once in a lifetime – Chapter 8

 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.”

“You 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.”
“Yes mom…”
“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?”
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?

Once in a Lifetime Chapter 7

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.

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.”

Once in a Lifetime Chapter 6

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.
“Hey, uh…”

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.

G. Brand.

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.”

Once in a lifetime chapter 5

“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.”
Davis nodded.
“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.

“What the-”

“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.”