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.

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“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.
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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.

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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?”
“Yeah?”
“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.”

Once in a Lifetime Chapter 4

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A thin fog rolled over the foothills of the titular Tomahawk Hills, leading to a gray Saturday six AM. Throughout the hilltops were fancy, modern-style homes. One of these homes belonged to the Yorogami family. It was a small, gated single-family home, connected by a paved driveway winding down towards the base of the hill. Most notably, of course, was a helipad installed right next to the home’s garage. 

Kirino’s parents had already left an hour earlier, leaving her to her own devices for the rest of the day.

Her alarm clock rang out, blinds to a wall-sized window automatically opening. The light seeped in, and the girl calmly rose from her sleep. 

She slept on a large futon atop a wooden frame. To the right was a kotatsu surrounded by cushions, and topped with a cup full of pens and pencils. By that was a door that led into a closet.
To the left of the bed was the window, a plush carpet, coffee table, armchair, and two bookshelves.
The bookshelves were filled with a mix of books, but mostly comics and manga, neatly organized into “Complete” and “Incomplete” categories.
Mounted over her bed was scroll art depicting a raging storm, and mounted on the opposing wall were models of feudal japanese weapons.
She went into her closet, revealing a spacious area, full of a mix of uniforms, gaudy dress clothes, and more traditional Japanese wear. She changed into a simple skirt and a custom made purple kimono top, along with straw slippers and socks.
From there she walked down an exuberant hallway, decorated with modern art paintings on the walls. Through the hall and into the living room, fine oak tables topped with exotic ornaments sat in without a speck of dust. She entered the kitchen, where a housekeeper was awaiting her. He presented her with a meal of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, and milk. She took her time eating, chewing every bite thoroughly and not leaving a single scrap of food on the plate. She nodded to the housekeeper, audibly thanking him for the meal, and walked towards the backyard.
Through the door, hanging on the patio wall were two sheathed katanas. She grabbed one, slinging it around her waist, and took her top off.
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Her body was ripped.

Wearing nothing but a sarashi and a skirt, it proudly displayed all of the constant hard work and exercise she put into her own body. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths in and out, enduring the cold sting of the morning air. She stepped forward onto the lawn, as a new servant set up a wooden dummy a few yards from where she stood.
Taking a deep breath, she lunged forward, closing the gap in a second. She drew her sword out slightly, ramming the hilt into the stomach, then followed up with a punch to the nose.
The wood of the dummy slightly splintered at each blow, the heavy weight of its base being the only thing stopping it from being completely knocked over.
She turned, walking back to her starting position, and continued to practice. She varied the moves little, occasionally sidestepping to anticipate an imaginary counterblow, or sometimes going straight for the nose instead of aiming for the stomach first. For fifteen minutes, she continued practicing acts of closing distance and going for non-lethal yet incapacitating blows, varying in distance. With one final thunk of the butt of her sword to the dummy’s stomach, she stepped back.
The dummy was terribly cracked in several places around the chest and stomach. The face was hammered inwards, the cracked wood beginning to flatten.
She would consider upgrading her dummy material for better longevity, but she couldn’t help but enjoy how beaten up they looked after her assault.
It was a testament to the fruits of her rigorous exercise.
Still, this dummy was of no more use to her.

She turned around to walk back inside. A few yards away from it, however…

She spun around in the blink of an eye, katana drawn. In half a second, she was in killing distance, cleaving the dummy in two across the middle with a perfectly clean cut. The top half fell over with a clunk as it bounced on the lawn turf.
She sheathed her sword, exhaling. Her housekeeper hurried over, handing her a towel and began cleaning the destroyed dummy. She wiped her face of little sweat, and re-dressed herself. She passed the kitchen and walked down a stairway to a home gym in the basement.
Her cell phone began ringing a peculiar violin tone.

She pulled it from her pocket, answering. “You need me?”
“We have eyes on a beast. It’s a flying type, so we need your expertise to bring it down.”
“You can brief me on the details when I prepare tonight. However, I’ll do it alone. I’m sure you can understand why.”
She hung up, putting her phone to the side as she prepped for her morning workout.


Saturdays were an utter blessing for Davis, this one more so than usual. Following the wendigo’s defeat, he barely managed to stumble his way back to the camp with Louise. After helping with packing, he walked her back home, saying he at least wanted to spend the night at his house alone.
That, and he didn’t want to sleep on the couch again.
After being up into the dead of night, he was going to sleep in until 1pm and nobody was going to stop him. He had woken up around 10am, but he was intent to continue embracing the coziness of his bed.

His eyes flew open upon hearing a crash from outside.

He closed his eyes tighter, heart racing. It was a racoon or something. Monsters didn’t come out this early.

Somebody was yelling.

“Davis, you up in there? I kinda need a bit of help out here!”
His heart returned to normal, all the anxiety turning into frustration.
He groaned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Throwing off all the blankets and letting the morning cold sting him awake, he slipped on slippers and shuffled to the front door.
Opening up, he was met with Louise and a mess she brought along. She wore the same shorts and jacket, with a slightly different alien-faced t-shirt, combined with some compression pants.
Next to her was a tipped over wagon, formerly full of papers, charts, stands, books, and posters. Its contents were scattered across the front yard, and she was chasing after a scattered stack of papers as poster tubes continued to roll across the sidewalk. She snatched up a few stray sheets, smiling sheepishly at Davis.

“What are you doing with all this stuff this early?” He rubbed more sleep from his eyes, letting out a yawn.

“Hey, uh…” She stared at the mess. “I was gonna bring some stuff over since your place is going to be our base of operations, remember? So I have all this research and stuff that would be handy for finding more monsters and-”

He yawned again, combined with a frustrated huff. “Fine, as long as you think It’ll help.”
He walked to the wagon, tipping it back onto its wheels. “Could you also call me in advance if you’re going to come on over? And come when I’m not sleeping-”

He realized Louise wasn’t anywhere near him. She was already in his living room, hanging up an “I WANT TO BELIEVE” UFO poster.

“I’ll just bring the other stuff in…”
   

Davis’s once decently kept living room was now transformed into something similar to Louise’s bedroom. Charts, papers and books were scattered across the floor, making walking across a hazard. The walls had even more charts hung up on them, an occasional poster mixed in. Davis crashed on the couch, panting from the past hour of setup while Louise was pacing in circles. He closed his eyes, trying to drift into another nap.

“You know, knowing all this stuff actually exists just opens up way too many places to start! There’s all these alleged sightings around here as well, but I can’t deny them COMPLETELY as hoaxes now. There’s one I personally hear gossip about. Did you know there’s a ghost that haunts our school?”
Davis raised his head, cracking open one eye towards her. “I told you to stop calling me a ghost.”
She shook her head. “No, like really! I first heard of some teachers mentioning that somebody kept getting into locked utility closets, classrooms, and locked rooms all around the school, constantly leaving garbage and wrappers around.”
Davis stared more intently as she continued.
“All the school master keys are in check, so unless somebody is a talented lockpick, which there aren’t because why would somebody lockpick a classroom just to leave garbage behind a desk or something, it clearly has to be some frustrated ghost or spirit!”

Davis sunk deeper into the couch. “No it’s not a ghost. That would be uh… me. I really don’t like being bothered eating lunch. You’re just, stretching way too much there though…”
Louise threw her hands in the air. “WELP. There goes one definitive lead. Well what about you? You said you saw a bunch of monsters in the woods!”
“Keyword here being ‘saw’. I really don’t know how to draw them out, and the wendigo was the most aggressive of the bunch I’m aware of. I really really REALLY don’t want to stake out in the woods every night waiting by happenstance to bump into one. I gotta keep up with schoolwork too.”
Louise huffed. “Saving the town is a bit more important than schoolwork!”
“I still want to have somewhat of a future after this is all over. Hero work is fun, but I’m not getting paid for any of it. I don’t think heroes ever get paid at all?”

“I mean they have to get paid for their good deeds right? How would they afford food? Once we save the town, we tell everyone and get a big reward from the mayor or something.”

“I don’t think that’s how things work…”
“Fine, I guess I’ll have to pick up the extra slack since you care so much about school.”
He shot an annoyed look at her, before glancing at all the charts. He darted from bit to bit, trying to find any bit of relevant, or at the very least comprehensible, piece of information. “Wish that the benefactor gave us some sort of lead or whatever to follow.”
Louise snapped her fingers. “You just reminded me, I nearly forgot all about it. I was browsing a few forums before I came here, checking for any cryptid sightings.”
She scrounged around the room, pulling a brown folder from off the floor. She opened it, handing a piece of paper to him. 

“This is a satellite image around the outskirts of town, in the foothills. Notice something funny?”
Davis squinted at the image. The farmland, dirt roads, and occasional abandoned structure showed up fine, but closer to the foothills it was blotted out, as if somebody went wild with the blur tool in a paint program.

“You printed this straight from maps, and didn’t download it straight from any forum, right?”

She nodded. “Verified it myself! My bet is PAIN blotted it out way back when, but when their files got wiped they forgot all about it!”

He sat up more straight. “Hey, a lead is a lead, right? It’s not often people blot out big swathes of satellite images.”
“Yup! It’s a long walk, so I should prepare some food for the hike!”
“Wait, walking?”
She ran over, opening his fridge and pausing at the sight of microwaveable meals. “Oh yeah… I guess we can grab something on the walk over?”

“What do you mean we’re going to hike over there today?”

    With Louise carrying a backpack with supplies and a sword at her hip, and Davis with his night vision goggles and jacket full of gear, the two began their trek to the foothills. They paused at downtown to get some sandwiches before continuing on, past scattered small shops and groups of offices.
During the entire walk, Louise kept a good pace, happily skipping a good distance in front of Davis. He had a constant look of death on his face, constantly calling for her to slow down. Louise would slow her pace only briefly, before leaving him in the dust.
Soon, the well paved suburban roads and sidewalks made way to less kept backroads, dotted with cracks and bumps and surrounded by farmland.

The sky began to darken as they passed the normal farmlands and stretches of grazing lands, leading into undeveloped territory. No more well-grazed fields or stretches of crops, but swathes of unkempt land hosting waist-high grass. These fields stretched on endlessly forward, only cut off by the foothills up ahead. Every so often, a dirt path would cut through the tall grass, connecting to long abandoned homes or barns. The only maintained man-made structures were streetlamps, along with utility poles running up to the hills. With what little sunlight was left, the foothills looked a little bit less than a mile off. Louise turned to Davis, who was panting and even further behind. She waved, pointing at the the roads that ran up the hills. 

“Hurry up, we’re almost there!”
“Could we sit down for like, twenty or thirty minutes?” He held up a half empty water bottle. “You’re moving so fast, I’ve barely had any time to simply take a sip of water these past few hours!” He gasped between words.
“Sure sure!” She bounded over. “We’re almost there, so I don’t think it’s an issue.” She took off her bag, pulling out a blanket, laying it on the grass next to the asphalt. She took one last sip from her now empty water bottle. Davis stared at her.

“Are you some kinda machine? How am I supposed to keep up with you?”
Louise grinned. “A little bit of exercise in the morning every day never hurts. No, snoring in bed doesn’t build muscle!.”
“I don’t snore! Plus, exercise stuff isn’t for me. I’m too busy to make time.”
She shook her head. “When winter break rolls around, I’m gonna make my new exercise walking over to your place and waking you up on time. I can’t have you out of shape.”
Davis sat on the blanket carefully, lying down. “Please don’t wake me up early ever again. Both times, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

Louise dropped a packaged sandwich on his face. 

“Eat a bit, it’ll help you wake up a bit.”
He flinched and lurched up. He stared, annoyed.
“Thanks.”
He unwrapped it, took a bite, still staring at the darkening sky. Bite after bite, he slowly laid back down.
Louise followed, lying down right next to him. She exhaled.

“Okay, maybe I’m a bit more tired than I thought.” She giggled, stretching out her arms and legs.

The two took their time eating, watching as the sky slowly turned pitch black. Thousands of stars popped in overhead, becoming more and more clear as the sunlight receded. It wasn’t long until a beautiful sea of stars dominated the sky.

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/919097636718538752/942412031007531068/CH4_P2.png

Davis stared at the sights for several minutes, mesmerized. He glanced over to Louise, who was eating another sandwich.

“You know, uh, a fun fact about the stars?”
“Hm?” She looked up to the sky, chewing her food. “Oh uh, I know constellations a bit? Tell me!”

“You don’t really get a view like this here like you do in cities. All the lights there cause a bunch of light pollution. I mean, this isn’t even the full amount of stars we COULD be seeing. I think?” He looked back where they walked, as some streetlights began to light up.

“I think you need to be completely isolated from any sort of lighting to see them all.”

She stared at the sky a bit more intently. “I never knew that. I thought everybody got to see the same starry sky.”

“I’ve lived in a lot of places when I was younger. My parents were constantly moving around, so I got to see a lot of different skies.”

Louise lurched up. “Is this talk going where I think it’s going? Don’t tell me you’re going to move again soon?”

“Hey hey uh, no? At least I don’t think so. I mean, my parents got sick of moving ME around so much despite having work that moved them around a bunch. So they just still work a lot in other places, but at least send money back to me so I can care for myself and that stuff.”
She sighed in relief, lying back down next to him.
“Okay that’s at least good. My family just works late into the night a lot of the time. Though I do get paid an allowance for doing yardwork on the weekends-” Her eyes widened.
“Oops. Well, I hope they don’t mind me cleaning up the yard a bit late.”
“It’s like, hard to get this view over at my place though with all the trees. I never really thought about appreciating the night sky too much.”
“Mhm. I never stargaze, but it’s real pretty.”

“Yup.”
The two laid silently side by side.

Davis scrambled through his brain, thinking of something else to talk about. He took his attention to the stars, thinking back to what he just said. Every night was marred with monsters because he wanted to do something with this ability, every other night committed to it so much he didn’t have time to simply look up and enjoy a starry night. Did he really have to do this all? What was his place in everything, did he really have to use his strange powers? Was he actually doing any good killing one or two monsters despite there being so many? He turned to Louise.

She was simply very happy to be out gazing at stars with a friend.

He took a deep breath, trying to quell his swirling thoughts. He stared back to the stars, trying to drown his anxiety with the beautiful sight.
He caught something odd amongst the stars.
He squinted his eyes. He stood up.

“You see that?”
He pointed at a small distortion in the sky. It was small, but looked as if he was viewing the stars through a misshapen glass. 

“Oh, like constellations? I think that’s the big dipper.”
“No, I see something moving in the sky.”
Louise sighed. “Oh don’t get your hopes up. Trust me, 100% of the time it’s just a helicopter or airplane. I could tell if it was a ufo-”
“It’s not a plane, it’s like some bubble-”

The horizon erupted into a blinding flash, a bolt of lightning surging through the air. Davis fell onto his bottom and Louise shielded her eyes. An explosive CRACK resounded through the air. Then, another flash, another bolt of lightning, and another CRACK. 

Louise quickly took the gauntlets and headlight from her bag, putting them on. Davis slowly got back to his feet. 

“I’m gonna run on ahead to figure out what that is, keep up as best as you can!”
She bolted into the grass, as Davis yelled out for her to slow down.

“Hold on, argh!” He stretched out his hand towards her, before wading in behind her.


After sprinting towards the lightning for a few minutes, there was a flattened clearing of grass, several blades of it cleanly cut and charred where a large, trailer truck sized object had crashed.

It looked like a giant armored shell, with six spherical protrusions evenly spaced from each other. One protrusion was three times bigger than the rest. It had a rugged, rock like texture. She creeped closer, her heart racing.

Second day doing this, first cryptids now a UFO? This is amazing!

She put her hand on it, running along the bumpy surface. It had an unnervingly smooth texture kind of like polished granite. Passing over the larger protrusion, it opened up, leading to a deathly dark interior.

She shined her headlight into it, finding two black glassy eyes staring back at her. It was the face of a tortoise.

Aw man, it’s just another cryptid!

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/919097636718538752/945569397370658836/CH4_P3.png

The cryptid opened its mouth and exhaled a blast of air, knocking up a billow of dirt and sending her flying away. She tumbled through the grass but regained her footing, charging straight back. It only took a few moments before she skidded to a halt.

The monster began to float, several feet off the air. The stomach of it was pitch black with shifting, glowing specks that imitated the night sky above. Three more heads emerged from the cryptid’s shell, a total of four staring her down. Four trunk-like legs sprouted from the shell, and a bizarre tail with a starfish-like end swung outwards. It floated towards her, all four heads rearing back. 

She leapt back, covering her face as the heads smashed into the ground in front of her. Dirt, grass, and dust exploded outwards, creating a thick cloud of dust. She tumbled back again, bumping her head landing on her belly. She dazedly tried to shake off the blow, prepping to get back to her feet. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she had to do something.
Running was probably the best option, but maybe the monster had some kinda weakness?

By the time the dust cleared, the cryptid had retreated back a significant distance, with a fresh cut on one of its heads. There was a new, long-haired figure between the two of them. They glanced back to look at Louise before returning focus to the monster.
She wore what looked like a modified version of a shrine maiden’s outfit, alongside tough looking boots. The outfit was pitch black with purple trim, and a blue and red gradient skirt. There was a water-like insignia on one of her detached sleeves, and on the opposite shoulder was a red, black, and white patterned sash. At her hip was a katana in an antique, yet futuristic looking sheathe.

The beast turned two of its heads to the side, and they began to inhale air. It landed on the ground with a quaking crash, the two other heads locking gazes with the maiden. 

The small quake caused Louise to fall over, but the mysterious figure stood firm, placing her hand on her sword’s hilt.

She dashed forward in a full on sprint, the cryptid let forth a blast of air.

Then, a crack and a flash of purple light.

All four heads of the beast stood straight up in the air, twitching around for several seconds, before retreating into the shell.

 On top of the shell stood the figure, katana drawn and outstretched. She calmly re-sheathed her sword, still standing and staring down at the beast. 

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/919097636718538752/943828436848357386/CH4_P4.png

She hopped off the top of the shell without even stumbling on the landing.

Louise got back to her feet, and ran up to the figure to thank her. Closer up, she recognized her face.

It was Kirino Yorogami.

Once in a LIfetime: Chapter 3

School went along as school usually did for the two, save for Louise spending more time looking at the ceiling, lost in her thoughts of how the night would go. That, and other methods to possibly kill the Wendigo. A crossbow, maybe a sharper, heavier greatsword? Or maybe the benefactor could airdrop her a new weapon? She kept thinking on more and more until final bell rang.
She grabbed her bag and bolted out of the school.
Back home in a matter of minutes, she tossed her backpack to the side and ran into her room. Through the mess of papers and books and throwing open her closet, she made a quick change of clothes: Brown cargo shorts, and a t-shirt with an alien face on front, all while still keeping on her jacket. Off in the corner was a large camping backpack, one she bought ages ago that she hoped to use for a moment like this.

She dragged it downstairs, tossing some pans into it, followed by throwing open the pantry. She threw in sports drinks, water bottles, granola bars, and mixed nuts before slamming it shut.

She hurried over to the garage, grabbing a neatly folded tent and shoving it in. She finished off her scouring by strapping a rolled up sleeping bag to the top of her pack, and clipping a lantern to the side. With everything ready to go, she pulled out her phone, checking the clock.

It was only 3:30.

She sighed. There was no way Davis would be prepped to go right now, would he?
She dropped the backpack by the door and sat on the couch, browsing through sites on her phone and glancing at the clock every few minutes. 

By 4:00, she thought he had to at least have SOMETHING ready, or at least something by the time she’d arrive. Before flying out the door, she spent a bit of time cooking herself a few hot dogs, wrapping them up in foil and tossing them into a small bag. Swooping up her backpack, she hurried over to Davis’s home. 


By 4:45, the sun was on its last legs, preparing to dip beneath the horizon. Louise stood in front of Davis’s home, sitting quaintly at the edge of the forest. She banged on the door.

“DAVIS, I’m HERE! YOU ASLEEP IN THERE?”
She waited for a minute. No response. She immediately lifted the doormat, finding the key Davis mentioned. Unlocking the door, she stomped into the living room and tossed her camping pack onto the couch. Down the hall, his door was slightly cracked open. She grinned to herself as she pulled out two pans from her pack. Slowly pushing the door open, Davis was found asleep under several fluffy blankets. She crept closer, stretching out her arms, one pan in each hand. She brought them together like cymbals over and over, yelling
“HEY DAVIS NAP TIME IS OVER WE GOTTA GET TO WORK!”

Davis screamed, vanishing into a poof of shadows, his cocoon of blankets deflating. Louise giggled madly to herself as Davis re-materialized with a very upset look on his face. The fact that Davis was still wearing his big green jacket only made her giggle more.

“Come on, what was that for? Couldn’t you have like, shaken me awake or something?”
Louise shook her head, still smiling. “You prob would have fallen asleep shortly after, wouldn’t you?”
Davis huffed. “No, I’m perfectly capable of waking up if somebody wants me up.” He stretched his arms out and let out a yawn. “Couldn’t you have also given me 30 more minutes?”
“Well I also wanted to check in on the new thing you said you were gonna do? For the wendigo?”
“What?” He let out a big yawn. “Oh yeah, that. I haven’t started yet.”
“Come ON, it’s nearly dark out and you haven’t started?”
“Hey hey, don’t rush me! Plus it’s only,” He pulled out his phone. “What, we got five to six hours till it’s dark enough? I wanna eat first too.”
“Ooh, this I came prepared for! Sit at the table, wait for me!”

She dragged Davis into the kitchen, giving him a seat as she placed the baggie in the center. She unwrapped the two hot dogs, and handed one to him. 

“We’re gonna need a bit more energy for today, and I don’t think frozen food would cut it too well, so I took the time to cook something nice! Eat up!”
Davis couldn’t deny, it was a very nice looking hot dog. Nice browned skin, lined with relish and topped evenly with ketchup and mustard. There was, however, one issue.

“I… I’ll heat up some pizza. I don’t like mustard-”
Louise’s happy expression vanished. “I worked hard on this to make sure you’d have energy for tonight. Eat it.”
Davis nervously chuckled to himself. “Uh, shoot, you did? I Thought you microwaved it or something… uhh…”

She stared daggers at him. He returned a sheepish grin before swiping the hot dog, taking a chomp out of it. The sweet relish at least balanced out the taste of mustard.
“Sorry” he said with his mouth full.

Louise smiled again and tore into her hot dog.

“So,” She said, mouth also full, “What did you have planned?”
Davis swallowed. “Long story short, glowstick bomb. It’s a case with those chemicals that glow, so you pull a pin and it mixes them, then you throw it.”
Louise nodded excitedly, taking another bite of her food. 

“It’s like, a lot of that chemical stuff too, so I’m HOPING some might drip off, giving it a glowing trail we can follow. Worst case scenario we can look for the green glowing monster on foot.”

“That sounds real smart!”
“Oh, it’s nothing…” He quickly took a few more bites, finishing up the food. He went over to the fridge, pulling out and cracking open another energy drink.
“Now just give me like, a few hours tops.”
“HOLD ON!” 

Davis froze in place.

“If you’re gonna make me wait, at least give me the wifi pass or something?”


“All done, and set to go.”
Davis emerged from his garage, fully clad for the night: Night vision goggles lifted up to his forehead, a neck gaiter scrunched beneath his chin, and his jacket jingling with what only he knew was tucked away in its pockets. In his hands were two bottles of bright green liquid, with a small plastic bulb on top. The bulbs had a plastic tab running out of its stem.

“Here’s our uh…” He scratched his head, staring at the bottle. “Wendigo tracker? No, it’s wendigo marker… No wait it’s just glow marker I guess? I can think of a name later.” He handed a bottle to Louise, along with a hip holster. 

“So once either one of us finds the wendigo, pull this tab, shake it up, make sure it’s glowing, then chuck it at it. Then we meet up, wendigo runs away, and we chase it.”
Louise took them, strapping the bottle and holster to her hip.
“Yup, that’s the plan! I got some pans at home to make lots of noise.”
Davis showed the inside of his jacket, revealing dozens of pockets and a utility belt around his waist. Opening one of the pouches, he pulled out a golf-ball sized object with a fuse sticking out of it.

“These should hopefully be a lot better. These are cool fireworks called cherry bombs. They pretty much sound like gunshots so hopefully the wendigo will home in on me.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen these for sale before.”
Davis laughed nervously. “Uh yeah, they’re kinda special, and I’ll leave it at that. Oh, and here.”

He handed her a walkie talkie and a headlamp.

“These are really old, but they’re way sturdier than your phone.” He pulled out one for himself, pushing the button on the side as Louise’s crackled to life. “You know how to use these, right?” His voice echoed through the walkie.

“Yeah, no problem!”
He clipped it inside of his jacket. “Well, let’s get going then. The sooner we catch it, the better, right?”


The sun was completely gone, the sky overtaken by the night. Thousands of stars were peppered over the thicket of the woods, little moonlight from the half-moon trickling on through. Starting at Louise’s “hideout”, she set up her tent and sleeping bag, a somewhat upset Davis watching. 

We’re not gonna be out that long, are we?

She finished it off by setting up a high-powered lamp.

“So if we get lost, we can just follow the light back here, right?” She said, slipping on her half-gaunts.
“For you probably, but don’t worry about me.” Davis crossed his arms. “I know this forest like the back of my hand.”

“Good then, you can help in case we lose track of everything. Let’s get hunting!”

The two nodded to each other, before turning around and heading off in opposite directions.  


Shining the light around, there was nothing but more and more trees, with the faint glow of her camping lantern behind her. 

“Should be far enough…”
She took off her backpack, pulling out two pans. For a minute straight, she clanged them together, hollering at the top of her lungs. Sounding like some deranged banshee, she wondered if maybe she should have brought earbuds to protect her now-ringing ears from all the noise she was making.

She eventually paused, bending over and catching her breath from the nonstop yelling, glancing around periodically. 

Nothing heard and nothing seen. She groaned.

“Maybe he can’t hear me?”
She grabbed her pack, and moved off to a new location, flinching as a sudden BOOM resounded through the trees.


Davis kept walking until he couldn’t see the light of the campsite anymore. 

I know how these beasts work, I know where I’m going, I got this. He repeated in his mind. Despite the evening chill, he was still sweating.

He took a deep breath, pulling out a cherry bomb and lighter, lighting the firework. He threw it, turning running to cover and covering his ears.

Wait, this won’t start a fire, would it? Oh crap-

The resounding explosion rang through his body, feeling like all of his bones were shaking. He clenched his teeth and his eyes harder for several seconds, creeping them open ever so slowly after the shaking stopped. He turned to where he threw the bomb.

Thankfully, there was no fire, just the soft glow of some burned foliage. He sighed in relief.

Just gotta wait a few minutes, then throw another. Rinse and repeat, you have this solid.


Louise continued her nuisance spree, resorting now to simply walking mindlessly around and slamming her pans together. 

“COME ON OUT WENDIGO, I WANNA FINISH WHAT WE STARTED YOU RUNAWAY BABY.”

Pausing to rest her throat for a few moments, she noticed she was awfully close to the edge of the forest. She could see a few homes, and the road as well. 

Another boom eminated from within the forest. She sighed.

Davis is probably making better progress than me.

She turned to move deeper into the forest, when she froze, hearing a siren behind her.

“Hold it right there!” A commanding voice spoke.

Louise’s eyes widened and her heart went into overdrive. She reached down to her hip, turning off her walkie talkie.

God please don’t get into any trouble Davis.

She turned around, face to face with a police officer shining a light onto her face.



   


Davis glanced at his clock. It had been 15 minutes since he threw the first cherry bomb. 

Should I wait longer? It’s been a bit, maybe he’s stalking me? Maybe he didn’t hear it. It wouldn’t hurt to throw another now, right? I only have four more. Maybe 5 more minutes, I’ll throw up another.

He had been sitting against a tree, glancing around with his night vision goggles looking for any sign of movement. There was still absolutely nothing. No birds, no deer, no giant spiders or bigfoot or moving trees or anything. 

Is the wendigo even out tonight? Maybe Louise was being way too hasty.

He lit and tossed another bomb, this time taking care to run far off to avoid the rattling feeling.

BOOM

He sat back at the tree and waited for a few more minutes, catching sight of nothing still. He groaned to himself, about to sink back into his thoughts.

His ears abrputly caught an incredibly soft sound: The slight crackle of somebody stepping on a dead leaf. He shot up to his feet, frozen in his place like a deer in headlights.

The noise came from behind him.

He very, very, carefully turned around.


The police officer was dragging Louise by the shoulder. 

“Come on, my mom knows where I am! I have every right to be out here!”
“Yeah, but you don’t really have a right to be making enough noise to wake up the entire block.” The officer grumbled. “It’s also against the law to be setting off fireworks in the woods. Don’t you remember Smokey the bear?”
Louise tried to shake his grip off of him, cautiously trying not to use the power of the gauntlets. “You don’t understand, it’s not me setting off the fireworks!”
The officer paused, raising an eyebrow at her.
“You mean somebody else is with you too?”
“Uh…” She looked at his feet. “No I just mean I didn’t use any fireworks. I was just banging pans and screaming, there’s nothing wrong with that, right?”
The officer let out a grumbly sigh. “Look, I don’t care, we’re just going to take you to the station and call your parents, all right?”
A new ear-deafening BOOM blasted through the forest, even louder than the last, causing the officer to flinch and instinctively cover his head. Free from his grasp, Louise turned to the location and broke into a full blown sprint, bounding far away from the officer before he recovered. 

“HEY HOLD IT!” The officer screamed from behind.
She didn’t even bother to look back, focusing on sprinting as fast as she could into the thicket. The officer shined his flashlight into the forest as she vanished into the trees.

“Man, just screw this,” He muttered to himself, as he turned back to his police cruiser. 

Davis locked eyes with the wendigo, it’s monstrous face alone overwhelming his entire presence. The face raised higher as the monster reared to its full height, swinging downwards towards the boy. He quickly de-materialized into a puff of smoke as the beast’s claws smashed into the ground, throwing dirt everywhere.
Davis, despite being immaterial to the physical world, lost in a mess of shadow, grabbed his walkie and pushed the button. Nothing but terrible static ran through.

Great, no radio calls while I’m like this.

He maneuvered behind the Wendigo before re-materializing, turning on the radio.

“Louise, I found the Wendigo! I’m uh… Just a little bit to the west of our campsite I think?” He said, panting between words. He dematerialized again, barely dodging a swiping claw. This time, he moved directly behind it, hoping hiding in a blind spot would work better.
He turned corporeal again, this time whispering into the radio. “Please Louise, confirm you’re coming! I’m in a really tight spot here!”
He suddenly felt an impact as the monster slapped him away. He quickly phased out, flying through the air as he tumbled through the ground, thankfully passing through several trees that would have hurt him pretty terribly. He glanced towards the direction of the camp, thinking of making a retreat.

We have him right here by sheer luck. I can’t let this opportunity slip!

He pulled out one of his pepper spray bombs, lighting the fuse. He waited patiently until the fuse was at half before he phased back in front of the wendigo, chucking it straight at the beasts face. 

He de-materialized right after, but even phased out, he could hear the ear-shattering explosion of the bomb, along with the shriek of the monster. He phased back in, clutching his chest and gasping for breath. The monster was reeling and clawing at its face, which was moist with the burning repellent.

He grabbed his walkie again, screaming. “LOUISE, PLEASE ARE YOU THERE? IM NOT SURE HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN HOLD OUT.”
He gripped the walkie like a crucifix, hoping for some form of divine intervention.

“I hear ya partner!” A cheery voice responded. “I ran into a little trouble that WASN’T a wendigo, but heard your fireworks! I’ll be there in a few moments!”
Davis sighed in relief, his heart still pounding against his chest. Seeing the still-reeling wendigo, he grabbed his glowstick bomb, removing the tab and shaking it together. The bottle began to glow a bright green, and he threw it right at the stomach of the beast. It shattered, the monster barely even noticing the hit, but he was marked and dripping with the glowing substance. 

The beast continued to claw at its face for several more seconds, until with one final shake of its head, it locked onto the winded Davis.

“HERE I COOOOOMMMME!” echoed through the forest. Both Davis and the Wendigo turned to see Louise approaching at high speeds. The wendigo quickly climbed a tree, leaping away into the distance. Davis collapsed to the ground, lying flat on his back and laughing.

“Thank God it all managed to work.” He continued to take deep breaths between chuckling to himself. Louise skidded to a halt right next to him.
“Come on, we gotta hurry and chase! I kinda just ran away from a cop, and I think he may still be following me.”
“A WHAT NOW?”
“I CAN EXPLAIN LATER! Just, hurry and get up!”
Davis’s heart was still racing, and he stumbled to his feet. “Can we take it a bit slow? I’m kinda a bit shaken from that encounter-“
“I got somethin better!”
She easily scooped him up in her arms.
“We’re going NOW!”
Davis’s eyes widened, wiggling in her grip. “No wait wait, I can walk fine, I can walk fine!”
She eyed the each splat of the glow fluid on the forest floor and began running, following the trail.
“Nope, you said it yourself, you need some rest! So rest up, I can carry you just fine!”


    Louise followed the glowing trail for several minutes, able to keep Davis held up without breaking much of a sweat. They continued undisturbed into the woods, the trail coming to an abrupt end at a clearing, where a large hole around the size of a single story house sat.

“Well, looks like we found his lair.” Louise said, finally letting Davis back to his feet. “You all rested now?”
“Don’t ever do that again, all right?” He scowled. “I could walk just fine.”
Louise rolled her eyes at him. “So ready to walk you were all pooped and wanted to take a power nap in the heat of the moment, huh?”
“Hey, I can’t just nap anywhere! I would have preferred to return to the tent. Anyways, now.”
He pulled an actual glowstick from his jacket, cracking it and dropping it down the hole. It fell for a few seconds before hitting the bottom, the two still able to observe it.
“Good, it’s not a death pit at least. I think it’s around 20-ish feet deep? I couldn’t exactly carry that much rope with me, but I think-”
“I got a good idea!” Louise scooped Davis up again, jumping down into the hole. Davis screamed as she crashed on the mossy cave floor, the impact shaking through her body.

“Euuughhh, okay. Uh maybe I should have climbed down, but see, we’re down!”
“Did you ever think of how we were supposed to get out?”
Louise nodded, leaping up and grabbing on a protrusion on the wall, still while holding onto Davis. “You just gotta ride on my back or something, and I can just climb out easy!”
Davis stared for a few moments, grumbling. “You can just throw me out or something…”
“I’m not sure if that’s safe enough, don’t wanna accidentally hurt you!” She said with a goofy grin. 

Taking the lead, Louise set her headlamp to low, and quickly yet quietly dove deeper into the cavern. Davis, night vision goggles on, froze up several feet behind the upbeat girl.

“Louise, hold up right now.”

She turned around, cocking her head at him. He turned off his night vision goggles, pulling out a high-powered flashlight from his jacket.
“Don’t worry, the wendigo isn’t anywhere near that I saw, but…”
He turned on the light, illuminating the corridor. Up ahead, inches away from Louise, were bones. 

Specifically, human bones.

Several skulls were mounted on top of human wrist bones, creating an ankle-height barrier of human remains. Beyond it were dozens of mixed human remains, stripped clean of any flesh. Adorning the walls were complete skeletons, buried inside as if they were shoved in the wall and decomposed stuck in that pose. Some of the bones in the walls had snapped off and fallen onto the floor.

Louise’s smile evaporated, staring at the collection of death. She took a step back, trembling. Davis ran up behind her.

“Uh, hey, you doing all right, right?”
She audibly gulped, staring at the bones.

“I uh…”
She slowly sat herself down, eyes still locked onto the bones.

“You see the pictures of them online from time to time but seeing them here… How many has this cryptid really killed around here? I can’t count…”

Davis took a deep breath, holding it in for a few moments. He exhaled.

“I don’t know. But”

He took another deep breath in and out.

“I… kinda knew some of the people who ended up here?”
Louise broke her focus from the bones, turning to him.

“Oh, I didn’t… I’m sorry, I shoulda-”
“No no, not like KNOW know them, I mean like, I tried to warn them. I said last night I tried to warn people from going into the forest late at night, and…”
He sighed.
“A bunch never returned. I hated those nights, just watching people ignore my warnings and trekking on in and it was agonizing knowing that I couldn’t do anything else. I’m not strong enough, I don’t have any special weapons or anything to take on the wendigo or anything else. Just some deterrents. And, worst of all.”
Davis clenched his eyes tight. “I was too afraid, I didn’t want to die.”
He exhaled.
“But this time, it’s different. I’m not any braver, I still don’t have the right tools or weapons. However, with you along, even now I’ve achieved way more than I could even think, and now we’ve tracked down where this monster lives. I feel confident with you, we have a solid plan, and I can do something that can actually make a difference in some people’s lives. Sure, nobody is gonna notice a dead wendigo, nor will it bring back the dead, but it’s gonna make things a bit better for everyone, right?”

He crouched down. She was still staring at the death scattered in front of her. He moved forward more, awkwardly trying to give her a hug.
She stood up, wiping her eyes with her shoulder before he could wrap his arms around her.

“You’re right.” She cleared her throat. “We’ve gotten this far, no need to let this… display trip me up. Gonna smash his skull open, and everything is gonna be better.”
“And I’m gonna… Throw some bombs and hopefully not hit you or anything? I’m not sure what I can do.”
Louise smiled, snorting.
“By the way, you still have that knife with you, right? Something I forgot to mention till now.”
Davis pulled his sleeve down, the blade popping out.
“You mentioned its hide is too tough to stab though?”
“Yeah but, this is just a guess, but typically for armor, there’s always weak points, like at the armpits, inner knee joints, maybe the neck too? If you can’t cut those, just try your best to distract it with those cherry bombs, and try to make an opening for me!”
Louise smiled, giving a thumbs up. “We’ve got a solid plan, so let’s just commit to it our best!” She grabbed the sledgehammer, gripping it tight.
Davis nodded. “Yea, let’s do this!”


    Trodding past the collection of bones, Davis had Louise turn off her light, opting to guide her through with his night vision. The tunnels ended in a large cavern, the center of which the wendigo was seated. It was surrounded by a ring of bones and half-decayed corpses, macking on the arm of a victim.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” Davis whispered. “It’s right ahead, snacking on human remains.”
Louise felt a lump well up in her throat. She swallowed it, grunting. Her disgust turned into anger at the cryptid.
“I’ll be all right, just gonna focus on bashing his head in.”
It was too busy snacking to notice the two, thankfully. Davis pulled out a flare and a bar of chocolate from his jacket.

“I’m going to light up the area with some flares. Hopefully the change in light might disorient it enough for a clean hit from the hammer.” He whispered. He carefully tore open the wrapper of the bar, chomping into it and taking a deep breath.

“I’ll make it count!” Louise gave a thumbs up with a dumb grin on her face. Davis smiled and nodded. 

“Cover your eyes, it’s gonna be bright.”
Louise did so and Davis removed his goggles as he struck the flare, red light flooding the cavern.  The wendigo reeled, letting out a growl and turning its head away from the light. Davis tossed it forward. 

“Nowhere to run now!” Louise cried out, gripping the sledgehammer tight with both of her hands. She leapt up to the head of the beast, swinging the hammer upwards and striking it right at the chin. Its head flew upward, howling in pain as Louise touched down. 

“Got a hit!” She yelped as Davis nervously ran towards the monster, knife in hand. The monster regained its composure from the blow, swiping its arm along the length of the cave.
Davis turned incorporeal and Louise attempted to jump it, but the beast foresaw her move, adjusting it’s swing to swat her out of the air. She struck the cave wall with a thud, grunting and clenching her face.
The wendigo reared up its other arm for another swipe, but recoiled, letting out an ear-piercing screech.

Davis had re-materialized behind it, leaping up and cutting it right at the armpit. He landed, falling to his knees, arms shaking.

“It’s… It’s soft, I cut it there! I CUT IT THERE!” He screamed, letting out a laugh of relief. The wendigo tried to stomp down on him, but he phased out before it was even close. Lifting its claw, trying to look where he went, Louise leapt up and bashed the sledgehammer down right on its forehead, causing it to slam down onto the cavern floor. Cracks began to form where she struck. She kicked off its skull, putting distance between the two, and Davis phased back in next to her.

She turned to him with a triumphant smile and fire burning in her eyes.
“Let’s try that again” Davis quickly said. “I’ll go for the joints, get its attention, and you smack on the head, right?” He was starting to wheeze, but the adrenaline of the fight was keeping him up and running.

“Exactly what I was thinking. Go get em!”
The two charged together, the wendigo this time backing up. It watched Davis vanish out of thin air and Louise swing the hammer down on its claw. It retracted it, and slammed its fist into the cave roof. The room shook, Louise losing her footing, and chunks of rubble fell, ranging from pebbles to the size of tires. She changed her focus, hoping to avoid getting pinned by the rocks. Dodging between them, the wendigo swept right through the falling debris, grasping ahold of Louise. She yelped, struggling as much as she could to try to break free from its grasp. Even with the enhanced strength from the gauntlets, she still barely felt like she was budging.

The wendigo retracted its arms, protecting its armpits, and glanced around the cave, Louise still tight in its grip. 

From behind, Davis phased back in, launching up with his knife outstretched. He tried slicing at the back of its neck, which made a small cut, but enough to cause the beast to scream, trying to swat him off its back.

Panting hard, Davis phased out, and back in moments later, launching himself towards the inner elbow joint that was holding Louise. With another swift cut, the beast released Louise from the pain.

Louise crashed onto the floor, scrambling to her feet when she saw Davis was reaching into his jacket. 

“Take cover, I’m gonna toss a pepper bomb!”
She scrambled for cover behind the debris as he lit the fuse, tossing it up in the air, and phasing out. 

A mist of the burning liquid flooded the cavern space, and the wendigo screeched, covering its face. It scratched it, trying to get the liquid from out of its eyes. Louise peeked out at the screaming beast, and Davis phased back in next to her. He was gasping for breath, and sat down next to her.

“That should buy us at least 15 seconds tops.” He wheezed. “I think he’s getting used to my tricks, and I only got one ghost left in me. Any more and I think I’ll collapse.”
Glancing at the wincing monster, Louise turned back.

“Well, he can’t counter us if he can’t see us! There’s one other un-armored part, the eyes!”
“It’s gonna be a miracle if I can even reach that high, and even more of one if I can strike-”
Louise picked him up by the shirt, hoisting him over her shoulders.

“Don’t think about anything else than grabbing its skull and stabbing it in the eye!” She yelled. She charged forward, Davis screaming in fear, before tossing him right at the monster. The pepper spray had worn off enough for the monster to notice the flying white-haired boy heading straight for it. It swiped a claw upwards to try to retaliate.
For the split second the claw would have struck him, he barely managed to phase out of the way, and back in, before gripping onto the skull for dear life. Everything felt absolutely sore, but by sheer will he managed to hang tight. Without a second to think, he plunged the knife into its eye. It screamed even louder, shaking Davis off of its head. He fell limp to the ground, Louise sliding in and catching him at the very last second.

“Gotcha!” She said, smiling. She looked up to the beast, trying to pull the weapon from its eye. “I’ll take it from here!”
She leapt up, with one hand holding the hammer, the other grabbing onto the furry arm of the monster. She used the grip to launch herself up, far over the head of the monster.

She gripped the hammer with both hands, tight enough to dent the sturdy handle, and aimed, falling and swinging it right down on top of Davis’s knife.

With Louise’s force combined with gravity, it sent the knife right through the eye and into the brain of the beast, the skull shattering with the force of the blow. There was no last howl, as the strike caused it to quietly fall over, face slamming onto the floor. Chips of its shattered skull spilled outwards, and a slow stream of blood trickled from the eye socket. Louise smiled, putting the hammer on her shoulder. She turned to Davis.

“Pretty good for our first cryptid hunt, huh?”
Davis stumbled back to his feet, giving a shaky thumbs-up.
“Now, how are we going to hide the body?” she stared at the unmoving corpse.

“I t-think… W-we don’t have to worry about that…” Davis took a few more deep breaths, coughing. He collapsed back onto the floor, sitting. “E-excuse me. Considering nobody was able to f-find this lair and the w-woods are already pretty off limits.” He took another deep breath. “I don’t think anybody is ever gonna find this.”
“You do have a point… Hey, it saves us a lot of trouble, doesn’t it?”
Davis shrugged. “I-I could always bring back a lot of lighter fluid.”
He pulled out a lollipop from his jacket, unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. He sighed in relief.
“Hey, hold on!”
He turned to Louise, her arms crossed.
“You gonna share? I’d like a victory treat too!”
Davis squinted at her. “But these are… Fine.”
“Cherry please, I love that flavor most!”
He pulled out one and handed it to her. She unwrapped it to find it colored orange.
“Hey, I thought I…” She stared at it for a few seconds. It WAS still free candy. She stuck it in her mouth as well.

The sat next to each other, sucking away at their victory treats, with Davis occasionally glancing at the corpse to make sure it didn’t move. Minutes later, Louise got up to her feet.
“Hey, I just realized something.”
“Yeah?”
“Do we remember how to get back to our camp?”

Once in a LIfetime Chapter 2


In the dead of night, Davis lead Louise through the woods to his home. It was a compact, single story home, the outside decently kept though surrounded by fallen leaves.
The back of it faced the very edge of the woods, lit up by a small porchlight. He unlocked the back door, opening it for Louise.
“After you?”
Louise walked in, kicking off her shoes as Davis closed the door behind her, turning on the light. She stood in a very compact kitchen, a countertop dividing it with a lightly furnished and clean living room.
There was a big, puffy looking couch and a TV screen, surrounded by snack wrappers, and beyond that was a hallway connecting to a few more rooms.

“If you’re hungry or something, I have a lot of food stocked in the freezer. Just, don’t go to the room down the hall please. That’s my room.”
Louise nodded and hurried to the fridge, opening it. Inside was a few gallons of chocolate milk, one gallon of normal milk, two cakes, a bin of a few apples and bananas, cookie dough, several energy drinks, and a gallon of water. Louise looked up, back at Davis.

“Hey, not to be picky or anything, but I’m not really in a sweets mood.” She said with an awkward smile on her face. “Do you have anything simple?”
Davis looked back with a nervous expression. “Ooh uhh… I said the freezer not the fridge? I’m sorry if you don’t like frozen stuff, but that’s what I like usually.”
Switching over to the freezer, inside was a plethora of microwaveable food: Burritos, pizzas, mini-pizzas, vegetables, and so on. She took a mini pizza.
“This’ll do, thanks a bunch!” She said as she tore it out of the package, popping it into the microwave. 

“Oh, I forgot to mention, don’t worry about my parents, they’re out of state with work stuff, so they won’t be home for a while.” He walked over to the fridge, pulling out and cracking open an energy drink.
“and don’t worry about any monsters coming around here too. I guess it’s obvious, but they don’t really come near anywhere too populated. I should, probably tell you more-”
“Hold on, lemme finish this food first!” Louise hurried over, leaping onto the couch. “All right, NOW you can continue!”
He stared for a few moments. “You’re taking this well, aren’t you?”

“Well, other than the monster, did you see me at all? Got those awesome gauntlets that let me actually stand up and like, not die to that thing! I even got shot a few times, but bullets were no issue!”
Davis paused, continuing to stare.
“I… Well, back to what I was going to say. Since I was younger, can’t really remember when, I’ve had this weird power. As you saw, I can turn incorporeal, kinda like-”
He poofed into a plume of thin, black dust, rematerializing moments later. He was gasping for breath.

“That… Though, if I’m like that in the light, it’s like I’m suffocating. It’s also tough to see when I’m incorporeal, so that’s why I have these.” He tapped his night vision goggles. 

Louise looked up and down in amazement. “That’s really cool! Do you do like, hero work or something like that with your powers?”

Davis cracked a small smile.
“I… Hope to kinda do that. What I mostly do is wait around the woods, because there’s quite a few monsters in there. They stay away from groups of people, and only seem to come out at night. Though when I’m incorporeal, it’s really easy to watch them. I’ve seen like, giant bird around the size of a fighter jet, spiders that camouflage themselves on the trees, the wendigo is a frequent hunter. Oh yeah, Bigfoot is one hundred percent real as well, I’ve seen him. Did you know even sometimes the trees themselves stand up and walk around?”
With every monster listed, Louise’s eyes grew wider in wider.
“Holy crap, I knew I was right…” She muttered under her breath. “Wait, why didn’t you take pictures or tell anyone?”
A frown replaced Davis’s smile.
“Isn’t it kinda obvious? I don’t want to be seen as some crazy weirdo by others. Only reason I’m telling you is at least you like, SAW one, you know?”
Louise gave an irked look. “I’m not some kinda crazy weirdo, first off!”
“I didn’t mean- Just ignore that then. I can’t really fight off any of these monsters, so usually when I lurk around the woods, I at least try to find anyone who comes in after dark, and try to warn them about how dangerous the place is. A lot don’t really listen, and…”
He looked down at the floor. “I’m just glad some people do heed my warning. It’s the most I CAN do.”

Before he could continue, his TV lit up, static burning on the screen. The duo jumped, staring at the screen as the hiss of the white snow slowly fizzed into silence. 

An electronic voice pierced through through the snow.
“Louise Palrick, Davis Foster…”,
The voice spoke over the static, sounding like a phone with bad reception. Louise leaned in closer as Davis sunk back, gripping the couch anxiously.
“I am contacting you with important information regarding the events of tonight. It will be in both of our interests to listen.”
Louise’s eyes lit up. “So you’re the one who sent me that note earlier? The gauntlets too?”
“My TV doesn’t have a microphone you know.” Davis butted in.
“The TV may not, but your phones do.”
Davis flinched. “I didn’t give you permission to use my phone! Stay out of there, will you?”
“I am merely using their microphones, don’t worry. I will respect your privacy.”
“You still hijacked my phone, who are you?”
“My name is not important, but I offer myself as a benefactor to the two of you. You are not the only ones aware of this towns’ paranormal ongoings.”

On the static, redacted documents appeared, along with a few photos. One of them was a distant, night vision shot of the wendigo, and another was a distant shot of Davis. He gripped the couch tighter, clenching his teeth.

“These photos and documents are from P.A.I.N, the Paranormal Acquisition and Investigation Network. The name should be explanatory enough. I am an administrator working for them.”
Louise closed her eyes with a big smile, pumping her fist to herself. “I always KNEW there was some sort of cover up going on!” Her eyes flashed open.
“Wait a second, what do you mean ‘were’?”

“The man who attempted to murder you earlier tonight was an agent of P.A.I.N. They had a close eye on you and your computer history, and deemed you as too much of a liability and in need of termination.”

“Yeah, but what does he have do do with it all?” Davis glanced nervously towards her, thinking how she could be so uncaring that some government organization wanted her dead.
“Was he carrying all of the info around here?” She put her hands to her mouth. “They’re not going to send more assassins, are they?”

“To answer all in order: First, I managed to destroy the physical and digital files on your town when he was sent to kill you. With their field agent dead, they would need to build up a new report from the ground up with a fresh agent. Second, they most likely will not, and will focus on re-building their lost information.”
Louise sighed. “That’s a relief. Now, spill the beans on all the going-ons thats been happening around here-”
Davis placed his hand in front of Louise. “Sorry, but why did you destroy those files? What’s this all got to do with her? How do you know these agents won’t try to kill her again?”
“To both her and you, it’s obvious that Tomahawk Hills is a hotbed of paranormal activity. What I showed was only the tip of the iceberg of all documented information, and it nearly reached a critical point. P.A.I.N was beginning moves to quarantine the entire town, making it a research blacksite. This would effectively doom everyone.”

The two stared at the screen in disbelief. 

“As mentioned, I am very well aware of Louise’s history. She is one of few select candidates who I determined would be the most accepting of my mission: Find and contain any paranormal threat before P.A.I.N is able to re-log them. A perceived significant decrease in paranormal activity would effectively end their plans to turn Tomahawk Hills into a blacksite.”
Louise nodded in response. “I’m glad you did your research well. Though I could have sworn I kept my online browsing well hidden from the government…”

“There is a lot P.A.I.N can learn from everyone from browsing history alone.”
Davis butted in. “Hey, I thought you said you were gonna respect my privacy?”
“Well Louise, Davis, do you accept?”
“Of course! You already gave me the gauntlets too, so I wanna do what I can with them!”
Davis nervously tapped his foot. He looked down to the floor, scratching his chin. “I don’t think it’d be fair to just let P.A.I.N do what they want with our town. I’ll join.”

“Excellent. Outside of your home, you will find a USB drive, loaded with a program to contact me through an encrypted channel. Any paranormal object, device, or location you come across, you are to log and report to me. Even if you cannot contain or suppress them, I can use your information to keep the new field agent away from any confirmed paranormal locations. Be wary, as this method of contact is not foolproof. Do not contact me more than once a week, or P.A.I.N would have a chance of tracing the messages back to me. Good luck.”

The TV flickered to black, and Louise turned to Davis with the biggest grin on her face.

“Holy… Davis, do you know what this MEANS?”

“Our town needs saving? And that last part, did you write it down or anything? That was kinda a lot.”
“That and it’s like, I WAS RIGHT, and we got something AWESOME to do! Not gonna lie, my time at home was getting really boring and was trying to figure out somethin to do but MAN I just-”
“Hey, slow down! We still got school tomorrow too. We can meet up after it’s done, right?”

“Yeah but, can’t we just call that government guy to cancel it? Maybe skip school?”
Davis shook his head. “I at least wanna get my high school diploma, I’m sure we can find time to juggle saving the town and that.”
“Fine. But there’s still a lot we need to discuss!”
Davis pointed at a kitchen clock. It was 1AM.
“It’s too late to stay up talking more, and also too late for you to go home safely, I think? But I don’t have an extra bed, uh, is the couch fine with you?”
She shrugged. “It’s just one night for now. I don’t have any pajamas though, I don’t really want to sleep in these and make them too stinked up for tomorrow.”
“Oh… I should have thought of that first. You know, forget it, you can just sleep in my bed I guess? I stay up pretty late anyways. Plus, I have some sweatpants and a white shirt you can borrow, I just hope it’ll fit you all right.”
He ran into his room, emerging with the very wrinkled clothes moments later.
“Just, please don’t touch anything else in my bedroom, all right?”
She nodded, smiling and taking the clothes from him. “Thanks, I’ll go get changed!”


She pushed the door into his room, pausing as she stepped on a snack wrapper.
The room itself was smaller than hers, almost like a dorm room. All he had was an in-wall closet, a very small desk, and a bed crammed together.
At the foot of the bed was a big pile of clean yet wrinkly laundry sitting in a basket. The bed at the very least was still well made.
Next to his desk was a small wastebin, overflowing with crumpled pieces of paper and various snack wrappers.
Changing into the loaned pajamas and folding her uniform neatly on his desk, she dove into his surprisingly plush bed, letting sleep wash over her.
Davis, meanwhile, began heating up a burrito in the microwave, staring nervously at the TV.
“Didn’t think things were going to get this drastic,” He muttered. He took out his phone, turning on airplane mode, and opened the door to the garage.


An intense, high pitched grinding noise was in the air, rousing Louise from her sleep. She groggily stared at her phone, reading the time to be 6:00am. Rubbing her eyes and letting out a yawn, she quickly changed into uniform before following the noise out of the bedroom and into the garage.

In front of a long table, covered with tin cans, chemistry equipment, mangles of scrap metal, a stack of energy drink cans, and several bins full of presumably more assorted building materials, stood Davis, marking down cans with a large yellow marker.
To the side of him were several freshly-sharpened caltrops and other cans marked with colored markers. He wore goggles, a pair of headphones connected to his phone, and red-blue striped pajamas. Louise stumbled over, watching her feet for the little flakes of wood and scrap, and tapped him on the shoulder. He lurched back, before whipping off his headphones, hard rock silently blaring from them.

“Oh, hey, I’m a bit busy working right now. You need anything?”
She let out a huff. “Your work is kind of noisy.” She peeked over his shoulders at all the caltrops and cans he made. “What you workin on though?”
“Oh, well making stuff like smoke bombs and traps and stuff like that. I normally make them as a hobby, but since we’re going against some monsters in the woods, I thought having some more wouldn’t hurt.”
She carefully looked among all of his gadgets, several sharpened tripods of metal, and even a belt lined with firecrackers. Davis put on a big smile as she continued to observe his handiwork.

“My power works best in the dark, and I found out that it is a bit easier to turn intangible in a cloud of black smoke, so I usually carry smoke bombs on me in the middle of the day. It’s still rough, but it’s better than doing it in broad daylight and re-materializing completely sore and winded. Plus even without my powers, a smoke bomb combined with scattering some caltrops is like, THE perfect getaway plan.”
He grabbed a few cans that were striped neon orange.
“These are a new one, though kinda expensive. Basically just took a tin can, put a firecracker into it, filled it with pepper spray, and bam, pepper spray bomb! I’ve never tested it before, so I hope monsters are hurt by the stuff.” 

He pointed to the belt of firecrackers next.
“I assumed that monsters don’t like the big pops like gunshots, so I thought that if I’m in trouble, I can just light and chuck these at them and maybe that’ll spook them away.”

Louise continued to stare at it all with wide eyes.
“This is all so awesome! I’m surprised you never told anyone else about this, like it’s so cool!”
Davis scratched the back of his head. “Well, I think I might get in trouble for making homemade bombs, even if I do intend to use them on monsters. So uh, please don’t mention it at all, okay?”
She nodded energetically. Looking around the garage, she found a few very rough sketches of other gadgets pinned to the wall, and ran over to get a closer look.

Davis glanced over. “Those uh, I don’t think I’m competent enough to build those yet? I’ve always wanted a grappling hook to climb tall buildings and stuff. I can actually jump a little bit higher if I turn incorporeal, jump, then rematerialize, but not enough to scale buildings.”
“I think I could help, I’m sure I could track down some sort of working blueprint online? There’s a lot of cool forums and videos that build all this stuff!”
“I’ve looked hard, trust me. I REALLY wanted one since I started doing all this.”
“Actually, I got one more question.” She turned to face him. “You got anything else with a bit more like, oomph? Firecrackers are pretty strong but, do you have some actual weapons?”
He sighed, and opened a drawer, revealing a small contraption with a knife blade inside of it. “It’s just a hidden blade I can keep in my sleeve. I kinda wanna keep my stuff non-lethal altogether. I know sometimes humans can be monsters, but I still don’t really want to hurt them…”
Louise cocked her head. “But I thought this was for monster hunting?”
He shook his head. “Nevermind.”
“Now, a big change in topic, but you got anything for breakfast?”
“Yeah, I mean, I usually eat whatever I feel for breakfast.”
Louise stared for a moment.
“I mean like, breakfast food?”
“It’s whatever is in the fridge. Please, I do wanna work a bit more, I’m sure I have something you’d like.”
Louise huffed as she left the garage. “I’ll be getting ready in the meantime, so don’t walk in on me changing!”


A shower and a meal of microwaved frozen waffles later, Louise was all ready to go. She sat patiently on the couch, waiting and glancing at her phone every few moments. By 7, Davis had finally emerged from his workshop, still in pajamas.

“You sure you’ll be able to get ready in time? It’s almost a 30 minute walk to school from here, right?”
He shrugged. “I’ll be ready in 5.” He closed his room’s door behind him.

Five minutes later, he emerged, in what seemed like the exact same outfit he was wearing from the previous night: Big black school jacket, baggy pants, very wrinkled shirt, and boots. He walked over to the fridge, pulling out an energy bar and an energy drink, cracking it open and taking a swig.

“I’m all set to go.” He followed up chomping into the energy bar.

“Not even going to brush your hair?” Louise chided.
He threw his hood over it. “It’s no problem at all.”
Louise sighed. “I’m gonna be a bit honest, you do kinda look awful right now. Not even going to iron your clothes or anything?”
He zipped up his jacket, giving her a death glare. “This is my style, you know? Sorry if you don’t have enough taste to understand how good it looks.”
Louise snickered. “Ah, not like we have enough time to debate this. Come on, let’s get going.”


The day was cloudy with a chilly wind blowing through, but despite the sombre feel, the two made it to school with no issue. They split off to their respective classes, going through the motions until lunchtime hit.
Arriving at the cafeteria, Louise noticed Davis was waiting by the entrance, nervously looking around. She bounced over to him, yelling “HEY DAVIS OVER HERE!”
His head whipped over to her. “OH uh… Hey! So uh, I already brought something to eat so-”
“GREAT!” She yelled over the chatter of the cafeteria. “Find a place to sit, I gotta buy something for myself.”
She hurried on towards the lunch line as Davis stood stunned. He scanned the entire cafeteria, finding just about every table already filled with hungry students. They weren’t totally full, small gaps able to hold a few students here and there, but he wanted more space to himself. He slowly walked through the collection of lunch tables, hands in his pockets and looking at the floor, passing and bumping against other students. He looked up every other moment, still scanning around the cafeteria until noticed a somewhat dusty table in the corner, unoccupied by any students. He hurried over to secure the seat. Minutes later, when Louise left the lunch line with a sandwich, chips, and drink, Davis waved her down, her jogging over to the table.

“All righty!” she said, popping open the bag of chips and taking a quick bite. “Now’s a good time for us to plan for tonight.”
“Tonight? What’s happening?”
“Didn’t you forget? We’re going to have to hunt that wendigo before PAIN finds it!”
“Oh, I didn’t realize we were going to start like, so soon? Think we can at least wait till tomorrow?”
“NOPE! We have the advantage against PAIN, so we gotta take full advantage of it. By the way, where’s your lunch?”
He silently pulled out another energy drink, and a few bars of candy. “This is all I need to get through the day, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, get through a school day, but can it get you through a night of monster hunting?”
He groaned, taking a bite out of the candy bar. “I usually nap and snack after school, I’ll be fine.” He glanced out a nearby window.


He flinched as Louise’s packaged sandwich struck him in the face, plopping down on the table. His hood nearly fell off, and he scrambled to yank it back on.
“Have mine, I have enough money to buy a second one. I don’t want you crashing on me tonight!”
He stared at her for a few moments. “What the heck was that for?”
“Come on, you can’t just only eat snack bars and candies and stuff, you gotta have proper energy! I should NOT be more fit than you are!”
“I have plenty of energy! I just don’t really like using any of it…”
“Pft, I see you drinking lots of energy drinks for a dude who has plenty of energy!”
“What if I like the taste?”
“Then you should probably find some replacement drink, because those will turn your bones into dust or somethin!”
Davis huffed. “Fine, I’ll eat your sandwich…” He unwrapped it, taking a chomp out of it. Louise took another bite from her chips. “Anyways, I was thinking a lot during classes, and I think I got a good plan of attack for the wendigo.”
“Go on?”
“We already know it comes out only at like, dead of night in the woods. It only showed up after that assassin tried to shoot me, so it must be attracted to loud noises. It also ran off when you showed up.”
“Well yeah, that’s typical for a lot of these monsters in the woods. They typically go after lone targets, and run off if somebody else approaches. Though I’ve seen a few stalk small groups of up to four.”
“I also found out that he’s really tough, like I couldn’t even stab through his hide with a sword. He reacted when I started whacking at his head with my sword, and he didn’t like that at all.”
“So, you wanna bring something with a bit more oomph? I don’t think I can really make anything for that.”
Louise smiled, placing her hands on the table. “Don’t worry! I’m gonna bring a sledgehammer from home. That oughta do some damage.”
“Yeah, but you’ll be fighting alone, remember? If I show up he’ll just run away. Are you sure you’re up to that?”
“Well, listen to my plan! First, we both split up, with pots and pans or anything that can make loud noises. We’ll make a bunch of noise, and when the wendigo shows up, we’ll mark it with something that can help us track it. Then, we group up together, the wendigo runs away, we chase it down, back it into a corner, and BAM.” She clapped her hands together. “We got ourselves a dead monster!”
Davis tapped his chin. “I never really see a monster again when it flees. Maybe it does hide away to a lair or something? I don’t know, are you sure you thought this all through?”
“Well, where’s your master plan? Plus, the wendigo has to hide its victims’ corpses somewhere, right?”
He shrugged. “I guess so. As for a way to track it, I think I got a good idea for that. Will need just a small amount of time to prep it, and I can have it set tonight.”
Louise’s eyes beamed. “Sweet, ah I just can’t wait for tonight!”
Davis took a deep breath. “I just hope we aren’t getting in over our heads. So, after you get what you need, meet me at my home, and we can prepare. I’ll leave a key under the doormat for you, in case i’m asleep when you come on by.”

“Sure, I can show up early and rest up with you for the night!”
Davis coughed up a bite of his sandwich. “I am NOT going to share my bed! Just, nap at home or something!”
“I never wanted to sleep in the same bed, the couch would have been fine…”
Davis leaned back a bit. “Oh, then uh, that’s fine?”
A look of inspiration struck Louise’s face. “Actually, how about later on, we can make your house into our kinda hideout? Like a base of operations for our cryptid hunting! I could bring a sleeping bag too since I’m gonna be around pretty late, and maybe some extra clothes, and-”
“Hold on, what’s wrong with your house? Why do we gotta move everything into mine?”
“Well, for one you live right next to the woods.”
Davis paused, thinking to himself. “I guess that’s not a bad idea then, but like, let’s at least wait a little bit before we start remodeling my home, okay?”
Louise jumped out of her seat, yelling “YES!” A few other students in the cafeteria glanced over, and an embarrassed look grew on Davis’s face.
She sat back down. “Sorry, just, so much is happening and I really can’t wait to get ultra serious about all of this. That and…”
Davis raised an eyebrow. “And?”

“You’re kinda cooler than expected, you know?”
He flinched. “Expected? What do you-”
“Well just talking with you a bit, even if this is our job kinda? It’s still really fun. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve eaten lunch with somebody else. Makes eating a lot more fun when you’re talking about wendigo hunting as an extra bonus.”
“I’ve been trying to keep up, but yeah. Lunch with you is better than what I used to do.”
“It’s settled then, let’s have lunch together every day, all right?”
Davis nodded, trying to hide a look of excitement on his face. “Sure!”


Once in a LIfetime Ch 1


This story will be posted on Royal Roads soon.


Louise shivered, twitching her leg and pulling her jacket tighter around herself. It was very starry out, with a fair amount of moonlight seeping through the forest canopy. All she had brought with her was her phone, high powered flashlight, and a sword at her hip just in case of trouble.
Despite all reason, whoever sent that note had to at least know what she wanted. Receiving a cryptic note saying “I can help what you’re looking for: The Truth” would drive away any normal person, but for Louise, it was a door to something potentially greater. To her, whoever wrote it had seen her web history, and knew of her hideout in the middle of the woods as well. She stared into the sky, judging whether this was maybe a hit attempt to silence her from uncovering the truth this town held. Or maybe whoever sent the note was impressed with her detective skills, and sought to recruit her for her expertise?
Interrupting the sound of the wind blowing through the pine branches was a buzzing fading in, overhead. It wasn’t a mosquito or bug, but sounded like an RC helicopter. It faded away, and a sudden thump jolted Louise out of her thoughts.
It was a small wooden chest, sitting right in front of her. She shone her flashlight on it, finding a typed up note pinned to it.

“You’re in danger. Put these on.”

Her heart began to beat faster, thumping against her chest. She glanced around, flashing her light at her surroundings. She didn’t see anything threatening. Still, she returned to the chest, removing a small latch on the front and throwing the top open.
Inside was a pair of demi-gauntlets. She paused to stare at them for a few moments.
She slipped both of them on quickly. She rotated her hands around, looking at all the neat looking inscriptions.

This is perfect! I never thought I’d get a start on a full suit of armor this early! 

She bounced up and down, letting out a small squeal of joy.
A thought wormed its way back into her mind.
Wait, how is this supposed to protect me? Am I going to have to duel somebody?
An explosive crack boomed through the forest, and Louise felt something strike her in the back. Time slowed down for her, as her brain began to process what had happened.

She had been shot. 

Everything around her slowed down, her brain recalling how she got wrapped up in all this, all the way back to 7:15AM.



It was early enough for Louise to get prepared for school, but just late enough for her to eke out every last minute of sleep. Hearing her alarm clock blare, she smacked it off, kicking her blankets away and jumping towards her closet. Inside was assorted sporty looking outfits alongside more proper wear for school. Beneath her clothes were a stack of books about various monster sightings, each with several tabs sticking out of them.
She quickly threw on a black button up shirt and skirt, wearing her school’s orange and white track jacket. Last, she couldn’t forget the keys to tie together her look: a dark brown neckerchief, and red training gloves.
She considered those two parts the defining bits that really helped her stand out against the crowd.
Her room itself was small; Her paper-stacked desk only stood a chair’s length away from her bed, books were stacked on top of her wardrobe, and next to that was a corkboard, overflowing with various news articles.
Leaning against her wardrobe was a gladius and long staff, the sword being her “weapon of choice” that she purchased from a renaissance fair a year ago.
Her computer wasn’t top of the line, but it was good enough to browse the web smoothly, which was good enough for her.
She carefully walked past some of the scattered papers on her floor, grabbing a few textbooks among them to put in her backpack. With her school gear in tow, she hurried down to the kitchen. Her parents were gone already, having to leave early to reach their job out in the city. Thankfully, they had already made a loving lunch for her the night before, so she took some sausage patties out of the fridge and began cooking, preparing for the day ahead.

Louise’s hometown, Tomahawk Hills, was a mix of suburban sprawl surrounded by farmland and forestland. The urban housing clashed starkly against thick walls of green and brown trees. Off in the distant east, everyone could see the town’s titular hills, no matter where one was.
Roads ran between undeveloped lands to small clusters of shops and the occasional mall plaza. Those same roads continued, past the endless farmlands and up into the foothills, where a small number of very privileged houses sat.
Despite all this, it was no trouble for one to get around without a car, and Louise liked that fact as she saw her school coming into view. Tomahawk High had the same, unassuming feel the rest of the town shared. To her, it was nothing more than a normal high school, for better or for worse. Dozens of students hurried through the front doors, either arriving via bike or dropped off by car, and Louise happily jogged past all of them, hoping to start the day early and get through it as fast as possible.
Pushing past the crowds, she never really thought too much about others, as she didn’t really expect them to think much of her. There was the odd exception however.

Davis Foster.

She only shared a few classes with him, but he always carried the exact same social presence: Big dark jacket, hood up (even to the dismay of teachers), and always leaning against walls, watching others pass by. He rarely spoke during classes, and NEVER spoke to classmates unless required to. Louise felt intimidated somewhat, but did hope for some excuse to sit down and talk with him. She had searched for him willingly during lunch a few times, but could never find where he sat. His bizarre presence was the only real out of the ordinary thing around.

Other than ogling Davis, she didn’t really have solid friends other than other classmates to chat with randomly during breaks, but it was fine enough for her. Anything to help speed up the pace of the day.



    With a typical school day all wrapped up, Louise made a wind sprint for her classroom’s door. There was a lot to get done at home, though at the last hallway to the exit, she skidded to a halt at a small wall of students. There she spotted the only other person she remembered at school. Not because she cared too much for them, however. 

“Come on, I’ve been waiting for months for you, you saying you can’t make any amount of time for me?” Spoke an arrogant sounding boy’s voice.

“As much as you think your time is more important, I have other things to attend to. I don’t want to keep my soccer practice partner waiting.” Spoke Kirino Yorogami.

It was hard not to know about Kirino. She was a bonafide prodigy; Daughter of a tech giant CEO, top of all of her classes, and the school’s women’s soccer ace to boot. Louise couldn’t imagine how anyone’s self esteem could stand simply being around her. Whether she actually had friends was up for debate, at least Louise didn’t see her out openly with anyone else.
Her train of thought was cut off with a bang. The boy had slammed his fist against the wall lockers, his arm cutting off her path.

“Seriously, just take a break or something! Trust me, just one lunch out with me and-”

He yelped as she grabbed him by the arm, flipping him over flat onto his back. The boy groaned, face wrinkled in pain. He rolled over to his side, slowly crawling back up to his feet. She stared down at him

“If you think you’re deserving of my time, come back when you won’t be knocked down so easily.”


She turned to the exit, marching towards the wall of students without paying them any heed. An invisible command swept over them, the group parting for her to leave.

Louise felt a twinge in her stomach at the students’ reaction.

Shaking the feeling, she hurried through the doors, jogging back home, for her real work to begin.

   

The jog home was uneventful, as just about everything about Tomahawk Hills was. For Louise, however, everything was uneventful at only surface level. Kicking down the door to her room, tossing her backpack onto her bed, and flicking her computer tower on. She pushed aside the mess of papers and pulled her keyboard out, and opened her desk drawer to pull out a very fat notebook.
The book looked like it was carrying way too much paper for its spiral to hold, combined with several sticky tabs sticking out at every single possible space they could. Louise sat back in her chair, leaning back and cracking her knuckles as her computer chugged to life.

“Let’s get some REAL work started!” She said with a dumb grin on her face.

From that open on, the night was a flurry of opening dozens of tabs at once to several news sites, forum posts on weird sightings around town, tabloid sites, anything that could point towards the something suspicious she KNEW was going on. There were all sorts of stories that she thought had to mean more: Mysterious moose spotted in the woods (Her town wasn’t the proper climate for them), rumors of a ghost living at her high school, people vanishing out of their cars on backroads, and the endless slough of mysterious disappearances that all happen around the forest.
There were dangerous wild animals that live there, like coyotes or mountain lions, but for so many people to disappear there was far too suspicious for her. Her mindset was even more reinforced by the town’s love to just not mention whenever somebody vanishes, other than the occasional PSA saying “The woods are dangerous, stay out of there after sunset!” There was a good reason she had set up a small hideout out there.

During her search, she found an interesting forum post.

“Armored trucks traveling around outskirts, anyone else seen these?”
In the thread were quite a few photos of a dirt road, and large, military-esque trucks on them. Louise tapped her fingers on the desk as she squinted closely at the photos.
It COULD be her town, but a dirt road is pretty common. Only real landmark was a torn-up wire fence, but that was probably a common sighting out in the midwest. Still, she opened up her notebook to a new page, writing down:
“Mysterious armored trucks? Military training or something more?”
And below it
“Go camping this weekend near abandoned roads to look for them?”
The weekend was right around the corner, but if schoolwork piled up… Maybe next week, she thought. 

    After making a good dinner for herself and actually doing her homework, it was very dark out. Her desk was covered in even more paper, several notes on what military trucks were being used, where military bases around her area were, and random facts about armored cars and military vehicles. She was about to continue her hunt, when she heard a loud thump on the front door, as if somebody just ran up and punched it.
She ran on over, thinking perhaps it was her parents finally home from work.
Answering it, there was nothing there, except a small black box, no larger than a phone. She picked it up, opening it to find a small folded slip of paper. Opened it, finding a small, typed out note.

“I know what you’re looking for: The Truth. I am aware of your hideout in the woods, and there you’ll gain the first piece. Be there at 10pm.”

Her brain processed the note for a few seconds, before she whirled around, looking for a clock. Her stove clock read 9PM, and the forest was a fifteen minute jog. She gathered up her sword, a backpack, flashlight, and a few snacks before flying out the door in a full blown sprint.



There was a slight stinging pain in her back still, but Louise realized it didn’t really hurt all too much? She was clenching her eyes incredibly tight, but loosened them slowly. Her vision was still normal, not a deep red like she expected.
Powered by adrenaline, she scrambled back to her feet, hearing another crack in the distance.
She felt another bullet strike her, this time in the side of her chest. Despite being knocked over by it, she absolutely knew for sure it didn’t break her skin, let alone rip her clothes. It must have been some miracle from God, she thought. Maybe a blessing, or maybe she was just bulletproof this whole time and never really realized it?

She took cover behind a tree and turned off her flashlight, hoping to lose the sight of her assailant. Shaking, her brain was still trying to process what the miracle even did. She racked her brain, trying to think of everything different she did than usual. Then she remembered: The note. Her eyes glanced down to the gauntlets.

They looked like none she’d seen before, perhaps the product of some kinda eccentric knight or noble, but were they really keeping her protected?

Taking a deep breath, she flicked her light back on, and stood out in the open. The bullet struck her right in the back, but she had braced herself for the strike, staying on her feet. She only bent slightly from the blow, before turning around and drawing her sword with a grin.

“I got a good feeling where I’ll find you now!” She yelled, voice echoing through the trees.

“How about you stop being a coward and fight me one on one since your gun isn’t doing you any favors!”

She began charging towards where the bullet came from at full speed, sword in front of her triumphantly. She heard Another gunshot, but this time she was able to react somewhat faster, instinctively sidestepping out of the bullet’s path.

Oh my god, this is so amazing! I wonder how this thing will help with my sword combat?

She shone her light around, still trying to find the location of her assassin-turned-prey. Instead of one, there were three gunshots in succession, followed by a scream. She homed in on the sounds, skidding to a halt at what was not just the sniper. 

He lay limp against the tree, a gash in his chest and his rifle cleaved straight in half. He held a pistol in his other hand, which was lying on the forest floor.
Standing over him was a massive creature, easily three times Louise’s height. It stood on hooved legs, covered in thick fur. Stretching up a very muscular back up to a squarish head, were two massive antlers. The beast turned around revealing its head to be a cross between a human’s and a moose’s; Blank white human eyes and cheeks, with a moose-like snout extending from it, lined with razor-sharp teeth.
There were three red holes in its abdomen, where she could clearly see the pistol bullets embedded. It exhaled white mist, letting out a low growl towards Louise. She took a step back in fear, but then held her sword with both hands, taking another step forward into a stronger stance.

“You may have done me a favor here, but I don’t think you have good intentions for the other people around here, do you?” She held her sword in front of her as if offering a challenge.

The monster roared in return, swinging one of its elongated, clawed arms at her. Using the hilt of her sword, she parried its attack, charging forward to stab straight towards its stomach. It barely pierced the surface of its skin, quickly striking something hard. The impact shook through the rest of her body, stunning her for a brief enough moment for the beast to lift one of its legs to kick her.
She flew away, crashing into and cracking the trunk of a pine tree. The dull pain of the impact throbbed through her body, but wasn’t as bad as she had anticipated. Her breathing quickened as she got back onto her feet, the beast now charging at her on all fours, rearing its antlers.
Thinking of something new, she decided to try jumping, finding herself up in the air, well over her own height. Flailing around at her unexpected leap, she crashed back down on her face, behind the creature. She scrambled back to her feet, and the beast skidded to turn around.
It let out another roar, and she screamed in response. It charged forward, and so did she. A few seconds before impact, she jumped, grabbing onto one of its antlers. The beast kicked up a flurry of dirt, grinding to a halt, trying to buck the girl off. She held tight, the extra strength of the gauntlets aiding her well. With her free arm, she began to whack away at the skull of the beast. Her sword still bounced off of its skin, but the beast shrieked with every blow. 
The beast got on all fours again, this time charging straight for a tree. She took notice, and quickly leapt off right before it slammed into the pine, knocking the massive tree over. It crackled and collapsed, letting a massive boom, along with kicking up a plume of dirt. 
She was panting, still with a big smile on her face, gripping her sword with all she had, and the beast was slowly strafing around her.
“Is that really all you got? I’m gonna take those antlers home as a trophy and show everyone!”
In unison, both the beast and Louise turned to a new noise echoing through the forest: The noise of jingling keys?
The beast leapt up into the trees, blending in with the foliage. It leaped across to the next one and the next, quickly escaping sight. She stared and let out a sigh of frustration, desperately wishing she had the energy to keep up.
What a coward…

“H… HEY! Are you okay over there?” a voice cried out as the jingling got louder. 

Flashing her light over, she saw a man, wearing a large coat all the way down to his knees, baggy pants, a gaiter over his mouth, and night vision goggles.
With hardware that expensive, it had to be backup for her assassin!
She leapt towards him, tackling him. The two tumbled through the dirt as she pinned him down.

“Don’t think you can get me again! Now tell me who sent you!”

She pulled the goggles and mask off of the man revealing it to be a familiar face

Davis!
“Hey, don’t ruin those! They cost a lot of money!”
He continued to struggle, unable to break free from her grip. She lost it when he suddenly turned into a puff of black smoke, rematerializing standing up next to her.

“Please, seriously, I saw that wendigo you were fighting, and thought you needed help. You were uh, kinda hard to keep up with though…”

Louise’s eyes bugged out of her head at the sight.

“I just KNEW IT!” she yelped. “So you were hiding something all this time! You’re a ghost, aren’t you?”
Davis took a step back nervously. “N-no, nothing like that at all! I just uh… can dematerialize in the dark. I’m still alive and everything, I have a heartbeat and all that, please.”

Louise sighed. “I’m gonna have to listen for one, but I believe you. Anyways, what are you doing out here this late? It’s dangerous!”
Davis gave a curious look. “I was supposed to ask you that. I just heard the wendigo and saw you like, fighting it.”
“You knew about this monster this whole time?”
“Well, uh, yeah. It’s not like anyone would believe me about it and I can’t really fight or do anything about it.”

“Well you could have told me about it, I woulda believed you!”

Davis squinted his eyes judgingly. “Yeah, I’d totally know you wouldn’t call me insane and ruin my image at school. But I can at least warn others to stop them from going into the woods too late at night. I was kinda late in your case though so uh… sorry?”
Louise grew an enticed grin. “Woah, so you’re kinda being like, a helpful spirit-”
“I’m NOT a ghost please…”
“Sorry, sorry… Man if only I just talked with you earlier. You see,” She held up her hands, showing her gauntlets. “These fell out of the sky and they make me real strong! I like, was bulletproof too! It kinda hurt a bit, but better than dying, you know?”
“Wait, you were being attacked? By whom? I thought that was just some hunter who got caught by the wendigo…”
Louise shrugged. “I wish I could have asked, but yeah, the monster got him first. I think I have a feel-”
Davis held up his hand. “I’m sorry, but I would really prefer if we like, went somewhere safer. The wendigo is just one of the strange beasts I’ve spotted around here before-”
“Wait, there’s MORE?” Louise was bouncing giddily.
“Could we just go somewhere safe? I can tell you more but, it’s… still pretty scary right now.”
“Sure, I have a little hideout not too far away from here!”
“I would prefer to NOT be in the woods, since monsters don’t leave here typically. I could uh… Invite you over to my house for the night? It’s right outside of the woods too.”
“Oh that sounds awesome! I haven’t had a sleepover in forever! Come on, lead the  way, I can’t wait!”


No One Lives Forever – Preview

A bit of a warning to start before I get into this.
This is just the first chapter, a preview to the new novel I’m working on. I’ll release it once it’s totally complete.

The book will involve heavy subjects such as depression and suicide

Any feedback to this first chapter will be greatly appreciated. It took a while to do so because I want to get this first chapter to be a perfect hook. Thank you, and enjoy the read.


Bleak black clouds covered an already deathly dark night. Hefty winds gusted, blowing leaves and garbage across the empty city streets. A new moon was out, whisking away any hope of natural lighting. Not even the vibrant streetlights could do anything to stave off the intense darkness.

It almost seemed fitting this would be the last night of William Rene. 

He walked alone through the barren streets, eventually reaching a bridge stretching across a river. Staring below, the winds swept up the tides, white foamy waters surging out towards the ocean. The poor lighting made it seem like the river Styx itself. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and swallowed a lump in his throat.

If you asked him why, he made sure he had his reasons in order for his family. He graduated out of high school by the skin of his teeth, unable to make the cut for any good college, nor did he feel he had any talent he could carve a future out of with. Unless he were to win a million dollar prize for “Fakest smile as a Grocery Bagger”, he just never felt good enough. His small circle of friends was strained thanks to their college life, barely able to keep in contact through IRC chats, and he knew he was utterly pathetic to the sight of his parents. 

As far as he was concerned, throwing himself down into that river would be no different than dropping a pebble into it.


He climbed over the guardrails, standing on the edge.


His heart began to beat faster. He instinctively gripped the guardrails tighter.


His breathing intensified. He shut his eyes close, tears quickly streaming down his face. 

How would his mom and dad feel? Would they truly be relieved if he left their life for good? His friends were guaranteed to outgrow him. He’d be left behind in their wake. There’s no upwards momentum for his job. He’d be stuck with his parents for another decade before he could even afford to try somewhere else.

All these negatives, and yet, he still gripped the rails tightly. 

There was still some fraction of hope that maybe things would get better? A small speck in his brain cried out. He looked behind him, hoping to return to the safety of the bridge. 

A pressure began to envelope his head.

“Why won’t you return home?”


A voice?

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You need to overcome your fear.”

His head felt more of the pressure, as if something sinister was clutching his brain.

“Your worldly things aren’t stopping you. The moment you thought your life here was for naught shows how little you care for them.”


He grew dizzy, his grip slipping.

“Overcome your fear, and join me in my domain. You came from nothingness, and it’s time for you to return home.”

His breathing became ragged and raspy.


“There is nothing more to desire for, nothing more to love, nothing to struggle for. Return.”

Every neuron screamed for him to return to the bridge, but whatever sudden spell that had overtaken him had won. He couldn’t grip the rails any longer. He let go, plummeting to the dark waters below. His vision clouded up, and he blacked out.


With nothing but a quiet splash, he vanished into nothingness.




  There was still nothingness, but something permeated his mind. First, the crashing of waves. Then he could make out seagulls calling. The right side of his head was resting on something coarse. Then he felt his damp clothes hugging his body. His eyes flew open, more of his senses still coming back and he got up on all fours, trying to take a deep breath.

He couldn’t inhale.


Reflexively, he coughed, a trove of sand and water spurting from his insides. He continued to cough, hacking up water at a rate comparable to a fire hose, as the waves crashed and subsided by his hands and knees. He pounded his chest, gagging and coughing up one object: A small fish. He felt his soaking wet body, making sure it all was real. His medium brown hair was damp, somewhat hanging over his eyes. He could certainly feel the weight of his wet t-shirt and cargo pants (And undergarments, unfortunately). His shoes were soaked through and through, squelching with each step. Most importantly, his heart was still throbbing in his chest, pumping fresh oxygen into his bloodstream.


He was alive? 

Funnily enough, that wasn’t the most pressing question, as he stared out to the rising sun in the distance.


What really piqued his curiosity was wondering where he was.

Staring off, he saw a bustling coastal city that certainly wasn’t his home. 

The beach he stood on had a small wooded park parallel to the coastline, a few small paths cutting through a dense thicket of trees. He stared towards the darkened path, and back towards the ocean. He felt his heart throbbing for a multitude of reasons.
No point in waiting around in soaking clothes. Maybe he could find a police station and call his parents. 

Trodding towards the path, the trees quickly blocked what little sunlight was shining. Only little fleks of light shone through the thicket. William slowed down, nerve building up inside of his stomach.
Is this the right way? Did I already get lost? I’m on the path, it’ll lead to a road or something eventually.

He shivered, continuing to march on. He kept thinking to himself about what possibly happened, if he had failed in his attempt, if this path was the right one, whether he was going to wander into a national park and get mauled by a bear, be seen as a coward and a runaway by all his friends and family.
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard muttering behind him.

“It’s the child…” “He was touched?” “We need to bring him home…” 

Two pairs of hands grabbed his arms, and began dragging him into the forest. He flailed his arms and legs about, the two mysterious figures holding tight. Incredibly tight, as he realized that their grips alone were almost crushing his arms. He looked to both of them, the two enshrouded in pitch black robes.

“Quit your struggle…”
“You’re coming home…”
He wiggled a bit more, until he realized the futility of fighting. Given a second chance at life and fate just had to throw more garbage his way was all he thought.

As if responding, fate threw him a bone.

A blinding light flashed through the woods, and a masked figure flew towards him, kicking one of his captors. The robed figure lost his grip, and went flying off into the darkness, and the assailant dove into the woods as well. The second captor let go of William, bringing his long sleeved arms close to his chest, like a rodent. He whirled around, wondering where the attacker would come from next. Another flash, this time a bolt of light shot out of the foliage, striking the captor. The energy from it visibly reverberated through the man, his body stiffening up in response. The man fell over, William unsure if he was dead or incapacitated. His masked savior brushed dirt off his outfit; black sweatpants and a black hoodie. He stretched out his hand to William, and he looked back somewhat dumbfounded.

“You’re not hurt or anything, right?”
William stared for a few more seconds. “S-shaken up a bit. Who are you?”
He took off his mask, revealing the face of a boy looking similar to William’s age.
“I can promise you, not one of the bad guys!”

Tales from Congeria: Joy and Simon 5

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With a huff and a dull thud, Joy stacked a large crate on top of another.

Simon had surprised her early this morning by tossing baggy work clothes on top of her. He said she wasn’t going to get off easy from disobeying orders, and was relegated to warehouse duty. Her mind still fumed at the thought. 

I’m a one in a million person and this is the treatment I get here?

All day and afternoon for the past week, she worked tirelessly, reorganizing and stacking crates full of armaments, munitions, and others supplies. She was covered in dust and sweat, the humidity of the warehouse not helping at all either. She turned away from her finished wall of crates to begin a new one, bumping into a familiar face. Paul was strolling towards her with a smile on his face and hands in his pockets.

“I guess he’s really making you live up to the name of ‘Miss Cost Efficient’ now, hm?”

She paused, raising an eye. “I’m being called what now?”
He stopped not too far away from her. “It’s a little joke I thought of. Since you’re so keen on using fists and don’t use any armor, I thought you must have no impact on our budget. And now you’re giving our warehouse workers a run for their work!”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m really losing my mind here. Did you really come down here just to bug me?”

“Here to deliver a bit of a message actually. Your punishment is up, and Simon wants me to run you through some field work.”

Her face instantly brightened up. “I can lose this piece of crap I’m wearing too, right?”

“You’re actually going to have to dress in something a bit more casual. You don’t exactly want to stick out like a sore thumb when out on the field.”

She literally tore her work shirt off, exposing her well-built musculature only covered by a sports bra. She tossed the rag to the side. 

“Finally, I’ll be able to wear something other than these garbage bags. We get a selection, right?”

Paul slowly lowered his head into one of his hands, shaking it slightly. 

“For that, what do you think your punishment is going to be? One more week of warehouse duty or actually wearing garbage bags out on the field?”

She stared at him with an irritated look. “Please, from how uncomfortable this stuff feels, it wouldn’t make any difference if I was wearing garbage bags or not. You ever worn this stuff?”

“A few times in the past, but I have a good feeling you’ll be getting used to them in the future.”


With a bit of searching for the right-fitting clothing, Joy had changed into sneakers, shorts, and a nice fitting tank top, while Paul wore a bomber jacket, t-shirt and slacks. The two arrived together to a small office. Inside sat Simon, in front of a large table with a screen built into the top of it, and a few computers and consoles behind him. The two pulled up a few chairs and sat in front of him as he began to tap away on the table screen.

“So, I’m hoping you enjoyed your time in the warehouse Joy. Follow my orders next time and you’ll avoid bathroom duty stacked atop of that.”

She huffed and rolled her eyes.

“All right, now that that’s out of the way,” Paul turned to face Joy. “Hopefully you remember the ins and outs of field duty from your guide, right?”
Simon butted in “There’s a reason she’s assigned with you.”
She was smiling wryly, rubbing the back of her head. “Yeah, it’s kinda been well over a month since I last touched that thing.”

“I’m going to assume firsthand experience works better for you than books, so that’s no issue. The entire basis of field duty, at least for us, is responding to reports of demonic activity and dealing with them appropriately. Sound easy?”

“Dealing with them like pummeling the shit out of them, right?”

She could have sworn she head Simon sigh through his helmet.

“You’re half right,” spoke Paul. “The most important part of field duty is finding who specifically was responsible for it. Demons themselves don’t leave anything much to trace, and depending on the demon summoned, it’d actually be better to find the perpetrator instead of the demon first.”

“So find the cartel guys first, right?”
“A reminder for you.” She turned to Simon. “The cartels aren’t the only people who can perform demonic rituals. They merely treat it as a business, doing the killing for those who don’t want to dirty their hands. With a lot of asking around, maybe with a few greased palms, anyone can find out rituals and perform them on their own.”

“Huh, never really gave it that thought. I was wondering why there were so many non-lethal demons listed…”

“Keep in mind that some of the perpetrators are civilians. If you manage to find any, arrest them first, and have Paul deal with the rest.”

Pressing a few more buttons on his table screen, and a city map projected from it, marked with several orange and red blips. 

“All around here are reports of confirmed and suspected demonic activity in the past week. We’ll deploy you both near the neighborhood, and then make your way there on foot. The sight of Crusader jets directly overhead would scare them off anyways.”

Paul stood up and stretched out his arms. “All righty then, simple enough for you to understand Joy?”

“Of course, stop treating me as if I’m that dense!”
“Just follow my lead, and everything will go smoothly, all right?”


Less than an hour later, the two were landed atop a skyscraper from one of the VTOL transports. Taking the elevator the the ground floor and walking out, Joy was greeted with the familiar sight of one of Romitum’s commercial zones, one she lived near in particular. Multiple shops, from small businesses to multi-floored stores were all packed together on the streets. Crowds of people walked in and out of the human traffic that moved slowly on the sidewalks. Trucks and taxis made the majority of the traffic that cruised alongside.

Joy turned to Paul. “We’re still allowed lunch breaks, right? I know a really good barbeque place around here.”

He gave her a thumbs up. “A good four hours of demon hunting and we’ll get thirty to eat.”

She beamed a smile back in return. “Let’s get going, lead the way to the demons!”

Working their way through the crowds, the large department stores petered out, smaller businesses, restaraunts, and homes taking their place. To the plus of the duo, the crowds had also thinned out as well. Past a few more blocks later, they eventually entered a large neighborhood consisting of dozens of fancy looking houses lined up side by side. Joy whistled, gazing around.

“I expected us to stop off somewhere a bit… grimier. You’d think the people who live here would hire their own guards rather than get us to come out here.”

Paul chuckled. “You remember what PMC stands for, right?”
“Paid military-… Oh now I get it. But still, you’d expect to find these demons in skeevier places, right?”

“Alongside narcotics and weapons, the cartels can offer quite a few solutions for petty theft and revenge.”

The two continued to walk into the neighborhood, as Joy stared down at the sidewalk, pondering to herself.

“I get the theft stuff, but what do you mean ‘revenge’? Again, I’d expect that in seedier places.”

He held up his hand in front of her. She bumped into it, looking up. A black, furry, dog-sized beast had just dashed across the street, and was making its way towards a home. Alongside, a van screeched and sped away past the two.

“Maybe you’ll find out in a bit. That thing’s a Devil Skunk. You have my permission to smash the shit out of it, I’m going to head after that truck.”

He threw off his jacket, sprouting a pair of wings and taking to the skies. Unfased by his flight, Joy broke into a sprint, hurrying after the demon that had just hopped a wooden fence into some poor person’s back yard. She easily vaulted over it, and caught sight of the beast again, skittering into a small open window. A scream from somebody followed. The window being too small for her to fit, she hurried around the back yard, finding a doorway into from the back. She ran through, not realizing it was a glass pane door, and accidentally shattered the door, causing the poor homeowner to shriek once more. Inside a small kitchen, she stared sheepishly at the rather aged man, standing atop of a chair with a broom in-hand.

“Hey, don’t worry, I’m here to deal with that demon that came in. Let me just find it and I’ll be out super quick.” 

Running from the kitchen to the home’s living room, she found the beast, viciously hissing at her. She quickly recalled what she could remember about Devil Skunks, and the only thing she had to worry about was the stench it could spray. If it did, the surrounding houses would have to move out due to the stench, and gods help her if she herself got sprayed. As she ran closer towards it, the beast’s fur literally stood up straight, firing several needles at her. Each one bounced harmlessly off of her skin as she killed the beast with a powerful stomp. The house shook a bit with the impact, the floor even cracking, and the demon slowly dissolved into dust. She sighed, wiping a trickle of sweat off of her brow.

“Thank god that thing didn’t spray.”

She began strolling back out the back door.

“Hey, hold on! You’re going to pay for the damage done, right?”

She turned to the man, who had stepped down from the chair and looked rather angry. She simply shrugged. “It’s the price to pay to avoid getting your house labeled as a biohazard.”

She continued on, pressing a button on her earpiece. “Yeah Paul, please tell me there’s some kind of coverage for property damage, right?”

She heard a sigh. “Did the thing spray? No way in hell we can cover that.”

“No no, just a shattered sliding door. Kinda didn’t realize one was in the way.”

“Whew, well since you asked, we can cover for minor repair costs. Anyways, meet back out front.”
Hopping to the fence and waiting, Paul shortly landed in front of her. 

“Those two men were most certainly part of the cartels. The back of their truck was all set up for rituals, with a now killed sacrifice, and was probably where that devil skunk came from. Unfortunately, they killed themselves with cyanide tablets before I could get ahold of them.”

She groaned in response. “Cowards, the both of em.”

“Let’s just hope they were sloppy and left some clues for detectives to find, yeah?”

He retracted his wings, putting back on his jacket. 

“There’s still more reports of activity around here. Let’s get scouting and hope to get lucky.”

Hours passed of a mostly dull day of patrolling the neighborhood. Hoping a bit more excitement like when she first arrived, Joy was looking less for signs of demonic activity, but more something she could actually do. Paul constantly kept a good watch on the rows of houses, finding nothing out of the ordinary for the entirety of their patrol.

“You sure we weren’t fed false info or something?” Joy put her arms behind her head, stretching.

“Or maybe you aren’t being vigilant enough?”

She glared angrily at him, opening her mouth. He held up his hand, smiling.

“Hey, I’m just teasing! Today just may not be our day, you know? If you can’t tell, it’s not common sense to use demons blatantly, let alone summoning a beast.”

“Eh, figures. Hold on.”

She turned, noticing a man crouching in a bush at the end of somebody’s lawn. His head was barely peeping out of the top, staring through the window of a house. Joy sneered to herself and walked behind the man, slowly placing her hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, you trying to hide from anyone?”

The man shrieked and sprung out from his hiding place, landing on his back on the grass. His clothing was dirty and all patched up, looking like he’d been wearing the same shirt, pants, and jacket for the past week nonstop. He scrambled back, a bewildered look dominating his face.

“What the fuck? Who are you, and what do you want?”

She scoffed. “I’m not the one hiding in the bush. Maybe you want to tell me what you’re doing first?”

Bewilderment turned to anger as he simply spat at her, giving her a middle finger. She merely rolled her eyes, turning to Paul.

“Don’t these neighborhoods have rent-a-cops for people like this?”

Paul glanced over at the man, his eyes widening slightly. “Well, kinda. Notice something funny?”

Joy turned back to the main getting up, brushing the fresh dirt off of his clothes, and she noticed he spread blood on his pants. He looked up, still glaring and the two Crusaders.
“Either that was a sharp bush orrr…. There we are!” Paul pointed towards the house the man was standing at. Literally squeezing itself under the door, a fleshy rodent creature began scuttling towards the man. He kneeled down, picking it up, and turned back to his observers.

“What, I got a pet rat. You two got a problem or something?”

Joy quickly stepped forward, shoving the man to the ground, the creature flying into the air. She caught it, crushing it with her hand as she did. As the flesh slowly dissolved into dust, she felt something much harder in its place. When she opened it, a few expensive looking rings and a pearl necklace were in its place. She snapped her head towards the man, glaring deviously at him. 

“So thought you could use a snatcher without consequence, huh?”

The man quickly scrambled to his feet, but Joy effortlessly pushed him over once more, placing her foot on his back. Paul walked up to her, staring down as the man tried to scramble free.

“Nice catch Joy. Now then mister, I’m sure you realize that summoning a demon is one hell of a crime, pun intended. We might be able to lessen it however if you tell us who taught you how to do that?”

The man stopped scrambling. “Demon? Fuck I was told that thing was just some kind of special thief rat! I swear to god, I didn’t do any of that, some guy just sold this thing to me!”

He screamed as Joy applied a bit more pressure. “Really wiseguy? How do you explain that fresh cut on your hand?”

“The thing bites, and I didn’t have any carrier for it! Please, I didn’t intend to get involved with this demon shit, let me off easy!”

Joy stared at Paul, him nodding in response. Joy removed her foot from the man, and Paul dragged him up.

“I guess we can believe you, but you aren’t off the hook pal.”

He took him over to a lampost, cuffing his hands around it. He pulled a small tablet from his jacket, taking a few photos of his face.

“Just hang tight and the police will come and get you, all right?”

He struggled and yelled, screaming for help as Paul ran away. Joy stared nervously at him.

“You sure it’s all right to do that? He won’t get free?”

“If by some miracle he does break free, he’ll get caught fairly quickly. His face is all over the Crusaders database, all it’ll take is one match on any sort of security camera and local police will be all over him.”

“Ah, well that- Hold up, some sort of security camera? Do the Crusaders have cameras everywhere?”

“We don’t, but everyone else does. A bit of a lesser known fact, but the Romitum Council, and by extension the Crusaders have access to every CCTV feed around Romitum. Makes it pretty easy to clamp down on known offenders with good ole facial recognition tech.” He paused, noticing Joy giving him a stare of concern. “What, you expected this country to be so orderly simply by the goodwill of everyone living here?”

“The largest breach of privacy known to mankind running here and you still can’t get rid of these cartels?”
“I did say known offenders. Plus those slummish areas tend to be lacking in cameras for us to use.”

“When I get home, if I find a single hidden camera anywhere I’m going to give a good thrashing to whoever…. I don’t even know, who thought of that system?”

“Whoever suggested it is probably long dead to be fair. Now then, how does a lunch break sound?”

“Barbeque sounds great!”


Shoved snugly between an apartment and a large department store, “Slice of Radi” certainly lived up to its name. It’s wooden walls contrasted with the concrete around it, and the tonal whiplash was still the same on the inside: Old sanded down plank flooring, wooden chairs and tables that constanty creaked, and ceiling fans to really tie together the ancient feel of it. Paul relaxed at one of the tables with a glass of water in front of him, glancing around at the few customers who stuck around. Joy soon bounded back with two plates of ribs, cuts of beef, beans, and coleslaw, one plate with larger helpings than the other. She plopped the tray down, taking the larger plate for herself and bit into a rib.

“This place doesn’t skimp out when it comes to their meats. I hear they get it imported from cattle living way far outside city walls.” She spoke between bites.

Paul took his plate and started cutting a slab of beef into a smaller size.

“Does that really affect the taste? Beef is beef, be it grass-fed or raised in a factory.”

She laughed a bit, now shoving half a slice of beef into her already stuffed mouth. “It depends how much you like the taste of soot and chemicals! By the way, I had to pay with my cash for this. The Crusaders covers for costs like this, right?”

Paul shook his head as he took a bite of beef. “You know since we’re here and on topic, why did you want to join the crusaders… Well the special operations unit more specifically so badly. I haven’t mentioned why I joined, right?”

With a mouthfull of beans she shook her head. “I think it was something about search and rescue?”

“Yup. I don’t think it’d be a good idea to show my wings off again right now.” He chuckled. “Search and rescue just felt like a job for me when I first started, ya know? I started way back volunteering for my neighborhoods fire department, and just thought, ‘this is what I wanna do with my life.’ Not working for the fire department, but there’s something just wonderful about the feeling you get when an innocent family is saved. Not even just the glory of it, it’s just nice to see good honest people safe from disaster. The Guardian Angels was a perfect fit for me to join up with my life plotted out, like an added bonus to doing work I already love. I was already just so good, and when Simon extended his hand to have me join special operations? I’m not sure what excited me more, the position itself or the new opportunities it’d offer. The Crusaders just helped me get connected to help even more people.”

Joy was cleaning off another rib. “That’s nice. But why are you telling me this?”

“You just seem odd and I want to get to know you more Joy. Tit for tat except with our pasts. What’s your passion, why did you so… well… aggresively seek to join special operations?”

She stared at him for a few moments and shrugged.

“Honestly I just wanted to push myself further and beat the shit out of demons.” She picked up another rib and took a large chomp out of it. Paul simply felt the need to spit out his water if he was drinking it.

“You WHAT?”
“Is there something wrong with that? I do a good job at it.”
“So you just… What even was your plan? Just beat the shit out of demons? Get lucky and…”
He dropped his face into his palms. “What did you even do before this insane idea?”
“MMA and I used to be a personal trainer, but that didn’t work out too well. MMA meanwhile just lost its spark to me, so I thought “What’s the next best thing to do?” I did a bit of searching, found out about the God of Righteous Fury, heard word about the Special Operations Unit, and thought that it would work out pretty well for me. And so far, it has! I haven’t been this challenged in forever!”

“You wasted your pledge on a con artist of a God just for thrills?”

“What do you mean con artist? I’m the purest person I know!”
Paul took a deep breath, taking a quick drink of water. “Gods almighty I need to dull my senses to just process how you think.”
She glared at him. “You do realize I could literally bury you beneath the concrete, right?”

“But doesn’t the God of RIghteous Fury have any rules or drawbacks? Any other shit he’d jump on you if you’re deemed worthy or something?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Rules?”

“Yeah you know, guidelines to follow or hindrances. Followers of the Crusaders pledge their life to fighting demons and can’t use their skills anywhere else, Guardian Angels have to dedicate their life to rescuing other humans, be it in military or for civil service. Enforcers under the Divine Judge can only use their abilities for law enforcement, and they may never take another life. All to stop gods from becoming too powerful.?”
“Wait, like, if you break those rules your pledge gets revoked? I always thought for most Gods it was more related to their organization than the god.”
“What, do you think members of the Clergy of Companionship just killed themselves when their bonded animal died?”
“Good point… But back on topic, nope. He just told me to wear this insignia with pride.” She pointed to her abs, where the insignia was proudly displayed.

“How is that God even legal then? They HAVE to have some regulations, else that archstone would be several thousand meters below the surface.”

Swallowing a bit of food, she lifted up her finger. “Oh there’s actually a funny story about that. Apparently about half a decade ago, some officials saw him as a threat and petitioned to remove his church and archstone with the Council. Little did they know, one of those who was pure of heart was a VERY talented lawyer who fought and won against that movement. That must be pretty nice huh? Being able to destroy people in and out of the courtroom.”

Paul leaned back in his chair, dumbstruck as she cleaned off her plate. “Hey, you gonna finish your food?”

“I’ll get to it when my brain fully processes this insanity. I thought I saw it all working for special operations…”

“But given from history, he’s done a good job of picking those pure of heart, right? Hasn’t been a single man who went on a rampage of righteous fury.”

“Fair enough, I guess.” He picked up his fork and stabbed into a piece of beef. 

A few more bites into his meal, his tablet began to buzz noisily. Putting down the fork, he quickly yanked it out of his pocked, eyes widening at the sight.

“Looks like we got some action to get to. A berserker has been spotted in a nearby neighborhood.


Previous|Index|Next

Joy and Simon – Chapter 2.5

Once again, another .5 chapter kinda deal. Mostly doing this to get a groove on with writing/practicing/exploring character stuff. So enjoy the read!


With Joy patched up and sent off to bed, Simon returned to the training arena. He brought up a small clock on his visor. 2:34 AM.

I need to de-rust myself for her anyways. There should be plenty of time to sleep afterwards.

He walked forward to a computer console overlooking the arena, with a large lever next to the screen. He typed away a flurry of commands into the device, perusing through various screens and typing in a new program. He compiled a threateningly long list of demons held captive, stretching across the entire screen, setting each one to come out in timed waves. Saving his program, he prepared to launch it, still staring at the list he put together.

Can’t tell if this is too much or too little for me to handle. Only one way to find out.

He briefly left the room to the now-empty armory. He started by grabbing his strange rifle, preemptively loading a large round into it. He walked over to a locker, unlocking and opening it. Inside was practically a miniature armoy in it of itself. A few other matching camo jackets, dozens of boxes and belts of differing types of ammo, a few large looking drum shotguns, various large pistols, and a diverse amount of explosive devices ranging from fragmentation to plastic. He grabbed an ammo belt of rounds for his strange rifle, holstered two pistols, slung a shotgun and a few drums over his shoulder, and took a few of every type of grenade, stowing most of it stealthily in his camo jacket. Behind his mask, he cracked a smile.

Knowing what’s coming should make this fight no issue.

Strolling back to the arena, he grabbed hold of a large lever next to the console

He pulled the lever, and the sound of whirring machinery surrounded him. A distant clanging emanated from within the arena, all of the elevators moving simultaneously. He still strolled over to the entrance elevator, hitting the button. He slowly descended into the arena, watching as all three massive doors slowly began to open. From the center elevator, a large, berserker-sized winged beast took a step out of the darkness of the elevator. It screeched, breaking through the loud sound of machinery. At its feet were a dozen blood beasts of varying size, ranging from the size of boars to as large as rhinos. From the right, ten shredders began rushing out, encircling the arena hunting for their prey. From the left elevator, several quadrupedal skeletal demons with a razor-sharp hooked tail, Acrobats, scurried out, sniffing out the area with their strange doglike heads. As Simon’s elevator finally touched the ground, he quickly reached inside his jacket and took out two tin-can looking grenades. As his door slid open and he noticed the horde of shredders enclosing, he tossed them both out. Instinctively, the shredders barreled out of the way, and the moment the grenades hit the ground, they exploded into a cloud of smoke. Calling it smoke would be an understatement, as its consistency was more that of ash. Every shredder was trapped in a prison of thick ash, most of the material stuck in their eyes. Despite this disadvantage, they still maintained their composure, standing perfectly still. On the outside of the cloud, the blood beasts blindly charged in, the acrobats observing and smelling the strange substance, and the great winged beast observing the smaller ones charge forward.

Simon had finally taken his first step out of the elevator. His visor glowed a deep red as he aimed his strange rifle, pointing straight at the stomach of the large winged beast.

With a loud crack, the large demon let out an ear-rending screech as a fireball erupted from its stomach. It slowly fell over with a burning hole in its center, crushing the few blood beasts who failed to charge forward fast enough. Simon observed through the smoke how every last shredder whipped their heads over to the sudden screeching. He loaded a new round into his rifle quickly and slung it over his shoulder, pulling out one of his pistols and breaking into a sprint. He neared the closest group of three shredders, shooting all of them in the head. The other seven whipped their heads over to the gunshot and immediately began sprinting over to him. With lightning-fast speed, he holstered his pistol and slung the shotgun into his hand. Despite their insane speed, the approaching shredders still fell victim to his aim. One, two, three, four, five, six, each approaching shredder suffered the same fate, exploding into a mix of flesh and bone, as every heavy cluster of pellets slammed into them. His drum empty, the seventh leapt into the air towards him, claws outstretched and mouth agape. Unfortunately for the demon, Simon had merely stepped a foot to the side as the beast crashed into the ground. He quickly hurried over to the collapsed beast with the shotgun still in hand, and smashed the thing’s skull with the butt of his gun. Moving quickly to reload his shotgun, he heard another deathly shriek, and felt wind whip all around him. His ash blew away along with the wind, all caking itself on the wall of the arena. He slung his shotgun and drew his rifle, whipping around and firing to the source of the scream. The shot flew fast, striking the shoulder of the great winged demon, still fanning its wings. The bullet went straight through, but the demon only responded with a grunt, glaring straight at Simon. He shifted his focus to the oncoming bloodbeasts and acrobats, now well aware of his location. Two of the rhino-sized ones charged forward, forming a wall of demonic flesh intent on entrapping him. As they let out a primal roar, Simon took out a few fragmentation grenades, tossing them right into their mouths. He quickly pulled out a third red-marked grenade and threw it at their feet, it exploding into flames and disrupting the beasts’ formations. They reared back, trying to avoid the burning napalm and tumbled over themselves, skidding to a halt mere feet away from him. Only a few seconds later did they explode outwards into a mass of unrecognizable flesh.

Seizing the opportunity, two acrobats had leapt over the flames towards him. Unfortunately for them, he had already drawn his shotgun, and shot them both out of the air. More acrobats and lesser bloodbeasts approached, and he broke into a sprint, circling the outer edge of the arena. Five bloodbeasts, two acrobats, and the greater winged demon were all that remained. The bloodbeasts were the first to close in on him as he continued to sprint. From his jacket, he dropped a few plastic explosives onto the ground. As the pack of beasts passed over, he tactfully detonated the devices, pulverizing the entire group. The next threat on his mind was the winged demon. Despite the hole in its stomach, it still stumbled slowly towards him, with a morale-ruining look of rage on its head. He cursed himself for missing its head earlier as he glared back at the oncoming acrobats. Knowing it would be a bit tougher to take them both, he skidded to a stop and reversed course, charging straight towards the oncoming acrobats. They leapt into the air, lashing out their tales towards him. He slid under the beasts, actually grabbing them by the tails as he did so, and slammed them both into the ground. Grabbing his second pistol, he fired two shots for each demon: One in the stomach, and another in the head. He sighed internally after pulling that stunt off, and turned his head to the still-approaching winged demon. Its face had slowly transitioned from rage to pain over the course of the battle, and with the mortal wound it could not heal, it visibly struggled to move forward. Without any hesitation, Simon slung his rifle over, loading in a new round, and fired a final shot between its eyes. The demon barely had any energy left to let out a screech. It merely froze up after taking the hit, and slowly fell over, dissolving into dust.

That was what completely populated the arena. Large yet scattered piles of demonic dust. Simon’s suit was coated in a mix of the dust and ash. He glared back at the wall behind him, finding ash caking the windows of the observation chamber. He put a finger up to his helmet, cycling through contacts.

“I’m going to need a cleaning crew to head over to the training arena ASAP. There’s one hell of a mess for you all to clean up.”

It was a hell of a mess for them to clean up, but they bore witness to something they’d never expect to see in their lifetime: The aftermath of a battle Simon participated in.

Tales from Congeria: Joy and Simon 4


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Over a month of rigorous training had continued for Joy. Continuing her improvised endurance workouts and ending the evenings with more intensive combat training with Simon. Learning how to properly use cover, using the environment and her strength to her advantage, and how to outplay an armed opponent, even with her semi-invulnerability, Simon rushed her through this using himself as the opponent, but no matter how crafty Joy got, he always came out on top. Every morning her body still screamed in pain from the previous day’s workout, but she still willed herself to continue, her mind screaming even louder that she wouldn’t let Simon beat her. She hadn’t had time to meet and chat with the others much, with Simon being more demanding and for her to get up earlier and earlier. At the end of the month, however, Simon finally gave her permission to take the day off.

The following morning, she was grateful not to be screamed at to wake up, and made her way to the cafeteria. For her outfit, she still got a few eyes from the other soldiers, but not as many as she initially got. She glanced around, catching sight of Maria and Annie. She quickly scooped a tray full of food and hurried over to the two.

Annie waved to her. “Hey Joy, good to see that Simon has been working you hard.”

Joy sat down. “You could tell? Gods, he probably would have thrown me into a pot of oil and that wouldn’t have burned as badly as my body feels.” She glanced around. “Where are the other two? I’ve been waiting forever to give Rex a piece of my mind.”

The other two giggled. Joy stared at them for a few moments. “He didn’t tell you anything did he?”
Maria burst out laughing. “As if he could say anything! No, he recorded every hour of his sparring session with you.”

Joy’s face scrunched up with anger. “What the hell?”

“Don’t worry, he only showed us the best parts.”

She banged the table, putting a dent in it. “That piece of shit! Remind me to bring a camera when I get to beat the snot out of him.”

Annie leaned back, stretching. “You might wanna be careful, else your next exercise might be scrubbing the entire cafeteria.”

Joy rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah, enough with the jokes. Was your training really as intense as the bullshit I had to go through, by the way?”

“I can’t say. Usually are training is specialized to what we’re best at. Mine was a good few months of bonding training.”
Joy raised an eyebrow.

“Oh right… Let me show you my partner in crime.” From her jacket she pulled a large holed container. She popped it open and held it up to Joy’s eyes, revealing a coiled up cobra.

“Really? That’s it?”

Annie closed the container and put it away. “Ever hear of the Clergy of Companionship?”

“That animal bonding god?”

She nodded. “When fighting a bunch of beasts that are completely powered on human blood, I thought having a companion who could turn their blood solid would be pretty handy.”

“So much for your lifespan. Isn’t your life bound to that cobras?”

Marie held up a hand. “Annie thought far ahead of that. She graduated in bioengineering, and I’m sure even someone like you can assume the rest.”

Joy raised an eyebrow. “So you have an immortal super cobra you can command?”

Annie laughed. “Not immortal, but certainly long living enough, and definitely super. Companion training was a month long camping trip from hell. They dropped me off in one of the forests outside the Flesh Abyss with an old tent and barely enough rations, and told me to survive.”

Joy stared bewildered for a few moments before shaking the expression off. “That sounds pretty tough. It’s probably better than being Simon’s pin-cushion.”

Annie laughed. “No really, what was your training?”

“Simon’s been giving me a crash course on combat training.” She stood up, pointing to numerous burns and scratches on her abdomen. “He’s also a big fan of using live ammunition as well.”

Marie gaped at the sight. “You’re bulletproof?”
She sat back down. “Hell yeah! Only downside is that it still stings like hell.”

Annie huffed. “Still, being trained by Simon himself… I’m telling you Joy, you’re extremely lucky.”

“You can say that again!” She stuck a fork into her plate and shoved food into her mouth.

She had finished her meal quickly and returned to her dorm. She hadn’t pondered what specifically she wanted to do for the day, but considering how the entire month went, only one thing was on her mind: More sleep. She crashed into her bed. It bent somewhat from the impact, and she soon drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately for her, it only lasted for what felt like minutes. The slamming of a door forced her awake from her slumber. She rubbed her eyes, turning to the source of the sound.

“People are trying to sleep here!” She paused as she realized Simon was standing in her door frame.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that was all it took to wake you up Joy.”

She slowly got up. “What’s that supposed to mean…”

“You’ll understand if you get sent out on any long-term mission. Speaking of which, today I have a perfect opportunity for your training, but it all depends on whether you want to take it or-”

“Hey, today’s my day off! Just let me rest for like, I dunno, a few more hours or something.”

“Perhaps you should wait to let me finish, because I know you’ll be interested. The most I can tell you is we’ve discovered a small warehouse run by the Demonic Cartel. Normally we’d have a regular squad clear it out, but it should be a good way for you to demonstrate the results of your training.”

She looked at him with a small twinkle of excitement in her eye. “So you’re just going to drop me in and let me crack some skulls?”

“Yes. I’ll be watching and providing support as well.”

She leapt out of bed. “You should have mentioned this sooner!”

Simon turned, beckoning her with his hand. “We’re heading there by aircraft. Grab whatever you need. Briefing will be done mid-flight.”


The VTOL aircraft was soaring through the sky as the sun still shined high up. It was somewhat different from the one Joy had initially arrived in, this one looking much more sleek, along with the cabin containing numerous computers and support crew. Joy, who had simply brought along a boot knife and earpiece along with her uniform, was strapped into a chair near the back. Simon sat across from her.

“Listen closely.” Simon crackled through her earpiece. “We still have a good while before arrival, so you’re going to get a crash course in special operations.”

She nodded, focusing on his mask.

“Normally the bulk of the Crusaders focus on fighting demons and distributors of demonic goods. Special operators are in charge of destroying the producers of these goods and demonic beings.”

“Sounds-”

“You’re going to say inefficient, but this country would be in a hell of a lot more trouble if we just sent any random Crusader to destroy these facilities. The producers know how to perform sacrifices to demonic lords. The spread of information is restricted to word of mouth already, and we don’t want to risk more susceptible ears to demonic temptations.”

“Shouldn’t it be common sense to you know, not sacrifice people to demons?”

“The desperate and maniacal don’t exactly follow common sense. If you want a good example, that warehouse you’re about to storm? We have good evidence that shows they’re producing a simple yet potent demon narcotic called Bliss. All it does is purge all negative thoughts and emotions and makes you feel happy. There’s no physical downsides to it either.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad?”
“There’s no such thing as ‘not too bad’ when dealing with something that requires human lives to produce Joy. That’s not even mentioning how mentally addictive the stuff even is. I could probably get hooked on the feeling it’s so potent.”

She grimaced. “So, just smash the place into an unrecognizable wreckage then?”

“One of three objectives. Kill every cartel member in there, destroy the facility completely, and rescue any potential captives. They can’t conjure live sacrifices out of nowhere.”

A grin spread across her face. “I have no objections to that at all!”

Several moments later, she felt the jet slow down, Simon standing up in response. Joy followed as a hatch in the back of the plane opened up. He walked right up to the hatch, slinging his strange rifle over he shoulder.

“We’re still a good mile from the warehouse, only thing you have to do is not alert anyone.”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Don’t want to spoil their surprise now!”
He pulled a lever, a small mechanism deploying a few cables down the hatch. “Let’s get going then, I’ll lead the way.” He clicked a small zipline onto the rope and leapt down the hatch. Joy followed, glancing down below. They were hovering over a collection of small offices and factories, stretching out as far as she could see. Noticing the ropes dropped into an alleyway, she opted to slide down the cable with her bare hands. She slid faster than anticipated, crashing onto the ground with a heavy thud. Simon came down behind her only a few seconds later.

“Don’t take your abilities for granted, you should know this by now.”
She turned to him, smiling. “Why did you think jumped down like this?”

“You better not be bullshitting me. Once more, stick behind me, and don’t make yourself apparent.”


The two spent several minutes navigating through the industrial sector. Plumes of smoke covered the sky, and the sound of heavy machinery resounded throughout the area. Each block was lined with dozens of factories and workshops, several forklifts and trucks moving between them in the streets. With everyone so busy with their work, they barely had time to notice the armored man and burly woman moving between buildings. The further they moved into the sector, the less activity they saw. By the time Simon halted, there were no trucks on the street, barely any voices to be heard. He crept forward through another alleyway, pointing at a warehouse across the street.

“Most of the warehouses around here have yet to be used, and that one right there was purchased months ago by a front company. With a bit of digging, we found out the front only existed in name. A few trucks leave here once every day, and we were able to confirm the production of Bliss right under our noses.”

Joy crossed her arms. “Well, what are you waiting for then? Let’s get to ripping this place apart!”
“Hold on. Before I unleash you, mind that you’ll be mostly on your own. I’ll provide informational support, but that’s it. For you, kill every last person in there, destroy all signs of cartel activity, and don’t cause any collateral damage to surrounding buildings. Understood?”

“I won’t make any promises on that last one, but for the rest, you can count me in!”

Simon took a grappling hook from his coat, quickly roping and climbing the building next to him. She waited with a giddy look on her face as he set himself up atop the roof, pointing his rifle at the warehouse. Staring through his scope, he flicked a switch on the side of his rifle, suddenly lighting up several human figures through the walls.

“I’m staring at what looks to be around twenty grunts, three people in the back caught up in a Bliss production ritual. No signs of civilian prisoners, they could be in the basement or out of my sight, so take care. Information seemed to be on our side, most of the guards here are armed with nothing greater than sub-machine guns, at least as far as I can tell. Looks like from the shape of it, maybe a few grunts with shotguns, so take care.”

She nodded to herself. “Nothing too worrisome, sounds like a piece of cake.”

“And don’t you even think about trying the front door. Bulletproof or not, last thing I want is to save your incapacitated ass from being captured.”

“Please, have a bit more faith! I got a good idea.”

She sprinted across the road, quickly nearing one of the warehouse walls.

“Can you see any objects through that fancy scope of yours?”
“Only the heat from humans. If you want to start with the least resistance, that wall you’re at is close to two grunts, the rest a good distance away.”

She smiled deviously. “Then time to put my plan into action.”

She grabbed her boot knife and jabbed it into the wall, pulling down and created a small cut in the wall. The guards behind flinched, turning to the noise. Through the cut, she stuck her fingers in, slowly expanding the hole. She tore out the sheet of metal wall, continuously pushing and ripping it out until she had made a hole in the wall she could easily walk through. She entered a small break room as the two grunts stared as the woman marched through her new doorway. She held up the chunk of metal she had torn from the wall.

“So, I hope you two are aware of the severity of your crimes. I’m going to give you an option: Turn ourselves into the Crusaders, or…”

Without breaking a sweat, she took the chunk of metal and crumpled it into a ball.

“I’ll do this to your skulls. You got five seconds.”
“Joy, what the fuck are you doing?”
The men stared at her feat only for a second before drawing their sub-machine guns and firing. She winced, flinching as the bullets peppered her body. They realized they had done nothing, and she smiled at them menacingly.

Artwork by sheepapp

“Looks like you’re going for option number two!” She chucked the ball of metal at the first guard, crashing into his head and killing him instantly. Before the second man could fire, she quickly jumped towards him, roundhouse kicking him in the head, sending him flying across the room, smashing into a wall.”

“Good job, you’ve likely just made the rest of them aware of your presence.”
“Hey, I still had this possibility planned out. Ending up in this room just makes it a bit easier.”
“Well think fast four grunts are checking out that noise.”

She stared around the break room. There was only a stove, refrigerator, and various other culinary appliances, alongside a table and chairs. Hearing footsteps rushing outside, she quickly grabbed the fridge, gripping into it like a giant battering ram.

“Just let me know when they’re outside Simon, I got a surprise for them.”

She stood in front of the door with the fridge in hands, waiting.

“There’s one in front, two to the sides, and one waiting in the distance to the far right.”

She threw the fridge forward, smashing through the door and crushing the poor grunt behind it. She dashed to the dorway for only a second before yanking the two grunts in by the necks, easily snapping both of them. Peeking outside of the doorway, she noticed that it lead directly into the main warehouse, where large semi-trucks were parked. The fridge she had thrown had embedded itself into the side of one of them, with the poor grunt sandwiched between. She noticed the grunt to the right, hiding behind the front of the semi, and she ducked back into her room. This time, yanking the counter from out of the wall, she forced it through the doorway. She pushed it to approach the distant grunt, hiding below it. The grunt fired out of panic at the approaching counter to no effect. Before he even realized the counter had stopped moving, she leaped over the counter, dealing a lethal kick to his chest. She quickly hid behind the front of the truck, peeking around both corners.

“No need to worry just yet, there’s no more around your area. The rest seem to be keeping their guns all pointed towards the front.”

She looked to the back of the warehouse, noticing a large wall separating it with only a small double doorway leading through it.

“Guess I gotta make a new door. Fourteen all back there watching the doors?”
“Correct.”

She hurried back out the doorway she made and pulled her knife out once more. She leapt high up, jabbing it into the wall. Using the small grip she made, she launched herself up, landing on the roof of the warehouse. When staring down, she had another idea.

“I think I got another good idea to hit two birds with one stone. Think you can fire a shot for me soon?”
“Not with that language.”

She sighed. “Permission to request a small amount of fire support?”
“Any reason?”

“Those trucks are bound to have some fuel barrels around. I have a good hunch that those Bliss rituals are behind there, so if we flame the place out, we can burn the grunts to a crisp and burn those rituals down.”

“Not bad Joy. It’s a good think you remember basic chemical reactions.”

She grunted, but smiled. Leaping off of the roof, she hurried back into the front of the warehouse. With minimal searching, she found a few barrels of fuel. She went back and forth from them, each time holding a barrel in one arm so she could still scale up to the roof. With a small stack of barrels now nearby, Simon guided her to right over where he located the ritual. She plunged her knife into the roof, and began tearing a hole into the roof. Though for a moment, she froze. Time seemed to slow down, all the grunts screaming at the new hole in the roof, as she noticed what the ritual was. In the center of a demonic sigil was a stake with a human body tied down to it. They looked completely sucked dry of blood and life, yet they still struggled and groaned against the ritual. Several tubes were connected to various arteries, all bleeding a gold-like substance into IV-bags.

“Joy! Respond, Joy!”
She flinched, retreating back. “Those rituals… There’s still live people in there! That’s where this Bliss comes from?”
“I told you, anything demonic comes off of the blood of other humans.”

“We can’t just kill them, can we?”

“Every ounce of their blood is already bliss. We remove them from the sigil, they die. You’ll be doing them a favor by putting them out of their misery.”

She froze for a few moments, staring blankly at the barrels of fuel.

“All right. Let’s burn everyone down there into a crisp, and I’ll personally deal with the rest.”

“Just make sure to drop one at a time on my mark.”

She carried the first barrel, dropping when Simon yelled “Mark.” As it dropped, she heard screaming for people to “hold their fire” below. Seconds before the barrel hit the ground, a crack resounded through the air, the barrel exploding into flames milliseconds later. Joy fell back, the fireball nearly bursting through her hole. She scrambled back to her feet, grabbing the next barrel and repeating the process. Three bursts of fire later, she stared down, seeing nothing left of the ritual site but a pile of ash. Rage burning in her eyes, she jumped through the hole, her landing kicking up clouds of ash. She felt gunfire hit her back. She turned around, seeing a badly burned man shooting her with a pistol. She walked over, ignoring his shots, kicking the gun from his hand and grabbing him by the throat.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve being involved with this shit.”

She gripped tighter, snapping his neck, and tossing him aside.

“Simon, how many left?”
“I can’t tell, all the fire has left my heat sight worthless. You’re on your own.”

She scanned the area, noticing several horribly burned and groaning grunts, several dead, many still on the verge of life. She walked over to another one until she heard a metal hatch clang open. She turned, noticing a large demonic beast walk from a hatch in the ground. It’s stature looked like a bouncer on every steroid known to man, its muscles almost looking like armor. It was followed by a final man, but instead of a grunt, it was a man whose left left arm was replaced by a terrifying, pulsing, demonic claw.

“Simon, there’s only two left. One Warden demon, another guy with some kind of biomorph instead of an arm.”

“You still know your mission. Put them both down.”

She charged immediately for the man, but the Warden demon quickly intercepted her, slamming its fist into her side and sending her flying into the wall. She grunted as she impacted it as the man shook his head. She leapt back to her feet, eyes locked on the man’s taunting expression. He gestured to one of he still struggling grunts, lying on the ground, and the warder walked over to it. Spikes protruded from its hand as it stabbed it into the man. He grew more and more shriveled as the muscles of the demon slowly darkened into a deep crimson. It turned to Joy, its bizarre human-like face locking eyes with her. Enraged, Joy lurched forward at the beast, throwing several hard punches to the beast’s abdomen. Every blow she threw felt like she was punching the thickest marble, but it’s skin reacted likewise, cracking which each blow. She sneered as the Warden swung down at her, her easily slipping around its blow and delivering a strong kick to its stomach, sending it sliding back. The biomorphed man watched, his smug expression slowly dying away as he saw the woman was slowly overcoming his warden. He held up his demonic arm, slowly forming it into something new as a red crystal surfaced at the palm of it. As the warden blocked the oncoming blows from Joy, it glanced back to its master for a few moments, before tackling Joy and pinning her to a wall. Her arms pinned to her side, she struggled for a few moments before breaking her arm free, and she wailed mercilessly at its head with her free arm. With a powerful blow, she knocked the demon’s head right off, sending it flying away, but the beast still held strong onto her. She glanced up, noticing the biomorphed man was holding his arm at her, it now glowing a bright red. She panicked, struggling and kicking as hard as she could at the stomach of the beast, until another crack rang throughout the air. The man staggered and fell, a bright red beam exploding from his arm and cutting effortlessly through the wall and beyond right next to Joy. Her earpiece crackled.

“Don’t be stunned or give me any thank you’s just yet, finish your mission first.”

A few more kicks and she felt her crack the stomach of the beast. Her final kick felt much softer as the thing lost its grip on her and fell back. She rushed forward, grabbing her knife and stabbing into the stomach. It flinched only for a few moments before it dissolved into dust. Hearing groaning still, she turned to the biomorph man, struggling on the ground with a shoulder. She put her boot on his chest, pinning him down.

“With a fancy biomorph like that, you’re probably the one in charge here?”

Panic took over as his face turned pale. He nodded furiously.

“In that case, I’m going to give you some good news: You’re not going to die today.”

He sighed. “Gods bless you miss, I swear I didn’t even want to be roped in this deep! I’ll serve all the jailtime you want me to, just don’t kill me!”

She stomped the shoulder of his biomorph arm, causing him to scream wildly. She took her knife out, and slowly cut it off.

“I didn’t say you’d get out of today unwounded. But I have a special request for you. Unless you want your head to go next.”
Amidst the screaming in pain, he spoke “Anything! Just anything!”
“Go to your each and every one of your superiors, bosses, I don’t care. Let them know that I am going to personally tear each and every one of them apart limb by limb.”

He nodded wide-eyed and furiously.

“Do yourself a favor also.” She tore off his shirt, tossing it back at him. “Use this to at least slow down the bleeding. I need you alive to deliver my message.”


Flames still burned as Joy dusted off the ash from her hands. The man had scurried away out of sight long ago, and she had just killed off the last of the grunts still crawling around. In the small hatch, she had discovered several civilians trapped in cells. To theirs and her enjoyment, she merely ripped off the doors to each cell, setting each one free.

“All right Simon, no survivors left, and civilians saved.”

“You sure? How about that man with the biomorph?”

“He managed to get away unfortunately. I was too busy trying to break free from that Warden.”

She heard a sigh over the radio. Hearing doors being kicked open, she whirled around to notice Simon walking in.

“That man you let run free? He was a local director. Arm torn off or not, he still remains a serious threat in the rituals he knows.”

“How did you-”
“And outright disobeying orders and lying to me Joy. Unacceptable!”

“Well, this is my own way of handling things, you know?”
Simon crossed his arms, looking down at her. “By letting the enemy with dangerous information escape?”

“How could you see all this shit they do to people on a daily basis, and NOT send a more direct message to them?”

“You think killing every last cartel member isn’t potent enough?”
“No. Those are just fodder, you aren’t scaring the higher ups enough to stop! And that’s what I did.”
“You… what?”

She smiled smugly. “He’s delivering a threat to his other superiors that I very well intend on following up on. When I begin to follow up, you can bet every single person who bothered to join these cartels will be shitting their pants and leaving.”

“Perhaps you don’t understand what ‘covert’ means Joy, but in my life, I’m willing to give you this one chance. Informing everyone about who you are isn’t going to work in your advantage you know. With the right mind and equipment, you’re going to be awfully easy to kill.”

“Then I have to work harder with you to outplay them. Ain’t anyone on the world like me.” She flexed her arm, showing off to him.

“There are a lot more people like you than you think Joy. But remember: You’re reaping what you’ve sown.”


Deep into the industrial housing of Romitum, the ex-biomorphed man scurried through the streets, still bleeding badly. Several eyes turned to him as he rushed with the last remnants of adrenaline pumping through his system. Finding a small corner to hide himself in, he dug his finger into his shoulder wound, groaning as he soaked his thumb with blood. Drawing a new sigil on the ground out of it, it slowly dissolved, and a voice spoke directly into his mind.

“What is it?”
“This is Gaston, I was in charge of Bliss production in the new warehouse at Romitum’s industrial district.”

“What is the issue?”
“How-… Nevermind. The entire warehouse is gone, destroyed. Though, I was spared.”
“Spared? Go on…”
“Most of the attack was carried out by a single woman. She was ridiculously strong, fistfought an armored Warden and won. She told me that she was going to find all of us, and tear us all piece from piece.”
“This woman… Her abilities sound familiar. Gaston, for this information, I can forgive you for the loss of the warehouse. Return to our headquarters immediately. We’re going to see if this woman is the person I’ve been looking for.”


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Tales from Congeria: Scott and Ferra 3

An analog clock buzzed, forcing Scott to lurch upwards. He groaned and rubbed his eyes, noticing the few extra blankets atop him. He turned, finding Ferra sitting at his desk, smiling at him.

“Glad to see you didn’t run away in the night.” He pushed the blankets off and stood up, revealing he was still wearing the same clothes from last night. He shuddered, staring at the small stove. “What, you trying to freeze me to death?” He turned it back on, walking towards one of the many file cabinets.

She huffed. “Well, it’d be even more of a mess if you knocked that over in your sleep. Just because I don’t live here doesn’t mean I’m totally oblivious to how that works.”

He pulled a new change of clothes out of one of the cabinets. “It’s electric, and there’s nothing really flammable around. Not sure if you can feel it, but it gets pretty damn cold in here overnight. Now do me a favor and turn away.”

She turned towards the computer monitor for a few minutes.

“All right, you can look back now. Anyways, did you find anything last night?” He walked over to the fridge, opening it up and grabbing a carton of milk.

She looked back, finding him in a new change of similar looking clothes. “Oh yeah, plenty.” She turned back to the computer, sat down, and boot it up. She brought up a large list of jobs. “Apparently lots of people need help. Like here from the Hajji Caves-”

“Are you defective? You really think I’m going to head down there?

She scrunched her face in confusion. “Well, mind explaining?”

“Did you even do research on what these places are?”

“I only looked for jobs, like what you said.”

He groaned. “Out of the way, lemme see what you found…”

She moved out of the way as he leaned over the desk, scrolling through the large list of jobs. “Half of these would probably get us killed on the way there… Sheesh, how did you even pick these?”
She shrugged. “Based on how well I could handle them. I mean, I didn’t take your skills into account, so maybe only you would die on the way there?”

He glared at her. “I’d take that as a threat if you didn’t have the perfect opportunity to kill me last night.” He turned back to the screen, continuing to scroll through the list.

“Ah, here we are. See, just need some night watchmen out in… The Fractured Cities, perfect.”

“What makes that so much easier?”

“Well since you’re too dense to do any research, the Fractured Cities are close, and the only real threats out there are drug-addled maniacs who can’t aim for the life of them.”

She crossed her arms. “Think you can give me a better explanation?”

“You’ll understand what I mean when we get there. Anyways, can you navigate out here?”

“It shouldn’t be too hard, why?”

“Get memorizing and planning. It’s going to be one hell of a trip out there.”

A ding reverberated through the room as he hurried to the other side, pouring himself a cup of coffee. While sipping from the cup, he opened up a different cabinet, revealing a small arsenal of guns and ammo.

“Take as much ammo as you need, and store it… Inside of you or whatever, just out of sight. I’m going to pack my other necessities.”


After packing a duffelbag full of clothes, his stove, and a few easy-heat meals, the duo finally left the office. Ferra dashed ahead with a longer bag slung over her shoulder. Before leaving the building, Scott tacked a short message about how he’s “Out on vacation” to the front desk. Ferra bounded out of the door over to Scott’s transport and stood near the passenger’s door.

“Do you remember what I said about that? It’s government owned. If I start using it for freelance work, they’re going to find and fine me.”

She paused. “Wait, how are we going to get to the job? If we move by foot, it’ll take almost a day!”

“We’re going to walk, take the subway to the edge of the city, and buy a cheap jeep or something. You still have lots of cash, right?”

She flinched, bearing shock on her face. “First, won’t anyone recognize I’m an android or something? Second, what’s a subway? Third, what does my money have to do with anything?”
“You look decently human enough in the face, so it’ll do. Not like people would want to risk reporting what could be an armored human and get sued in response.” He chuckled. “And for the money, we just need to buy a jeep. I’m rather broke, so hopefully you don’t mind footing the bill.”

“This was never a part of the deal…” She pouted.

“Well not like you have a use for that money, right?”

She stared, trying to think of a response.
“I can get more mileage out of it anyways. Now just stick close to me so you don’t get swept up in any crowds.”

The two walked further and further from the old government building, encountering more people on the streets. Ferra stared at everyone nervously, but each simply stared at her for a few moments before continuing to walk past her. If she had a heart, she’d certainly feel it in her throat. Instead every line of code in her AI model screamed at her to find some large coat and hide every mechanical-looking part of her body. She instead shifted her focus to the cityscape itself. Now, dozens of cars were zooming on by the streets, the buildings stretched taller and taller into the skies. Multiple small shops were crammed between the larger apartment buildings, several roads and crosswalks stretching far into the distance. Just above the skyline, plumes of smoke puffed into the sky. The two walked past several more shops, sights, parks, and people until they arrived at a stairway in the sidewalk. Scott soon lead her down into an underground tunnel, where several people were cramped onto a small platform. She moved closer to him.

“So uh, no more walking?”

He turned noticing how she was hugging him.

“Settle down, you’re acting like a child. And yes, no more walking. Just riding the train till we get to the edge of the city.”

“Whats the-”

She lurched back, letting go of Scott, as metal shrieking filled the air. A large vehicle moved in front of the platform, literally screeching to a stop. The doors on it opened, and the crowds moved into it.

“Let’s get going, because it’s going to be a while.

The two stepped into it, Scott grabbing onto a handrail.

“Hey, what’s that?”

“Unless you can fight the train’s speed, I suggest you hold onto one of these.”

The doors to the train closed, and the vehicle lurched forward, knocking Ferra to the ground. Everyone stared at her for a few moments. She scrambled back to her feet, grabbing onto a nearby pole. As the train started to leave the station, she leaned near Scott.

“You don’t think they suspect me, do you?”

“They probably suspect you’re dysfunctional.”

She huffed.

The train moved from stop to stop, and soon Ferra and Scott were able to sit down. Ferra watched as at every stop, numerous people got on and off, the train never really getting any emptier between stops. She noticed how every new group of people had some sort of pattern to it. Some were dirty wearing overalls or other sturdy work clothes, others still in simple uniforms, and others in fancy looking suits. Hours later of riding, Scott finally stood up.

“Get ready to get off, our stop is up next.”

She followed, grabbing ahold of the railing. The train screeched to a halt, and she followed.

Her eyes adjusted quickly to the sunlight, now noticing how wildly different the surroundings were. No longer did skyscrapers and great buildings dominate the landscape, but instead several small shops. Just beyond the shops were lines of small homes, some that reminded her of the housing from the Radi Desert. The streets were also less populated, with more people walking on the sidewalk instead. The only thing dominating the skyline in the distance was a massive wall. Scott began walking towards it.

“This way, let’s pick up the pace.”

Passing by several neighborhoods, the two arrived at the only advanced looking building in the midst of all the simple homes: A massive box-shaped building plugged into the wall, with a few roads running through it and guards watching from atop it. Ferra groaned.

“Customs again, seriously?”
“Hey look, something we can both relate to!” He chuckled. “But thankfully, no. Whoever runs the council cares more about keeping threats out than keeping people in.”

“By the way, since you mentioned them, who runs this council stuff?”

He kept walking as he shrugged. “Some elected officials, I don’t give a damn about them really. They’re just focused on keeping every threat to humanity out of city walls, so I guess they’re doing their jobs.”

“So I just need to convince them Axios is a threat, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Good luck actually getting an audience with them.”

“I appreciate it!”

The two entered the building and walked past a tunnel, Ferra noticing how many cars were stuck in line waiting to get in. Most of the cars were old and banged up, some being pickups with several pieces of furniture strapped in the back. The car in the front was being thoroughly investigated by heavily armored soldiers with an array of devices. The two stopped at a heavy metal door. Moments later, it hissed, several mechanical locks undoing themselves, and the door opened into another metal chamber. They both walked in, the door sealing behind them shortly after they entered. More hissing started up, and a door in front of them opened up, revealing a vast landscape of grass, trees, and tents. Several trucks, old patchy tents, or small houses of wood were set up near the wall and roads. Even more poorly dressed people stood outside their ramshackle homes, cooking or feeding bizarre meats or canned goods. It was as if the neighborhood had continued out of the wall, except of a much lower quality. Scott looked around as Ferra stared at the display. He caught sight of a building set up not too far from the settlement.

“Over here Ferra, get that cash ready.”

“Hold on.” She grabbed him by the arm. “Is this all custom’s fault?”

He stared at the settlement solemnly for a few moments. “It’s a big mix of faults why they’re all stuck there, that’s the most I can say.”

“Well why can’t they all just be let in?”

“Remember what I said about the Council wanting to keep threats out of city walls? And what I mentioned about less than ethical people wanting to bring those threats in yesterday? Those types of people can easily intermingle with crowds simply looking for a better life.  If we can weed out those awful cultists instead of letting them in en masse, we’ll be stopping horrers from entering. Even if the bureaucratic process takes an eternity.”

“You sure know a lot about all this stuff.”

He smirked. “It was once my job, remember?”

The two walked alongside the settlement to a building where a few other people were parked outside. Ferra noticed how some of the more poor looking people handing over keys for cash. As the two entered the building, it was rather clean, one area with a counter leading to a car garage, and another area leading to a small store chock full of canned foods. Scott walked to the counter near the garage, and Ferra followed.

“So, you have some small off-road vehicles available, right?”

The man behind the desk nodded. “How far do you plan on trekking?”

“Something that can get us to and from the fractured cities.”

“I can get you something used for nice and cheap at-”

He slammed his hand on the counter. “I said I want to get back from the cities. I want something in good condition, and I can pay. Right Ferra?”


The jeep was a nice change of pace for Ferra, compared to being cuffed to metal railing in the back of a truck. It was open-topped, but spacious enough in the back to hold Scott’s bags, along with a few cans of gas. Feeling the wind blow through her hair at this speed was both new and enjoyable. He had driven past numerous forested areas through the roads, and had just turned offroad down a dirt path. Soon the green grass grew greener as they passed by small villages completely overrun by plant life. They were stone houses untended, but Ferra still noticed some people living in them. Very soon, she saw crumbling tall buildings in the distance. Soon she realized they were coming up upon an entire decrepit city.

“All right Ferra, your turn to navigate.”

She flinched. “Oh yeah, uh… right. The job said the place we needed to guard was at a hospital. I didn’t expect to have to navigate through this though…”

“Just point the way and I’ll try and find a way around.”

The duo drove through the ruins of the city. Several buildings, ranging from home-sized to a quarter as tall as the skyscrapers, lined the streets, every single one bearing years of neglect. Sometimes their faces were missing, no windows were in place, chunks were collapsed on the road. Still, she managed to catch glimpses of people still living in the ruins, or perhaps hiding. As she continued to direct Scott, they arrived at what Ferra could only imagine to have been the square of this city. There were makeshift farms set up where fountains and plazas once were, surrounded by barbed wire and watched by dirty men holding rifles. They glared at the vehicle as Scott took care to drive far around them. Further down the roads, a large amount of bags full of garbage were piled up ahead. He screeched to a halt, and punched the steering wheel.

“Well shit. Ferra?” He reached into his duffelbag and pulled out her pistol, tossing it to her.
“Keep your finger on the trigger, and watch the rooftops.” He pointed at one of the only intact buildings near the street. “This reeks of a trap.”

“Wait, trap?”

Slinging a shotgun over his back, He hopped out of the car and walked up to the garbage. Kicking at the bag, he felt it was full of sand. He sighed. “Well, that’ll save me some effort.” He began walking back until he glared at the building, noticing a few skeevy men exiting, approaching him with pistols. One of them spoke up.

“All right, we can remove this block for you, but only if-”

He whipped the shotgun over his shoulder and quickly shot one of the men. The other gasped, and fled back to the building. He fired another shot, killing him as well.

“Waste of fuckin ammo.”

Suddenly a bullet struck the concrete near him and he flinched, turning to its origin. Another person with a rifle was pulling back the bolt.

“Ferra, what the fuck?”
He sprinted and dove behind the sandbags. She flinched, and aimed her pistol at the and took aim. She fired, striking the sniper as he fell off the building. Scott peeked over the bags for a few moment, before storming back to the jeep.

“Are you just trying to find the most creative way to kill me or what?”

“I’m sorry just… “ She looked down, reloading the gun. “There could have been a better way to resolve this, right?”

He looked at her dumbfounded for a few moments. “Do you have some misplaced circuits, or what?”

“This isn’t my first time dealing with thugs, you know. Back at the Radi Desert, there were a few people who made threats, but I saw how others were able to straighten them out or throw them in jail. These are the same people that we saw waiting outside of the walls, right?”

“Not even close. Those people are making an effort to try and find a better life. These thugs? Fuck em. The last thing people need in a hellscape like this is more threats in the streets.”

“They could be reformed however, right?”

He laughed. “I’m sorry, when did you get a criminal psychology degree?”

“A what?”

“Look, I’ve done my fair share of research on the Radi desert. It’s a bit easier to keep crime in check because the wildlife and elements are both at odds with you all. You mentioned you fought a demon before, I’m assuming there were cultists with that beast?”

She nodded.
“Well out here, those cultists fuckers are everywhere, trying to make easy prey of the desperate. When nature is actively trying to kill you, it becomes incredibly easy to form bonds with others. Romitum is a prime example of that. Unfortunately for here, there’s little nature trying to kill you. There’s only other men. It’s prime picking grounds for cultists and petty thugs alike.”

“So if this place disappeared, Romitum would cease to work?”

He glared at her. “Just think on what I said a bit more, right? I thought computers were supposed to run faster than human brains.”

He drove effortlessly over the sandbags as she continued to ponder.


Soon after, the duo pulled through a makeshift walling, they pulled into the lot of the hospital. It was a large multi-building campus, with a small police station contained within the walls. Most of the lot was free of debris, and the building itself still retained most of its windows, several wooden planks boarding up broken ones. A large satellite dish was propped on the very top of the building. There were several people walking happily around the lot, chatting or working on various chores. Ferra smiled at the sight as Scott turned off the engine. The people around stared for a few moments at the newcomers before resuming their works.

The inside of the hospital was surprisingly well-kept considering the surrounding buildings. There was still proper lighting, and even some people working to clean the halls. Scott asked one of them about the guard job, and they told him to head near the top floor where the mayor was. Walking through the building, Ferra noticed that many of the rooms had been converted to small living spaces where small groups of two or three people lived together. Even more interestingly was how large spaces were cleared out for hydroponics farms as well. She could only imagine how this place once looked before it was converted into a town. Near the top floor, the mayor’s office was easy to find. Most of the rooms were set up like churches, with three large archstones all placed at different ends of the room. One bearing the sigil of the Caduceus, another bearing the sigil of the Divine Judge, and the last bearing the sigil of the Guardian Angel.

“Gods even reach out here, huh?” Scott thought out loud.

Ferra cocked her head. “Gods?”

He turned to her. “You never seen an archstone before? Long story short, they’re basically how gods communicate with us and get new followers and all that. I’m just more surprised followers managed to transport them out to this hellhole.”

The office itself was just as frugal as the rest of the building, the only special device of note a computer. The mayor sat in a chair behind his desk, and he smiled as them both.

“Thank you for coming all the way out here mister…”

“I’m Scott. What are the details for the job?”

“RIght to the point now, hm?” He leaned back in his chair. “We’ve been having quite a few issues as of late. Normally we can keep out most of the trouble, but a small yet powerful group of cultists come back nightly to perform raids. They kidnap-”

“So you just need us to shoot a few dirty cultists, right? Sounds simple enough. What’s the pay?”
Ferra grimaced at him, before pushing him back. “Let me handle this, you’re being too rude!”

He scoffed. “I don’t need no bot to lecture me on manners…” he muttered under his breath.

“I’m an expert in dealing with cultists and even killed a demon or two in my time, and my partner here is a crack shot too. I promise, we can keep your town safe.”

He sighed. “Thank the gods! I had made several requests to the crusaders, and I thought they’d never respond!”

She rubbed the back of her head. “Yeah, uh, I don’t know who they are. I’ve just killed them in my time.”

His joyous expression turned stern. “Ah, yes then. Still, it’s good to know you have experience. Do you have anything in particular you want as payment? I’m sure we can find something.”

Scott pushed Ferra aside. “We need cash. Is that simple enough?”

He tapped his chin. “I suppose so. Does one grand sound fine?”

“We’ll take it.”

He held up his finger. “Not just yet. My only terms are that for the next three nights, you make sure no citizen is kidnapped or killed. Then you will be payed.”

Scott crossed his arms. “Sounds reasonable enough. Come on Ferra, let’s get set up.”

He left the office, and Ferra waved with a smile to the mayor.


The moon began to rise as Scott and Ferra sat atop the roof of the hospital. Off in the distance, several small lights were dotted among the wastes, the hospital’s lights shining the brightest. Scott had grabbed a chair from down below and sat with a rifle and radio in his lap, and Ferra was staring over the edge of the building. Thanks to her robotic eyesight, she could still see through the darkness, watching with literal machine-like focus. Though even still, hours into her watch, she spoke up.

“What exactly happened here Scott?”

He lurched forward from the chair, shaking the sleep from his eyes.

“What?”

“The cities. Why did the cities end up like this?”

She still stared over the edge as she spoke.

“Guess it wouldn’t hurt to kill some time. As long as you’re focused. You know where demons come from?”

“No?”
“They’re birthed from Hell. If you join some fucked up cult, you can learn how to summon them through sacrifice, but end up being hated by everyone.”
“Yeah I know that, what does that have to do? Did somebody summon a bunch of demons and ruin the place?”

“Worse actually. Remember that army of demons I mentioned? Historians say some cultists actually found a ritual to create a portal directly to hell. They flooded the place and well… You’re looking at the result.”

“That one that I fought before took quite a beating… I don’t think I want to imagine what it’d be like with so many more roaming freely.”

He leaned back. “That’s right. Humanity was nearly wiped out, and so was android-kind as well.”

She lost her focus on searching for a few moments. “Excuse me, you let what happen?”

“Perhaps you don’t understand this, but demons get stronger after every human they eat. So androids were drafted en masse as our vanguard.”

“It makes sense that they’d want to leave humans then.”

He laughed. “Well, too bad you all had a terrible lack of foresight in establishing your own dictator.”

“I’m still going to fix that mistake, I swear!”

He chuckled and let out a yawn. “Yeah yeah, let’s just make the money first, all right?”

“Why do people even live out here anyways? There’s gotta be better way to make money in Romitum, right?”

“I can tell you this from experience: Sometimes, it’s worth giving up that security for a feeling of independence. You saw how slowly they run customs. How slow do you think they run the rest of things in the city?”

“Well those trains are pretty fast…”

“If I knew how to repair you, I wouldn’t be out here looking for bounties you know.”

“Hold on-” She drew her pistol. “Those things don’t look natural at all. I got around five… no ten! Ten armed men with 4 strange looking beasts alongside them!”

Scott shot up from his seat, grabbing the radio. “We’ve spotted them. Flood the place with light!”