As she got ready to close up shop, Kido Shuuko looked out at the calm, peaceful night and sighed happily. She enjoyed nights like this, when all was quiet...
"AAAIIIIIEEEEEEEE!" came a loud scream from inside, disturbing the peace for miles around. Shuuko sighed and turned to enter Higureya, whose proprietor was the one causing all the ruckus.
"Higure-san, what's happening?" she asked as she entered.
The otaku turned slowly, a piece of paper in his hand. "If we don't get about five hundred thousand zenny in the next day, we're finished, demasu!" he gasped. "How will we manage to do that?"
After hearing the news, Shuuko had frozen in place, just as shocked as Higure was. "I... I don't know," she said.
"We have to think of something, demasu!"
"I know, but what? Hey, wait! We could hold a contest!" she exclaimed, her face lighting up with the realization.
"What kind of a contest, demasu?" asked Higure glumly, pulling Shuuko's mood down a bit too. "Not a tournament... remember what the turnout for the last one was?"
"True," said Shuuko, "but the prize didn't really appeal to many Netbattlers, even if it was very good. Something that hasn't been done before, with the best prize ever..."
Higure was already getting the keys to his van. "We'll go to the sports store for ideas!" he said. "Digital mountain climbing or racing or some such, demasu..."
"According to my calculations," interrupted Numberman, "it will take us thirty-two minutes and twelve seconds to get there. By that time, it will be closed."
"Wait!" exclaimed Shuuko, struck with inspiration. "Mountain climbing... racing... orienteering!"
Higure was clueless, having never heard of the sport. "Orient-what?"
"Orienteering," repeated Shuuko. She explained, "The competitors are given a map and a compass and have to navigate through unfamiliar territory. Along the way, there are checkpoints with different stamps at them, and the person who stamps his or her map at the most of them within the time limit wins." Before Higure could ask how she knew, she said, "I participated in an event last summer."
There was a long pause.
"We're saved, demasu!" exclaimed the chip otaku, abruptly taking Shuuko's hands and dancing around the store. "We'll get flyers put up everywhere by tomorrow, and we'll charge five hundred zenny per person-sure, it'll take a lot of contestants, but I'm sure it'll work. And maybe we can get someone from Densan News Network down here, too-but there's no time to lose, demasu! Let's work on those flyers!"
The next day, Kaita found it impossible to ignore the bright flyers around town, five tacked to every telephone pole and one on every door. "Navi Orienteering Competition?" he wondered. "Turboman, have you ever heard of something like that?"
"Nope," Turboman responded bluntly. "It sounds more interesting than sitting around and doing nothing all weekend, though," he continued, thinking it over. "And I bet there's some sort of prize, too! Why not give it a try?"
"Well, okay," said Kaita. "Higureya Chip Shop, huh? I've never been there before. Let's go, Turboman!"
When they arrived, Higureya wasn't just crowded. It overflowed with competitors, who were standing outside the little shop in hordes. Kaita shoved his way inside as quickly as he could, where the brown-haired man behind the counter was screaming, "WE'RE RICH!" at the top of his lungs. By his side, a redheaded woman wearing a strange-looking frog hat was scribbling furiously into a notebook.
The purple-haired woman who was already signing up five people at the same time said, "Could you wait over there, please? I'll only be a few more minutes." After a long while, she finally pushed a clipboard to him. "Just put down your name and your Navi's name, pay five hundred zenny, find a spot to plug in over there, and you'll be ready!"
"Oh, um... hi, Kaita-kun," said a familiar voice from behind the boy.
"Mary-chan!" exclaimed Kaita. "Are you entering the contest?"
"You bet she is!" called Ring as Mary put down the pair's names. "I was on the Internet earlier this morning, and I saw that there's going to be a huge prize! We're definitely going to win!"
"Not if we do first!" Turboman shot back.
"Everyone!" called Shuuko, stopping all conversation. "Plug-in and get ready!"
"Hello-pyu!" greeted a childish voice as the Navis entered Higureya's homepage. To everyone's surprise, it was filled with miles of thick jungle, with a massive mountain towering up from the center of the page. The owner of the childish voice, an equally childish and blue-tinted Navi, continued, "I'm Aquaman-pyu! Me and Numberman are going to be the announcers in the Internet!"
"And I'm Midorikawa Kero, the real-world correspondent!" said the redhead, enthusiastically overpowering anyone trying to talk over the announcements. "We've got an impressive turnout here at the world's first orienteering competition for Navis, and it most definitely won't disappoint! Okay, now let's explain a few things. There're twenty checkpoints hidden throughout the webpage before you, and you have two hours to find them, get your map stamped, and hurry over to the finish line! The one with the most stamps wins!" As an example, Aquaman held up a large Metool stamp. "They're all on noticeably different landmarks, so it should be easy to find them if you don't get confused. Of course, no pulling pranks-we'll know if you do!"
At Numberman's frantic signal, Aquaman took the spotlight back from Kero before she could hijack the whole announcement. "And now for the prize-pyu! It's a bunch of Battlechips, and some of them are really rare-pyu!" In the real world, Shuuko took a mid-sized tray out from behind the counter. It was piled with Battlechips; this caused Higure to regain his senses.
"Huh? Nobody told me that we had a prize, demasu..." He frowned. "Well, they don't seem to be too bad. No, wait a minute!" His eyes, fine-tuned to detect even the most minute trace of a rare chip, suddenly sent warning signals racing through his brain. "That's a METEOR chip, demasu! What's that doing in-Gold Fist? Triple Lance? AAAAGH!"
"I'm sorry, Higure-san, but I thought that you'd react this way, so I didn't tell you," said Shuuko sheepishly.
"And it's a good thing, too!" chirped Kero. "According to this poll, only twenty-five percent came because they thought that a Navi orienteering contest would be interesting," she read off the notebook before her. "The other seventy-five heard about the prize, and ninety-two percent of those polled don't even know what orienteering is!"
"Oops," laughed Shuuko nervously, blushing slightly. "I guess we should've put something about it on the posters..." She gave her employer a reassuring pat on the back. "Don't worry! I'm sure we'll be able to buy the chips back." Higure didn't recover at all, and she nervously added, "I hope so, anyway..."
"Anyway," said Aquaman, "let's start this-pyu!" The little Navi summoned a pastel-hued pipe and pointed it skyward. "On your mark-pyu, get set-pyu..." A huge burst of water shot up from the pipe as Aquaman shouted, "Go!"
"And they're off!" shouted Kero as the Navis burst forward, nearly trampling poor Aquaman as he tried to return to the commentator's box. "Who will emerge victorious in two hours' time? Who knows-but for now, let's track a few of our contestants and cheer them on!"
The Navis went their separate ways, and Ring was soon deep in the digital jungle. "Landmarks, huh?" she wondered to herself, looking down at the map before her. "So, around here, there should be a hill," she said, looking up at her map to find it right in front of her. Hovering just above its peak was a Garuu-shaped stamp. "Awesome! At this rate, those Battlechips are mine!" she laughed as she walked forward, disregarding the odd features of the hill before her until she smacked into its one-dimensional form and caused it to topple over.
She stared up at the little wolf. It floated there, exhibiting no helpful qualities whatsoever. Like the unreachable light at the end of a long and terrible tunnel, the stamp hovered in the air, far above Ring's head. "You're kidding," she muttered, looking from the painted flat to the stamp, still perched on nothing. "You have got to be kidding." It kidded her not; there it floated, high above her reach. After a few more minutes of glaring at it, she said, "I hope it's not fragile. Ring Boomerang!" The plastic Garuu's head was sliced off, but the important part of it dropped to the ground in one piece. After stamping her map, she tossed it upwards, where it suspended itself in the air once again. "Now then... this one's to the north of here..."
Gutsman wandered about, already lost. "So, there's a river here, de gutsu..." he muttered to himself, looking up. Before him stretched a vast desert, with no signs of water in sight.
A window popped up beside him. "Gutsman?" asked Chisao, wishing fervently that he was allowed to provide something more useful than a limited amount of moral support. Watching his brother's Navi (when he made dumb mistakes, ownership of Gutsman magically reverted back to Dekao) stumble about was pretty frustrating.
"What, de gutsu?" he asked innocently, oblivious to both the problem at hand and a second one that was currently in the bushes to either side of him, its two key components waiting for Chisao's window to vanish.
"I'll put this as nicely as I can," he said, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself to the point where he wouldn't shout. "You've got the map upside-down, Gutsman!"
Gutsman blinked at it and turned it around experimentally. Ignoring the snickering coming from the bushes, he realized, "So that's why it was so hard to understand, de gutsu!"
"Yes!" exclaimed Chisao. "Now, just keep it that way, and you won't have much more trouble. Good luck!" With that, the screen disappeared, and Gutsman was left to his own devices.
Gutsman studied the map for a few more moments before pressing on. Unfortunately, those moments were just enough for the other trouble to make itself known. Gutsman hadn't even looked up before Arrow paralyzed him with a well-timed Roulette Shaft. Sparkman calmly hoisted Gutsman over his head and shoved him head-first into a nearby tree stump, where his paralysis wore out. Arrow and Sparkman high-fived each other and went off to find more hapless contestants to trick.
Turboman had already found three of the checkpoints: one in a river filled with Navi-eating piranhas, one in the mouth of a killer whale, and one inside someone's moldy sandwich. None of them had looked half as dangerous on the map, and it made the red Navi suspicious of the next checkpoint, a Billy stamp in the middle of a seemingly peaceful meadow.
It was best to approach with utmost stealth. Turboman crawled forward, flat against the ground, until he heard snapping noises just above him and realized that the spoiler on his back was sticking up and ruining his approach. After picking the leaves and twigs out of it, he decided to walk normally toward the center of the meadow, admiring the flowers surrounding him. "Now, where's that stamp..."
"Wow, this is a collector's edition, puku!" said an obnoxious voice from below a nearby bush. "If I sell this stamp on Nbay, I'll make a fortune, puku!" The owner of the voice soon crawled out, revealing himself to be a short, fat Navi dressed in something similar to scuba gear. Turboman was less concerned about this stranger's looks and more worried over what the little Navi was cheerfully putting in his rucksack-the stamp!
"Hey, you!" Startled, the Navi whirled around, backing away.
"Back off, puku! This stamp is now the property of the great Bubbleman!" proclaimed the fat-lipped Navi, sticking one finger dramatically in the air. He was still backing up in that position when Turboman allowed the tree directly behind Bubbleman to do most of the work for him. Bubbleman crashed into the hard trunk and fell over, dazed. Shaking his head, Turboman took the plastic Billy from the twitching hands of its 'owner' and lifted the map.
That was all the time Bubbleman needed to recover and latch onto the stamp, hanging on for dear life as his much taller opponent wildly threw him around in his attempts to shake the little Navi off. "Just... give... up!" shouted Turboman in frustration, tugging as hard as he could. Bubbleman had planted his feet on Turboman's leg, serving to irritate him further. The two were almost equally matched, one driven by a love for money and the other by a desire to just get this insane contest over and done with already.
"I'll take that!" A pair of pink mittens belonging to a third party suddenly yanked the little Billy from the fighters' hands. Relieved of what all of their strength had been focused on, they toppled to the ground, only able to helplessly watch as Ring stamped her map. "Here you go, Turboman," she said, tossing it over the head of Bubbleman to her friend, who almost dropped it in his surprise.
"Uh, Ring, where should I put this?" he asked after stamping his map. Bubbleman was attempting to climb up the red Navi's leg to reach the stamp, which Turboman found a bit disturbing and very uncomfortable.
Ring thought about it for a moment before deciding, "Mm... aah, just give it to him. He'd take it the moment we left, anyway, and it cuts down on the competition." Before Turboman could say a word, she scolded, "And don't take after your Operator and ask if we'd get in trouble. We can always say this little guy took it while we were off guard or something, can't we?"
"I wasn't going to say anything," he replied, shoving Bubbleman unceremoniously to the ground and tossing the stamp down after him. Snatching up the plastic figurehead and stuffing it in his rucksack, Bubbleman ran off, not even bothering to thank the two.
It was with a self-assured swagger that Arrow and Sparkman left their latest victim, a humanlike Navi wearing an ornate dress whose detail combined with the high traffic on Higureya's server had left her rather slow, hanging on a flagpole by the skirt to move on to bigger and eviler things. This included carefully stacking Minibombs around the base of Higure's crowning masterpiece: the mountain in the center of the page. There was a stamp at the tip, but why go to all the trouble of climbing for it when other, more violent options were available?
"That should be enough," decided Teruo after the mountain's base was lined with Minibomb pyramids. "Toss this, and the whole thing'll go down! Minibomb, slot-in!" The final one precariously balanced between Sparkman's spikes as he took aim.
"Here it-" began Sparkman, lifting his arms to throw... and that was when something descended upon him and Arrow, swallowing them both whole.
Teruo openly gaped in shock, attracting the attention of the rule-abiding contestants around him. "What the heck? Sparkman!"
There were three things that were apparent about the mysterious attacker from the start: it was red, it was gelatinous, and it had a Kinglish accent. "Good heavens! What is that horrible taste?" exclaimed the blob.
As the red mass proceeded to eject two Navi-shaped bits of itself before sighing in slight relief, Turboman arrived on the scene, staring at it in disbelief. "It can talk?" he asked, paying no attention as the goo-covered forms of Arrow and Sparkman landed behind him with two simultaneous splats.
"Why, yes, it can talk," said the pile of gunk indignantly. "My name is Proto, and I-oh, good lord, what is this-errrrrrgh..." It was obvious what the problem was at a glance; Proto's absorption of the mountain wasn't finished, as its sharp tip was buried a few inches in.
"Let me see if this helps it any... Ring Boomerang!" called Ring, concentrating her rings on the area in front of the mountaintop. The red goo cleared away a bit when the rings hit it, revealing the tip of the stuck object. Turboman quickly grabbed it before the goo could close over it, and between his and Ring's pulling and Proto's pushing, it came free.
"Thank you, mates," said the very large and amorphous mass of red goo, sealing the relatively small hole the two had managed to put in it in the blink of an eye. "I was beginning to fear that I'd never get that thing out of me. Have you any idea how uncomfortable it was? I was trying to have it for a little afternoon snack, but I suppose that it was a tad too sharp. I really should watch what I absorb. I'm not as young as I used to be, you know." Proto straightened. "Anyway, I must repay you somehow..."
Turboman frowned, thinking. "I don't know. I guess it would be nice if you didn't absorb too many other important things... Someone probably worked pretty hard on designing that mountain, after all."
"Really?" The red blob thought it over, and finally seemed to nod. "Well, I suppose that wouldn't be too hard. Anything for you two!" Proto ejected a pocketwatch from itself, flipping it open to check the time. "Great Scott, I'm missing my cricket game with Serenade. I must be off! Cheerio!" And with that, Proto moved off to some other part of the Internet, leaving behind Turboman, Ring, the dripping-wet mountaintop, and the two miserable-looking and equally sodden troublemakers.
Arrow moaned as she managed to drag her unwilling body into a sitting position. "Nikumu-san, I'm sorry," she sighed, cringing in preparation of a scolding. But all she got in reply was silence. Surprised, she repeated, "Nikumu-san? What's going on?"
"We've got trouble, Sparkman! Return!" called Teruo, an unusual amount of urgency in his voice. Sparkman and the other three didn't even have much of a chance to process what the brat in the blue-and-purple newsboy cap had said before the Navi was plugged out.
Ring grinned. "Ha! I bet it's the Net Police that-oh!" To her surprise, she disappeared from sight as well, Turboman quickly following her in going back to his Operator's PET. Arrow stared in fright at the disappearances.
"Oh, no... They've found us, haven't they? What'll they do to me when they've got me?" wondered Arrow, now completely alone. Though she'd never been caught before, she'd heard enough rumors about how the Net Police dealt with multiple-time offenders to petrify anyone with fear. But soon, the worry gave way to laughter. "Hey, stop it, that tickles! Quit messing with my data! What're you doing-"
She logged out, emerging in a vacant PET. When she saw who was holding it, she was understandably surprised. "Black?"
"Don't gawk, it's rude," teased the brunette. "Aren't you going to thank me?"
Arrow frowned, still a bit confused. It didn't help that Black cheerfully smiling was, though not unheard of, somewhat rare. "Well, okay, thanks... but where's Nikumu?"
Her rescuer held up his wrist so that the PET screen faced out and pointed through the window that seperated them from the unfolding scene. Inside, a man that Arrow recognized as one of the entrants in the contest was restraining Nikumu as he talked to a shellshocked Higure. Shuuko, looking rather stunned herself, was busy dialing the police's number on a nearby phone. Mary and Kaita, along with the other participants, were watching the scene unfold on the right side of the room. Even if they were at the right angle to see Black and Arrow, it was doubtful that anything the two did would draw attention away from the tantrum that Nikumu was throwing. "That man's Gorou Misaki, a detective with the Net Police. I figured one of them would be here, what with so many people having come. Just didn't think it would be someone of his rank." With an amused smile, he said, "Either he just came to participate or we're driving them insane down at the Ministry of Science..."
The Navi didn't know how to react to what she'd just seen at first. Black couldn't help but wonder, "Well, it has been a while... you didn't think Yumi would just forget about you, did you?" That told her all she needed to know; she grinned up at the Nova member, pulling up a text box containing a certain Web address. "Nice! You got it!" was the triumphant reaction she received. "Even that's pretty hard to find. I see Nikumu didn't get off your case long enough for you to scout the area, but that's okay. We've got time to do it later."
Arrow rolled her eyes. Now that she knew Black was happy, she could get to what was most important to her. "Okay, okay, it's all totally peachy. Now, can I have my invisibility back? Between that and Nikumu's horrible Operating, I'm losing to some little kid's Navi."
"Only if you cower at my feet the way you did to Nikumu," Black replied, his tone completely serious. Arrow just glowered at him. After a moment, he caved. "Fine, fine! I was joking, honest! I'll do it as soon as we get back to base, so let's get out of here."
"Thank you for your time, Higure-san," said Misaki, signaling the cops behind him to drag the handcuffed woman between them to the police car parked outside. "I'll be taking my leave now." As the brown-haired Net Savior closed the door, the other contestants burst into nervous chatter, the competition forgotten in favor of what had just happened. Kero was frantically scribbling into her notebook, occasionally asking nearby contestants about their opinions on Nikumu's arrest. All in all, it was total chaos.
"Your attention, demasu." Nobody even noticed that Higure was speaking. "This doesn't mean that there isn't a winner, so please listen up..." His patience spent, he yelled, "Shut up and LISTEN!" Everyone quieted as the otaku calmly said, "Thank you. We've tallied the scores, and in second place..."
Inside Chisao's PET, Gutsman crossed his bulky fingers. "Say Gutsman, de gutsu, say Gutsman..."
"is Towa Mary's Ring, demasu!" Mary beamed at Ring as she walked up to accept her prize-twenty Battlechips of varying rarity. Gutsman's shoulders sagged a bit, but he knew that there was still hope; there was one more prize, one more winner... "And the grand prize goes to..."
"Say Gutsman, de gutsu, say Gutsman..."
"Todoroki Kaita's Turboman, demasu!"
Kaita stared up at the tip of the Battlechip mountain, then grinned down at his PET screen. "Awesome job, Turboman!"
"No way, de gutsu... how could they beat me?" wondered Gutsman. Chisao thought about giving him a truthful reply, but decided against it.