Louise shivered, twitching her leg and pulling her jacket tighter around herself. It was very starry out, with a fair amount of moonlight seeping through the forest canopy. All she had brought with her was her phone, high powered flashlight, and a sword at her hip just in case of trouble.
Despite all reason, whoever sent that note had to at least know what she wanted. Receiving a cryptic note saying “I can help what you’re looking for: The Truth” would drive away any normal person, but for Louise, it was a door to something potentially greater. To her, whoever wrote it had seen her web history, and knew of her hideout in the middle of the woods as well. She stared into the sky, judging whether this was maybe a hit attempt to silence her from uncovering the truth this town held. Or maybe whoever sent the note was impressed with her detective skills, and sought to recruit her for her expertise?
Interrupting the sound of the wind blowing through the pine branches was a buzzing fading in, overhead. It wasn’t a mosquito or bug, but sounded like an RC helicopter. It faded away, and a sudden thump jolted Louise out of her thoughts.
It was a small wooden chest, sitting right in front of her. She shone her flashlight on it, finding a typed up note pinned to it.
“You’re in danger. Put these on.”
Her heart began to beat faster, thumping against her chest. She glanced around, flashing her light at her surroundings. She didn’t see anything threatening. Still, she returned to the chest, removing a small latch on the front and throwing the top open.
Inside was a pair of demi-gauntlets. She paused to stare at them for a few moments.
She slipped both of them on quickly. She rotated her hands around, looking at all the neat looking inscriptions.
This is perfect! I never thought I’d get a start on a full suit of armor this early!
She bounced up and down, letting out a small squeal of joy.
A thought wormed its way back into her mind.
Wait, how is this supposed to protect me? Am I going to have to duel somebody?
An explosive crack boomed through the forest, and Louise felt something strike her in the back. Time slowed down for her, as her brain began to process what had happened.
She had been shot.
Everything around her slowed down, her brain recalling how she got wrapped up in all this, all the way back to 7:15AM.
It was early enough for Louise to get prepared for school, but just late enough for her to eke out every last minute of sleep. Hearing her alarm clock blare, she smacked it off, kicking her blankets away and jumping towards her closet. Inside was assorted sporty looking outfits alongside more proper wear for school. Beneath her clothes were a stack of books about various monster sightings, each with several tabs sticking out of them.
She quickly threw on a black button up shirt and skirt, wearing her school’s orange and white track jacket. Last, she couldn’t forget the keys to tie together her look: a dark brown neckerchief, and red training gloves.
She considered those two parts the defining bits that really helped her stand out against the crowd.
Her room itself was small; Her paper-stacked desk only stood a chair’s length away from her bed, books were stacked on top of her wardrobe, and next to that was a corkboard, overflowing with various news articles.
Leaning against her wardrobe was a gladius and long staff, the sword being her “weapon of choice” that she purchased from a renaissance fair a year ago.
Her computer wasn’t top of the line, but it was good enough to browse the web smoothly, which was good enough for her.
She carefully walked past some of the scattered papers on her floor, grabbing a few textbooks among them to put in her backpack. With her school gear in tow, she hurried down to the kitchen. Her parents were gone already, having to leave early to reach their job out in the city. Thankfully, they had already made a loving lunch for her the night before, so she took some sausage patties out of the fridge and began cooking, preparing for the day ahead.
Louise’s hometown, Tomahawk Hills, was a mix of suburban sprawl surrounded by farmland and forestland. The urban housing clashed starkly against thick walls of green and brown trees. Off in the distant east, everyone could see the town’s titular hills, no matter where one was.
Roads ran between undeveloped lands to small clusters of shops and the occasional mall plaza. Those same roads continued, past the endless farmlands and up into the foothills, where a small number of very privileged houses sat.
Despite all this, it was no trouble for one to get around without a car, and Louise liked that fact as she saw her school coming into view. Tomahawk High had the same, unassuming feel the rest of the town shared. To her, it was nothing more than a normal high school, for better or for worse. Dozens of students hurried through the front doors, either arriving via bike or dropped off by car, and Louise happily jogged past all of them, hoping to start the day early and get through it as fast as possible.
Pushing past the crowds, she never really thought too much about others, as she didn’t really expect them to think much of her. There was the odd exception however.
She only shared a few classes with him, but he always carried the exact same social presence: Big dark jacket, hood up (even to the dismay of teachers), and always leaning against walls, watching others pass by. He rarely spoke during classes, and NEVER spoke to classmates unless required to. Louise felt intimidated somewhat, but did hope for some excuse to sit down and talk with him. She had searched for him willingly during lunch a few times, but could never find where he sat. His bizarre presence was the only real out of the ordinary thing around.
Other than ogling Davis, she didn’t really have solid friends other than other classmates to chat with randomly during breaks, but it was fine enough for her. Anything to help speed up the pace of the day.
With a typical school day all wrapped up, Louise made a wind sprint for her classroom’s door. There was a lot to get done at home, though at the last hallway to the exit, she skidded to a halt at a small wall of students. There she spotted the only other person she remembered at school. Not because she cared too much for them, however.
“Come on, I’ve been waiting for months for you, you saying you can’t make any amount of time for me?” Spoke an arrogant sounding boy’s voice.
“As much as you think your time is more important, I have other things to attend to. I don’t want to keep my soccer practice partner waiting.” Spoke Kirino Yorogami.
It was hard not to know about Kirino. She was a bonafide prodigy; Daughter of a tech giant CEO, top of all of her classes, and the school’s women’s soccer ace to boot. Louise couldn’t imagine how anyone’s self esteem could stand simply being around her. Whether she actually had friends was up for debate, at least Louise didn’t see her out openly with anyone else.
Her train of thought was cut off with a bang. The boy had slammed his fist against the wall lockers, his arm cutting off her path.
“Seriously, just take a break or something! Trust me, just one lunch out with me and-”
He yelped as she grabbed him by the arm, flipping him over flat onto his back. The boy groaned, face wrinkled in pain. He rolled over to his side, slowly crawling back up to his feet. She stared down at him
“If you think you’re deserving of my time, come back when you won’t be knocked down so easily.”
She turned to the exit, marching towards the wall of students without paying them any heed. An invisible command swept over them, the group parting for her to leave.
Louise felt a twinge in her stomach at the students’ reaction.
Shaking the feeling, she hurried through the doors, jogging back home, for her real work to begin.
The jog home was uneventful, as just about everything about Tomahawk Hills was. For Louise, however, everything was uneventful at only surface level. Kicking down the door to her room, tossing her backpack onto her bed, and flicking her computer tower on. She pushed aside the mess of papers and pulled her keyboard out, and opened her desk drawer to pull out a very fat notebook.
The book looked like it was carrying way too much paper for its spiral to hold, combined with several sticky tabs sticking out at every single possible space they could. Louise sat back in her chair, leaning back and cracking her knuckles as her computer chugged to life.
“Let’s get some REAL work started!” She said with a dumb grin on her face.
From that open on, the night was a flurry of opening dozens of tabs at once to several news sites, forum posts on weird sightings around town, tabloid sites, anything that could point towards the something suspicious she KNEW was going on. There were all sorts of stories that she thought had to mean more: Mysterious moose spotted in the woods (Her town wasn’t the proper climate for them), rumors of a ghost living at her high school, people vanishing out of their cars on backroads, and the endless slough of mysterious disappearances that all happen around the forest.
There were dangerous wild animals that live there, like coyotes or mountain lions, but for so many people to disappear there was far too suspicious for her. Her mindset was even more reinforced by the town’s love to just not mention whenever somebody vanishes, other than the occasional PSA saying “The woods are dangerous, stay out of there after sunset!” There was a good reason she had set up a small hideout out there.
During her search, she found an interesting forum post.
“Armored trucks traveling around outskirts, anyone else seen these?”
In the thread were quite a few photos of a dirt road, and large, military-esque trucks on them. Louise tapped her fingers on the desk as she squinted closely at the photos.
It COULD be her town, but a dirt road is pretty common. Only real landmark was a torn-up wire fence, but that was probably a common sighting out in the midwest. Still, she opened up her notebook to a new page, writing down:
“Mysterious armored trucks? Military training or something more?”
And below it
“Go camping this weekend near abandoned roads to look for them?”
The weekend was right around the corner, but if schoolwork piled up… Maybe next week, she thought.
After making a good dinner for herself and actually doing her homework, it was very dark out. Her desk was covered in even more paper, several notes on what military trucks were being used, where military bases around her area were, and random facts about armored cars and military vehicles. She was about to continue her hunt, when she heard a loud thump on the front door, as if somebody just ran up and punched it.
She ran on over, thinking perhaps it was her parents finally home from work.
Answering it, there was nothing there, except a small black box, no larger than a phone. She picked it up, opening it to find a small folded slip of paper. Opened it, finding a small, typed out note.
“I know what you’re looking for: The Truth. I am aware of your hideout in the woods, and there you’ll gain the first piece. Be there at 10pm.”
Her brain processed the note for a few seconds, before she whirled around, looking for a clock. Her stove clock read 9PM, and the forest was a fifteen minute jog. She gathered up her sword, a backpack, flashlight, and a few snacks before flying out the door in a full blown sprint.
There was a slight stinging pain in her back still, but Louise realized it didn’t really hurt all too much? She was clenching her eyes incredibly tight, but loosened them slowly. Her vision was still normal, not a deep red like she expected.
Powered by adrenaline, she scrambled back to her feet, hearing another crack in the distance.
She felt another bullet strike her, this time in the side of her chest. Despite being knocked over by it, she absolutely knew for sure it didn’t break her skin, let alone rip her clothes. It must have been some miracle from God, she thought. Maybe a blessing, or maybe she was just bulletproof this whole time and never really realized it?
She took cover behind a tree and turned off her flashlight, hoping to lose the sight of her assailant. Shaking, her brain was still trying to process what the miracle even did. She racked her brain, trying to think of everything different she did than usual. Then she remembered: The note. Her eyes glanced down to the gauntlets.
They looked like none she’d seen before, perhaps the product of some kinda eccentric knight or noble, but were they really keeping her protected?
Taking a deep breath, she flicked her light back on, and stood out in the open. The bullet struck her right in the back, but she had braced herself for the strike, staying on her feet. She only bent slightly from the blow, before turning around and drawing her sword with a grin.
“I got a good feeling where I’ll find you now!” She yelled, voice echoing through the trees.
“How about you stop being a coward and fight me one on one since your gun isn’t doing you any favors!”
She began charging towards where the bullet came from at full speed, sword in front of her triumphantly. She heard Another gunshot, but this time she was able to react somewhat faster, instinctively sidestepping out of the bullet’s path.
Oh my god, this is so amazing! I wonder how this thing will help with my sword combat?
She shone her light around, still trying to find the location of her assassin-turned-prey. Instead of one, there were three gunshots in succession, followed by a scream. She homed in on the sounds, skidding to a halt at what was not just the sniper.
He lay limp against the tree, a gash in his chest and his rifle cleaved straight in half. He held a pistol in his other hand, which was lying on the forest floor.
Standing over him was a massive creature, easily three times Louise’s height. It stood on hooved legs, covered in thick fur. Stretching up a very muscular back up to a squarish head, were two massive antlers. The beast turned around revealing its head to be a cross between a human’s and a moose’s; Blank white human eyes and cheeks, with a moose-like snout extending from it, lined with razor-sharp teeth.
There were three red holes in its abdomen, where she could clearly see the pistol bullets embedded. It exhaled white mist, letting out a low growl towards Louise. She took a step back in fear, but then held her sword with both hands, taking another step forward into a stronger stance.
“You may have done me a favor here, but I don’t think you have good intentions for the other people around here, do you?” She held her sword in front of her as if offering a challenge.
The monster roared in return, swinging one of its elongated, clawed arms at her. Using the hilt of her sword, she parried its attack, charging forward to stab straight towards its stomach. It barely pierced the surface of its skin, quickly striking something hard. The impact shook through the rest of her body, stunning her for a brief enough moment for the beast to lift one of its legs to kick her.
She flew away, crashing into and cracking the trunk of a pine tree. The dull pain of the impact throbbed through her body, but wasn’t as bad as she had anticipated. Her breathing quickened as she got back onto her feet, the beast now charging at her on all fours, rearing its antlers.
Thinking of something new, she decided to try jumping, finding herself up in the air, well over her own height. Flailing around at her unexpected leap, she crashed back down on her face, behind the creature. She scrambled back to her feet, and the beast skidded to turn around.
It let out another roar, and she screamed in response. It charged forward, and so did she. A few seconds before impact, she jumped, grabbing onto one of its antlers. The beast kicked up a flurry of dirt, grinding to a halt, trying to buck the girl off. She held tight, the extra strength of the gauntlets aiding her well. With her free arm, she began to whack away at the skull of the beast. Her sword still bounced off of its skin, but the beast shrieked with every blow.
The beast got on all fours again, this time charging straight for a tree. She took notice, and quickly leapt off right before it slammed into the pine, knocking the massive tree over. It crackled and collapsed, letting a massive boom, along with kicking up a plume of dirt.
She was panting, still with a big smile on her face, gripping her sword with all she had, and the beast was slowly strafing around her.
“Is that really all you got? I’m gonna take those antlers home as a trophy and show everyone!”
In unison, both the beast and Louise turned to a new noise echoing through the forest: The noise of jingling keys?
The beast leapt up into the trees, blending in with the foliage. It leaped across to the next one and the next, quickly escaping sight. She stared and let out a sigh of frustration, desperately wishing she had the energy to keep up.
What a coward…
“H… HEY! Are you okay over there?” a voice cried out as the jingling got louder.
Flashing her light over, she saw a man, wearing a large coat all the way down to his knees, baggy pants, a gaiter over his mouth, and night vision goggles.
With hardware that expensive, it had to be backup for her assassin!
She leapt towards him, tackling him. The two tumbled through the dirt as she pinned him down.
“Don’t think you can get me again! Now tell me who sent you!”
She pulled the goggles and mask off of the man revealing it to be a familiar face
“Hey, don’t ruin those! They cost a lot of money!”
He continued to struggle, unable to break free from her grip. She lost it when he suddenly turned into a puff of black smoke, rematerializing standing up next to her.
“Please, seriously, I saw that wendigo you were fighting, and thought you needed help. You were uh, kinda hard to keep up with though…”
Louise’s eyes bugged out of her head at the sight.
“I just KNEW IT!” she yelped. “So you were hiding something all this time! You’re a ghost, aren’t you?”
Davis took a step back nervously. “N-no, nothing like that at all! I just uh… can dematerialize in the dark. I’m still alive and everything, I have a heartbeat and all that, please.”
Louise sighed. “I’m gonna have to listen for one, but I believe you. Anyways, what are you doing out here this late? It’s dangerous!”
Davis gave a curious look. “I was supposed to ask you that. I just heard the wendigo and saw you like, fighting it.”
“You knew about this monster this whole time?”
“Well, uh, yeah. It’s not like anyone would believe me about it and I can’t really fight or do anything about it.”
“Well you could have told me about it, I woulda believed you!”
Davis squinted his eyes judgingly. “Yeah, I’d totally know you wouldn’t call me insane and ruin my image at school. But I can at least warn others to stop them from going into the woods too late at night. I was kinda late in your case though so uh… sorry?”
Louise grew an enticed grin. “Woah, so you’re kinda being like, a helpful spirit-”
“I’m NOT a ghost please…”
“Sorry, sorry… Man if only I just talked with you earlier. You see,” She held up her hands, showing her gauntlets. “These fell out of the sky and they make me real strong! I like, was bulletproof too! It kinda hurt a bit, but better than dying, you know?”
“Wait, you were being attacked? By whom? I thought that was just some hunter who got caught by the wendigo…”
Louise shrugged. “I wish I could have asked, but yeah, the monster got him first. I think I have a feel-”
Davis held up his hand. “I’m sorry, but I would really prefer if we like, went somewhere safer. The wendigo is just one of the strange beasts I’ve spotted around here before-”
“Wait, there’s MORE?” Louise was bouncing giddily.
“Could we just go somewhere safe? I can tell you more but, it’s… still pretty scary right now.”
“Sure, I have a little hideout not too far away from here!”
“I would prefer to NOT be in the woods, since monsters don’t leave here typically. I could uh… Invite you over to my house for the night? It’s right outside of the woods too.”
“Oh that sounds awesome! I haven’t had a sleepover in forever! Come on, lead the way, I can’t wait!”