Once in a Lifetime – cHAPTER 16

Davis had immediately sprinted back, to the opposite wall of the arena. Scott still stood in place, hands in pockets, watching along with his ghastly partner.

Dom was peering into the arena, mostly hidden.

Davis watched carefully, shivering from nerves. 

There were just enough shadows to phase out without much strain. Unless that ghost could undo zipties, his plan was still solid. 

Clenching his fists tight, and sucking in air, he phased out and charged forward.

In the shadows, however, he tripped over his feet at a terrifying sight. He nearly coughed in shock.

GG was there, staring straight at him.

On the outside, he spoke.
“I thought the boy’s trick was turnin… Incorporeal was it? I can still see ‘em.” 

Scott laughed. “Well, I can’t. Looks like you’re going to have to be my barrelman.” He paused. “Wait, if you can see him, go on forward, see if you can touch him when he’s like that.”
GG moved forward, reaching out a frozen hand. Goosebumps pricked up across Davis’s body. He took a few steps back, but GG lurched forward, swiping at his chest.

The hand passed through him. He sighed.

“No luck.” GG said. “I’ll still keep my eye on him!”
Scott stretched out, cracking his knuckles. “All right, let’s get things rolling! Show me what you got Davis!”
“He’s behind ye!”
Davis re-materialized, and Scott whirled around, meeting Davis eye to eye.
“Hiya!” He said with a big grin. He reared back his fist.

Davis fell backwards, the punch flying over his head. He dropped the ziptie, and scrambled back.
Scott stared at the plastic. “You’re really gonna need to be a bit more creative man!”
He stamped his foot back, taking a powerful stance. A cold gust of wind billowed out. Holding his arms out, he called.

“Let’s crew up GG!”
“Aye aye!”
The ghost matched Scott’s pose, and merged together with him. A ghastly teal aura emanated off of him, giving him a strange aftershadow.

Scott stamped forward, and the ground from his feet to Davis’s began to freeze over, quickly approaching.

He sucked in his breath and phased out, scrambling to put distance between his opponent. Among the shadows, GG was still watching. He grabbed his head, shaking.

It’s ice, I should have seen that coming. There’s an easy way through this, right.
He pulled a firebomb and lighter from his jacket. He stared, thinking about setting an actual person on fire for a moment. That might be fatal.

I’ll just set the ground aflame. The heat might weaken his powers?

He re-materialized, sparking a flame.
Scott turned, still with the same smile on his face. Sticking his hands out, a strong gust of ice-laced wind blew forth. His lighter extinguished, and his hood flew off. He refocused himself, looking down and struggling to re-ignite the lighter.
A new flame struck from it, but looking up, Scott was rapidly approaching. 

He was freezing the ground beneath his feet, the wind pushing him forward. 

Skating face to face, Scott side kicked the bomb out of his hand, the bottle shattering against the arena wall. Davis tried to retaliate by shoving at his chest, but recoiled the moment he touched him

The palms of his hands stung like hell, almost as if he touched a glacier bare-handed. 

Grabbing Davis by the shirt, he tossed him down, followed by slamming his palm on the floor.

In a small area around him, sticks, rocks, and bits of debris were all frozen into fragments of ice.
With a motion of his hands, a gust of wind propelled himself into the air, along with all the ice fragments. Flipping to face down, the shards floated up with him.

“Grapeshot is ready to go!”
The visage of GG broke from him, forcing his hands forward. All of the ice flew towards Davis at high speeds.

Davis turned his back to the pellets, curling into a ball. While his coat offered decent protection, he could still feel shards pierce through, marring his back with several cuts.

Scott watched his feet as he descended, using another gust of wind to land at a comfortable speed.

In a split second decision, Davis grabbed an unlit smoke bomb, pitching it as hard as he could. It struck Scott square on the chest, but he was completely unphased. He shook his head, staring at the item. He looked back at Davis.

“You gotta use something a bit more dangerous!” He yelled. “You don’t have to hold that much back! Show me what you got!”
He picked up the can, and it froze into a chunk of ice in his hand. He waved his hands around it. It floated, the chunk growing thicker with ice until it turned into a rod. He exhaled deeply, an unnatural amount of fog coming out of his mouth.

Davis still sat, paralyzed and running scenarios through his brain.

He melted away ice around the rod, forming an impressively long javelin of ice.

He pointed his fingers in the shape of a gun, closing one eye to aim at Davis’s shoulder. 

“Cannons, FIRE!”

GG emerged, waving his arm like a ship’s captain ordering to fire.

The javelin flew forward.
His brain broke from his paralysis of thought, and he ghosted.

The javelin struck the stone wall behind him, and exploded into a cloud of smoke. 

“I-isn’t that like, excessive?” Dom cried out. “We don’t want to kill him!”
“Hey trust me, I don’t want to either! It was blunt, and wouldn’t have pierced the skin. But it would have left a HELL of a bruise!”

Seeing the smoke drift about, Davis thought about returning to the material world, but remembered: Smoke is useless if he can conjure wind.

He crouched, trying to rest in the shadows. It was taxing on his chest, but maybe he could hide here longer?

He slapped himself.

No, I gotta face him…

His chest felt more and more compressed.

Just need to get a bit more creative with my fire approach.

He pulled out another firebomb, lighting its alcohol-soaked napkin. To make sure it wasn’t deflected, he just had to get close. Like with the Hydra in the past.

He charged forward.
“The boy has fire on him!” GG yelled. “Brace yourself!”
“I’m hoping he has some fire. It’d honestly be disappointing if-”
A firebomb appeared out of nowhere, right in front of him. 

Davis saw his grin pave way to shock at its appearance.

He couldn’t help but smirk to himself.
Scott crossed his arms in front of him, and a white flash of light flooded the area.

Davis phased out back at the other side of the arena, panting. He witnessed Scott standing perfectly still, arms crossed. His arms looked slightly bluish, and not because of the aura. In a small radius around him, the floor had a light coating of frost. 

He uncrossed his arms, shivering. He let out another laugh.

“Ok, that was pretty good!” He started clapping. “Show me more tricks like that! It’s awesome!” He was still shaking from adrenaline, and panting. Frozen beads of sweat rolled down from the top of his head.
All that feeling of triumph melted away, and turned into seething anger. Davis clenched his fists, and charged forward.

He likes surprises, then maybe this will throw him for a loop!

Scott held his ground, freezing the floor in front of him. Before reaching the patch of ice, he ghosted and leapt into the air, several feet overhead his foe.

“Above ye! He’s got a smaller can o’ somethin’!”

He re-materialized overhead, holding a can of pepper spray. Fiercely staring down, he sprayed. “Think a bit more logically!” Scott yelled, holding his hand out towards the blast. The liquid froze, and continued to freeze all the way to the can’s valve. 

Davis tossed it away, ghosting and tumbling on the landing. Back on his feet, he returned to corporality, finding Scott now had an icy blade in hand.

“You’re just making it easier if you give me something so easy to freeze!”

He began swinging away, and Davis was forced on the defensive.

Scott was calmly walking forward, swinging away almost mindlessly. Davis was using his thick jacket sleeves to at least absorb most of the blow of his new icy blade. It thankfully wasn’t too sharp, but still stung like a whip. He could dodge some of the attacks, but a good majority of them were hitting him.
Staring at Scott’s grin still reminded him: He’s better than this. He’s come this far, slain cryptids, discovered secret horrors. Scott was just some jock with ice powers.

Even if this was a game, he had to show him.

But the game was starting to hurt a lot. His cuts stung, arms lashed, and was starting to get exhausted. Only a few ghosts were left in him.

No, I’m going to pull through!

He vanished, and wasted no time pulling out a pepper spray bomb.

He lit the fused, closed his eyes and took deep breaths. It was hard considering he was incorporeal, but it at least helped him relax.

Wait till the last second, toss it, and then I can go in for the cuff. If he freezes it, it’ll just make the explosion more potent. That ought to knock him on his ass. Just make him blind with this stuff, ziptie, and done!

He opened his eyes, watching the bomb. When the fuse was just barely visible anymore, he re-materialized. 

His lungs were on fire, but just needed to make this work once. He tossed it, Scott still keeping his eyes locked. He phased back out.

Scott raised his hands up. 

The bomb exploded.

A gust of wind tossed the bomb’s into the sky, creating a mushroom cloud of pepper spray. Some of the particulates touched him, stinging his eyes and skin.

He whistled.

“Did you seriously put pepper spray into a bomb? Sheesh, you really undersold yourself to Clarice!”
He sent forth another gust of wind, blowing away the hazardous cloud so it wouldn’t descend into the arena. 

“Keep your wits about! The boy has a blade!”
He felt something touch him near the chest. It was a shivering, disembodied hand, holding a knife.
Most of Davis was still in the shadows. His hand was completely numb, but could still move his arm enough. It was all he needed.
The knife moved closer, unknowingly digging into a protective layer of ice.

He whispered to Scott.

“I think this constitutes as checkmate, right?”
He rolled his eyes. “We’re playing Uncle, not chess. I’m also sure you already know the answer to that question. Quit lying to yourself.”

It only took a few more seconds before his lungs gave out, and Davis rematerialized. He released his knife-hold and backed away, feeling the full chill from Scott. 

He lost his traction, and slipped backwards. He slammed onto his back, dazed. Scott walked over, helping him to his feet, and sat him against the wall of the arena. He froze his feet to the ground and hands to the wall, and leaned next to him. 

Davis’s brain was racing, heart thumping against his chest. Maybe he could at least free his legs and get back on his feet? Stall things out? Perhaps there were limits on Scott’s icy abilities, and he was hiding them?

He yanked as hard as he could. They wouldn’t budge.

He glanced angrily at Scott. His smile had slightly faded, and now held a more judging expression.

“Quick question for you, since you still think you’re still not yielding. Say this wasn’t a game, and I was actually some hostile UMA. How long do you think you would last?”
Davis merely glared.
His smile faded away entirely. “…Right when you tried to sneak up on me with those zipties, I coulda killed you easily.”

Davis felt his heart skip a beat. He turned away, trying to hide his panic.

“But, with magic and powers and UMA and all this stuff, what good would come with your death? You can still have lots of fun with them without having to risk your neck.”
He casually sat next to him.
“I’m not sure WHY you’re risking your life hunting them, but doing so is pretty awesome. I can respect you for that, but it’s too much for you. You’re cool, you got cool powers, but you’re going to waste them if you die too soon. I don’t think anyone wants to see your face on a missing person’s report. I mean… I’m not the one gonna be DOING that, it’s the cryptids.”
A ghastly voice spoke over him. “What are ye doing?” GG shouted. “I thought the point of this spat was to get em to surrender!”
He turned to his spirit. “Well in a way, yeah, but just trying to hammer home…”

Mustering up a deep breath, he ghosted only his hands and legs, rolling out of the way and freeing himself from the icy shackles. 

Scott reacted quickly, grabbing him by his shoulders and yanking him to his feet. Scott pushed him against the wall, staring into his eyes.

“You gonna say uncle yet? I just wanna know you got the right takeaway from our meeting here.”

His brain was shot. His chest felt like it was in a vicegrip. It hurt to breathe. None of his tools were effective. He gritted his teeth. Slowly, he opened his mouth. “Un-”

A force blew through the arena, violently breaking Scott’s hold on him. He was sent flying towards the other side of the arena, having to use a gust of winter wind to stop his impact.

“I suppose you’ve had enough playing around with Davis here, right?”
It was a mature, male voice. Davis whirled around.

It was Von Chad.

Scott raised an eyebrow.
“You another mystery friend of his?”
GG broke from Scott’s body, investigating the stranger. Von Chad dusted himself off as the ghost gazed. It lurched back, turning to face Scott.

“Argh… This one has a deeply unnatural look to em!”
“Introductions first!” He spoke joyously. “I am Von Chad, and I am an acquaintance of Davis here. We’ve had a chat, made a few deals, but nothing too intimate.”

Scott waved. “Scott Felice. Now, any reason you decided to interrupt our game?”

“Games are supposed to be fun, yes? Davis didn’t seem like he was having much of it.” He glanced at the defeated looking boy. “Especially considering he isn’t in top shape right now.”

Davis scrunched his face in confusion. He was prepared, well rested, and had all his gear. He couldn’t have been in better shape.

“He wasn’t having much fun, but that’s because I’m trying to show this game isn’t for him. It’s too far out of his league.”

“Game? His entire life isn’t a game of Uncle… Well, would you mind if I join in? I’m positive you will have more fun if somebody on your level fought.”

Scott stared at GG. 

“Aye, we might have a chance, so long as we stick to the rules of ‘Uncle’. For him, I want ye to trust my judgment: Hold no quarter against that beast.”

With Kirino taking the lead and Clarice watching from behind, the four girls trekked to their battlefield. 

Kirino led the way, Louise muttered advice and battle strategies to Queen, and Clarice kept a firm eye on both of them.

“You’ve said a lot about Kirino.” Queen spoke, hushed. “What about that girl, who is watching us?”
Louise glanced back, locking eyes for a brief moment before turning back.
“Oh her. She has a big sword, and it’s really hard. I’m not sure how much you saw at the mines, but she had her brother do most of the work… He’s the real scary one.”
Queen silently nodded.

“Oh, yeah so just gotta be careful about that blade’s durability. Felt like I was punching a brick wall, but I don’t think she’s too much of a problem. Just some authoritative brat.”

“Means she likes to control people. Now as for our plan of attack…”

As they passed by a few small office buildings, Louise recognized where they were going.

Canopy Mall.

Despite having a successful first year, the mall fell off in the eyes of the public. Teens chose other spots around town to simply hang around, the stores weren’t much draw to adults, and combined with faulty construction, it was becoming a health hazard. After all the stores moved out, the only reason it still stood was that no company was willing to buy the land it stood on, and demolition was too costly as well. The mall was bordered by former anchor stores, faint outlines of their logos stained on the walls. The large parking lot was covered in cracks, weeds seeping through.

Louise thought to herself why she hadn’t checked this place for cryptids or anything. It certainly fit the bill for where something evil could nest.

Reaching the doors, Kirino drew her blade, fitting it between the crack and slicing through the lock.

The interior was nothing but dust, dim sunlight lighting the halls, and an endless sight of boarded up or shuddered stores. Every footstep clearly echoed throughout the halls.

Soon they reached the main plaza, consisting of cracked and dried up fountains surrounding a spot where tables and chairs should have sat. Nonfunctional escalators lead up to more of the same on the second floor: Dust and closed stores. It was thankfully well lit enough from a large glass dome on the roof, letting sunlight shine in.

Kirino held out her hand, and the duo paused. She took off her dress jacket, revealing her maiden outfit underneath. Clarice hurried over to her side.

She pulled out her pen-sized sword, expanding it into its full, regal might. 

“Neither of us intend to kill today.” Kirino drew her blade, pointing it at her foes. “But my intent is not absolute. Do not even think about taking advantage of this fact.”

Louise punched her fist into her hand. “Works for me! I’m not lookin to get into any trouble for murder. Neither should you, Queen.”

She sucked in air, her jacket fusing together and forming armor plates.

Kirino stood patiently, eyes darting between the two.

Clarice held her sword over her shoulder, glaring intimidatingly at Louise.

She was twitchy, clenching and unclenching her fist. 

Queen observed the battlefield blank stare, bracing herself to spring at full speed.

“Just remember,” Louise muttered. “We’ll work together and beat em. We have friendship on our side.”
She nodded.

Clarice still stood still, but held the greatsword overhead. Kirino leapt into the air, towards the other two. Louise charged forward, with Queen still watching.

The magical greatsword struck the floor. The ground cracked upon impact, and the floor quaked. 

Louise’s charge crumbled to a stumble, nearly falling over forwards. She regained her footing just in time to see Kirino soaring towards her, blade drawn and swinging towards her. She held her gauntlets up in front of her face, the blade bouncing off the armor.
The second she touched the ground, Kirino leapt back, landing back at Clarice’s side. 

Queen weathered the quake, observing Louise’s continued charge. She strengthened her legs, bracing for any future quakes.

Louise draws attention. Distracting them from me.

She bolted to the side, sticking to the shadows cast by the mall overhang.



As Louise charged forward, Kirino stepped forward, bodychecking her and slamming her shoulder straight into her chest.

She flipped over top of her, but stretched out her hands
She broke her fall and pushed off the floor, flipping forward.
Clarice leapt backward, stepping atop the edge of a fountain.

“Back off, and stand down!”
The moment Louise landed on the ground, the redhead stabbed her blade into the floor.
It set off another quake, rattling the surrounding boarded stores. 

Louise stood firm. “You’re not gonna get me with that trick again!

The red-haired girl grunted, twisting the blade, and it split the ground into a fissure.
The fissure expanded to Louise’s feet, and split between them.

She wobbled around, flailing her arms and trying to keep balance. She leapt over to the side, and heard footsteps from behind.
Kirino was charging forward, blade in hand.
She shoved her aside as she zoomed behind Clarice. She drew her blade.

Queen sprung forth from the shadowy overhang, with her hand in knife form. 

While the cryptid had leapt overhead, Kirino leapt up, swinging her blade. Attempting to deflect the oncoming attack, Queen found the magical katana cutting cleanly through her bone-knife at the base. She didn’t wince despite the blow, but re-focused ahead.
She was flying towards Clarice, who held the blade in front of her face, expanding it into its full shield form.

“Behind you brat!”

She lost her footing, feeling the floor beneath her give way. Louise had kicked away the fountain edge she was standing on. She landed on her back, and Louise leapt over. She turned back to Queen, who skidded to a halt. Her hand had regenerated into a new, small blade.

Clarice leapt back to her feet, returning the blade to its normal size.



“I got business with you!” Louise yelled, throwing a punch at Kirino.
She scoffed, ducking down to body check her once more.
Louise cut her momentum, and instead turned it into a drop kick. Her opponent was quick to turn her blade, her sneakers crashing with the blade.
Kirino skidded back from the blow.
Keeping a cool expression, she swung her blade, and held it in front of her.
“Goin all out right off the bat, huh?” Louise said with a sneer. “It’s not gonna be enough this time!” She charged forward, and the two clashed.


Sharp as obsidian, dense as tungsten!

She swung her blade towards the oncoming UMA, a blow that she effortlessly leapt over. The blade struck the tile floor, shaking the ground and sending forth a flurry of stones.
She swung again, and again, and Queen kept deftly leaping out of the way. More and more of the terrain around her shattered. Queen leapt back as she continued to furiously swing around, kicking up a massive cloud of dust.
The crashing and shaking stopped, and the dust cloud dissipated to an exhausted Clarice. The terrain around her looked like a wrecking ball had been dropped where she stood. Her nice office clothes were covered in several patches of dirt.

Queen charged forward, holding her knife-hand up.
Attack her dominant shoulder. Non-fatal. Get her out of the fight, and then help Louise.

She still kept her wits about, as she thrust the blade towards the girl.
She swung the blade around, parrying the attack.
The cryptid didn’t hesitate to keep pushing forward, to use her free arm to try to grab her by the shoulder.
A sudden clang shook her.
Clarice had dropped her sword.
Queen glanced down at the weapon, then felt two arms grab onto hers.
She pulled, but felt the short girl swing her around. She then brought her arm onto her knee.

She felt a crack sear through bones, her arm bending abnormally.

Queen let out a horrible, ear-piercing shriek..

The red-haired girl gritted her teeth, and swung the cryptid by her wounded arm.
Queen shrieked more, recoiling in pain as she was thrown onto the floor. 

Clarice grabbed her sword, and stamped her foot on her good shoulder.

The skinwalker wriggled, feeling adrenaline flood her system. She tried to form her free arm into a tendril, maybe fast enough to knock her off balance.
She stared back at her new predator, and her eyes shrank.

Clarice bore an expression of disgust. She sneered, holding the weapon by its blade over her stomach.

“The fact that you’re trying to trick others, pretending to be human to cause more chaos… The thought of your subversion is insulting!”
She plunged the greatsword down. 

Queen’s eyes flared in anger. 

Shrieking, she used her broken arm to smack the blade to the side. Her body screamed at the action, but she tolerated it; There was no other way out.

The weapon crunched into the floor, grazing the side of her chest.

She barely wriggled free enough and bit into her leg. It pierced through her stockings and skin, softly tainting the fabric with blood.

Clarice screamed, raising her leg. She drew her sword from the floor, and plunged it down again.
Queen leapt back, but her good forearm got caught by the blade, being sliced clean off.
She gritted her teeth, the open wound quickly regenerating.

“Disgusting! You’re just a disgusting animal! You have no place here other than under our heels!” Clarice screamed, pointing at the cryptid. “I don’t care if I have to hack off every limb you have, you WILL submit!”
Queen bared monstrous fangs, her mouth slowly growing into something more monstrous. Her jacket grew more jagged and thicker. Her muscles all over grew more defined, and she stretched to a taller height. She stomped her boot into the ground, causing a very small quake, and cracking the floor.

“Not to you. Not to anyone again!” A gurgling, distorted voice came from her.
She screeched, her forearm regenerating into a shortsword. “I will do anything to never return!”

The two screamed, and leapt at each other. Blades versus bones, blows clashed, parried, cut, and the two brawled.

Louise charged forward with a one-two punch at Kirino. She evaded each hit, outfit and hair being the only things that met her fists.

“Why ya so scared, bouncing around? Too prissy to take any risks-”
felt a stinging sensation across her arm. Kirino had nicked her again, as she quickly sheathed her blade.
The entire fight frustrated her. Louise had pulled out most of the stops, intentionally taking hit after hit in order to get even the slightest chance of  getting a blow on her.
It was incredibly stupid, and reckless, but considering all the odds, it was Louise’s only viable option. Their exchanges mostly resulted in Kirino getting several free strikes on her foe, but despite the numerous cuts, Louise kept coming at full force. Hearing the scream from her friend, she knew she had to make the next few moves decisive. 

How much energy does she even have?

Louise was putting her all into every hit, gritting every blow. She was just on the edge of getting a solid hit, and she just needed one solid hit. Queen shrieked and roared, which could either mean two things. One break from Kirino, and she could either finish the fight, or it’d get a whole lot tougher.

I need to get to Clarice, fast!
I need to get to Queen, fast!

Louise stomped forward, rearing back a fist for a haymaker.

Too obvious!

Kirino charged forward, grabbing Louise around the waist.

“Really thought I was gonna be that obvious?”
She wrapped her arms Kirino around her back, and lifted. She flipped the maiden overhead, attempting to suplex her. 

She drew her blade, holding it overhead as she neared the floor.
It cut through the tile, but propped her up, stopping her from crashing headfirst into the floor.
Breaking out of Louise’s grip, she backflipped back into a proper stance, pulling her sword from the ground as she did so.
Louise had fallen back onto the floor, but was quickly getting up.

“Fancy grabs, blows, and strikes, but still afraid to use that lightning or something? Afraid I’m gonna tank it, huh?”

Kirino ignored her banter, catching sight of the other brawling Clarice and Queen. The constant noise of clashing bone, steel, and rock had come close.
Time slowed down for her.

The two were constantly parrying each other, leaving them simultaneously wide open. There was an opportunity. 

She grabbed her blade’s hilt, and charged forward.
Louise took a step back, raising her guard.
The maiden jumped into the air, stepping on Louise’s shoulder to propel her forward.
Louise turned in shock, watching Kirino dive straight into the flurry of attacks between Queen and Clarice.

Time slowed down for the warrior, seeing exactly where the two would clash. With inhuman timing, she began rushing milliseconds before Queen deflected an oncoming strike. Rushing between, she dexterously ducked beneath Queen’s bone blade, positioning herself between the two. Time still moved slowly as she grabbed her blade, slowly drawing it to cut Queen clean in half.

Excessive, but the best way to restrain her.
The skinwalker’s eyes widened, realizing what was about to happen.

Time resumed to normal as Louise charged and threw her first forward, landing a punch square on Kirino’s cheek. She was sent flying away. Clarice continued swinging, not having processed what happened. The greatsword smashed into Louise’s back, sending her flying off in the same direction.
She glanced at her friend for a mere moment, before returning focus to her opponent.
She was staring at her friend. The perfect distraction.

Queen charged forward, swinging her sword-arm down. 

The shoulder. Take off her arm. Make her unable to fight.

Then, a sudden flash, followed by an ear-splitting crack.

Her charge skidded to an immediate halt, everything inside her body feeling like it was on fire. She felt all of her muscles tense up, forcing her body to painfully straighten out. 

All she could do was let out an unearthly howl.

Kirino stood a few feet from her, crackling with electricity and kneeling on the floor. She was bracing her blade on the floor, wobbling.
Clarice paused. She saw how the skinwalker was paralyzed, perfect to kill right then and there. But Louise had recovered and was rushing on over, Kirino no doubt her target.
She slid in front of her downed friend, stabbing the blade into the ground. The resulting tremor caused Louise to faceplant, skidding to a halt. It expanded into its shield form, splitting the earth more.
Kirino got back up, her head ringing and vision slightly wobbly.

“You’re still fine, right?” She kept her focus on the duo. “I’ll hold out as long as I can for you!”

She stumbled back to her feet, shaking her head. A few deep breaths, and she was steady once more. She opened her eyes, shooting a fearsome glare towards her foes. Louise was carrying the skinwalker away.
“From now on, we will stick together. Fighting apart against Louise has become rather risky. However, she is likely close to exhaustion, so we’ll keep pressuring her until she cracks. That, or until she tries something reckless.”
She stared into Clarice’s eyes.
“And last, keep your wits about. Don’t lose focus until both of your foes are unable to move. I can’t keep you covered forever.” 

On the other side of the mall, Queen had finally regained her mobility. All Louise gave was a smile and a nod, as they stared at their foes. “Still got friendship, yeah?”
Despite her monstrous face, Queen still cracked a smile.
“Yes, friendship.”
“Let’s stick together, and we’ll take them down!”

The two groups turned to face each other, locking eyes fiercely.

The brawler and shapeshifter charged forward together.

“No you don’t!” Clarice held her blade overhead, and quickly slammed it to the ground.
The two jumped in unison, but Clarice stopped the blow moments before striking the ground. Holding the weapon like a platform, Kirino leapt off of it to match the skinwalker in-air, swinging her blade downwards.
Queen contorted out of the way, feeling the weapon barely shave off a part of her armor.

As the two landed, Clarice stabbed her weapon into the ground, slightly staggering them.
Kirino landed and spun around, charging from behind.

Pulling on her greatsword, she flicked a chunk of earth from the ground towards the two.

Louise took the front, punching the chunk of debris. It shattered into dozens of pieces, landing harmlessly.

From behind, Kirino moved forward with a strong overhead strike. Queen used her monstrous arm to grab her sword arm.

Feeling the claw clasp around her wrist, the maiden still kept her cool, leaping up and kneeing the cryptid right in the chin.
She let go and staggered back, and the swordswoman brought her blade close, charging forward to run her through. Louise stepped forward and grabbed the blade, redirecting it to the side. 

A blast of bright energy seeped forth as the two artifacts made contact. It was pushing against her grip, and as she released, it shoved the two away further than anticipated.

“I’m getting better at this, aren’t I?” Louise boasted. “Bet you haven’t seen anyone else grab a blade outta mid-air?”
The ground shook, and the two turned to their side.
Clarice was swinging her massive weapon towards her like a giant frying pan, grinding against the floor. Queen leapt out of the way, and Louise held her hands out, pushing against the blade. The impact still rattled her bones, but she held firm. Her feet dug through the flooring until it came to a stop. The blade suddenly lifted and swung around, swatting an approaching Queen out of the air with a nasty CLANG. 

She felt something grab onto both of her arms.
Changing her focus, it was Louise. The two were close, face to face.

Louise had a dumb grin on her’s. 

“You’re getting distracted too easily!”
Clarice’s stern expression turned into fury, as she reared back her head and slammed it into Louise’s.
The brawler released her grip and backed away. The blow felt like it rattled her brain around inside her skull.

Both of them had matching bright red spots, but while Louise was reeling, holding hers, the knightly woman still glared with her furious look.

Kirino charged forward attempting to grapple and flip the dazed girl, but from across the mall sprung Queen. She landed between the two, slamming her arms into the ground and shattering the terrain.
Kirino leapt back, while Clarice stabbed her blade into the floor, using it to support herself against the shockwave.

Louise ran next to Queen.
“All right, risky strategy time.” She muttered. 

Kirino stabbed her blade forward, and the two leapt back together. Clarice tried to follow up with another stab, and Louise leapt up, stomping the blade to the ground. She pulled it free from her feet. 

Queen slammed the ground with all her might, sending forth another quake, and staggering the other two. With this moment, they backed up to the walls of the mall.
“When Clarice swings that thing downward to shake the ground again, we jump together, simply straight up. I’ll kick you over to the other side, and we’ll pincer them! Encircling them is the best thing I Can think of. I’m getting real tired, and we gotta wrap this up, Fast!”

The two bolted forward together, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris.

Clarice slammed her blade once more, and the two leapt high up together, holding onto each other.
Clarice stared up, but Kirino held her hand in front.
“It’s the reckless moment we’ve been waiting for. Outmaneuver them before they have a chance to surprise us.”

Louise threw her partner towards the other side of the plaza. She flew forward, grabbing ahold of the mall overhang. When Louise touched the ground, she bolted forward. Clarice slammed her blade into the floor with an overhead swing, but Louise jumped. She reared back her fist, smiling.

“You’re not gonna get me with that again!”
Clarice smirked.
“You’re not as bright as you think you are!”
Shrinking her blade back down to a hilt, and took a few steps forward. She pointed the hilt at the ground, and extended the blade again. 

Make the blade blunt!

Crashing into the floor but not piercing it, she was launched upwards at incredible speeds. She stretched her fist in front of her smashing it straight into a surprised Louise’s face.

“How’s that payback feeling you imbecile?”
The force that whacked her felt like when the pile driver smashed into her.
As Louise flew further into the air, Queen launched herself down towards Kirino.
She smiled, and reached for her blade. 

It’s over!
A flash, and an ear-splitting crack.
Queen barely caught the sight of a bolt of lighting zooming through the air, zapping the airborne Louise. 

She crashed onto the ground with a brutal thump, and Kirino landed right behind her, stumbling on the landing. She braced herself with her blade again, way more wobbly than last time.
Clarice landed elegantly, triumphantly stabbing her blade into the floor.
“Know your place Louise!”
“The fight isn’t over!” Kirino cried out.
Clarice felt a cold spike through her heart. 

This was the first time she had heard Kirino afraid.
She drew and swung her blade behind, but her arm stopped moving.
Queen’s arms had split into long, thick tendrils. They were tightly wrapped around both of her arms.
She was slowly lifted up, kicking her feet frantically. Adrenaline flooded her system, but that wasn’t enough to wriggle free.
Queen tightened her grip, the blood to her arms cut off. 

Her hands loosened and dropped her artifact, cracking the floor further and causing a small quake.
Her heart beat faster and faster. She wriggled more and more, trying to swing or do anything. She began hyperventilating.
Queen brought her close, enough for her to feel the monster breathing down her neck. From the tendril-arm, a smaller tendril sprouted forth, wrapping around her neck. It clasped around her neck, and tightened. She gagged and coughed. 

She tried to reach her arms for her neck, but she couldn’t move them either. Her body was running out of energy, and she felt limp. Her vision grew blurry.

“Skinwalker, stop it immediately!”
Kirino was back on her feet. Unsteady, but standing. Holding her usual, stern expression, she had one foot on top of Louise.
Queen bared monstrous fangs.
“My name is Queen.”

“Queen then.” She drew her blade, pointing it close to Louise’s neck. “Unless you want Louise here to die right now, release Clarice immediately.”
She snarled. Her grip around Clarice’s neck slightened, allowing her to barely suck in air.

“Is Louise really your friend? Clarice is mine. Whatever you do to her, I will return to Louise.”

“You’re lying.” She snarled. “You lied from the start. You intended to kill.”

“Capture was always my end goal here. Only for you. I’m aware of your tenacity, how you can survive even being sliced in half. That is the only way to capture you, no?” She inched the blade closer to her neck. “I still don’t want anyone to die today, but as I said before, my intent is not absolute.”

Queen held her hostage tight, continuing to snarl. 

Kirino stood steadfast, eyes locked onto the cryptid. 

With such determined eyes, was this all really just a bluff?
Clarice was just barely able to breath.

Moments of silence flowed onward. Queen loosened her grasp around Clarice’s neck.
I can’t lose my friend. There’s no survival without friendship.

“Louise walks to me first. Then I will release her.”

“Do you really want to bargain like this?”
“No. I want to return alive. With Louise.”
A minute more of their standoff passed, and the downed girl began to move. She groaned, opening her mouth.

“I heawd da entice ting.” Her mouth was still feeling numb. “Gimme won momemt.”

Thirty seconds passed, and she stumbled to her feet. She stood up, and Kirino walked, keeping the tip of her blade pointed at her back. 

She stood next to Queen.

“Now, release Clarice.”

Kirino dropped her blade, and the skinwalker threw the girl at her. Leaping back and catching her, Queen scooped up Louise, making a run for the exit.
With them gone, Kirino’s stern expression broke. She sighed in relief, and sat on the ravaged mall floor.

Clarice coughs, gasping for breath. Her face is completely red, eyes full of fear and anger.

“I screwed everything up…”
Kirino let her down. She sat on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees.

“I failed to listen to your instructions, and look what happened. Nearly got killed, mucked up this entire fight, and let that skinwalker get away… Just knowing that thing is gonna keep scheming…”

“Queen. Her name is Queen.” Kirino stated sternly. “From how she acted, she deserves that much respect. Had she been the monster we envisioned, you would be dead.”

Clarice looked up at her, almost dumbfounded. “But isn’t she a threat? Especially since she’s cooperating with Louise? Aren’t they just going to muck up everything we have planned for the future?”
“We were able to negotiate with her. I can’t exactly say the same for other UMA.”

She sat down next to her friend, sighing. “As for the direction this encounter went, the fault lies entirely on me.”

Clarice turned to her friend. “But-”
“It was my call to bring you to this fight. You’re still far too new to this, and I should have expected you to get caught in the moment. Discipline isn’t forged overnight.”

Clarice felt a pang in her chest.
“But your performance was still very impressive. How many people in this town can say they fought with an UMA and lived?”

“But it got away.”
“And you’re alive.”

“The only person I’ve failed is my employer. But he doesn’t need to know we even found Queen. I can continue building his trust, ignoring this facet.”

She looked away for a moment.

He wasn’t entirely honest with me about Queen either. Just what is he doing with his prized collection?

She stood up, smiling and offering a hand to her friend.

Clarice sniffled and smiled back, taking her hand. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”
She yanked her friend back to her feet. “Makes for quite a learning opportunity. But, you can reflect later. For now, let’s get that wound treated.”

Clarice smiled and nodded, feeling the bite wound in her leg aching.

A few blocks away from the mall, Louise punched a street lamp, denting it. Queen had reverted to her normal human form.

Soreness ached throughout the brawler’s body, but she didn’t care much. Annoyance overruled the pain.

“We were so close again! But once again, she still gets a slight upper hand!” She grabbed her head, yelling. “Why did this have to happen again?”

Queen cocked her head. “You changed your style of fighting, yes?”
“Completely! Plus, I got  more experience and skills than last time! Yet she’s just so… slippery! I could only land a single hit!”
“Your punches were easy to read. She saw that and took advantage.”
“Yeah, but I’m INTENTIONALLY making them easy to read. Sure, I take a few hits, but then I could fool her with a fakeout! Or maybe a double fakeout then strike!”

“But those ‘fakeouts’ didn’t get you that single hit. They do not work. Think how you got that attack to land.”
She thought back to her flying across the mall, feeling like a truck had struck her.

“Yeah, probably… not a good idea. Just still, anything is better than running and hiding again…”
“If you were defeated, then you would not know your fake outs do not work.”
She grumbled, trying to think of other ways. 

Maybe a quadruple fakeout…

She looked down, staring at her fist. “Still… That was a satisfying hit I DID get on her…” 

“Now, question. You said we would get burgers? I feel starved. I need energy to fully heal.”

She pulled her phone out from her pocket. It was nearly 11:30.

“Well, I’m assuming Davis is sleeping in, so let’s take our time getting to Royalty Burgers. I’d love to run but uhh… I think I need a little bit of rest.”


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