Once in a lifetime – Chapter 12

Thursday after school, before Louise and Davis even began their trek to the mines, the twins Dom and Clarice had arrived at Kirino’s home.

She had only spoken once to them all school day, an outlier with their usual friendship.

It was at lunch, she approached them;

“I need your help with something extremely important. The future of this town hangs on it all. I’ll have somebody pick you up after school.”

The driveway and helipad were empty, the front door invitingly left open.
The twins walked in, side by side. This hadn’t been the first time they were invited over, but Dom was still shuddering at what Kirino’s words meant.

“You don’t think that girl in the library is threatening her or bullying her?”
Clarice scoffed. “I already told you, no way Kirino can be bullied around by anyone. If she’s this serious about something, though, I really don’t know what to expect.”
Dom shirked back slightly. “This is gonna be dangerous then, huh?”
“We don’t know that just yet. Have some trust in her.”
Repeating that in his head, Dom sucked in a deep breath, pushing away the stress.
“Right…”
They walked through the foyer and into the living room, where Kirino had pushed out all of the furniture. She was sitting in a single chair in her flowy outfit she fought in before. In front of her was a coffee table with a greatsword and what looked like a backpack-stove hybrid sitting upon it. The greatsword itself was longer than the table, hilt and tip hanging off the edges. The backpack had a stone-lined hole in the center of it, looking like a furnace opening. In the corner was Scott, leaning against the wall, smiling. On his waist was an ominous looking oil lamp. It looked like a small brass cage, the glass to contain the flames shaped into a disfigured skull.

He waved to the two. Dom waved back nervously, Clarice staring at the setup.

Kirino nodded her head.
“Thank you for coming up here. Please, take a seat.”
She motioned towards the couch, which was set up across from her. The two complied, sitting down.

“So, what do you mean the fate of the town hangs on what you’re doing? You’re not pulling us into something illegal, right?” Clarice questioned.

“I want to ask you something first.” She stared back coldly. “Do you believe in being able to take control of your destiny with your own two hands?”
Clarice stared back confused. Dom opened and closed his mouth a few times, before finally speaking up.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? We work hard to get to uh… A nice job, and continue from there, right? As long as the job is good enough and aligns with your passion.”

Kirino nodded. “Yet that is not a constant in life. Your success and goals are always going to depend on somebody above you, rather than your own work.”
She stood up, beginning to pace back and forth.

“If a student or worker shows more ambition and effort than their superiors, that is taken as a threat, instead of respected. Yet despite how threatening that ambition is to them, all it takes is malicious ignorance for a superior to ensure their security, and the stagnation of their peers.”

She paused, returning to her seat. 

“Considering my parents’ positions as tech CEOs, I’ve seen their status overshadow so much ambition and talent, mine included. My work is more than just the fate of this town. It’s ensuring that concept will change, so in the face of greater ambition, one will have to acknowledge it, and step aside.”

Clarice shook her head. “Kirino, be serious. I know you’re competent at everything, but how do you even expect to pull off such a feat?”

She stood up again, this time revealing a katana at her hip. 

“There’s an entirely unseen world out there, that’s ready to meet with ours. It’s unbelievable, but I’m sure this is to help convince you.”
She walked out the back door, and beckoned the duo to follow.
They obeyed, and Scott tagged along behind them.
He nudged Dom with his elbow.

“You’re gonna love what she’s gonna do.” He muttered silently.

As the others watched, Kirino walked near a tall oak tree, planted far from the property. Scott pulled a pair of sunglasses from his jacket, putting them on.

She reached for the katana, causing Dom to lurch back in fear, Clarice watching intently.

The most they could catch was her barely pulling the blade from its sheath.
A flash of light blinded the two, and a thunderous CRACK shook the ground.

As they regained their vision and hearing, Kirino was standing on the other side of the tree, sheathing the blade. Scott put his glasses away, smiling at the spectacle.
The plant itself looked like it had been struck by lightning; Bark peeled downwards in a zig-zag motion, revealing a smoldering inside.
“Wh-what just happened?” yelled Dom.

“Kirino, this has to be some test right? Like trying to figure out how you did this… trick or something. Yea?”

Scott giggled to himself.

“What I have here is called the Dragontail Katana. It’s an artifact that allows me to turn into lightning, for either attacking or maneuvering. It has been essential in my recent work.”
Clarice squinted. “You’ve gotta be pulling my leg…”

Dom ran over to inspect the tree closer. He slowly reached near the smoldering cracks, finding it was indeed hot, and not any sort of visual trick. He scanned all around the tree, searching the grass for any sort of hidden cables as well.

“This can’t be…” He turned to his sister. “The only way a tree can really look like this so…” He waved his hands around. “Specifically, is like she said, if lightning struck it. I’ve read about this happening before.” He turned back, running his fingers along the lines. “Unless she had hidden some high-powered generator or discharged a bunch of electricity from a battery… but even then I don’t think it’s something she can just so easily replicate…”
Kirino smiled at the boy’s hypothesis. “I can promise you, this is no trick. And there’s far more than just this.”

“So magic is real?” The twins said in unison. 

Dom said it with excitement, while Clarice in disbelief. Scott grinned.

“Fill em in on the rest of it!”

Kirino glared at her rowing partner for a moment, then turned her focus back to the twins.

“For several months now, with this katana I have been both hunting UMA, unidentified mysterious animals, and these powerful artifacts. These UMA are aberrations of nature, monstrous, and threaten humans as well. They can be as simple as a massive winged humanoid who abducts people from their cars late at night, to house-sized monsters capable of flight. I have been working for a very secretive employer, one who’s entire relationship I’m risking even speaking to you two.”

“So you’re like some secret agent?” Dom spoke.

“Or a huntress protecting the world from monsters?” Clarice added.

“Neither. My goals are beyond my employer’s understanding, and it’s for changing the world as we know it. Ambition should be rewarded, not stifled, and these artifacts.” She held up her sheathed blade. “They’re the key to them. However, I need his utmost trust for any of this to happen.”

They nodded.

“Now, it wasn’t until recently that I began having some problems…”
She stared off in the distance, towards the rest of Tomahawk Hills.

“In the past few months, more and more UMA have been approaching this town. This wouldn’t be an issue, if their proximity to the town didn’t invite a new interference.”

She turned back to the twins. “You remember that girl from the library?”
Their eyes widened at the mention.
“Louise Palrick, and her friend Davis Foster have also taken up trying to hunt these UMA. She managed to get her hands on an artifact: A pair of gauntlets that grant her strength and durability. The boy also possesses one as well, though I don’t fully understand it just yet.”
“Shouldn’t that make your work easier if you work with them?” asked Dom. 

She shook her head. “I wish it were so, but there are major issues in the way. Her methods of hunting are immature and wild. She is not qualified to work with me, and would cause far more trouble than help.”

She gritted her teeth at the memory with the Hydra.

“Not to mention, her actions go directly against what my employer wishes.”

She leaned in closer to the two.

“And being on good terms with my employer is far more important than anything else right now. If I lose his favor, the entire future of this town would be put in jeopardy.”
She took a step back, exhaling. The two shuddered at the statement.
While Kirino was strict with study and schoolwork, they had never seen her this intense before.
“And because this is all secretive, you can’t really seek anywhere else for help?” questioned Clarice.

She nodded. “It should have been my responsibility alone to carry this out, but I cannot keep it up. I repeat myself for seriousness’s sake: I cannot fail.”

She took a deep breath, relaxing herself.

“But you two, along with Scott. I trust you all as equals, and know your potential. So I ask: Knowing all this, and the potential danger that entails, will you assist me in hunting UMA, and dealing with Louise?”
Scott piped up. “If you say yes, she has something neat she’ll give you!”
“Quiet Scott.” She barked. “Continuing, I will not let you both go into this unequipped. I will provide you with artifacts of your own, and assist you with learning how to utilize them. But even so, your lives will be at risk.”

“But your whole revolutionary plan, about the meeting of this unseen world with ours. Are you going to elaborate more on that?” Clarice questioned.

“If you do not wish to be a part of this world, then I cannot inform you of my plans. But I hope with our long friendship, you can trust me; I want to take this new world by the reins to ensure no chaotic fallout, and improve society as a whole with that power.”

Clarice pondered for a moment, before standing up. “I trust you. If this world does exist, of UMA or monsters or whatever they’re called, and they’re beyond our control, we need to figure out how to do so. Plus, that Louise girl always seemed like a big troublemaker. I’ll be more than happy to help deal with her.”
Dom slowly stood up. “I…” He swallowed. “We don’t have to seriously kill Louise, right? Or commit any other sort of crime? This is secretive stuff, I know, but I really don’t want to do anything terrible.”
She nodded.  “The only killing you will assist me with would be UMA, and they pose an undeniable threat to this town. For Louise, I only hope at most to confiscate her artifact. With her means of combating UMA gone, she would no longer interfere.”
“Okay… I think I can help!” Cheer returned to his voice. “It’s gotta be a nice change of pace than studying all day I guess?”

She smiled, sighing.

She was happy even with such a wild story, her friends believed and supported her.

She beckoned the three to follow her, returning to the living room.

“From my work, I have been able to keep a few artifacts for myself, unbeknownst to my employer. I could have been paid lucratively for delivering them, but they will have so much more value in your hands.”

She stared at both of them, standing in front of the table.

“Before I give you them, I need to warn you: NEVER use them in public, be far out of sight of anyone when you wish to practice with them. Never fight with them for personal squabbles. If any word about these artifacts gets loose, you’ll be in serious danger. Last, regarding Louise: Be wary. Do not seek her out, nor should you seek any conflict with her just yet. If you are ever forced into a confrontation with her, even if it seems advantageous, stay vigilant. There is a lot about her and her friend I do not understand fully, and that is the most dangerous fact of them.”

She turned to Clarice.

“For you, I have an artifact from the late 1400s, Queen Isabella’s Inquisition. It’s made of an unknown, super durable material that can change its sharpness and density at will. To its wielder, it will always feel as light as a feather. I have read records about how knights christened by the blade fight with unwavering bravery. I’m not sure how it works, but I trust you can figure it out.”

She motioned for the girl to pick up the blade.

The sword was more ceremonial than practical. The pommel and hilt were made of gold. The blade was embossed with strange gold symbols, and a winged golden cross protruded near the tip of the blade. 

She picked it up, feeling it around. It was as light as a pen.

Kirino pointed out the back door. “I have a few training dummies set out back for you. Please, test it out, and get comfortable with it.”

She hurried out, testing a few swings on the dummy. It nicked the wood, but no clean cuts.
“How does this density changing thing work?” She yelled at Kirino.
She tapped her head. “Most of these artifacts are controlled by thoughts. Simply think and use it enough, and it’ll become innate.”
Turning back to her wooden foe, she imagined the blade being as dense as uranium as she swung downwards.

The blade smashed straight through the wood like it was nothing. It slammed and embedded itself into the concrete patio, cracking the foundation. Her eyes bugged out of her head.

“This is incredible…”

To another dummy, she imagined the blade as sharp as obsidian, and swung horizontally. It passed effortlessly through the wood, the top half falling to the ground.

She stared at the massive blade in amazement.

Still, I’d need to learn more proper swordplay if I’m to fight properly with it. 

Her amazement began to fade.

What if I’m to fight a monster which would overwhelm me? A simple sword can’t protect me well enough? 

Thinking about protecting herself, her sword reacted. She felt it shake, and it sparked. Wings of metal jutted out of the side, the guard expanded and metal shrieked. Metal expanded out of seemingly nowhere, filling out the wings and more, the screeching ringing out.
Her blade had now become almost twice as wide as she was. 

She grinned. Holding the artifact in front of her, she imagined the blade launching out at a distant foe.

Nothing happened. She huffed.

Still, with practice, I can make up for its range issue.

Staring at the weapon, she then realized what she could do: With this and the ability to change its density, she had an immovable, unscratchable shield. 

With its form change, she had another idea: She imagined the blade to become more portable. Metal shrieked, and the blade returned to its regular size, and then the blade retracted into the guard. The guard itself clamped shut, and shrank down more, until it was the size of a pen. She smiled as she fit it perfectly in her front pocket.
“Kirino, you are going to train us with these more, right?”

“Soon. For now, I want you to build a proper connection with your artifacts. Then, we can work on swordplay.”
She turned to Dom, who had been watching his sister’s feats in amazement.
“As for you, Dom, your artifact is known as a Wonderbuilder. This pack contains a set of ancient, yet magical construction equipment. With it, you will be able to cut through and move around chunks of earth and stone as your imagination will permit. It also has powerful built-in armor, which should keep you safe as well. Like your sister, I want you to practice with it, until you build a connection with it.”

Dom nervously put on the pack, clicking together the strange bark-like straps around his chest and waist. Nothing happened, but there was a valve-like switch in the center of it all.
He twisted it, and the device began to shake and sputter.
He felt it grow hotter, and a plume of smoke shot out of the iron pipes.

Green vine-like cables crept up his arms, and a pair of bronze gloves grew around his hands. Two harpoon launchers popped out and mounted themselves on his shoulders. His mind was panicking, but it was offset by the sheer wonder he had over the artifact.

He clenched his fist.
An image formed in his mind about how to utilize the gear he was now wearing.

Making a gesture with his right hand, a stone saw made of wood and steel popped out of the pack, following his arm movements. 

He laughed nervously.

“It’s like… Weird. Does this thing have some brain interface? I think I get how to use it…”
He sheepishly smiled. “I don’t really want to ruin your home or yard however…”
“There are plenty of abandoned places around here to practice, but for now, I ask to work on understanding each of the tools without using them. Wonderbuilder runs on raw iron, wood, and stone, and these materials can run out. I promise you, I am looking for a new source of these.”
Dom smiled, nodding. “I promise Kirino, we’re going to do our best for you!”
He turned to Scott.

“Wait… What did you get Scott?”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “I’d show off, but I don’t wanna waste his time.”
Kirino stepped next to the two. “Once you finish practicing, I will fill you in on the rest: Louise, Davis, the monsters, and everything you will need to know. Then soon, I’ll have a mission for you both.”


  “Not only are you trespassing, you’ve caused irreparable damage to a historical landmark, and who knows what else!” Clarice’s shrill voice ripped through the abandoned town. 

The sun was lighting the sky a bright red, long shadows from the surrounding forest being cast upon the group. Clarice stared down at the two, hands on her hips. Dom stuck close behind her, wearing Wonderbuilder, while Scott strolled closer.

Louise scrambled to her feet, yanking Davis up with her.

“Well I don’t see your badge or anything. What are you gonna do? Arrest me?” She grinned smugly.

“I thought this area was off limits for everyone, you included.” Davis muttered back.

Clarice’s face flushed more red. “Unlike YOU two, we at least got proper permission to be here! Permits and everything”
Scott stepped between the two duos.

“Now now, you two must be Louise and Davis, right?”
He held out his hand.
“My name is Scott Felice. I’ve heard about you two quite a bit from Kirino.”
Davis reached out his hand to shake, but Louise swatted it down.

“He’s in league with her too?” she grabbed her head. “Why does everyone I meet end up being in that brat’s pocket!”
“Woah woah, that’s a bit rude!” Scott said, holding his hands in front of him. “I’m simply her friend, and here to help her out with a few favors, all right? No need to get angry at each other.”
She still glared daggers at him.

“Y-yeah…” Dom stepped from behind his sister. “I’m Dom! Dom Castillo! That’s my sister, Clarice, and I don’t really wanna fight or anything.”

She gave her brother a death stare.

“See, now we all know each other, cool? All I’m saying, is that we can just walk away from this little meeting fine. No need to get angry and fight, we can go about our business separately.”
“Are you kidding me?” Clarice groaned. “First, they interfered with Kirino’s work, now they’re causing needless damage here! We can’t sit around and do nothing about this!”
“Hey, this wasn’t done lightly!” Davis piped up. “I don’t know what Kirino said, but whatever was down there is best left buried.”
“What was down there then?” Dom questioned.

Davis paused, thinking how to word it.

“A lot of gold, but it was evil!” Louise interjected.

He squinted at the two. He leaned close to his sister. “I trust Kirino in this monster stuff, but evil gold doesn’t really fit anything she told us about…”

She nodded, whispering in turn. “Sounds like a lie they’re using to cover up something. We really can’t let them start blowing stuff up because they think it’s haunted.”
From her front pocket, she pulled out her blade’s hilt. With a thought, it snapped open, expanding into a blade as tall as she was.

Dom turned Wonderbuilder’s valve, feeling the ancient piece of equipment wrap around his body. It sputtered and spewed out a burst of smoke.

“The crimes committed and all the disruption you caused, I’m not gonna stand here and do nothing about it!” Clarice boasted. 

Dom stood as firm as he could, but even with Wonderbuilder supporting him, he was shaking. His heart was racing and stomach cramping from the nerve of it all.

“I-I… I really don’t want to hurt you two! So please surrender!”

He winced to himself, thinking he didn’t sound intimidating at all.

Scott hung his head in disappointment. “Are you two really sure about all this?”

Davis stepped back in fear, Louise taking a step forward.

“So not only does Kirino think SHE gets to be the main hero for hunting cryptids, but she’s also hoarding artifacts for herself, huh?” She punched her hand into her fist. “Bring it on then!”
Davis ran between them.

“I seriously don’t want to fight any of you, could we just take Scott’s offer and-”
Clarice stabbed her sword into the ground, cracking the packed dirt. The blade began to shimmer. Keeping a hand on the hilt, she pointed at the two.

“Dom Castillo, I christen thee as my knight! Fight with a spirit as unwavering as my blade!”

Dom felt energy rush through his body. He stopped shaking, straightened his back, and shifted his legs to take on a stronger stance. He took a powerful stomp forward, his mind growing more clear on who the two standing in front of him were.

Sure, they were his classmates, but more importantly, they were troublemakers that needed to be subdued and disarmed.

The worry on his face transformed into a smirk.

He gestured with his right hand. A pile-driver looking device popped out of the pack, held by a wooden arm. 

He leapt forward unexpectedly fast, aiming for Louise.

She tackled Davis to the ground as the boy soared over them. The driver struck the rubble of the collapsed mineshaft behind them.

The explosive force shattered several of the stones, and even dug out a small indent. The impact shook out fresh rubble from the cave, burying him.

The duo scrambled to their feet as Clarice stared dumbfounded at her brother’s actions. 

Scott sighed. “Look, if you cause TOO much trouble, I’ll intervene. But you two are on your own on this one.” He simply walked far out of the way, leaning against a building.

There was a sudden flood of smoke from the buried Dom, and Davis grabbed Louise, ghosting with her in tow. Dom managed to punch his way out of the landslide, sending a flurry of rubble and debris to where the two previously stood. 

Seeing her brother again, Clarice sighed, regaining her confident expression.

The duo re-materialized a few inches to the side, Davis coughing on his knees. Louise patted him on the back. 

“Take a quick breather, I think I have to handle Dom. You try to figure out a way to deal with miss wannabe cop over there.”
“Wait, we should really just run-”
Dom was above the two of them, this time with a sawblade aimed right at her head. She managed to catch the device with her hands, shooting a flurry of sparks and letting out a horrendous screeching noise. 

Each tooth of the blade eventually snapped off as it struck her armored hands. 

She gripped the dull disk as tightly as she could and pulled, yanking the arm right out from the pack. She tossed it aside, and tackled the boy.

Davis shook off the shock and got back to his feet, though quickly noticed:
Where did Clarice go?
He spun around, finding her sword’s handle closing in on his face.

  After the tackle, Louise turned tail and blew into a full blown sprint. She checked behind her as Dom leapt back to his feet, beginning pursuit. 

She smiled to herself. 

Pretty dumb of you to leave your sister out to dry like that!

Traversing through the dirt streets long enough, she spun around to face her opponent, skidding to a stop.

Dom made a gesture with his hand, launching a cabled iron spike from the shoulder mounted harpoon. It zoomed past Louise, missing her by a few feet. She turned to see where it flew. It pierced the walls of an old home, and the cable sprung taught.

She turned back, finding the boy being towed towards her through the harpoon. He clotheslined her, knocking her down to the ground. He cut his momentum, detaching the harpoon from the wall and skidding a few yards from the downed Louise.
Another quick motion of his hands, and the pile driver popped out. He sprinted towards her as she tried to get back onto her feet, rearing back and striking Louise in the chest.

She gritted her teeth as the pole slammed her into the floor. The spike didn’t break her skin, but the force behind it shook every bone in her body. She didn’t know what it would feel like to be hit by a truck, but this would certainly be comparable.

She reared back her feet and kicked towards his chest.

When they struck, a force pushed back.
The Wonderbuilder roared, spewing out fire from behind. A blast of steam expulsed from the vines that protected his chest. He smirked, unphased by her attempt, rearing back another blow with the pile driver.

She lunged up, grabbing the tool and wrestling it to the side.
The pole shunted downwards, striking the air to her side. She could feel a rush of air to her side from the tool’s power.

She flipped Dom to the ground, and quickly stomped at the shaft of the driver. 

It splintered off, and she wasted no time kickin it away from her opponent.

“Come on, keep showing me your toys! Lemme smash every single one of them!”

Dom still kept his confident smirk, leaping up to his feet. Seeing an opportunity, Louise threw a punch straight at his chest.
Her fist met with with another blast of steam, just barely stopping her from making contact. More flames and smoke spewed out of the artifact on his back.
He responded by grabbing her arm, and swinging her into a nearby brick building. She slammed against the stone walls, cracking the material.
She fell off the wall, dazed, as he prepared a new motion with his hands.
A small voice in his head caused him to freeze. It was Clarice’s voice.

Dom! Watch what you’re doing! It should be obvious, but we’re not to stoop to their property-destroying level!

He nodded to himself. When he returned focus to Louise, she had tackled him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

She noted that there was no steam in response to her attack.

Still gripping onto him, she looked him in the eye.

“I think I’m getting the tricks of this dumb suit you got here. I don’t suppose you have anything that can deal with good old fashioned grappling, huh?”
He made a motion with his hand, and another sawblade popped from the pack.
It grazed against her shoulder. Feeling the sting of the high-powered tool, Louise pushed herself off the boy. She skipped back several feet, panting.

Time seemingly slowed down for her as she processed how to deal with her foe.

Her thoughts were cut off when Dom abruptly fled.

“What, you too scared I figured out your…”
She realized he was returning to where Clarice and Davis were.

  Davis had barely rolled out of the way of Clarice’s attack, and the two were staring each other down. She was sizing up the mysterious boy, watching for any sort of twitch that would indicate an attack. 

Davis’s brain was racking how to most effectively flee.

Clarice rested the blade on her shoulder.

“If you’re just going to keep on standing there, you might as well surrender!”

Davis’s eyebrow twitched. “Hey, you’re the one who started this!”

Sure, he had caltrops but they would be too obvious. Any of his bombs could hurt Clarice pretty badly, and he didn’t want to think about that. 

The most he could use was his smoke bombs, but that wouldn’t do much on it’s own.
He heard a crash in the distance behind him. His heart shook, thinking about how his friend was faring. 

An idea sprouted. If she was willing to talk…

“Just call your brother off, he’s gonna kill Louise! Are you really going to kill somebody just for some property damage?”
Clarice scoffed. “I’m already very well informed about you two. Kirino with her Dragontail was barely able to come on top.” She pointed her blade menacingly. “If either of us is to stand a chance, we can’t show any restraint or hesitation.” 

Dragontail? Her katana? These weapons have names? I wonder if that could be a lead.

“Yeah but… I’m not as sturdy as she is! I mean, I can turn into a ghost… But not actually dead! I’m not a ghost, but like that you cant see or hurt me! Outside of that, I’m only as sturdy as a regular human. If I screw up dodging, I’m as good as dead!”

She sighed, shaking her head. “Perhaps you should think of that more when you play around such dangerous UMA. Lucky for you, I’m more considerate ”
She focused on her blade, imagining it to be as hefty as a wooden baton, and dulling the edges. 

“Now this shouldn’t kill you, but it WILL still hurt. If you hand over your artifact, I’ll let you go without bruising you up!”

“Artifact? I don’t have any to give! I swear I was born this-.”
She lurched forward, swinging the blade horizontally towards him.
He stumbled backwards, avoiding the attack but landing on his bottom.
Clarice grinned. She raised the weapon up, and swung down at his head.

With no way out, he ghosted. The blade struck the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust. She quickly brought the blade up close to her, scanning her surroundings.

He became corporeal once more several feet behind Clarice, hoping to sneak away. His lungs however, were burning and begging for air. He held his hands to his mouth, trying to stifle the coughs, but they still burst through.

Clarice whirled around to his direction, swinging horizontally.

Out of instinct, he ghosted again. 

His lungs continued to burn and his eyes were watering. Still incorporeal, he reached into his jacket.

Clarice, meanwhile, was patiently keeping her ears and eyes open, trying to anticipate where her opponent would re-appear.
Right behind her, she heard a hissing.
She spun, seeing a canister spewing smoke.

Her eyes widened, and she willed her blade to grow denser. She planted it in front of her, and the wings of metal jutted out. Metal shrieked as the blade expanded in width, entering its shield form.

The canister exploded, thankfully not with fire, but with a plume of pitch black smoke. 

She pulled her sword from the ground, returning it to its regular size and baton-like state, and covered her mouth with her shirt..

It didn’t smell or seem toxic. 

If it was, Clarice mused that the boy would have done this trick immediately.
She heard a hacking and coughing from beyond the smoke, followed by a sniffle.

Then, Davis’s voice.

“I wouldn’t move from there if I were you…” He cleared his throat. “I’ve scattered caltrops all around where you’re standing. I don’t want to hurt you at all, so please don’t move until the smoke is cleared. Let me leave peacefully, all right?”
She clenched her teeth. 

He could be bluffing… But even if he is, I’m stuck. I can’t charge blindly out of this smoke… He could counter if I do so… I need help!

Davis was not too far outside of the plume of smoke, leaning against a building trying to recover his breath. His chest felt like it had been freed from a hydraulic press. There wasn’t much wind, so hopefully his gambit would last just long enough for him to regain his breath and get out of there.

A voice spoke from within his jacket.

It was the walkie talkie.

“DAVIS, THE OTHER ONE IS COMING RIGHT BACK TOWARDS YOU!” 

He perked up, adrenaline flooding his system. He whipped around to find Dom barreling towards him. He got tackled to the ground as the boy pinned him to the ground.

Dom and the magical piece of equipment on his back created an inescapable weight. He struggled, instincts screaming to ghost and escape. Attempting, his body refused, knowing that attempting to would result in asphyxiation. 

Something was tugging Dom from behind.

Louise had grabbed onto the Wonderbuilder itself, attempting to pull it off from the boy. The straps around him held tight, pulling the boy up with the pack. 

He wiggled, trying to loosen from Louise’s grip. There was just enough leeway for Davis to squeeze out of Dom’s grip.

Seeing her friend free, Louise instead shifted her weight, swinging Dom by the pack and tossing him away. He tumbled through the air, but still managed to land on his feet, skidding to a stop. He turned to where his sister was.

The smoke was beginning to dissipate, and a gust of wind blew the rest away.
She had returned the blade to its shield-like state, and was swinging it like a giant fan to dissipate the smoke.
There were caltrops scattered around here, but nothing too densely set to be threatening. She leapt over the traps, reunited with her brother.

Louise was dragging Davis further from her opponents.

“I need like, a minute…” He wheezed. Louise grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back to his feet.

“Just push on a little bit more. That thing on . Let’s try and switch targets, maybe that’ll work out better.”

Davis gulped down as much air as he could, his heart still pounding against his chest. 

Clarice was patiently watching them, Dom standing guard in front.

Staring at the bizarre piece of machinery mounted on his back, Davis thought for moments.

“I really don’t think I can reliably phase in or out anymore.” He coughed, sucking in more air. “If I do I feel like I’ll choke myself out!”

“Just try and think of something, I’m gonna try and fake out the boy and go for the brat.”

She charged forward as Davis still wheezed for breath. She reared back a fist at aimed straight for Dom’s face.
He braced himself, holding his arms out to grab the girl when her blow inevitably would be repelled. 

She instead dropped down to the dirt, sweeping the boy by the feet. Him and the weight of his equipment brought him down with a crash, but he rolled to quickly get back to his feet.

Even then, Louise had made her opening. She launched towards the lone Clarice, ready to hit her with a blow that would knock her out. 

Clarice didn’t panic, in fact she smirked. She deftly moved the shield-like blade right where Louise’s fist was going to connect.

The gauntlet struck the blade, and Louise twinged. She could feel the blow vibrate throughout her body, feeling as if she punched a solid block of lead. Her opponent hadn’t budged in the slightest.

She was paralyzed as the vibrations slowly faded out. Before she had entirely recovered, Dom had grabbed her from behind.

She struggled, wiggling around and trying to find any sort of way to loosen the boy’s powerful grip.

She was staring face to face with a smug looking Clarice. 

“You’re such a simpleton! I should have assumed as much from a troublemaker like you.”

Clarice’s expression shifted to annoyance, and Dom released Louise, spinning around.

Davis was holding a steaming smoke bomb in his hand, and with an almost embarrassed expression on his face. 

He hoped maybe throwing something into the open flames of the pack would jam a mechanism, giving him and Louise enough time to escape.

He struck Davis in the stomach, and he coughed out all the air from his body, crumpling into a ball.

Louise swept the legs of Dom again, hurrying to scoop up Davis and putting some distance between them.

“Dude, you all right?” She muttered to him, still running.

“Urgh…” he winced, taking in a few breaths. “Ok, I’m completely beat here… We should really run…”
Louise looked ahead, finding a cabled harpoon soaring past her and embedding itself in a rock. She skidded to a halt and hit the deck, watching the boy soar over him. 

He turned around, making a new hand motion.

Instead, his artifact sputtered, spewing out less smoke. There was a grinding coming from inside the device. His confidence turned into concern. He paused for a moment, leaving the two friends enough time to get onto their feet.

“I’m afraid that Wonderbuilder isn’t going to work too much longer.” He spoke. His tone was deeper, and more authoritative than the shaky boy from before. “If I continue to fight, there’s a good possibility that girl could breach my armor.”
Clarice stared at her brother, and back at the duo.
“Davis there is no longer a factor in this fight. He didn’t disappear when you tried to strike him. Unless it’s a trick of his, we still have the advantage. I’ll take the lead, incapacitate the girl, and you just make sure the boy doesn’t use any more tricks or traps.”
He nodded silently. As she took a few steps forward, something landed right in front of Louise and Davis.

It was like a black silhouette, a person wearing a black hoodie, long black pants, black boots, and they were on all fours. They turned focus to Clarice and Dom, revealing themselves as a girl.
Her face was deathly pale, and her hoodie was unzipped at the front, revealing a red and black camo patterned shirt. Her blood red eyes glared at the two, showing off a set of inhumanly sharp teeth.

Clarice took a nervous step back, holding her blade defensively in front of herself. Dom stared at the threat curiously, circling around to stand closer to his sister.

Louise’s heart quickened, trying her best to keep a strong front.

Davis stared in shock at the newcomer.

Scott, who had been watching far in the back, raised an eyebrow.

“Leave this forest. Do not hurt my friend.” She spoke in a monotone, yet threatening voice.

Clarice tightened her grip on her blade, ready to try and launch the first strike before the stranger could react.

Skidding between the two groups, Scott held out his hands.

“Woah woah woah, now. We agree, we’ll get outta here, all right?”
Clarice’s face flushed red. “Scott, are you kidding me? We got them on the ropes!”
He ignored her, turning to the stranger. “You’ll let us go as long as we stop this fighting, right?”
She nodded, still glaring hostility at the man.

He turned to the twins, smiling. “See, we’re all fine now. Let’s just get going.”
“But Kirino-”
“We’ll talk about this later. Come on, I really don’t want to force you two to come along with me now, right?”
Clarice sighed angrily. She returned her sword to its hilt. 

Dom’s confident expression and strong stance melted away. His arms and legs abruptly felt sore. He stumbled, nearly falling over. Clarice caught him before he hit the ground.

“You all right? Nothing serious, I hope?”
He nodded. “Yeah, uh… Soreness. When you christened me, it’s like all my fears washed away. I just kept going on more and more fearlessly, and I felt stronger too! I think… Is it adrenaline? Maybe? It’d explain why now I’m feeling all that exercise…”

Clarice sighed. “Well for now, rest up. Let’s not pull any muscles or anything.”
She glared back at the duo and the stranger. 

We’ll stop you two… But maybe we aren’t ready. Not just yet.

Scott waved. “We’ll probably meet again soon you two! I promise, next time I’m sure I’ll be all set and ready to duke it out with you two!” He spoke cheerily. 

He motioned for the twins to follow along, and the three marched away from the abandoned settlement. 

The stranger turned to the others. Louise put her hands in a fighting stance.

“Look, I don’t know who you’re calling friend, but.”
She rushed forward, grabbing Davis’s hands. She stared at him for a few moments, before hugging him. Louise froze, dumbfounded.

“Davis, I need your help again.”

His eyes widened. Her form looked familiar… The eyes, colors… His brain pieced together the rest.

“You’re… That monster… the shapeshifting one!” He sputtered.

Louise took a step back, clenching her fists.

“Why are you-”
She turned to the other girl. “I don’t want to hurt you. I promise.”
She returned an angry glare.

The monster let go of Davis.

“Do you need more money or something again? I wish you could have picked a better moment.”
“No. I am being hunted.”
His heart skipped a beat.

“What’s got a cryptid like you so scared?” Louise butted in. “Can’t you turn into a tree and hide?”
“Louise, please. Just, we’ll hear you out. First, we should probably leave here. That Clarice girl did kinda have a point. It is illegal to be here, and the fighting may have attracted some attention.”

Louise’s eyes beamed. “Finally, I got a good excuse to show you my hideout!”
She glared back at the cryptid.

“Though I’ll be keeping an extra close eye on you.”
“I don’t understand. You are already tired and weak, and so is Davis. Putting one of your eyes on me would not do anything but make you more weak.”
She frowned. “Don’t you know figures of speech? Just nevermind, and don’t try anything sneaky or else I’ll kill ya!”


  Clarice was fuming as they trudged through the woods.

“We were so close! What the hell was that thing anyways? I thought there were just two of those troublemakers to deal with?”

Scott shrugged. “I don’t know at all, and that’s why I chose for us to retreat. I mean, we were lucky that it still gave you two a peaceful way out, right? Hope you two at least got some good exercise and practice out of it.”
Dom cracked a smile. He was still wobbly while walking. “Yea… How do you deal with the soreness anyways? You’re big into sports stuff, right?”
“Rest and some good food! You basically just ripped a bunch of muscle fibers and you gotta let them repair. The nice part is that the more you exercise, you’ll be able to push your body further and further before getting sore. It’s simple stuff!”

Clarice closed her eyes and shook her head. “Still, it was the first task from Kirino, and we couldn’t even complete it. This isn’t gonna make a very good impression on her.”
“Hey, don’t sweat it!” Scott said, patting her on the back. “We’ll wait an hour or so, return, and get those materials like she asked. Those two were already leaving anyway.”
Clarice stared out in space, processing how she even missed that fact.

“That’s why I wanted to just move on without fighting in the first place.”

“Yeah, but you saw what they did to that old mineshaft. We couldn’t just let them get away with that!”

Scott waved his finger. “What we got there was a prime opportunity to learn about them, without getting too dirty. You just decided to learn the rough way. Dealing with all this is just a bit like a game. We’re still feeling out all these rules, tricks, and caveats. On the other side, we’re also trying to figure out how our opponents work and ‘play’ as well. We gotta keep learning more about them, so when we get forced into an inevitable conflict, we can REALLY cut loose!”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course YOU of all people would be saying that… This is a bit more dangerous than a game.”

“You got football and rugby where you can get pretty badly injured, so I think it’s still comparable here. Now, don’t mention our little scuffle with those two. I’m sure Kirino doesn’t want to be bothered by those details.”
“No.” Clarice retorted. “I’m going to take responsibility for that. It was my call to fight, I failed to make anything of it, so I should suffer the consequences.”

Dom peeked over. “Well, it was at the very least… Fighting experience I guess? I hope Davis is all right…”
She smiled. “Experience, and not only that, I got some very important information about Davis’s powers.”
Scott nodded. “We could have figured that out from playing friendly…”

She pulled out her cell phone.
There wasn’t too much reception out in the woods, but just enough to make a call. She pinned Kirino’s number. Scott rolled his eyes, and Dom stared nervously.

It buzzed, and the girl answered.

“Completed with your task already?”
“Somewhat delayed. I ran into Davis and Louise, and those two were causing complications.”
“I’m assuming they fought with you?”
“Yes, but I started it. They had set off some explosives inside the town, and caused undue damage. It’s not something I could just stand around and let them get away with!” She took a deep breath.
“We were unfortunately forced into retreat.”
Her leader sighed. “I understand the need to do something, especially with all those two have done. However, did you not understand my warning about them?”
“I did not then, but with how tenacious they were, I think I understand now.” 

“I am at least happy that you understand my orders without any injury, and that you chose to retreat. I know for you, that must have taken a lot of will.”

Scott shot a dumb smile, and winked.
“I understand. Despite    my retreat, the fight was not a waste of time. I managed to learn more about Davis’s powers. Not to mention, they seem to have a third person assisting them.”

Kirino’s eyes widened. “A third? Did you recognize them at all?”
“No idea at all. We chose to retreat when she appeared.”
Kirino tapped her chin. Every moment she saw the girl, Louise didn’t seem to have any other friends. 

“Finish gathering those supplies for Wonderbuilder, if you’re able to. If not, let me know. Regardless, we need to meet, and train in case you encounter the three again…”

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