A/N- Yeah, so once again this chapter came out way later than I'd hoped (and maybe not quite as quality as I would like...), but I have excuses! Finals, final grading for my students, as well as some sort of highly uncomfortable inner ear issue that has assailed me for 3 weeks now with balance issues, exhaustion, lack of appetite, and now combined with some sort of chest issue causing aches and pains everywhere...ugh. Hopefully it will be resolved soon...

Anyway, but the chapter is finally here, and here's hoping over the next couple months at least I will have a little bit more open time to write! Maybe I'll get back up to being a few chapters ahead in the rough draft rather than just a page or two as is, and have more time to really focus on the plot and details...after all, we're getting close to climax...


Chapter 33

Tropic

/

It is a world of perfect contrasts

A realm where beauty dances with death

The clouds meet the mountains

Water pools in the trees

And the ground writhes with creatures untold

Take care not to get lost here

For two steps can turn you round

The jungle cloaks not just its secrets

But equally its visitors too

In splendor of life there is no equal

To the rainforest in its spread

But in same measure so too none compare

To the tropic's thousand mortal snares

-0-

Pawpua New Guinea loomed into view below and ahead of them the moment that they dropped below the thick cloud layer hanging peacefully in the sky over the equator. Incredibly lush and dramatic in structure, it was a landscape like no other and home to some of the most incredible creatures on the planet.

At least, that's what Nick thought he had heard Embron rambling on about earlier in that obsessively nerdy way he did whenever talking about the natural world. At any other time, he probably would have had a Judy-like fascination in visiting such an exotic place (and for free, nonetheless), but right then he simply couldn't find it in himself to share the coyote's enthusiasm for the island. All he knew and cared about was that Judy was down below somewhere, and the bastards responsible were hiding in that verdant jungle. Automatically, that made the jungle a disgrace in his eyes.

Perhaps not so oddly enough, that dampened the natural beauty of the place significantly, especially as the fox stared out the nearest window and examined the topography with a tainted view. Picturesque steep-sided mountains appeared to him more like sharpened, deadly obstacles, the wall to wall trees blanketing and deceptive veils. After a couple of minutes of this gazing out the window, Nick felt that antsiness of helpless inaction starting to build up to an intolerable level again too, and so to avoid reacting badly he knew he needed a distraction.

So, turning away, the reynard reached over and flipped Mack's fedora off his head.

"God-DAMMIT Wilde!" the red wolf screamed, dropping his phone immediately and flailing madly to try and catch the cranial adornment before it hit the floor. He failed miserably in this prospect, and awkwardly scooped the hat up to jam it back down over the cowlick that crowned his fur. Then, he turned and burned a hole through Nick with his gaze.

"I hate you."

Nick put on his best "talking to toddlers" face and placed one hand over his chest. "Aww, did I disturb your security cap?" he cooed.

Mack snarled, and twisted to point accusingly at Scarlet, who was innocently sitting near the head of the cabin and pretending to smile at the view outside the window nearest her. "And I hate you too, for telling him!"

The ocelot leaned back to look upside down at him with a perfect deadpan. "Not our fault you're too attached to your hat," she drawled. "Honestly, it's kind of cute though, how defensive you get."

"Screw you. Why not pick on Embron for his obsession with his coat?"

Nick turned his head, knowing the coyote would almost certainly have something to say about that remark. Sure enough without fail Embron twisted his own chair around too with a half-triumphant smirk.

"She does," he snarked, jerking a thumb at his sister, "but others don't for two reasons: one, this is a very expensive piece of technology with many purposes beyond being my favorite coat, so it is a bad thing if I lose it somewhere. Two, well…"

"Let me guess," Fangmeyer called up from the back of the cabin, "nobody else makes fun of you because you could pull sparky paws out on them."

"Interesting phrase…but yeah, more or less we'll go with that. The poor birdie over here doesn't have that glorious option."

"I'm somewhat peeved I don't have anything to throw at you," Mack muttered, leaning back in his chair (though not before taking a look around to make sure he didn't have anything within reach). "But lucky me, you'd avoid it or shoot it right back. One of these days I will find a way to gain revenge."

Suddenly the wolf perked up, and turned to hit Nick with a dangerous grin. "I could, however, bury you in embarrassment in a heartbeat," he mused saccharinely.

Nick scoffed. "Really. Many have tried, none have succeeded."

"Until a certain bunny blackmailed you with your back taxes. But to the others: how many of those individuals, dare I ask, can pull up your entire life history and its secrets with a push of a button?"

The fox rapidly clamped his mouth shut, ears falling back as his expression toward Mack turned wary. Mack, in turn, merely hummed, tapping a couple of times on his phone screen, and then his eyes lit up.

"Oh! How about the…'Hardy Girls' incident, is it?"

"NO!" Nick yelled, fur standing on end. Finnick, I swear I will strangle you for putting that out there! "There's nothing to talk about!"

"Oh, I don't know, I think it's plenty to talk about," Mack tittered, pursing his lips and cocking his head conspiratorially. "I mean, you do look pretty good in"-

"Alright, enough of the chitchat!" Dax's voice suddenly cut in through the cabin's intercom. All heads swiveled up either to a speaker, or toward the cockpit where he and Sam were busy actually flying the craft, and Nick gave a sigh of relief. On cue, the plane began to dip notably lower, and Dax continued, "Embron, we could use an extra pair of eyes to watch for surprises as we come in to land; everyone else, buckle up and get ready to disembark shortly!"

Embron sighed and stretched, before standing up out of his seat. "Well, let the fun begin," he muttered, sauntering up toward the cockpit. "You heard the ottsel, everyone get what gear you can now and then strap in. If we have to do anything fancy in a sec, you don't want to go rolling around the cabin."

"No duh," Wolfard quipped as the coyote disappeared, checking the straps and belts he had on before buckling himself snugly into his seat. "I feel like we've got enough crap on each of us that if someone goes flying we might just blow up."

"Nah, our explosives are more secure than that," Skye replied airily as she strapped in as well. "It's more we don't want to make Rocky or Scarlet waste energy having to hold you all in place. If there's a greeting party down below, we'd rather expend it all on them."

Nick couldn't help but let out a dark laugh at that. "Yeah, that's really reassuring," he muttered as he tightened his belts down. "Just warning you now, if this jet rolls I will not be held responsible for tossing cookies across the cabin." He glanced to the side and saw Fangmeyer about to make a comment in response. The tiger was cut off from doing so however as the jet abruptly dipped into a curve, and then leveled out on a hard descent.

Must have found the runway, Nick thought, ears swiveling toward the cockpit while his eyes slid in the direction of the nearest window. The mountains outside rose up past them, shrouded in low clouds and mist and standing sentinel. They were uncaring of the conflict below them, and Nick was almost envious. Mountains did not have to worry about the wars fought among animal-kind, ancient as they were; all they had to do was sit where they were and weather the rigors of time itself. Not so for the organisms that they loomed high over or supported of course.

Nick scowled, a knot re-forming in his stomach as silence commenced a new reign on their approach to the ground. His mind started to roll, playing out scene after scene of what could be coming up for them: missiles launched from the forest (undoubtedly the Primalists knew that the Gifteds would keep him alive, and could try wiping out the rest of the team), traps of a thousand forms in the area ready to spring as soon as they stepped off, or maybe a thousand conscripted mammals to battle through, who knew.

Sure, he could think up one or two scenarios where he, Embron, Fangmeyer, and company all got through, found Judy, and got out scot free, but Nick was still not quite free of his pessimistic and cynical old self so those positive notions were easily overshadowed by all the scenarios he knew were far more likely. Something would go wrong; it always did, and if they all got out of this it would at best be by the skin of their teeth. The thought of losing any of the friends around him was almost as nauseating as the current separation from his partner.

The first shadowy thought did not come to pass, luckily, and the plane touched down on the rather bumpy dirt runway without any explosive projectiles coming to greet them on the way down. For a moment Nick feared that it wouldn't be the rolling of the jet that would make him vomit, but the sheer uneven turbulence caused by the runway itself. Luckily for him (and everyone else close to him) though they slowed and came to a halt long before he could even turn properly green under his red fur, and activity immediately skyrocketed in the jet.

Scarlet and Rocky were immediately out of their seats and situated themselves right against the main doors, paws up and scanning holograms forming in front of them as they took in the forest flanking the runway. Hundreds of moving red and orange blips could be seen flitting about amongst the darker trees in the images, and Nick figured they had to be representing either heat signatures or bioscans; the two predators were looking for Primalists or the conscripted mammals that might be working for the Primalists. After a couple of minutes of this scanning however, as everyone else gathered their gear up, both Scarlet and Rocky dropped the holograms and turned.

"Not seeing anything currently," Rocky said, slinging a couple of straps over his shoulders and tightening them. "So, time to disembark. But, I'm not calling us out of the woods yet as it's possible Lotera is setting down cloaks. Everyone keep a gun up, and be ready to duck if we call it." He focused directly on Nick, eyes hard. "Stick in the middle of the group, Fangmeyer and Wolfard with you. Grab the supplies so we can distribute what we can carry outside, and then get everything locked up. Let's move!"

Doors opened, and Rocky and Scarlet took point. They kept their paws up and at the ready, Rocky with a gun in the grip of one and Scarlet with bladed explosives in both. The heat and humidity rolled into the plane past them, and as they started climbing down to the runway Nick held back the temptation to start panting. This weather was way worse than the Rainforest District, and he almost felt like he should have been swimming through the air instead of walking, thick as the humidity was. Twisting a little, he could see out the corner of his eye that Wolfard was feeling the same way, but the guy was a dedicated mammal and hid his discomfort well. Nick couldn't see her as she'd exited out the other side of the jet, but he had to guess that Skye was suffering the worst of all of them, Arctic mammal as she was and without the option of regulating herself as the Gifteds like Rocky were able to (Embron heating the ground up at Big's house popped into Nick's mind).

The sounds of millions of birds and insects sounded from the vegetation around them, and Nick found it hard to try and focus on any one noise to identify it; each resonant call blended into the rest, weaving in and out of the spot for loudest. The tod looked around too as everyone started gathering outside the plane, watching flickers among the trees and bushes and his ears following any rustles and calls that he could tell (or thought he could tell) were closer than the rest. A chill slithered its way down his spine though only a moment later; he felt like he was being watched, and not by anyone that had come with him.

"Embron," Nick whispered, turning slightly so that he could see the coyote but his eyes continually flicking back to the forest, "someone's out there; I can feel their eyes on the back of my head."

Embron scowled and nodded, his own pupils scanning the trees with a frightening intensity. "We need to identify them then," he muttered. "if it's just a local tribe we probably don't need to worry much, especially if anyone here can translate, but if it's the Primalists…"

The coyote trailed off, then turned and snapped his fingers at Samantha and Dax. "You two are our best eyes in the sky; see if you can do a perimeter sweep. Mack, they may not be as useful on the ground but if you can get satellite coverage then we"-

Something small and rounded came flying out of the trees to the north, bouncing a couple of times across the dirt and cutting Embron off before it came to rest among them. Everyone turned to stare at the object for a second, adrenaline spiking as they tried to identify it.

Rocky reacted first. "Hit the deck!" he shouted, holstering the gun in his paws and bolting for the sphere as everyone else heeded his order. They dropped to the ground and covered their heads, and the Arctic tod leapt up with intent to plant himself over what he knew had to be a weapon.

Before he landed the sphere beeped, and a blinding flash erupted around it accompanied by the raucous buzzing of electrical currents. The wall of energy met the fox midair and shoved him backward a touch, but he managed to focus on retention of the blast just in time and prevented it from expanding any further as he landed again. However with his hands now full, he was vulnerable.

The sound of a hundred other projectiles flying though the air proved this and sent everyone into another frenzy; the electric bomb was more distraction than anything else, and now everyone was flat on the ground and left vulnerable to the arrows and darts flying in at high speed. Scarlet leapt to her feet and planted herself in front of Nick, raising her hands to hold a barrier, and Embron did the same near Jack, Harrison, and some of the other agents, but the rest were left scrambling to their feet and diving for what little cover the small piles of supplies they had already brought out offered.

A couple arrows found their marks before everyone could get behind a blockade however, and yells of pain sounded. Nick spun to see in particular a boar from Trevahe's loaned contingent go down with a shaft sticking out through the side of his neck, a perfect shot. The fox's stomach twisted, and he looked away and back toward where Rocky had planted himself behind the electric bubble still buzzing up from the bomb. At least the other tod could use the enemy's weapon as his own protection for the time being.

"Dammit Rocky, use that thing already!" Scarlet snapped, dropping one paw to grab the gun on her belt and fire a couple of shots into the trees.

"I'm working on it!" the fox snapped back, brows furrowing deep as he focused hard. He twisted on his feet, threw his hands up and out, and the roiling half-sphere of light that had been burning a circle into the ground followed the motion. An arcing stream of power soared upward and then splashed down in amongst the trees ahead of him.

Several screams echoed in response, however overall the return of their own weapon against them seemed to do little in the way of slowing the overall intensity of the horizontal rain of projectiles still flying out of the forest. There was, however, just enough of a lull for everyone to hole up behind cover and pull out their guns to return fire. That, at least, seemed to do something in regard to the attack.

Then Rocky yelped as a bullet tore through his right arm from behind him, and he spun to let loose several slugs of his own across toward the jungle flanking the opposite side of the jet. "We're surrounded!" he yelled, clamping his currently free paw over the wound as he fired. "Cover your backs!"

Another bullet whizzed past his ears, and he snarled, twisting the gun and firing straight down the line it had targeted him from. To his grim satisfaction, something howled in pain.

Nick had his gun in hand as well and was firing where he could, but compared to those around him he was feeling rather useless. Even Fangmeyer was managing to maintain a constant barrage from behind the trunk full of rations she'd taken cover by. As just a target to be protected, basically Nick was doing little past being the source of the conflict itself. It irked him, being stuck here but fundamentally useless, and he kept scanning around him looking for something, anything that could be done differently.

For a moment the tod swore he could hear amidst the gunfire Judy's voice sneak through and into his head. "Stop just sitting there Nick! If you're the target, use that as a tool!"

He blinked, and looked up out at the forest. None of the arrows or bullets that were flying out of the dappled gloom were directed at him, he realized. Occasionally a dart would fly past, someone likely trying to tranquilize him or some similar method to bring him down for collection (not much good it'd do them though, he thought with a smirk, what with all the agents and his friends being close enough to just yank him back to safety), but all the fire was directed at everyone else. And of course it would be; the other side couldn't risk killing him after all.

Raising his head up further, but keeping it still shielded enough by a supply canister to ward off further darts, Nick peered around to find patterns in the fire. Most of it was coming from two major regions within the flanking forest: one on either side of the jet, and more from the flank to their north than from their south. Glancing away from them, he looked down and tapped at the protective pads in the suit Scarlet had given him. Supposedly, they were the same material as Scarlet's entire outfit, and Embron's beloved coat, and that gave him an idea.

"Scarlet!"

The ocelot paused from the surprise of the call, glancing at the reynard between shots. "What? Trying to get your head taken off?"

"No! Look, how tough is this suit I'm in? Will it stop a tranq dart?"

"It'll stop most low-caliber bullets and projectiles in their tracks, but it doesn't cover all of you!"

"Yeah, I know! But they need me to be alive and well, so they're not going to risk any direct shots at me! I can act as a buffer myself if you can keep the darts away from my head. Can you use that for anything?"

Clearly this was a novel notion, using the target as the shield, and it was enough to give Scarlet real pause. She knelt down slightly, one paw up still to hold up a barrier as she pondered over Nick's claim. Nick, for his part, kept up firing as he watched her, switching magazines in his pistol halfway through, and then he saw her ears perk.

"You do have something, don't you?"

Scarlet nodded. "If we can figure out where most of them are," she began.

"Grouped in greatest numbers there and there if weapons fire is indicative, and it probably is since bullets and arrows move in a straight line," Nick interjected, jerking his thumb to either side of the jet.

Scarlet blinked at him, and then grinned. "Impressive. And perfect. Embron! I need the Shuri-mines, you got a few more?"

"Yeah, why?" the coyote called over, digging inside his coat and tossing a handful of little gray cylinders their way.

Scarlet caught them and held them carefully between her fingers. "Just get everyone down when I say!" she replied tersely. Turning to Nick, she jerked her head back toward the jet. "Cover me back to the stairs," she instructed, crouching as low as she could while maintaining enough balance to run.

Nick nodded and stood up, placing himself between her and the forest they were closest to. Almost immediately a dart zinged toward his neck, but true to her words Scarlet flicked an ear and it stopped short, dropping to Nick's feet. Confidence bolstered, they both scuttled back to the stairs leading up to the jet and Nick stopped at the base, for a moment wondering why Scarlet was needing him for this and not just holding a barrier over herself. Then he noticed her fiddling with the cylinders; whatever it was, she apparently needed most of her focus on it rather than a full-body shield. Two seconds later she looked up at him deadly serious.

"Get down and stay flat, cover your head with your arms," she ordered.

Nick didn't hesitate, dropping flat to the earth. At the same time, Scarlet dashed up the stairs and from there leapt up on top of the jet, planted herself in a racing crouch, and yelled out, "Everyone drop! Rocky, Embron, get ready!"

The cops and agents dropped again, and Embron and Rocky both took kneeling positions with their arms up in defensive postures similar to Scarlet's, facing opposite sides of the plane.

The Primalists obviously figured out Scarlet was about to do something displeasurable for them, as arrows and gunfire both began to pepper the jet and force her to keep moving to avoid getting hit (she was still focusing on the cylinders rather than barrier fields), but she didn't wait very long to shorten their chances for target practice. Buttons were pushed somewhere and the cylinders lit up with flashing lights, blades whipping out of the sides. The ocelot somersaulted and whirled, her hands swinging outward, and the little weapons went spinning out in either direction in two big clustered groups. They disappeared into the trees, a couple of screams indicating a few of the blades on each had hit more than wood or vines, and half a second later nearly a dozen explosions lit up the jungle.

Nick felt the shockwaves through both the ground and the air, and as they blasted past he looked up to see the three Gifteds stand up into the pressure waves, arms up and paws flat out to either side in front of them before they each swept their limbs outward in a wide sweep. All around them, the flames mimicked the act. They froze midair and locked in burning walls before sweeping back and outward through the trees, clearing out the forest for more than a hundred yards from the runway.

As the roar of the flames died back too, the air went silent, not even birds or insects singing anywhere in the proximity anymore. Nick could hear everyone around him breathing hard, himself included, but they were no longer assailed by bullets and arrows. His head perked up slightly, looking around, and nearby he spotted Embron with his paws still out, but this time with another hologram spread in between them.

"Whatever cloak they had on them is down now," he announced. "I can count…about a dozen and a half larger heat signatures, most heading away rapidly now. I think the rest are casualties."

"I can run a quick surveillance check to confirm if it'll help," Samantha offered, ruffling her feathers out as she stood up too. Embron nodded, and she took off into the trees, but the coyote was clearly keeping track of her on his scan just in case someone was left behind waiting for such a move.

"While she's scouting, we should start to prepare our own plan for searching," Jack spoke up as he dusted his clothes off. "And get the supplies distributed as we need to." He kept his gun up and pointed to the forest, but turned to look between his fellow agents and others present instead of staying pinned on the trees. "It's clear they're not waiting now, so we can't either. Whatever method we choose will have drawbacks; we need to decide which option is the lesser evil."

"Because we can't cover a lot of ground if we stay as a group," Wolfard concluded as he stood up with Fangmeyer, nodding slightly in agreement with the rabbit, "and we'd lose a lot of stealth capacity. But we'll be more vulnerable if we split up."

"Yeah, and some of us are sort of not at all built for field work, mind you," Mack added in, still dusting himself (and his hat) off and looking nervously at the trees. He'd stayed mostly behind a supply case the whole time, just barely managing to keep his own gun pointed out. "I still don't know where I'm fitting in with actually coming along to here; I'll slow down any group you set me in."

Scarlet slid down off the jet and landed lightly before walking over to Mack, digging through one of her pockets and pulling out a pair of what looked like small floppy disks. She handed them to the wolf with a dead serious expression. "So we won't have you go anywhere," she said. "There's the risk they'll come back and blow the plane up after we leave to limit us to the supplies we can carry, so it's not safe to just stay in or immediately around it, but link into these and you should have both digital signal and physical cloaks to help keep you from being found." The ocelot looked down the length of the runway, and pursed her lips. "Find a place to hunker down and no one will find you, but you can still track and help direct us, and hopefully fudge the Primalists' airwaves while you're at it."

Mack looked uncertainly down at the disks, then back up at Scarlet, and scowled. "Great. Just what I wanted, to sit alone in the middle of a rainforest."

"So you would rather tag along with us and possibly be shot at again?"

The red wolf's ears flattened and he glared at her, before looking down again at the disks and pulling out a tablet, tapping away on it and shuffling away as he muttered under his breath. Everyone caught the "I'm commandeering the drones with the rest of this then, period" however.

"Well, doesn't he look chipper," Samantha commented from above, having just exited from the forest and coming in to land as she watched Mack shuffle down the runway. Then her head cocked up to look over at Jack, Embron, and then Harrison. "Nobody alive stuck around, but there were a few bodies; one still moving, but he tried to shoot me so he isn't anymore." Her expression turned grimmer than it already was. "A few felids and a larger monitor lizard of some sort among them, but half of them at least were local singing dogs, looked like; the Primalists conscripted a tribe."

Nearby, Vela groaned as she checked over her gun. "Fantastic," she spat. "We've got innocents being used as pawns; holiday at home, feels like." She snarled and looked up. "If anyone knows the local language that might help us sway some of them our way and get them to move to safety, but this sucks." She smashed the magazine back into the gun's handle and slammed it back into its holster. "So how are we going about the search?"

Dax raised his hand. "Sam and I can fly surveillance," he said. "If that lizard shows up and blocks Mack's use of satellites or our drones by chance then you still have our eyes in the sky."

"Yes, but if you're too far ahead or otherwise afield of any of us then you'll immediately become easy targets for the Primalists, and we're not great at protecting you from several miles off," Jack countered.

"We're all gonna be targets one way or another," Sam also countered back, waving a wing in emphasis. "Point is, we need to cover ground, and we need to have at least a little protection to our backs, so maybe we'll split into just two or three groups, one head in a westerly direction and another east and so on, and Dax and I can maintain a scout ahead a short ways and report back on regular." She nodded toward the end of the runway, and twisted her wing to point a feather to one side. "Chances are there are a couple of roads or paths leading off the runway here, and they'll have used whichever one leads to their base of operations to get supplies of their own out there, so we just pick a couple and more or less follow them."

Nick raised a paw, and everyone turned toward him.

"Yes, Wilde?" Jack asked, regarding him with an apprehensive stare.

"Yeah, sorry to be worst case scenario but what will you do if they do somehow manage to get to me while we're searching?" the fox asked. "There a way to get a tracker on me so you could just follow the signal right there, get Judy and I both out?"

"Not a chance," Jack shot down, shaking his head. "And this among the reasons we implored you to stay behind. Never mind we don't want you grabbed, period, but if you have any electronic devices on you Lotera knows we have Mack on our side and he'll short them out, rendering that method dead in the water."

"Well, not entirely," Rocky interjected. Now all heads swiveled his way, as he continued checking over the weapons on his person.

"You have a tracking method that Lotera doesn't know about?" Harrison queried curiously, his ears swiveling forward in time with his words.

Rocky shrugged nonchalantly, and glanced up. "Probably. Most folks are never taught about special but normally useless traits that other species have, so I doubt he knows about fox sense."

"Wait, what?" Fangmeyer asked, the tiger's head turning and staring at Rocky like she expected a punch line. "You wanna run that one by us again? Fox sense?"

"Case in point," Rocky said dryly, smirking up at her and sweeping a paw her way. "Foxes can almost literally see the earth's, and by extension other animals', magnetic field lines. Way back when it was one of our hunting tools. Of course it's normal for us so we don't typically make a fuss about it, gets some vulpines steady jobs as guides and such, but in this case I already went ahead and modified Wilde's field so I can keep an eye out in the magnetosphere for his signature. Embron should have noticed it too by now, Skye might also be able to see it."

Embron groaned and slid a paw down over his muzzle. "Oh sure, now I feel like a blockhead," he quipped. "I'm the one who's supposed to remember the little biological quirks like that; thanks Rocky."

"My pleasure. Not often I get one over you there, so I've got to enjoy it when I can." The Arctic fox smirked, before looking back to Nick. "So, there should be at least one of each of us in however many groups we make, so no more than three. That way no matter where you go, if God forbid we do lose hold on you, there should be someone in that direction who can track you."

"Then we need to separate out now and get searching," Harrison spoke up again, looking at Jack. "Who's going with who? We have parameters to work with now so let's get in order."

Jack crossed his arms, looking critically through each member in their group. After a couple of minutes he finally gave a short nod, and started pointing. "Alright, we'll make three groups," he announced. "Nick, you will be with Embron and Scarlet, Psitticoney, Wolfard and Fangmeyer, Ringston, and I. Rocky, you head out with Voltom, Pristovena, Lubella, Treba, and Morel, and the rest of you will be as one group: Wellinger, Tubolinez, Highwater, Forsythe, and Fangel. Our group will head northwest, Rocky's to the east/northeast, and Skye's to the south, along whatever paths you can find leading out from here. Make sure," he enunciated sharply, "that you do not walk the paths themselves. That will make you easier targets. Skirt the sides, keep your coms on but at low volume, and as soon as anyone finds anything notify the others so we can reconvene and strike as one. We'll keep Mallupe on the line at all times as well if we need cyber interference or to call in more backup now that we finally have Trevahe's support."

Jack paused and held his severe stare for several seconds, but after that brief moment he gave a sigh and deflated a little. "And though I know this is not a situation we want to consider," he added more softly, "the fact stands that we do not know how long the Primalists have been here or how much influence they've had on the locals. Treat anyone you might encounter as a possible threat, avoid detection where you can, and be ready to use lethal force if necessary. We pull no punches: find the site, get Hopps out, and then level the place to the ground."


A/N- And now we've got almost everyone in the same region finally; Avery and Saber and company will catch up shortly too, no worries (or is that worry a lot instead?). It's just about time to throw the match into the gas puddle and make something really blow up again...

As always, let me know your thoughts, predictions, suggestions etc. in your reviews! And keep an eye out on my other stories as they're updated, as well as my DA account, where all the art for these stories and more is and will be posted!

Until next time, HawkTooth out!