shamera: (just watching)
Shamera K. Tsukishirou ([personal profile] shamera) wrote2015-08-16 04:08 am

CampNaNo2015 part 7

OKAY SO CAMP IS OVER but a lot of this was written during it, SO.

They hadn’t so much as started or even left the area before Hope shivered, huddling down slightly and rubbing at his arms.

“Are you okay?” Vanille asked in concern, sticking to his side before the competition could start. She looked about ready to wrap her arms around him to share body heat.

He smiled at her reassuringly, and just shrugged. “...It’s colder than I thought it would be today.”

Vanille looked about to say something before her expression turned confused and she bit her lip to not say anything.

“You’ll have to deal with worse than the cold out here,” Fang drawled, looking unimpressed. She balanced her lance on the ground beside herself, and gave him narrowed-eye look. “Don’t expect any of us to spare an extra layer or two for you.”

Considering the fact that Fang still had exposed areas of skin in the winter, he didn’t doubt her words.

“It is his first winter on Gran Pulse,” Vanille spoke up for him hesitantly, although her smile was warm as she turned it in his direction. “I heard that it never got cold enough on Cocoon to snow!”

“It didn’t,” Hope agreed, arms still around himself. “I’ve been through plenty of these winters, but I guess— this is one of the first I’ve been outside for so much. But I should have gotten used to this already. It’s not as cold as it can be…”

His words halted as he felt heavy warm fabric drop over his head, and looked up curiously.

“Serah and I fought through worse weather.” The older teen told him, now clad in the familiar blue shirt and thicker pants tucked into boots. “I’d probably just get too warm, anyway.”

“Don’t get too soft on him.” Fang snapped at Noel. “Or he won’t ever toughen up.”

“But,” Vanille interjected, beaming at Noel as Hope mumbled a rather embarrassed thanks. “Just for the first winter, right?”She turned her bright smile over to Fang, but only took seconds to relent, sighing dramatically. “It’s not like we’re in any rush.”

His preparations took longer than he expected, so Hope barely managed to pass the survival portion only because Fang reminded him that he had barely half an hour left to find satisfactory food and shelter.

“And that’s why you wanted the central location?” She asked with amusement, hands on her hips as she watched his makeshift campground, which built upon pre-existing land that was already cleared out. It had never been part of the rules, after all, for him to clear a place out himself and do all that extra work. With the already cleared area, he managed to clear the first portion of the survival test within twenty minutes.

Hope shrugged, unwilling to reveal the amount of plans he concocted in his head in case his first, second, third, and fourth one failed. He was well aware of all his disadvantages: Hope was slower, weaker, had less endurance, smaller, and far less experienced. Not to mention that Noel had flawless control over his magic while Hope… well, he would be lucky to be able to call upon for it for a few seconds (and thus magic seemed nothing more than a last ditch resort, which miffed him quite a bit). The other teen had longer reach, moved silently and gracefully while Hope still stumbled around, and most importantly: oh yeah, Noel was actually a hunter.

He gave Fang another baleful look as she settled down at the campsite he created and wiped off the dirt from his gloves onto his pants self-consciously, wondering if he should take off the light blue jacket he still had on. It was a little too cold to go around without the jacket and bright cardigan he had on underneath, but the colors stood out vividly against the backdrop of the forest. With his hair color and what he was wearing, Hope might as well have a beacon pointing straight at him preventing the idea of hiding.

But then, he thought, Noel wouldn’t be any better, since the other preferred a vibrant blue in his wardrobe choice. There was probably no point in trying to blend into his surroundings anyway, seeing as Hope was fairly certain that the hunter would be able to find him no matter what he tried.

“One of the reasons,” Hope admitted reluctantly, choosing to sit down next to her for the moment. There was still a lot more he had to do, but… it wouldn’t hurt to take a few moments.

“And junior’s coat?” Fang tilted her head in the direction where Hope had shrugged out of Noel’s coat, opting to rest it over the campsite instead.

“Don’t need it.” Hope told her evasively.

Another reason had been due to lack of knowledge when it came to the surrounding environment. While the two of them were equally at a disadvantage there, Noel had the benefit of adapting to unknown environments faster. He also had a much higher endurance than Hope, which meant that traversing a large field would in no way tire him out while Hope would have trouble getting from one area to another when the plant life was so dense around the area.

Choosing the center meant that no matter where Hope chose to go, he would only have to travel half the distance of the entire area. He looked skyward, steeling himself for the oncoming encounter.

If nothing else, he knew his own weaknesses.

Another reason had been the firm ground underneath them. Seeing as it was trampled down dirt, it meant that the earth was more compacted beneath them than in their surroundings, which were either hard from protruding tree roots or soft with mud from recent rains.

Fang was watching him closely, looking rather speculative, and Hope returned the look after a moment.

“You’re calmer about this than I expected.” The woman admitted, and then smiled. “Good.”

“Well, I’m not going to panic, if that’s what you were expecting. Why would I?”

At those words, Fang chuckled and reached out to… it might have been a reassuring pat on the shoulder, but the force of it felt more like a blow which managed to force the air from his lungs. Even Snow’s enthusiastic play-punches were lighter than that despite the man not always knowing the full extent of his own strength.

“They said you were all grown up. Didn’t quite believe that until I saw it with my own eyes.” She told him. “You really have grown up well— and I don’t mean height-wise. You’ll get that one in a few years, I suspect.”

Hope coughed, and reached up to rub at his sore shoulder. “...The others?”

“Yeah. Vanille. Serah. Even Lightning, if you want to get down to it. Course, everyone else grew in different ways, too. Can’t say I’m all that used to it. If you don’t count the time sleeping, I can’t say it’s been all that long for me.”

His eyes widened. Did she mean…? He sat up straighter, suddenly intensely interested. Everyone else had been so hesitant with the topic of what they experienced before ending up back in this time that Hope himself felt it was almost taboo to bring up. There was a pain in people’s eyes that he didn’t want to make worse, but for the first time… the only time so ever since he woke up with everyone there, Fang looked willing to share what she knew, and she didn’t look like it would cause her pain.

“What happened?” He asked eager, gauging her wistful expression. “...If it’s okay for me to ask.”

“And why wouldn’t it be?” She shot back, quirking an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you people need permission just to ask a question.”

“The others won’t say anything about it.” He tensed his jaw, and looked away stubbornly, doing his best to hide the irritation he felt at that. “...I don’t think Light wants me to find out.”

Except she hadn’t forbidden him from questioning it; just greatly discouraged. And even then, the last time he had seen her, she seemed rather sure that he would continue his line of questioning and didn’t seem all that torn up about it anymore.

Fang snorted. “That one is more of a mother-hen than she wants to admit. Don’t mind her. How are you supposed to find out if we don’t tell you? No, questions are a good thing. I can’t tell you more than my own experiences, and those are the same as Vanille’s, but…”

“No, that’s perfect.” Hope interjected, and then flushed at his own eagerness. “That’s more than anyone else is willing to say.”

He held his breath and waited for Fang to impart more information, watching carefully as the woman crossed her leg and leaned back on one hand to look up contemplatively.

“Can’t exactly say just when we woke up again. Don’t keep track of time while in crystal sleep, and after all you guys stopped coming to visit, Vanille and I just slept the rest of the time.”

“You could tell when we visited?” Hope asked in surprise, and then shook his head. “...No, sorry. Keep going.”

“Can’t say much.” She shrugged. “When we woke up… there was nothing else there. The oceans dried up, and the land was bare. There was no one else, and nothing else. Cocoon was gone from the sky, and even the sun looked like it was verge of going out. Not the best of futures. We wandered for days; managed to find some old machinery that told us bits of pieces of what might have happened. Enough for us to learn about your Academy and its collapse, anyway. Most of the data was corrupted, but it was easy enough to piece together that things went south after the Academy went down. Riots, rebellions… wars. Mankind barely lasted a few hundred years before everything was gone. Heh.” She shifted, and shook her head. “Who knew that institution of yours would be so important?”

Hope waited another long moment for Fang to continue, seeing as she seemed lost in her thoughts.

“Not much after that. I’ll let you figure it out. But we ended up here somehow, right smack into that earthquake, and first thing Vanille does is panic and scream about how she saw you fall.” Fang turned to eye him, looking rather stern. “She reacted faster than me, even. Managed to catch you, even if she thinks she did more harm than good.”

Hope shivered at the blank space in his memory still there. He couldn’t remember anything about the earthquake at all, even after all the memories of another timeline flooded through his mind. More than likely, those memories were permanently wiped by the damage. He was extremely lucky that was the only thing he lost… maybe.

“I’m really grateful.” He admitted seriously, which lessened how stern Fang looked.

“The rest you may want to find out from our esteemed leader, should you ever get her to crack. I haven’t managed it, but then again, she’s got a soft spot for you. So does Vanille. So don’t get yourself into a spot looking for trouble, you hear? She might fall to pieces worrying for you all over again.”

Hope gave an embarrassed shrug under the weight of Fang’s attention, squirming slightly where he sat as he laughed nervously. “...I’ll try not to. You’re not making it easy, though.”

Fang didn’t respond, but instead fell incredibly still until Hope strained to listen as well, finally hearing the faint sound of Vanille’s laughter echoing in the distance, high pitched and louder than she normally laughed. His back straightened at the sound, but he couldn’t hear Noel’s response at all.

“I’m not here to make things easy for you.” Fang told him, and grinned as she stood up. “I’m here to make sure Vanille is never again as upset as she was when she thought she failed to save you.”

He stood up as well, carefully, muscles feeling stiff from the anticipation.

“It won’t happen again.” He told her. He was strong enough to keep himself safe, and knew what to do in situations even like that now. “I’ll prove it to you.”

Hope stayed a good distance away when and watched from the tree he climbed as Noel casually dismantled the traps that Hope spent the past few hours carefully constructing. Fang sat on a branch lower than him, crouched down and watching the same scene silently.

Vanille, on the other hand, was the epitome of happy and bubbly as she chatted with Noel about various things, looking like she was encouraging him and telling him all sorts of stories of Gran Pulse that she thought he would never have heard of.

Noel didn’t seem too bothered by Hope’s traps, nodding along to Vanille from time to time and stopping to ask questions on subjects that he was interested about. Hope watched as Noel at first tossed a stone at the lasso trap, and then used a dead branch to attempt to activate the trap without any success. Eventually, the older teen stepped close enough to the trap that he could dismantle it without it catching him.

“Looks like you’ll need work on your traps.” Fang commented quietly, her voice barely loud enough for Hope to hear. “He’s found more than six of them so far.”

Hope just shook his head, not trusting himself to be quiet enough and ensure the other wouldn’t hear his response. He was already dangerously close, especially since he was sure that Noel had excellent instincts and could tell he was being watched. The denseness of the forest was keeping him safe from sight so far, but that wouldn’t last long the moment Noel actually went on the hunt rather than the older teen’s current slow tracking.

It was fine, he didn’t say. He expected Noel to be able to find all of his traps. It was a good test— to see what the other would find, and what Hope might actually be able to hide. It looked like the hunter was actively seeking out Hope’s works to take them apart, so if there were one or two that Noel didn’t manage to find, even if they didn’t do the job of trapping the hunter, then Hope would be able to gain useful knowledge from that.

Besides, he thought with narrowed eyes. That wasn’t the point of these traps.

The other team was almost close enough Hope could make out just a few of Vanille’s words, and he made his way back down the tree carefully; Fang just opted to jump down gracefully after he landed, her fall making no noise at all as she landed on one of the tree’s roots and failed to disturb even the earth around it.

“Vanille,” Fang grumbled as the two of them made their way out of range again, “is really too soft.”

“Maybe she really likes Noel,” Hope suggested optimistically. It wouldn’t be a bad thing. It was nice to see everyone getting along, and he had always been curious as to how Fang and Vanille would take to Noel, seeing as he was the only other Pulse-born in their group. “They seem to be getting along really well.”

“Too well.” Fang said, and shook his head. “Keep it up, and I’ll have to somehow disqualify her from helping him.”

There was something strangely sarcastic about the statement, although Hope couldn’t seem to pin it down and so he refrained from commenting.

It was another three minutes before a loud explosive sound resounded through the forest, starting a handful of birds into flight and informing Hope that Noel must not have been able to manually disable the trap wire and instead triggered it from a distance.

“Bit excessive.” Fang commented, not looking back.

Hope shrugged, already working on another trap. “...He wouldn’t have gotten caught in that one.”

He continued working for a few more seconds before Fang finally asked, “If you’re so confident he wouldn’t be caught, why bother with all of this?”

Hope just shrugged in response as he finished off the leg-hold trap and looked around for a more optimal position to be put it in. He was sure that Fang would understand soon enough without him needing to explain it. Noel seemed too cautious about even getting close to the traps, which might prove to be a problem unless…

Vanille’s laughter echoed in the distance again, and Fang shook her head.

“That girl,” the woman grumbled, leaning some of her weight on the lance she was holding onto. “I swear.”

Hope had to smother his grin, mentally reminding himself to thank Vanille later on. Fang had been right— Vanille really was too soft, but then again, Hope wasn’t going to insult an ally. She likely would have helped him construct the traps if they had been paired together. As it already was, he could tell she was being extra loud to give away Noel’s position, although her tone was genuinely interested and warm.

He was also sure that Noel knew what she was doing, and he didn’t seem to be objecting.

Why would he? Noel had all the advantages in this competition, and if he thought that Hope was relying solely on the traps to win— traps that were, while not easy, not hard to spot… well. It was an easy assumption to make.

“...Only an idiot will fall for that tone.” Fang commented lightly at Hope’s choice in location for the leg-trap. She then stopped as Hope continued to work, gathering what he needed. She must have noticed then that there was something different about this trap than the others that Hope had already prepared littered all through the middle area selected for them.

The great advantage of being in the center, as insignificant as it sounded, was that Hope had the leisurely space to set traps all around him in a complete circle and ensuring that Noel would have to come to him rather than the other way around.

Hope closed his eyes briefly, feeling a headache coming on. The advantages and disadvantages felt near limitless, balancing and counterbalancing each other out. In the end, though, the simplest solution felt the best one to him.

“I plan on it.” Hope told Fang, keeping his steps as light as possible. The one good thing about being so small again meant that he was light enough to traverse across the surface of the small frozen pond if he made sure to be careful. Fang was keeping a careful distance away, already knowing that her weight might trigger the ice to collapse.

If Noel went to dismantle this trap, just as he had been doing for all of Hope’s other traps, well…

“You already know he won’t fall for it.”

Hope nodded, making his way to the edge of land carefully. “He won’t. He’s not going to step out onto the ice.”

But he would come to dismantle it. Hope could gather that much from Noel’s actions so far. Perhaps it was a sense of not taking the competition seriously, or perhaps it was his own way of proving himself in how he could find and disarm each of Hope’s traps, or maybe he was just trying to be annoying— Hope wasn’t sure. But either way, Noel was making a point by purposefully finding and triggering or taking apart Hope’s traps without falling into them himself.

Anyone else might have been perturbed the the idea that they were so easily outmatched— after all, Hope’s only saving grace in his was his traps, and Noel was proving that they wouldn’t be in any way effective on him.

But Hope had always been the person who learned from every detail of every failure. He had to.

He dropped the edge of the thin vines he had braided together into a rope down at the edge of the pond and contemplated where it should lead. With limited prepared materials and a severe lack of time, he hadn’t been able to make the elaborate plans he had in his mind, but…

Hope made his way toward a modest pile of large stones by the lake’s edge, the height of it coming up to his waist. By the time Noel got to this area, the other teen would have judged Hope’s trap-making skills for himself— so far, each one of them had not been of the fatal kind, but each worked, and they worked well. Hope wasn’t an expert, but he certainly knew what he was doing by now.

“That’s not a trap.” Fang observed from behind him as Hope worked, and he nodded in agreement.

“No.” He said, tying what looked like a rudimentary net to the thin rope and hiding it behind the stones. The way everything was arranged, it looked like there was merely the leg-trap in the center of the pond, but Hope was certain enough in Noel’s abilities to know the other boy would sense where this led. It’d see this one coming. “It’s a diversion.”

He could hear the warrior chuckle behind him. “...Not bad. Not enough to let you win, though.”

“I know.”

He had plenty of diversion tactics, but at the heart of it all, the type of battle Hope was accustomed to had to do with being in a team— and right now, he was supposed to be fighting alone. Fang would be there, but she wouldn’t be helping. And Vanille…

Well, he was sure she’d been cheering them both on.

Now he was cursing himself for having been so distracted the whole week that he couldn’t find the time to finish the prototype programming he copied off of Bhakti. Even if it was just something like the little robot to help him out, Hope might stand a greater chance in this competition.

But he did have one very singular advantage that he was betting Noel wouldn’t realize. And that meant just once chance to actually catch other other off guard. It meant that he would have to get Noel to take him seriously first.

He moved on from the place on the rocks, Fang following along behind him as the two of them listened to the distance sounds of Vanille’s chatter echoing through the forest. It didn’t take him long to locate what he was looking for, and as he delved carefully into the bushes to harvest what he needed, Fang started laughing behind him.

It wasn’t to say that Noel hadn’t laid down a few traps of his own, although they all seemed quite obvious to Hope, and he wasn’t sure whether that was because the older boy didn’t feel right about winning the competition through traps and therefore made it more obvious, or whether it was because Noel wasn’t used to trapping people, and normal animals wouldn’t have noticed those traps in the first place.

Hope didn’t bother trying to dismantle those, instead just throwing stones at the traps from a very far distance until they went off, or ignoring them altogether and marking the area off in his head to never run through in a pinch. He made sure not to use his boomerang in those situations, too aware of his own plan. Everything used to set off the traps were things he picked up from the ground and wouldn’t need again.

He stopped in one point in disbelief as he heard Vanille loudly proclaim that she and Noel should stop for a while because she wanted to take a detour… and eventually talked him into a game of hide and seek, which was apparently the point where Fang wasn’t going to tolerate that nonsense anymore.

The woman pointed at Hope and demanded, “Don’t get yourself killed.”

Then she stomped off, and not a minute later Hope could hear her yelling at Vanille that she was not to be playing hide and seek right now, although Vanille didn’t sound in the least bit repentant in her response, diffusing the situation cheerfully with varied excuses.

Hope eventually tuned that out so he could concentrate more on what he was doing, deciding only to keep track of how far away the voices sounded (and Vanille was still forcing Noel to respond, which made it easier to gauge rather than having to be constantly on the lookout).

It really was too bad that he didn’t have more than the mere basics at his disposal. If he had a few computers, a few machines… even scrap metal would do. Hope was more used to rewiring under pressure, turning systems from enemies to allies within minutes (down to seconds after years in the Academy) if given the chance and a real reason beyond that of needing to pass through. If there were even just a few Pulse automatica passing through, he would have been able to create a proficient distraction…

It didn’t do to dwell on what he didn’t have, though. What he could create out of the bits and pieces was a chance.

Eventually, it was a pouting Vanille who found him first, and he felt a bit proud that she had to look around a bit before he dropped down from the branches to wave at her.

(Of course, he doubted that Noel would have been fooled.)

“I’ve been disqualified.” She lamented to him, although her voice was down to a mere whisper this time as opposed to before. She gave him a mischievous smile, looking rather proud of herself. “I didn’t think it was very fair.”

He only hummed slightly, but Vanille seemed to backpedal a bit as she waved her hands in front of herself, “Not that I think you’re bad at this!”

“It’s okay.” He told her, and smiled. “I understand.”

And he truly did, especially as he warned her that he was planning something unexpected and Vanille agreed to leave for a distance away after giving him a brief hug. It didn’t really matter if she drew more attention to his area or not, Hope figured, since he was certain that Noel would have found him irregardless.

And then he waited.

Beyond the traps that the both of them had set and then dismantled or ignored, it was for sure that the second part of the survival test was about actually facing each other, and in that aspect Hope had limited advantages.

He saw as Noel exited along the pathway that led to the frozen lake he had chosen by the edge of camp, and watched as the hunter frowned at the very obvious trap. Despite how casually the older teen was taking the challenge, he seemed to have a myriad of mud clinging to the edge of his boots and pants from the amount of times he had to step into muddy areas just to dismantle the traps Hope set up.

What he was counting on now would be Noel’s natural curiosity and trust in him.

Sorry, he thought with a wince.

Like all the other times, the hunter seemed more intent on calmly dismantling the trip than with hunting him down, although Noel paused a moment to see where the braided vine led to. This trap would be drastically different from the others, seeing as everything else was very located and could easily be dismantled from close range. This would be the only one that led elsewhere.

True to Hope’s predictions, the brunet followed the cord curiously, although from the expression on the other’s face, he was far more tense and cautious this time around. Likely, he could sense Hope’s gaze and calculations. He’d be ready for anything that this trap could throw at him, or anything that might seem off.

He waited until Noel got past the rocks before he yanked at the net he wove together quite crudely around the area which would let loose a barrage of things from slightly sharpened sticks to large pebbles, all previously held down with force beforehand only to have the force suddenly pulled away and fling them in the direction of where Noel was.

The actual obvious vine itself, of course, lead to nothing more than a carefully placed box trap that would do absolutely nothing.

He watched as Noel caught on to what was happening immediately (of course he would— the projectiles were coming at far too slow a pace to do anything, despite surrounding him from all directions), and then prepared himself for the second half of the plan, holding his breath for a quick count of three before jumping from the tree branch and—


He yelped and dropped down hard on his hands instead, legs giving out from under himself.

“Hope?!” He heard Noel shout in a panic over the distance, having already deflected all of the oncoming projectiles. “Are you oka—?”

Hope grabbed onto the last vine hidden underneath the pile of dead, trample leaves and mud, and pulled as hard as he could. He looked up quickly to see the hastily built net spring up from where he had hidden it earlier, and watched as Noel froze for only a split second before sidestepping it easily, towards the area of the ineffective box trap.

“Sorry,” he murmured apologetically as the vine which pulled the net brought down Noel’s jacket from over the tall rocks, heavily laden with mud and as much of the thin, nearly transparent worms he could find in the surrounding bushes.

He pushed himself back up to his feet (stable. Good. He hadn’t actually landed incorrectly, then), keeping an eye the entire time on Noel who yelped and went to cover his face with his arms— his bare arms, since he had given Hope his coat before the competition started, and his coat was now being used to fling mud and insects at him at a close range.

Step two down, he thought grimly.

“What the—” he could hear the hunter curse, moving to dislodge the worms, “Etro, what are these things?”

“Sorry,” Hope called out, this time louder to emphasize that he wasn’t actually in pain at all. He tapped a foot down against the ground to show that he hadn’t misstepped at all. It had all just been a diversion. “I wasn’t actually that cold. I just needed to use your coat.”

He needed a combined number of factors, and to make it all look subtle or accidental. Accumulated mud on boots and pantlegs to slow Noel down marginally from one trap to the next, each layer caking itself on either Noel’s person or his weapon to offset the other’s balance by a fraction of a hair. Added to the freezing cold mud that was just dumped all over him now…

And the worms. Of course Hope had researched them up after the last hunting trip when Fang warned him about its poisons. Homobatrachotoxin was mild enough that it wouldn’t cause any sort of permanent damage on the skin, although the effects were compounded as a neurotoxin when ingested. That wasn’t what Hope was going for, though— he was just going for the fact that the homobatrachotoxin the worms secreted caused numbness to the skin and eventually limb, and that mixed with the mud meant Noel would have a harder time getting those insects off him.

The extra weight, the cold, the numbness… all of it to just to slow the older teen down fractionally. All to ensure that Noel, who hadn’t taken this seriously at all before, might actually start taking this seriously now, knowing that Hope had tricked him.

Hope pulled out his boomerang slowly; carefully.

“Well,” he said brightly with a smile he learned from Vanille. “Let’s get this over with.”

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