Blogger Blitz Round One – Hectic Hiking

I enjoy a good writers’ collaboration as much as the next guy, seeing my work alongside some really talented, gifted wordsmiths never gets old. So when I heard about Blogger Blitz, a competition run by the brilliant Adventure Rules, I just couldn’t say no.

The theme for this year’s competition is “Shipping Wars”, in which each writer not only selects their video game character of choice to do battle with the other writers and their own selection, but also must choose the perfect partner to fight alongside them. My last review for The Well Red Mage was for Persona 5, a game I really enjoyed, and I feel that some of the characters from that game would be excellent fits for this challenge. My favourite character from Persona 5 is Morgana, the otherworldly cat being who guides the Phantom Thieves throughout the game. And his “ship” has to be one Ann Takamaki, student, model and all round ass kicker.

So, without further ado, let us go into battle! Our opponent for round one, the ever excellent Lightning Ellen….

“Walking in the woods can be relaxing and fun under the right circumstances. In the wrong ones, it’s a nightmare straight out of a horror movie. In this event nothing has gone right for you or your Ship. You’ve gotten lost, your destination wasn’t nearly as impressive as the reviews said, and what should have been a special day is one of the worst in your relationship. Your challenge is to use whatever powers or charm you have at your disposal to save this day from disaster. Can you recover the joys of hiking and turn the day around while stuck in the middle of nowhere?”

The canopy of the deep forest was almost like some kind of dark, mysterious ceiling, keeping out all but the odd beam of sunlight. They looked like strip lights sticking out of the thick leaf mulch, such was their intensity. Somewhere among the branches and leaves, a bird cawed, shrill and echoing against the gentle background hum of insects. The sharp sound made Morgana jump, his big ears twitching nervously, giant cartoonish eyes dilated.

“It was only a bird,” chuckled Ann from the branch of a nearby oak, which she had been attempting to climb in order to get a better view of their surroundings.

“I-I knew that!” snapped the strange cat-like being, eyeing up the treeline as he produced his infamous slingshot. Ann placed her hands on her hips and glared disapprovingly at him,

“Hey! You promised. We only kill things in a dire hunger situation,”

Sighing, Morgana put his weapon away. He never could argue with his Lady Ann, even if this forest was just some strange pocket of the Metaverse.

“Fine, I’ll go easy on the locals. Still can’t believe that Ryuji got us into this mess though, the dumbass, all he had to do was not mess with that weird new Metaverse Navigator update!”

Ann gave up on her attempt to climb the tree, not really wanting to get her clothes dirty if she could help it. At least she hadn’t changed into her Phantom Thief costume, that meant that whatever was behind this place didn’t actively have it in for them. Sensing that Morgana wanted to get moving, she fell into step alongside him, each of her steps covered four or five of his thanks to his little legs.

“I know, Ryuji’s not the best with technology. But we’ll be alright, we’ve fought all kinds of horrors together,” she said soothingly as the companions ambled along an old animal trail.

Morgana found the forest quite aesthetically pleasing, in a dirty, dangerous kind of way. Tokyo certainly didn’t have many forests like this, it went in for the glass and steel look instead. He found himself lulled almost to peace, indeed the chirping of birds and the sound of the wind through the thick leaves overhead almost balanced out the unshakable feeling that they were being watched. Ann didn’t seem to notice, she was too busy concentrating on the winding, treacherous path and besides, human senses were just not as razor sharp as his own.

“I er.., don’t think we’re alone out here Lady Ann, we’re being followed by something, and my hackles say it ain’t a cute bunny rabbit” he warned, his voice quiet and urgent so as not to alert their hunter. Ann was about to respond, a flash of worry in her eyes, when the attack was sprung.

A wolf, freakishly huge, with yellow eyes and fangs as long as a mans’ finger, launched itself from the bushes nearby. So powerful was its leap that it almost seemed to be flying straight for them. Morgana leaped aside just in time, dropping his little sabre such was his panic. He hit the floor with a roll, easy enough thanks to his diminutive frame, and tried to dart back to his sword. The wolf was quick too, though, and would have got between he and his weapon had Ann not chosen that moment to open up with a prohibition era Tommy gun. The storm of bullets pushed the beast back, forcing it to retreat toward the treeline. The Metaverse worked in strange ways, the bullets would probably need some help from Morganas’ blade, something which they had discovered during their time as Phantom Thieves. The diminutive cat creature wasted no time, leaping into the air to deliver an impressive two handed chop to the beasts’ head. To neither of theirs’ surprise, the wolf merely disappeared into a writhing cloud of smoke, the twisted reality of this otherworldly forest once again making itself known.

“Guess we’ve been noticed then,” sighed Ann, now sporting her red catsuit and mask, “shame, it’s really not PVC weather,”

“Hey, at least you’ve not turned into a cat!”

Ann laughed at that, holstering her gun, “you are a cat Morgana! Or very cat-like, at least!”

Morgana looked pained, trying to hide a smile, “Ouch! You know, Lady Ann, if anybody else said that…”

If any more Shadow wolves lurked nearby, they would have heard the two unlikely friends, bantering back and forth as they continued along the old animal track, past huge, reaching trees and fording a criss cross of little streams until…

“Ah, how beautiful!” Ann cried, “look at that, Morgana!”

For ahead of them stood a large lake, surrounded almost all around by sheer cliffs, almost glowing white in the light of the sun. The mountains didn’t quite meet, however, as the lake terminated in a giant, roaring waterfall, falling out of view.

“So, let me get this straight. Climb those sheer cliffs, or find a way down that waterfall? Whoever’s Palace this is, they’re going to get a good clawing!” Morgana moaned with great relish, kicking a rounded stone into the clear waters.

“Well then, let’s go and have a good look over that waterfall, it might not be that big you know!” chuckled Ann, starting to enjoy her surroundings despite the ever looming danger. As she sprinted around the edge of the lake, almost leaving Morgana behind her, she could swear that something was moving around between the thick, moss covered trunks of the trees.

Much to her disappointment, the waterfall was also moving, much further down than she had hoped for. The lagoon at the bottom seemed no bigger than the surface of a teacup, the distant roar of the waterfall hitting the surface no louder than a whisper.

“Oh no! No, no, no!” Morgana protested, moving back from the edge with fear reflected boldly in his big, cartoonish eyes. Morgana sometimes wondered if it was the cat in him that didn’t like water, or whether he was just one of a small amount of people that were sensible and avoided jumping into the stuff as much as possible.

“Maybe there’s another way?” Ann said encouragingly, “we could always turn back and…”

She was interrupted by Morgana suddenly drawing his sword, looking back the way they had come.

“I don’t think that’s gonna be an option!” He helped, pointing toward a veritable horde of wolf Shadows like the one they had encountered earlier. There seemed to be hundreds of them, filing out from under the leafy canopy with murder in their eyes.

Ann took her place alongside Morgana, cracking her whip menacingly, though this did little to deter the slowly advancing beasts.

Somebody else had walked out with them. A young woman, with pink hair and dressed in a white jacket and shorts, some kind of hinged sword in hand. Her yellow eyes gave her away as somebody’s Shadow doppelganger, a representative of whoever owned this Palace and their dark desires.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t care, you shouldn’t be here!” The Shadow warned, pointing the end of the blade toward them, the wolves closing in around her like legionnaires.

“You think we wanna be here, lady? We were enjoying noodles in Shibuya before we ended up here!” Retorted Morgana, looking as intimidating as a small cat-like creature could.

“Just let us go, this is all a mistake!” Ann added as the tide of wolves pushed them back toward the waterfall’s edge.

“This is no accident! We must win!” The pink haired Shadow replied, her face set in a look of sullen rage. Morgana would have been confused at that statement, about exactly what the Shadow intended to win, except he was a little preoccupied with the fact that they were now entirely backed up against the edge of the waterfall, only inches separating them from falling.

“Win what? We don’t want to challenge anyone, we’re retired!” Ann protested desperately, her voice tinged with fear.

“You are just pawns in a game, the same as I! Competing for the enjoyment of unseen eyes!” The Shadow spat, “and pawns are always the first to die! Kill them!”

“Hope you enjoy killin’ wolves, Lady Ann, cos I’d rather go through them than down that waterfall!” Morgana yowled, launching himself out of the water and straight at the first of what seemed to be a cloud of slavering, evil beasts.

The clash was biblical. Demonic wolves flew in all directions, Morgana and Ann holding their own for as long as they could against the mysterious Shadow womans’ assault. Whips cracked, slingshots were released, wind and fire spells were thrown in all directions, yet still they came and, slowly but surely, the Phantom Thieves began to lose ground, the roaring of the waterfall coming ever closer.

“I think,” shouted Ann above the din as she whipped another wolf back into the fray, “that we might have to jump! These lot aren’t slowing down any time soon!”

Morgana leaped out of the path of another wolf, “I wish you’d stop making sense, Lady Ann!”

And so, with the Shadow woman moving ever closer, the wolves not seeming to dwindle and our heroes being pinned in place between hundreds of pairs of jaws and the unknown, they made the only choice they could.

They jumped.

Morgana opened his eyes to a familiar scene. Inokashira Park, one of Tokyos’ most beautiful nature spots and, thankfully, not a wolf infested forest in some pink haired maniacs’ inner psyche. Who was she and how had that buffoon Ryuji managed to send them to her Palace without knowing her name or, more importantly, how she saw the world around her?

“Oh my goodness, that was terrifying!” moaned Ann, picking herself up off the ground. Seeing her back in her normal clothes reminded Morgana that he was back in his cat form, which certainly made getting up a little easier if nothing else, tht big round head tended to get in the way.

“I hate waterfalls! I’m so glad that we managed to get out of there, even if I have no idea how!” Morgana replied, trotting to Anns’ side so that she could place him into her satchel.

“Yeah, don’t we usually need to find a weak point between the dimensions to escape? Maybe there was one halfway down that cliff?” she mused as the black cat scrambled in amongst her belongings. She was glad that nobody was out exploring this part of the park today, or things would have become far more complicated.

“You know, I can’t help but feel that the rules changed a little just now. That was no ordinary Palace. And what she said, about ‘being pawns in somebody else’s’ game’, that was kind of creepy, don’t you think?” Morgana mused, poking his head out into the light of the setting sun.

Ann was quiet for a while as they walked, framing her response.

“It was creepy, for sure. I kind of got this feeling that she wasn’t from our world, you know? Maybe somebody is out there, pulling people and their shadows from all different worlds, making them fight and compete for their own satisfaction?”

Morgana chuckled warmly at her suggestion, “Now you’re just being silly,” he said, suddenly feeling rather sleepy indeed, all thoughts of giving Ryuji a good hiding forgotten as they went home.

And so this round comes to a halt! Did you enjoy this submission? Will it be enough to beat the powerful and savvy Lightning Ellen? We will have to find out…

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