rec.arts.anime.misc New Years Challenge 2009

Good thing one of my neighbors were selling their house, because I sure didn’t want to explain to my parents why all these people
suddenly needed to stay over at ours. A quick phone call and a few negotiations later, we were short-term renting their digs while we puzzled out how to handle the challenges Bill had thrown us.

Team Pink
*Kirby, Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. Melee
*Vash the Stampede, Trigun, after the third gun debuts
*Kinomoto Sakura, Card Captor Sakura, end of series

Team Unfair Advantage
*Seta Soujirou, Rurouni Kenshin, post Kyoto Arc
*Solid Snake, Metal Gear Series, just post Sons of Liberty (equipment: tranq gun,cardboard box, cigarettes)
*Zhuge Liang, styled Kongming, Dynasty Warriors series, circa Battle of Chi Bi (starting stats and weapon, no extra equipment)

Team Pyrrhic Victory
*Sagara Sousuke, Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, after the debut of the Giant Teddy of Doom ™
*Legato Bluesummers, Trigun, right before he snuffs it in the anime
*Xelloss, Slayers Try, post series

Hm. Not to hard with any of my teams, but a touch on the tedious side.

Team Pink:
Sakura herself at once vetoed the idea of using Create to make the cranes (or the pictures) before I even had the chance to mention it. “It wouldn’t be the same!” She tells me, eyes wide with earnest.

I sighed. “All right. You guys start folding. I’ll join you as soon as I finish doing some research.” And then, a thought: “It wouldn’t be cheating if you used Mirror—or Twin, if Mirror doesn’t work that way—to give us a hand, right?”

Sakura thought about this for a while. “I guess not.”

“Great!” I turned to Kirby. “Kirby, since I don’t think you can copy the full range of Sakura-chan’s powers, please just copy me so you can pitch in.” When Kirby gave me a puzzled look, I sighed again. “Because last I checked, you don’t have thumbs?”

Comprehension dawned. (Side note: being copied by Kirby wasn’t as traumatizing as I feared, though it was mildly unpleasant. To paraphrase from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, now I knew how a glass of water felt.)

One quick Google search later, I found that there wasn’t any kind of Colonel Sanders Lookalike Club (nuts), and KFC didn’t seem to have any kind of event that happened every year except for at the local level (double nuts), and I doubted there would be time to throw an official meet together.

Still, I began to make phone calls and web forum postings. It was, perhaps, a bit dangerous to rely on the generosity of strangers, but even if nobody agreed to making paper cranes I figured asking for a picture wouldn’t be too much to ask of them. About a week into the challenge, somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody at KFC got wind of this and offered to help things along. I told them that their help would be appreciated, but even better if I could get what I needed within the deadline.

In the end, it was very close, but we made it by dressing ourselves (and a few of my acquaintances) up for those last few pictures.

Sakura, of course, made the most adorable Colonel Sanders ever.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Soujirou, speedy little thing that he is, dives in at once as soon as I show my team how to make the cranes, while Snake and Kongming and I brainstorm while we pitch in as best we can.

“This ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, if they have good business sense, will lap up the opportunity for what amounts to free advertising,” Kongming pointed out after I explained to him just what a Colonel Sanders was. (Snake looked amused during that exchange, perhaps imagining his former C.O. in the iconic getup.)

“I agree, but we’ll probably have to do a lot of leg work ourselves, too, since I don’t know how long it’ll take for us to get up the chain of command, as it were.”

(The rest of the challenge pretty much goes the same way as Team Pink, although I think with Kongming at the helm we could get KFC’s involvement a bit faster. We should be able to pass with time to spare.)

Team Pyrrhic Victory:
“No sitting this one out, Xelloss,” I warned him as I explained the challenge. “I don’t care how allergic you are to warm and fuzzy feelings. I think you were making that up anyway.”

Xelloss pouted. “But I’m a monster! Even if it’s not debilitating, happy thoughts do hurt!”

“Then send unhappy ones,” I suggested. “We’re just getting pictures of paper cranes here. It’s not like we’re actually going to improve someone’s lot in life.”

Xelloss feigned shock. “Why, Authoress, that’s awfully cynical of you, isn’t it?”

I handed him the first square of paper. “Shut up and start folding.”

He raised a finger. “Or, we could ask those nice people out there to help us.” He turned to Legato. “What do you think, Legato-kun? A thousand people work a lot faster than three, ne?”

Legato glowers without answering.

Xelloss finds the lookalikes with minimal effort, though since he’s not too concerned about quality control he picks them at random regardless of how good they are at it. Then, throughout the day and over the difference in time zones, Legato goes to work: a thousand strangers get up in their sleep, fold a perfect paper crane, get into costume, take a picture of themselves holding it, and then mail the results to the hospital where the founder of New Year Con is staying at. (The man in question would then be plagued by bad dreams of being attacked by angry cranes, but Xelloss would disavow any involvement no matter how many times I asked.)

Sousuke whittled away the time by tinkering with his mecha and starting his own impressive paper crane collection; last I heard he’d passed the thousand mark and was well on his way towards ten thousand.

Medium Challenge – Three Impossible Tasks Before Dinner (complete one of the following tasks):

(Two were completed now, the third was completed later after Bill ruled that it was a good enough self-imposed challenge to qualify as a suitable “impossible task.”)

This had better be the best damn dinner I’ve ever had, Bill. And I mean raise-the-roof, orgasm-inducing, I-would-sell-my-soul-for-more delicious.

4) Successfully raise the Titanic’s pieces and make it seaworthy again.

Insert “bigger boat” jokes here. Also, all teams (except Pyhrric Victory) would benefit from spending the first couple of weeks or so with whichever historical societies that have an interest in the Titanic to clear things with them and/or get help, so I’ll just get that out of the way now instead of repeating myself three times.

(I also mis-read the challenge and assumed that I had a smaller time limit than Bill granted, so I got a more lenient ruling than I expected.)

Team Pink:
After shopping and packing up for ice-cold temperatures, I buy us plane tickets (because I didn’t know how fast Sakura could get us there with Fly) to meet up with any crew we manage to pick up from the above.

One purchase of over-the-counter motion sickness pills later (for me and anyone else who might need it), we head over to the site where the
boat lays in the depths. One moment of silence later, we get to work. Sakura’s Float does most of the “heavy lifting”, as it were, but Kirby does his share as well (while Smash Bros. doesn’t have a swimming mechanic, the other Kirby games do, and he has never displayed a need to breathe while underwater). Vash and I use the blueprints (obtainable over the internet and/or with one of the historical societies mentioned above) to put the ship back together (and again, this is where the extra help helps, because I don’t want to get anywhere near an acetylene torch). Once Sakura and Kirby finish pulling up the parts that are still salvageable, they join in on the restoration efforts.

Mind you, this team can’t quite make the Titanic sea-worthy by themselves, especially not in time for dinner, (a Create-created Titanic wouldn’t last past one night, alas, unless THAT would count as passing the scenario, and I doubt Erase can do that infamous “erase everything that ISN’T a boat” trick out of the Xanth books), but I think I can at least do a partial pass for these guys. And hey, at least we’d make the new Titanic much less susceptible to Death by Iceberg.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Uh, does Kongming using his brainpower to put a restoration team together count? This is where having a team where no members have supernatural powers (Shu-da-woop lasers notwithstanding) hurts me.

Not gonna happen in the space of one day. (But that turns out to be fine.)

Team Pyrrhic Victory:
Once again, either Xelloss and/or Legato makes the restoration process cake. (Xelloss, pedant that he is, doesn’t agree to restoring the Titanic except to its exact pre-sinking specifications, faulty water compartments and drippy love story potential included.)

Sousuke can stick around for the heavy lifting, though I cringe at the thought of how much he could bring up from the surface of the ocean
without cocking things up.

A pass, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone take a cruise on the new and restored Titanic.

5) Find and capture Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban buddies, and hand them all over to the proper authorities, live or dead.

(I don’t think Bin Laden himself is even still alive any more, but this isn’t a thread about geopolitics, so let’s say the Bearded One is indeed holed up somewhere hooked up to a dialysis machine or something.)

(2016 Addendum: Boy, was 2009-me wrong! Bin Laden was very much still alive, at least until 2011.)

Before we go Taliban-hunting, I get all my teams registered with the government and get a contract to do just that; it’s just a formality so the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t show up on my door after the challenges end.

Team Pink:
Kirby (and maybe Vash, though his propensity to cause things explode might be a liability) does most of the surveying. Once we find the terrorist cells we then have Sakura Time + Sleep the whole area—or, if Sleep only works on line-of-sight we use any combination of Sakura’s other cards to flush them out (away from us, of course) while Kirby and Vash neutralize them.

Should be doable in the space of one afternoon with minimal (even zero) casualties; not so sure about the collateral damage, though.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Given how easy it was for Snake to breeze through his dealings with a terrorist cell just as bad (or perhaps worse) than the Taliban by himself, they have no chance with the combined powers of him, Soujirou, and Kongming at the helm to provide tactical advice. (Mind you, Taliban might not be fooled by the cardboard box, but then, it is a pretty special box.)

We turn the Taliban in with plenty of time to spare.

Team Pyrrhic Victory:
One challenge where Sousuke’s expertise is useful for a change, since he grew up in Afganistan and doesn’t just know the place like the back of his hand, but also has a high chance to know people who know people.

Of course, given that it’s THIS team, plenty of stuff is still going to blow up. I’m also going to have a hard time convincing Xelloss to
not turn this into an international incident with Pakistan, but at least by the time we’re done bin Laden and company will be the least of everyone’s worries.

Hard Challenge – State of Fear:

Excuse me while I go off into this corner and have a fifteen minute monologue in which I rant about how whoever these people are have missed the point about environmental protection.

Also, I’m going to assume that we, by magic of plot, somehow got the information in time to ambush the terrorists at the time and/or before
they can do their thing.

(2016 hindsight: I am so mad at myself for not thinking of thwarting the terrorists ahead of time. Of all the times to lose to my own inability to plan well!)

Environmental activists are getting fed up with the United States government not doing enough in their opinion, to help protect the environment. Certain activists decided eco-terrorism would be a good idea and might force the uninterested consumers into action by instilling a sense of immediate dread. Over a year ago, they started in motion a series of events to be combined within a one-week period to coincide with an environmental conference they planned to see the final attack, up close and personal-like. You and your team happened to come across the information about the attacks by accident, and the nature of the information was that it required some action.

The first attack is centered at Mt. Terror, Antarctica where the eco-terrorists have planted a series of cavitation devices (devices which use sonic waves to make cavities in solid matter) to cleave off the largest glacial piece in history, to force the issue of man-made
> global warming.

Team Pink:
If we get there soon enough, Vash might be able to disarm the device with his know-how (and he did display some sort of near-supernatural
ability to communicate with machines, and although these bombs aren’t controlled by Plant Angels he still might have an affinity for them.
If not, the Silent card should have a large enough range to stifle most of the attack; alternately, Shield and Watery would be able to do
damage control. Kirby will remain on standby for emergency stray iceberg eating duty if necessary.

The disarmed bomb, or pieces thereof, should be retrievable by Team Pink as evidence.

Team Unfair Advantage:
This team’s only hope is to get there before the bomb goes off and disarms it. Disarming it would be Snake’s job.

Should the bomb go off, we’re pretty much fucked, though I suppose Kongming’s lasers could do a little bit of iceberg herding.

Either way, this team should still be able to retrieve some amount of evidence.

Team Pyhrric Victory:
Considering that the eventual trashing of the environment by mankind could be considered a net benefit, Xelloss might be convinced to at
least contain the explosion. And if Bonta is waterproof, then Sousuke could retrieve the pieces. I’m a little iffier about this one.

The second attack is scheduled for a day or two later, but the location is much more flexible. Through the use of metallic filament lines and miniature rockets, they will amplify the number of lightning strikes which amplifies a storm and they hope to cause a flash flood somewhere in the southern hemisphere, perhaps during a group outing which they hope will even cause a few deaths.

Team Pink:
This one is pretty easy for either Sakura and/or Kirby to handle alone. Mist or Shot can deal with the filament lines; Watery can control the flood, and I’m sure there’s other card combinations I haven’t thought of. (Kirby can, as usual, just eat everything, and possibly burp one back up as evidence.)

Since I’m not sure what Vash’s third gun does, I think I’ll save that one as a last resort.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Left to salvage evidence, as before. (That, or lasers, again.)

Or, since Kongming does demonstrate some ability to manipulate the weather in Dynasty Warriors, we could try that. (Hey, I’m willing to try just about anything we have the power to do with this team.)

Team Pyhrric Victory:
Lightning falls, people die unless Xelloss is a perfectionist who wants to win stop all four challenges, or we can find the terrorists in time for Legato to “convince” them to put a stop to the attack before it happens.

Sousuke’s still useless.

The third attack is another flexible location one, and scheduled a few days after the second attack. They experimented on the seeding of certain chemicals to help steer a hurricane, and since they successfully steered Gustav towards New Orleans, successfully steered Hanna away from the Gulf region, and drove Ike straight into Houston. While a hurricane in the southern hemisphere would not be newsworthy on its own, when coupled with the other events, it would show a pattern of extreme weather.

Team Pink:
Once again, Sakura’s cards and/or Kirby’s bottomless stomach to the rescue, unless Vash knows something about weather manipulation and can
whip up some kind of counter-hurricane-seeding.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Hurricane happens, unless Kongming is THAT in tune with the mysterious forces of the universe. We might be able to collect evidence by having Snake fly through the tropical wave as it’s forming to collect chemicals, but otherwise, this team can’t help out until the cleaning up afterward.

Team Pyhrric Victory:
As before, it’s pretty much all on Xelloss (or, as I mention above, Legato). Poor Sousuke is left twiddling his thumbs again (didn’t get to do much this year, did he?).

The fourth and final attack is the most complicated. Centered in the Solomon Islands around a cove where they are using the cavitation devices and a private submarine to line the cove’s floor to force to amplify an earthquake. They’ve also brought in several gigantic vibration devices (approximately as big as a box truck) which are normally only sold to governments, and if something falls onto the plate on top of the device (by the time you get there would be at ground level as the device will be buried), it would be vibrated into its individual molecules within a few seconds. With the vibration and cavities, they hope to create an underwater earthquake which will cause a tsunami which based on the cove’s topography will hit somewhere in southern California. The local tribes have been brought in for the protection of the Solomon Islands operation, and they’re confirmed cannibals, and some sociologists with very-high-powered lenses have seen that these cannibals sometimes eat their meal while it’s still breathing and bleeding.

Team Pink:
Earthy, Time + Sleep, Watery…Sakura has any number of weapons at her disposal, and all of them are doable at a long distance. Or Kirby can
eat the device (ah, Kirby, my Team Pink hammer). Vash doesn’t get sent in to make sure that the area is secure until we deal with the earthquake machine. I have a sinking feeling that the cannibals end up worshiping Kirby as their new god, but hey, that’s not the worst that
could happen—see also Team Pyhrric Victory’s entry.

Team Unfair Advantage:
They’d be able to neutralize the cannibals, but being able to dig up the earthquake machine without destroying it would be a matter of luck. (I’ll have to invest in a metal detector and/or ground sonar.)

Also, given Kongming’s success in converting the Nanman to his cause, there’s a good chance that we can also leave the cannibals in a better (i.e., non-human eating) state.

Team Pyhrric Victory:
I suppose to give Sousuke something to do while we (i.e., Xelloss) dig out the Earthquake machine via putting nice huge craters into the island itself. If anybody survives that, Legato and Xelloss split the converts into Knives or Lord of Nightmares (or Xelloss) worshipers.

Evidence summary:
All three teams can either collect at least two pieces of evidence, or with enough time go after the terrorists themselves and put them behind bars.

Medium Challenge Task #3, or Holy Hell, I’ve Created a Monster

Uh…this thing kind of ran away on me a little. And I even abridged it from my original plans. I, uh, tend to ramble a bit.

TL;DR version:
Xelloss uses the Mirror to make an evil version of me (though I suppose which one of us is more evil might be arguable), who then summons the worst antagonists from each of the series that my team members belong to, and we have to battle them, boss-rush style:

  • Super Smash Bros. (Crazy Hand and Master Hand) – Any battle is beatable by one player on a technical level , so it’d be plausible (if difficult) for any of my teams to handle.
  • Full Metal Panic (technically Fumoffu, so it’ll probably be the school janitor) – Sousuke isn’t useless, hooray!
  • Metal Gear (Liquid Snake) – Liquid vs. Solid, round two. The cutscene alone would run, like, five pages. Deus Ex FoxDie might a second appearance.
  • Dynasty Warriors (Lü Bu) – Same strategy I always use against that Broken Ass Cockroach: hit and run. Or keep HP at red and spam the Ultimate Musou.
  • Rurouni Kenshin (Shishio Makoto) – This is just a long, pitched endurance battle. Though Shishio doesn’t fight fair, in the end he’s just human, and a very crispy one at that.
  • Trigun – Fighting Knives will have to be a tag battle with everybody involved. And Legato isn’t allowed to participate for obvious reasons. (Kirby copies his power, and then Sakura puts him in the cornfield—I mean Maze.)
  • Card Captor Sakura (the Nothing)- Sakura’s already fought this battle, so she’d be the most qualified to handle it, and therefore she gets to head this one.
  • Slayers Next (Hellmaster Phibrizzo)- Two words: Hope Card. For details, see ‘fic.
  • Mirror Me – Gets exiled to Myst-land once everything else has been dealt with.

(Timeskip to after Team Pink and Team Unfair Advantage get done with restoring the Titanic.)

“Bill didn’t say anything about the dress code, so let’s go with semi-formal, and pack simpler clothes to change in if it turns out we’re over-dressed.” Everyone agreed to this, so I let Snake handle the tux rentals while Sakura and Xelloss helped me out with finding something for me to wear, as I was quite inexperienced in that department.

After an intense makeover, I debuted with my new look. I found myself blushing red as a beet as my teammates gawked over the sight of me in a pantsuit, my hair done in an elegant bun, and just a touch of makeup.

Snake was the first to recover. “You look—amazing,” he breathed.

I tugged on my jacket sleeve, feeling more and more self conscious by the minute. “You’re not too bad looking yourself.”

Before thing could get more awkward, the phone rang, and I put it on speaker so everybody could hear from Bill themselves whether they’d passed or failed. “We’re all dressed up and ready to party!” Xelloss chirped, as I was still too busy being a dork to say anything clever.

Except all we got was silence, interspersed with bits of static.

“Bill?” I asked, starting to feel worried. “This isn’t funny, Bill.” Still no response. “Bill!” Zip. “BILL!”

“Sorry, but Bill isn’t available right now.” The all too familiar voice on the other side of the line answered at last.

Whatever mood had been in the room before died and was replaced with icy silence as I realized what Xelloss had been doing with the leftover shards of the mirror. “You copied me?” I hissed at him.

“Like I’d resist the chance to see how you’d be like as a villan,” he whispered back.

Mirror-Me cleared her throat and continued, a bit annoyed that she was being ignored. “I’d much rather start my reign of terror right now and rub it in your face after it’s too late for you to do anything about it, but you hero-types have a knack for ruining even the best-laid plans at the nick of time, so I figured I would save all of us the runaround and get straight to the Ultimate Showdown of Destiny.”

It’s not an Ultimate Showdown of Anything without at least Chuck Norris and Mr. Rodgers, I thought, but knew better than to say anything cheeky out loud. “Where’s Bill?”

“Figures you’d ask.” There was the sound of fingers snapping, and then Bill appeared in front of us, frazzled but alive. “He’ll give you the details.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That’s awfully generous of you.”

“Hey, whoever’s reading along needs the exposition, too. And besides, all I need to do to win is—” a pause; I could almost hear my mirror self smiling. “—well, you’ll see.”

The line went dead after that, so I turned to Bill. “Hey. You okay?”

He indicates a painful-looking lump on his head. “All things considering, it could have been a lot worse. I knew I should have invested in a better security system.”

Why did I have a sneaking suspicion Bill had let this happen on purpose? “So what kind of a fight are we looking at here?”

“I have to be honest, Dot, it doesn’t look good for any of your teams, especially not Pyrrhic Victory. Your mirror twin has summoned the worst antagonists from each of your team members’ series of origin.”

I winced. That did sound bad. “Please tell me at least they didn’t get to take any of their shiny toys or endless minions with them.”

“No. Rules are rules, even for the bad guys. And I added a built-in Spoiler Protection Fault after the last challenge, so the opposing team is restricted to the same general time period as when you pulled yours, give or take a few years for obvious reasons.”

I let out a breath. “Okay, that gives me a better idea of what I’m up against.” I turned my attention to my teams, who were also looking quite worried themselves. “All right, let’s all change back into some real clothes and start making plans.”

One change of scene (and wardobe later), we were seated in the living room, with me using my laptop screen projected on the opposite wall for the visuals.

“Assuming the worst here, we’re going to get attacked all at once—and given the personalities of those involved, it’s a good bet the lines of opposition will go down along the series involved. But, just in case they decide to be overconfident and try to take us one at a time, let’s do a rundown of who we’re most likely going to face and what their abilities are:

Super Smash Bros. Melee’s toughest battle with Kirby as a playable character is the tag team match against Master Hand and Crazy Hand.” I handed out the Gamefaqs strategy sheets. “Master Hand telegraphs all of his moves, so he’s easy to deal with, but Crazy Hand has a wider range and has effective counters against close-range attacks, and on top of that they don’t deal damage to each other. Anybody of you guys can take them, though obviously doing so alone would be a tough fight.

None of Trigun’s battles can be considered easy, but if I had to pick, it’d be a neck-and-neck tie between the battle against Legato and the one against Knives. I won’t spoil the plot since from Vash’s point of view he hasn’t experienced them yet, but I will say that this is not the time to be stupid.” Vash looked like he was about to protest, so I gestured for him to wait. “Knives is a psychopath and a complete monster, and given the chance he WILL eradicate all human life on this planet.” I turned my attention to Legato. “And I don’t need you reminding me that you’d be more than happy to help him if you could, either. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

I handed over the floor to Sakura for her to explain the Nothing, as I had stopped following the series after graduating from college. Sakura being who she is, asked that she handle this fight, as she had already tackled the Nothing once before and she didn’t want to risk any of us being hurt. Given the magics involved in the Clow Cards we agreed that she was the most experienced to this battle. (Xelloss had to leave the room, overwhelmed by Sakura’s innocence and optimism. I didn’t feel sorry for him in the least.)

“Rurouni Kenshin’s toughest opponent is debatable, but I think Shishio Makoto is it. Philosophically, physically, mentally, he was more than a match for Kenshin, fought dirtier than him and pretty much would have won if Kenshin weren’t the main character.” Soujirou looked kind of surprised at this, so I added: “Doesn’t mean I think he was right, just that he would be a pain in the ass to fight against. Any battle against him will be an endurance match. I don’t recommend Sakura, Kongming, or even Snake here because Shishio just edges into superhuman territory and he fights very dirty. Soujirou, I leave the decision up to you.”

“I’d be too busy giving Liquid a rematch anyway,” Snake muttered, not looking happy at this prospect. “And I don’t think I can count on FoxDie to finish the job, either.”

“I don’t know. The game script didn’t say anything about it losing its potency.” Out came another set of Gamefaqs guides, just in case. “You’ll have to ask Snake for details on this one. I’m afraid I’m no good at those kind of games.

Toughest opponent for the Dynasty Warriors series is Lu Bu, no question. Lucky for us, while he is a tough son of a bitch, he’s just as stupid. If you have to fight him, stick with long-distance attacks and keep him off his feet.”

Considering that Fumoffu was the softer, lighter side of Full Metal Panic, I wasn’t sure which of the regular series opponents we might face, so the floor went to Sosuke, who briefed us on each of his opponents.

“Slayers Next—this one’s going to be a doozy. I’ll be willing to bet that my mirror self sounded so confident because she summoned Hellmaster Phibrizzo, a monster who has the power over death, but it’s not as hopeless as she’d like it to be. Phibrizzo is overconfident, and in his eyes only Xelloss would be anywhere near his league. On top of that, as a demon he’s vulnerable to light magic.”

I paused to look around the room. I had to keep myself together, for my team’s sake. I was better at this than I gave myself credit for. And there was no way I was going to lose to a mirror clone.

“Keep in mind that we just have to subdue them long enough to activate the Summoning Device and send them back. Don’t overdo it. We’re a Team, and if we want to win we have to fight like one.”

Everyone took in my words for a while. Xelloss couldn’t quite resist one last dig: “No rousing inspirational speech?”

I had a comeback ready for that one. “You want me to Wall of Text at you guys for another fifteen minutes?”

The response was a unanimous ‘no’.

Bill transported us to the site of battle, where we found Master Hand and Crazy Hand floating in the distance.

“A boss rush battle, huh?” It was a mixed blessing, considering what I knew waited for us at the end of the road. “Well, you guys know what to do.”

A quick conference turned into a round of rocks-paper-scissors to determine which team got to tackle the first battle. As Team Pink jumped into the fray, I turned to Xelloss. “Hey, do you think you can find my mirror clone?”

Xelloss wagged a finger at me. “Trying to cut to the front of the line is cheating. Besides, she doesn’t have any abilities you don’t. She’s just your—what’s that term you used before?”

“Jungian shadow?” I prompted.

“Whatever. You should be more worried about the upcoming showdowns that could cause the end of the world as we know it.” He tilted his head towards Legato, who was doing an excellent job brooding, but not much else. “Especially when Mr. Sulky over there considers the time he spends on these challenges to be pure torture.”

“That was part of the intent.” The other part, of course, being that he made for good eye candy.

Xelloss smiled even wider. “See, it’s things like that that make me think you could have had a great career as a villain.”

Meanwhile, Team Pink, having taken my advice, was giving the two Hands a sound thrashing. Kirby, being made of puff, could take the occasional hit at close range, Vash could just sit back and use his guns, and Sakura’s deck had a wide range of buffs she can stack to keep her and her teammates safe. Soon enough both Hands had shrunk back down to human glove size and ready to be transported back to their homeworlds.

Team Pink was taking its well-deserved break when the next challengers appeared over the horizon and called out their opponents loud enough to be heard the zip code over:



“I guess that’s your cue,” I said to Snake and Sousuke. “I’d take my teams with me if I were you, but—”

“This fight’s mine,” both replied at the same time.

I sighed. “Figured. Just come back alive, okay?”

They took off. Sousuke I was less worried about, since he had Bonta with him, but given that Snake was going into this more or less unarmed I asked the rest of Team Unfair Advantage to go on standby in case he needed the help.

Fifteen minutes into the fight, Snake and Liquid had destroyed most of each others’ clothes and were grappling—or at least I hoped they were grappling—while trading a number of escalating insults. They were so busy doing this that neither man noticed me sneaking up to them and banishing Liquid back beyond the time paradox.

“What was that for!” Snake wanted to know, looking conflicted about being denied the chance to see this rematch to its end. “I could have taken him!”

“To the delight of Rule Thirty-Four, no doubt,” I deadpanned while handing him a new change of clothes, causing him to color pink for a moment. I peered at the rising smoke in the distance, wondering if it was safe to approach Sousuke’s battle yet.

I didn’t need to worry after all. Sousuke lumbered up in Bonta, the mecha looking quite a bit worse for wear and its pilot exhausted to the bone but victorious nonetheless.

“The enemy has been neutralized,” he reported, climbing out of the mech.

I nodded back at him. “Good job.”

The next challenge loomed as we were bandaging up Snake and Sousuke. Shishio Makoto and Lu Bu didn’t even need to say anything, just stand and pose while a dramatic wind came out of nowhere.

Soujirou’s gaze went to the floor. “I don’t think I can fight him. I still haven’t found my answer…”

“I’m not going to make you. Kirby, sub in for Soujirou.” Kirby nodded and raised his tiny pink fist in acknowledgement. “Kongming, you’re my tactician.” Kongming accepted as well, and his confidence made me feel that much better. “Legato, mind not thinking about how to stab us in the back for a couple of minutes?”

“As if you would allow me to go all out against a human opponent,” Legato muttered.

“I can make an exception this time: those two are a lot tougher than you give them credit for. Besides, when have I ever not let you do whatever you wanted as long as I got results?”

“And yet you always complain about the collateral damage afterwards.” Still, Legato did get up and crack a few knuckles in preparation.

“Well, this time, go crazy, have fun, and don’t lose.” I smiled at him. “That better?”


Soujirou kept sneaking side glances at me as we watched the battle. “Why do you keep doing this every year, anyway? None of this is real, right?”

“No, but it’s a good challenge. It forces me to think outside of the box and get the most unlikely group of team members to work together.” It was the truth, and I wasn’t in the mood to debate deep philosophical stuff at the moment anyway. “Isn’t it exciting to solve problems and help people?”

“I guess,” Soujirou admitted.

Meanwhile, Kongming was taunting Lü Bu into an incoherent rage. “Are you sure you have the time to waste here, Fengxian?” he asked, calling Lü Bu by his style name. “It’s not safe to leave your darling Diao Chan in the hands of that fat tub of lard who calls himself the steward of the emperor, is it?”

At the same time, Legato was not impressed by Shishio’s display of near superhuman abilities. “You are just human. Compared to Knives-sama, you are nothing. I don’t even need to lift a finger against you.” He stretched out his hand, allowing Kirby to perch on it. “This little one more than suffices to defeat you.”

“Hi~” Kirby waved, before getting into an offensive stance and charging with his mouth open.

With the strategy I suggested, the battle did take long, but Kongming was faster than Lü Bu could ever dream to be and always flitted just out of reach, firing off his lasers whenever his Musou meter recharged, and Legato was on hand to assist should Lü Bu get too close for comfort. For the most part, Shishio found Kirby to be too tiny to hit, and was hoist by his petard each time Kirby managed to suck him into his bottomless stomach.

It was just a matter of time before Lü Bu declared the battle a waste of time and stormed off to find my mirror self so he could be transported back to his own world and be with Diao Chan.

On the other front, Shishio’s body started giving out on him, so I gave the signal to stop. I showed him the summoning device. “Either way, you’re going back to hell. I suggest the non-self-immolating method. It’s faster and less painful.”

“Are you asking me to surrender?” Shishsio pulled himself up, leaning against his sword. “What makes you think I would do such a thing?”

“Nothing, just putting it on record that I offered you the choice.” I nodded at Soujirou. That was the signal for him to flash-step in front of Shishio and press the button on the device.

“I’m sorry, Shishio-sama, but I don’t want to watch you die,” Soujirou said to the shocked man as he disappeared.

Vash let out the breath he’d been holding. “Thank goodness. I was worried for a moment there.”

I shrugged. “Eh, he’s already lit himself on fire once, no point in making him go through it again.”

Vash stared. “What?”

I glared back. “You going to gripe about events you have no control over in another universe?”

Vash was about to answer back when he found that he couldn’t move—and neither could the rest of my team members except for Legato or Xelloss, of course. “My, my, he doesn’t waste any time, does he?”

I sighed. “Let me guess. Either you do your dear Knives-sama’s work for him and kill us all, or Vash there needs to get the love-and-peace stick out his ass and stop you before that can happen?” Finding that I was still mobile, I took the gun out of Vash’s hand. “Forget it. He’s not even going to contemplate that until you and your cronies have completely fucked his world over, and even then he’ll beat himself up over not being able to find a solution that doesn’t involve homicide.” I approached Legato, gun drawn. “What do you think, Bluesummers? Is this a good enough compromise?”

“Don’t do it,” Vash managed to grind out between his teeth, watching in total helplessness.

I kept walking. “I’d love nothing more than to live in a world where we can all hold hands and sing Kumbayah. But evil does exist here, and all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I was standing right in front of Legato now. “I’m not going to stand by and let him—or Knives—murder billions of people because of some misguided principle.”

Legato looked over at the horrified expressions of the other team members (save, once again, Xelloss, who got more and more amused by the moment), then turned his gaze to me. Reading my mind to make sure I was serious about the possibility of pulling the trigger, he smiled. “It is acceptable,” he agreed, closing his eyes as I pressed the gun against his temple.

He never saw it coming, having let his guard down. I smashed the butt of the gun into his head, pistol-whipping him so hard that I swore I could feel his jaw break.

I didn’t even wait for him to finish collapsing into a heap before walking back to my team. “Kirby, please copy his powers; Sakura, use Maze on him, that ought to keep him occupied. Vash, here’s your gun back. How’s everybody else doing?”

“Disappointed,” Xelloss pouted. “For a second there, I thought you really had it in you to do it.”

“And leave Team Pyrrhic Victory with just you and Sousuke? No thanks. There would have to be a bigger threat than the temporary extinction of the human race for that to happen.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Xelloss replied, back to his usual enigmatic chipper self.

Vash stayed silent, perhaps still in shock at what transpired, and everyone else refrained from comment. (Kongming seemed to be the sole other team member besides Xelloss to approve of my actions. The rest of them looked like they didn’t know how to react.)

At any rate, it took the collective effort of all three teams (minus Legato, and with minimal “help” from Xelloss) to neutralize Knives. In addition to the numbers advantage, Knives focused on trying to beat Vash and kept attempting to monologue at us about the inferiority of humans and stuff.

“That is the most stupid analogy I’ve ever heard,” I muttered, watching the battle from a safe distance (i.e., with binoculars and Xelloss providing tongue-in-cheek color commentary). “As if spiders were evil cackling overlord wannabes who do nothing but prey on the poor, innocent butterflies.”

“He’s not that off the mark, all considering,” Xelloss pointed out. “He just applied the symbolism to the wrong species. By the way, you don’t actually expect to survive against Hellmaster Phibrizzo, much less win, do you? Or are you really that unaware of how easy it’d be for him to destroy you all with a snap of his finger?”

Oh, I was aware. “Exactly. Which is why it’d be all that much more satisfying for you to rub in his face that a bunch of mortals kicked his ass.”

He blinked, and then smirked and shook his finger. “You’d have to do better than that to get my help on this one. Monsters in general have a mutual non-interference agreement, unless we go into contract with someone.”

That one was out. I had no magical ability to speak of, and I wasn’t quite desperate enough to trade my soul for victory just yet. “Does non-interference also mean you won’t help him, either?”

“Why would I help him? That would make things outright impossible.”

Of course Xelloss would find it more interesting to let me build up my hopes before crushing them at the last possible moment. But at least we were going to get one fucking difficult boss battle out of the way.

“That’s the spirit!” Xelloss grinned. “And look, here come the victors valiant now!”

“You are so lucky my Dad is not around to kick your ass for that,” I muttered, jumping down from my perch to greet my team. “Rest up, everybody, you’ve earned it. Sakura, you lead the team to fight the Nothing when you’re ready.” I nodded at Sakura, who gave me a dubious look back before shrugging and returned Knives’ number one insane disciple to our realm. He had, by now, regained consciousness; he kept his expression unreadable, even when I leaned in to check on him. “Hey, I didn’t give you a concussion or anything, did I?”

He reads my mind for any thoughts I kept unspoken, and at last the mask broke, his eyes widening in shock as he saw that I was already planning the next battle, and he was a part of it. You expect me to fight for you, after what just happened? He sent straight into my mind.

Why not? You haven’t had any problem being a part of Team Pyrrhic Victory while thinking murderous thoughts about everyone before. And the other team members are either even more naive than Vash or at least willing to follow my lead—and then make fun of me afterwards if I screw up. I wrapped a cold compress around the bruise forming on Legato’s jaw. I’ve never asked you to like me or agree with anything I do. I was even nice enough to not make you fight against your beloved master. So what’s with the attitude now?

He stared, confusion becoming more evident on his features. Didn’t you used to have principles?

I found they’re not all that applicable in a fluff post about using fictional characters to solve problems. I gave him a pat on the shoulder, rose to my feet, and offered him my hand. It’s easier to just play to win. And more fun.

Xelloss appeared behind me. “Hey, you guys missed an exciting battle blabbling away in your little corner!” He clasped his hands together. “You should have seen Sakura, she was so wonderful she made me want to gag!”

That got a genuine smile out of me. “I’ll take your word for it.”

It seems my mirror counterpart passed the time reading “The Evil Overlord’s List” and started advising Hellmaster Phibrizzo to do the same, because as soon as he was in sight I seized up with incredible agony and sunk to the ground, coughing up blood. It felt like he’d broken every bone in my body—and he might have, given his powers.

As my team stood frozen in indecision (or so that was how things looked—I would be told later that a few of them were indeed quite worried about my well being, but they also knew to stick to the plan), Phibrizzo took a second or two to gloat.

This was our chance. Sakura activated the Hope card.

It didn’t matter that the series never said what the Hope Card was. It could have been as game breaking as a literal Deus Ex Machina or as “useless” as giving Sakura the strength to fight on. Each of Sakura’s cards were already potent wells of light magic, powered by Sakura’s absolute belief in all things good. Hope was the antithesis of a monster’s very being, and now we were all filled with an unshakable confidence in our eventual victory.

Through my own blinding pain I could hear Phibrizzo scream, and once more each time he tried to strike back—Legato and Kirby, copying Legato’s powers, were strong enough to give even a demon lord pause, Kongming’s lasers were pure, concentrated Light energy, and Vash’s Angel Arm was nothing to blink at, either. Soujirou and Snake ran interference and kept me safe from further harm.

“You should give up,” Xelloss advised, looking a bit green himself. “Miss Dot gets very, very scary when she’s determined to win.”

“I’ll kill you all!” Phibrozzo frothed, still attempting to do so and getting thwarted at every turn. “And then I’ll claim this world!”

Xelloss shook a finger at him. “Take a number, get in line.”

I nodded to Snake and Soujirou. This moment of distraction was enough. Soujirou flash-stepped him and Snake behind Phibrizzo, and then Snake activated the summoning device.

I was about to pass out from pain at this point, but there was one last thing I had to do. With some help from Vash, I staggered up to my mirror clone, who was staring in disbelief that I’d managed to win. One last push of the summoning device brought out a large, thick tome with “Myst” stamped on it in block print.

“You want to take over a world? Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” I ground out to my clone, pressing her hand against the page.

That was the last thing I remember before losing consciousness.

Bill showed up at the hospital for the ruling. “You’ve certainly earned an A for effort, especially for a self-imposed challenge on this level.”

We all leaned forward, waiting for the verdict.

Bonus Halloween Challenge

Okay, Rezo, Dante, and Voldemort have been let loose in our world, each one working against the others to create the most chaos. You and your team’s job, should you choose to accept it, is to stop the trio by any means necessary. If you need clarification on anything, feel free to ask.

I wake up to see two vague blurs, one blue and one purple, surrounding my bed. I groan and throw an arm over my eyes. Is it that time of the year already?

“Wakey wakey, Miss Authoress! No time for sleep, you’ve got a world to save!” Xelloss presses my glasses onto my face and levitates me out of the cocoon that is my blanket. “Leggy-kins, would you do the honors of getting our Fearless Leader into presentable clothes?”

That gets me to full alertness in a hurry. “I don’t need his help! Just give me a second!”

In record time I’m up and ready to tackle the latest challenge. The rest of the team is already in the living room helping themselves to breakfast, making small talk, or doing research on our opponents.

Sakura relinquishes her seat in front of the computer to show me what’s going on. “It doesn’t look good, Dot-san.”

I skim through the challenge and wince. “Ooh, yeah, it’s not gonna be pretty, but maybe—” I stand on the chair and raise my voice. “Okay, guys, listen up!” once I’m sure I’ve got everyone’s attention, I
continue: “We’re up against some serious, god-level firepower here, and some damn crafty minds to boot, but we also have two major advantages: first, the enemy will be fighting each other as much as
they’ll be opposing us; second, they won’t have access to the minions or resources they have. Now, then, as to the specifics:

We might not even have to fight Rezo the Red Priest—he’s actually a decent enough guy, just a little too intent on getting his sight back no matter what the cost. What he doesn’t realize is that a shard of Shaburanigdo—a monster in a class above Xelloss’—is sealed into his eyes. The only problem is I’m not sure how we can prove this without unleashing a freaking Dark Lord on the world. Still, he is where I think the Strategists have the best chance of negotiating a truce, if nothing else.

Any fight we start with Dante needs to be done somewhere the damage to living things—people, animals, plants, whatever—can be kept to a minimum. I’m going to assume that she can do her Alchemy here on Earth, so anything that dies will end up as fodder for a real Philosopher’s Stone. Hard-hitters, keep your eyes open when fighting her, since she can use anything in the environment—and I do mean ANYTHING—against you.

Voldemort, besides from being a powerful wizard, is a bully and a sadist besides. He won’t hesitate to use deadly force, but has a penchant for toying with an enemy if he thinks they’re too weak to threaten him or if he has a personal vendetta. On top of that, he’s not able to use his most devastating magic without his wand, so that’s the first thing that needs to get taken out. He’s also vulnerable to the Power of Love—yes, capital P Power, capital L Love, I am not making this up—and that’s a pretty damn weaksauce weakness if you ask me.

On top of all this, all three are highly intelligent, charismatic, and manipulative. I can’t emphasize enough that you shouldn’t underestimate them, even if you have a legitimate advantage over them.”

The briefing over, everyone separates into their respective groups to plan. I listen in on each of them from time to time, offering what advice I can (and bringing up relevant pages on Wikipedia whenever
necessary). Then we all wish each other well as each team take their tuns in kicking ass and chewing gum.

So how does my new roster end up performing? Let’s look at each team in order, shall we?

Team Sugar
Sakura’s Light-based magic carries the team to an easy win, though Kirby’s ability to spit back what the enemy dishes out and L’s supreme tactics do their part as well. Of all the groups, they have the easiest job convincing Rezo to give up his quest (it helps that the “Philsopher’s Stone” turns out to be nothing more than a shiny rock); with Sakura acting as distraction, Kirby sneaks up on Dante and eats her (she gets spat back out unharmed afterward); and old Voldy doesn’t so much get a single spell off.

Team Unfair Advantage
Kongming’s silver tongue brings Rezo around after a few rounds of cat-and-mouse, his taoist magic backed up by Doraemon’s gadgets (ah, the benefits of science so advanced it may as well be magic) means that team isn’t curbstomped and on top of that can fight any of the three opponents to a standstill. The fight against Dante is a bit tougher, wreaking havoc over a good chunk of the world, but Rezo intervenes at an unexpected moment and vaporizes her; again, with Doraemon’s help, the damage is undone just as fast. Voldy? He is reduced to tears by Doraemon’s “turn farts into inspirational speeches” device, Soujirou disarms him (and strips him naked for good measure), and Kongming fills him with lasery dearth.

Team Pyrrhic Victory
The threat of possible world annihilation by a party that isn’t him causes Xelloss to behave himself for once, imagine that! He darts between the three groups, offering his services and subverting them on every opportunity while somehow still proving to be invaluable enough to not get rebuffed by any of them. Legato, who as usual doesn’t care who wins as long as he gets to kill stuff, throws his lot in whoever will have him, pretending to be against Xelloss on principal. In her debut Flonne handles herself just fine, giving long, rambling speeches about Truth, Justice, and Love as she’s dishing out the pain. (She
also tries to infiltrate the enemy base once. Hilarity ensues, to the tune of Yakety Sax.) True to their name, Team Pyrrhic Victory wrecks most of the world, but hey, nobody but the bad guys died this time because Flonne’s also a healer! That means something, doesn’t it?

Summation – The bad guys are stopped, the new roster is awesome, and Team Fortress 2 is sucking up all my free time. Now, then, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some control points that need capping…

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