At the forest arena, Von Chad and Scott stared each other down.
Davis had moved out of the arena, watching the two players alongside Dom.
From seemingly nowhere, Von Chad procured a golden rapier. The crossguard was made of detailed, golden wings. The base of the blade was the head of a hummingbird, its beak making up the rest of the weapon.
He took a fencer’s stance, holding the blade in front of him.
A voice whispered into his ear.
“Yer gonna want to duck right now!”
Scott dropped to the ground, as milliseconds later, Von Chad lunged forward. He cleared the distance of the arena faster than anyone could see, and skidded to a halt, kicking up even more dust. His golden blade was positioned where Scott’s shoulder would have been.
Freezing the floor beneath him, Scott tried to sweep the legs of the mysterious man.
He simply leaps over, flipping in air and landing back on his feet, back in his fencing stance.
Scott got back onto his feet, and his foe began an impossibly fast flurry of stabs.
Scott stood firm, knowing there was going to be no way to dodge any of it, instead focusing on keeping a layer of ice frozen on his chest.
Every fast strike cracked his barrier, but it still held well enough. What it didn’t stop, however, was the pain. The impact from every blow felt like his chest was being hit by a machine BB gun. He grimaced, staring as Von Chad had a smile on his face with every blow.
He took a deep breath, and conjured a heavy gust of wind that blew him away from his opponent.
“Hey, you’re not gonna have much fun if you keep me on the defensive!” He shouted.
Crouching down, he froze several small pieces of debris from the ground. He motioned for them to all float up around him. To both of his sides was a massive wall of several bullet-sized pieces of frozen debris.
“Grapeshot, cannons away!”
GG emerged, holding his arm outwards.
The shards rocketed forward.
So did Von Chad.
The man’s shadow encompassed the boy.
Several pieces of ice were clearly embedded in his skin, but none of them seemed to even go that deep.
“Ya need more firepower! A full cannon volley!”
Freezing a path to his side and blasting another gust of wind, Scott skated off to the side, grazing another assault from Von’s weapon.
He took a stance once more, preparing to charge.
“A full volley, now!” GG yelled.
“I’m working on it, just need some ammo!”
“Ammo is all around ye!”
He froze the floor in front of him, and ducked.
The gentleman dashed forward, but before he could stop himself, his foot slipped on the ice.
The patch shattered from the footstep, but he still continued uncontrollably, slamming into the arena wall. He cartoonishly was implanted in it, sending several chunks of rock and dirt flying about.
Scott wasted no time in running by, grabbing two nearby large chunks of debris.
He worked to freeze them over, as Von Chad slowly pulled himself out of the wall.
“That’s not gonna be enough! Ye need more!”
Scott was breathing heavily, exhaling frozen vapor. One of the rocks had frozen into a spherical ball, the other into a javelin of ice.
“Got a small idea. Just follow along!”
They began floating next to him. He held out his finger like a gun once more, this time with a more determined look on his face. He aimed it at his opponent, who was busy dusting off any dirt from his clothes.
“We’ll make his cockiness into our victory. Cannonballs, fire!”
The icy cannonball launched forward.
The spear followed.
Von had just finished cleaning himself up, finding the cannonball soaring right for his head.
He deflected it with the back of his hand, sending it careening into the wall behind him.
The harpoon was right behind the ball, but he swung his blade upward, splitting it in half.
The two shards of ice spun into the air.
“You’re being too simplistic!” He shouted over. “You’re bor-”
“Reel it in!”
The two spinning stakes of ice stabilized, and flew back down to Von. Both of them impaled him through the back of the chest.
He flinched, feeling the two stakes of ice ram through the back of his chest, and pop out the front.
His eyes widen slightly, and his smile turns to puzzlement.
“Well, what do you know! You got a pretty good hit in on me! Could you-”
He flinched, feeling a skin-bitingly cold wind blow towards him. Scott had frozen a path straight to Von’s position, and skated over incredibly fast. He grabs ahold of his sword arm, and then a white flash.
The boy felt himself get shoved back, along with hearing the sound of ice shattering.
He landed on his feet and skidded to the other side of the arena.
He was panting, frozen beads of sweat dripping from his forehead. Every breath sent out even more clouds of frozen vapors. The ground was starting to chill from his breath itself.
Regaining his senses, he realized he was holding the frozen sword arm of his foe, still holding tightly onto the golden rapier.
“If you can do me a favor, please don’t damage my sword. It’s very sentimental to me!”
He glanced up, finding Von Chad staring at his severed stump of a forearm.
A tangling mess of black sinews stretched out of the open wound, reforming into the shape of his missing appendage. More sinews piled on until the skin looked a smooth, sleek black.
His arm had been reformed perfectly, except for the more hardened, armor-like appearance.
Scott exhaled deeply, redoubling his will. “Don’t seem to care about pain, hard to freeze down. You’re probably the perfect guy for a game of Uncle!”
Breaking the sword from the frozen arm’s grip, he planted it in the ground next to him.
“We might need a boarding party here GG. Launch the arm, and I’ll follow behind it. It’s do or die time!”
GG’s spirit emerged, sending the frozen arm forward. It didn’t fly nearly as fast as the other two projectiles.
He caught his frozen appendage with his new forearm, and shattered it in his grip.
“Did you expect me to get sentimental with that old thing?”
Scott was now a few feet away, hand on the lantern artifact.
“Nah, I just needed you to pay a bit of attention to it!”
The teal flames erupted, forth from the lantern, and GG’s spirit appeared, less ghastly and far more corporeal. He dashed forward, disappearing into the body of Von Chad.
He glances at himself curiously for a second, but finds his body suddenly becomes rigid. His insides feel literally like ice.
His hands begin frosting over, then freeze solid. All over, ice is growing throughout his body.
The ice continues to grow and grow, until he is entrapped in a solid, deep blue glacier.
The lantern artifact dims. Scott feels his body warm up significantly.
Every exhaustive breath no longer emitted frozen vapors. His sweat was normal.
Then, the glacier exploded.
Standing there is the silhouette of his formerly frozen prisoner. Black sinews are running across his body, shifting, repairing, and regenerating. The black figure then gains color over time. Only moments later, Von Chad is back to looking as normal as he was before he was frozen. He dusts any remaining particles of ice from his clothes.
Scott stares dumbfounded for a moment. His shock melts away into a smile. He shakes his head, sighs, and raises his hands. “Uncle. I think I’m out of my league here.”
Von Chad raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? You were actually beginning to threaten me there!”
Scott shakes his head. “What more can I do to ya?” He laughed. “I’ve thrown all I can, and also learned all I can from here at least.
“Why else would I agree to a simple game?” He stretched his arms out, exhaling. “I never anticipated anyone like you to be so overwhelmingly strong…”
He looked up at Davis, laughing.
“Guess I’m not the only one who could get sidelined by an UMA out of my league. But, I learned it through a friendly game, and now I can learn and improve from that.”
Von Chad’s lax expression changes to one of delight.
“Hm, even at my age I still come across surprises! Here I thought you were just bullying poor Davis.”
Scott shook his head. “More like a tough lesson. I don’t think Davis is capable enough to keep up this UMA business, genuinely. He’s got a useful ability, some neat tricks, but how could that stand against somebody like you?”
“For now, that may be true.” He wagged his finger. “But will he always be incapable?”
Scott crossed his arms. “Can’t improve if you’re dead. If his ability has some unknown potential, he’ll most likely die before he can discover it. Genuinely, I don’t wanna see that happen.”
The man shakes his head. “There’s still so much to this world you don’t fully comprehend. Besides, Davis has more power than just his ability, you know?”
He stood up straight, sheathing his blade. “Now, that was at least somewhat fun! Perhaps we can spar again in the future?”
“Definitely! But give me like, a month or so. Next time we meet, it’ll be like you’re fighting a new man!”
Using a gust of wind, he floats out of the arena.
“All right Dom, think you can fix up this hole?”
He nods. With a motion of his hands, two of the shoulder mounted harpoons fired upwards and straight down into the center of the arena, looking as if they were bending around an invisible pulley. Digging his feet into the ground, Dom pulled back his arms, and the machine roared with smoke and flames. His feet sank in, cracking the earth as the harpoons retracted. tugging the massive chunk of earth back to where it sat before.
Two more harpoons fired from the rear of the launcher, and the cables detached from Wonderbuilder. The mystical wire held in place, holding the chunk of earth aloft.
With another hand motion, a flamethrower-like device popped out to his side. Grabbing it with both hands, Dom ran around the circle, fusing the terrain back together.
Finished with his work, he reattached his pack to the suspended harpoons, detaching them. They rapidly retracted back into the artifact.
“That should be it…” He stared nervously at Von Chad.
“All good!” Scott waved to Von Chad and Davis. “Well, see you all later!”
The blue and orange haired boys walked away, back towards the suburbs.
Davis was still standing, his brain processing everything that happened.
If Scott can beat me, and gets bested by Von Chad… Where does that put me on this supernatural totem pole? Is Von Chad even the true top of the hierarchy? Are there more even stronger than he is?
The dignified man stopped by Davis.
“You’re very interesting Davis. Had you not been, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
Davis was shaken from his thoughts.
“There’s an important lesson to learn from Scott, but it isn’t that you’ll be killed continuing your duties. There’s more qualities to your success than you think.”
“What are they then?”
“It won’t be as impactful if I tell you directly. It’ll be easy to notice, so don’t worry!” Now then, I’ll be off. Remember, keep the birds safe, as per our deal!”
Von Chad braces himself slightly, and disappears into the woods.
Davis stared blankly.
I’m really not good enough am I? Will I really die if I keep going on? These powers are so restrictive compared to the others. Do I have to get more creative with them? Maybe there’s something more I have to discover about myself? No, but what if I die before that? What can I do?”
An alarm goes off.
His phone was buzzing with a reminder: Burger time with Louise.
He felt a pang in his gut. Maybe it would be best to silently withdraw from the monster hunting business?
He shook his head. If he was gonna quit, might as well tell Louise directly.
Wait, Louise. Maybe she knows my successful qualities?
“Who exactly was Von Chad?” Dom spoke, glancing up at the treeline. “I know there’s artifacts, the UMA, other phenomena, and probably more we don’t even know about… Kirino never mentioned any human type cryptids before. Weren’t they all supposed to be monstrous? Maybe he’s an abnormality?” He stared at Scott. “You don’t think there could be other like, super beings like him around, do you?
Scott shrugged. “All I know for sure is that Von is a bro. He coulda sidelined and killed me right at the very start. Maybe any point throughout that entire game, but he didn’t.”
Dom winced, looking upset from the statement.
“Oops uhh,.. Well let me give you one takeaway I got: If Von Chad is at the top here, what’s stopping us from getting as powerful as he is? Maybe that’s the crux of Kirino’s plan.”
He stared at his lantern. “Been learning more and more about the Teal Lantern that these artifacts aren’t static. They’re chock full of potential, either through using them creatively, or simply discovering new uses. Through that potential, imagine if we could become merely half as strong as Von Chad. With just our small group, changing the world would be totally in the cards!”
He patted the Wonderbuilder, a flicker of energy escaping from his palm.
“I can only imagine what kinda powers this baby has hidden.” He smiled, pumping his fist to himself.
Dom smiled. “Knowing what to do with this was mostly instinctive. I’m not sure how it did that, maybe the device itself has some kinda memory it’s sharing with me? Maybe there’s more inside of it I can discover?”
“MAN, let’s get back to Kirino’s. We gotta let her know what happened! After that, let’s try and find some place to toy around with Wonderbuilder! We gotta step up tenfold to keep up with this new world!” He eyed the artifact once more.
“Also, we gotta come up with some names for some moves.”
Dom’s smile turned into befuddlement. “Wh… Why?”
“Because it’s fun! Plus adds some intimidation factor too. I got stuff down for launching icy projectiles, but don’t know what to name that flash freeze move. Flash freeze is too on the nose…”
“Maybe… Perfect Freeze?” Dom spoke softly.
“Nah, doesn’t fit the theme. But we can think more once we’re back!”
At Royalty Burgers, Queen had finished her third Emperor Deluxe, A triple-stacked tower of beef, bundled with loads of cheese and bacon.
Louise had two chocolate shakes and a basket of fries. She silently sipped away at her drink, eying the door. Her eyes darted to Queen.
She had slowed down, now trying to take one bite of the burger at a time instead of swallowing them whole. She had a very warm expression on her face.
Glancing back at the door, Davis had pushed through, glancing around. His jacket was covered in dirt and torn up, and he had some bandages wrapped around his arms.
She raised her hand, waving to him. “Over here!”
He slinked on over, sitting next to Queen. She slid him a shake.
“By the way, I might need some payback for her.” She pointed at Queen. “Her stomach is like a black hole. Don’t worry about the shake though, that’s on me!”
He stared at the shake, and smiled. “I’ll uh… Yeah sure.” He felt his mood lighten a bit. It dampened, as he racked his mind how to break his thoughts to her.
“I see you got into some trouble. Are you all good?”
He glanced at her, shocked from his thoughts. “Yeah, I just ran into some trouble… I’ll mention it later. Just somethin else I wanna say.”
“Hah, Queen and I got into a fight with Kirino and that red-haired girl…”
His eyes bugged out of his head.
“Went out to Canopy Mall to settle things. It ended in a draw but we were literally neck and neck.”
He sighed, thinking back to Scott’s words.
It’s easy to say you’re skirting out of every conflict with luck.
“What happened to you?”
“Funny you should say… The other friends of Kirino were there. Scott and Dom. Dom didn’t even fight, it was Scott… Like, I can tell the details later, but I got beat pretty badly.”
Louise smacked her fist on the table.
“Must have been her plan from the start, to split us all up! She probably knew us together would have been too much for her!”
Davis silently sipped at his shake.
We’re strong together, but I’m the weakest link, huh… Maybe Louise could have fared better…
Maybe Louise coulda fared better against Scott?
She shook her head. “It’s just an unlucky day for us all. Though, always tomorrow and all that, right?”
“About that… I…” He swallowed. “Scott fought me, all to say that I wasn’t ready for what was to come ahead. That I was too incapable. I tried to ignore him, but Von Chad showed up…”
“Oh THAT guy?” She grumbled. “He’s why you got beat badly, right?”
“He actually saved me. In fact, Scott barely stood a chance against him… But like it just kinda further proved what Scott was saying. If we bump into some monster even close to as strong as Von Chad, we’d both die!”
“That is not certain.” Queen spoke. “We can always flee. We can hide. We can adapt.”
“But just in the face of such raw power?”
“Friendship. You are weak alone. But we can help you. You can help us.”
Davis shirked back, mind still rewinding the display of power from both Scott and Von Chad.
“See, Queen gets it! We’ve made everything work out in the end, together. Take one of us away, and it all falls apart. You’re essential to all this!”
If only I could have that dumb confidence.
He took another sip of his shake, relaxing.
Maybe working together, we can all survive. But still…
“Let’s at least be way more cautious. Scott said a lot about some really powerful monsters out there we couldn’t handle… I don’t think he was lying.”
“We’ll figure something out when we get there.” Louise nonchalantly responded. “Now, we need to have a talk with Benefactor. Queen figured something out after our fight with Kirino.”
Queen nodded. “Kirino knew about Scarecrow. She knew about me. She said she was ordered to capture me. She must know this because she works for my master.”
“Exactly! So she’s in cahoots with the person who wants us dead. So I got thinking: Queen knows where her master is. She can lead us back to wherever he is, and then we can get the jump on him!”
“That sounds… incredibly reckless. Like, Queen, you said you smelled several monsters around the area you were captured. We could be walking into a giant cryptid zoo and get overwhelmed!”
“Well, that’s why I wanna have a word with Benefactor. I mean, it’s been a while since we last reported to him anyways. If Queen’s master is related to P.A.I.N, maybe Benefactor can leak us some info. For the sake of the mission, of course!”
Davis felt an uneasiness in his stomach.
Following the burgers, they returned to Louise’s home. The two recounted each other’s experiences to her. Louise gloriously recounted her fight with Kirino and Clarice, being corrected several times by Queen.
Davis spared no detail in every move he made that Scott effortlessly countered, and how Scott’s full force could barely even harm Von Chad.
Back in her room, Louise brought out the thumb drive, and plugged it into her computer.
The screen flickered, turning to the familiar static snow.
Queen recoiled in fear at the sight.
“Louise Palrick, Davis Foster… And who is that?”
“This is Queen. She’s a shapeshifter, and she’s a new ally. It’s a long story.”
There was a slight pause. “Noted. So long as she does not compromise your mission, it is acceptable. State your report.”
Louise went on, recounting their fight with Queen, the adventure through the mines and the whispering settlements, the encounter with Scarecrow, and even the fights and artifacts she encountered Kirino’s gang using.
“As for the mines, can you explain more about the living gold? It sounds similar to what has been previously recorded.”
She shrugged. “After Davis trapped me, it tried to eat me. And we saw some bodies encased in it. We don’t really know what else.”
“Intriguing. If only further investigation was possible.”
It paused, a short whirring coming from the computer.
“PAIN’s activity is progressing in Tomahawk Hills, but your initiative and reports are helping greatly. Keep the work up, and soon they might lose interest in the town.”
Louise smiled, giving a thumbs up.
Davis interjected. “What about those artifacts we described? The Dragontail sword, or whatever that backpack thing was? The lantern and a ghost called GG?”
Louise stared at her friend confused.
“Accessing and delivering information on artifacts could compromise my position.”
Davis cursed under his breath.
“Now with our report out of the way, I can’t forget! Queen here says she was trained and ordered to kill the two of us by some master. Said master was also who unleashed Scarecrow on us. AND she says they also have a bunch of cryptids imprisoned. Is this master related to P.A.I.N?”
A whirring came from the computer. The static was still flickering, but no response.
“Come on, something? This guy is trying to kill us, we need to stay a step ahead of him!”
“There are no P.A.I.N holding or research facilities anywhere near the town of Tomahawk Hills. However…”
It whirred more.
“I am taking a risk delivering this information to you, but your survival is paramount. There was a report submitted to P.A.I.N. on utilizing Scarecrow to recapture an escaped skinwalker, along with a second detailing its failure, collateral, and the cleanup. It was filed and submitted by a collaborator simply known as The Collector. He is not an official part of P.A.I.N, but does assist them in the capture and delivery of several paranormal creatures and objects.”
“From his reports, none of them mention you or Davis. Your mission is at least still safe from P.A.I.N.”
Davis felt his heart sink. Louise’s eyes widened. Queen stared blankly, feeling her heart race.
“He has a compound set up around the outskirts of town. His operations around Tomahawk Hills have increased significantly due to the surge in paranormal phenomena. If he is targeting you, you must find a way into his compound, and terminate him. Doing this should both hamper P.A.I.N’s information collecting abilities, and return your operations to secrecy.”
Louise nodded. “Any other help you can throw us? Like an extra artifact or something?”
“The only advice I can give is to proceed very covertly. Any frontal assault will end in your deaths. There is nothing more I can do.”
The white snow flickered to blackness.
At this point, Davis is all like “We should really do a lot more plotting before going headfirst into this. Dude works for PAIN, Captures monsters, like what do you think he has?”
“Large trucks. Several men with guns.
Davis crossed his arms. “How are we even gonna get close to that? Even at night, I doubt I can ghost and tug all of you in.”
“I got this covered.” Louise gave a thumbs up. “Collector wants us, right? So what if we act like Queen was PRETENDING to be our ally? Like she was tricking us to get close so she could capture us? She could deliver us to this Collector guy, and we can take him out before he knows what hit him!”
“That’s still too reckless! What if he has some attack cryptids or something guarding him?”
“We can figure something out. Besides, our goal is the Collector. He’s only human, what more could he do?”
“A human who works for P.A.I.N. and is skilled enough to do what we’re doing on a professional level.”
Queen stared between the two of them. “He never directly captured me. Others did. He may simply seem strong by using others.”
“Well what else are we gonna do?” Her voice grew louder. “Sit around until he sicks some other cryptid monster he trained on us? Wait till he reports us to P.A.I.N. and ruins everything?”
Davis thought back to earlier in the day.
If his ability has some unknown potential, he’ll most likely die before he can discover it.
“Not sit around, we should at least train! Get stronger, bring new tricks to the table. Every instinct of mine is screaming we’re not ready for something this big. We can’t even beat Kirino or her friends. What makes you think we can fight her boss?”
“Hey, it was a draw! Two draws.” Louise huffed “Either way, we’ll have a huge element of surprise. We need to do this quickly too. If we wait longer, he might be less likely to buy her story.”
Davis stood frozen. Together they were at their strongest, but split up they were weak. But Queen and Louise were strong together, even without him. But this was far more complex than a simple fight.
He looked at the ground, still thinking of backing out of the hunts altogether. So many factors to process, all to stop some man from murdering him and his friend. “I’m not going. It’s just still way too risky. I… I don’t wanna die! Not if there’s a chance we can do this without dying. Even if it takes a month or two longer… Charging in blind is just gonna get us killed!”
“We’re sneaking in through the front door, not charging!”
“It’s still way too risky!” His voice began to choke. He clenched his fists “If you get caught, it’ll be all over for you!”
“And you think waiting for him to send more attack cryptids to us is a better option? We can’t just hesitate at these opportunities!”
Louise stared at him frustrated. Davis had desperation painted on his face. Louise sighed. “Look, if you don’t want to go, that’s fine. It can just be me and Queen. We’ll be enough. A few solid punches to the head, a slash from Queen, then we run as fast as we can.”
He fell down to his knees, staring up and deep into her eyes.
“I’m begging you, just reconsider! I don’t wanna die, and I don’t want to see you die too!”
I’m not essential to this.
He clenched his teeth. His body, mind and heart were all terribly bruised.
His eyes were welling up.
Seeing her friend like that, her expression changed to a warm smile. She crouched down and hugged him tightly, lifting him up to his feet.
“Don’t worry, none of us are gonna die! You’ve seen how many times we’ve laughed in the face of death. If we’re staring it down, we’ll find a way around.”
She held her fist in front of her, grinning.
“She will survive.” Queen chimed in. “Friendship. She is reckless, but I can help her.”
Davis took a few deep breaths. “But can we really just, keep assuming that on and on?”
“That’s true, but that’s why you staying behind will work out. I guarantee you, I’m not gonna die in there. But, I still might get trapped or captured. If I don’t return, I’m relying on you to save me.”
He wiped his eyes, sniffling and swallowing. “If I can’t change your mind… I’ll do all I can to be ready to save you then.” He cleared his throat. “But please, still think more about it. I don’t want to overextend our luck.”
“Oh I will, but only to make the plan better!”
She sat down on her bed.
“Now uh, my body is kinda sore… So I’m thinking of taking the day off, and preparing tomorrow.”
Davis felt all his bandaged scratches ache.
“Oh uh, same here. Kinda.”
“You wanna play some games or something? Or maybe just some TV?”
He smiled. “Y-yeah, that sounds just, nice.”
After a day of watching TV, playing games, and explaining the concept of games and TV to Queen, the group split their ways; Queen and Davis returned to his home, and Louise stuck around.
Laying down in bed, her brain continued to rack every possibility the upcoming encounter could pose.
At Davis’s home, Queen had curled up and fell asleep on his couch.
With the day over, the dread of Louise’s decision crept up on his heart. He shook his head.
It wasn’t too late, only around 9pm. He glanced to his garage.
Might as well prepare for the worst.
The following Wednesday morning, Louise came along to pick up Queen. A quick exchange of Davis saying he wanted to try to make some new gadgets for the next few days, and Louise wanting to spar with Queen for the entire day.
The day marched on, Louise and Queen relentlessly dueling with each other to cover any of their weaknesses in combat. Davis spent most of the time trying to experiment with gadgets he never thought he’d attempt to build. There were several botched attempts at some sort of grappling hooks, any sort of sticky immobilizing bomb, and other hunks of metal that were supposed to be some kind of weapon. From all his toil, he did manage to get a simple aerosol flamethrower to work.
Something to at least give him an edge over Scott.
Near the end of the day, Queen and Louise went out, far off into the countryside to scout out the Collector’s compound. They went off towards the foothills, and ran along the side of it for several miles until they came across the location.
It was nightfall by the time they arrived, and hidden behind a small set of hills was a large, fenced off area.
The outside of it looked like a military base, and from this distance, Queen only noticed a few guards were patrolling near the entrance.
Beyond the fence were some garages, a helipad, and at the center of it all was a fancy lodge. If it weren’t for the fences and military personnel walking around, the lodge would have blended in perfectly with its environment.
“There is more than just that.” Queen spoke. “There is more underground. Several tunnels that lead to the surface too.”
“Do you think sneaking out through those is possible?”
She shook her head. “I am unsure. They could see us in them.”
“Still, it’s a good thing you’re gonna sneak us in through the front. Now, tomorrow let’s continue to train. We’ll leave and have you fake capture me at night. So when we need to escape, we’ll have the cover of darkness on our side.”
She nodded. “Perhaps I could turn off the lights, like how Scarecrow did to the school?”
“That’d be perfect then! I’ll have to teach you about electricity and circuits and that stuff when we get back.”
Thursday continued as more of the same. Davis continued to tinker away in the garage, trying to perfect that grappling hook. For the other half of the day, he practiced utilizing his ability more, trying to phase out only certain parts of his body, or all together in an attempt to build more endurance with his ability.
Queen and Louise continued to spar, eat, and chat all the potential strategies to escape after they kill the Collector.
The evening was soon upon all of them, and Davis heard a knock on his door. Answering it, Louise and Queen were standing there, Louise with a smile on our face. She was wearing some camo cargo pants, with her usual school jacket zipped all the way up. Her gauntlets were equipped already as well.
He took a deep breath.
“So, it’s finally time. We’re gonna head off to the Collector’s Compound. We’ll be back by sunrise, if not, I’m counting on you!”
She held out her arms. Davis ran forward, giving her a hug.
“Just if you smell the slightest hint this might fail, promise me you’ll run. Please.”
“You bet, but right now our plan is pretty airtight!
They let go. Queen awkwardly raised her arms too. Davis gave her a quick hug.
“Question, what is this for? Is it to make others feel happier?”
“It’s just… It means I care about you.”
He took another deep breath. “Oh yeah, before you go.”
He handed Louise a collar.
“It’s another GPS tracking collar. Just in case The Collector moves you somewhere else when you get captured.”
She smiled, taking it and tucking it away in your jacket.
“Haha, nice thinking.” She exhaled. “Man, I’m still a bit nervous, but…”
She looked away.
“Then you should follow your gut. Like I said, we really don’t know what you’re getting into.”
“No, I can’t. It just doesn’t sit right with me, letting him get away with terrorizing us, Queen, all that. I’ll show em, for all of us.”
“Well, regardless of all that happens, I’ll still have your back, all right?”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“I’ll return to your home first thing by sunrise. If I’m late, at least the GPS thing can let you know where I’m at!”
The sky had gone dark by the time the duo arrived at the front of the Collector’s compound. Queen had turned into her more monstrous-like form, the first one Louise had encountered at the factory. Towering over her partner, she carried Louise by her jacket, marching towards the front gate.
Two of the guards pointed at her as she approached. One of them spoke into a radio.
“The skinwalker has returned. It’s carrying that girl with it… I think she’s alive?”
A moment of silence from the other end, before it crackled to life.
“Let it come in. I’ll handle it all myself.
The guard nodded, and went to a small booth to open up the large gate to the compound.
Walking in, there wasn’t much activity. There were some guards patrolling, others idling around humvees or playing cards with each other. Most of them had all their eyes trained on Queen as she walked up to the lodge.
Walking through the grand ivory doors, Louise was awestruck by how gorgeous the foyer was. Mounted along the walls were the skulls of various exotic animals. Bears, tigers, elephants, and more she couldn’t even recognize. The floors were a fancy polished marble, and walls built from luxurious looking wood. They headed straight down the hall, through heavy metal doors at the rear of the lodge.
The luxury didn’t end: The halls that lead down to the Collector’s office had red silk carpets, and the walls were gilded with ornate golden ornaments.
At the end was another ivory door. On the wall to the left of it was a large steel cargo elevator.
As they continued down the hall, Louise felt her hands shifting around.
It was Liberty Aegis. It was changing, the flame-like edges of the gauntlets growing out further.
Her heart raced, but shifted her focus back to the office ahead
The doors opened automatically, and Queen walked on through.
The office space was something unreal, even after all Louise had seen.
Bizarre skulls of what she could only assume were Cryptids were lined up against the back of the room. Standing next to a thick wooden desk was the stuffed corpse of a towering, ape-like creature that nearly reached the roof in height. The sides of the room had bookshelves filled to the brim, and display cases showing off mysterious artifacts. A strange cloak, a solid cube looking like it was made of ash, a gel-like crucifix, a broken twisted cane, a stone horn, and a gorgeous looking flower were only a small selection of his collection.
Sitting at a large wooden desk was The Collector. His hair was nicely combed, and he was wearing a monocle alongside a nice tweed suit. His face was wrinkled and rugged, staring intently at the duo.
“Come on closer. I thought I ordered you to kill her?”
Queen trodded closer, dropping Louise to speak.
“She said she had information. Something you would-”
From beneath his desk, he pulled out an elephant gun. Before Queen could even react, he held it out with one hand, firing into her skull at point-blank range.
Even in her monstrous form, the firepower from the gun completely blew her head off. The remains of her body crashed to the floor.
Louise stared in utter disbelief, but leapt forward towards the Collector.
ANother shot from his gun sent Louise flying backwards, crashing into and cracking the back wall. The Collector stood up, and walked over to the poor girl.
Her chest ached terribly. Any attempts to move her arms caused the pain to worsen significantly. She clenched her teeth and tried to tolerate the pain, but it was still too much.
“Do you really think I’m that foolish to trust a pathetic cryptid like it? Still, it did me quite a favor.”
Louise tried her best to endure the raging pain from her chest.
I gotta move… Just gotta punch his lights out!
The Collector was now on top of her, and picked her up by her jacket.
Her body ached all over from the slight movement.
“Louise Palrick I presume? I’m so happy you saved me all this trouble, and came straight to me. Now, I have a few questions that will determine whether you will walk out of here alive or not.”
He glanced at Liberty Aegis.
“I’ve never seen or heard of an artifact like yours before. Highly doubt you just found them lying around. Where did you get them?”
She stayed silent.
“I guess where you got them won’t matter soon enough. Now, for my own curiosity: Why exactly are you getting involved with cryptids? Your interference has gotten me in quite a bit of trouble.”
“You work for P.A.I.N! You should know the answer!” She spat at him.
He raised an eyebrow. “You know of P.A.I.N’s existence? Let alone my relationship to them?”
He laughed. “To think the skinwalker was telling the truth! You do have some information I’d love to know!”
He returned to his stern expression, with a hint of delight. “It looks like P.A.I.N has a rat among their ranks! Guess that answers my first question too!”
He let her drop to the ground. Her body was starting to feel slightly better, but still too sore to move. He walked over to his desk, pulling open a drawer. “You would never understand how much of a burden they are to me.” He grumbled. “They’re sycophants. Leeching off my achievements.”
“Burden to you? Your achievements?” She snarks, grunting through the pain. “I know that Kirino is working for you. You probably got her and some other goons just doing all your hunting work for you. All while you stay cozy in this lodge. You call yourself the Collector, but you should be called The Leech!”
He paused, glancing angrily in her direction. He pulled a rubber bullet from the desk, and marched up to her.
“My namesake was earned. Everything I’ve done here, I paid with my own literal blood and sweat.”
He slowly unbuttoned his jacket, revealing an impressive physique. One of his arms was terribly scarred, and the other was a robotic prosthetic.
He walked over to his desk, hanging the jacket on his chair.
“I need you to understand who exactly you’re talking to. Years ago, I started off as a grunt in a PMC, and ended up running it in under a decade.”
He walked over to the stuffed ape-like cryptid.
“Now this bastard here. It’s a sasquatch. You could imagine my surprise that the tabloids were true about him, but there’s more. He taught me a lesson I’d never forget.”
He carefully unbuttons his shirt, showing his muscular chest. Several more scars scraped across his skin. He tapped to a standout scar in particular: A dark gash across his heart.
“Before this, I was rich beyond anyone’s dreams. Governments paid us lucrative for whatever dirty work they wanted done. Not even organized armies could stand against my tact. Then one day in the Appalachians, we were paid a lucrative amount for simple guard duty. Some insurgents or something, causing an immense amount of damage to a nearby base.” He buttoned up his shirt, patting the stuffed cryptid on the shoulder. “This beast was far more dangerous than any group of armed men could ever be. Almost wiped out my entire troop.”
He laughed to himself. “But still, I was able to kill it. It may be strong enough to treat steel like sheet paper, and durable enough to survive rockets, but its insides sure as hell weren’t as tough. It gave me a terrible scar, but I got to keep its skin. A fair trade.”
He walked past a row of cryptid skulls. “Sasquatch here was a wake-up call: I may have had all sorts of power and wealth, but I was still under the thumb of phenomena beyond my understanding. Artifacts, haunted locations, cryptids, you’re familiar, no? They may be hard to understand, but they can all be contained, controlled, or killed. I had the money, the resources, and the expertise, and I spent my fortune seeking it all out.”
He stares at the skull of a Wendigo mounted on his wall, and across his wall of artifacts. Louise glanced across the wall as well, hoping maybe for something to grab, something slightly recognizable that could get her out of there.
“All of these were achieved without the help of any paranormal phenomena or artifact. Simply my wit, and a party of trustworthy troops. Do you not see my trophies? My triumphs over the impossible? All of the supernatural, rendered inert under my heels! How many people on this planet stand where I do? None.”
He turned back to Louise, shaking his head.
“Unfortunately, as my collection of skulls, specimens, and artifacts grew, a new obstacle reared its head. It was far more organized and cunning than any cryptid.
You would think we’d get along, sharing the goal of capturing paranormal phenomena. But according to them, my methods are ‘A threat to global security.’ In other words, they want to be the only ones in control of all paranormal phenomena! Thankfully, my expertise was too much for them to ignore, and I got to keep all that I’ve collected. However, in turn, I’m back to where I started: Doing simple dirty work for some government agency. Providing specimens, artifacts, whatever they please. It’s not so much partnership as it is servitude. My ‘goons’, however, are more than capable enough to do this work for me.”
He put his jacket back on, holding his arms behind his back.
“Now, even through your childish skull, you should understand: I earned the right to stand above the world of the paranormal. I staked my life on conquering the unknown. You’ve staked yours in making P.A.I.N. think I’m losing my edge. You’re playing childish games compared to me.”
Louise huffed. “P.A.I.N.’s business is my business. You know what they’re going to do to Tomahawk Hills? They’re making plans to turn it into some kinda research blacksite! You’ll be stuck here, everyone else stuck in one big paranormal zoo!”
He laughed. It was far heartier than before.
“That would be an utter delight!”
He leaned in closer to her. “It was sheer luck that this town became a hotspot for the paranormal. But P.A.I.N. was one step ahead of me… Now I can’t even so much as walk outside of this very lodge without them BREATHING DOWN MY NECK! All for the reason of “preserving the anomalous environment!” It becomes ESPECIALLY annoying when some brat is interfering with MY work, and P.A.I.N. prevents me from DIRECTLY DEALING WITH A STUPID GIRL! How the HELL do they not realize some bitch snuck off with THEIR artifact, and is ruining all of MY WORK FOR THEM?” He stopped himself, taking a deep breath.
“But, you’ve come to the one place they can’t control. And you’ve brought something so wonderful for me. Perhaps something to help me make the most of this future they’ve planned.”
He held his gun up to her head. “So, let’s work together here. We both dislike P.A.I.N. You know of a rat in their ranks. If this rat were to assist me, perhaps I could find a way around their pesky restrictions… And as for you, I’ll let you leave this lodge as you came. Minus your artifacts, of course. But is that not a small price to pay?”
Louise spat at him. “How stupid do you think I am? That’s a garbage deal!”
He shook his head, clicking his tongue. “Not very bright, are you? I was even nice enough to let you know EXACTLY who I am, and what I do. The bodies and wills of dozens of cryptids weren’t able to stand up to me! What makes you think you will?”
Loading the rubber round into his gun, he pointed and fired.
The impact knocked her out.
Staring at the crumpled corpse of the girl, The Collector walked over to his desk, tapping a few buttons on his phone.
“Get an empty cage prepped…” He glanced back, noticing the skinwalker’s corpse was subtly different.
Despite that grievous wound, it hadn’t bled at all.
He kicked it over, finding it to be exceedingly light.
A decoy made of skin and fat. He glanced around his office. Noticing one of the air ducts was left open.
“Ahh… I should have expected your tenacity…” He walked back over to his phone.
“The skinwalker has escaped once more. Stay on high alert until it’s found.”
He turned to the unconscious Louise.
“Now, as for you…”
He walked over to her, crouching down and trying to pull the gauntlets off of her hands.
He tugged her body slightly.
He tapped his chin, grabbing her wrist and pulling as hard as he could.
They didn’t move at all.
“Well now. This might make breaking you a bit tougher…”
He smiled. “Perhaps this might be some excitement I’ve been craving.”
TO BE CONCLUDED THIS SUMMER
So that’s it for Part 1!
Will the trio manage to escape the collector? What’s going on with Liberty Aegis? Can the collector even be stopped?
I’m aware these answers are up in the air for everyone, I’m working on something really special to tie this part all together! Best case scenario, it’ll be ready to go by July!