Y’think so, huh?” Rudolf answered with a grin, pointing forward with a friendly competitiveness. “Well, the party don’t get drowned out by a damn thing! I’m gonna get all these good people pumped as hell, and they’ll be cheerin’ for me even when that Metra chick goes on!”
“Ooh, I’m starting to feel a bit competitive…” Alexis answered, good-naturedly chuckling and folding her arms. “Wanna see who gets the crowd more pumped? Loser, uh… Buys the winner overpriced concert t-shirts. These things need stakes, right? Heh…”
At the somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion, Rudolf nodded. “Sure, yeah! That, and the pride of bein’ one of the best in the city! May the best team win!”
OPEN THE GAME!
Location: The Alexander Dickinson Amphitheater, one of the biggest outdoor venues in the entirety of the Metropolitan area, in the buildup to TD/MD’s headlining act, wherein both of your teams have had a performer set to open for her. The place is packed at a capacity of tens of thousands of people.
The stage is a competently designed semicircle which is roughly 30 meters across for length and maximum width, with plenty of room all over and the various necessary fixtures upheld off the ground. It is raised up about 2 meters off the ground. Its back half is partially covered by the overhanging roof of the backstage area a dozen meters above.
The backstage area spreads out about 10 meters from both sides and the back of the stage, being somewhat indoorsy and absolutely full of things one could expect an excellent stage production to have, including, of course, sturdy rafters which lead up to the ceiling area overtop the stage. Both sides have had time to arrange for some extra things to be brought in.
Goal: With a leadup of fifteen minutes before acts, and a half an hour where both of your performers are onstage at once, you have a show to put on, and that is not getting ruined by this overbooking. So, with Rudolf and Alexis up on stage, and Pineapples and Cybil each operating their abilities and managing a three-person stage crew, outperform your opponents!
Given the vastly different skill-sets of the competitors, the goal is to execute on your vision better than your opponent executes on theirs. You will be judged and voted on the following criteria, in decreasing priority:
Additional Information: There is a huge simp for TD/MD in the audience of the match, and he is connected enough that he will have both of you successfully and canonically killed if you ruin the show before the headliner can go on; therefore, murdering your opponents or audience members (“the ol’ Abraham Lincoln Tech” as they say in the biz) on an audience member is a loss condition. Not at all a moral thing for the record.
- Feasibility - Whether your performance is actually within the bounds of what your Stand and Stats would imply.
- Skill Use - A close second in relevance; how well you integrate your User Skills and Stats into your performance. While your Skills will help in completing this objective, they do not provide an automatic advantage by merely existing and must be woven into your strats, as per usual. Even the best of artists can have abysmal live performances.
- Stand Use - Similar to the above, and similarly important. How cool, creative, and well-integrated is your Stand use. Put another way, wow the judges, voters, and viewers at home! This is more or less just the same as before.
- Environment Use - How well you use and integrate the auditorium - its features, its backstage, its stage, and the hearts and passions of its occupants - into your performance.
- Efficiency - How much quality footage you obtain and how well you use your time. This does not mean that setup for more complex performances is automatically penalized, but do try to minimize ‘deadtime’ and maximize the amount you perform.
Stage Crew members for the respective teams (Harry, Mark, and John on the MFAs, Thorn, Dusk, and Luna on the Highrollers, if you care about their names) have 4s in strength, agility, endurance, Stagehand, and Backup; pretty much, anything their associated team asks them to do, they’ll be able to do, at minimum, competently. Though they won’t, like, murder for you. Generally you can use them for moving props on/off stage, extra bodies or on-stage back up performers, speaker and soundboard control, and/or on-stage camera crew as well as managing any other stage controls. Pretty much everything save for pyronetics and lighting is in their purview.
There are also dedicated lighting guys, totally neutral in your squabbles, who are going to do an entirely too good job adjusting their focus and making things work exactly as is needed so attention is on the stars of the show. They will also be coordinated with a third party camera crew that will be streaming the live feed onto screens for the audience. These feeds can be replaced or split screened with your own crew’s footage, but otherwise they will generally be in control of what is shown on-screen.
Players can be assumed to already have well-rehearsed their plans of action, the in-universe basis for the modified plans of the match, and have knowledge about every aspect of the stage, even if parts of their initial plan obviously need to be modified to account for new challengers also occupying stage space. If something performance related isn’t insanely, “years of training to do competently required” level hard, but would still require some practice ahead of time, they have had it to, at absolute max, somewhere between a 2 and a 3. Players, don’t overly-game this, though; the ‘stars’ of your performances should be the sheeted unique abilities of you, your skills, and your Stands.
All stands can be seen on camera and on the live feed for the audience's viewing pleasure.
Link to the Official Player Spreadsheet
|Team ||Combatant ||JoJolity |
|Judecca Highrollers ||Alexis Williams ||“This one is for the guy who keeps yelling from the Balcony, and it’s called ‘We Hate You, Please Die.’” Gymnastics is a sport of rhythm and pace, this performance should be no different for keeping your momentum. Make as seamless transitions as you can between the acts of your performance! |
|Judecca Highrollers ||Cybil Antoine ||“Prepare to have your minds obliterated by… The boys! And Crash!” You have a whole crew of people working for you here, no need to do any heavy lifting by yourself. This is their job after all, better put them to work since that’s what they are here for. Make the most use out of your stage hands in your performance! |
|Masters of Funky Action ||Rudolf "Nureyev" Pavlova ||“What is with this band? They’ve… changed. Have you noticed they don’t have instruments? Where’s all this amazing noise coming from?” Keeping the audience’s attention for a full 30 minutes should be a piece of cake for the world’s greatest dancer, you can keep the party rocking even between your different acts. Make as seamless transitions as you can between the acts of your performance! |
|Masters of Funky Action ||Admiral Pineapples ||“You and your fireballs and your demon hipster chicks / you’re talking the talk and it’s pretty slick / You think you’re so great, but you’re missing the point / You gotta have friendship and courage and whatever!” You’re all in this show together, you and your crew of stage hand. Everybody should be contributing here, no man left behind. Make the most use out of your stage hands in your performance! |
Link to Match Schedule
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I actually like "Rumble Down Under." It's an episode in my favorite video game, it introduces my favorite character in the series, the hub is unique in how naturalistic a lot of the landscape is, and it has some of my favorite missions like "Unleash the Guru," "Lemon Rage," and "Dark Caves." But it is admittedly very flawed. I still think the idea behind it is sound. Sly 3 did this polarizing thing where, with a few exceptions, it really tried to expand and redefine what a villain of the Sly Cooper series could be. The previous two games both dealt with gangs of specialists, but in Sly 3, not only are all of these villains unconnected, but some of them aren't even "human" (so to speak) or even real. Octavio, Tsao, Lefwee, and Dr. M (the best villain in the series IMO but I digress) are all still traditional, so it's not like the series took a full left turn as to what the villains were supposed to be, but the Mask of Dark Earth (MDE) and the Black Baron are a floating, silent, mask and a costume respectively. And while the Black Baron still had a fun personality and unique voice actor that made his overall nature work more like a traditional villain, the MDE didn't have any of that, and so it feels like the true outlier of the game. submitted by
Not only that, but the structure of missions is also uninspired compared to other examples. Again, in theory I like how this chapter goes. The group is going up against a group of miners as opposed to one unifying presence, and midway through the entire plan has to shift around to deal with the arrival of a malevolent force that has thrown everything out of order. But the thing is, the missions tend to follow this haphazard nature of throwing every plan at the mask rather than building to a unified conclusion. Part of the charm of an episode in a Sly Cooper game is building up to that heist at the end. Every mission serves that thread in some way that isn't always clear to the player until the plan is laid out. For example, let's look at Holland. First Sly disguises himself to learn the location and eventually obtain the flight roster so that the team knows who they're dealing with. With this knowledge, the next set of missions involves sneaking around to make the two teams Sly is flying against angry at each other, giving his one lone plane a chance, all while protecting the Cooper Hangar from others' sabotage. Next, the goal is to even the odds for this next round, and this naturally involves taking out the competition. The Guru thins out the Black Baron's ranks, Bentley hacks into the Black Baron's communications towers so that he can't cheat, and Carmelita is tricked into taking out Muggshot so that it will basically be a one on one between Sly and the Black Baron. This leads to the final operation in which all of these various jobs pay off, and we watch as the gang beats the Black Baron at his own game due to working under his nose the whole time.
Australia doesn't have this. It starts off somewhat like this. Sly searches for the Guru eventually finding out he's been captured. The Guru requests his walking staff and Moon Stone and also wants to talk with the other members of the gang. So Sly steals back his gear while Murray creates a shortcut up to the Guru, finding out about a big mining operation at Ayers Rock that the Guru wants stopped. Once that's done, Bentley is able to deliver the gear to the Guru where he breaks out and takes out two different mining hotspots in the hub, dealing a massive blow to the miners. But things aren't so great after this. The lemonade bar mission is still good. It sticks with the goal of driving the miners away and having the MDE show up unexpectedly is a good way to sell its intimidation factor as a force rather than an individual. Then we have...Murray feeding guards to a crocodile so that it ends up eating the guards and hopefully eating the MDE in the process...only it doesn't do that, the mask gets away and we never see the croc eat anyone again. Then Bentley has Sly and Murray gather radioactive oil to slather on Murray to attract the MDE for the operation. And that's cool...but this ends up not mattering at all because that plan also fails immediately when put into effect during the operation. And this leads to a final operation that, aside from the initial segment as the Guru, is like one long boss fight against a possessed Carmelita that ends in a disappointing way: with two uncomfortable climbs up her enlarged body leading to her guards finally destroying the mask in a cutscene. Aside from the initial steps taken to free the Guru, none of the missions really play into the operation. The crocodile never comes out to try and eat the mask again. The mask doesn't go after Murray, it goes after the Guru, and Murray is able to thunder flop on the mask which, again, does nothing. It's all very disconnected, and doesn't make for a memorable or tight episode.
So how should we go about changing this? I've seen people completely rewrite the chapter to have a more traditional baddie at the head of the miners, but I don't want to do that. I think the MDE is an idea that could work and be uniquely threatening, and I want to see how I can work with what we have rather than writing my own characters and basically doing "Rumble Down Under" fanfiction. So first, the best aspect of the MDE is its unpredictability. It can possess anyone at any time, and the missions where you initially have some other goal and the mask makes an unexpected appearance are some of the best uses of it. So I would increase this by having the mask as a roaming hazard. After the mission "Unleash the Guru," Bentley would give the news that the mask had officially been unearthed due to all the mining. See, I always thought it was weird that Bentley said the Guru warned that the miners could accidentally unleash the MDE but we never actually hear of or see the moment they unleash it. It's just suddenly showing up in cutscenes. So marking this moment as a clear turning point in the level when the goal of the operation changes I feel is critical. From this moment on, the MDE roams the hub, latching onto guards randomly. These guards are more aggressive and much stronger. You can still pickpocket and sneak around them, but if they see you they do double damage and can't be defeated, so running is the best bet.
That is, until you complete "Hungry Croc." then, this crocodile will also be walking around, and it is especially drawn to the enlarged miners possessed by the mask which it can defeat in one chomp. Basically, this change would not only make the mask feel like a more present threat that needs to be dealt with, but it would give the crocodile mission some more impact, showing the player's effect on the world in a gameplay-related way. But the biggest changes would come to the operation. The Guru would still start off destroying the gyrocopter, but now the rest of the missions would have added importance. The MDE would emerge onto the scene, drawn to the area by the radioactive substance on Murray. The guard it's possessing would then be taken out by the crocodile, forcing it to leap to another guard...and another...and another. The crocodile has basically made it so that the mask has no safe host to latch onto, and this part could even be controllable maybe if they wanted to have the Guru riding the crocodile to speed things along or something. Either way, the mask, out of options, turns to Murray. Drawn to his disguise and aura (due to the claw mission) it latches on and enlarges and enrages Murray, leading to Bentley's sleep dart part of the operation. Once Murray has been subdued, the mask leaves him behind to search for a new host. It is at this point that Carmelita shows up with her squad, only she doesn't get to interact with anyone because all she sees is chaos.
The mask's next host is Bentley, in retaliation. Rather than the sleep darts "somehow" interacting with the mask to make it larger (like seriously, how does that make sense?) the mask grows desperate and uses more of its power to make Bentley into a giant. Sly and the Guru wake up Murray to drive the big truck as they run away from the massive Bentley, who begins tossing his bombs at them. Carmelita, thoroughly confused but not wanting to lose track of them, calls in a helicopter to follow behind. After the claw section where you're tossing Bentley's bombs back at him, the mask once again leaves behind its host and begins searching for a new one. While the gang frantically tries to come up with a plan, the mask sees the Guru, the one who imprisoned it long ago, and latches onto him. Through the Guru's connection to the same magic within the mask, it is able to speak through his body, finally conveying some form of a plan and personality. It declares its plans to overrun Australia with dark spirits to gain enough power to eventually spread its magic across the world, and says that it finds it funny that the one who sought to seal it away is now its tool for achieving its goals. Bentley says that when he was under the mask's control he felt it struggling, and its line about waiting to gather power means that it isn't yet at full strength. He reckons all of the rapid hopping back and forth between hosts has worn it down, and if they knock it loose one last time it may be stunned long enough to take it out once and for all.
This initiates the legitimate boss fight in which Sly, with the help of Bentley and Murray, faces down a possessed Guru. It calls back to the fight in the lemonade bar with Bentley and Murray using their skills to give Sly an opening to attack. Each time the health becomes 1/3rd lower, the Guru becomes larger, making his attacks harder to dodge. Finally, the mask is knocked loose and the Guru shrinks back down. Carmelita shows up in her helicopter and she and her guards let loose on the mask. Maybe you could even control Carmelita here, acting as foreshadowing to her final fight in the game. After this, a cutscene plays in which the Guru weakly stands up and swirls around his Moon Stone, causing shadowy hands to burst out of the ground and drag the broken pieces of the mask down below.
This new operation achieves several things. First, it makes every mission matter with both the crocodile and Murray's disguise playing into how the operation works out. Second, it makes the stakes more personal by having nearly every member of the playable Cooper Gang come under the mask's control and forcing you to fight your friends. Third, it gives the mask a brief moment to establish some form of a personality and actually lay out any sort of plan that the player is acting to prevent beyond just "the mask is evil." Fourth, it creates an actual boss fight out of this story beat which also thematically fits the rest of the chapter by having the player match up against the Guru's magic power. Fifth, Carmelita seems to show up for a purpose beyond just being possessed immediately, and the ending defeat of the mask is more personal and player-based than just watching a cutscene of nameless mooks destroy it. And sixth, this is just a fun detail, this would now mean that Sly ends up fighting all of the new members of his gang at some point. He fought the Panda King in Sly 1 and in the flashback coming up, he fought Dimitri in Sly 2, he fought Penelope as the Black Baron, and now he fought the Guru under the influence of the MDE.
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withdraw within without witness woman wonder wonderful wood wooden word work worker working works workshop world worried worry worth would wound wrap write writer writing wrong yard yeah year yell yellow yes yesterday yet yield you young your yours yourself youth zone submitted by
Sorry for the delay. Stuff happened. Back in the saddle.
The rest of the series can be found here
Patricia Hu’s limo, surrounded by police grav-cars, slowly prowled the capital city streets. Inspector Vance, following the impromptu motorcade, smiled grimly. They had the bitch. There was nowhere for her to go now. There was no escape this time.
“What are we waiting for?” he grumbled.
“Well, arresting a foreign diplomat is not something done lightly,” Detective Freela replied. “They are probably trying to figure out how to do this without starting a war.”
“We are well past that now,” Inspector Vance replied. “Biological weapons? Sounds like the war has already started.”
“We don’t know that,” Detective Freela said wearily. “All we have are some pretty wild claims from a wanted murderer and traitor.”
“Jon Wintersmith is plenty of things but a traitor? No way. That asshole bleeds Republic blue. I am much more inclined to believe his version of things,” Vance said as he checked his tablet. “What makes more sense, some ‘terrorist group’ that we have never heard of before or the fucking Horde Mother?”
“Inspector,” Detective Freela said cautiously, “I don’t think you are exactly unbiased in your assessment of this situation. Ever since that woman showed up you’ve been… well...”
“Because I fucking knew something like this would fucking happen!” Inspector Vance snapped. “I fucking knew that-”
He was cut off by the vehicle’s communicator. The call had been made to bring her in “for her protection”.
“Finally!” he exclaimed as the police vehicles surrounding the limo closed in on all sides and slowed to a stop. The limo, with nowhere to go, had no choice but to do the same.
As [email protected]
@ watched the events unfold on his monitor Jaxona walked up with yet another cup of coffee.
“Bet you a box of Powerbar Extremes that she isn’t in there,” Jaxona said cheerfully as she handed him the coffee.
“If she is I’ll be very happily surprised. No bet,” [email protected]
@ chuckled. “Hopefully we will be able to at least squeeze something out of the driver.”
“Would you look at that,” Jaxona said as she squeezed in next to [email protected]
@ and looked at his monitor. “The door override commands actually worked. I would have figured that they would have… oh,” she laughed.
They had a great view of Inspector Vance looking into a completely empty limo. “Oh he does not look happy,” [email protected]
@ giggled as he sipped his coffee. “Jaxona, grab all the data we have from following that damn car and run it over to The Spider. They had to ditch the thing somewhere along the way. Let’s see if the AI can find something that we missed.”
“You got it, boss.”
Patricia Hu rubbed her shoulder as she went through a chest of fine clothing in a dusty warehouse. She smiled. It had been a while since she dove from a moving vehicle.
It was fun even if she did hit the ground a bit hard. Everything was starting to be a little fun, actually. She had been taken a little off guard at first but now that her blood was pumping and her brain was firing on all cylinders she was really starting to enjoy this. She thought of Jon as a wistful smile played across her lips. Oh how she wished she could have witness his charge through the embassy. It must have been magnificent! Just like he is.
She sighed as she thought of him. She was already a bit taken with him before the poison. That was the big danger of that elixir. It was a sword that cut both ways. Even after everything she still wanted him so very badly.
No, it wasn’t just that! Jon was an amazing man! Oh the things they could achieve together! Today’s events only further proved it. He was a man of the most amazing power and resolve. He turned Crimson with just a glance and with one masterful stroke cast all of her carefully constructed plans into complete disarray, stripping her bare. Not only that but he fell upon her best warriors like a lion tearing them asunder.
She blushed as a smile played on her lips. He was the one!
He was the one that she had been waiting for all this time. She had to have him!
He was a prize worth as much as the entire Republic, no. He was worth more than the Republic! With him at her side they could rule the entire galaxy and their line would dominate the entirety of space for generations to come.
If only she could make him see the light, share her vision. How wonderful that would be!
Her smile grew. She could!
It was entirely possible. Jon clearly demonstrated his resolve today. He showed just how far he would go.
She wondered if she could help him go just that tiny little bit further. Her green eyes sparkled wickedly. Yes
, she thought with an evil smile. He just needs a little encouragement.
She had been going about things all wrong. She had tried to overpower him, to crush his resolve with her own. That had almost been quite literally a fatal error. No, this required a different approach. He didn’t need to be crushed. He needed to be fed
. He needed to have his resolve strengthened, hardened, sharpened. He needed to be encouraged to become the man that he could be. Isn’t that what someone should do for the people they care about? Bring out the best in them? Yes! She could do that, for him. She would
do that, for him. Such a wonderful gift! Such wonderful things she will bring to him, such wonderful things she would show him, such wonderful things she would do to him, no… for
The things he will have to do to win his “war” against her… She grinned wickedly… His resolve
will drive him to do so many wonderful things, become so many wonderful things. He will have to if he is going to win. And he will win
, she thought with delight. He will rip, tear, and burn through her previous little silly girlish plans and her weak pathetic thralls. Oh she will array them against him and try her very best (he deserved that, her very best) to kill him but it won’t matter. He will triumph.
He’s going to win and she would be a fool to believe otherwise. But his victory, oh yes… that victory will be ever so sweet. She laughed a delighted happy laugh as she spun around in her dirty and torn dress. The darling believes that his war isn’t against the Republic but for it. The wonderful beautiful fact was that her conspiracy now was
the Republic, all of it! Her thralls were everywhere, in everything! She continued to laugh as she spun and danced.
She didn’t need the Federation anymore! Jon! Jon will do it for her! He will tear it all down! Her wonderful shining star will burn it all down… for her! This was the stuff of legends. Their epic of war, blood, rage, fire, hate, passion and love will be sung for a thousand years! Yes, love! Love love love love! It was love! Oh how she missed this feeling!
Jon Wintersmith… and it felt wonderful
It was just a shame that he didn’t feel the same way… at the moment anyhow. Oh how she wanted to run to him but she was no fool. Right now the fires of their love burned too hot. It would consume them both just like it almost did this morning. (How romantic was that?) She would have to wait, wait until the fires had cooled a little and he had become what she was going to make him become if he wanted to win. Then…
She smiled a truly beautiful happy smile that lit up the room. Her hand drifted down her belly and slid into her skirt. Then they would be together...
As her hand slid under her panties she moaned and fell to her knees.
In another room Dawn paced back and forth. What the fuck had happened? The Colonel turned traitor and tried to kill them? It was unbelievable. It was beyond unbelievable. Colonel Wintersmith would never
become a traitor! Never! Trying to kill the Deputy Ambassador? That she could believe. The Colonel hated her from the start but traitor
It didn’t add up. It wasn’t just the Colonel but him, Gunny, and everyone at the embassy suddenly becoming traitors? She made a little nervous squeak. The Colonel a traitor? Gunny a traitor? Bullshit!
a voice inside her, a voice that had fallen silent for a little while, suddenly exclaimed. What would drive the Colonel to just snap like that? Was it on that document that had Ms. Hu so upset? She wished she had been able to read it. She had asked one of the other guys if they knew what was going on but they just told her to mind her own business and that “Her Ladyship” would tell her what she needed to know.
“Mouse!” Jade snarled as she lounged on a crate, “Quit with the fucking pacing! You’re driving me nuts!”
“Sorry!” Dawn yelped.
“Try to relax, squeaks,” Jade rumbled in a reassuring manner. “We’ve been in tight spots before. Been a while, but we’ve been in plenty of them. Her Ladyship will figure something out. Besides, we have numbers on our side.”
“Wait. What?” Dawn asked very confused. That made absolutely no sense.
“Yeah,” Jade smiled. “She’s down to just three of us. We are probably safe.”
“Safe?” Dawn asked. “We have the Colonel plus God knows how many marines hunting us not to mention probably all of Fed Intel. Just three of us won’t-.”
“Oh who cares about them,” Jade laughed. “No, I mean we are safe from her
“W-what?” Dawn asked in a tiny voice.
Before Jade could respond Nguyen walked in.
“So?” Jade asked, her almond eyes smiling at him.
“Starport’s out of the question,” Nguyen said as he set down two huge bags of Chinese take-out on a cheap folding table. “Whole place is crawling with embassy goons. Thought I spotted a few Feds lurking around too.”
“Figures,” Jade chuckled as she helped him unpack the food. “Ah, cheap faux-Chinese… one of the universal constants.”
“Found a good place too,” Nguyen said with a smile. “Actual bamboo shoots and fresh bean sprouts!”
“Excellent!” Jade exclaimed happily. “At least we won’t get gunned down on an empty stomach, right?”
“Something smells absolutely delightful!” Patricia exclaimed as she entered the room.
Dawn did a double take. Instead of an elegant dress Patricia was just wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a simple gray button-down shirt under a loose plain black cardigan. The usual stiletto heels were replaced by a pair of sensible laced boots. Instead of long and flowing, her hair was just tied behind her in a simple ponytail. Her face was scrubbed completely clean, no makeup, just her freshly washed skin.
She looked like a completely different person.
The biggest change however, were her eyes. They were… strange… almost reptilian. They terrified her.
Her two veterans, however, were overjoyed.
“Snake-eyes is back!” Jade cheered.
“Snake-eyes is hungry!” Patricia laughed. “Did they have garlic chicken?”
Jon, trying to keep a low profile, maneuvered through the star-town crowds and made his way to the noodle shop. It was risky as hell but it was the only way he could possibly leave a message for Skippy. It might be risky now but it was only going to get harder as time passed. He had to take this opportunity. God only knows when he would get another.
He tried to plan out what he was going to write. I mean, what do you say? “Sorry, I’ve decided to be a complete moron and take on just about the entire Republic. I’ll probably bite the big one but before I do I just wanted to let you know that I am completely and totally in love with you. Well, later, fuzz-butt. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
His heart ached. If only he could see her, just one more time, hold her, just one more time. This sucked. He left people he cared about before, comes with the job description, but this time it was different. He honestly didn’t think he was coming back. Even during the Great War part of him believed that he was going to make it. That it wasn’t “good-bye” it was just “see you later”.
This time it was probably good-bye. Fuck.
He reached the noodle shop and the owner gave him even a bigger stink-eye than usual.
“Hey!” Jon said as cheerfully as he could muster. “Can I leave a message for Skippy here? Do you have a notepad or tablet I could-”
“She’s… waiting... for you…” the owner said glaring at him.
“She’s here?!?” Jon exclaimed happily.
Ignoring him, the owner simply walked into the back and unlocked the metal door leading to the private rooms.
Jon rushed into the back.
Standing there, next to the mysterious conference table, was Skippy. Jon started to rush to her and then stopped.
She did not
“So,” Skippy said, her arms crossed, “You were just going to blow yourself up without even saying goodbye? What the fuck, Jon?” Her voice quivered slightly.
“You what?” she snarled advancing towards him. “What? You just going to flush your life down the shitter and to the Abyss with me and anyone else who loves you? Over what? Some bitch?”
“Love?” Jon asked slightly stunned.
“Yeah,” Skippy said shook her head, flopping her ears side to side. “Stupid me.”
“I love you, too!” Jon exclaimed.
“WELL YOU HAVE ONE FUCKED UP WAY OF SHOWING IT, ASSHOLE!!!” Skippy yelled as she shoved him.
“Skippy, there wasn’t any other way. If you only knew what was at stake you’d-”
“I know what is at stake you dumb fuck! Billions of people’s lives in the balance... possible total war with the Federation… Plague… Conspiracy… Your very Republic in danger... So what does the fucking Ambassador
to the Federation do? Shove a grenade up his ass and go skipping over to that bitch’s office to throw his life away, abandon his position, his troops, his people… me
… Fuck you fucking… fucking... hero
!” She shoved him again. “Fuck Jon! They needed you and you just decided to abandon them and for what? To be a suicide bomber? Seriously?!?!? And what about me, not even a fucking goodbye?!? Not an email or a phone call… not even a go and fuck yourself, just… nothing!?!? What? I was going to just hop my happy ass over there expecting to go to lunch only to see them bring you out in a fucking bucket?!?! Fuck you!”
“You weren’t supposed to be here yet and I left a letter for you,” Jon replied. “Toby was going to give it to-”
“Oh that makes everything
!” Skippy snarled as she shoved him again. “Don’t even get me started on abandoning your men, Colonel
“Things were evolving very rapidly and there was no time. I had to act!”
“No fucking time to think, apparently,” Skippy snorted. “I don’t know what’s worse, you planning to blow yourself up with a grenade or the fact that you failed… to blow yourself up
... with a grenade
“The situation evolved. It turned out that-”
“Yeah, I know, the bitch got the drop on you,” Skippy said disdainfully. “Maybe if you, I don’t know, secured the perimeter, deployed your forces, you know, actually used your head for more than a grenade holder, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten away. You fucked up, hero.”
“Hey!” he snapped. “I had every reason to believe that I had a clear line of fire. It was still just hours after-”
“Well you were wrong, weren’t ya? A team at the exit, that’s all it would have taken. You could be taking tasteless photographs with her corpse as we speak.”
“I didn’t want to risk tipping her off. Look, it’s easy to second guess a failed mission,” Jon said in a tired voice. “A team might have done the trick or it might have triggered a massive firefight resulting in widespread casualties and her still
getting away. I made a call and I took action. Was it the right move? Probably not. Was it a bad move? No.”
“No?!?!? NO?!??!” Skippy shouted as she shoved him against the wall and held him there. “It WAS
a bad move, fuckwit! You don’t just throw away your life, ever
! Risk it? Sure. Go on a mission with an incredibly low chance of survival? Fine. Part of the job. Throw it away?!?
Never!” She started shaking him. “You don’t profane a life that way, especially your own! You are the commanding officer
! You are the ambassador!” She shook him harder. “Your men need you! (shake) Your embassy needs you. (shake) Your Republic needs you. (shake) I (shake)… I (shake)… I...” Skippy trailed off as she continued to shake him.
Jon just wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in close. She squeezed him and started making little hiccuping squeaking sobbing noises as she held him tight.
“I almost lost you, you fucking idiot.” Skippy muttered as they held each other.
“I’m sorry, Skippy,” Jon said stroking her head. “I was an idiot. I did kick some ass at least. Not bad for an old man, right?”
Skippy just laughed a little.
“Yeah you did, old man,” Skippy chuckled. “You might be a fucking moron but at least you’re good at it.”
Jon leaned in to kiss her. Skippy smiled and put her paw on his face.
“Slow down, hero,” She laughed as she handed him a data crystal. “Work before play. Tablet and communicator are on the table,” She said as she walked towards the door. “I’m grabbing some lunch. Hungry?”
Joyce Sidibe was sitting at her desk with her face buried in her hands. On her monitor was the latest mass email that was sent to everyone in the embassy.
This was a nightmare. She read the email again and Jon’s document which was attached. She shook her head. This madness pushed the very limits of credulity. Everyone knew that Patricia Hu was the Antichrist but this?
This was beyond the pale even for her and if half the names on the list of alleged
conspirators were true?
The Republic was in trouble
She was dying for a coffee but that would require her leaving the safety of her office. There was no way in hell she was going out there. She tried accessing the hyperspace link again. Nothing.
There was a knock on the door.
“Go away,” she shouted.
“Joyce, I really need to talk to you,” Susan’s voice called out from the other side. Joyce frowned. That was the last
person she wanted to see.
“I’m busy!” Joyce yelled.
“Joyce, I’m unlocking the door,” Major Bryce announced.
“Don’t you dare-”
The door opened. Susan and Major Bryce walked in.
“Good morning,” Susan said pleasantly.
“Your definition of a ‘good morning’ and mine seem to differ,” Joyce said stiffly.
“I brought you a coffee,” the major said with a smile as he set a cup on Joyce’s desk. She took it.
“Thank you,” she said as she took a sip. Her eyes widened as a terrible realization took hold.
“No, absolutely not!” she exclaimed in horror as they both smiled at her.
“Joyce,” Susan said with a pleasant smile. “Jon Wintersmith is wanted for treason. The Deputy Ambassador has abandoned her post...”
“Not just no but fuck
The major laughed.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you curse,” he grinned.
“I prefer to save obscenity for special occasions, like this one. Let me repeat myself. No. Fucking. Way.”
“You are the highest ranking member of the diplomatic corps remaining, Joyce. That makes you-”
“That makes me nothing!” Joyce snapped. “Find someone else, maybe one of your traitors.”
“That’s overstating it a bit,” Susan smiled. “I prefer the term ‘loyal citizen of the Republic’.”
“Well whatever you call it,” Joyce said firmly, “Get one of those.”
“Joyce,” the major said, “you are the senior diplomat and the only person with the chops for this. We need
“You keep saying diplomat. I’m not a ‘diplomat’. I’m a bureaucrat, a happy dumb little cog. I write reports and make spreadsheets. Fuck, I don’t even make the spreadsheets. I just fill them out.”
“Well, now you are,” Susan replied. “We need someone and you are it.”
“Nope. Get someone else.”
“Ok,” Susan said beginning to lose her patience, “Who? We have all holy hell breaking loose. We have a morgue literally stuffed full of corpses. We have a biological weapon being released into the Federation by a Republic diplomat any second now. We have two very dangerous Republic citizens running loose, each with their own death squad, trying to kill each other on the streets of the capital
as we speak. God only knows what they are going to do next. And, last but certainly not least, we’ve already had one Federation representative quite literally jump over the wall demanding answers.”
“What?!?!” Joyce spluttered.
“Don’t worry,” Susan replied with a grin. “I handled the situation.” She paused to let that sink in. “Yeah, that’s right. I
handled it, me. Think about that one. Do you really want me or the major here dealing directly with the Feds especially now?”
“Joyce, we need you before we start a war by accident,” the major said matter of factly. “It’s either you or one of us and do you want an old warhorse or well… Susan
… doing the job?”
“Shit,” Joyce muttered as she wracked her brain desperately trying to come up with someone else, anyone else.
“Joyce,” the major said, “you are the only one who has any real experience dealing with them.”
“Yeah but I only go to bullshit that is not important enough to send the Ambassador. I’m an official snub, nothing more.”
“We aren’t asking you to negotiate a peace treaty here,” the major said reassuringly. “We just need someone to make sure that nothing else happens, and when it comes to making nothing happen we couldn’t think of someone more qualified. Your delightfully obstructive ass is exactly the one we need sitting in the big chair right now.”
“If and I mean IF
I do this it doesn’t mean that I’m supporting your little revolution here,” Joyce said firmly as she crossed her arms.
“Absolutely,” Susan replied. “That’s the last thing we want you to do. You are the voice of reason. The personification of stability. Both the major and I will testify that we are behind whatever is going on around here and you were just trying to keep it from getting any worse.”
“Yup,” the major said nodding his head. “We are the baddies. You are just the luckless bitch who got saddled with trying to keep the Feds at bay.”
“Fuck me...” Joyce grumbled.
“Deal!” Susan grinned. “Which one of us do you want?”
Joyce just snorted.
“I want both
of you in my new office, fully clothed
, in one hour for a briefing
, nothing else.”
“… And while I deeply appreciate the vote of confidence, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to label yourselves traitors,” Jon said over the communicator Skippy brought him. “You guys with the exception of the truly epic Captain Vincent haven’t done anything clearly ‘traitorous’ just yet. All you have to do is let her keep transmitting and to be perfectly honest I am not sure how you would stop her if you wanted to. We made it a point to have nothing on hand that can breach that space. I would keep up appearances until the decision to mutiny was forced on you. I have it on good authority,” Jon looked over at Skippy who grinned back at him, “that the Federation is locking down the borders. It will be a while before the Republic can send anyone at all so all you have to do is lay down a good line of bullshit and since the only way you can officially communicate with them at all is out of commission you don’t even really have to do that. Just play it cool for now until there is a clear need for you to act otherwise.”
“Sir, you could return,” the major replied. “The vast majority of people here support you and most of the rest are willing to just sit this one out.”
“I come back and you will
be traitors,” Jon said with a smile. “No, it looks like you guys have everything in hand and I have full confidence in you, Susan, and Joyce. Congratulations on the promotion by the way, Joyce. I know you will be a great ambassador.”
“This is only temporary. As soon as things settle down I will happily step down.”
“There is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution,” Jon laughed. “Get comfortable, Joyce.”
“I see that you are already settling in nicely,” Jon laughed. “That’s a great phrase to use on the councilors, by the way. They are already familiar with it. Don’t worry too much, Joyce. I’ve set the bar pretty low.”
“Any advice on handling the bio-weapon, amb- I mean Jon,” Joyce asked.
“Well, I recommend giving them a choice. Tell them that they can either call it an act of war by the Republic or that they can call it a vile criminal act by a single monstrous individual,” Jon said as he sipped some broth. “I’m pretty sure they will happily pick the most convenient narrative. When they demand that you hand her over tell them that she abandoned her post, and have them direct all such inquiries to the Republic where she is definitely going to flee provided we don’t get her right here and now.”
“Makes sense,” Joyce replied taking notes.
“Well, if there is nothing else I am going to burn this communicator. I’ll grab another from time to time and check in. Good luck you guys.”
“You too, sir. For the Republic!”
“For the Republic. Wintersmith out,” Jon said and then handed the communicator to Skippy who pressed several icons in sequence. There was a sizzling sound as she tossed the communicator into a wastebin.
“There, boss, work is done,” Jon said with a smile as he walked towards her.
“Yeah, good for you,” Skippy said smiling back as she rose to meet him. “What? You expecting something?”
“I was hoping...” Jon replied taking her into his arms.
“Keep hoping, hero.” Skippy said putting her paw in his face again. “I can’t just shift gears that quick.”
“But, I don’t know when I am going to be able to see you again.”
“You’ll see me plenty,” Skippy said with a grin. “It’s clear you need adult supervision. I’m coming with you.”
“You heard me, hero
,” Skippy smiled. “You don’t deserve it, but you have yourself a cobalt archer.”
“But you’re a Federation councilor!”
a Federation councilor,” Skippy chuckled. “I resigned.” She snuggled in close. “The council is bullshit. It isn’t real. What you’re facing is real. What the Xvli will face if this isn’t stopped is real… “ She looked deeply into his eyes. “We
are real. My man is heading right into the fires of Hell and if you think I’m letting him go alone you have another thing coming.”
“Shh,” Skippy said as she kissed him. “I’m coming and that’s final. Besides, you pap-mouthed idiots need me.”
“I think I said that right,” Skippy said wrinkling her brow. “Pap? Fecal pap? You know, what a momma feeds her babies to get their guts right? I’m calling you babies.”
“We don’t do that and what do you mean babies?”
“Then where do your infants get their microbes from?”
“I think they get some of it from the womb and the rest from nursing… I think...” Jon said thoughtfully.
“Your women squirt pap from their tits? You’re disgusting!”
disgusting?” Jon laughed.
“You got something to say, hero
,” Jon said in a comically whipped voice.
They both laughed.
“And what exactly do you mean we need you?” Jon asked. “We can take care of ourselves.”
“You need me sweetheart. I have a clean van out back and can get more,” Skippy said matter of factly. “Then there is the matter of that power armor that you guys failed to hide. The cops got tipped off concerning its location just a little while ago. I wonder by who.”
“Don’t worry,” Skippy chuckled. “I got contacts in Fed Intel and have already arranged for it to go missing during transport. All of your goodies are going to wind up in another storage building across town tonight. We don’t have to lift a single finger.”
“Then there’s the matter of a ship. You are going to want one of those, right?”
“Already taken care of,” Skippy grinned. “It will be here in a couple of days. It’s a nice 'light freighter', fast, plenty of room, military grade cloak, massive fuel tank that will last a long
time, good jump drive, a nice concealed weapons package… the works. The crew are all former special ops. Oops... I mean ‘pirates’.”
“H-how?” Jon stammered completely shocked.
“Well,” Skippy grinned as she snuggled him. “It’s about time you find out what this table is all about.”
In a dusty warehouse surprisingly close to where Skippy was “shifting gears” surprisingly quickly Jade eased up to Patricia.
“Hey, Snak-… Sorry, my lady,” Jade started.
“You of all people can dispense with the formalities, my unyielding pebble,” Patricia laughed. “There are very few people remaining that can call me ‘Snake-Eyes’. You should take advantage of that privilege more often. Besides, there is hardly anyone left. For now, I do not need the mantle of royalty.”
“Very well,” Jade smiled. “I’m worried about the Mouse.”
“She seems unsteady. I don’t like the ‘vibe’ coming off of her. I’ve felt it before and it’s never good,” Jade said quietly.
“I understand and agree,” Patricia said laying her hand on Jade’s shoulder. “I think it’s time we brought her to the table.”
“Are you sure?” Jade asked. “I’m not certain she is ready.”
“Neither am I,” Patricia said with a smile. “That’s exactly why we must do it. We no longer have the luxury of dragging along someone who isn’t fully committed. She either needs to fully join us or we need to rid ourselves of her.”
“As always, Snake-Eyes, your wisdom is beyond compare,” she said bowing her head.
“Would you and Nguyen see to obtaining the sacrifice? Keep it alive if you can. I want Dawn to perform the ritual herself.”
“Of course,” Jade smiled. “We will handle it immediately.”
“I have every faith that you will,” Patricia said as her eyes glittered in the light. “And to address the concerns of which you dare not speak I have it all in hand.”
“The gods have spoken to you, like they used to?” Jade asked.
“In a matter of speaking,” Patricia smiled. “I know what to do in the short term, and I know how to adjust our plans moving forward. This small setback is of little consequence. I will discuss the adjustments to our longer term plans later, but in the short term our goal is pretty clear.”
“And that is?”
“We get the fuck out of here,” Patricia laughed a beautiful laugh. “Jon holds all the cards here in the Federation. We are outnumbered and he has the cooperation of the government. Each moment we spend here is one moment closer to death. Once the sacrament is complete we find a way off of this deathtrap. We contact our operatives distributing the virus in other systems, and pull one of the teams here with a ship to extract us. In one of many adjustments we also have that team bring some of the virus here, to the capital, to release it here as well including the Terran embassy if possible.”
“Why the embassy, Snake?”
“Spite,” Patricia laughed a musical laugh. “Pure malice. They wish to kill us? Let us return the favor.”
“Won’t that undermine our position at home?”
“Who cares,” Patricia laughed. “We are already exposed and It’s only a matter of time before everything is confirmed. We may be driven underground as a result but our thralls are already in position and will do exactly
as they are told. It’s a minor inconvenience at worst. Besides, many in the embassy are close friends of Jon’s. Killing them horribly works in our favor long term.”
“Yes,” Patricia laughed a happy little laugh. “My beautiful Jon needs them to die. It will be the first of my many gifts to him. Part of my dowry if you will.”
“Snake?” Jade said dubiously. “I know the gods speak to you but which god in particular gave you that little nugget?”
Patricia just laughed and spun Jade around as if they were dancing.
“Allow me to explain my lovely little pebble...” Patricia said as she started to waltz, leading Jade around the room.
After Patricia finished Jade just looked at her with wide eyes.
“That,” Jade said after a few moments, “is a truly disturbing mix of true genius and pure unadulterated madness.”
“You disapprove?” Patricia asked with a lovely laugh.
“Not at all,” Jade smiled. “It is exactly the sort of thing I have longed for. It’s just so wonderful to have you back, Snake-Eyes! I was getting really worried there but I now see that there is no cause for concern. You are truly back after all this time! I’ve missed you so much!”
Patricia twirled her and then briefly leaned her back in a dip before bringing her back to her feet.
“Mwah!” Patricia exclaimed as she kissed her on the forehead and then released her. “Now go and get us a nice little sacrifice, preferably a child. We need to really push our little mouse. She needs to be broken and devoured or forged anew as one of us.”
“Yes, my lad-… I mean you got it, Snake!” Jade said and then with a little spin turned and walked from the room.
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