“We don’t really need to split up, do we? Maybe just one or two classes I can sit somewhere near, I don’t think the teachers will notice-”
Louise groaned. “Just come on, you know what you said about cryptids avoiding broad daylight and all that stuff.”
They were once again near the bustling entrance of their school. Chatters of students intermixed with cars pulling up to the curb.
“Yeah but, we weren’t actively hunting them. Animals aren’t dumb, and I think cryptids are less… dumb. What I’m saying is, we’ve never attacked one and let it leave alive.”
Louise rolled her eyes, still smiling. “I’m also sure they’re not dumb enough to attack a big school in broad daylight.”
She held her finger in front of his mouth. “No butts! Let’s just get through the school day. If we AREN’T attacked in broad daylight, we can go somewhere populated after. Like a shopping center or something, do some stuff there.”
She stared at her friend with a warm smile.
Davis was still shaking, holding his hands close to his chest. He kept glancing to his sides, occasionally turning around to watch his back.
She shook her head at him. “I’m goin off to class, just don’t act crazy, okay?”
She waved, running off into the building. He looked behind his back one last time, before sprinting into the building as well.
How many more periods until I can stop being alone…
Davis was constantly fidgeting his leg, glancing all around the classroom. He was only two classes through, and his mind was all over the place. This class in particular was especially agonizing, as he was seated right next to a large window.
It displayed an unassuming line of suburban houses, but his mind still raced with paranoia.
Anyone, or anything, could easily stare in and watch him.
His eyes would zip from the window, to anyone who fidgeted amongst the teacher’s lectures. Every creak of the classroom’s heater drove his senses crazy, fearing that eventually something would sprout from the vents to kill him, and flee before anyone could realize what had happened.
Everyone probably thought he was some kind of tweaker, he worried to himself.
In reality, the few students who cared about him thought he was undergoing some caffeine withdrawals.
He tried to bring his fidgeting under control, but he still couldn’t shake the thought of more monsters beginning to attack him, as some kinda punishment for messing with the forest.
He glanced over to the window and saw something, standing casually on the front yard.
It was a deer.
All it did was stir his paranoia more.
First, deer were incredibly uncommon to come anywhere near suburbs. At least for Tomahawk Hills. Deer themselves were pretty rare too, which Davis addressed to the town’s monster populace.
Then there was something he couldn’t properly word other than a gut instinct.
The deer looked wrong.
The fur of it looked like plastic. He thought if he were to walk up and stroke it, it would be hard and prickly, rather than soft deer hide.
The worst part was that the animal was staring straight into the classroom. It was slowly scanning its head, until it met its eyes with him.
The period bell rang, and he flinched. Looking back at the window, the deer was gone. He waited for everyone else to get up, trying to blend himself within the crowd of students.
Lunch had rolled around, and Davis was further crouched into the corner of the cafeteria. Food wasn’t even on his mind, his stomach churned too much. He thought even a simple bite out of one of his sweets would cause him to puke.
He kept quietly glancing around, until Louise arrived, two sandwiches in hand.
“Hey, how you holding up?”
He nearly jumped out of his seat. She glared at him.
“Do I need to chuck this at you again?” She wagged the wrapped sandwich around.
“No no no no, just…”
He grabbed his head.
“I can’t shake the thoughts of that monster. Like, did you see that thing? How are you staying so… calm???”
“Well, I seriously doubt it left that factory. Second, I got my gauntlets on me at all times.” She motioned to her backpack. “So if it does rear its ugly mug, I’ll beat it in.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have the magic gauntlets. If that thing surprises me, I’m toast.”
“Yeah but you can be like, a ghost or something? That’s gotta count for something, even if it DOES attack.”
His brain paused to try to process her statement.
“Can you give me like, an ounce of that self confidence? Or somethin? We could be in so much more trouble than we ever imagined-”
Louise threw one of the sandwiches at his face. “Try eating for starters. A full stomach will probably help you out a bunch!”
His anxiety paused just to give a stare of death back at Louise. “When will you stop doing that…”
“See, the food got your mind off that cryptid, right?”
His eyes widened, and he went back to fidgeting. “Yeah I’ll just, skip lunch at least.” He pushed the sandwich away. “This nerve is gonna make me puke…”
Louise sighed, sitting down and beginning to eat her lunch.
“Come on, if it hasn’t attacked now, it won’t attack at all. Just eat up.”
“Maybe it’s just being really patient… Like, I think it’s been watching me!”
“Psh, what? You think it’s attending school with us?”
“I mean if it can turn into a mannequin, what’s stopping it from turning into a person? Or a deer peeking through the window? Or maybe a bird watching-”
“Good, let it turn into a deer! That’ll be a lot easier to beat up than… whatever it was last night.”
Davis put his head face down on the table. “Oh jeez… I just realized that I’m missing all the class content today too. I’m gonna be so behind on everything.” He gripped his head again.
Louise shrugged. “What, is one day’s worth of school gonna kill you or something?”
He glanced up. “Academically, yes. Especially when some of this stuff is test and quiz prep. A quiz which I ALSO have next period too.”
Louise shirked back a bit. “Oops… uhh… good luck? Maybe just imagine me beating up that cryptid for you if you get nervous and distracted, I don’t know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, I guess.”
“Only a few more classes to go. We can spend the rest of the day at a mall.”
Her expression brightened.
”OH actually, how about we go to a restaurant? I know a place that serves some KILLER burgers. We can get some and then do… Something I guess. Group research? Maybe plan some defense strategy for your home?”
His heart lightened at the thought. “Yeah, that would be kinda nice.”
He took a deep breath, unwrapping the sandwich.
“It’s not gonna attack in broad daylight, right?”
After a terrible quiz with questions he couldn’t recall, the last few periods of the school day, Davis shared with Louise: History and English.
Simply having her in the same room was somewhat reassuring. If he was attacked in broad daylight, no doubt it would provoke some response from PAIN. Hopefully not the whole town quarantine response. His nerves soothed as his brain thought more rationally about his potential monster stalker.
Even with his good friend near, it didn’t do much to quell his wandering mind. Instead of paranoia, it was more focused on planning what to do if he were attacked at that very second. Obviously, he didn’t have any of his gadgets with him. Maybe he could use pencil shavings as some kinda makeshift blinding powder? Pens and scissors were decently sharp. He wasn’t sure if they were sharp enough to pierce the monster’s hide, but if his knife did the job, scissors should work too.
Oh right… I lost my knife…
Still, he kept thinking back to anything he could possibly do, anything to not be useless.
When the final bell rang, he was snapped back into reality. Looking down at his desk, it was a shameful reality.
He hadn’t taken any notes, and the teacher was already wiping away what was written on the whiteboard. No doubt, the stuff was essential testing information. He sighed in despair, walking over to Louise.
“Hey, can I copy off of your notes? I kinda dozed off today.”
She stared back blankly. “Wait, you actually waste time taking notes?”
He returned with a stare of disappointment.
“We’ll… I guess I know what we’re gonna be doing when we go out to get some burgers. Study.”
“Hey, whatever was covered today isn’t that big a deal-“
She paused, gears in her brain processing what was said at lunch.
“Oh. That stuff was test prep wasn’t it.”
He squinted his eyes, nodding.
“Yeah… We probably should huh…”
Davis stuck close to Louise as they streamed out of the school with a river of students. He was holding tight to her arm, like a frightened child, glancing at all the students surrounding them. She would glance over to keep an eye on her friend, making sure to keep trucking onward.
It was a ten minute walk, but they arrived at a shopping plaza. It was a large parking lot, lined by various fast food places, a few restaurants, department stores, and some smaller shops for miscellaneous needs. Outside the front of the restaurants were dining areas, lined with flowered hedges and fountains.
There were plenty of teens and adults, some students of Tomahawk High, eating, chatting, or just enjoying the nice scenery.
Davis was totally unfamiliar with it all.
She turned to the terrified boy.
“You can relax. If someone literally tries to jump us, I’ll throw em in front of a moving car.”
“I really doubt you can throw that big of a monster out into the streets.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m telling you, I SERIOUSLY doubt that monster will reveal itself to everyone after staying hidden for so long.”
“I already told you, this thing is different-”
She tossed her backpack open, slipping on her gauntlets.
“There. Feel better?”
His heart rate slowed down at the sight.
“Wait, won’t that draw suspicion?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Who the heck cares if I’m wearing gauntlets or not?”
He glanced around at all the students. “Well, they might find it weird and talk about it.”
His heart slowed down more. “Don’t you care about how you look to others?”
“No need to when I constantly look this cool.” she spoke with a grin. She struck a pose, reaching out her hand in a taunting motion.
Davis put his hand on his face.
“Stop it, you look embarrassing…”
“Fiiiinee. Now, for lunch, you GOTTA try Royalty Burgers if you haven’t.” She grabbed his arm and tugged him across the parking lot towards the restaurants.
“It’s not a chain or anything, they grill them there with fresh meat and everything. It’s AMAZING!”
She was skipping along with excitement.
“They also got so much more in case burgers aren’t your thing, like maybe some chicken tenders, ooh and KILLER milkshakes as well. The fries there are kinda pricey but it’s totally worth.”
Davis took a deep breath, eyes darting side to side. Nothing seemed suspicious. “I haven’t eaten out in like forever. It sounds like a nice change of pace from frozen food.”
Louise continued to march towards the food, stopping in front of one of the department stores.
“Oh yeah, I also gotta use the bathroom real fast.”
Just the mention reminded Davis. He felt a cramp in his stomach, and he grasped it.
“You gotta use it too?”
He groaned. “I can hold it. Ugh… Ok maybe not.”
She stared at him for a few moments, putting together what had happened.
“Don’t tell me… You’ve been holding it in all day?”
“The bathroom would be a perfect place to be ambushed-”
She grabbed him by the arm, tugging him towards the store entrance.
“It’s a packed department store, there’s tons of people around, you’ll be just fine. Just scream like a maniac if you see anything funny, all right?”
She continued tugging until they reached the bathrooms.
Louise finished first, waiting right outside the door for her friend. It didn’t seem too busy, as not too many people went into the bathroom. Minutes passed, still no sign of him. She began tapping her foot as she saw people continuing to leave.
“Sheesh, this is why you don’t hold it all in…” she silently spoke to herself. Finally, a minute later, Davis emerged.
Louise stared at him, concerned.
“Jeez dude, you all right?”
He looked even paler than before, and was shivering as if he had a cold. His back was hunched, and eyes incredibly baggy.
“Y-yeah.” He spoke in a very hushed voice, chittering his teeth. “I’m j-just… still really s-scared.”
She put his arm on his shoulder. “Sheesh, I didn’t know you were gonna be this much of a baby about it. Probably should have found a family bathroom or something.”
He simply stared pathetically at her.
“Well, come on. Let’s get us some burgers, that’ll warm and cheer you up.”
It was a horrid eight minutes on the toilet, both thanks to holding it in for so long, and the paranoia of being attacked at his most vulnerable. Every time somebody came in and out of the door, his heart began beating into overdrive. He continued to heavily breath in and out, trying to relax himself and push through his terrible digestion as fast as possible.
Granted, after it was all done, his stomach cramps were mostly gone, and he felt significantly less stressed out.
Not to mention he felt absolutely starved.
He washed his hands, and grabbed the door handle.
It didn’t budge.
His heart accelerated as he yanked again and again.
It still didn’t even move an inch.
He banged the door, yelping.
“LOUISE, HELP ME OUT HERE! THE DOOR’S STUCK!”
He banged more, and turned around.
All of the stalls were slightly ajar, and nobody.
He unbuttoned one of his jacket pockets, searching for his phone. It wasn’t where he usually put it
He opened every other pocket, scrounging through several pieces of candy, unable to feel the rectangular shape of his phone.
There’s no way I left it at home, did I? I didn’t take it out at school at all…
He continued to bang on the door, yelling. Between screaming, he glanced behind him, still finding absolutely nobody.
“…I’m sure this place will serve SOMETHING you like. Just promise me you won’t be picky!”
Louise kept prattling on as she pushed the doors to the restaurant open. It wasn’t too crowded, but there were still a fair amount of customers inside.
Davis was still shivering like a terrified animal, keeping hands close to his chest. He glanced at every customer as if they were planning to lunge out and attack him.
“Plus maybe we can come here after excursions. They’re open real late into the night too!”
Davis nodded. He sniffed the air, and straightened out his back. He took in a whiff of the scent of grilled beef patties, fries, chicken, and a mix of various other foods.
“Smells good, huh? I told ya, you’re gonna LOVE this place.”
She bounded over to the cashier, staring up at the menu.
“Just give me a Royal combo with some water, and…”
Davis was staring blankly at the menu. His mouth was slightly agape, looking at the pictures of the delicious-looking food.
“Need a few moments?”
He pointed at a picture of a thick, double burger. “That one.”
Louise chuckled. “Feeling hungry now, huh? Isn’t food just the best? Ah, wait one second. Do you mind if I take these off?”
She held up her gauntlets.
“I don’t exactly wanna be eating with them and all. I haven’t washed them properly yet and uh… Yeah.”
He nodded, still staring at the picture of the tasty looking burger.
Davis had been kicking at the door for several minutes, and was now lying on the floor exhausted. Every now and then, he’d hear somebody shove the door, trying to get in. Sometimes it was a light tap, other times it felt like somebody was trying to kick it down. If he was lucky, somebody would complain about the locked bathroom, and a manager could unlock it.
Unlocking, maybe? He had picked locks before. It was a good way to get into classrooms where he could hang out and be alone during lunch.
He searched around his jacket pockets. Through lint and small bits of garbage, he at least found a paperclip in there. He sighed in relief, bending it into a straight metal wire, and hurrying over to the bathroom door.
He paused in despair, realizing there was no lock on this side.
“Could… You get me another.”
Louise had barely touched her fries as she glanced at Davis.
The burgers served here were definitely not average. The “Royal Marriage” he had just finished were two quarter pound patties, each with two slices of cheese, and finished with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise.
In the time that she had just taken a single bite of her burger, he had demolished his.
“Wow… Have you ever had burgers before? Like, once in your life?”
“No… They’re amazing…”
A big smile grew across her face.
“See, man I KNEW you’d love this place. Just hang tight, do you want a shake too?”
“Shake?” he cocked his head, staring inquisitively.
She paused. “You’re a frozen food hog and you’ve never had a chocolate shake either? Man, you’re missing out on SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. It’s a good thing I dragged you out here!”
She walked over to the counter, making a new order as he sat, staring at his polished plate of food. He looked up, gazing at Louise’s barely eaten burger and fries. His mouth began to water, and he reached over, snagging a handful of fries and shoving them into his mouth. He glanced behind, seeing Louise was walking back.
“Just give him a few minutes, and you’ll have some more food…”
She saw a bunch of her fries were noticeably gone, and glanced at the boy.
She squinted her eyes with disgust.
“You coulda just asked if you wanted me to get you fries too.”
She sat back down, and moved her food further away.
“I gotta keep an eye on this till your next order, huh?”
Minutes later, after Louise finished her meal, she ran over and brought the second helping over to Davis. She kept her eyes on him as he dove straight into the burger again. He tore into it like an animal, shredding it down to nothing but crumbs.
Grabbing the shake, he took off the lid and chugged. His eyes bugged out at the first gulp, and he coughed up the shake, spilling it everywhere.
Louise instinctively ducked, avoiding the projectile shake-spit.
He coughed and gagged, still spitting out little bits of melted ice cream.
“Guess you have a selective sweet tooth, huh now?”
He glared at her. “It doesn’t taste good. Could I get another burger?”
“Seriously? Well, even if I wanted to, I got no more cash left.”
He glared. “So?”
“Do you got some money to help pay too?”
She gave him a wry look. “You’re gonna be paying for one heck of a lunch for me in the future for this. Now, are you feeling better?”
He stared at the empty plate again, before staring back at her.
“See, a good meal will help your nerves a bunch. Now let’s get on home.”
Davis had been staring at the door for a long while, trying to figure out any way through. Help clearly wasn’t coming anytime soon. It couldn’t have been a coincidence the one time he split off from Louise this all happened.
He looked up to the ceiling, lost in trying to figure some way out of this hopeless situation. Maybe there was some kind of air duct he could crawl through.
The only duct he could see was only small enough for a rat to fit through.
He squinted as he stared at the wide, fluorescent lights.
If only there was a way to turn out the lights, then he could phase through the wall without any issue. There was no light switch he could find.
Though, the switch wasn’t the only way to turn them off.
His heart raced and he gulped.
“I really hope I don’t get in big trouble for this…”
There were no cameras in the bathroom, but most likely some watching outside. There was only one way he thought out.
He ran over to one of the toilet stalls, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and unscrewed the seat.
Wrapping his face in the paper to (hopefully) hide his identity when he broke out, he proceeded to throw the toilet seat at each of the lamps. One by one the bathroom dimmed, until he smashed the last one, submerging himself in darkness. He felt his way along the wall, until he could feel the door handle.
He held his breath, and turned incorporeal, rushing through.
On the other side of the door, he felt the gut-punch of entering a lit area. He stumbled down onto his knees, and materialized back into reality.
A few shoppers leapt back as they witnessed a person whose face was wrapped in toilet paper appear out of nowhere.
They were completely frozen in place, not out of fear, but sheer confusion.
He scanned the people waiting quickly; Louise was nowhere to be found. He scrambled up to his feet and sprinted out.
As he ran, his mind was preoccupied with two things:
Finding Louise, and hoping to god nobody would ever find out this was him.
Running through a crowd of shoppers, he tore away the toilet paper off his face. He threw his hood back over his head, and glanced around.
Not too far off was Royalty Burgers.
She wouldn’t abandon him without good reason, right?
He sprinted towards the restauraunt.
He shoved open the doors, glancing around.
She was nowhere to be seen.
His heart began pounding against his chest.
He ran outside, whipping his head all around, trying to find her.
Not too far off, he saw not her, but an all too familiar style of dressing.
It was his style, somebody wearing a big black school jacket with the hood up. And next to him was Louise.
He broke into a sprint.
“LOUISE!” He screamed.
She turned to him, pausing in confusion. The hooded figure turned, revealing that it was a near perfect looking copy of him. She looked at the Davis near her, and then back to the other in the distance.
The closer Davis screamed in terror, grabbing Louise’s wrist and fleeing.
The other Davis reached out, yelling for his friend.
He gave chase, running across the parking lot of the shopping center, cars slamming on their brakes to avoid hitting the students. He dragged her towards downtown, where the city streets thinned into more clustered general shops and small apartments.
The doppelganger slowly was putting more and more distance between the two, pushing past pedestrians, and sometimes shoving them into the pursuing boy. The constant obstacles, combined with Davis’s endurance, caused his breath to shorten. His sprint turned into a light jog, and then a full stop as he hunched over. He gasped for breath, staring horridly as his friend disappeared further and further away.
Davis kept running with Louise, until he could no longer see their pursuer. He took her to an alley between two shops, free of any pedestrians or passerbys, and sat down behind a dumpster. He was heaving heavily, eyes shut tight.
Louise was panting, but it was more from the adrenaline of the situation than the long run he just tugged her through.
“I’m… Sorry…” he heaved out. “That…”
“The monster from before?” She finished his sentence.
He nodded. He began to cry.
“It’s been after me… all this time…”
He buried his head in his knees, curling up.
“And now it stole my skin. It knows me too well…”
“Hey, it’s just got your looks. I doubt it’s got your personality too. Plus, now that we know that it’s near, we just gotta get a quick plan and pummel it. Just give me a second.”
She turned around as she slung her backpack to the ground.
The gauntlets. She’s getting the gauntlets.
She opened it up, squatting down and shuffling through her pack.
From his jacket sleeve, he procures a knife, the same one he had lost at the factory. Without hesitation, he lunged forward with it, aiming straight for her back.
Louise nonchalantly stepped to the side, letting him crash into the alleyway wall. She scoffed as she slipped on her gauntlets.
“I told you, it ain’t got your personality. I mean, eating a bunch was one thing, along with liking the taste of mustard too. But not enjoying ice cream? I KNEW somethin was up then!”
He turned around, his face now deformed. His mouth had widened considerably, growing terrifyingly large teeth. The sounds of bones cracking and skin stretching emanated from him as his jacket turned from a fabric into a carapace-like material.
Louise gasped, but clenched her fists tight.
He tossed the knife aside as he stretched out his arms and legs. His fingers fused together and sharpened themselves into razor sharp claws.
In a matter of seconds, the cryptid now stood a head over Louise, looking like a stretched out, horrifying mockery of Davis.
“The least you coulda done is stop wearing my friend’s skin before I beat the snot outta you!” She yelled.
She shoved her feet off the pavement, slightly cracking it as she dashed forward.
She tackled it in the stomach, pinning it against the wall. There, she proceeded to punch it twice in the chest.
It reacted with a screech, but grabbed the back of her shirt with both of its elongated arms.
It tossed her away to the back of the alley, and leapt towards her.
When she was still getting back up to her feet, it slashed at her chest. She felt the sting of the scratches, and gritted her teeth.
She returned with a punch aimed at its face, but it dodged.
It leapt back and swiped again, but she was barely able to leap to the side. The very tip of its claws grazed her thigh.
She gritted harder, trying her best to endure the pain.
I’m not gonna win this if it keeps out-reaching me…
She turned and grabbed the dumpster, shoving it at full speed towards the cryptid.
It merely leapt over the improvised battering ram, and landed close behind Louise, preparing to grab her.
“Got ya close enough!” she yelled as she turned around and grappled the hands of the beast. She bent her knees and pushed towards the cryptid. It was one shot, and she had to just out-muscle the monster and pin it down.
The two were at an impasse, barely making way over each other’s strength.
Very slightly, she was being pushed back thanks to the creature’s increased weight, but still held strong. The brawler dug her feet into the ground, noticeably cracking the pavement, as she braced to stop its approach.
They continued for several more seconds, locking eyes and matching strength. Neither dared to break the grip and risk giving the opposing party a potential upper hand.
She began to lose more ground as the monster continued to push down on top of her.
She willed all she could to try to shove back, but she was outclassed. She glanced around, staring at its legs. They seemed open, so maybe if she was fast enough she could sweep it then pin it to the ground again.
To her surprise, the force pushing against her suddenly released, and the monster screamed and recoiled.
Something sharp had shoved into its ribcage.
Louise screamed triumphantly as she shoved forward, pinning the massive beast to the floor by its arms, and she wasted no time getting her knees on top of its legs as well.
It flailed wildly, claws just glancing the girl. Each scratch only felt like a small pebble was bouncing off of her skin. She managed to get behind it, trapping it in a headlock and wrapping her legs around its abdomen, holding down one of its arms.
She caught a jacketed figure walking up to the side of her vision.
It was the real Davis. She grinned.
“Ngh… This is why… I say a little bit of cardio… won’t hurt!”
The monster struggled and screamed, attempting to stretch out its arms more to try to break free.
Davis walked behind and pulled his knife out of its chest, and stared at the disgusting imitation of himself.
“Come on Davis, I can’t hold it down all too long. Go for it’s throat, or heart, or whatever! Just make it quick!”
Davis nervously crouched down, reaching for the neck of the beast.
It yelped out again, but this time it wasn’t a monstrous shriek. It was a cry of a girl.
“Please, spare me! I don’t want to do this!”
Davis was taken aback. The creature ceased struggling, and Louise looked angrily at him.
“Hurry up, don’t let it trick you!”
“Hold on. What do you mean?”
“I don’t attack humans. If I do, they seek me out for revenge. But here I had no choice. If I didn’t hunt you, they would hunt me.”
“Who’s they? What do you mean?”
“Davis, quit this, seriously!”
Louise gripped the monster tighter, pushing down harder. It winced more.
“I want to listen to it. I didn’t know that monsters could be intelligent enough to like, communicate with us.”
“Who cares, they’re still a threat and need to be dealt with!”
“I’m not a threat! I’m trying to live! I will be starved if I return!”
“Wait, you mean you’re fed? Like somebody’s pet?”
“If I don’t do what he wants, he starves me! And he threatens far worse!”
“That… doesn’t justify… your actions!” Louise yelled, as she gripped the monster tighter. It was now whining like a dog in pain. Its long limbs were limp, and wasn’t even bothering to put up a fight.
Davis grimaced at the sight.
“Louise… I’m sorry but this isn’t right!”
He put his knife in his pocket, staring pathetically at the creature.
“Davis, you absolute MORON!” Louise screamed. It caused his heart to skip a beat, hearing her genuinely angry.
Her grip loosened at the shock of betrayal. The cryptid, seeing this opportunity, broke free from her grip.
As it ran to the back of the alley, it shrank its limbs back to human proportions.
It re-took Davis’s form, staring pathetically at the two.
Louise glared daggers back at it. “Look, you’re lucky my friend here decided to spare you. But if you ever try anything again, I’m going to make you pay big time. Far worse than not eating anything. I’ll cut your stomach right out!”
“I don’t want to starve though… How can I eat without him?”
She turned her head away dismissively.
“Maybe you can beg your master for some scraps of food if finding a wild deer is so hard, huh?”
“Deer… There is no more prey to eat. I will starve in days.”
Davis shuffled forward, wallet in hand. He handed it a $20 bill.
“Louise, did you eat with it at that burger place, right?”
He turned back to the monster.
“Just when you’re too hungry, go to that place, and hand them this, and ask for food. Do you understand? Just, copy how Louise ordered. I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure it out.”
It nodded. It turned around to the alley wall, and climbed up it like some kind of insect, disappearing onto the rooftops.
Davis sighed in relief, and felt something smack him from behind the head. He winced in pain, rubbing the spot that was whacked.
“Davis, did you want to get us both killed or something?”
He turned around, and Louise looked absolutely furious. He shrunk back.
“It…” He put his fist against his mouth. “It felt wrong torturing it like that.”
“Oh, just because it speaks, that means you should feel bad? Would you have said the same thing if the wendigo started begging for mercy?”
“It’s not just speech, it’s like… intelligent! It’s creepy that it can shapeshift but like, if it can act and behave like us, and if it’s being forced to go after humans, then we can’t just kill it, right?”
“Oh let me think, YES. For all we know, you just let some shapeshifting monster run out to go kill some more people, and get PAIN’s attention. This was an assured win and you just botched it all.”
They turned to find the monster, still imitating Davis, had returned.
“I need to return this.” It walked forward, handing Davis his phone back. He was somewhat surprised, but surprise changed to joy.
It scurried to the roofs once more.
He turned back to Louise.
“So why was it nice enough to return this to me after I took it? It’s desperate, and needs our help too.”
“Or it’s building fake trust with the only two who can kill it. I’m done here.” She grabbed her backpack, and stormed out of the alleyway. He groaned to himself, feeling the pangs of anxiety in his stomach once again.
The two had returned to their respective homes, and Davis was lying down on his couch. He still had an ache of guilt in his stomach, and wasn’t feeling up to do anything for the rest of the day.
He took deep breaths, and tried to reaffirm himself that what he did was right.
His phone buzzed. It was a text message from Louise. He stared at it for a few seconds, heart racing about what it said.
I’m sorry for hitting you and yelling at you Davis. You’re my friend, and I should have trusted your instincts. If you’re right, maybe we can find that cryptid again and ask more questions, like who its owner is, and maybe that could lead to more discoveries.
Another one buzzed in.
That’s at least like, a best case scenario. But don’t think I’m entirely fine with this. I wanna do whatever it takes to keep our town safe. If I even get a hint of that shapeshifter causing trouble, I’m going to break it’s neck.
The image of the monster taking his own shape, with its neck broken, sent shivers down his spine .
It was intelligent, it could communicate.
He never expected any of these monsters to be innocent, hoping to live peacefully with humans, but he could only hope this was one of the few exceptions.
To Louise’s delight, the detective wasn’t there to track her down for running away from that officer days ago. To Davis’s delight, the detective also offered to give them a ride home.
His car was a few decades old, but still decently kept. The body was still well painted, no obviously visible dents or scratches. The interior was pretty clean as well, still smelling fresh, courtesy of a tree-shaped car freshener. Davis was slumped over, fading away to sleep as Louise stared out the window, looking into the endless darkness of the passing fields.
“Is urban exploring really popular with kids nowadays?” Gold spoke back, still keeping his eyes on the road.
“Yup yup. Well, actually, I don’t know too well about others. But Davis and I like it a lot.”
Davis wheezed. “It takes way too much out of me…”
The detective chuckled. “At least your friend there was willing to carry you out! A little bit of
exercise every day never hurts for endurance.”
Davis shrank back into the seat as Louise rolled her eyes. “That’s what I’VE been telling him!”
“See, you got a good friend there kid. Anyways, back on topic, you sure others your age haven’t been goin out to places around there?”
“Nope, not that we’re aware of. Sometimes I see people online posting pictures of abandoned stuff, but no idea if they’re our age.”
The man sighed. “Well, if you do, tell them to at least not do it anymore. The same goes for you two.”
Louise clenched her fist, grimacing to herself. “We’re not doing anything illegal though!”
“Well, what you were doing is against the law, but there’s something a bit more to it. You wouldn’t know anybody who’s disappeared recently?”
Louise tensed up further. “No, not really?”
Davis nervously shifted in his seat, looking away.
“There’s been quite a few. An abnormal amount in the past few months. I’ve been hired by a few folks to see if I can find anything about their missing kids, and in my investigation, that opened up a whole can of worms to a plethora of missing person cases around her.”
Davis gulped. “H-how many people are gone?”
“The details don’t matter. The only consistent found between a few of them is that they were last seen wandering around the outskirts of town or the woods. So either there’s a serial kidnapper, a very stealthy mountain lion, or something else entirely. But as long as you stay at home and stay safe, you all should be fine.”
“Well, don’t worry about us! We’re a very capable team! Plus, I’m sure soon you’ll find some big break in your case!”
He raised an eyebrow, still focused on the road. “What do you mean by that exactly?”
“It’s just, hoping for the best.” Davis interjected. “I’m really worried for those people too.”
“With how things are looking for me, I guess a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt. I’m not gonna get paid until I find some lead to where those missing kids ended up.”
Several minutes later, the detective’s car pulled up in front of Louise’s home. He put it into park, turning back to the two teens.
“All right then, here we are. You two just, take my advice, all right? I say this outta compassion: I really don’t want to add you two to my case file.”
Louise nodded vigorously. “We’re not gonna go anywhere anytime soon!”
He smiled. “All right, but I WILL be talking to the police again if I see you two out there again, all right?”
“We won’t, I promise.” Davis chimed in.
The two got out of the car, Louise waving as the detective drove off into the night. Davis stared at Louise’s home for a few moments, realizing he forgot to ask the detective for a lift to his place.
“Uh, shoot.” He glanced down the dark street, barely lit by streetlamps. His thoughts briefly went back to the monster that stalked them in the factory.
“I think I should walk home, I don’t want to be a bother-”
Louise grabbed him by the arm. “Are you seriously going to take such a huge risk going home alone?”
“N-no. It’s just that I don’t want to cause any problems-”
“Nah, don’t worry! My parents might be home, but they won’t mind! I think.”
Louise tugged him along to the front of her home, unlocking the door. Davis’s skin turned white as she slowly opened the door, peeking in.
“Hey, uh… anyone home? I’m back…”
There was nobody near the entrance, though a light was on in the living room.
“LOUISE!” A feminine voice cried out. Louise recoiled. She slowly walked in, head hung low. Davis still stood just outside the doorway, shaking and staring at her.
From the living room came Louise’s mother. She put her hands on her hips, staring down at the teen with a stern expression.
“Where have you been all night? Did you check your phone at all? I was worrying so much I’ve got more gray hairs!”
“Well… I was kinda…” She looked down at the floor.
Davis ran through the door. “We were doing some urban exploration and stuff, checking out abandoned buildings and… things. We’re safe, we didn’t get in trouble or anything, please don’t be mad!”
Her mother’s face suddenly changed to surprise with the appearance of Davis.
“Oh uh, I haven’t mentioned him yet. This is my friend, Davis.”
He sheepishly waved.
“His house is kinda far away, and it’s already pretty dark out. Is it okay if he stays for the night?”
Her mom sighed. “Honey, you could have at least called if you were going to drag along a friend. Now I have to get some place set up for him.”
She turned to Davis. “You can go and have whatever you want in the fridge, I’ll get an inflatable mattress ready for you. Hurry along, I need to have a quick word with Louise.”
Davis nodded and went to the kitchen. With only the two women left in the entrance, her mom focused on Louise with a hawkish gaze.
“First of all, if you’re going to be out this late, PLEASE at least send me a text or something. It’s happened too many times already, and every time I’m seriously worried for you.”
“And second… You used protection, right?”
Louise’s eyes widened and face flushed straight red. “WHAT?”
“Come on, you can’t fool me. You meet a new boy without telling me about him, and not coming home until late at night over and over? Plus, urban exploration? Who even does that?”
Louise looked away, waving her hands in front of her. “NO NO NO MOM IT’S NOTHING LIKE THAT, PLEASE! WE ACTUALLY ARE JUST DOING SOME URBAN EXPLORING AROUND TOGETHER AAAAUGH.”
She buried her flushed face in her hand. “Godddd why did you have to bring this upppp…”
“Really? Then why all the secrecy with him?” She grinned. “Are you afraid your mom is gonna embarrass you in front of your new boyfriend?”
“Mom PLEASE we’re just friends!”
She continued to grin. “Fine, fine, as long as you two aren’t doing anything illegal, or too dangerous. You’ve got tetanus shots and everything, but you still gotta watch for broken glass, pipes, rabid wildlife-”
“Trust me mom, we’ve been fine. If I get seriously hurt, I’ll let you know. I promise!”
She smiled compassionately. “That’s good to know then. Now come on, get something to eat. I wanna hear more about your ‘friend’.”
It was a new, very early morning, the morning mist still present in the air. From the northeast of town, a river ran down from the foothills, pooling into a lake further down the line. There was a small rowing club set up at the shore, where both students and adults could take out a boat to row on the lake.
Every morning on the way to School, Kirino would refuse to be driven by her parents or housekeeper, and instead opted to walk all the way from her foothill home to the nearest bus stop. If only she could do the same when it meant traveling to the lake early in the morning..
The week had been harrowing, so taking time in the morning to row would at least help burn away some of the anxiety.
She went into the boathouse, changing into a unisuit and taking out one of the single sculls. She carried it down to the water, setting up her oars, and pushing off. She began rowing towards another one of the single sculls, occupied by an oranged haired boy. With a big grin on his face, he waved at the approaching girl.
“Yo Kirino!” He yelled across the quiet lake. She smiled slightly at him.
Despite all her discipline, even he was still on the water earlier than she was.
She lined up her boat next to his.
Scott Williams was a good friend of Kirino’s. She typically was a coxswain for a school rowing team, but she would constantly see him on the water, typically alone on a single scull. He approached her randomly one day, and the two became friends. Though for Kirino, there was one deciding factor that secured their friendship.
“So, how about some simple warmups for this morning? You ain’t lookin too good, so we should relax-”
“I’ve warmed up enough. I want to race.”
He shrugged, still keeping a smile on his face.
“All right. Let’s make it simple, first one to the end of the lake. Count down from three, aight?”
Kirino stared in front of her, focusing on the distance ahead. Her vision locked, tensing her muscles.
“One… Two…” She inhaled. “THREE.”
She started with a powerful stroke, pulling the oars back and accelerating the boat. In seconds, she could feel the air blowing against her face and hair.
She put every muscle into stroke after stroke; Arms pulling as hard as she could, legs shoving, and back leaning back as much as possible. She wanted to completely exhaust herself, and kept pushing herself harder and harder.
Even with her entire mind dedicated to rowing and winning a simple race, her failure from the night before still wormed its way between every stroke.
She grunted harder to herself, rowing harder and harder. The wind was blowing so hard in her eyes she began to squint.
“You’re never going to beat me with form like that!” She heard scream across the lakefront.
She broke out of her trance, finding that Scott was already waiting at the end. He was waving with that same goofy smile, barely looking even winded from the race. She huffed to herself, slowing her boat down to a stop. She looked down, staring into her reflection in the water.
“I’m just never gonna be able to outdo you, huh?”
He chuckled. “Not with that attitude. Even racing, it was easy to see what was up. Your form wasn’t exactly the best. You’re putting your all into every stroke, but not only were you rushing too hard, you were all out of balance.”
She looked up, listening to her friend.
“Like you’re pushing way too fast on the legs, a good amount of arm strength, but you were barely actually putting your back into it. I mean that literally. You were going too fast before you could get the most oomph out of it, you know?”
“I know that, I know the basics of rowing you know.” She snapped. “I’m no amateur when it comes to this.”
He sighed, cocking his head and still smiling. “Then you should be above these mistakes ya know. Come on, let’s just casually row up and down the lake together. I can help you with your form.”
The two had spent half an hour on the lake together, Scott keeping up and commenting on her rowing form. He constantly encouraged her, simply going “Come on, more to the back” or “Push your legs out more, you’ve almost got a good balance of everything!” and “Don’t forget, back, legs, then arms when rowing! You got this Kirino!”
She couldn’t help but feel like she was being patronized. Yet, every time she focused on him giving that dumb smile, all those thoughts washed away. He was simply better at her than him in rowing.
It was at least something she could afford being worse at.
After all that, the two docked their boats, carrying it back up to the house together.
“You really went crazy during that race, you know. This isn’t some movie or something where you can just grunt and power your way through everything.”
“Yes, I’m aware… Honestly, I just needed to relieve stress. There’s been some issues plaguing me as of late.”
“Really? What’s goin on?”
She thought to a few nights before. After a full debrief, her employer seemed understanding that it was inevitable that other supernatural elements would interfere. He even seemed intrigued in the artifact Louise wielded, and instructed her to steal it if at all possible.
To her, it was still a complete failure of her mission. The first one in several she had done.
“It’s… my job. I failed big time on an assignment.”
“You’re working a job too? Sheesh, how do you find any time to relax or anything?”
“I’m here rowing for a reason, no?”
“Fair point, fair point. But hey, you gotta chill out a bit. Mistakes happen and you can’t be perfect at everything.”
She clenched her fist. “This job isn’t something I can afford to make mistakes in. Especially since this screw up was- Nevermind.”
The two arrived at the boathouse, racking their sculls.
“Hey, come on. What exactly happened at your job?”
She thought similar thoughts from when she was with the twins. Scott was incredibly strong and talented, but even this job might be too much to get him involved.
“I can’t. This job needs to be my responsibility, and I need to work harder. I can’t afford to screw up here, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to do something historic.”
“What is your job even that’s so important? Isn’t college or that stuff more important?”
“I told you this problem should be something I need to handle alone. It might be too much for others-”
He held up his hand.
“You can’t just go like that, say this is something you need to handle alone and vent to me about it. You really need help with this work, don’t you?”
She stared at him, squinting her eyes. She inhaled, keeping a stern expression locked onto him.
“And you obviously want help from me, of all people?”
“You’re one of few I can talk to about this.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure I can help with your burden. It’s no fun seeing you all worked up like this. You’re gonna die at 45 or somethin from a heart attack if you keep stressing out.”
She stared at him, thinking. He continued.
“As a coxswain, you should really learn to accept others’ help sometimes. It’s like a rowing boat, you know? If we all row together, we all benefit. Kapeesh?”
She racked her brain. She thought about herself, her mission, the twins, her friend. She stood still for several moments as she let all the factors swirl around in her mind.
“Perhaps there is something you can do… If you truly want to help, get a lift from somebody after school today, and meet me at my home.”
She checked the surroundings around her. Nobody was nearby.
“We can discuss things further there. But what you’ll be getting into isn’t going to be any fun or games.”
Scott felt an eerie amount of pressure radiate from her, and his smile turned into a more focused expression.
“I do incredibly dangerous work, and your life will be at risk if you accept.”
He silently nodded, a grin sneaking its way back onto his face.
“If it’s really that dangerous, all the more reason to extend out an arm to help ya. A little bit of danger sounds like it’ll spice up life too”
“Take this with careful thought before you meet. That is the very least I will ask.”
It was around 6AM when Davis was rudely shaken awake off the inflatable mattress. He cracked his eyes open to see Louise’s face. She was already dressed for school.
He turned to his phone, squinting at the clock.
“Don’t tell me you live an hour away from school…”
“Fifteen minutes away. Your home is fifteen minutes away in the opposite direction, however.”
He pulled the blankets tighter around him, turning away.
“Why do we need to go to my place…”
Louise tore the blanket off, revealing he had slept in the clothes he wore from yesterday.
“You kinda stink. The LEAST you could do is get a fresh set of clothes. Also, you need a uniform jacket too. ALSO, a place to put all your fireworks, unless you want to bring them to school. No, you can’t really put them here because I don’t really wanna risk my mom coming across them. She doesn’t have work today.”
He grumbled. “Fiiinee… just five more minutes?”
She opened the side of the inflatable mattress, letting out all the air. “Nope. Plus, when we get home we can make a quick report to the benefactor. I think we’ve done enough good that we can turn in our report.”
To double up on Davis’s dismay, not only was he forced to get up earlier than ever before, but now Louise was going to stick the strange USB stick into HIS computer. He didn’t have a desktop like Louise, but had a laptop that he’d typically keep in the garage. He only really used it when he had trouble building stuff, or for the occasional school project.
He had booted it up, and Louise grabbed the drive.
“Are you sure we couldn’t, like, test this out on a library computer first or something? If this is a virus, you’re going to buy me a new laptop.”
“Come on, the benefactor already gave me the gauntlets. WHy shouldn’t we trust them?”
“I dunno, what’s this guy’s name even?”
Louise shrugged. “Benefactor I guess. Well, I mean also, if he lied about the USB stick, then we’re kinda screwed in saving the town too.”
“Here’s hopin for the best then.”
Louise popped in the drive.
His computer screen glitched out, before turning to static snow.
A familiar computerized voice spoke out.
“Louise Palarick, Davis Foster, please state your report.”
Davis spoke up. “Well for starters-”
“We got a lot of good work done the past week! We’re on a serious roll! First, we managed to kill off both a wendigo and a giant turtle looking hydra. They’re also entrapped in place nobody can easily find them!”
“Very good. Is that all?”
“There was also this factory owned by G. Brand in the outskirts of town. We broke in, and it had some weird… extradimensional? I think that’s a good word for it.”
“If you have the address for this location, inform me of it.”
“Wait, there’s more.” Davis butted in. “We didn’t really do anything to contain or stop it, we couldn’t really do anything about it. It was a massive labyrinth, that like… physically didn’t make any sense. Not to mention, there was a kinda monster in there that disguised itself as a mannequin, and attacked me.”
“And don’t forget the giant brain at the end.”
The voice crackled. “Elaborate more on the brain.”
Louise tapped her chin. “Well, we didn’t get a complete look at it, since we were running for our life when we came across it. It was like, this big brain-like thing, with all sorts of wires and computer stuff plugged into it.”
“Strange. I do not recall the previous agent encountering this.”
Louise’s eyes beamed. “HAH! I knew we were destined for this stuff!”
“I want to hear more. Continue on about the factory.”
The two both took turns explaining the entire endless night they spent at the factory. The weird machines, the trucks, the strange warped space, and how they managed to barely escape the monster.
“That will be all. You two have made very good progress with your work. I look forward to your next report.”
“HOLD ON!” Davis shouted. “About that monster, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about it? Like, anything related? I get this suspicion that it wouldn’t let us leave the factory so easily…”
“I am unable to disclose any information. Doing so would risk my position.”
“But you can talk to us and stuff? Come on, we’re in serious danger.”
“There is nothing more I can do, I can only receive information you give. I trust in your capabilities to see this problem on your own, however. Now, I must disconnect. Good luck.”
The computer screen flickered back to the desktop, and Davis sighed.
“This is really a one sided kinda deal, isn’t it?” Davis grumbled.
“You heard her, and you should be more confident now. A wendigo and hydra are nothin to us. What’s the worst that cryptid can do to us?”
That was indeed a very good question, Davis thought. What truly was the worst that monster could do to them?
Tonight would be a problematic night for Kagerou.
Full moons were never really the best for her. The extra strength, danmaku ability, and agility was nice, sure, but there weren’t too many people willing to have a danmaku fight randomly, especially if it was a werewolf on a full moon.
There was also the issue of how her hair grew longer, becoming a disorganized mess that she’d have to fix in the morning.
She sighed to herself, wandering boredly through the bamboo forest. She ran her fingers through her hair, hopelessly trying to keep it straightened out.
Her foot caught on something, and she slammed face-first into the floor.
Shaking off the impact, she flipped her hair back, and turned to see what she tripped over.
It was a creature she never recognized before, standing unfazed and staring right into her eyes.
A small, rotund, horned beast that came no higher than her ankles. The top half of its fur was green, the bottom half white. It didn’t make a single sound, but stared longingly at the werewolf.
A smile grew across her face.
“Aw, aren’t you just the cutest creature I’ve ever seen!”
She picked it up, finding it to have a pillowy texture.
“Just what are you… You look kind of familiar…”
Her eyes brightened up. She finally had something to do tonight!
“HEY HIIIIIIIIMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Kagerou howled across the misty lake. “I NEED YOUR HEEEEEEEEEEEELP!”
Her voice echoed across the lake and beyond, slightly stirring a sleeping Hong at the gates of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.
Waiting at the shores, the surface began to bubble. The mermaid Wakasagihime elegantly breeched the water, landing in front of the werewolf. She yawned, rubbing her eyes.
“I know you have a bunch of energy, but can’t you just wait until…”
The sleep gone from her eyes, she could clearly see Kagerou was carrying a strange creature.
“Aww… Did you bring me a little gift?”
She reached forward, placing her hand on it. It moved its head (Or what could be considered its head) against it, nuzzling. She retracted her hand.
“Oh, it’s alive??”
“Yeah, uh…” She rubbed her head. “Sorry about making you think I got you a gift… Shoulda been a bit more up front.”
“Well, what exactly is this creature?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, and that’s why I wanted to ask you! I wanna figure out where this strange beast came from!”
Wakasagihime stared close at the smiling creature, illuminated well by the moonlight.
“I swear, it looks kind of familiar…”
“THAT’S WHAT I SAID! We’re like, on the same wavelength!”
“Maybe somebody in the human village knows. You could-”
She stared at Kagerou’s elongated, messy hair, and stared at the moon.
“The first person I WOULD ask would be miss Keine, but I think I’d spook too many villagers like this.”
“Well, there is one other person who can go into the human village for us!”
Just on the outskirts of the human village, slightly off the path to the town gate, was a small shack. It was pretty small, only enough to house one person, and it had all the amenities one needed inside.
Kagerou marched up to it, with Wakasagihime floating alongside. The mermaid had a big smile on her face as she carried the creature, happily stroking its fur.
The creature closed its eyes, snuggling further against her chest.
The werewolf pounded at the door excitedly.
There was a clattering inside, and their friend and third member of the Grassroots Youkai Network, Sekibanki, answered. Her iconic clothes covered her mouth, but her eyes were stained with exhaust and frustration. Even at the sight of her friends, they did not change.
“Ugh… I was having a really nice sleep too…”
“Emergency meeting!” said Kagerou. “We have a little mystery on our hands!”
She presented the strange creature. Wakasagihime was still lost in a trance, petting it.
Sekibanki stared at it, unamused.
“So Wakasagihime got a new pet?”
“No, well… It might as well be. She hasn’t let go if it since I showed it to her…”
“She’s so loving and sooooooft!” The mermaid beamed, giving the creature a long, gentle rub on the back.
“Well, I don’t know anything about it. What do you need me to do exactly?”
“Out of everyone in the village, I thought that Keine might have some kinda idea. She knows a lot about history, and maybe she has an idea on what it is?”
“Can’t this wait until morning? I always hear she has a bit of a short temper, and I don’t want to wake her up…”
“But what if it’s some new youkai discovery or something? I’m sure she’d be thrilled to learn about something new!”
Sekibanki sighed. “Well, I suppose there isn’t any harm in trying. I hope.”
She reached out her hands, taking the creature from the mermaid.
Feeling the fluffy fur, Seki felt her stresses and worries begin to melt away.
“Woah… It’s so… Soft…”
“It’s the best thing ever!” Wakasagihime exclaimed. “I really hope it isn’t secretly evil. That would just be too cruel!”
From beneath her coat, Seki cracked a smile. “We’ll figure this out, and I’ll get her back safe and sound. Don’t worry gals!”
The dullahan departed, entering the gates of the human village.
The mermaid and werewolf waited outside the gates for several minutes. Kagerou paced back and forth, wondering what was taking Sekibanki so long
Wakasagihime could not wait to get her hands on the creature again: Literally.
Kagerou was halted as the ground shook.
A plume of smoke blew up in the center of the human village.
“Oh dear…” Waka spoke. “I really hope that’s not related to Seki…”
From the village gate, they saw Sekibanki sprinting out as fast as she could.
“RUN! KEINES REAL PISSED OFF TONIGHT!” she screamed to her other friends.
The other two simply stared in shock as she approached closer and closer.
A massive plume of dust pursued their friend.
Seeing this, the two turned to run, but before they could, Seki had caught up, and crashed into them. They all tumbled together, falling into a pile of each other with the creature sitting soundly on top.
The plume of dusk caught up, standing right in front of the toppled youkai.
It was Keine, but she looked different. She sported horns, her dress was green, and her once blue hair had changed to a light green as well. She also has a large, fluffy tail.
She looked down at them with anger in her eyes, glaring at the creature.
“Wait a second…” Kagerou said, gears beginning to turn. “The creature looks like you miss Keine!”
Keine paused for a moment, taking a deep breath in, and out. Her demeanor became more relaxed, as she picked up the creature.
“Yes, it’s no coincidence. These are… part of the Hakutaku part of me.”
“Wait, you’re a youkai too?”
“Technically, one-thirtieth youkai. I only transform during the full moon, like you Kagerou. However, I have been having some troubles recently…”
She held up the creature, as the pile of youkai got back up to their feet.
“As is the case when I become more youkai-like, my hair becomes a bit uncontrollable.”
“Ugh, tell me about it!” Kagerou grabbed her hair. “This stuff is impossible to deal with, even the morning after.”
“This creature, what I call the Sukusuku, comes from my fur. Every morning after my tail sheds or loses fur, if too much of it clumps together, they form into… these. They’re becoming more of a pest than anything.”
Wakasagihime looked aghast. “How DARE you call such a precious creature a pest! Have you tried caring and petting them?”
“Yes, they are cute, but I need you to come with me…”
The trio followed Keine into the village. “Don’t worry, the villagers are aware of my hakutaku state. They will not panic if they see you together, too. I do business with youkai here all the time.”
They neared Keine’s schoolhouse, and she invited them in. Walking in and up to the bedroom, Keine opened up a sliding closet, revealing dozens upon dozens of Sukusuku. They were all stacked together in the closet, staring happily at the guests.
Wakasagihime shrieked in joy, as the other two stared in awe.
“They don’t need to eat or drink anything, they’re friendly, and I’m glad the one you found was friendly to you too. But they have been multiplying quite a bit every full moon. I think exponentially, the more together, the more my fur is attracted to them.”
“Why not just release them?” Seki asked. “Seems like an easy enough thing to do.”
“Because that would be wildly irresponsible. I’m unsure what flooding Gensokyo with a new creature would result in. I still would hate for anything bad to happen to them, and that lousy shrine maiden might just do that if she spots them en masse.”
Wakasagihime had leapt into the closet, snuggling with every sukusuku. Her joy rivaled all the celestials in Heaven.
“I think I got a good idea.” Said Kagerou. “Why not give them away to the humans?”
“That’s still irresponsible! I doubt they know how to properly care for a pet!”
“Well, you said they don’t eat or drink anything, they just… Vibe. Why not offer them, and give a teaching course on how to if needed?”
“Hmm…” The teacher tapped her chin. “They are very low maintenance… As long as the humans treat them fine, I don’t see any issue!”
The following morning, the Grasroots Youkai Network had set up a small booth in the market, and had a large basket full of sukusuku.
“COME GET YOUR VERY OWN HAKUTAKU! HAVE ALL THE POWER OF HISTORY IN THIS CUTE LITTLE FLUFFBALL!”
After spending some time cleaning up the mess Von Chad had caused, the two prepared to head off to the mysterious G. Brand factory. Davis geared up in his typical large jacket and night vision goggles wear, and Louise not really bothering to change out of her school uniform.
They passed through a small few neighborhoods before hitting an area sparsely populated with shops.
The south of Tomahawk Hills was less developed than the north, so it was a combination of homes bordering small malls of shops and grocery stores.
As usual, Louise was trailblazing while Davis lingered behind, seriously considering buying a moped or electric scooter, some kinda vehicle if they were going to go out this far so consistently.
The neighborhoods and well-maintained streets soon paved way to scattered singular homes surrounded by farmlands, only connected to a cracked highway via dirt road.
Several minutes of travel later, those singular homes vanished, now replaced by endless grassy fields with an occasional abandoned farm in the middle of them. This landscape stretched on endlessly, nothing but grass and small hills all the way to the horizon.
The sun was still fairly high in the sky by the time their destination was in sight. It looked exactly how they expected it to look on the satellite map; A dilapidated, crumbling factory surrounded by overgrown grass. The walls were crumbling, along with graffiti tags on one point of the walls.
Despite its nature, there were still clean looking semi trucks parked at the loading docks. From the loading docks to the road, there was a path of dirt and flattened grass.
The two hid in the tall grass at a distance, Louise putting on her gauntlets, and Davis pulling out a pair of binoculars from his jacket.
The first thing he noticed was that these trucks were currently in use. Fumes spewed from their exhaust pipes, and they slowly vibrated with their running engines. The windows were tinted, hiding if it the truck had any occupants. Other than the trucks still running, there was no sign that the factory was even still open. No workers or managers or anyone to be seen at all.
There was one ramp to the very left of the loading dock that connected to an entrance platform, with a single completely rusted over door.
“I see nobody who could stop us if we snuck into the factory” he said, putting away the binoculars. “Unless those trucks actually have drivers having a bad day or something. Let’s just, creep through the grass and sneak through one of the doorways. I could probably pick the lock if it is sealed or something?”
Louise silently nodded, and the two slowly crept through the grass. One of the trucks pulled out from the docks, haphazardly bumping across a mud road to the freeway and heading away from the town. Minutes later, another truck pulled into the empty dock.
At the edge of the tall grass near the platform, Davis peeked around, still finding absolutely nobody. He turned and nodded to Louise, before sprinting up to the building.
Louise took the lead, the two flattening themselves against the wall. They creeped across it, turning a corner and approaching the rusted double doors of the platform. Davis jiggled the handle, finding it wouldn’t budge.
“It’s stuck, though I could ghost through. It’s dim enough here-”
Louise held up her hand, took a few steps back from the door. She did a shoulder check to the door, knocking it clean off the hinges and inward a few feet.
“Don’t waste your energy, I can handle this simple stuff, easy!” She said with a smile. Glancing inwards, however…
The inside was totally abandoned and rusting away.
There were several metal tables and machinery caked in mud and decay. Multiple pipes running up the walls and across the roof were cracked at best, and shattered at worst.. Weeds and grasses pierced the concrete flooring, growing through every possible crack. Metal shelving off to the side were completely collapsed. Various rotting wooden crates were rotted or smashed open, packing peanuts scattered across the floor like the innards of a dead animal. The entire place reeked of wet mud and rust.
Louise turned back to her partner.
“You got your tetanus shots and everything right?”
“I uh… I’ve been too nervous to go see the doctor in a while…”
“Then just wait out here, I’ll look around the area a bit closer. We’d kinda have to ditch everything right now if you got scratched by something rusty without noticing..”
She spent fifteen minutes creeping through all the dilapidated machinery and furnishings, some so out of shape she could easily bend with her normal strength.
Absolutely nothing of value could be found.
No secret hatch or still-operational machine, no alien autoforge creating products endlessly, no monsters nested up among all the scattered packing peanuts, nothing. She huffed at the end of her search, but excitement still resided in her mind; Those trucks were parking into the loading dock for some reason, right?
Opening the doorway that led to the docks, it was the same sorry sight as the rest of the factory: Destroyed, decaying machinery and debris all over the place. The metal shutters connecting to the trucks were still shut as well. She slipped back outside, meeting with Davis.
“There is one hundred percent somethin goin on here.” She whispered. “I saw the loading docks, they’re completely abandoned, not to mention the shutters aren’t even open!”
“So what are the trucks pulling up for?”
Louise glanced around, before staring Davis in the eyes.
“How about you like, ghost on in one of the trailers?”
He flinched. “That’s trespassing! Plus we don’t know what’s in those, you know? What if it’s a trap? Or maybe some monsters in the truck? Or what if I’m seen and reported to the police?”
“Then you can ghost out, you dummy! Come on, it’s the only way we’re gonna figure out what’s up with this factory!”
Davis sighed. “Well if you hear me screaming over the walkies, could you punch a hole in the wall of the trailer or something?”
“I’ll do my best to get you outta there, so don’t sweat!”
He nodded in response, her confidence easing his worries.
Glancing around, still finding no other workers, he left the building and crept up to the side of the truck, phasing into the shadows. Putting on his goggles, he passed into truck.
What came next felt like a bowling ball slamming into his gut.
He phased out immediately, reeling on the floor of the trailer. A blinding amount of light shined through his goggles, forcing him to yank them off.
He groaned, still holding tight to his stomach and moaning in pain. After several seconds, his walkie started to crackle with interference. He climbed back up to his feet, still gripping his stomach, and squinting his eyes.
The interior of the trailer was seamlessly white, lit up with small, yet powerful, lamps.
Behind him were a stack of white crates, each one only blemished by a barcode on the side.
The stacks went all the way to the top of the roof, and were large enough that they had to have been moved by forklift. Turning around, the gleaming semi trailer led to an equally bright room. He crept in, finding it was also a sterile, all-white room, this one connecting to all of the docks. There were several conveyor belts protruding from the wall, occasionally a large white crate moving on through and being dumped on the ground. Multiple mannequins wearing hardhats and safety vests stood near every docking gate. They were utterly motionless, but still a bit creepy to Davis.
A pallet jack, which was thankfully colored yellow, moved on its own across the floor to take the crate, loading it into one of the trucks.
His radio crackled again, and he grabbed it, pushing the talk button. A mess of static came on through.
Walking along the wall, he found a dock at the very end that was closed. He pressed a switch on the side of the door, opening the shutters. The outside air blew into the loading dock, facing out to the same endless fields and old road.
Louise hurried on over to the opening shutters, and skidded to a halt at the blinding white light that was coming out.
“Holy… Okay I think we just hit a TREASURE trove of paranormal ongoings here!”
She giddily climbed up through the dock, accidentally tipping over a mannequin. She jumped back as it toppled to the ground, head popping off and rolling across the ground. She glared all around at the contrast from dilapidated, vandalized exterior to clean, lab-like interior.
“This has to be like, haunted! Maybe this factory is a dimensional portal? Or what if it’s a secret government lab! Or aliens?”
“It would probably be the world’s emptiest government lab. You think they’d have like, a hundred security guards running around to shoot any trespassers.”
“Ooh, then perhaps this one is abandoned? Maybe they have some robots maintaining everything, but they just forgot about it or something!”
“They can’t be that stupid, can they?”
Davis glanced around the shining white walls of the factory.
“Let’s just make this quick. I’m kinda useless in all this light. Passing through that wall hurt a lot.”
Louise held up her fist. “Hey, I’m still here too! Plus you got your smoke bombs n stuff. Give yourself some more credit!”
He smiled. “Yeah, I can do some stuff I guess. But no splitting up, all right?”
Passing through double doors from the docks, they now stood in an impossibly large warehouse. The size was comparable to a mall, steel shelves several stories high climbing all the way up to the roof. Height wasn’t all, as the shelves even stretched from wall to wall.
Each shelf was packed to the brim with the same white boxes found in the semi trucks. Conveyor belts were next to every shelf, allowing only a small amount of walkspace between. Each belt funneled towards the loading dock, but others went through the walls of the facility. Clawed machines rode up and down the beams of shelves, grabbing boxes and placing them on the belt during seemingly random intervals.
The room was filled with the noise of clanging of boxes and mechanical whirring.
Even with the sheer scale of everything, it was impeccably lit.
With all this complex machinery, the only attendants were a few mannequins standing in the walkways.
Louise took the lead, glancing at each and every mannequin, while Davis jolted around at every action from the claw machines.
They stuck to walking straight, through another push double door at the opposite wall to the dock.
Passing through, the clanging of machines faded away instantly, the only remaining noise sounding like a computer humming.
They now stood in an ultra-sterile hallway, extending forward endlessly. There were also two more paths to the immediate left and right. Far forward, there were some intersections, with two open doorways across from each other placed between these junctions. Following her curiosity, Louise followed the path to the right. It turned right, and then right again, where she found an expansive hall running through where the warehouse should be. She backed away.
“I don’t really get a good feeling from this path, let’s just, keep going straight?”
The two continued until they hit the first intersection. To the right was a small room, made of the same blinding white sterile walling. Only an air duct broke up the pure white walls. A conveyor belt running through one wall to the other with mechanical arms assembling some type of plastic object. Four mannequins sat near the belt, seemingly observing the arms doing their work. Louise crept up, peeking at the assembly line.
Even up close, she still couldn’t tell what the objects were. She reached out to grab one, Davis grabbing her hand in response.
“What are you doing?”
“I dunno, wanted a closer look at this stuff? Like, genuinely, is this stuff a weapon or just some fake product or something?”
As she plucked an object off of the belt, one of the mannequins suddenly turned its head towards her. She shrieked, punching the thing’s head right off. It bounced across the floor, the mannequin itself tipping over.
“Louise, the hell are you doing?” Davis had leapt back in response to her scream, and was hiding near the doorway.
“I saw it, it moved! These things are alive or something!”
Davis walked up to another mannequin, waving his hand in front of them. “They’re just plastic. As bizarre as this place is, I really think I would have noticed if they were haunted or anything.”
She sighed, her heart still throbbing. “It wasn’t just my nerves, I swear!”
“I think we’ve stuck around here long enough, we can come back later-”
“No no, I’m fine.” She shook her head. “I wanna find something more, there’s gotta be something around here! More than just… Cheap plastic!”
Heading out and looking to the right, the hallway seemed to go on forever and ever in a straight line. It seemed even more distant than the endless fields they had passed by. She looked back at the path she previously observed, her head hurting at the thought of it.
“Just follow me, that paradox hallway has to lead somewhere.”
Louise tried her best to ignore how everything worked as the two headed down the impossible pathway. There were no signs, the room placement was all evenly spaced, and no furniture or appliances of any sort to differentiate any of the halls from each other. The only anomalies in scenery that came up were a metal framing to the walls, along with an air duct randomly placed somewhere.
The rooms themselves changed from time to time; Some were meeting rooms with a long table and several mannequins at the seats, there were mini offices with a single unplugged computer and coffee machine, and some rooms had only a single water cooler. They had been searching around for what seemed like an hour, and Louise still was determined to at least glance through every room for some hint on where to go.
When she was scouring through another room, Davis groaned, sitting against a wall.
“I really think we shouldn’t overstay our welcome here. Everything about this place is just setting off alarm bells in my head.”
She popped out of another water cooler room.
“What if we return and the factory vanishes because we figured out the secret behind it?”
“Well then PAIN won’t find it either then.”
She peered at the never-ending, twisting hallway behind her.
“I shoulda left some string or something…” She muttered to herself. “Fine, I guess we gotta find the exit too.”
“Find the-” Davis put his head in his hands, realizing he didn’t keep track of where they were either.
They went down a hall they think they entered from, and continued, winding down turns, passing more vents and metal framework, and passing by the seemingly same clusters of rooms over and over.
After fruitlessly continuing to search for an exit, even Louise sat herself against the wall, huffing.
“Trying to process where the heck we are is killing my brain a lot.”
He sat next to her.
“Same. How many of those cooler rooms does this place need?”
“Maybe they have really thirsty workers here?”
Davis snorted. “Yeah, we all know mannequins need a gallon of water a day from standing around like that.”
Louise giggled. “You don’t happen to have some more candy on you, do you?”
He sighed. “Just one, all right?”
He unzipped his jacket, pulling out and handing a blue lollipop to her.
“Thank you, I just need a little treat to keep the mood high.” She unwrapped it, tossing the wrapper on the floor. As she stuck it in her mouth, her eyes widened at the garbage.
“Wait, how much candy do you got on you right now?”
He lurched back. “Come on, don’t be greedy! You can buy some candy for yourself every now and then.”
“No, see candy is at least non-essential, so we can use the wrappers and maybe bits of it to mark where we’ve been!”
Davis glared at her. “It’s essential to ME.” He slightly shrank back.
“But, if we have to, I got like, pieces of gum, lollipops, some hard candies, individually wrapped chewy ones, chocolate bars, uh… I don’t think enough to make a proper trail.”
“We just need simple markers at every intersection.” She took out her phone, opening a notepad app. “Then we can make some kinda map, based on the candy. Like, blueberry lollipop wrapper here, connects to this from here. Maybe we can at least bring a bit of sense to how this place works.”
He nodded. “Wait, I wonder?” He opened up his jacket again, pulling out a small compass. Thankfully, it was working properly.
“We still need a frame of reference for direction whether we’re going north, south, east, or west.” He also pulled out a brown lollipop, unwrapping it and sticking it in his mouth. “ Also, we’re going to finish every piece we litter. I don’t want to waste any!”
Starting with the first intersection, they dropped a blue wrapper, following the compass south. Then, a brown wrapper, continuing south. Louise finished her candy, leaving a blue-tinted lollipop stick, and continued south. The path led to a left turn. Continuing through it, they found themselves at a blue wrapper. Turning around, the hallway had turned into a straight pathway. Davis smiled, pumping his fist to himself.
“So this place is just all messed up, it isn’t my brain. We can actually find our way outta here!”
The duo continued for thirty minutes, marking areas and trying to find their way out of the labyrinthine factory. They had gone through five lollipops, five different flavored hardened candies, and two different chocolate bars. For the chocolate wrappers, they decided to tear it at different letters of the logo, giving each bar seven uses each. Thanks to Louise taking notes on what direction led where, they were finally starting to get a hang of where they were. She at least remembered the hallway they entered: It was a long, doorless stretch that ended in a left turn. It was just a matter of trying new paths until they finally found it.
Their new method of marking not only helped them get their bearings, but now they came across new clusters of rooms. Some rooms had more computer setups, some stacked to the roof with file cabinets, and more assembly rooms putting together bizarre products, though this time with no robotic arms doing any work.
With another four-way hallway marked, Louise sat down, wanting to take a small break. She had more than enough energy, but her stomach was starting to ache from all the candy she was eating.
Davis was about to sit down as well until he heard something.
“Is anyone there? I’m lost!”
It was incredibly subtle, no louder than a fly, but it caused him to perk up. Louise glanced over.
“You all right there?”
“I-I… I heard somebody calling for help!”
She rolled her eyes. “How do I know it isn’t in your head? This place isn’t haunted or anything.”
He squinted his eyes. “Yeah, but what if somebody here is stuck and needs some help?”
She shook her head. “Again, I didn’t hear anything.”
“I’m just gonna check out this hall. I won’t go too far, I swear.”
He turned to where he thought the voice came from: A hallway with more of the weird metal framework. He slowly began walking down, constantly glancing behind him to make sure Louise didn’t vanish right behind him.
The moment he crossed the framework, a loud buzzing occurred. A massive slab steel slammed down the metal, perfectly blending in with the walls as if it had always been there. He ran up, smacking the wall.
It was solid all the way through.
The wall shook slightly, and he could hear a muffled moan from the other side. His walkie talkie crackled to life.
“Ugh… You okay in there? That wall that shut between is is… really hard.”
He sighed, glad the walkies at least worked with each other in here. “Yeah, just got split off. I literally didn’t do anything, and this just happened.”
“What about your fireworks or something? Could they blow the wall open?”
“They’re fireworks, not military grade explosives.” He glanced behind him, noticing the hallway was all of the sudden much shorter, connecting to a larger room than before. From what he saw, the room was lined with several desks side by side, like an office building’s.
“Just stay here, there’s a weird kinda room up ahead. Lot’s of computers and stuff. I’m hoping there’s some kinda control panel or something there?”
“Are you sure you’re gonna be all right? I can keep punching away till this thing opens up.”
“Yeah, it’s just, I CAN ghost through the wall, but it’s going to hurt like absolute hell. If there’s any hope of a button to open up, I’m taking that.”
He turned around, and walked into the office space.
Every single computer was turned on and running, cables running across the floor plugging into one bigger cable in the wall. Several of them were on some real time chat software, automatically responding to any customer request or questions. At least, what he could only assume were from actual customers. He came across a few that were stuck on a default login screen, asking for a password. Davis stopped at one of them, trying to type in “password” and hitting enter.
“Incorrect, please try again.”
He sighed. It was at least worth the try.
Further down at the corner of the space was a separate hallway, this space with several nicer looking offices with glass windowed walls.There were other bizarre sites in the hall, and it stretched on endlessly. He hurried on over, opening the fancy wooden door that led inside.
The office was small, had a shelf with a few medals and scattered out books, a big oak desk, puffy rolling armchair, and desktop computer all set up. He pulled the chair out, finding a mannequin was sitting in the seat. It was dressed up like a generic businessman, black tuxedo, fancy pants, dress shirt and tie. He shoved the chair away, and tapped the computer keyboard. It lit up, already being logged in, but the only programs on it were a spreadsheet application, email, a web browser, and a customer support chat app. He glanced through the files, still finding nothing. He started tearing through the desk to search for any secret button or anything, but something else caught his eye: There was a disassembled mannequin stuffed under the desk, along with a crumpled tuxedo and dress pants next to it.
He turned to face the mannequin on the chair, dressed in the exact clothes that were stuffed under the desk.
He inched slightly closer to it.
It launched out of the chair, the surface of its skin bubbling.
He fell backwards, the mannequin flying over his head and crashing through the window. He scrambled back to his feet, kicking the office door open and running for the hallway. There, the mannequin continued to grow larger and larger, towering over him and all the computer desks.
Its body changed from white plastic to a lite gray, carapaced material, with black fur over its back, and a mixed red and black camo plate of carapace on its chest. Its legs had extended into powerful beast-like appendages, with clawed feet. Its arms stretched out and put on muscle, fingers growing longer and pointed. Out of its mouth protruded a set of deathly sharp teeth.
Its crimson red eyes locked onto the fleeing boy.
Nearly at the hallway, he pulled out a smoke bomb and tossed it in front of him, spewing out a thick black cloud. As he leapt through it, he pulled out a handful of caltrops dropping them among the smoke.
The beast charged on forward, legs propelling it far faster than any animal Davis had seen. As it stepped through the smoke cloud, it shrieked, stepping on all of the sharpened bits of metal. It lost its footing and crashed onto the floor, the full force of its weight shaking the ground. Davis didn’t even bother to look back, keeping his focus on trying to get as far away as possible. He sprinted past the large office space, hearing crashing and crackling from behind him. There was another ghastly war that sent a pang of fear through his heart. The smashing of cubicles and machinery kept growing closer and closer.
Eventually, he saw the door that rapped him. He pulled out his walkie.
“Louise, there’s a freaking monster in here with us! I’m ghosting on through the wall RIGHT NOW!”
He shut his eyes, running at full speed at the wall. He vanished into black dust.
The last time he ghosted into a bright room was like a punch to the gut. Becoming non-corporeal when it was this deathly bright was like he was being squeezed by a hydraulic press. All of the air instantly left his body, his ears popped, and his eyes felt like they were bulging out of his skull.
He phased back in, crumpling to the floor. Louise ran over, shaking him.
“Oh my god, are you alright? Come on, you are, right?”
He weakly smiled. “Just a bit.” he croaked. “I uh…” He attempted to move his body, to no avail. “I kinda need you to carry me again?”
She hoisted him up. From the wall behind them, there was a terrifying thud, followed by a screech.
“You mind telling me what the heck that is?”
“Monster, please, we really gotta pick up the pace before it finds a way outta there.”
Holding him up with one arm, she brought out her phone.
“There’s like, ten hallways I think we haven’t checked yet.” She clenched her teeth. “We just need a little bit of luck and we’ll get out just fine!”
She hurried down halls, turning at various wrappers and lollipop sticks. As she continued down a new hallway, it was extremely long like the one she entered, but this one had a few more rooms. She hurried down, her heart racing hoping she got lucky on the first pick.
She suddenly slowed down, making little noise with her footsteps.
There was a new noise among the constant hum of machinery.
A lot of clanging, and it was getting louder.
She picked up her pace, now passing by two of the rooms. From one of them, the monster sprung out of the vents. The grate hit Louise in the face, and the monster followed suit. It tackled her, knocking the duo into the opposing conveyor room.
They crashed into the conveyor belt, Davis sliding to the corner of the room with a fearful expression. Louise was pinned to the belt by the beast. She was able to grab the monster and swing it around, throwing it into one of the mechanical arms. It snaped apart with a bone-like crack, but the monster landed on its feet, now with a bit of blood staining its black hide.
An alarm began blaring in the room.
The monster slashed downwards towards Louise, and she sidestepped the blow. It cut cleanly through the conveyer. The belt began squirting out fluids, and ceased all movement with a violent clunk. Some of the fluid spurted onto Louise’s face, and she recoiled. With that brief moment of hesitation, the monster was able to tackle and pin Louise to the floor.
It wasted no time in slashing across her stomach. She yelped in pain, feeling a burning sensation with every strike. The monster paused for a few moments, wondering why its blow didn’t disembowel its prey.
It suddenly felt a horrible stinging pain from behind.
Davis had crawled from his position and stabbed it in the back.
It swatted away Davis before retreating back to the vents.
Louise quickly got up, lifting up her shirt to check her stomach.
There was a red mark across her stomach, her skin slightly frayed. She sighed in relief, thankful there was nothing too serious.
“Thanks Davis, don’t know where I’d be without you!” She said, dropping her shirt and scooping him up, rushing down the hallway.
“Agh, yea, don’t mention it…” He wheezed out. “I just wish I… Didn’t have to lose my knife…”
They turned left, which led immediately to double doors. Louise openly smiled at the sight.
Finally, actual doors in this facility.
Pushing through, the temperate factory interior now changed to a refrigerator-like cold. She stood in a massive, cylindrical room that stretched up into a funnel. The room itself was full of strange tower-like devices, akin to old computers from the 1940s. The entire floor was made up with electrical and computer wiring, all running up towards the roof.
Near the top of the funnel was a brain-looking organism, the size of a house.
Multiple wood-like stems jutted out of it. Several were embedded into the wall, smaller root-like appendages splitting from the stem and digging further down and around.
Other stems were attached to antenna and satellite dishes, rotating and jolting with electricity. The duo looked up, unable to process the size of the organ, or creature. Whatever it was, they couldn’t exactly fully process what it was.
“I think we’re well out of our league right now…” Davis whispered to Louise.
“Agreed. You need to build some stronger bombs.”
The brain began to pulse. At the end of the hallway, a door with a large EXIT sign seemingly grew into the wall. The duo glared at it.
“I also think it wants us out of here.”
“The monster it sent my way was probably a good enough hint.”
Without hesitation, Louise sprinted towards the door, pushing it open.
It was fresh, nighttime air. She wanted to scream in joy, just sing. She felt like a prisoner locked in isolation for decades, finally free. She was so happy to be back outside she could cry.
But for all she knew, that monster could still be on her tail.
She continued her sprint, and didn’t intend on stopping until she got all the way back home.
She had left the factory in the dust, still sprinting full force down the road. Up ahead, a car was slowly approaching. It slowed down as she approached, the man inside rolling down the window. Louise bolted right past it, until she heard a voice yell out.
“HEY YOU, STOP!”
She froze up. She heard the engine turn off and the click of the door opening.
“Oh no not again…”
She turned around, this time finding a normal looking man calling out to her. He wore a brown leather jacket, jeans, and a nice button up shirt.
She sighed as he walked closer. From his back pocket he pulled out a badge. Her eyes widened and her heart sank.
“I’m Detective Gold, and I have a question for you.”
The duo had returned home safely, and for once Louise agreed to take a break. Davis spent Sunday making up for all the lost sleep, and resting from the constant exercise he did. In the evening, he at least made sure to wrap up his work for school before returning to bed. For Louise, however, she stayed in bed late. It was sometime in the afternoon that her door flew open, and her mother came in with a smile on her face.
“Hey honey, are you doing all right?” She walked next to her bed, staring down. “You’ve been in bed for a while, you missed breakfast!”
Louise groaned, rolling to meet face to face with her mother.
“Just real tired. I was up way too late last night.” She cracked out a smile.
“You sure that’s it? No fever or anything?” She put her hand on Louise’s forehead, feeling a normal temperature. Louise wriggled at the action, pushing her mom’s hand away.
“Please mom, I’m fiiiine. Give me half an hour more.
Her mom put her hands on her hips. “If you say so. I wrapped up some breakfast for you in the fridge at least. And remember, if there’s anything wrong, you can tell me about it and I can help.”
Louise nodded, before pulling her blankets tighter around herself.
“Thanks mom…” she said in a drowsy voice, letting sleep overtake her again.
Louise spent most of the Sunday in bed, sore beyond belief, hoping that all the aching would stop.
By the time Monday rolled around, Louise was still feeling too sore to get out of bed. She had perfected the art of sleeping in just enough to not be late for school, avoiding tardiness for years, but now, her streak was now broken. She didn’t know the exact time, assuming it was sometime after 7.
If she was late, Davis would call her though, right?
Slumping out, she decided to skip making lunch and just be the most bare minimum of presentable. Several minutes later, arriving at school, she noticed that there was nearly no student activity out front. She groaned, yelling at the sky.
She bolted into a full on sprint, ignoring her body’s soreness.
The rest of the day ended up outright embarrassing for her. She got the eyes of everyone in class for coming through the door late, a short beratement from her teacher, and got the added embarrassment of not even having her weekend homework all wrapped up. She slinked to her desk, grabbing her hair in embarrassment.
The teacher continued with the lesson, and her mind wandered. Everything he talked about was akin to white noise, no thanks to how busy she was the weekend. She groaned to herself, plopping her head face-down on the desk.
Her teacher called her out to the entire class once more, this time for putting her head down.
At lunch she bought a sandwich and chips, and sat down at the usual table with Davis. He was at least taking her diet advice, and was eating a simple PB&J.
She was taking bites of her food amidst rushing through pre-calc homework. Davis looked over at her work.
“Trying to get ahead of the curve with homework so you got more time for our monster work? That’s not a bad idea.”
She grumpily looked up at him.
“I’m not ahead of anything at this dumb school.” she muttered in a quiet voice. “Can’t we get at least reduced school hours because we have a job now?”
Davis shrugged, and stretched out his arms. “What would you even tell the teachers? That you stayed up too much hunting some kinda giant flying turtle?”
She rolled her eyes. “How about, ‘I’m too busy working to save all of your butts from becoming lab rats, give me time off.’”
She paused in the middle of solving an equation. “Why am I even doing pre-calc, what is pre-calc going to ever do for me?”
“Get you a high school diploma and help you have a chance at any sort of career?”
She glared at Davis for a few moments, before rushing to finish her work.
He sighed. “Unless you want this happening every day, maybe we can do homework tomorrow in the library after school? We can get ahead of the curve and stuff so you have time for… Whatever you’re doing for all this monster stuff.”
She grumbled. “I have a lot of research to do after school tomorrow, and I won’t be able to get it done with all this dumb school catching up I gotta do.”
“Well I got my stuff to do after school too, like uh…” He let out a yawn. “Make some more pepper bombs later tonight, but I can still make time to help you out. Seriously, working together can make everything go much more smoothly. So tomorrow, after school at the library, okay?”
She threw her hands in the air, groaning. “Ugh, fine- ow ow ow.” She winced, quickly lowering her arms. “Dang soreness… Seriously, we work for the government or something, what was it the benefactor said?”
Davis rubbed his eyes, standing up from the table. “Good luck with your work for now at least, I’m gonna head to the library for a short bit. There’s a quiz next period.”
Louise glared at him as he walked away.
You could have at least helped me a bit more before going off to study.
The rest of the day for Louise was turning in a bunch of half-baked homework that she barely understood herself, and having to re-do some of it because of how terrible it all was. She cursed her teachers and school, spending all her time at home jumping between homework, and paranormal message boards for any sort of sightings. It was past midnight when all of her homework, past due and current, was finally done. She shoved all of the finished work into her backpack, wasting no time to dive into bed. She hadn’t even bothered to take off her uniform, but everything ached. It was time to sleep.
The following morning, she was at least feeling physically well enough to get up on time, and resume her usual morning routine. Hurrying over to school on time, she kept as focused as she could through the rest of classes. Lunchtime rolled around faster than she expected, and ended. Neither really had anything to talk about, so they just silently ate with each other, before splitting off to do their own thing after they finished eating.
The school’s library was right next to the cafeteria, and decently populated with students. There were plenty of desks, medium sized square tables, computers, and most important above all, books. There were a few large lounge chairs next to smaller tables where some students were sitting down, reading novels or textbooks. There were other groups around the room as well, but it was mostly silent, other than hushed mutters of students trying to solve troubling work. The duo sat at a square table, splaying their textbooks and soon-due homework on the table, along with future textbook assignments. Louise stared worryingly at all the work in front of her. Davis put his hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, it’ll go twice as fast with two of us, right?”
“But isn’t half of this work like, yours and half mine? We only have share a few classes-”
“It’ll go twice as fast, like, just trust me on this. Please.”
An hour of intense (at least for Louise) schoolwork went on. Starting off on individual work first, Davis worked at a fine pace, while Louise ended up asking dozens of questions for help. Eventually, her work went smoother the more Davis was able to explain how trig calculations worked, or showing how to solve questions on physics.
It also helped a lot that they were both basically math.
Every time she began to understand how to apply each formula, she swore she could feel two wires connect in her brain, followed by her audibly going “OOOOOOHHH, THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!”
Davis would smile a bit at her making these revelations. It felt nice doing such a simple nice thing for her.
Louise stared at him.
“You wanna do this more often too? It’s kinda ironic but, it makes homework a bit more fun.”
Louise vigorously nodded. “Yeah, same here! I dunno how the math works but it’s nice to not be like, stumped on one problem for like five hours!”
Davis’s smile grew wider. “That sounds like a lot of fun then. Thank you!”
“Nah, I should be thanking you. What jerk is making us do all this confusing mathstuff anyways? Math is gonna do NOTHING for me.”
“Well math has done a lot for me to be honest. You need to know some of this stuff to make all my bo-… my gear to work. Also, as a tip, don’t just stew over some problem you’re stuck on. You’ll just waste time. There’s no shame in returning to it later.”
“You sure? It’s much nicer to like, punch on through that stupid problem. It feels really nice too.”
“Yeah. Your brain might figure it out when working on other problems too!”
Having moved onto history and wrapping up with reading for the entire week, she would constantly mutter to herself over the decisions of governors and generals from the past.
“You couldn’t see that coming? Come on.”
“How did you really let that happen…”
“Why did they elect you? What was wrong with everyone back then…”
Davis glanced over. Maybe she thought she was thinking to herself instead of speaking out loud. It was getting quite annoying.
Somebody tapped her on the back of her shoulder, knocking her out of her reading trance.
Turning around was a girl, staring angrily with her hands on her hips. She had bright red hair, wore a dress jacket and a nice button up shirt, along with a pencil skirt. If it weren’t for her height, Louise would have assumed she was a teacher.
“You’re going to have to keep it down.” She spoke in hushed anger. “Your constant muttering is causing too much noise, and it’s against the library rules!”
“How about you keep your voice down first. I wasn’t doin’ anything wrong!” she exclaimed. She was about to turn back to her book, until she noticed a familiar face behind the girl.
Kirino, sitting at a table not too far off from where she sat. She sat with a boy wearing a yellow sweater, stiff but soft shorts, and fluffy blue hair, and had a puffy jacket tied around his waist. Kirino was talking with him briefly, but as if she knew Louise was staring at her, she changed focus and locked eyes. The red haired girl’s voice had increased in volume, but Louise processed none of it.
There was no way she was going to do anything here, right? She’s crazy, but is she that crazy?
I hope you’re smarter than I assume. This is no place for a fight.
“CLARICE!” Kirino yelled, her voice dominating the library. She zipped her mouth shut, and turned towards Kirino. “We still have work to finish. Quit bothering them.”
She ran back to the table with the other two. She grumpily stared at Kirino. “You probably just bothered far more people here than that girl for the past hour with that you know.”
“A library is no place for any sort of fights. If somebody is being slightly noisy, it should be easy to ignore them. If it bothers you this much, we can find somewhere else to work.”
Clarice nodded. She turned to the boy. “Come on Dom, get everything packed. We’re going.”
He nodded, slipping a big stack of textbooks into his backpack. The two got up, ready to go. All that was left was Kirino, still sitting, eyes locked with Louise.
“Kirino? We’re all set.” The two turned to stare at Louise as well.
She nodded, standing up and turning towards the library exit.
With her gone, Louise whipped over to Davis.
“You saw her, right? What an absolute brat! I bet she sent over that one girl to distract me so she could find some moment to sneak attack me!”
Davis shook his head. “It’s obvious she’s not that dumb.”
Louise huffed. “She isn’t fooling me with how ‘smart’ she is.”
“If she started a big fight with you here, she’d be suspended. Her parents would get mad, she’d probably get suspended from sports activities, and word would spread fast about her fight. I should know, you shouldn’t cause trouble if you wanna keep a cool reputation.”
“Suspension is something I never really thought about… Maybe I should be the one to get the jump on her-”
Davis grabbed her by the wrist, staring her in the eyes. “Please, just like, don’t. Don’t even THINK of anything related to getting yourself suspended.”
“It means more time to work on the cryptid hunting, right?”
“You do realize being suspended doesn’t make you free from homework or schoolwork right?”
“I could always do it later… but…” Louise took a deep breath in. She looked at Davis, smiling. “Yeah, you’re right. My parents would prob ban me from leaving the house if I ever did that.”
Davis threw his head back, sighing. “Seriously, don’t recommend anything that stupid again. It’ll suck a whoooooole lot to be suspended man.
Kirino and the other two had moved to a small office space in the library. It was nothing but a small room with a four-person table in the center, with roller chairs surrounding it. With the door to the space shut, Clarice glared at Kirino.
“You can’t just back down like that if somebody is causing issues like that. Don’t you usually stand up for yourself?”
“Trust me, I know. That girl there, unfortunately, causes far too much trouble than it’s worth.”
Dom had been unloading books and binders onto the table. He paused at the statement.
“She didn’t hurt you or anything, right?”
Clarice rolled her eyes. “Did you see that girl? Kirino could break her in two if she wanted to start a fight.”
“It’s complicated. All I can say is that she’s trouble, and the best path is avoidance.”
Clarice flipped an english textbook open to a bookmarked tab, and opened a notebook to a fresh page.
“That doesn’t sound right at all. Are you sure there’s nothing you can do? Like no teachers or something to report her to? Or maybe your parents-”
She held up her hand. Kirino had opened her English textbook, staring at the book.
“I don’t need them to help me. I’m sure an opportunity to… deal with her will come very soon. I just need to be patient.”
Dom scooted closer. “I think Kirino has the right idea. It’s not like that girl is actively seeking trouble, right?”
She shook her head, still reading. “I’m not completely sure, but I hope she’s not as stupid as I think she is.”
Dom shrunk back. “Oh, that’s not good…” He brightened up again. “There’s nothing we can’t figure out some solution to, right? Just let us know what she’s doing, and we can help! Like all this AP homework stuff. 3 heads are better than one, right?”
Louise looked up from her textbook, staring at the twins.
The two of them were what Kirino considered her only intellectual peers. They once kept to themselves, with minimal social activity and mainly focusing on studies, until she extended a hand first. They had accepted without hesitation, as who would deny being friends with her? As academically successful as she was, without them, she wouldn’t be able to perform as well as she currently could.
Yet, the trouble with Louise wasn’t academics. It was her entire future, and the future of everyone on her shoulders.
Could she really bring her friends in to assist her with such a crushing responsibility?
She turned back to her textbook.
“Perhaps later. It still might be too much for you two.”
Clarice groaned. “Next time I see that girl I’ll give her a good whack on the head for you then, how about that?”
“Please don’t…” begged Dom. “It’s really stressful when I go to school alone with you suspended.”
Kirino continued to try to bury her thoughts into the reading, but her thoughts were still preoccupied with the troublesome girl.
Leaving the library with current and future schoolwork done and all prepared for, the two split off and returned home. It was the cusp of night, and Louise’s parents were home sooner than expected. She waved to them, saying quickly she was gonna hang in her room for the rest of the night, and hurried off. She powered on her computer, pausing as she stared at the black reflection of the screen.
The thoughts of her encounter with Kirino from earlier took over her head. She remembered how she was beaten not once, but twice in a row by the student. There was no doubt Kirino was clearly using all sorts of tricks and stuff, but was there something more she could do?
She turned around in her chair and got onto the floor, beginning to do pushups.
Kirino was bound to surprise them in the future, but she wasn’t going to let herself lose so embarrassingly again.
Exercising for the next hour until she was sore, she slumped onto the computer, slowly browsing through a few different threads and local mysterious sightings. Fading from exhaustion, she caught sight of something slightly interesting. She wrote it down on a post-it note before crawling into bed.
The following day during lunch, Louise bolted over to the table where Davis was sitting.
She slid into place across from him with a sandwich in hand.
“Before you say anything, I gotta make this quick. I ran into a sudden bit of inspiration from browsing last night, and may have found a potential lead. I’m gonna run down to the library and finish the research there, and I’ll meet at your house after school. Got it?”
Davis looked at her stunned for a few moments. “Could you like, run that by me again? You spoke way too fast.”
She sighed, rolling her eyes. “I’m going to the library for lunch, I’ll meet up at your house after school, all right?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll uh, try not to get too sleepy?”
Louise nodded, getting up.
“Hold on hold on,” Davis held his hands up towards her. “You do realize you can’t bring food into the library?”
She looked at the wrapped sandwich in her hand. “Oops, no I didn’t. Well-”
She noticed Davis had only brought an energy bar and energy drink to the table. “What about your lunch?”
“Oh, I forgot. It’s fine-”
She threw the sandwich at his face. “No skimping on meals, you hear?”
Davis gave her a stare of death. “You know you could have just HANDED it to me instead of throwing it like a jerk or somethin.”
“That’s what you get for trying to skip out on meals! Now I can’t waste any more time, be right back.”
She bolted off.
“HOLD ON, what about your lunch-” He yelled. He noticed a few other students looking his way, and he shrunk back in response.
“I don’t wanna look weird to the others…” He muttered to himself.
Louise arrived at Davis’s home later that day, with a fat folder in hand.
Davis sat on the couch, cracking open and sipping on an energy drink. Louise plopped right next to him, opening up the folder. He peered over, finding a bunch of text along with a big logo for “G Brand Co.”
“This company was something weird when I glanced over a few posts. It’s registered as some nation-spanning company, with factory locations everywhere. I coulda sworn I’ve seen a few trucks of theirs, have you?”
“I… Don’t really pay attention to trucks? I don’t think they’re allowed to drive on small neighborhood roads.”
“Well uh…” She paused, staring at her paper. She flipped it to the next, showing a few images of objects:
One was a blanket with some kind of water sack and straw attached to the side, some plastic face masks with a bunch of iron pegs stuck on the other side, and platform shoes with the soles suspended by rubber bands.
“Look at this stuff they make. A drink blanket? Some de-wrinkling mask? Jumping shoes? I know if I went out shopping I’d at least notice ONE thing by this company for sale, especially with how many products they have.”
Davis looked at the products. “Are you sure this just isn’t some prank or photoshop? These could easily be TV scam products.”
She shrugged. “I dunno, but if it’s true, it just proves how sketchy this company is. PLUS-”
“What’s so mysterious about selling phony products?”
She flipped to the next page, revealing a cluster of pins on a map of the United States.
“Look how many factory and distribution locations they have everywhere. Not to mention, there’s one that’s local!”
She flipped another sheet of paper.
“You know you can just save all of this digitally?” Davis inturrupted. “How much in printer fees did this even cost you?”
“Five bucks or something, it’s no biggie.”
“Saving it to your phone and sending it to me is free though.”
“Hush you, and just look. There’s a factory right near town.”
It was a satellite image of the factory. There were a few trucks parked in front of it, but the building itself looked dilapidated. Most curiously, was the location: It was in the middle of abandoned farmland, with several more abandoned buildings scattered not too far away from it.
“Well, it’s kinda far out, but that’s nothing really too strange.”
“Do you SEE the picture? It’s like falling apart! It’s a registered location and everything, with hours and a number and all that stuff. There’s GOTTA be something going on over there, and we gotta get going ASAP!”
“You can’t be serious. It’s a school night, and we’re gonna trespass on private property owned by some weird company.”
“It’s only a 30 minute trip if we pick up the pace, so we can be back home before it gets too late. Better to beat PAIN or Kirino to it first, right?”
Davis groaned, getting up. “We’ll just check it out, and leave. If it looks even slightly normal for a factory, we’ll turn around and head back. That, and you’ll owe me… Something. I don’t know, I’ll think of it later.”
“What do I get if I’m right?”
“I guess the fact that you didn’t waste my day? It’s very disruptive when you spring this stuff on me at the last second.”
“Well what other plans do you have for today? Napping till the sun goes down?”
He stood still for a moment. “I mean… I could have done something OTHER than napping, like doing some research stuff too, right?”
“Haha, where do you research? Dreamland?”
He stared grumpliy at her. “I mean, you could tell me a few sites to look at, and then I could help. And stuff.”
A knock comes from the door. Every hair stands up on Davis’s neck. Louise curiously turned to him as he slowly turned to face the door. His face was stricken with panic.
“Are you expecting anybody?”
He shook his head fidgetly.
“No, and that’s exactly the issue.” He spoke in a hushed tone. “Literally nobody visits me but you, and I’m always informed if packages are supposed to arrive.”
A voice spoke from beyond the door. “I know you two are in there. If you would be nice enough to invite me in, I could tell you something urgent.”
Neither of them recognized the voice. Louise reached into her schoolbag, pulling out her gauntlets and slipping them on.
“Grab your stuff.” She mouthed to him, and he hurried into the garage. She cracked open the door, finding a very tall man standing there.
He wore a fancy gray designer shirt and red pants, along with pricey looking dress shoes. His hair was long, nearly growing over his eyes. Still, he kept it well brushed and maintained. He stared down at the girl, wearing bizarre looking red-tinted glasses.
“There’s no need to be so afraid. I’m not here to start any fight. Now, you are one of the two new monster hunters around here, right?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Please, I know what happened to the Wendigo and Cofrinii Hydra, and I know you two want to kill off more. I have some simple terms to establish with you regarding your hunts.”
Davis came back, holding a pepper spray bomb. He froze seeing Louise had opened the door.
Why did you let him know we’re here?
“Who are you anyways? What makes you think you can tell me what to do?” Louise yelled back, gripping the door tighter. She felt a bad feeling running up her spine.
“Well, to put it simply, I have a special relationship with some of these creatures. I can’t have you just, up and murdering all of them.”
Murder. Louise’s blood boiled at the use of that word in response to man-eating cryptids. He really thought of them that highly, that their lives were the same as humans?
“You have no right to tell me what to do!”
She threw the door wide open.
“They all need to get out of our town or die!”
She threw a punch forward, striking the man square in the stomach. A force of wind followed with the blow, rustling the grass and kicking up several dead leaves behind the man.
The man himself, however, stood there totally unfazed.
He sighed, softly hitting her with the back of his hand. This gesture sent her flying back into the home, crashing against the wall and cracking it.
Davis looked in terror at the man, and back to the dazed Louise, who was shaking her head clear. He dropped the bomb and ran up to the man, hands in front of him.
“I’m sorry for that please, we’ll listen to your terms!”
Louise stumbled back to her feet. “You can’t just let him-”
He turned to Louise with a look of total fear in his eyes. He turned back to the man, who was silently nodding.
Louise yelled “We’re hunting these monsters because-”
“I do not care why, simply follow my terms, and I won’t have to punish you two. You can hunt monsters as you please, but do avoid any birds of any type. That should be easy to follow, correct?”
Louise pushed forward past Davis’s shoulder, giving a glare of rage to the mysterious man.
“T-That’s fine! We can do that sir!” Davis spat out.
The man smiled. “It’s Von Chad. Last, What are the names of you two?”
“I-I’m Davis Foster, and this is Louise.”
“Hey, don’t give him my name!”
He nodded. “Well then, Davis and Louise. I hope we won’t have any trouble in the future!”
He turned and walked off casually, and Louise leapt forward, slamming and locking the door.
“Davis, what the HELL was that? You can’t just let somebody bully us around!”
“I’m sorry, did you see what happened? You didn’t even phase him, he flicked you away like a twig, and now one of my walls is all screwed up too! What else could he have had up his sleeve?”
“Maybe he just does a lot of sit-ups and planks or something, I don’t know. But I would have tried punching his head next. That would have been a bit better, right?”
Davis put his hand on her shoulder, gripping her tightly.
“I’m going to be more honest with you than I’ve ever been before. After he just brushed off that punch, every single instinct screamed that that man could very easily kill both of us if he really wanted to.”
“And that’s why we should have dealt with him sooner, we coulda won out like the last few times-”
“I’ve felt so terrible in the past, seeing so many people enter the woods and vanish, or worse, watching helplessly as they were attacked by a monster. All those sights paled in comparison to the absolute doom I felt coming from him. There’s absolutely nothing you could do to convince me he could have killed you in a millisecond.”
Louise still stared angrily, eyes burning with a need to chase down that man.
“By some stroke of luck, he simply doesn’t want us to kill any birds, and was nice enough to TELL us that before we found out the hard way. So let’s just, be happy we’re that lucky, and alive.”
She sighed, a few tears streaming from her eyes. She plopped down on the couch, lowering her head into her hands. She breathed heavily, sniffling.
“It’s not fair… We shouldn’t be bullied or ordered around like this!”
She put her hands on her head, grabbing her head and throwing it back, letting out a groan of anguish.
“It’s just such… BULL. This SHOULDN’T be happening! This isn’t how all this is supposed to go! We should be able to defeat him like anyone else.”
Davis merely stared as she continued to sob. He slowly walked towards her.
“Hey, well, it beats getting…” He thought back to the mysterious visitor. “Punished? I don’t wanna think what he’d do.”
“I told you, I could have taken him.”
Davis sighed, now staring in frustration.
“I really don’t think so.”
She looked up, glaring angrily at him.
“Even if you could, there’s still me too. It’s bright out, I’m not too useful like this. All it takes is one bad bit of collateral damage and I could like… you know. Die.”
Louise wiped her eyes. “Yeah, true… Maybe I should train you or something? So even you can be handy without needing your gadgets.”
“Hey, I’m still perfectly handy, even without my powers. Watch this.”
He held his hand out towards her. “Come on, you look like you need a hand getting up.”
She giggled to herself. “I’m fine, just.. Agh screw it. She grabbed his hand, and he pulled her up. She sniffled.
“Hey, I don’t think it’s a bird factory or anything, right?”
Davis nodded enthusiastically.
“And, one thing I know will help a bit… Could you share a bit of candy? I’m not picky but if you have anything chewy like gum that would be cool.”
He squinted his eyes, exhaling out of his nostrils. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out a piece of taffy, offering it to her.
“Don’t push your luck here. My candy is limited.”
“I recognize you. You’re always the one constantly in a hurry to get home, no?”
Kirino spoke in a very stern tone. She locked eyes with Louise, crossing her arms like a disappointed parent.
“It’s Louise! My name is Louise!” She shouted, annoyed. “Surely you’re high and mighty enough to remember other students when they all know you, huh?”
“Well then, Louise. Now is your time to leave. I have a job to finish here.”
Louise took a step forward.
“Hey no, I’m here for the same thing! I didn’t think I was the only one who wanted to save the town too.”
Kirino raised an eyebrow, giving a scowling yet stern look. “My work is none of your business. Leave now, and tell no one of this.”
“How’d you summon that lightning like that? Is that sword of yours an artifact that does something like that? I have one similar, and I didn’t realize you were like me a bit.” She held up her hands, showing her gauntlets. “These give me some real neat strength and-”
Kirino dashed forward, drawing her katana slightly and slamming the butt of her sword into Louise’s nose. She stumbled back, clutching her face while looking annoyed. Kirino cocked her head.
“Durability too, what was that-”
Kirino lurched forward again, attempting to jab her in the stomach. Louise leapt to the side.
“Oh I see how it is!” She grinned, cracking her knuckles. “You think you’re too good for help, miss prodigy!”
She stepped forward, rearing back her fist and throwing her fist forward. Kirino sidestepped it, grabbing her arm, flipping her over, and slamming her on the ground. Louise practically rebounded from the impact, hopping back up to her feet.
“I can do this all night you know! All your fancy expensive karate classes can’t help you now!”
Kirino gave a look of disappointment. Louise charged forward with a punch, which was sidestepped, followed by a kick, which was ducked under. She continued to throw several punches, each one effortlessly dodged by her opponent. Following another dodged blow, Kirino body checked her, knocking her back and stunning the brawler. Trying to follow up with another to her stomach, Louise was barely able to dodge, only for her dodge to be read with a kick to the side of her stomach.
Despite her bullet-proof body from the gauntlets, it still wasn’t doing much to dampen the impact. She could feel her stomach churn from what that blow could have been had she not been protected.
Seeing the black-haired girl come in for another blow, Louise stomped into the ground, kicking up a plume of dirt and dust. Kirino leapt back, but Louise lunged through the cloud, fist aimed at Kirino’s face. As if she could sense the intense force of the oncoming blow, Kirino elegantly ducked under it. Louise flew forward until she skidded to a halt, whirling around.
Kirino’s look of disappointment changed to be more stern.
Sprinting through the fields, Davis stumbled to a halt, bending over and gasping for breath. He was pretty sure this was the way where the lightning came from, but nothing in his mind was processing except for “sit down and rest a bit more.” Between breaths, he took a swig from his water bottle, and looked ahead.
Several yards away was a massive turtle shell, and two figures fighting each other in the moonlight. One of them was constantly tumbling and getting back to their feet.
It was clearly Louise, and she needed help.
A few more deep breaths, he redoubled his sprint, adrenaline filling his system with the urge to save his friend. He got close enough to the point he could distinguish who the two figures were. While Louise was still being punched and thrown around, the other figure was… Kirino? He stood still, observing the dueling girls, trying to give his brain time to process everything.
His thought process was interrupted when he noticed the turtle shell shift slightly.
He froze, shifting his focus on the monster.
Louise was feeling she had pissed off Kirino big time or something, because now she was attacking unrelentingly. Every time she attempted to throw a punch or kick, Kirino was two steps ahead, following up with a blow of her own. When Louise found some windows of opportunity, it was as if Kirino read her mind, and would grapple and throw Louise onto the ground. Constantly being knocked around like that was beginning to get exhausting, and Kirino clearly had way more endurance than she had.
If only these gauntlets gave me extra weight or something was all that was on her mind.
But maybe I can use this durability a bit better… I only need one solid blow.
She kicked back, launching herself far away. She slumped over, and began panting hard. She hacked, and spat a wad of spit in Kirino’s direction.
“Come on… hoo… Your fists are like flies! Aren’t you on roids or something to get a body like that?”
Kirino lurched forward, throwing a kick to Louise’s side.
Louise didn’t even bother trying to dodge, tanking the hit. She felt her insides shudder from the blow.
She increased the ferocity of her attacks. Louise constantly recoiled, acting like every hit was doing more than it actually was.
Then, Kirino tried to go for another gut punch.
Louise took it, but lunged forward, bear-hugging the girl.
“Gotcha! You can’t read when somebody’s faking their pain, huh? Told ya you aren’t good at everything!”
The girl firmly in her grip, she lifted her up and decided that a suplex would be a fitting move to knock her out.
Louise yelped, releasing her grip and backing off. Something fairly painful had stung her hand. The pain subsided quickly, but her opponent had already broken free. Kirino quickly backed off, clicking her sword back into its hilt.
Her expression changed, to something more intense. She reached for her sword and dashed forward, closing the distance between the two in seconds. Louise leapt back as the sword was drawn, the blade slicing across her leg.
She groaned in pain, feeling like the blade cut her skin. She stumbled on the landing and fell on her butt. Across her leg, her compression pants were cut, and a red mark across the exposed skin. It hadn’t broken the skin, but it still burned terribly. She clenched her fists.
“Oh you’ll pay for that one! Need your fancy rich toys in order to keep in the game, huh?” She screamed, charging forward.
Kirino stood firm, keeping her hand on her blade. Seeing the moment her sword was being drawn, Louise leapt into the air, grazing the edge of the blade. She smiled to herself, seeing Kirino’s expression change to that of surprise. Landing behind, Louise tried to grab her from behind again.
Then, a flash, followed by a crack.
She felt her body seize up, a buzzing, burning sensation overtaking every limb. She fell to her knees, realizing Kirino was no longer in front, but behind her.
Just barely shaking off the feeling, she got back to her feet.
Then another flash and crack.
Kirino was now in front of her again, stumbling and almost falling to her knees. She fell to all fours, holding steady and looking like she might puke. Louise, however, was flat on the ground, unable to move or feel anything. The only things that she could move were her eyes, glancing around in a panic.
Kirino stayed on the ground for a few moments, heaving and trying to keep her stomach under control, before getting to her feet. She walked to Louise, placing her hands on her gauntlets.
“You’re in over your head. I don’t know what your job is here, but it ends tonight.”
She tugged, the gauntlets slipping from Louise’s hand. She twitched her hands, trying to grasp.
“Hey, uh this turtle is moving again!”
Kirino spun around, sword in hand, to the sight of a masked boy pointing at the beast. The turtle was now floating in the air, with four heads popping out of each leg hole. A head from behind began sucking in air, the tall grass visibly being pulled towards it. Kirino leapt out of the way as the opposing head let out a blast of air at her, propelling the entire beast away. Louise’s limp body tumbled into the tall grass from the blast.
Kirino huffed, dashing after the escaping monster.
Davis hurried over to the downed Louise, pulling a small first aid kit out of his jacket. He got to his knees, examining her.
She was still motionless and twitching. There was a red mark across her leg where Kirino had cut, but thankfully the skin didn’t look broken. Her eyes were open, staring straight at him.
He opened the kit, staring at the mix of bandages and ointments. He sighed, closing it.
“I don’t think I got anything for paralysis in here.” He at least took out some antibiotic ointment, rubbing it over the burn. “I think this might help-ish?”
He took out his phone, hoping to quickly search what to do, but groaned when he noticed there was no service.
She twitched again, this time a bit more aggressively. Then she let out an agonizing roar, as if somebody terribly stubbed their toe.
“YEOW.” She wriggled her body, feeling the numbness dissipate. “that hurts all over the place…”
She shakily stood up, but fell back down to her knees. Davis offered her his shoulder, bringing her up.
“I always knew she was a big show-off. That lightning was NOTHING!”
“You sure you all right? You honestly look kinda terrible.”
Her outfit and skin were covered in smudges of dirt. Her skin looked somewhat pale, and she was still shaking. She stood up free from Davis’s support, stretching out her arms.”
“I think I can handle-” She winced, stumbling on her leg a bit. “You got any painkillers in there or something?”
He opened up the kit and handed her a few tabs of ibuprofen. She downed them with water.
“Hoo, thanks. Now come on, we can’t let her get that turtle! The pain should be gone by the time we catch-”
He grabbed her arm before she could run off.
“Hold on, first off, what was Kirino doing with that turtle? Did our benefactor recruit more people without us knowing?”
She shrugged. “No clue, she said she was doing a job, but she didn’t want me involved. It can’t be any good.”
“Second, no offense, but she was kinda… kicking your ass. Hell, she didn’t even have to draw her weapon! Could you imagine what it woulda been like if she actually used that sword?”
Louise pouted. “Well could you imagine if I actually used MY sword? I had to hold myself back for her safety.”
“I don’t think that would have made a difference.”
She shook her head. “Besides, two things are different. First, I know what she’s capable of. I get her fighting style, and that weird lightning trick. I doubt she can use that frequently if she saved it for last.”
Davis rolled his eyes. “Yeah, like your style of blindly punching and letting yourself get beat up is gonna help.”
“Hey, I’m sure I’ve practiced fistfighting more than you mister sleepyhead!”
Davis smiled and shrugged. “I mean, why do I even need to know fistfighting? It’s not cool to get into fights.” He paused. “Wait, do you fight anyone at school? Why DO you practice fistfighting-”
“As for point number two, if we make it a two on one, she can’t possibly win, right?”
He shook his head, forgetting the previous question he asked.
“True, just one pepper spray bomb and I don’t think she’d do too well, right? I just hope it won’t hurt her too badly…” He took one from his jacket. “This is my last one though, so I’ll hang tight till we really need it. We have both her and that turtle to deal with.”
“I’ll think of more when we get there, but we gotta hurry! I think they went this way-”
She tried to run, but found Davis was still holding her arm.
“I had a little bit of foresight. That turtle was waking up when you two were fighting. I really couldn’t fight it alone, so I duct taped a tracker to it. Just in case it fled while you two were fighting.”
Pulling open an app on his phone, there was a small blue dot heading close to the foothills, entering the blotted off area.
“That’s genius! I didn’t know you knew your way around programming too?”
He scratched the back of his head. “I kinda don’t. It’s a GPS dog collar actually… I wanted to… Nevermind.”
The duo trekked back to the roads and resumed their journey to the hills. Walking up the jagged dirt road didn’t prove to be too much of an issue, but trouble arose when they had to begin hiking off-trail in order to get to the GPS ping. Louise’s trailblazing pace was brought to a crawl as she struggled to search around the dark for proper footing, along with avoiding spiked plants or dead brush. Davis eventually was able to overtake her and begin leading, mostly thanks to the fact he could see better with his goggles. As they continued their climb, the foliage died out and the hill became abruptly steep, impossible to continue straight up any longer. Moonlight was clearly beaming down, much to the joy of Louise. They walked along the slope until they found a small set of footholds which they could climb up.
Peering over the steep edge, Louise’s eyes bugged out, and she sunk back behind it, turning off her headlamp. Davis did the same, crouching next to her.
“What did you see?” He whispered.
“It’s like a big crater over there, a nest for the turtle! It was awake too! I think it knows we’re coming.”
“All right. Did you see Kirino anywhere?”
She shook her head. “I only got a quick glance, but I think that cryptid would be a bit more active if she was down there too.”
“All right. Got any ideas on how to beat it?”
“Well I saw how it sucks in air and spits it out as a weapon and form of movement, so I think maybe throwing something like a firework inside of it when it sucks in will be our best bet? Hopefully we’ll wound it enough that it can’t run away, and just keep repeating that strategy till it dies.”
“And if the fireworks don’t do anything?”
“I’ll improvise something. But if he runs, we got the GPS, so we can track him another night. Hopefully then, Kirino won’t be bugging us.”
“Let me sneak in ahead since I have these.” He pointed to his goggles. “Just in case Kirino did beat us here and is waiting for us.”
Putting on his goggles, he peered over the ledge into the crater.
There was the monster, nested in the center with four heads scanning the area.
The crater itself was pretty large, around the size of a parking lot, and thankfully not too sloped. Davis could only assume that the monster had leveled the top of this hill ages ago for a well hidden nesting spot. He creeped closer to the monster, his jacket quietly jingling from all the gear. He took great care to make sure not to slip on the slope, ducking from rock to rock to get as close as possible. He stopped at the last rock he could, only a few yards away from the monster. He could hear it breathing and snorting, and the movement of each of its patrolling heads. He peeked several times, finding nobody but the turtle. He took out his walkie.
“All right, it looks-”
A light was shining on him from somewhere behind.. He turned around to find Kirino standing there with a flashlight mounted on her chest.
“I’ve already told Louise that this job is mine, and I expect no interference. Leave now.”
He held up his hands in front of him.
“Hold on, I’m not a threat to you or anything, let’s just… talk it out or something?”
She cocked her head. “If you’re not a threat, why are you willing to face off against that UMA? Clearly if you’re confident in your ability to kill such a beast, I should be no issue to you.”
“It’s because… That’s beside the point. You want it dead too, right? I want it dead, you want it dead, so why don’t we work together?”
“I can assure you that our interests don’t align at all. Now leave, I don’t wish for you to get hurt in the middle of our battle-”
She stood up straight and her eyes widened. She whirled around with her sword drawn, holding it up to block. Louise came soaring towards her, leg outstretched, hoping to get one solid kick.
Her foot collided with her sword, a blast of sparks blew out from the impact, and she was sent flying backwards, landing on her feet.
“You’re absolutely pathetic thinking stalling would work.” She said with a grimace on her face.
“What’s that saying Sun Tzu said or something, All’s fair in warfare?” Louise yelled with a grin.
The turtle behind the two shrieked, and all of them felt a rumbling. Chunks of debris were flung towards the trio as the earth around them shaked, followed by a terrible grinding. Louise and Kirino leapt out of the way, as Daivs turned to see the massive turtle, skidding across the ground at the speed of a truck. He turned intangible in a nick of time as the shell of the monster slammed into the slope, kicking up a torrent of rocks and dirt. Splinters of wood from felled tree stumps sprayed everywhere, and trees near the edge of the wall collapsed in from the impact. Davis re-materialized, crashing to the ground as if he dove out of the way. He turned back, seeing three heads of the turtle staring right at him.
“All on my own again?” He muttered to himself as he got back to his feet.
After dodging out of the way, with dust still in the air, Louise charged on through where she expected to find Kirino. Seeing a silhouette, she slid on the ground, hoping to sweep her leg and pin her down, only for Kirino to leap over her attack, swiping at her with her blade.
It nicked her shoulder, giving the same stinging sensation, and she rolled back to her feet. The dust cleared, she caught sight of Kirino standing silently, sword in front of her.
“Come on, don’t you wanna do that lightning trick again?” She stuck her tongue out.
Kirino charged forward in response, slashing straight at her. Louise ducked under it, but Kirino quickly followed up with an elbow strike to her back, knocking her to the floor. Louise bounced back to her feet, throwing a punch that was deftly dodged.
“The nice thing about these gauntlets is they don’t need some cheap trick like that sword or whatever you do with the lightning. They keep on working no matter what!”
It was a boldfaced lie. She felt herself getting more exhausted the more she got knocked around. The more tired she got, the more each blow hurt.
Any moment she could take another hit and collapse to the ground for good, and then the gauntlets were as good as gone.
If she couldn’t use that lightning for whatever reason, there was at least some chance for victory, if she could land one solid hit…
Davis was glad this time around they were fighting in the dead of night with no flare or anything to hinder his ability. Every attempted attack from the turtle was evaded effortlessly, thanks to his ability. He had never used it in succession this much, but he was glad he wasn’t too physically taxed. The monster was slowly being drawn away from the wall it slammed into, hovering eight feet in the air with its star-filled belly.
Davis continued evading until he caught one of the rear heads beginning to inhale.
He lit a firecracker and broke into a sprint, sparks flying out of his hand. He hurled it across the crater, getting sucked into the intake. The eyes of the monster widened, and one of the heads coughed up the still-lit firecracker towards the dueling girls. Davis glanced over, clenching his teeth as he watched Kirino instinctively leap away, and Louise stand and brace for the blow.
In a colorful explosion, Louise felt stinging all over her body, ironically feeling like she was splashed with ultra cold water.
She was feeling even more tired, covered in little red marks over her arms from clashes with Kirino, and let out a huff. There was still a lot of smoke in the air from the explosion, and in a rush of adrenaline, she launched herself forward, rearing back her fist at the Kirino-shaped silhouette once more.
The turtle let out a deafening roar, attacking more ferociously at Davis as a result of his attack. Multiple times, he had to wait incorporeal as the monster devastated where he once stood with a flurry of attacks. After re-materializing, the turtle seemed winded from its latest flurry. He glanced around for anything just to hide behind to re-plan.
He dove behind a few boulders that were upset from the rampage. It wouldn’t be perfect cover from the rampage, but maybe it would give him enough time to recuperate.
Kirino’s eyes were watering from the firecracker. She took a single second to rub them, still keeping her focus on where Louise was standing.
In her mind, she was hoping that the blast would at least stagger her long enough to recuperate.
As she lifted her head, Louise was an arm’s length away, staring straight into her eyes and fist reared back.
She threw her fist forward, and Kirino quickly lifted her blade, the gauntlets clashing with them. A blast emanated from the impact letting out an incredible surge of energy from the clash. The two were engulfed in mysterious light, feeling an overwhelming amount of power pushing against each other. The strange metal of the gauntlets held strong against the mysterious blade, but kirino shook to even hold firm against such force.
The two locked eyes intensely. Louise pushed as hard as she could and Kirino’s feet ground against the dirt, barely holding against the power of the gauntlets.
Beneath their feet, the ground began to crack from the sheer clashing power. Realizing she wouldn’t last against these forces, Kirino broke her sword free from the clash, swinging upwards to deflect the oncoming fist. She kicked Louise in the stomach amidst her retreat, and then flashed into lightning, electrocuting her. Feeling the electricity rage through her body, Louise yelped in pain, falling to the ground. Kirino stood firm only for a second before falling over on all fours. She began to heave and puke.
Davis was caught off guard by the crack from the lightning, almost missing the turtle preparing another air-burst attack. He ghosted as a blast obliterated his position, kicking up a plume of dust.
Phasing back in, he lit his pepper spray bomb and tossed it, a cloud of red mist engulfing the monster. It inhaled again, sucking up all the spicy particulate. It gagged and coughed, crashing down onto the crater floor. All of its heads were coughing up red clouds of pepper spray, and Davis knew this was the only chance he had to do some kinda deathblow. The sound of lightning meant Louise was in trouble, so he had to try something new. He gulped and closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind. He lit a firecracker and de-materialized with it still in his hand.
He opened his eyes and ran forward to where the turtle was.
He felt his heart begin to race faster as he stood there, waiting for the fuse to burn out just right.
He focused on his hand, managing to re-materialize only his hand, inside of the monster.
It was incredibly warm, fleshy, and his hand felt like it was on fire.
He clenched his teeth tight, moaning in agony, and released the firecracker. The second he let go, he returned his hand to the immaterial world.
He gripped his hand and put distance between him and the monster, re-materializing in full. His hand had a big gash in the back of it and was bleeding, he yelled out in pain and grabbed it tight.
Then an explosion, followed by what sounded like a rockslide and a shriek.
All four heads of the monster looked to the sky, screaming in pain. The top of the shell had been blown off, revealing a pulsing, fleshy inside. Davis grit his teeth again, lighting a cherry bomb. Davis phased out, leapt up into the air, and phased back in, landing atop the shell.
He stared in disgust at the writhing mess of internal organs this strange beast had. He couldn’t tell if they were intestines, lungs, a stomach maybe, or some weird organ for storing air.
Soon, they would be nothing but married, charred flesh.
With another explosion and another shriek, the four heads of the monster fell limp.
Hearing both of the explosions, Louise could only internally smile, as her face muscles were totally numb.
Good job Davis, we got both Kirino and the monster
Her joy dissolved when she noticed a stumbling Kirino walk into her vision. She grabbed her gauntlets again.
“No matter how many times we encounter each other, the outcome is always going to be the same. This work is mine, and mine alone. Stay out of it.”
“I think that’s only true if we’re one on one…” Louise mumbled, her mouth regaining feeling.
Davis re-materialized and leapt at Kirino, knocking her over. Her stern expression was broken, replaced with shock.
“Whatever your dumb job was, we did it way better! The monster is dead!” Davis yelled, pointing to the corpse of the beast.
She turned, seeing all of the limp heads of the monster. Davis leapt down and grabbed hold of Louise, dematerializing with her.
Kirno turned back to find the two had completely vanished.
Louise saw nothing but complete darkness.
Davis’s voice spoke to her.
“Just hold on tight, I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know how long I can hold you in here.”
She gripped him tighter as Davis looked around with his goggles. He saw the shadowy outline of Kirino investigating the corpse of the beast. She glanced around at the mess of exploded organs. She strutted away, climbing out of the crater. Now that she was gone, he re-materialized with Louise, rolling onto his back and gasping for breath.
“We… Really need to stop relying on luck for all this stuff…” he said between deep breaths.
Louise giggled, wiggling her recovering limbs.
“I think I fought just fine. I fought Kirino there to a draw, and still didn’t need to use my sword!”
“I saw you on the floor and her on top of you. Again.”
“Well she was down and out for a while too!”
Davis stared back at the stars. “Still, weird knowing that she’s in on all of this stuff too.”
“She’s the last person I’d want involved with all this stuff.” Louise grumbled to herself. “Such a stuck-up tryhard. She’s probably getting paid to do it or something dumb like that, nothing noble. Maybe I can jump her after school or something.”
David whipped his head towards her. “Louise, do you WANT to get arrested?”
She shrugged, sitting up and stretching out. “I dunno, what if she jumps me first?”
“Because we could report her to the police? Sure they won’t believe ‘she’s fighting us over monster hunting’, but they will believe us if she attacks us. With a sword. I mean they won’t believe the lightning but… You get the point right?”
She grumbled. “Fine, fine-” She caught sight of his bleeding hand. “Oh god, you got hurt? Quick get some bandaids or something!”
He looked back at the cut. “Oh yeah, uh got this doing something really stupid against that turtle.” He took out the first aid kit, quickly wrapping the wound in gauze. “This should help at least for now.”
Louise got up to her feet, wincing. “Hey Davis?”
“I think I definitely need to take a day off tomorrow.”
Far from the crater, Louise was speaking on a satellite phone.
“I was unable to complete the job. Two others interfered, and now the UMA is destroyed.”
“Are you aware of who the interferences are?”
“Yes, but I will be unable to do anything to them directly, as they are aware of my identity as well.”
“That’s fine, I have other methods. I want everything you know about them reported in full.”
A thin fog rolled over the foothills of the titular Tomahawk Hills, leading to a gray Saturday six AM. Throughout the hilltops were fancy, modern-style homes. One of these homes belonged to the Yorogami family. It was a small, gated single-family home, connected by a paved driveway winding down towards the base of the hill. Most notably, of course, was a helipad installed right next to the home’s garage.
Kirino’s parents had already left an hour earlier, leaving her to her own devices for the rest of the day.
Her alarm clock rang out, blinds to a wall-sized window automatically opening. The light seeped in, and the girl calmly rose from her sleep.
She slept on a large futon atop a wooden frame. To the right was a kotatsu surrounded by cushions, and topped with a cup full of pens and pencils. By that was a door that led into a closet.
To the left of the bed was the window, a plush carpet, coffee table, armchair, and two bookshelves.
The bookshelves were filled with a mix of books, but mostly comics and manga, neatly organized into “Complete” and “Incomplete” categories.
Mounted over her bed was scroll art depicting a raging storm, and mounted on the opposing wall were models of feudal japanese weapons.
She went into her closet, revealing a spacious area, full of a mix of uniforms, gaudy dress clothes, and more traditional Japanese wear. She changed into a simple skirt and a custom made purple kimono top, along with straw slippers and socks.
From there she walked down an exuberant hallway, decorated with modern art paintings on the walls. Through the hall and into the living room, fine oak tables topped with exotic ornaments sat in without a speck of dust. She entered the kitchen, where a housekeeper was awaiting her. He presented her with a meal of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, and milk. She took her time eating, chewing every bite thoroughly and not leaving a single scrap of food on the plate. She nodded to the housekeeper, audibly thanking him for the meal, and walked towards the backyard.
Through the door, hanging on the patio wall were two sheathed katanas. She grabbed one, slinging it around her waist, and took her top off.
Her body was ripped.
Wearing nothing but a sarashi and a skirt, it proudly displayed all of the constant hard work and exercise she put into her own body. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths in and out, enduring the cold sting of the morning air. She stepped forward onto the lawn, as a new servant set up a wooden dummy a few yards from where she stood.
Taking a deep breath, she lunged forward, closing the gap in a second. She drew her sword out slightly, ramming the hilt into the stomach, then followed up with a punch to the nose.
The wood of the dummy slightly splintered at each blow, the heavy weight of its base being the only thing stopping it from being completely knocked over.
She turned, walking back to her starting position, and continued to practice. She varied the moves little, occasionally sidestepping to anticipate an imaginary counterblow, or sometimes going straight for the nose instead of aiming for the stomach first. For fifteen minutes, she continued practicing acts of closing distance and going for non-lethal yet incapacitating blows, varying in distance. With one final thunk of the butt of her sword to the dummy’s stomach, she stepped back.
The dummy was terribly cracked in several places around the chest and stomach. The face was hammered inwards, the cracked wood beginning to flatten.
She would consider upgrading her dummy material for better longevity, but she couldn’t help but enjoy how beaten up they looked after her assault.
It was a testament to the fruits of her rigorous exercise.
Still, this dummy was of no more use to her.
She turned around to walk back inside. A few yards away from it, however…
She spun around in the blink of an eye, katana drawn. In half a second, she was in killing distance, cleaving the dummy in two across the middle with a perfectly clean cut. The top half fell over with a clunk as it bounced on the lawn turf.
She sheathed her sword, exhaling. Her housekeeper hurried over, handing her a towel and began cleaning the destroyed dummy. She wiped her face of little sweat, and re-dressed herself. She passed the kitchen and walked down a stairway to a home gym in the basement.
Her cell phone began ringing a peculiar violin tone.
She pulled it from her pocket, answering. “You need me?”
“We have eyes on a beast. It’s a flying type, so we need your expertise to bring it down.”
“You can brief me on the details when I prepare tonight. However, I’ll do it alone. I’m sure you can understand why.”
She hung up, putting her phone to the side as she prepped for her morning workout.
Saturdays were an utter blessing for Davis, this one more so than usual. Following the wendigo’s defeat, he barely managed to stumble his way back to the camp with Louise. After helping with packing, he walked her back home, saying he at least wanted to spend the night at his house alone.
That, and he didn’t want to sleep on the couch again.
After being up into the dead of night, he was going to sleep in until 1pm and nobody was going to stop him. He had woken up around 10am, but he was intent to continue embracing the coziness of his bed.
His eyes flew open upon hearing a crash from outside.
He closed his eyes tighter, heart racing. It was a racoon or something. Monsters didn’t come out this early.
Somebody was yelling.
“Davis, you up in there? I kinda need a bit of help out here!”
His heart returned to normal, all the anxiety turning into frustration.
He groaned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Throwing off all the blankets and letting the morning cold sting him awake, he slipped on slippers and shuffled to the front door.
Opening up, he was met with Louise and a mess she brought along. She wore the same shorts and jacket, with a slightly different alien-faced t-shirt, combined with some compression pants.
Next to her was a tipped over wagon, formerly full of papers, charts, stands, books, and posters. Its contents were scattered across the front yard, and she was chasing after a scattered stack of papers as poster tubes continued to roll across the sidewalk. She snatched up a few stray sheets, smiling sheepishly at Davis.
“What are you doing with all this stuff this early?” He rubbed more sleep from his eyes, letting out a yawn.
“Hey, uh…” She stared at the mess. “I was gonna bring some stuff over since your place is going to be our base of operations, remember? So I have all this research and stuff that would be handy for finding more monsters and-”
He yawned again, combined with a frustrated huff. “Fine, as long as you think It’ll help.”
He walked to the wagon, tipping it back onto its wheels. “Could you also call me in advance if you’re going to come on over? And come when I’m not sleeping-”
He realized Louise wasn’t anywhere near him. She was already in his living room, hanging up an “I WANT TO BELIEVE” UFO poster.
“I’ll just bring the other stuff in…”
Davis’s once decently kept living room was now transformed into something similar to Louise’s bedroom. Charts, papers and books were scattered across the floor, making walking across a hazard. The walls had even more charts hung up on them, an occasional poster mixed in. Davis crashed on the couch, panting from the past hour of setup while Louise was pacing in circles. He closed his eyes, trying to drift into another nap.
“You know, knowing all this stuff actually exists just opens up way too many places to start! There’s all these alleged sightings around here as well, but I can’t deny them COMPLETELY as hoaxes now. There’s one I personally hear gossip about. Did you know there’s a ghost that haunts our school?”
Davis raised his head, cracking open one eye towards her. “I told you to stop calling me a ghost.”
She shook her head. “No, like really! I first heard of some teachers mentioning that somebody kept getting into locked utility closets, classrooms, and locked rooms all around the school, constantly leaving garbage and wrappers around.”
Davis stared more intently as she continued.
“All the school master keys are in check, so unless somebody is a talented lockpick, which there aren’t because why would somebody lockpick a classroom just to leave garbage behind a desk or something, it clearly has to be some frustrated ghost or spirit!”
Davis sunk deeper into the couch. “No it’s not a ghost. That would be uh… me. I really don’t like being bothered eating lunch. You’re just, stretching way too much there though…”
Louise threw her hands in the air. “WELP. There goes one definitive lead. Well what about you? You said you saw a bunch of monsters in the woods!”
“Keyword here being ‘saw’. I really don’t know how to draw them out, and the wendigo was the most aggressive of the bunch I’m aware of. I really really REALLY don’t want to stake out in the woods every night waiting by happenstance to bump into one. I gotta keep up with schoolwork too.”
Louise huffed. “Saving the town is a bit more important than schoolwork!”
“I still want to have somewhat of a future after this is all over. Hero work is fun, but I’m not getting paid for any of it. I don’t think heroes ever get paid at all?”
“I mean they have to get paid for their good deeds right? How would they afford food? Once we save the town, we tell everyone and get a big reward from the mayor or something.”
“I don’t think that’s how things work…”
“Fine, I guess I’ll have to pick up the extra slack since you care so much about school.”
He shot an annoyed look at her, before glancing at all the charts. He darted from bit to bit, trying to find any bit of relevant, or at the very least comprehensible, piece of information. “Wish that the benefactor gave us some sort of lead or whatever to follow.”
Louise snapped her fingers. “You just reminded me, I nearly forgot all about it. I was browsing a few forums before I came here, checking for any cryptid sightings.”
She scrounged around the room, pulling a brown folder from off the floor. She opened it, handing a piece of paper to him.
“This is a satellite image around the outskirts of town, in the foothills. Notice something funny?”
Davis squinted at the image. The farmland, dirt roads, and occasional abandoned structure showed up fine, but closer to the foothills it was blotted out, as if somebody went wild with the blur tool in a paint program.
“You printed this straight from maps, and didn’t download it straight from any forum, right?”
She nodded. “Verified it myself! My bet is PAIN blotted it out way back when, but when their files got wiped they forgot all about it!”
He sat up more straight. “Hey, a lead is a lead, right? It’s not often people blot out big swathes of satellite images.”
“Yup! It’s a long walk, so I should prepare some food for the hike!”
She ran over, opening his fridge and pausing at the sight of microwaveable meals. “Oh yeah… I guess we can grab something on the walk over?”
“What do you mean we’re going to hike over there today?”
With Louise carrying a backpack with supplies and a sword at her hip, and Davis with his night vision goggles and jacket full of gear, the two began their trek to the foothills. They paused at downtown to get some sandwiches before continuing on, past scattered small shops and groups of offices.
During the entire walk, Louise kept a good pace, happily skipping a good distance in front of Davis. He had a constant look of death on his face, constantly calling for her to slow down. Louise would slow her pace only briefly, before leaving him in the dust.
Soon, the well paved suburban roads and sidewalks made way to less kept backroads, dotted with cracks and bumps and surrounded by farmland.
The sky began to darken as they passed the normal farmlands and stretches of grazing lands, leading into undeveloped territory. No more well-grazed fields or stretches of crops, but swathes of unkempt land hosting waist-high grass. These fields stretched on endlessly forward, only cut off by the foothills up ahead. Every so often, a dirt path would cut through the tall grass, connecting to long abandoned homes or barns. The only maintained man-made structures were streetlamps, along with utility poles running up to the hills. With what little sunlight was left, the foothills looked a little bit less than a mile off. Louise turned to Davis, who was panting and even further behind. She waved, pointing at the the roads that ran up the hills.
“Hurry up, we’re almost there!”
“Could we sit down for like, twenty or thirty minutes?” He held up a half empty water bottle. “You’re moving so fast, I’ve barely had any time to simply take a sip of water these past few hours!” He gasped between words.
“Sure sure!” She bounded over. “We’re almost there, so I don’t think it’s an issue.” She took off her bag, pulling out a blanket, laying it on the grass next to the asphalt. She took one last sip from her now empty water bottle. Davis stared at her.
“Are you some kinda machine? How am I supposed to keep up with you?”
Louise grinned. “A little bit of exercise in the morning every day never hurts. No, snoring in bed doesn’t build muscle!.”
“I don’t snore! Plus, exercise stuff isn’t for me. I’m too busy to make time.”
She shook her head. “When winter break rolls around, I’m gonna make my new exercise walking over to your place and waking you up on time. I can’t have you out of shape.”
Davis sat on the blanket carefully, lying down. “Please don’t wake me up early ever again. Both times, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Louise dropped a packaged sandwich on his face.
“Eat a bit, it’ll help you wake up a bit.”
He flinched and lurched up. He stared, annoyed.
He unwrapped it, took a bite, still staring at the darkening sky. Bite after bite, he slowly laid back down.
Louise followed, lying down right next to him. She exhaled.
“Okay, maybe I’m a bit more tired than I thought.” She giggled, stretching out her arms and legs.
The two took their time eating, watching as the sky slowly turned pitch black. Thousands of stars popped in overhead, becoming more and more clear as the sunlight receded. It wasn’t long until a beautiful sea of stars dominated the sky.
Davis stared at the sights for several minutes, mesmerized. He glanced over to Louise, who was eating another sandwich.
“You know, uh, a fun fact about the stars?”
“Hm?” She looked up to the sky, chewing her food. “Oh uh, I know constellations a bit? Tell me!”
“You don’t really get a view like this here like you do in cities. All the lights there cause a bunch of light pollution. I mean, this isn’t even the full amount of stars we COULD be seeing. I think?” He looked back where they walked, as some streetlights began to light up.
“I think you need to be completely isolated from any sort of lighting to see them all.”
She stared at the sky a bit more intently. “I never knew that. I thought everybody got to see the same starry sky.”
“I’ve lived in a lot of places when I was younger. My parents were constantly moving around, so I got to see a lot of different skies.”
Louise lurched up. “Is this talk going where I think it’s going? Don’t tell me you’re going to move again soon?”
“Hey hey uh, no? At least I don’t think so. I mean, my parents got sick of moving ME around so much despite having work that moved them around a bunch. So they just still work a lot in other places, but at least send money back to me so I can care for myself and that stuff.”
She sighed in relief, lying back down next to him.
“Okay that’s at least good. My family just works late into the night a lot of the time. Though I do get paid an allowance for doing yardwork on the weekends-” Her eyes widened.
“Oops. Well, I hope they don’t mind me cleaning up the yard a bit late.”
“It’s like, hard to get this view over at my place though with all the trees. I never really thought about appreciating the night sky too much.”
“Mhm. I never stargaze, but it’s real pretty.”
The two laid silently side by side.
Davis scrambled through his brain, thinking of something else to talk about. He took his attention to the stars, thinking back to what he just said. Every night was marred with monsters because he wanted to do something with this ability, every other night committed to it so much he didn’t have time to simply look up and enjoy a starry night. Did he really have to do this all? What was his place in everything, did he really have to use his strange powers? Was he actually doing any good killing one or two monsters despite there being so many? He turned to Louise.
She was simply very happy to be out gazing at stars with a friend.
He took a deep breath, trying to quell his swirling thoughts. He stared back to the stars, trying to drown his anxiety with the beautiful sight.
He caught something odd amongst the stars.
He squinted his eyes. He stood up.
“You see that?”
He pointed at a small distortion in the sky. It was small, but looked as if he was viewing the stars through a misshapen glass.
“Oh, like constellations? I think that’s the big dipper.”
“No, I see something moving in the sky.”
Louise sighed. “Oh don’t get your hopes up. Trust me, 100% of the time it’s just a helicopter or airplane. I could tell if it was a ufo-”
“It’s not a plane, it’s like some bubble-”
The horizon erupted into a blinding flash, a bolt of lightning surging through the air. Davis fell onto his bottom and Louise shielded her eyes. An explosive CRACK resounded through the air. Then, another flash, another bolt of lightning, and another CRACK.
Louise quickly took the gauntlets and headlight from her bag, putting them on. Davis slowly got back to his feet.
“I’m gonna run on ahead to figure out what that is, keep up as best as you can!”
She bolted into the grass, as Davis yelled out for her to slow down.
“Hold on, argh!” He stretched out his hand towards her, before wading in behind her.
After sprinting towards the lightning for a few minutes, there was a flattened clearing of grass, several blades of it cleanly cut and charred where a large, trailer truck sized object had crashed.
It looked like a giant armored shell, with six spherical protrusions evenly spaced from each other. One protrusion was three times bigger than the rest. It had a rugged, rock like texture. She creeped closer, her heart racing.
Second day doing this, first cryptids now a UFO? This is amazing!
She put her hand on it, running along the bumpy surface. It had an unnervingly smooth texture kind of like polished granite. Passing over the larger protrusion, it opened up, leading to a deathly dark interior.
She shined her headlight into it, finding two black glassy eyes staring back at her. It was the face of a tortoise.
Aw man, it’s just another cryptid!
The cryptid opened its mouth and exhaled a blast of air, knocking up a billow of dirt and sending her flying away. She tumbled through the grass but regained her footing, charging straight back. It only took a few moments before she skidded to a halt.
The monster began to float, several feet off the air. The stomach of it was pitch black with shifting, glowing specks that imitated the night sky above. Three more heads emerged from the cryptid’s shell, a total of four staring her down. Four trunk-like legs sprouted from the shell, and a bizarre tail with a starfish-like end swung outwards. It floated towards her, all four heads rearing back.
She leapt back, covering her face as the heads smashed into the ground in front of her. Dirt, grass, and dust exploded outwards, creating a thick cloud of dust. She tumbled back again, bumping her head landing on her belly. She dazedly tried to shake off the blow, prepping to get back to her feet. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she had to do something.
Running was probably the best option, but maybe the monster had some kinda weakness?
By the time the dust cleared, the cryptid had retreated back a significant distance, with a fresh cut on one of its heads. There was a new, long-haired figure between the two of them. They glanced back to look at Louise before returning focus to the monster.
She wore what looked like a modified version of a shrine maiden’s outfit, alongside tough looking boots. The outfit was pitch black with purple trim, and a blue and red gradient skirt. There was a water-like insignia on one of her detached sleeves, and on the opposite shoulder was a red, black, and white patterned sash. At her hip was a katana in an antique, yet futuristic looking sheathe.
The beast turned two of its heads to the side, and they began to inhale air. It landed on the ground with a quaking crash, the two other heads locking gazes with the maiden.
The small quake caused Louise to fall over, but the mysterious figure stood firm, placing her hand on her sword’s hilt.
She dashed forward in a full on sprint, the cryptid let forth a blast of air.
Then, a crack and a flash of purple light.
All four heads of the beast stood straight up in the air, twitching around for several seconds, before retreating into the shell.
On top of the shell stood the figure, katana drawn and outstretched. She calmly re-sheathed her sword, still standing and staring down at the beast.
She hopped off the top of the shell without even stumbling on the landing.
Louise got back to her feet, and ran up to the figure to thank her. Closer up, she recognized her face.
It was Kirino Yorogami.
Around thirty minutes until a new generation of students would enter her classroom. Clarice was the furthest thing from a conventional teacher. She hadn’t attended college, nor did she have any experience teaching, but she made sure to dress the part. Black dress shoes, stockings, a pencil skirt, black dress jacket and white undershirt. The only unprofessional thing about her attire was her red hair, but she at least kept it brushed and neat.
The classroom as well was the furthest thing from a school as well. It was an abandoned single-room schoolhouse near the woods, cleaned and repaired just enough to be safe to occupy, and given only a few new desks, Clarice’s included.
Kirino had found two others who were supposed to help with her cause, and it would be Clarice’s job to educate them. Kirino wanted them to understand the past history of other leaders, the unique situation of Tomahawk Hills, their purpose, philosophy, and so on. If they were to make it through her grueling education plan, they would surely be worthy to stick around as higher ups amongst Kirino’s new heirarchy.
Clarice still took pride in the fact that she’d still be a step above them as their educator.
She was sitting at her desk when her phone alarm went off. She furrowed her brow, tapping her fingers atop the desk.
Late. They’re not making a good first impression, are they?
Minutes later, she heard a car pull up outside. The noise of its doors clicking open, and several pairs of boots marching towards the door. She quickly stood up, pulling a greatsword from underneath her desk.
The sword was a gift from Kirino, a mystical artifact. Standing as tall as Clarice was, it was made of an unbreakable material, which she could manipulate the weight of at will. Even if the metal was as heavy as a truck, she would still be able to wield it around as if it was a staff. It’s true power could only be utilized with her absent brother, unfortunately.
Even alone, she knew there was nothing she couldn’t face. She had trained with Kirino well enough.
The door was kicked open, six men dressed in full black tactical gear storming through. Each one had an assault rifle up, trained on the greatsword-wielding girl. The men flanked her on both sides. She spoke up.
“No need to shoot. We can all get out of this alive…”
She glanced at all of them.
“You want my sword, right? With those folks from PAIN? I can give it to you, and you can all go home with no conflict.”
The men glanced around at each other, until one near the doorway held up his hand. They pointed their weapons at the ground.
Sighing, Clarice presented her sword, like a noble presenting a blade to a knight.
One of the men approached, holding his hands out.
“Just one thing. Don’t you all know it’s against school rules to bring weapons to class?”
She let the blade go, and it crashed down into the soldier’s hands. She had increased the weight of it to several tons, bringing the soldier down to the ground, and shaking the entire foundation of the building with the impact. The man screamed as his hands were smashed into the floor, the sword embedded along with them, and Clarice wasted no time in kicking him across the face, before taking the blade from the floor.
The other men were disoriented from the sudden shaking. With this opportunity, she threw the sword ahead of her at one of the men on the right impaling him through the chest. She ran towards her blade as the other four regained their balance, lifting up their rifles.
She pulled the blade across the impaled soldier’s chest, sending a torrent of blood towards the men, and continued forward, chopping off the closest soldier’s legs.
The other two across recoiled at the assault of blood, but still fired off a few shots. Some grazed her, cutting her leg, and another struck her in the thigh.
She grimaced, clenching her teeth. It hurt like absolute hell, but there were far worse consequences if she worried about the pain right now.
Using her blade, she swung upwards at one of the desks, splitting it and launching it towards the men. One dove out of the way, and the other was struck by the flying chunk of wood, knocked unconscious.
As the remaining soldier struggled to get back up to his feet, Clarice walked up to him. He fumbled with his rifle, and she sliced the barrel clean off. He panicked, reaching for his pistol, and she pointed the blade towards his heart.
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you.”
He pulled the trigger, but Clarice was already ahead of him. She had motioned her blade to deflect the oncoming shot. The bullet ricocheted, and struck the man in the stomach. She shook her head.
“There’s a reason we have rules around classrooms. It’s to stop idiot students from hurting themselves. And when idiots like you don’t follow…” She motioned the blade close to his neck. He lifted his head, struggling to back away. “It’s up to me to dole out punishment to set an example.”
She turned around to the rest of the classroom. There was debris everywhere, including fractured desks and scattered school supplies. If any of the soldiers had survived, they’d surely bleed out from their injuries soon enough. She at least had to make sure they were all taken care of later.
“You and your idiot friends now just gave me a bunch more work to do today as well.”
Despite being masked, Clarice could easily tell he was in a state of total panic.
“There’s no point in a punishment if your other friends aren’t able to learn what I’m teaching. So go on back to the others.”
She crouched closer. “Tell them that there’s going to be serious hell to pay for any other troublemaker you send our way.”
School went along as school usually did for the two, save for Louise spending more time looking at the ceiling, lost in her thoughts of how the night would go. That, and other methods to possibly kill the Wendigo. A crossbow, maybe a sharper, heavier greatsword? Or maybe the benefactor could airdrop her a new weapon? She kept thinking on more and more until final bell rang.
She grabbed her bag and bolted out of the school.
Back home in a matter of minutes, she tossed her backpack to the side and ran into her room. Through the mess of papers and books and throwing open her closet, she made a quick change of clothes: Brown cargo shorts, and a t-shirt with an alien face on front, all while still keeping on her jacket. Off in the corner was a large camping backpack, one she bought ages ago that she hoped to use for a moment like this.
She dragged it downstairs, tossing some pans into it, followed by throwing open the pantry. She threw in sports drinks, water bottles, granola bars, and mixed nuts before slamming it shut.
She hurried over to the garage, grabbing a neatly folded tent and shoving it in. She finished off her scouring by strapping a rolled up sleeping bag to the top of her pack, and clipping a lantern to the side. With everything ready to go, she pulled out her phone, checking the clock.
It was only 3:30.
She sighed. There was no way Davis would be prepped to go right now, would he?
She dropped the backpack by the door and sat on the couch, browsing through sites on her phone and glancing at the clock every few minutes.
By 4:00, she thought he had to at least have SOMETHING ready, or at least something by the time she’d arrive. Before flying out the door, she spent a bit of time cooking herself a few hot dogs, wrapping them up in foil and tossing them into a small bag. Swooping up her backpack, she hurried over to Davis’s home.
By 4:45, the sun was on its last legs, preparing to dip beneath the horizon. Louise stood in front of Davis’s home, sitting quaintly at the edge of the forest. She banged on the door.
“DAVIS, I’m HERE! YOU ASLEEP IN THERE?”
She waited for a minute. No response. She immediately lifted the doormat, finding the key Davis mentioned. Unlocking the door, she stomped into the living room and tossed her camping pack onto the couch. Down the hall, his door was slightly cracked open. She grinned to herself as she pulled out two pans from her pack. Slowly pushing the door open, Davis was found asleep under several fluffy blankets. She crept closer, stretching out her arms, one pan in each hand. She brought them together like cymbals over and over, yelling
“HEY DAVIS NAP TIME IS OVER WE GOTTA GET TO WORK!”
Davis screamed, vanishing into a poof of shadows, his cocoon of blankets deflating. Louise giggled madly to herself as Davis re-materialized with a very upset look on his face. The fact that Davis was still wearing his big green jacket only made her giggle more.
“Come on, what was that for? Couldn’t you have like, shaken me awake or something?”
Louise shook her head, still smiling. “You prob would have fallen asleep shortly after, wouldn’t you?”
Davis huffed. “No, I’m perfectly capable of waking up if somebody wants me up.” He stretched his arms out and let out a yawn. “Couldn’t you have also given me 30 more minutes?”
“Well I also wanted to check in on the new thing you said you were gonna do? For the wendigo?”
“What?” He let out a big yawn. “Oh yeah, that. I haven’t started yet.”
“Come ON, it’s nearly dark out and you haven’t started?”
“Hey hey, don’t rush me! Plus it’s only,” He pulled out his phone. “What, we got five to six hours till it’s dark enough? I wanna eat first too.”
“Ooh, this I came prepared for! Sit at the table, wait for me!”
She dragged Davis into the kitchen, giving him a seat as she placed the baggie in the center. She unwrapped the two hot dogs, and handed one to him.
“We’re gonna need a bit more energy for today, and I don’t think frozen food would cut it too well, so I took the time to cook something nice! Eat up!”
Davis couldn’t deny, it was a very nice looking hot dog. Nice browned skin, lined with relish and topped evenly with ketchup and mustard. There was, however, one issue.
“I… I’ll heat up some pizza. I don’t like mustard-”
Louise’s happy expression vanished. “I worked hard on this to make sure you’d have energy for tonight. Eat it.”
Davis nervously chuckled to himself. “Uh, shoot, you did? I Thought you microwaved it or something… uhh…”
She stared daggers at him. He returned a sheepish grin before swiping the hot dog, taking a chomp out of it. The sweet relish at least balanced out the taste of mustard.
“Sorry” he said with his mouth full.
Louise smiled again and tore into her hot dog.
“So,” She said, mouth also full, “What did you have planned?”
Davis swallowed. “Long story short, glowstick bomb. It’s a case with those chemicals that glow, so you pull a pin and it mixes them, then you throw it.”
Louise nodded excitedly, taking another bite of her food.
“It’s like, a lot of that chemical stuff too, so I’m HOPING some might drip off, giving it a glowing trail we can follow. Worst case scenario we can look for the green glowing monster on foot.”
“That sounds real smart!”
“Oh, it’s nothing…” He quickly took a few more bites, finishing up the food. He went over to the fridge, pulling out and cracking open another energy drink.
“Now just give me like, a few hours tops.”
Davis froze in place.
“If you’re gonna make me wait, at least give me the wifi pass or something?”
“All done, and set to go.”
Davis emerged from his garage, fully clad for the night: Night vision goggles lifted up to his forehead, a neck gaiter scrunched beneath his chin, and his jacket jingling with what only he knew was tucked away in its pockets. In his hands were two bottles of bright green liquid, with a small plastic bulb on top. The bulbs had a plastic tab running out of its stem.
“Here’s our uh…” He scratched his head, staring at the bottle. “Wendigo tracker? No, it’s wendigo marker… No wait it’s just glow marker I guess? I can think of a name later.” He handed a bottle to Louise, along with a hip holster.
“So once either one of us finds the wendigo, pull this tab, shake it up, make sure it’s glowing, then chuck it at it. Then we meet up, wendigo runs away, and we chase it.”
Louise took them, strapping the bottle and holster to her hip.
“Yup, that’s the plan! I got some pans at home to make lots of noise.”
Davis showed the inside of his jacket, revealing dozens of pockets and a utility belt around his waist. Opening one of the pouches, he pulled out a golf-ball sized object with a fuse sticking out of it.
“These should hopefully be a lot better. These are cool fireworks called cherry bombs. They pretty much sound like gunshots so hopefully the wendigo will home in on me.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen these for sale before.”
Davis laughed nervously. “Uh yeah, they’re kinda special, and I’ll leave it at that. Oh, and here.”
He handed her a walkie talkie and a headlamp.
“These are really old, but they’re way sturdier than your phone.” He pulled out one for himself, pushing the button on the side as Louise’s crackled to life. “You know how to use these, right?” His voice echoed through the walkie.
“Yeah, no problem!”
He clipped it inside of his jacket. “Well, let’s get going then. The sooner we catch it, the better, right?”
The sun was completely gone, the sky overtaken by the night. Thousands of stars were peppered over the thicket of the woods, little moonlight from the half-moon trickling on through. Starting at Louise’s “hideout”, she set up her tent and sleeping bag, a somewhat upset Davis watching.
We’re not gonna be out that long, are we?
She finished it off by setting up a high-powered lamp.
“So if we get lost, we can just follow the light back here, right?” She said, slipping on her half-gaunts.
“For you probably, but don’t worry about me.” Davis crossed his arms. “I know this forest like the back of my hand.”
“Good then, you can help in case we lose track of everything. Let’s get hunting!”
The two nodded to each other, before turning around and heading off in opposite directions.
Shining the light around, there was nothing but more and more trees, with the faint glow of her camping lantern behind her.
“Should be far enough…”
She took off her backpack, pulling out two pans. For a minute straight, she clanged them together, hollering at the top of her lungs. Sounding like some deranged banshee, she wondered if maybe she should have brought earbuds to protect her now-ringing ears from all the noise she was making.
She eventually paused, bending over and catching her breath from the nonstop yelling, glancing around periodically.
Nothing heard and nothing seen. She groaned.
“Maybe he can’t hear me?”
She grabbed her pack, and moved off to a new location, flinching as a sudden BOOM resounded through the trees.
Davis kept walking until he couldn’t see the light of the campsite anymore.
I know how these beasts work, I know where I’m going, I got this. He repeated in his mind. Despite the evening chill, he was still sweating.
He took a deep breath, pulling out a cherry bomb and lighter, lighting the firework. He threw it, turning running to cover and covering his ears.
Wait, this won’t start a fire, would it? Oh crap-
The resounding explosion rang through his body, feeling like all of his bones were shaking. He clenched his teeth and his eyes harder for several seconds, creeping them open ever so slowly after the shaking stopped. He turned to where he threw the bomb.
Thankfully, there was no fire, just the soft glow of some burned foliage. He sighed in relief.
Just gotta wait a few minutes, then throw another. Rinse and repeat, you have this solid.
Louise continued her nuisance spree, resorting now to simply walking mindlessly around and slamming her pans together.
“COME ON OUT WENDIGO, I WANNA FINISH WHAT WE STARTED YOU RUNAWAY BABY.”
Pausing to rest her throat for a few moments, she noticed she was awfully close to the edge of the forest. She could see a few homes, and the road as well.
Another boom eminated from within the forest. She sighed.
Davis is probably making better progress than me.
She turned to move deeper into the forest, when she froze, hearing a siren behind her.
“Hold it right there!” A commanding voice spoke.
Louise’s eyes widened and her heart went into overdrive. She reached down to her hip, turning off her walkie talkie.
God please don’t get into any trouble Davis.
She turned around, face to face with a police officer shining a light onto her face.
Davis glanced at his clock. It had been 15 minutes since he threw the first cherry bomb.
Should I wait longer? It’s been a bit, maybe he’s stalking me? Maybe he didn’t hear it. It wouldn’t hurt to throw another now, right? I only have four more. Maybe 5 more minutes, I’ll throw up another.
He had been sitting against a tree, glancing around with his night vision goggles looking for any sign of movement. There was still absolutely nothing. No birds, no deer, no giant spiders or bigfoot or moving trees or anything.
Is the wendigo even out tonight? Maybe Louise was being way too hasty.
He lit and tossed another bomb, this time taking care to run far off to avoid the rattling feeling.
He sat back at the tree and waited for a few more minutes, catching sight of nothing still. He groaned to himself, about to sink back into his thoughts.
His ears abrputly caught an incredibly soft sound: The slight crackle of somebody stepping on a dead leaf. He shot up to his feet, frozen in his place like a deer in headlights.
The noise came from behind him.
He very, very, carefully turned around.
The police officer was dragging Louise by the shoulder.
“Come on, my mom knows where I am! I have every right to be out here!”
“Yeah, but you don’t really have a right to be making enough noise to wake up the entire block.” The officer grumbled. “It’s also against the law to be setting off fireworks in the woods. Don’t you remember Smokey the bear?”
Louise tried to shake his grip off of him, cautiously trying not to use the power of the gauntlets. “You don’t understand, it’s not me setting off the fireworks!”
The officer paused, raising an eyebrow at her.
“You mean somebody else is with you too?”
“Uh…” She looked at his feet. “No I just mean I didn’t use any fireworks. I was just banging pans and screaming, there’s nothing wrong with that, right?”
The officer let out a grumbly sigh. “Look, I don’t care, we’re just going to take you to the station and call your parents, all right?”
A new ear-deafening BOOM blasted through the forest, even louder than the last, causing the officer to flinch and instinctively cover his head. Free from his grasp, Louise turned to the location and broke into a full blown sprint, bounding far away from the officer before he recovered.
“HEY HOLD IT!” The officer screamed from behind.
She didn’t even bother to look back, focusing on sprinting as fast as she could into the thicket. The officer shined his flashlight into the forest as she vanished into the trees.
“Man, just screw this,” He muttered to himself, as he turned back to his police cruiser.
Davis locked eyes with the wendigo, it’s monstrous face alone overwhelming his entire presence. The face raised higher as the monster reared to its full height, swinging downwards towards the boy. He quickly de-materialized into a puff of smoke as the beast’s claws smashed into the ground, throwing dirt everywhere.
Davis, despite being immaterial to the physical world, lost in a mess of shadow, grabbed his walkie and pushed the button. Nothing but terrible static ran through.
Great, no radio calls while I’m like this.
He maneuvered behind the Wendigo before re-materializing, turning on the radio.
“Louise, I found the Wendigo! I’m uh… Just a little bit to the west of our campsite I think?” He said, panting between words. He dematerialized again, barely dodging a swiping claw. This time, he moved directly behind it, hoping hiding in a blind spot would work better.
He turned corporeal again, this time whispering into the radio. “Please Louise, confirm you’re coming! I’m in a really tight spot here!”
He suddenly felt an impact as the monster slapped him away. He quickly phased out, flying through the air as he tumbled through the ground, thankfully passing through several trees that would have hurt him pretty terribly. He glanced towards the direction of the camp, thinking of making a retreat.
We have him right here by sheer luck. I can’t let this opportunity slip!
He pulled out one of his pepper spray bombs, lighting the fuse. He waited patiently until the fuse was at half before he phased back in front of the wendigo, chucking it straight at the beasts face.
He de-materialized right after, but even phased out, he could hear the ear-shattering explosion of the bomb, along with the shriek of the monster. He phased back in, clutching his chest and gasping for breath. The monster was reeling and clawing at its face, which was moist with the burning repellent.
He grabbed his walkie again, screaming. “LOUISE, PLEASE ARE YOU THERE? IM NOT SURE HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN HOLD OUT.”
He gripped the walkie like a crucifix, hoping for some form of divine intervention.
“I hear ya partner!” A cheery voice responded. “I ran into a little trouble that WASN’T a wendigo, but heard your fireworks! I’ll be there in a few moments!”
Davis sighed in relief, his heart still pounding against his chest. Seeing the still-reeling wendigo, he grabbed his glowstick bomb, removing the tab and shaking it together. The bottle began to glow a bright green, and he threw it right at the stomach of the beast. It shattered, the monster barely even noticing the hit, but he was marked and dripping with the glowing substance.
The beast continued to claw at its face for several more seconds, until with one final shake of its head, it locked onto the winded Davis.
“HERE I COOOOOMMMME!” echoed through the forest. Both Davis and the Wendigo turned to see Louise approaching at high speeds. The wendigo quickly climbed a tree, leaping away into the distance. Davis collapsed to the ground, lying flat on his back and laughing.
“Thank God it all managed to work.” He continued to take deep breaths between chuckling to himself. Louise skidded to a halt right next to him.
“Come on, we gotta hurry and chase! I kinda just ran away from a cop, and I think he may still be following me.”
“A WHAT NOW?”
“I CAN EXPLAIN LATER! Just, hurry and get up!”
Davis’s heart was still racing, and he stumbled to his feet. “Can we take it a bit slow? I’m kinda a bit shaken from that encounter-“
“I got somethin better!”
She easily scooped him up in her arms.
“We’re going NOW!”
Davis’s eyes widened, wiggling in her grip. “No wait wait, I can walk fine, I can walk fine!”
She eyed the each splat of the glow fluid on the forest floor and began running, following the trail.
“Nope, you said it yourself, you need some rest! So rest up, I can carry you just fine!”
Louise followed the glowing trail for several minutes, able to keep Davis held up without breaking much of a sweat. They continued undisturbed into the woods, the trail coming to an abrupt end at a clearing, where a large hole around the size of a single story house sat.
“Well, looks like we found his lair.” Louise said, finally letting Davis back to his feet. “You all rested now?”
“Don’t ever do that again, all right?” He scowled. “I could walk just fine.”
Louise rolled her eyes at him. “So ready to walk you were all pooped and wanted to take a power nap in the heat of the moment, huh?”
“Hey, I can’t just nap anywhere! I would have preferred to return to the tent. Anyways, now.”
He pulled an actual glowstick from his jacket, cracking it and dropping it down the hole. It fell for a few seconds before hitting the bottom, the two still able to observe it.
“Good, it’s not a death pit at least. I think it’s around 20-ish feet deep? I couldn’t exactly carry that much rope with me, but I think-”
“I got a good idea!” Louise scooped Davis up again, jumping down into the hole. Davis screamed as she crashed on the mossy cave floor, the impact shaking through her body.
“Euuughhh, okay. Uh maybe I should have climbed down, but see, we’re down!”
“Did you ever think of how we were supposed to get out?”
Louise nodded, leaping up and grabbing on a protrusion on the wall, still while holding onto Davis. “You just gotta ride on my back or something, and I can just climb out easy!”
Davis stared for a few moments, grumbling. “You can just throw me out or something…”
“I’m not sure if that’s safe enough, don’t wanna accidentally hurt you!” She said with a goofy grin.
Taking the lead, Louise set her headlamp to low, and quickly yet quietly dove deeper into the cavern. Davis, night vision goggles on, froze up several feet behind the upbeat girl.
“Louise, hold up right now.”
She turned around, cocking her head at him. He turned off his night vision goggles, pulling out a high-powered flashlight from his jacket.
“Don’t worry, the wendigo isn’t anywhere near that I saw, but…”
He turned on the light, illuminating the corridor. Up ahead, inches away from Louise, were bones.
Specifically, human bones.
Several skulls were mounted on top of human wrist bones, creating an ankle-height barrier of human remains. Beyond it were dozens of mixed human remains, stripped clean of any flesh. Adorning the walls were complete skeletons, buried inside as if they were shoved in the wall and decomposed stuck in that pose. Some of the bones in the walls had snapped off and fallen onto the floor.
Louise’s smile evaporated, staring at the collection of death. She took a step back, trembling. Davis ran up behind her.
“Uh, hey, you doing all right, right?”
She audibly gulped, staring at the bones.
She slowly sat herself down, eyes still locked onto the bones.
“You see the pictures of them online from time to time but seeing them here… How many has this cryptid really killed around here? I can’t count…”
Davis took a deep breath, holding it in for a few moments. He exhaled.
“I don’t know. But”
He took another deep breath in and out.
“I… kinda knew some of the people who ended up here?”
Louise broke her focus from the bones, turning to him.
“Oh, I didn’t… I’m sorry, I shoulda-”
“No no, not like KNOW know them, I mean like, I tried to warn them. I said last night I tried to warn people from going into the forest late at night, and…”
“A bunch never returned. I hated those nights, just watching people ignore my warnings and trekking on in and it was agonizing knowing that I couldn’t do anything else. I’m not strong enough, I don’t have any special weapons or anything to take on the wendigo or anything else. Just some deterrents. And, worst of all.”
Davis clenched his eyes tight. “I was too afraid, I didn’t want to die.”
“But this time, it’s different. I’m not any braver, I still don’t have the right tools or weapons. However, with you along, even now I’ve achieved way more than I could even think, and now we’ve tracked down where this monster lives. I feel confident with you, we have a solid plan, and I can do something that can actually make a difference in some people’s lives. Sure, nobody is gonna notice a dead wendigo, nor will it bring back the dead, but it’s gonna make things a bit better for everyone, right?”
He crouched down. She was still staring at the death scattered in front of her. He moved forward more, awkwardly trying to give her a hug.
She stood up, wiping her eyes with her shoulder before he could wrap his arms around her.
“You’re right.” She cleared her throat. “We’ve gotten this far, no need to let this… display trip me up. Gonna smash his skull open, and everything is gonna be better.”
“And I’m gonna… Throw some bombs and hopefully not hit you or anything? I’m not sure what I can do.”
Louise smiled, snorting.
“By the way, you still have that knife with you, right? Something I forgot to mention till now.”
Davis pulled his sleeve down, the blade popping out.
“You mentioned its hide is too tough to stab though?”
“Yeah but, this is just a guess, but typically for armor, there’s always weak points, like at the armpits, inner knee joints, maybe the neck too? If you can’t cut those, just try your best to distract it with those cherry bombs, and try to make an opening for me!”
Louise smiled, giving a thumbs up. “We’ve got a solid plan, so let’s just commit to it our best!” She grabbed the sledgehammer, gripping it tight.
Davis nodded. “Yea, let’s do this!”
Trodding past the collection of bones, Davis had Louise turn off her light, opting to guide her through with his night vision. The tunnels ended in a large cavern, the center of which the wendigo was seated. It was surrounded by a ring of bones and half-decayed corpses, macking on the arm of a victim.
“It’s not a pretty sight,” Davis whispered. “It’s right ahead, snacking on human remains.”
Louise felt a lump well up in her throat. She swallowed it, grunting. Her disgust turned into anger at the cryptid.
“I’ll be all right, just gonna focus on bashing his head in.”
It was too busy snacking to notice the two, thankfully. Davis pulled out a flare and a bar of chocolate from his jacket.
“I’m going to light up the area with some flares. Hopefully the change in light might disorient it enough for a clean hit from the hammer.” He whispered. He carefully tore open the wrapper of the bar, chomping into it and taking a deep breath.
“I’ll make it count!” Louise gave a thumbs up with a dumb grin on her face. Davis smiled and nodded.
“Cover your eyes, it’s gonna be bright.”
Louise did so and Davis removed his goggles as he struck the flare, red light flooding the cavern. The wendigo reeled, letting out a growl and turning its head away from the light. Davis tossed it forward.
“Nowhere to run now!” Louise cried out, gripping the sledgehammer tight with both of her hands. She leapt up to the head of the beast, swinging the hammer upwards and striking it right at the chin. Its head flew upward, howling in pain as Louise touched down.
“Got a hit!” She yelped as Davis nervously ran towards the monster, knife in hand. The monster regained its composure from the blow, swiping its arm along the length of the cave.
Davis turned incorporeal and Louise attempted to jump it, but the beast foresaw her move, adjusting it’s swing to swat her out of the air. She struck the cave wall with a thud, grunting and clenching her face.
The wendigo reared up its other arm for another swipe, but recoiled, letting out an ear-piercing screech.
Davis had re-materialized behind it, leaping up and cutting it right at the armpit. He landed, falling to his knees, arms shaking.
“It’s… It’s soft, I cut it there! I CUT IT THERE!” He screamed, letting out a laugh of relief. The wendigo tried to stomp down on him, but he phased out before it was even close. Lifting its claw, trying to look where he went, Louise leapt up and bashed the sledgehammer down right on its forehead, causing it to slam down onto the cavern floor. Cracks began to form where she struck. She kicked off its skull, putting distance between the two, and Davis phased back in next to her.
She turned to him with a triumphant smile and fire burning in her eyes.
“Let’s try that again” Davis quickly said. “I’ll go for the joints, get its attention, and you smack on the head, right?” He was starting to wheeze, but the adrenaline of the fight was keeping him up and running.
“Exactly what I was thinking. Go get em!”
The two charged together, the wendigo this time backing up. It watched Davis vanish out of thin air and Louise swing the hammer down on its claw. It retracted it, and slammed its fist into the cave roof. The room shook, Louise losing her footing, and chunks of rubble fell, ranging from pebbles to the size of tires. She changed her focus, hoping to avoid getting pinned by the rocks. Dodging between them, the wendigo swept right through the falling debris, grasping ahold of Louise. She yelped, struggling as much as she could to try to break free from its grasp. Even with the enhanced strength from the gauntlets, she still barely felt like she was budging.
The wendigo retracted its arms, protecting its armpits, and glanced around the cave, Louise still tight in its grip.
From behind, Davis phased back in, launching up with his knife outstretched. He tried slicing at the back of its neck, which made a small cut, but enough to cause the beast to scream, trying to swat him off its back.
Panting hard, Davis phased out, and back in moments later, launching himself towards the inner elbow joint that was holding Louise. With another swift cut, the beast released Louise from the pain.
Louise crashed onto the floor, scrambling to her feet when she saw Davis was reaching into his jacket.
“Take cover, I’m gonna toss a pepper bomb!”
She scrambled for cover behind the debris as he lit the fuse, tossing it up in the air, and phasing out.
A mist of the burning liquid flooded the cavern space, and the wendigo screeched, covering its face. It scratched it, trying to get the liquid from out of its eyes. Louise peeked out at the screaming beast, and Davis phased back in next to her. He was gasping for breath, and sat down next to her.
“That should buy us at least 15 seconds tops.” He wheezed. “I think he’s getting used to my tricks, and I only got one ghost left in me. Any more and I think I’ll collapse.”
Glancing at the wincing monster, Louise turned back.
“Well, he can’t counter us if he can’t see us! There’s one other un-armored part, the eyes!”
“It’s gonna be a miracle if I can even reach that high, and even more of one if I can strike-”
Louise picked him up by the shirt, hoisting him over her shoulders.
“Don’t think about anything else than grabbing its skull and stabbing it in the eye!” She yelled. She charged forward, Davis screaming in fear, before tossing him right at the monster. The pepper spray had worn off enough for the monster to notice the flying white-haired boy heading straight for it. It swiped a claw upwards to try to retaliate.
For the split second the claw would have struck him, he barely managed to phase out of the way, and back in, before gripping onto the skull for dear life. Everything felt absolutely sore, but by sheer will he managed to hang tight. Without a second to think, he plunged the knife into its eye. It screamed even louder, shaking Davis off of its head. He fell limp to the ground, Louise sliding in and catching him at the very last second.
“Gotcha!” She said, smiling. She looked up to the beast, trying to pull the weapon from its eye. “I’ll take it from here!”
She leapt up, with one hand holding the hammer, the other grabbing onto the furry arm of the monster. She used the grip to launch herself up, far over the head of the monster.
She gripped the hammer with both hands, tight enough to dent the sturdy handle, and aimed, falling and swinging it right down on top of Davis’s knife.
With Louise’s force combined with gravity, it sent the knife right through the eye and into the brain of the beast, the skull shattering with the force of the blow. There was no last howl, as the strike caused it to quietly fall over, face slamming onto the floor. Chips of its shattered skull spilled outwards, and a slow stream of blood trickled from the eye socket. Louise smiled, putting the hammer on her shoulder. She turned to Davis.
“Pretty good for our first cryptid hunt, huh?”
Davis stumbled back to his feet, giving a shaky thumbs-up.
“Now, how are we going to hide the body?” she stared at the unmoving corpse.
“I t-think… W-we don’t have to worry about that…” Davis took a few more deep breaths, coughing. He collapsed back onto the floor, sitting. “E-excuse me. Considering nobody was able to f-find this lair and the w-woods are already pretty off limits.” He took another deep breath. “I don’t think anybody is ever gonna find this.”
“You do have a point… Hey, it saves us a lot of trouble, doesn’t it?”
Davis shrugged. “I-I could always bring back a lot of lighter fluid.”
He pulled out a lollipop from his jacket, unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. He sighed in relief.
“Hey, hold on!”
He turned to Louise, her arms crossed.
“You gonna share? I’d like a victory treat too!”
Davis squinted at her. “But these are… Fine.”
“Cherry please, I love that flavor most!”
He pulled out one and handed it to her. She unwrapped it to find it colored orange.
“Hey, I thought I…” She stared at it for a few seconds. It WAS still free candy. She stuck it in her mouth as well.
The sat next to each other, sucking away at their victory treats, with Davis occasionally glancing at the corpse to make sure it didn’t move. Minutes later, Louise got up to her feet.
“Hey, I just realized something.”
“Do we remember how to get back to our camp?”