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Natural Disasters

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Would all students please report to the auditorium for an assembly during third period. Thank you.” Slimovitz's voice crackled over the intercom. Randy stared at the speaker in confusion.

“That's weird. Usually we know ahead of time when there are assemblies.”

“Who cares, Now we don't have to go to gym class and try to survive whatever insane “sport” Green's cooked up for today.” Howard extended his hand for a fist bump. Randy sat for a moment before smiling and returning the gesture. No need to be paranoid. These things happen from time to time I guess.

The bell rang and students poured out of classrooms into the halls. Randy and Howard strode casually towards the gym, reveling in the cancellation of their most dangerous class of the day. On the stage sat a strange glass box, like a magician's prop. The front panel hung open with a handle only on the inside. It was strange, but no one cared enough to seriously question it. Slowly the large hall filled with students. Finally it seemed the entire student body had gathered.

The doors slammed shut followed by the sound of bolts sliding home. A robotic voice echoed throughout the gym.

“THIS IS A HOSTAGE SITUATION. I HAVE ATTACHED POISONOUS GAS EMMITERS TO ALL THE AIR DUCTS LEADING TO THIS BUILDING. THAT SAME POISON WILL BE RELEASED IN THE BOX ON STAGE WHEN THE DOOR CLOSES. THERE'S A THERMAL SENSOR IN THE BOX AND IF YOU TRY TO WEASLE OUT OF THIS THE GAS WILL AUTOMATICALLY RELEASE INTO THE AUDITORIUM. IT'S YOU OR THEM NINJA. YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES.”

Howard turned to his friend who had frozen, his face drained of all color. He grabbed Randy's shoulders and shook him hard.

“Hey space cadet, snap out of it.” The spell broke and words gushed from his mouth.

“He can't be serious! This is insane! This is too far even for McFist! He's ready to kill off the entire school!” Howard shook him again.

“Stop panicking. Just shloop into your book and figure out how to fix this. We've been in worse situations.” Randy closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Right. Sorry,” Screaming, crying, denials began to fill the room. “Keep them calm. We don't need stank on top of this.” He pushed through the crowd to an empty section of wall. In an instant he was tumbling through a world of parchment and ink.


“Oh yeah thanks, great advice. I'll just sing them a lullaby.” Howard looked around for something, anything that could calm the panicked students.

“Howard!” Of course. He turned to face his sister where she had pushed through the pandemonium.

“Heidi, you need to help me run interference.” His eyes fell on a stray table at the back of the room. Perfect. He grabbed his sister's wrist and quickly pushed through the crowd.

“What? Howard what are you doing?” Reaching his destination he turned back to meet her eyes with a dead serious expression.

“I promise I'll explain later but right now there's no time. I need you to help me calm these people. They'll listen to you.” A thin tendril of green smoke caught his eye creeping out from an air duct. He jumped onto the table and stood before the madness. “EVERYONE CALM DOWN. I KNOW YOU'RE SCARED BUT SCREAMING LIKE A BUNCH OF BABIES ISN'T GONNA SOLVE ANYTHING.”

Heidi stepped up next to him. “Um, hey guys, it's Heidi Weinerman. This situation is pretty frightening but the ninja will save us. He always saves us. And in the meantime panicking isn't going to help. We need to band together to get through this.” The deafening sound shrank to a soft murmur. Heidi looked out at the students in amazement.

“Right, well then, has anyone called 911 yet?” She cast around the room looking for anyone who would cooperate.

“I tried,” Morgan stepped out of the crowd close the makeshift podium, her voice still set solidly in her signature bored tone. “The signal's out. They probably jammed it.”

“Um, okay.” She searched for anything else to say but with every passing second the true scope of their situation became harder and harder to ignore. The voices again grew louder and more distressed. From somewhere in the middle of the mass a shrill cry arose.

“Where is the ninja? We're all gonna die!” The room echoed with cries and curses.

“No, we're not going to die. We're all going to be okay. Please, listen to me-”


 “Okay nomicon there's mass panic going on out there and we have a slight death threat situation. Please don't give me a riddle just this once.” The world rushed up around him A large scroll appeared in the sky, unrolling just before his feet.

 

A ninja must not fear death

 

Randy stared at the words without comprehension.

“You can't be serious nomicon. I just lay down and accept this?” The empty air gave no response. “McFist pulls a particularly intimidating scheme and I comply?” He shouted to the sky. “Who's gonna protect them then from the sorcerer. They'll be sitting ducks. And you're telling me to just walk to my death? That's so messed up!”

More ink swirled into words. Three lessons circled him slowly.

 

A ninja must never endanger the innocent, but he must always defend the defenseless

 

A ninja must know when winning is losing and losing is winning

 

A hero sacrifices all to save the day

 

“I know nomicon but...this doesn't make sense. How can I protect them if I'm dead?” A terrible realization struck him, his face fell into a mask of despair. “If I don't do anything I'll die anyways, and so will they. If there's really no way to stop the gas then-”

The words on the scroll faded, replaced by images of the auditorium. No word could describe it better than sheer chaos. The room was filled with a calamity of voices, some screaming, some crying. Howard and Heidi stood on a table at the back of the room attempting to restore some degree of order. A green haze was drifting down from the vents. Despite the hysteria he could pick out every one of his classmate's terrified faces. It filled him with rage. How dare McFist do this to them. Randy averted his gaze from the scroll, unable to watch any longer.

“You're sure, nomicon?” He asked darkly, his voice heavy with the weight of responsibilities much too big for a 14 year old boy. “You're sure there's no other way to save them?” Water rushed up to the plateau he stood on, a boat appearing close to where he stood.

“Alright.” He walked quickly to the boat and sat down. The water rose up in great waves and pulled him under.


 Randy gave a small yelp as he returned to his own head. Somehow Howard had managed to at least quiet the crowd. He looked up slowly, taking in the panicked faces of his classmates. He didn't notice he was shaking until he tried to stand. Why? I face monsters and robots every day. I outran the sorcerer. I jumped with the sorceress into the land of shadows. Why am I shaking now?

Something was different. Looking around the room again he found the same feeling on everyone's faces. When a robot attacks you can run, fight, figure some way out of it. Here and now there was only one terrible option. They were all trapped with a countdown running out the last minutes of their lives.

“Cunningham!” He turned towards where Howard and Heidi stood a few yards away.

“You got a plan or what?” His heart sank looking at the stubborn determination in Howard's eyes. He believed in the ninja completely, and the ninja had never let him down. In that moment he found his courage, the feeling of invincibility he had in every fight, supported by one thought echoing in his head. I will not let you die.

“Yeah,” Randy tried to keep his voice steady.

“Well care to share with the rest of us?” An argument somewhere in the crowd caught Howard's attention and he turned to regain control. It was the opportunity Randy needed. He turned without a hint of hesitation and began moving through the crowd towards the stage. I will not let Howard die. I will not let any of them die. With every step the stage seemed farther away, every foot felt like an eternity.

“Cunningham? Where'd you go?” Howard called through the room. The students around Randy turned to stare at him, noticing his presence for the first time. Silence fell as all eyes turned to track his movement. No one even seemed to breathe in that moment. His foot hit the ground, shifting his body forward a few inches. The silence shattered.

“CUNNINGHAM!” His pace quickened, his head down as he prayed Howard would lose sight of him, though he knew it was in vain. The crowd parted like the red sea, the space around him growing. Howard couldn't be far behind but he didn't dare look back.

“CUNNINGHAM STOP!” His foot met the first stair. I won't let you die. He took the stairs two at a time, now almost running. He reached the top and didn't break pace for the last few steps before he slammed to a halt. The empty clear box stood before him, door open to invite him in. He tried to step forward but his body wouldn't respond. The scene was so unreal. It felt like a page from a horror story and part of him was sure he would wake up screaming any minute. But a bigger part of him knew that this was all real, that the clock was ticking and he had to take the last step. I won't-

A hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. Randy crashed back down to reality just in time to see Howard's fist collide with his face. He sent Randy flying several feet before hitting the ground. Howard always had a deadly punch but how he seemed superhuman, his actions fueled by anger, betrayal, hurt, fear. Before Randy could reorient himself Howard was on top of him pinning him to the floor.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CAN'T JUST GIVE IN LIKE THAT. YOU CAN'T SACRIFICE YOURSELF FOR US. I ALMOST LOST YOU LIKE THIS ONCE BEFORE AND IT WON'T HAPPEN AGAIN.” Randy looked up into the face of his longest friend. His face was twisted in a mix of anger and sadness and his whole body shook with the gravity of the situation. Randy stared back with a blank face, concealing all of the feelings stirring beneath his skin, he pulled up his bravery once again. I will not let you die.

“Howard, get off of me.” He spoke in a monotone but the command carried all the authority he exercised as the ninja. Howard grimaced, anger taking over everything.

“YOU'LL HAVE TO KILL ME.” Howard pushed down harder on his friend's shoulders. “THERE HAS TO BE ANOTHER WAY. THERE'S ALWAYS ANOTHER WAY.” Howard shouted to the silent auditorium. None of the other students dared make a sound. Randy stuffed down every bad pun, every reassuring joke, anything he could possibly say to stop the agony in his friend's eyes. He kept up the act, knowing if he gave in to any of it he would crumble.

“I'm sorry Howard.” With practiced speed he snatched the mask frominside his jacket and pulled it over his head. Howard screamed denials as the red and black ribbons snapped into place. Randy wasted no time. He pulled out a sai and twisted to flip Howard onto his back, Randy straddling his stomach. He slammed the weapon into the stage and through Howard's jacket. He jumped up and in an instant he was closing the door to his cage.

Electronic locks clicked into place and a low hiss filled the tomb. Randy fell to his knees as he finally let every emotion he had held back crash down onto him. Through tear blurred eyes he watched Howard rip the sai from the stage and run to where he sat. He screamed endlessly but Randy could hear nothing but the gas. Figures Viceroy made it soundproof. Howard stabbed at the glass with the sai to no avail.

Randy felt the ground shift under him as dizziness started to set in. His shoulder hit the side of the box as his strength left him. Black circles danced before his eyes as Howard pounded on the glass. Almost unconsciously Randy raised his hand to the glass in a parting gesture before his his vision blacked out and consciousness started to slip away. In the dark silence of his mind he spoke the message he couldn't give Howard before the end.

Live. Live for me.

 

Chapter Text

The entire auditorium stood frozen as they watched Howard scream at his best friend through the glass. Randy had not moved in several seconds, though it felt like years. Howard kept pounding on the glass, stabbing it with the abandoned sai, begging his best friend to move, blink, anything.

As time stretched on the reality of the past few minutes settled into the minds of the students of Norrisville high. The ninja was dead. Randy Cunningham was dead. They could no longer pretend the ninja was some higher being, a guardian angel. He was just a boy and he could bleed and die. And despite that he had defended them every day, risked his life for people who didn't think twice about him. He brushed off the beatings with a smile and a bad joke. But this time there would be no jokes and no smokebombs.

Slowly the paralysis melted away from the crowd. Fists unclenched. Thoughts restarted. Particularly brave students took a deep breath. The less courageous began to tremble. Howard's voice cracked as his screams died down to haggard sobs, his pounding slowed to the occasional faint thud. Heidi Weinerman s hifted uncomfortably where she stood, her mind twisting in a million different directions. Her brother was turning to pieces in front of the whole school. He just lost his best friend, his brother, the one person he cared about more than anything. He had witnessed the end of both their lives at point blank range. She wanted to run to his side and comfort him like a big sister should but she knew she had no right. Regret ran cold through her veins, thinking back on how little she knew this boy who had been part of her life since he was born. Who was with her little brother through thick and thin. Who was nearly family. Who had died for her. The ninja was dead. The undeniable thought echoed in her head along with one desperate question. How could this happen? 

How could the triumph of evil have been so swift and silent after 800 years? What terrifying things would come for them now that their warrior was gone? Every student crowded into the stagnant auditorium clung to denial, but every second the black clad boy remained motionless was a blow to their fragile hope.  Howard's weak protests finally faded out to quiet sobbing. Heidi stared in pity at her brother, looking utterly defeated in his personal hell. She took a hesitant step forward, then another. Slowly she made her way through the lifeless crowd towards the stage. She stopped short at the bottom of the stairs, unsure of what to do now. A dull metallic screech echoed through the room. No one even blinked. The locked doors had been replaced by a much more terrifying cage. Howard slowly drew himself up and turned to the gaping crowd with tears sparkling in his eyes. The green wisps lingered poised to strike when the fragile calm shattered.

“Get out,” His voice shaky and hollow. No one moved. Howard took a deep breath.

“He did this to save you. Don't you dare let it be for nothing. Get out. Get as far away from this damned school as possible. Leave the city. The country. Take everyone you care about and run.” His voice was weak but echoed clearly through the dead silent hall. The student body stared in amazement at the resolve of the boy before them. The sight of the fiercely sarcastic boy openly crying was shocking in itself, but the fact that despite his pain he could stand and give the orders his best friend could not stunned the crowd.

“GO. NOW.”

The room exploded in a flash of light and sound as a cruel metal claw burst through the ceiling above the stage. Large chunks of metal and concrete crashed to the floor. A mangled metal rod knocked Howard to the ground as the claw swung down to snatch the glass cage and rip it into the sky.

“NO,” Howard screamed. He shoved the twisted pole to the side and ran to where the box had been, looking up just in time to see a familiar hovercraft swallow the box and fly away.


 

The spell was broken. Students screamed and ran for the exits. In less than a second the room dissolved into chaos, but the green haze ignored them. Instead it converged in a fantastic blast on the greatest source of misery in the school. Howard's body contorted with the force of the possession.

“Howard!” Heidi shrieked and ran to where her brother was now shaking on the ground. She reached out for him and recoiled as her hand met thick wiry fur. He turned to look at her, one eye yellow and bulging.

“Heidi,” He choked, straining against the transformation. “There's a picture by my bed. You have to destroy it.” He cried out and curled inward as his body lengthened and ears emerged from his head.

“What?”

“It's the only thing that will change me back. You have to stop me before I hurt any-” His strangled pleading faded into a shrill feral whining as the spell finally swallowed him. Heidi staggered back from the huge orange wolf that stood almost twice her height. He barred sharp fangs and let out a low growl. She jumped as a loud crash rocked through the floorboards. His bulbous tail was sleek and solid and decorated with spikes, and had just put an impressive hole in the stage. Only the fluffy poof of orange hair atop the beast's head marked him as her brother.

Before her mind could fully react her legs were carrying her out of the building and across the parking lot at a neck breaking pace. She nearly slammed into her car and stood trembling, fumbling in her bag for her keys. A thundering crash sounded behind her but she didn't dare turn to look. Her fingers brushed jagged metal and she yanked them from her bag. She frantically unlocked the door and jammed the key into the ignition.Under different circumstances she would be appalled by her own reckless driving, but these were not different circumstances. She flew like a bat out of hell from the school. Whether from urgency or fear she didn't know.


The drive to her house was surreal. Barely two blocks from the school the fallout was completely invisible. People went about their business completely unaware that the world was crashing down around their ears. A man loaded groceries into his car. A mother nursed her son's skinned knee. Children played merrily in the park.

Heidi slammed on the breaks as the light ahead of her turned red. She took a deep breath and tried to get a hold of herself. In the back of her mind she knew it was futile but at least it was something to focus on. She glanced in her rear view mirror, sure at any moment she would see an orange wolf careening towards her, but only the painfully normal street stared back at her. The stillness picked at her nerves. Her fingers tapped out a chaotic rhythm on the steering wheel. The horrible calm around her threatened to drive her insane.The light changed and she stomped on the gas, relieved that she could once again pretend the tremors rocking through her came from the movement of the car.

The streets felt longer than she remembered.She tried to find something else to focus on, anything but the day's events, but every stray thought was cut down by her racing heartbeat. The sound of her pulse resonated through every fiber of her being and became a sick droning tempo to back light the utter madness her life had become. Heavy thoughts spun in her mind. It had taken less than five minutes. Five minutes ago she was talking with her friends. Five minutes ago she was idly planning her next gossip report. Five minutes ago everything was normal and safe. In less than five minutes her safe little corner of the world had become a war zone and not a single person she passed knew it. Tears threatened to blur her vision but she swallowed them down. There would be time for tears later. Right now it was time for action.

She finally reached the driveway and rocketed from the car to the front door. She jammed the key into the lock so hard she thought it might break off but the door swung open mercifully. In an instant she was nearly falling down the stairs to the basement. She wrenched the door open and stumbled in, looking frantically around until she spotted a small frame on Howard's desk. She stopped dead. In it was a picture of Randy and Howard when they were six. They stood in the back yard in practiced fighting stances, preparing to fight to the death with foam swords. Howard had gotten them on the last day of Hanukkah and immediately called over his best friend. It was the first day they ever played ninja.

Heidi took a step back and brought her hand to her mouth, tears no longer restrained. How could it have come to this? How could the lives of those two innocent little boys have been destroyed in less than five minutes? She lunged for the frame and quickly released the backing. Upon closed inspection she saw that the photo was distorted by a sickly green glow. She hesitated for a moment before tearing the picture in half. A tiny puff of green smoke sprang from the torn edges and dispersed to join the dust motes floating in the late morning light.


Heidi let the pieces fall back to Howard's desk. What now? Based on the day's events she doubted she would find her brother back at the school waiting patiently to be picked up. An idea struck her an d s he jogged up the stairs and out of the house, getting back in her car. She grabbed her bag from its place on the passenger seat and pulled out her phone. A quick search of the local news site gave her the answer she needed.

 

Breaking News

At 10:38 AM a huge wolf-like monster was seen leaving the Norrisville High area. Several reports of its route suggest it is headed towards downtown.

The beast was last spotted at Main street and Brickwall Avenue. Citizens are advised to take extreme caution. While there are no reports of injury, we are not certain what this monster is or what it is capable of.

More on this story as it develops.

 

She pulled out of the driveway and started down the street much more carefully than she had before. In stark contrast to the previous trip her mind was eerily blank. The familiar street names barely registered as she drove on autopilot. She watched the familiar scenery as if from underwater. Everything she thought she knew had been thrown onto very thin ice. What else did she not know? What other precious lies had she been told so she wouldn't fear the monsters under the bed? Her thoughts and memories were blurred behind frosted glass but the day's events stood out in crystal clarity. She cringed away from the horror of them but clung to the realness. Now it was all she could be sure of.   

She turned onto main street. A few blocks down a large crowd of people stood in a rough circle. She drove to where they stood and got out, leaving the car idling in the middle of the street, and pushed her way through the layers of bodies. Howard lay sprawled on the sidewalk, unmoving. Panic again shot through her and she hurried to kneel at his side.

“Howard?” her strained voice pleaded. His eyes fluttered open and he turned his head slightly towards her.

“Come on, lets go home.” She pulled him to his feet and he grudgingly walked with her to the car, his eyes fixed firmly on the ground.


The drive home was silent. Heidi stole concerned glances at her brother but he never moved. She slowed at a stop sign and checked for oncoming traffic. The road was deserted. She hit her blinker and eased on the gas.

“Wait.” She slammed on the breaks, startled by her brothers voice. She turned to stare at him.

“What's wrong?”

“Can...we go back to the school?” She blinked at the ludicrous request.

“What? Why?”

“...something I need.” She stared in confusion for a moment before the pieces slid into place. Her eyes widened and she kicked herself for her stupidity.

“Oh. I...of course.” She switched her blinker and turned away from the safety of home.


The parking lot was deserted now. Heidi pulled up to the side of the auditorium and stopped the car. She turned to face her brother. He still sat in the same defeated position His shallow breathing was the only sign of life. Slowly he lifted his head and stared at the broken building. Heidi glanced between it and her brother. There was absolutely no way he could go in there.

“Hey, you stay here okay? I'll be right back.” He gave no sign he even heard her. She hit the parking break and stepped out of the car. A little ways down from where she parked stood one of the entrances. One door was missing, the other barely clinging to the threshold.

Inside the room was an absolute mess. The walls were completely destroyed and lay strewn across the floor. Light streamed through a gaping hole towards the back of the room. Heidi carefully avoided chunks of concrete and twisted metal as she made her way to the stage. The stairs were demolished but a particularly large chunk of debris made a sufficient path up. The stage was surprisingly in much better condition than the rest of the room. Rubble and dust obscured most of the wooden floor but it was at least mostly intact.

She cast around for the object in dismay. It could be anywhere under the layers of rock and finely crushed concrete. The light falling through the new skylight shifted and she saw something sparkle in her peripheral vision. She turned and hurried to the far right of the stage. She knelt and pushed aside the heavy blue velvet curtain to reveal the dark weapon. Gingerly she picked it up and turned it over in her hands. The metal was smooth as silk and pitch black save for the pummel and the symbol of the ninja inscribed in red at the meeting of the three prongs. She stared, transfixed by the weapon. There was something seemingly sacred about it. She carefully closed her fist around the handle and stood to leave. She hopped off the stage and quickly maneuvered through the concrete maze.

As she approached the car she saw that Howard was still frozen. She settled back into the driver's seat and silently offered him the weapon. With minimal movements he accepted it and returned to his static position. Heidi sighed softly and started back towards home. The drive stretched on in silence. She kept glancing at the sai in Howard's lap. His knuckles were white with one hand gripping the handle and the other wrapped around the center spike. She turned the words over in her head but they wouldn't arrange themselves the way she wanted. She turned onto their street. No more time to consider.

“Howard. I hate to even say this, but...that's a real, dangerous weapon. You're gonna make sure you don't hurt yourself, even on accident, right?” She turned into the driveway and killed the engine. Howard stared down at the remnant and slowly nodded. She smiled and stepped out of the car. Howard showed no intent to move. Heidi took a deep breath and walked around to the passenger side. She opened the door and reached over to hit the release on the seat belt. She stared steadily at her brother and extended her hand.

“Come on,” she whispered soothingly. Slowly he released his death grip on the body of the sai and took the offered hand. Heidi closed the door and placed her hand softly on his back as they shuffled up the walk to the front door. The door swung open and Howard continued the slow steady pace to the door that lead to the basement. Heidi stood and watched until he disappeared, desperately wanting to help but knowing there was nothing she could do. Dejected, she locked the front door and trudged to her own room.

Light streamed in through the window and bathed the room in a golden glow. It was all wrong. She kicked off her shoes and dropped her bag before walking to her bed. She jerked the curtains closed with more force than necessary. She stood there frozen as every emotion she had put on hold gathered in her mind. Eventually the pressure became too great. Her knees buckled and she collapsed onto her bed. Her eyes began to burn. She weakly pulled the covers over her head and cried herself to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Heidi stared blankly at the computer screen. Her own dead eyes stared back at her through her web cam. She sighed and clicked record again. The red light in the corner of the frame blinked steadily like a metronome.

“Hey guys...it's Heidi...I-you've probably heard some things about...no,” She hit stop and deleted the recording, took a deep breath and started again.

“Hi. I'm Heidi Weinerman and...and I have something very serious to report...” she looked away dejectedly and cut the video, deleting the clip. She started again.

“Norrisville, I am here to make a very serious report. The ninja-” she took a shaky breath. “The ninja is...he's...” she sighed in exasperation at herself and exited out of the program. She opened her browser and navigated again to the local news site. Stock reports. Reassurance about the wolf from earlier. A review of a new McFist product. No breaking news, not a peep about Norrisville High or the ninja. Heidi drew her knees to her chest and hugged herself tight. The fact that there were no reports on the murder was deeply unsettling but she was far beyond being surprised by anything. Her journalistic instincts told her to act, to take the story to the news station herself. But if the authorities aren't reporting on it then who would believe me? She buried her head in her knees. Her stomach growled and she realized she hadn't eaten since breakfast that morning. She glanced at the clock. 7:59. She sighed and slowly got up. The smell of food deepened her realization that she was starving. She walked into the kitchen and immediately found herself in a tight bear hug.

“Oh Heidi dear I'm so glad you're alright. I called your father and he's leaving his business trip early. He'll be back as soon as he can. Honey what happened? There's been nothing on the news just the call from principal Slimovitz saying there was a terrorist attack-”

“Terrorist attack?” Heidi stopped herself. The less her mother knew about what really happened the less she would worry. “Right yeah. Howard and I got out okay.”

“Oh honey I'm so relieved. I would have come talk to you right when I got home but I didn't want to wake you. It must have been so traumatic. They said no one was hurt but Randy's mom called earlier and said he hasn't come home. Do you know where he is? Is he okay?” Heidi's stomach turned in knots.

“No, sorry,” she choked out, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Oh dear I hope he's alright. I asked Howard but he didn't know anything either.” Heidi's eyes widened in shock.

“Wait, you asked Howard about him?”

“Well, yes. I figured if anyone knew anything it would be him. The two are inseparable.” Heidi took off running for the stairs to the basement. She flung Howard's door open and looked around the dark room. He lay completely covered in a large mound of blankets. She stopped a moment to catch her breath, then shut the door and walked to her brother's side.

“Howard?” No response. “A-are you okay?” Heidi nearly smacked herself as she uttered the one question she knew she shouldn't ask. “Sorry, I mean...I'm sorry you had to go through that. Lying to mom. I could've been there to stop her...” she trailed off, watching carefully from some sign of understanding from the lump of blankets. Finally a soft sigh.

“Not your fault,” he whispered almost inaudibly. She stood for a few moments in silent relief.

“I'll leave you now if you want,” no response. She turned and left his room, quietly closing the door. She hopped up the stairs back to the kitchen and carefully closed the door before turning to face her mother.

“Heidi dear what's wrong?”

“What? Oh, nothing. I just wanted to check on Howard. He was-uh-really shaken.” Her mother eyed her suspiciously but didn't push the subject. Heidi took a deep breath.

“M-my head hurts, I'm gonna go lie down.” She hurried past her mother to her room. As soon as she heard the soft click of her door closing she sank to the floor, shaky breathes rattling through her lungs. She had a feeling she'd be running interference for a while.


Heidi started awake at the blaring of her alarm. It took her mind a second to catch up to her body but seconds later the crushing misery returned. She reached down and yanked the plug from the wall. The alarm promptly cut out leaving her in silence. She buried her head back into her pillow. Even if school wasn't canceled she doubted anyone would show up. There was a soft knock before her door eased open.

“Heidi dear, are you awake?” She slowly rolled over to face her mother. “I have to go to work. I want to stay here with you two but I can't. Would you watch Howard, make sure he's okay? I don't think he even left his room yesterday.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Thank you sweetie. Make sure you both eat something and stay here. I don't want either of you wandering around out there,”

“Yes mom” “Goodbye sweetie. I love you.” She turned and closed the door.

Heidi lay limp in her bed. Her body felt like glass, like if she moved the wrong way she would shatter. A large chunk of ice had settled in her chest, radiating cold no matter how many blankets she buried herself under. She sighed into their protective embrace and quickly fell back asleep.


 Heidi woke to yellow light pouring in through her curtains. She looked to the clock next to her bed and stared at its blank face in confusion before remembering she had unplugged it. She reached for her phone to check the time. 11:38 AM. Damn it. She sighed and swung her feet down to the floor. Only when she caught sight of herself in the mirror did she realize she was still wearing her clothes from the day before. She turned to open her closet and stared blankly at the bright cheery colors that made up most of her wardrobe. They looked strange now, like such colors shouldn't exist in this world. She pushed them aside, exposing the small collection of clothes in calmer shades. She rarely wore them except for formal events. She flipped through them absently for several minutes before she realized she wasn't actually paying attention. She shook herself back into the present moment and pulled out a gray blouse and dark purple skirt.

She wandered into the kitchen and looked around for something to eat despite the fact that she had no appetite. Running on autopilot she found a bowl and a box of cereal. Her mind was far away dealing with all the thoughts swarming in her mind.

She felt like she had no right to take it so personally. The ninja was a friend, a guardian, a savior to everyone at Norrisville high. But he wasn't just a ninja. He was a boy in a mask, and she hadn't even been able to remember his name. No, she had never cared enough to remember his name. Randy. Randy Cunningham. She repeated the name over and over in her head. She couldn't believe it. How could that hyperactive annoyingly cheerful boy be the one who risked his life every day, who took bullets for them and made sure none of them ever got hurt, no matter how much pain he had to go through. That dorky little boy was their hero and he never accepted any of the credit. And it had finally gotten him killed. They couldn't ever thank him for all he did-

A piercing thought snapped her out of her internal eulogy and back to reality where she sat at the kitchen table with a half eaten bowl of cereal. How dare she? How dare she try to make up for the past only now that she knew the truth? She hadn't known him. None of them had. Only one person had the right to truly mourn. All she could do now was try to help him through it. She deposited her bowl in the sink and began searching the kitchen again.


 Howard didn't remember when he had stopped crying. It didn't make a difference. The crushing emotions still raged inside him. He stared blankly at the wall from his blanket cocoon. He hadn't moved for several hours and barely noticed when tendrils of pale light crept into his room. Nothing registered in his brain and he had no intention of changing that. Lying in his bed was all he could manage without feeling like his body was tearing itself apart. Lying to his mother had almost destroyed him. He wanted to scream and blow McFist's neat little coverup to pieces but that would mean accepting what had happened. He wasn't stupid enough to try to deny what had happened, but there were words he refused to say even in his own head.

Howard may have laid there forever but the silence was becoming unbearably loud. With no distractions every painful thought he had suppressed beat louder, trying to take him over and destroy him. He would have cursed the knock on his door but right now it was a merciful distraction that shattered the tense quiet. Still he made no move to acknowledge the person on the other side of the door. He had no will left to care about what happened around him. He probably wouldn't move if the house burst into flames. Nothing mattered anymore.

“Howard?” His sister's voice sounded from beyond the door. “...can I come in.” The silence stretched for several moments before she slowly turned the door knob and cautiously peered around the room. Howard heard her soft footsteps approach where he lay. She set something down on his desk and hesitated before speaking again.

“I-I brought you food. I know you probably don't want to do much right now but you need to eat something.” Howard continued to stare at the wall, making no indication he even heard her. “Please?” she pleaded. After a few more moments of silence she sighed and moved to perch on his desk chair.

“Look, I know this is really hard for you. Really...really...hard. I can't believe this happened. I'm...sorry.” She stared at the floor knowing her words were greatly inadequate. But there are no words for a thing like this.

“And, I-I know I never really seemed cared about you and Randy but...” she sighed. “I know how shallow it sounds to say I regret it now but I really do. I never imagined things would get like this. I couldn't have imagined he was...to fight day after day for people who didn't think twice about him...and never show how hard that life must have been. Just...I'm so sorry this happened to to him. And to you. I can't imagine how traumatizing it must be to watch your best friend d-”

“DON'T...say it.” She started at the sudden outburst.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “I...know I'm probably not the best person, but...I'm your sister and despite how things have been between us... I really do care about you. So...if you want to talk about anything...you know...”

Minutes passed as the siblings sat in silence. She took a deep breath and continued slowly. “I figure you don't want me here. Just...please eat something, okay. A-and if you need anything at all, just ask.” She got up and walked quietly to the door.

“...thanks.” She froze and glanced over her shoulder. Howard had turned to look at her with a vacant expression. She fought to hide her horror at the deep emptiness in her brother's eyes. Her heart sank to her feet and she was overwhelmed with the need to protect the broken boy before her.

“Actually...is it okay if I stay here?” The silence stretched between them.

“...yeah.” Howard whispered. His voice was hoarse from crying. Heidi smiled at him and returned to her perch.

“Eat,” she reminded him. Howard slowly pulled himself up to sit cross-legged at the edge of his bed, his blankets pulled up around him like a cloak. He glanced at the tray which had a bowl of tomato soup and two grilled cheese sandwiches cut into triangles along with a large glass of water. He suddenly realized how thirsty he was and downed half the glass in a matter of seconds. A satisfied grin came to Heidi's face, relieved to see her brother finally show signs of life. She hesitated, unsure if she should should wait before saying what was on her mind. She shook the thought from her head. Maybe Howard wasn't in the mood to talk, but this conversation was long overdue.

“Howard I'm sorry. I've been a really bad sister, and I know I can't make up for it. But I want things to be different from now on...” Silence stretched between them, neither looking at the other. “...if you'll let me, that is.” She ventured a glance at her brother, his gaze still fixed firmly on the floor.

“How?” His voice was heavy with the strain of trying to have a normal conversation.

“Well...I guess, first, I want to understand what happened...and what's going to happen” Howard sat for a while in silence, considering her request. Finally he looked back to his sister.

“You wouldn't believe me.” The words stung, heavy with years of a damaged relationship.

“Yes I will,” she insisted. She locked her gaze with his. Her eyes burned with determination and he realized she wouldn't be letting this one go. He sighed and pulled his blankets tighter around him.

“Get comfortable. It's a long story.”


 “So,” Heidi began tentatively. “There's an evil 800 year old wizard trapped under the carp mosaic, and he's the one who turns students into monsters so he can gather power and break out and rule the world. And the only reason he hasn't gotten out yet is because of the ninja?” She watched her brother, waiting for confirmation.

“Essentially.” Howard was guarded, expecting denials at any moment. Heidi stared up at the ceiling and took several deep breathes as she tried to process what she had heard.

“Okay, okay I've got that. But then...why would McFist help him?” Howard grimaced, the name pushing on his fragile, momentary peace.

“Apparently they have some kind of deal.” Heidi was silent for a while.

“...wow.” She sank a bit deeper into the chair and hugged herself, as if she was trying to defend against an invisible threat. “...So...now...what's gonna happen to us?” Howard blinked in surprise. He hadn't even thought about what would happen now that the Sorcerer stood unopposed.

“...I don't know.” He sighed. “I guess we're gonna find out.” Panic seeped into Heidi's veins, drenching her in an icy cold as the reality of their future washed over her. No. This couldn't be the end. They couldn't just stand by and let it happen, could they? She locked her gaze back onto her brother.

“Can't we go to the police or something? They can't just sit back and let this happen.” Her pleading voice turned frantic as she clung to the last shred of hope she could find. She seemed to tremble like a leaf in a hurricane compared to her brother who sat still as death, eyes fixed on the floor.

“We have no proof. It'd be our word against his.”

“What about that book?” Howard frowned. Despite his hatred of the book it would be a welcome adviser now. He nearly smiled at the irony of wishing he could fall through the pages to find a way out of this. He always did change his opinion when its wisdom worked in his favor.

“The Ninjanomicon. Cunningham had it on him back there. They've probably destroyed it by now. Either way it's gone.” Heidi stared incredulously at her brother. How could he just accept this? She took a shaky breath.

“...isn't there anything we can do?” Howard closed his eyes. She really doesn't get it. He was silent for some time before he found the words to make her understand. He raised his head and met her desperate stare.

“Pray.” The response was immediate. He watched as in a matter of seconds his sister's entire world came crashing down. She sat perfectly still, paralyzed by the finality of the word. Slowly her body released. Her muscled relaxed before she pulled her legs to her chest, curling in on herself as tight as she could. She looked on the verge of tears. One question remained in the cold void of her mind. She spoke slowly and deliberately, her voice nothing but a faint whisper.

“Why hasn't anything happened yet?” Howard took a deep breath. He tired of talking but he knew he couldn't leave Heidi with questions now.

“Dunno. Maybe they didn't expect you to de-stank me. And there probably haven't been a lot of people at the school since then. He must not have enough power yet.” She stared at him with glassy eyes.

“Why does he need that? Why can't he just break out?”

“The first ninja sealed the hole with a sacred stone. The carp's eye. It's got this really powerful bird demon trapped inside it. Tengu, I think Cunningham called it. The ninja suit is made from its feathers, and that linked them. The Tengu's power makes a kind of barrier the Sorcerer can't break through on his own, even if it doesn't want to."

“How do...you know that?” In another state of mind Howard would have jumped at her voice, now completely devoid of emotion. He had never heard her sound so lifeless, and paired with her glassy stare it was downright creepy. He forced the thoughts down and continued.

“We might've let it out a few times. It possessed me. It's crazy powerful and evil. It's not on the ninja's side by choice. It's dangerous. The first time we let it out was an accident, the second time was a last resort.”

“I....see.” Slowly Heidi emerged from the fetal position, staggered to the door and left without a word.


 Howard felt numb. He no longer cried or curled in on himself in pain, though he wished he could. At least he could feel pain. Now he felt nothing. Earlier he had tried to get up to do anything, to feel anything, to no avail. His weak attempts only got him to the ground where he was now sitting leaning against his bed. Some of the blankets he had tried to hide under had come with him, others were draped clumsily over his head. He made no move to improve his position. It didn't matter anyways. He sat perfectly still except for his right hand tapping the point of his sai against the concrete floor. The constant rhythm wasn't comforting, nothing was, but it was something to hold on to. His mind moved slow. Nothing could hold his interest. His thoughts eventually wandered back to that day. Since then he had desperately tried to push all those memories from his mind, but he figured it didn't matter now. He wouldn't feel anything anyways.

It was that book's fault. All that stupid book's fault. If it hadn't chosen Randy, if it hadn't taught him to sacrifice himself, if it had given him better directions, if it had never existed. None of this would have happened. In the back of his mind Howard knew that wasn't true for two reasons. The first was that Randy hadn't been chosen randomly. Looking back, Howard found time after time when his friend had put others before himself, even people he didn't know. He got hurt sometimes but it never stopped him. If the situation had been just a little different, if it could have been any student, he was certain he would be sitting in the exact same place. The second was that the Nomicon was not their enemy, no matter what it made Randy do. Without the Sorcerer the Nomicon wouldn't need to exist. It wouldn't exist, and neither would the ninja suit and the need for a new sacrifice every four years. It was the Sorcerer's fault, McFist's fault, Vicreoy's fault. They were to blame. But it was so much simpler to blame a book. Something that couldn't fight back. Something that wasn't dangerous and malevolent and poised to destroy all he had left.

Guilty thoughts circled in his mind. The tapping grew louder as his anger and frustration moved through his hand, stabbing harder at the concrete. Surely he could have done something more. Surely he could have helped Randy put an end to it all, to thoroughly defeat McFist, to finally kill the sorcerer, anything. Surely he could have saved his best friend. But he couldn't. He wasn't a hero. He was just a stupid lazy useless scared little boy. If only he had cared more. If only he had been stronger. If only he had been braver. If only he had had the power to do something. If only, if only, if only he could have protected his best friend then maybe, just maybe he wouldn't be-

A sharp crack split the air. Howard froze and slowly turned towards the sound. His sai was lodged a few inches into the concrete floor. He suddenly realized how much force he had been using to take out his frustrations. He stared at the weapon, his hand still wrapped tightly around the handle, and the spiderweb of cracks radiating from the point of impact. The image was eerily familiar. Memories of fear and panic swirled around the image of the ninja's sai striking the carp's eye. The sting of remembering him and the things they had done together shot through Howard's and he cringed away, closing his eyes to the memory. He tried to find the numb place he had been but it was gone now and the pain had returned. He sat trapped in his mind, the memories of releasing the Tengu stuck on repeat. He clutched his head in his hands and tried to think of anything else but the images burned out all other thoughts. Why? Why was he remembering this now and why wouldn't it go away.

His frantic thoughts ground to a halt. Slowly he lowered his hands and turned back to the weapon. His mind raced. If only, if only. If only he could be powerful. If only he could be terrifying and fearless and strong enough to rip McFist to pieces. The wheels in his mind spun faster as he called up every memory of being possessed. The Tengu was far more powerful than he was but he had managed to fight it off for several hours the first time. Why? What had he done to fight it? Nothing. He had done nothing, just like every other time. He just ran around scared and helpless waiting for Randy to fix it. All he had done was try to wish it away-

He froze and slowly replayed the thought in his head. It was crazy, but no more crazy than any other explanation. He had desperately wanted to not turn into a bird the first time. He had tried to will himself normal again. And somehow it had worked. He was able to control the spirit, if only for a little while. What if the Tengu was fueled by emotions? What if it was his initial frantic resistance that had interfered with the Tengu's possession?

He quickly assembled all he knew about the demon. It was immensely powerful and strong willed. When the possession finally took over it was like falling through an endless void. It was terrifying, more terrifying than anything he had ever experienced. He had seen the destruction and the panic and should it have been allowed to continue, he was sure the carnage. And as he watched the demons emotions had burrowed into his head. Excitement. Delight. Ecstasy at the screams of the students as they fled. The thoughts had been his thoughts and his emotion. He enjoyed every moment of the terrible chaos until the possession was broken. There was no doubting the malevolence of the spirit's desires. Maybe, just maybe.

As he formed his plan a voice in the back of his head told him he was insane, that his whole plan hinged baseless theories and had a better chance of getting him killed but he pushed it down. He didn't care. He couldn't just sit around and do nothing, not anymore. It was his turn to be brave. Not a hero. Heroes didn't take such risks for petty vengeance. No, he would never be a hero, but he would fight for one. Howard yanked the sai from the floor. His lethargy evaporated, replaced by rage fueled determination. He quickly made preparations for his harebrained mission. His sadness and grief was pushed far back in his mind, one concept burning in his thoughts.

I'll kill you McFist.

Chapter Text

-Chapter 4: Deep Freeze-

It was a strange feeling, floating in semi consciousness. His surroundings were hazy and dull, images washed together into a muddy blur. It was peaceful in a way, the stillness and the calm. He wasn't sure why the nothingness felt so comforting. He wasn't even sure who he was. His memories hid behind the murky fog but the ghosts of emotions remained, and they told him he didn't want to leave this place. He didn't want to remember. He could feel the dull ache of enough pain and heartache to last a lifetime. He was content to remain ignorant in the calm, the stillness, the silence. But that wasn't his decision to make.

He felt the edges of his memories begin to sharpen, everything shifting into focus. He curled in on himself, trying to cling to the receding solace before the pieces of his life surfaced. One memory swirled around him. Faces. There were so many faces and stillness. Silence. But it was different, not like the pleasant feeling of the haze. In place of calm there was fear. He tried to turn away. Every strand of his broken consciousness urged him to run but the fuzzy outlines of people surrounded him. Quiet descended like fog, creeping closer and closer until one thing broke through, violent and loud and desperate. All at once the fog fell away and his memories jumped into painful focus, the force of them startling him awake. His eyes flew open meeting only darkness. He lay gasping for breath on cold metal, his pulse racing in his ears. He was Randy Cunningham, and he shouldn't be alive.


He shot bolt upright and nearly threw up at the surge of pain pounding in his head. He groaned and pulled his knees to his chest, bracing his head against them. His hands met behind his head, clamped down as if he were holding down the spoon on a grenade. Honestly it wasn't a bad analogy for how he felt. He sat frozen until the pain hammering into his head with every beat of his heart faded to a manageable level. He took a deep breath and tried lifting his head. Nothing more came and he sighed in relief, let his hands still resting on his head fall down to the back of his neck, and froze. His eyes widened in shock, disbelief, horror. Instead of skin he felt cold metal, a thin band wrapped around his neck. No way. He ran his fingers over every inch of the collar, searching for an opening, a release, anything. The ring was impossibly smooth without any hint of how it was even put on. He lowered his hands, his mind racing. This couldn't be real. There's no way this could be real. He looked at his surroundings for the first time. He couldn't see much. The only light came from strips of dim glowing green lights lining the bottom edges of the walls. Still, it was enough to make out the dark pattern of bars around him. Adrenaline surged through his veins as he began to panic.

The horrific pieces began sliding into place. No way no way no way. Another faint glow caught his eye and he turned his gaze to the ceiling. A steady point of red light stared back at him. As his eyes adjusted be could just make out the faint silhouette of a camera behind it. No no no this can't happen this kind of thing doesn't actually happen. He took his head in his hands and tried to keep himself from hyperventilating. His heart pounded like a machine gun. He automatically reach into his jacket. Tremors rocked through his body. He had nothing. No mask. No nomicon. The ninja of Norrisville was dead, mercifully dead while Randy Cunningham sat trapped in a living nightmare. No way. Now way no way no way. He hugged himself tight while his mind conjured images of his last days. A thousand agonizing deaths flashed before his eyes. He knew he was only hurting himself by panicking but it didn't matter. Logic and reason had long since abandoned him. He froze at the sound of footsteps. His mind stalled for a moment before his iron will kicked in. He stopped shaking and took several deep breaths to calm himself down. No matter what there was no way they'd see him scared. He reached for the confidence he held as the ninja, trying to put on a menacing face.

The soft hiss of a pneumatic door signaled their arrival. White light shot across the room to fall on his prison. Randy gritted his teeth against the surge of emotions as their approaching footsteps echoed off the walls. Bright light flared around him and he took the opportunity to examine his surroundings. The room was large and covered in gray metal plates. Apart from his cage the room was empty. The footsteps stopped and he lifted his head to glare at the two demons before him.

“Hello Ninja. Or should I say Randy Cunningham?” Hannibal McFist was grinning from ear to ear but in his eyes there was only sinister intent. Randy said nothing, determined to interact with this monster as little as possible. McFist's smile faded to a menacing scowl.

“What's the matter mutt? Don't feel like talking?” He pulled back his robotic arm and punched the cage with inhuman force. Randy flinched at the deafening crash that shook the cage. He narrowed his eyes and fixed his mouth in a hard line.

“Why am I alive?”

“HA! You think after all you put me through I would let you have a peaceful death?”

“I wouldn't call walking into a gas chamber at gunpoint peaceful.”

“I don't care what you call it. Dying like that is too good for you. I want to see you pay for everything you did.”

“Everything I did, really? Like what? Saving innocent people every day from your monsters? Preventing the enslavement of all humanity? Even helping vermin like you sometimes.” McFist growled.

“Viceroy!” The other man sighed in exasperation at the petty bickering and handed his boss a small metal box with a large red button. McFist snatched the device and smashed the button down.

Randy screamed as pain shot through his body. He fell to the floor and writhed in agony as electricity screamed from the metal band at his neck. The shocks stopped and he collapsed gasping for breath.

“Keep it up punk. Make my day. As you can see I have a lot of pent-up anger to get out before I destroy you.” He snapped his fingers and two robo-apes hurried into the room. Viceroy fiddled with another device and a soft click emanated from the nearly imperceptible door of the cage. It swung open on silent hinges and metal hands grabbed him roughly and dragged him into the open. Randy hung limp in their grasp, his head still spinning from the shocks. His stomach turned in knots as a deep feeling of dread descended on him. This was only the beginning.


The robo-apes dumped him unceremoniously into a dark hole. Randy hit the ground much sooner than expected. The ceiling him closed and he was plunged into darkness. He stood carefully, feeling in the dark for anything around him. A blade of light shot across the floor as the wall to his left slid into the ceiling. Randy shielded his eyes to the sudden brightness. Beyond the receding wall lay a large expanse of dark steel. He spun at a low grinding sound behind him and backed away from the opposite wall which was now pushing him into the light. High above he spotted a booth where his enemies sat watching. The back wall slid into place leaving no trace the small room ever existed.

He turned to take in the entire setting. The box was large and rectangular with a high ceiling covered in bright fluorescent lights. More interestingly, it was empty. Randy narrowed his eyes and cast around again. There was no way this was a good thing. He spun as he caught movement in the corner of his eye. Another section of wall was disappearing to reveal another dark room. The wall slid away completely and for several seconds nothing happened. Randy stood tensed and ready for whatever was coming at him. A low hiss emanated from the shadows. Comprehension struck him and he paled at the realization of what was happening. This was a coliseum. He was a gladiator. He settled into a fighting stance, staring at the ominous dark hole for the first glimpse of the monstrosity he would have to deal with. The seconds ticked by painfully slow until finally a sliver of metal caught the light. It was here.

Randy gritted his teeth as he watched the great metal cobra slither into the arena. It coiled in on itself until the tip of its tail cleared the wall, sliding back down to lock them in the wide openness of the arena. Randy's hands tightened into fists. He watched the snake closely, afraid to even blink that he might move a half second too late. The beast opened its mouth wide, barring its fangs. No. He leapt to the side as a missile screamed from the snake's mouth. The room exploded into sound on impact. Randy looked at the large star-shaped scorch mark where he had stood seconds ago, then back to the snake. It lunged and their dance began. It was obvious to everyone he stood no chance with the current odds. He needed time, and he knew how he could get some.

The snake reared again and struck with lightning speed. Randy jumped back just far enough for the robot's head to land in front of him. He sprung forward landing with a dull thud on the snake's head and ran along the smooth metal segments of its body. The snake turned and hissed and lunged again. Randy dodged and ran over and around the long metal cylinder, the snake getting more and more hasty and fierce with every miss. Its movements became sloppy and rash. Finally in an attempt corner him against a wall it raised up part of its curled body for leverage. Randy stopped, waiting for the right moment. Almost before the snake lunged he was moving and slid under the snake's body. He swiftly executed a few more jumps before putting distance between himself and the robot to admire his work. The snake was twisted in a hopeless knot and strained against its own body to free itself. A small smile dawned on Randy's face but he didn't lose focus. Okay ninja think. There must be a way to beat this. The snake hissed in anger, the light glancing off one long thin metal fang. Randy stopped at the idea. It was crazy, maybe suicidal, but it was his only hope.

High above the stage Hannibal McFist glared down at the metal snake.

“Viceroy, why did you make me a robot that's so stupid it could be tricked into tying itself in a knot?”

“Because if I made it smart the ninja wouldn't stand a chance and that's not what you asked for.”

Yeh. Fiiine. But come on, that was just embarrassing.”


“Alright big gray and ugly, come get me.”

He stepped forward as far as he dared. It raised its head and struck. Randy backed up, forcing the snake to change its trajectory or miss. Randy dove to the side as the fangs crashed into the floor far too close. He immediately turned back and ran up to the snake before it could react. His heart beat fast. He would only get one shot at this. At the last second he jumped and aimed his foot at the point where the fang disappeared into its metal jaw. He cringed as a shrill screech of metal on metal echoed through the room. He fell to the ground, looked up and grinned in satisfaction. The long spear trembled from the force of impact. The snake screeched and ripped its remaining fang from the floor. Randy grabbed for the jagged metal above the blade where it had severed. The sharp edges dug into his hand. It wasn't ideal but it would have to do. He ripped the blade from the floor and jumped away just in time to avoid another vicious lunge. He backed away to catch his breath and plan his attack. The snake tried to wriggle its knotted body closer to him. He narrowed his eyes and crept forward, unsure when the now crazed and uncoordinated snake would strike. His foot touched the ground and the beast came screaming towards him. He jumped back and pounced onto its head when it hit the ground. He raised the makeshift sword into the air, point down, and plunged it through the robot's head. Sparks burst from the gash as Randy twisted the blade deeper. The snake shook for a moment before sputtering to a halt. Randy waited a moment in case it was an act but the beast lay silent. He wrenched his weapon from its metal sheath and turned his gaze to the glass box above him.

“Are you not entertained?” He spat with fire in his eyes. He saw McFist scowl then turn his head to yell at some unfortunate soul. Randy took a deep, shaky breath and tried to calm his heartbeat raging with adrenaline. A slow beeping echoed off the walls. Randy glanced around in confusion before looking down at the ruined pile of metal. The beeping grew steadily faster. Oh no. He launched himself from his perch and ran as fast as he could. The beeping grew to a constant shrill drone, then cut out. He felt like the world had shifted to slow motion. In that moment of silence his blood ran cold with pure terror. He was still too close.

His world exploded. The blast flung him into the far wall. Pain flared through his body, made worse by the aftereffects assaulting his senses. The unnatural heat pushing against his skin. The bitter scent of gunpowder and fire in the air. He crashed to the floor. He would have screamed in pain if he had the breath to do so. As it was he lay gasping face down on the cold floor. Every ragged breath brought a new wave of pain crashing over him. He raised one trembling hand to his back to assess the damage. His fingers brushed a shard of metal and white-hot fire shot through him. He struggled to his feet, cringing at every move.

Two more panels slid away. A menacing growl filled the room as two metal lions stepped from the shadows in perfect sync. Randy tried to figure a way out but the pain hammering into his head made it hard to think. The lions slunk towards him, sizing him up. The second he ran they'd be on him. He carefully turned his gaze to his right. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his makeshift sword lying in the corner. He edged his way closer. No matter what he couldn’t turn his back to the beasts. Considering his current state it was unlikely he could run or dodge attacks. He reached his hand out until he could touch the back wall, letting it guide him to the corner. He extended his other arm behind him to find the right wall. After several seconds of backing up his hand met smooth metal. He lifted one foot and located the twisted metal blade, easing it out from behind him. The lions were closing in on him. He glanced down with only his eyes at the weapon, looking back to the lions after a split second. Alright training, don't fail me now. In one fluid movement he kicked the blade into the air and caught the handle with practiced precision. He smiled. He wasn't finished yet.

The lions charged and leapt at him. He waited, watching for his opening. As the beasts reached the height of their jump he stepped to the side and thrust up into the closer lion's belly, impaling it on his blade. He pivoted where he stood as the lion's momentum continued to carry it towards where he had stood. He swung the sword out like a baseball bat, sending the metal corpse hurdling into its twin. The two crashed into the wall with an ear-splitting clang. Randy wasted no time putting as much distance as possible between himself and the two lions. He listened for any sign of another explosion but the ruined beast lay limp and silent. The other lion pulled itself out from under his brother, letting the heap of metal slide to the floor. Randy stared the beast down, breathing heavy. He wouldn't be able to pull something like that again.

The second lion advanced slowly, more wary of its prey. It leapt without warning and sprinted to where he stood. He held his ground, knowing he didn't stand a chance if he ran. He watched every movement of the robot and saw when the attack came. He parried and jumped back, now locked in a close duel with his attacker. He dodged and blocked, looking for an opening in the lion's vicious movements, until finally one presented itself. As the lion raised up for a devastating blow Randy slashed through its shoulder, nearly severing the arm. He hurried out of the way and turned to assess the damage. The beast was mad, that much was clear. Sparks danced around the wound and it swayed, trying to find its balance. It charged and Randy readied himself for another round of blocks until a sharp burst of energy exploded through his body. Every injury was on fire and he fought to stay on his feet as the world spun before him. He looked up just in time to watch the lion crash down on him, pinning him to the floor. His head hit the hard metal floor and the world went black for a moment. Immediately it batted the blade from his hand, leaving a long scratch down his forearm. He struggled in vain against the robot's heavy paw. It pushed hard on his chest and tore down, leaving three deep gashes across his stomach. Randy felt faint as blood oozed from the wounds. Through his delirium he saw the lion raise its paw high to deliver the killing blow.


Randy closed his eyes and braced himself for what he was sure was the end. For a moment everything was still. He yelped as a sharp jab struck his side, rolling him onto his stomach. In the next moment he felt himself being pulled across the floor by the hood of his jacket. He watched through blurry vision as the spot where he had been drifting farther and farther away. A fading trail connected him to the glistening red puddle. His eyes closed and his head fell to hang where gravity willed it. He had nothing left. The lights around him dimmed for a moment before light flared again behind his eyelids. He grunted as his head hit the floor and rough metal hands lifted onto another surface. Only when cold metal cuffs fastened around his wrists and ankles did his eyes fly open. What he was sure was his last reserve of adrenaline rushed through him and his breathing escalated. His head whipped around as he took in the bright white room, spotless counters, and the straps binding him to a grim metal exam table. He was sure his heart would rip itself from his chest.

Behind him a door whooshed open accompanied by the sound of expensive shoes on metal. He tried to look over his shoulder but stopped as pain pounded through him. It didn't matter. Soon his next demon entered his sight. Viceroy. He didn't even look at Randy but rather busied himself retrieving various things from the cabinets. Randy glared at the man's back and tried to work up the energy to sound dangerous.

“What is it now? Horrific experiments? Gonna make my your next cyborg monstrosity?” Viceroy sighed as he gathered his materials onto a tray and finally turned to face the boy.

“Ninja I'm not here to hurt you. That's not my job.” Randy scoffed.

“Yeah I suppose McFist built those robots.” Viceroy rolled his eyes.

“You know that's not what I meant.” Randy glowered at the man busying himself with various bottles and tools.

“In that case what are you doing.”

“Making sure you don't bleed out in the next few hours.”

“Why? If McFist wants me dead then why-” His words caught in his throat and his eyes grew wide. He had to be wrong. There was no way this was happening.

“Figured it out did you?” Randy lay there in a daze, his voice reduced to a soft whisper.

“How can you do this? Why are you doing this? You don't even care about this war, why?”

“You're missing the point ninja. I don't care. I don't care about the sorcerer getting out and I don't care about you. I'm here for my own motives and helping McFist capture you was just something that worked in my favor.” Randy gaped at the apathy in the man's voice, the way he didn't even glance at the boy he was condemning. Tears pricked at the corner of his eyes.

“You can't do this,” his voice cracked. This couldn't be real. How could this be real. “I'm just a kid.” Viceroy sighed.

“You're missing the point of Evil Genius.” Randy felt his whole body go cold with the realization that there was no way out. Viceroy had no moral objection to putting him through unimaginable pain. He didn't fight the tears that sprang from his eyes.

“You're sick.”

“Call me what you will.” He left Randy's field of vision momentarily and returned with a device he recognized from the time he'd had to have a tooth pulled. A gas mask.

“NO.” He screamed and thrashed. Pain rocked through him with every jerk of his body but it didn't matter. This couldn't be happening. Two robo-apes forced his shoulders to the metal table and held his head still. His eyes widened in terror as the mask came down over his nose and mouth. He tried to fight but the little strength he had left was nothing to his captors. He went still, holding his breath until dark spots appeared in his vision and his lungs screamed for air. His body took over and forced him to breathe. He choked as the gas filled his lungs and pushed into his mouth. He felt dizzy and the world began fading in an all too familiar way. His vision turned black, his remaining consciousness sluggish and distorted. He last thing he saw in his mind before sleep took him was Howard's pained face begging him to come back.


Randy slowly returned to consciousness in the cold and the dark. His body felt numb. There was no amnesia this time. The events from earlier were forever carved into his memory. He raised a hand experimentally. Pain came slower now, like acid spreading across his skin. He took a deep breath and moved a hand around to his back. He winced. His entire upper body was wrapped in bandages but beneath them he could feel the sharp bits of metal still buried in his skin. He eased himself upright and leaned his left shoulder against the wall. How long would this go on? He knew he shouldn't think about it, it would only make things harder counting down the days he had left to suffer, but it was all he had. After all, no one was coming to save him. He was already dead. What did it matter if he spent his last days free of stupid delusions. All he could do now was stay strong and not give McFist the satisfaction he was looking for. He didn't care what happened. He would resist to his last breath. His eyes drooped and his head fell to his chest. He was so tired. He didn't want to sleep. At any rate there was no way he could get any kind of rest in the heart of his enemy's lair. It felt like giving in, resigning himself to McFist's punishment. But what else am I going to do? Dwell on every mistake that got me here? He sighed and fell back to the floor, letting the darkness take him again.

Searing pain shocked him awake. He gasped for breath and opened his eyes to stare at the devil himself, back light by sickly fluorescent lights.

“What not even a good morning? You're a terrible host.” His sarcasm earned him another flare of pain shooting through his body.

“You just don't learn do you punk?”

“The nomicon could tell you stories.” McFist sneered and snapped his fingers. Two robo-apes appeared to haul Randy from his cage. He didn't resist. Even if he could break away, which he seriously doubted now, he didn't stand a chance in his current state.


Once again then dropped him into a dark compartment. He stood and waited for the wall to open. This room was completely different from the arena. In front of him there appeared to be a wide, empty corridor. Glowing electric wires capped the walls and far above his head on each wall hung clock set to 5:00. The spectator box hung high above. The wall behind him stayed motionless. Nothing forced him into the new death trap. McFist's voice crackled over the intercom.

“The rules are simple. Make it to the end of the labyrinth and you can return to your cage.”

“Wow, what a generous offer. And what if I refuse to run your maze.” Hollow laughter sounded through the room and the intercom cut out with a sharp click. The glowing red numbers began counting down.

4:59

4:58

4:57

He stared at it wondering what the countdown meant. Something bad he was sure. He edged out into the maze and glanced around. In the silence he could hear the low hum of electricity and a quick soft tapping. He cast around in confusion for the source as it grew louder towards one end of the hall. He stood staring at the corner. Spindly metal legs signaled the arrival of a robotic spider, skittering around the corner and hurrying towards him. Oh, that kind of labyrinth.

He narrowly dodged a jab from one of the thin spears but missed another. It connected hard with his right shoulder and send him flying into the wall. He dropped to the ground, landing on his back. He gasped in pain, watching the spider advance at a frightening pace. It stopped before him and reared, poised to strike with cruel metal fangs. He tried to roll out of the way but it was too fast. Pain bloomed in his leg as the thick blade buried itself deep enough to strike bone. He bit back a scream. Acting on impulse he pulled his free leg back and kicked with all his strength at the meeting of the spider's head and body. With a hollow pop the two pieces separated. The body stumbled to the ground while the head fell limp in his lap, twisting the fang. Randy gritted his teeth and teased the head away until the menacing point was free of his skin, then chucked it away down the hall in disgust. He turned to examine his wound and grimaced. The fang was much thicker than the ones on the snake from yesterday. Or earlier. Whatever. It left a sickening hole in his leg, skin and muscle pushed aside. He removed his jacket and tied it tight around the wound before staggering to his feet.

He leaned heavily on the wall as he stumbled down the mess of halls that all looked the same. He rounded a corner and stopped dead, staring at the faint drips of blood on the floor. I've been here before. Dammit. He looked again to the timer.

0:31

0:30

0:29

He turned down what he hoped was a new hall and continued to stagger along the wall. At every corner he had to stop and take several deep breaths to bring the world back into sharp focus. He had a vague sense that his movements were getting more lethargic with every passing second. He attributed it to his battered state until numbness started to set in around the hole in his leg. Poison. Perfect. He glanced at the countdown.

0:07

0:06

0:05

He stopped and leaned against the wall. Whatever is was, he'd find out soon enough.

0:03

0:02

0:01

0:00

Randy screamed as electricity jolted through him. He fell to the floor and lay contorted in agony. After what seemed like an eternity the shocks stopped. He gasped for breath as pain burned through his body. His breathing slowed as he recollected himself. He opened his eyes and focused instantly on the clock.

4:48

4:47

4:46

His eyes slid closed as cold hopelessness washed over him. Get up. Don't let him win . He worked his way upright through sheer determination and continued to stagger down the endless halls. He stopped to catch his breath and froze as a low growl sounded behind him. He grimaced and turned to look over his shoulder. A sleek silver panther stalked towards him. He sighed out a long breath, now more in annoyance than anything else, and turned to face his opponent. Through the haze that had settled in his mind he tried to form a plan. He stared the robot down with a steady gaze. Viceroy's creations usually held true to their real counterparts. If that was still true then a brave appearance would buy him some time. He inched away, careful not to break eye contact. He stepped back on his injured leg and faltered, the poison finally winning out against his will. He lurched back and lost his balance, falling hard on his back. His vision flashed white as metal shards tore farther into his back. When his sight returned the cat was already in the air leaping towards him. In a last defense he raised his arm to block the attack. The cat bore down on him with crushing force and swung at his head. The stinging heat of blood bloomed in three jagged lines along the side of his face. He squinted up at the vicious predator looming in his vision. Behind it the countdown ticked off the seconds with a merciless rhythm.

4:11

4:10

4:09

An idea struck him. It was risky and stupid in his current state but he didn't have time to ask questions. He drew back an arm and punched the robot as hard as he could on the side of its head. It teetered to the side just enough to give him an opening. He stumbled to his feet and raced to the end of the hall. His hand stung but he ignored it. He turned to face the robot, now unhesitating in its moves. It hurtled towards him. Still several feet away from him it leapt into the air. He stepped forward and crouched and as the cat reached the peak of its jump he sprang up, palms up and threw the cat up and behind him. He turned, though he didn't need to see the remains to know what happened. The sickening charge of electricity made his head spin. He grabbed the wall and stumbled onward. He closed his eyes where he could. His vision wasn't much help anyways as it swam and sparked with dots of color, and not seeing the world sway helped him keep his balance. Every time he opened his eyes to check his surroundings the countdown burned into his mind no matter how much he tried to ignore it.

2:40

2:39

2:38

He pushed the numbers away and pressed on, gritting his teeth against the pain in every step. His stubbornness was all he had left and he'd drop dead on his feet before he let them take that.


Randy stumbled out into a large square room, struggling to keep from his balance without the wall as a crutch. He glanced around the space in confusion. At each of the three other sides a door stood in the middle of the wall, just like the one he had come through.

"Uh, hello? Is this it?" The only response was the faint echo of his own voice. His eyes flitted to the clock.

1:10

"Hey if I made it the end it'd be really bruce if you let me know before you zap me again." The silence continued and for a moment he wondered if he was really alone.

"HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooo?"

A dull metallic thud echoed all around him as panels flew into place, cutting off all four exits. Randy spun in a panic, trying to find any way out. Small rhythmic tremors shot through the floor. He turned back to see a large panel of floor missing with a ramp fading into darkness. He stumbled back a few steps and took a deep breath, trying to clear the fog at the edge of his vision, and prepared to fight for his life. He quickly glanced to the clock.

0:50

The shocks grew louder and Randy looked around desperately for somewhere to hide or a secret door or anything. Slowly a vague silhouette formed in the darkness, every jolt sharpening the outline of...a cow? No that wasn't right. It had a humanoid body, a large humanoid body, with great curved horns set on either side of its head. Bits of silver metal emerged from the shadows and scattered the pale fluorescent light. Randy's jaw hung open as he took in the beast before him. Of course, he thought. A minotaur.

The floor panel slid back into place as the beast cleared the threshold. A mighty roar ripped from its lungs. Randy could only stand and gape. The beast stood at almost twice his height. Everything about it was massive, from the sharp, curved horns on its head to its wide cloven feet to the heavy battle axe clutched in its enormous fists.

He dove to the side as it swung the axe down with enough force to shake the whole room. Randy staggered to his feet and cringed as pain from his recent wounds flared again. He glanced at he countdown.

0:23

His mind was racing, trying to put together one of the snap plans he was so good at but he kept coming up blank. He had nothing. There was nothing in the room but him and the minotaur, which was now trying to free its axe from where it was lodged in the floor. He had no strength left to fight. He was only standing through grim determination. There was nothing. He would die here. The prospect barely even registered. He knew it was a miracle he had gotten this far, and he'd never admit it, but deep down he would welcome death.

The monster abandoned its vain attempts to free its weapon and turned back to its prey. There were a hundred ways it could kill him with its bare hands. It charged and Randy barely stumbled out of the way. Suddenly the large room felt a lot smaller. The beast crashed into the wall, leaving a minotaur-shaped dent in the metal. It instantly turned to dash him again. Randy moved to dodge the attack. Too quick. Pain Shot from his injured leg to his head and he collapsed. The echoing crash of metal came much too close. He rolled onto his back just as the beast turned to face him.

No no no.

He scurried away as fast as he could. The robot stalked after him, every step punctuated by a resounding crash. He stared up at the monster as he backed away. Just behind its head the countdown flashed into view.

0:02

No no no not now not now!

0:01

0:00

His body lit up in a chaotic fury of electricity. As he thrashed on the ground he caught sight of the beast raising one enormous hoof before his eyes snapped shut against the pain.

A sickening crunch split the air and for a moment he felt nothing. Am I dead? Is this what being dead feels like? His heart thumped and all at once an avalanche of pain crashed down on him and a broken scream echoed through the room. Bright bursts of color filled his vision before everything retreated and he fell into a dark void.


Randy lay awake for several minutes, or several hours, he couldn't tell, before he tried to move. His left forearm was bandaged but that was all. Vaguely he could feel the bits of bone floating at odd angles under his skin. He fought to not show pain. The steady red light was a constant reminder that he wasn't alone, and he would die before he gave McFist the satisfaction of seeing him cry. He tried to sit up and hissed as pain lit up all over his body. The world spun before his eyes. He dropped back to the floor and stared out at the dark room. As he faded from consciousness he came to terms with the inevitable truth that he would die cold and alone.

 

Chapter Text

Randy lay carefully balanced in the most comfortable position he could manage, utterly bored. He'd never admit it, even if by some miracle he ever saw the light of day again. Any part of his body that wasn't numb or in pain ached from living in a small metal cage. His mouth was dry and he hadn't eaten anything since the morning of the attack. He'd seen IV bags when he was dragged in to have Viceroy stop his bleeding. He knew of all things he wouldn't die of starvation, but that did nothing to ease the ache in his stomach. Still, none of that changed the fact that he had spent god knows how long locked up in the dark and had long since run out of things to think about. Well, everything except imagining all the various ways he might finally meet his end, but he was determined not to dwell on that.

He cracked one eye at the sound of the door opening and watched the lone hulking figure strut towards him. The lights flickered on and illuminated the devil's smug grin. Randy pushed himself up to sit cross-legged. He rested his chin in his right hand and met the smile with his own mocking sneer.

“'Morning Sunshine.” He tensed, bracing himself for the inevitable shock but it never came. He narrowed his gaze and looked up to meet his captor's sinister eyes, made all the more troubling by his Cheshire grin. Something wasn't right. “What's today's Spartan torture?" McFist only smiled wider.

"Not today, Ninja. As much as I love watching Viceroy's monsters tear you to pieces it's not getting me what I want: you, bowing down to me, begging for mercy."

Randy rolled his eyes and gave a half-hearted laugh. "In your dreams."

“Not for long. You see, boy, everyone has something that will break them. One thing that they can't grit their teeth against no matter how brave or stubborn or stupid they are. It's just a matter of finding that chink in the armor.”

“Ha, good luck.” He returned a condescending smile. Stubborn. McFist didn't know the meaning of the word.

“Oh I don't need it. I believe I already know. Clearly you don't care how much physical pain I put you through so lets try a different approach. Last night I had Viceroy gather information on you. I know all about you now, Randy Cunningham. And this,” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket. “Is a list of every student at Norrisville High School.” Randy's heart stopped.

“You may be a stubborn little fighter but how would they take pain and blood and fear? How loud would they scream?” He drew out the last word into a growl, glaring at the boy for a moment before the malicious smile returned.

“Isn't that beautiful irony? Your resistance will turn my wrath on the people you were supposed to protect.” Randy glared at the floor, biting back every curse he ached to throw at the monster. He couldn't react. He knew if he did McFist would jump on it and never let go. He'd be condemning them.

“Now lets see,” McFist glanced over the page, pretending to consider the names Randy knew he had already studied. “How about Bucky Hensletter. That poor boy caused you so much trouble. Just can't keep his emotions in check. I wonder how you'd like to watch one of Viceroy's monsters tear his flesh from his bones.”

Randy sat perfectly still. He could do this. He had to do this. He curled his right hand into a tight fist, nails digging into his palm.

“No? How disappointing.”

He gritted his teeth, his eyes boring holes in the floor as he braced himself for the next threat.

“Hmm, How about Theresa Fowler? You like her don't you?” Don't you touch her.

“But that's so overdone, isn't it? Capturing the hero's love interest. We can be more creative than that. Besides, there was one person who was even more interesting. Any guesses, Ninja?” Randy tried to hide the snarl on his lips and the way his body shook with rage. He knew this was coming, as soon as McFist mentioned the school he knew it was coming. He tried to prepare himself to sit silently through this ordeal. But sitting still and quiet while the devil threatens your best friend is easier said than done. He tightened his fist until he felt blood, trying to focus on the new pain rather than the words. Don't react. Don't react.

“I wonder, how should you watch him die? Something slow and painful so you can listen to him scream. Perhaps I'll melt his flesh from his bones with acid. Or cut him into tiny pieces, bit by bit. How does it feel, Ninja? You're going to watch your best friend die and he'll know it's all your fault.”

“Shut up.” He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. It had only been a whisper but the man's triumphant smile proved he had heard. Suddenly the air felt like water and his breath came in quick, labored gasps.

McFist snapped his fingers and the doors opened again. Randy's eyes widened in horror at the familiar robot. Not a robo-ape lackey but the advanced seekers that came after Ranginald. The robot drifted to stand just behind its master.

“Bring me Howard Weinerman. Alive.”

“NO!” He leapt forward, slamming both fists into the bars. Pain shot through his left arm but it was nothing to the fear racing through his veins. “You have me! I'm your enemy, I'm the one you want! Kill me! You can do whatever you want to me I'll scream, I'll beg, I'll do anything but leave him alone! He's innocent! He never did anything to you!” A sly smile spread across McFist's face.

“Aw, how sad. Too bad I don't care. But you should know that by now. All I care about is your misery and if a few nobodies die along the way, well, soon enough it won't matter anyways.” He turned on his heels and left the room to the sound of strangled screams.


Randy lay on the cold metal floor, curled in on himself. He had beat on the bars until his knuckles bleed, screamed his voice hoarse. He had nothing left as he lay shaking. It's all my fault. The thought echoed in his mind. He was supposed to protect them. He was supposed to take the punches and now-he shuddered and pressed his head to his knees. He was being selfish, so selfish to push the impending future away but he couldn't bear to face the truth. That his best friend would die because of him. That he had signed his death sentence. That Howard would die knowing all of this. He squeezed his eyes tighter against tears that wouldn't come from dehydration. He couldn't even properly mourn. The cold bit his skin but it didn't matter. He had long since gone numb. His mind was empty except for one repeating thought. It's all my fault. He drew a shaky breath and tugged his hood farther down over his face. McFist was right. Everyone has something they can't stand to lose. A chink in the armor. He'd never noticed before. Stupid.

The darkness gave no measure of time. How long had it been since he sentenced his best friend to death? How long until he'd witness it? He curled in tighter as if he could disappear if he tried hard enough. Weariness spread through him until he was left with the one thought that echoed through his mind until he finally fell asleep.

It's all my fault.


Randy looked around at the paper forest. He sat in a clearing surrounded by drawn trees under a beige sky.

“Nomicon?” He called to the inky world but there was no response. He stood and walked around the clearing, trying to find some sign of why he was there.

“The Nomicon is in my dreams? Or I'm dreaming that I'm in the Nomicon.” He jumped back as large ornate double doors slammed into the ground inches from where he stood. He stood frozen even after the echo of the crash dissipated, eventually reaching out to touch it with extreme caution. The wood was solid against his palm, the swirling gold designs raised from the dark red surface. He glanced around the threshold, but found nothing but air. “Hm...” He walked around the doors, studying the thick frame and the empty space behind it. He walked back to the front and carefully placed his hands on the large gold handles. The wood was heavier than he anticipated and he threw his whole body weight into forcing the doors open.

He stumbled into a large round tower that seemed to glow with golden light. The floor was a mosaic of red and black tiles forming the symbol of the Nomicon. He turned in a slow circle, surveying the room. Eight large columns stretched far higher than he could make out. Together they supporting the towering levels, each lined with a small gold fence. Randy marveled at the incredible architecture and intricate accents that adorned every surface. Bringing his eyes back down to ground level, he saw eight pedestals evenly spaced around the room. When he reached the door again it had disappeared, replaced by a spiral staircase connecting the many floors. He approached one of the pedestals and stared at the book it held. It was identical to the Nomicon, though it were much thinner and in place of the green ninja face there were numbers in elegant red script.

5

1229-1233

He hesitated before carefully lifting the cover. Beautiful paintings of ninja battles and strategies decorated the pages. Somewhere in each image was a statement in an elegant, swooping black script. Realization sparked in his head. He slammed the book closed and ran from pedestal to pedestal, counting down to number one just to the right of the stairs.

1

1213-1217

“Oh my sweet cheese. These are the books of wisdom from each ninja.” He turned and ran up the stairs, nearly slamming into the first book on the second floor. Sure enough, it was marked with the number nine. “This is the heart of the Nomicon. So honking cool!"

He wandered along the second floor balcony smiling widely, forgetting for a moment what awaited him back in the real world. Here was the knowledge of every ninja before him, all the memories that made up the Nomicon. He laughed in sheer amazement. It was incredible. 800 years of experience at his fingertips. A sudden thought stopped him in his tracks. If this room had a book for every ninja before him then, would he have one too? He turned to dash back to the stairs and stopped, staring at one podium he hadn't noticed was different. It held the same slim black and red book as all the others, but this one was open with a golden plaque resting on the pages. His mouth went dry. Something was very wrong. He walked slowly around the balcony, counting the books as he went.

12

1257-1261

 

13

1261-1265

 

14

1265-1269

He hesitated before continuing to the next pedestal. The plaque read the same as the covers of the other books, elegant letters carved into its shining face.

15

1269-1271

Beneath it the pages were blank. Randy's mouth went dry as the meaning slowly registered. This ninja, the 15th, had not completed their four years. The 15th ninja had died. He glanced to the next podium.

16

1271-1275

He drew in a shaky breath and sank to the floor, leaning against a red post. So that's it. If you die, it just replaces you. It makes sense, a voice in the back of his head whispered. Yes, it did make sense in a way, and a part of him felt almost relieved that the town wouldn't be left defenseless when he finally...

Randy pulled his arms up around his chest in a tight hug. It made sense. It's the way it has to be but...it's not fair! He breathed in with some difficulty and squeezed his eyes closed. He knew he was overreacting. He knew before he received the mask that the job was...dangerous, but...but...it just wasn't fair. He shook his head as cold reality set in and trying to come to terms with what he should have realized all along. That he, Randy Cunningham, the ninja, was not bulletproof.


He trudged up the tight spiral staircase, trying not to search the walls for more open books but they stood out like beacons. Two. Three. He wasn't even sure anymore. He wondered what had happened to them. Did they die fighting to save the people they loved? Or were they like him, doomed to die cold and alone and pointless. At the top of the tower a large glass dome bathed the upper levels in bright light. He circled the room, reading the numbers on each book.

201

2001-2005

 

202

2005-2009

 

203

2009-2013

 

204

2013-

He scowled at the book.

“Don't lie to me Nomicon. Is this some kind of sick joke? Did you bring me here to sign my own death certificate?” He leaned against the railing and stared at the book. A part of him wanted nothing to do with it, to turn and walk out of the library and never look back. Besides, what good would it do him in his last miserable days on earth. But his curiosity far outweighed his bitterness and he pushed away from the railing, coming to stand before the podium. He hesitantly lifted the cover and found himself staring at the same elegant red script.

Randy Cunningham

~

Pure of Heart

Brave Beyond Reason

He stared at the text for a moment before slowly turning the page. Right now he'd rather not think about those words. They were the reason he was here in the first place. He froze and gawked at the beautiful scene painted across the next two pages. Dark, firm lines outlined a black-clad boy pulling a sword from thin air as he stared down the ugly pet of Frankenstein's monster. Much of the page was left uncolored, clouds and trees all in the mottled beige of the parchment, but the boy's scarf stood out in a bright, shining scarlet. Elegant calligraphy hung in the air to his right.

Believe in the weapon that is in the suit.

The hint of a smile appeared on his lips at the fond memory of that day. He flipped through the pages slowly, lingering on the happy memories of the previous months until he couldn't ignore the nagging curiosity any longer. He flipped quickly through the pages to the last entry and stared down at the boy. Purple hair framed a too pale face, his eyes closed as if he were sleeping. His hands were clasped on his chest around black and red roses, echoed in the red roses surrounding his body like a halo, fading to black at the edges of the pyre. To his left the roses parted to accommodate the elegant script.

A ninja must not fear death

Orange flames curled the roses into dark ash along the bottom of the page and faded onto the blank page to its right. His mouth curled into a crude grimace, the image twisting the knife, emphasizing the point that he would die here. He squeezed his eyes shut against the soft pricking of tears. He wouldn't cry, not for McFist and not for the Nomicon. He deftly moved his hand still holding the cover and flipped the cursed book closed.


A gale wind flew through the room and wrenched the book open. The pages spun in a seemingly endless cycle and Randy cringed away from the horrible sound of paper in the wind. In the next moment the cyclone was alive with dark streaks as the inky text flew from the pages. The force knocked him to the ground and he curled in on himself, hands clamped over his ears and eyes shut tight against the assault.

Orange light blazed from beyond his eyelids and his head snapped up. A raging fire burst from the pages and spiraled up into a tall pillar. The pressure in the room built to a bone-crushing force until all at once the maelstrom exploded like fireworks. He stared transfixed as the fiery mass slowly formed wings and a long, graceful neck. His eyes went wide in shock and fear. For a moment, as the bird hung looming over him, he wondered by who's hand he would rather die: McFist's or the Tengu's. The bird shot down towards him and he instinctively raised his arms in a feeble attempt to shield himself from the attack, closed his eyes and braced himself for the end...

Or not. All at once the gusts stopped and silence fell on the tower. Randy cautiously opened his eyes and flinched back in shock. A large ball of bright orange fire hovered inches from his open palms. The heat of the fire licked against his skin, sharp but not painful. He drew in a shaky breath and carefully adjusted his position so he was leaning against the golden fence. The ball shifted to match his movements. He hesitated before experimentally moving one hand closer. The fire shrank away from his touch as if it was obeying him. He pulled his hand away and the flame flared to fill his vision, though it still maintained a safe distance from his skin. He pushed back until the fire was the size of a soccer ball.

“Wow,” he breathed to the empty room. He sat for a moment transfixed by the ball and his apparent power over it. Movement in the corner of his vision stole his attention and for a moment he could see nothing but colored dots everywhere he looked. He mentally kicked himself. Really, Cunningham? Even you know not to stare at the sun. As the colors faded he registered inky black letters drifting slowly along the walls. He turned back to the glowing ball.

“Um, any chance I could have one of my hands back?” The fire flickered steadily as it had for the past two minutes, giving no sign it could understand him. Randy stared suspiciously at the ball and carefully moved a hand away. The ball floated in place against his other palm. A giddy smile spread across his face as he reached back and used the rail to haul himself up. He glanced around at the walls, now decorated with various lessons.

"Believe in the weapon that is in the suit."

"The way to forget is to remember."

"When faced with a mighty enemy, counter with a mightier force."

"To underestimate you enemy is to invite your defeat”

"Words can be more powerful than the sword"

"What is wild, should not be caged"

"He who crosses the line must prepare for the fall that follows"

"Provoke your enemy and he will fight back"

He furrowed his brow at the lines of text.

“Yeah, I know. You taught me all this.” Letters slowly peeled away from their places against the wall and moved to assemble a new, familiar message in front of him.

You are pure of heart, brave beyond reason. You are unstoppable. You are the ninja.”

He huffed and crossed his free arm over his chest.

“Yeah right. If I'm a ninja then why am I here? Why am I trapped and going to die and...and-” He grabbed the railing to steady himself as tremors rocked through him, his eyes wide with horror at the memory of what he'd done. The ball he had forgotten in his palm flared and bit his hand, the pain shocking him back to the present. The lines of text flew from the walls to surround him, spinning faster as a strong breeze picked up. The lines before him dissolved into the inky cyclone leaving only the last words.

You are the ninja.”

The words pulsed before his face. His eyes narrowed, his mouth curled into a cruel grimace.

“Just this once, ONCE, couldn't you be straight-forward about things? I don't have time for your riddles you stupid sadistic book!” He slashed the words with his hand, the dark liquid dripping through his fingers. The words instantly reformed before him.

“No, I'm not! I'm not the ninja anymore. I'm nothing. No suit, no powers. I'm just a worthless shoob who can't even protect his best friend!” His voice cracked on the last word and he fought against the tears he could feel welling up behind his eyes. With a violent shake he dislodged the fireball from his hand and turned to leave but the words flew around him again to block his way. He growled in frustration and stared down the inky mass before turning again. This time nothing followed him. He sighed and took a step towards the stairs.


Randy crashed to the floor, air rushing from his lungs. He lay gasping for a few moments before rolling over to see what had caught him. The ink that had hung in the air moments before was now spun into a thick black rope wrapped tight around his ankle. He frowned and kicked at the air, trying to free himself, but the rope pulled back. He snarled, glaring death at the insistent construction.

“Let. Me. Go!” He turned to tackle the ink but faster than he could track it zipped away. The walls shifted around him, prepared to stop any further attempts at leaving. He snapped. He whipped around to face the center of the tower, addressing the library and the Nomicon itself. He was seething, eyes wild with a fury far beyond anything he'd ever felt. He threw his head back and screamed.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”

His answer came as the of piercing sound of shattering glass. His eyes flew open. Fragments of red glass exploded from the domed ceiling, some shooting off into the sky while the rest fell to the floor twenty-six stories down. For a moment he viewed the scene in slow motion. The clear red shards hung in the air before him, the sunlight glancing off them casting a brilliant glow that burned along the walls. In the next moment the glittering pieces crashed to the floor, shattering in a melody that mirrored the first. Randy stood frozen, staring at the place where the red glass had fallen past him. He slowly tilted his head to look at the jagged hole in the great clear dome-

He blinked in confusion. It was clear. Completely clear. But he was sure the falling glass had been red. Why was it red? He gripped the rail tight and leaned over as far as he could, staring down at the distant mosaic. The shattered glass littered the floor like snow. The glass wasn't red. And if the glass wasn't red, then-

His gaze shifted to his hands. Red-tinted glowing hands. He eased himself back to his feet and turned them over and over before his face, trying to understand. His skin was lightly tanned as it had always been but not red. The glow clung his skin like a glove. He curled and uncurled his hands, becoming aware of a faint prickling over his skin where he moved. As his gaze shifted past his wrists to his arms and eventually to the rest of his body he found that the glow was surrounding him. He stared down at himself in amazement. He felt weightless, invincible. It was strangely familiar.

Something moved in the corner of his eye and he looked up to see the lines of ink converging on the open book, swirling and shifting colors to form a new picture. He turned to approach the book and watched the ink dance across the page. The image slowly took shape, a purple-haired boy facing off against a vague, looming shadow. Red mist swirled up around his body and shot down the length of his sword. Sparks bloomed in the space between the two opponents and burned out words in the elegant script. As the last spark fizzled out his eyes drifted to the message.

but he must never accept it.

“What?” He spat at the book, not in any kind of mood for more of its poetic bullshit. His eyes drifted to the neighboring page.

A ninja must not fear death, but he must never accept it.

Randy's eyes went wide. His hands began to tremble and he grabbed the podium to steady himself.

“You...” The word fell from his tongue, no more than a whisper. He couldn't move. His eyes were fixed on the image of his own death. As he read the words over and over in his head dizziness began so set in.

“You...You! You stupid book!” He slammed his fists against the pages. Tears burned in his eyes. “Why couldn't you have told me that before? Why did you let me suffer for his amusement? Just this once you couldn't have just told me what you meant?” The floor pitched under his feet and he was falling. The library rushing up around him faded to a red and black blur. The world lurched to a halt and he was floating for a moment until swirling black glyphs rushed past him, the feeling of falling up before he lurched back into his body.


Randy woke in a cold sweat, gasping for breath. He pressed his forehead to the cool metal floor and replayed the scene in his head. For a moment he wondered if it had been a hallucination, but even so...

He eased himself up to sit against the bars. In the dim light he inspected his right hand. Ordinary. Human. But you've done it before, a voice in the back of his head whispered. He took a deep breath and thought back to that day. Yes, he had done it. Without even thinking about it, Randy Cunningham had used the ninja's power. At the time he thought it was a fluke or the Nomicon teaching him a lesson but...what if? Well, only one way to find out. He took a deep breath and cleared his mind.

“Okay...here goes nothing.”

 

Chapter Text

"Police have begun the search for a local boy. Fourteen year old Randy Cunningham has not been seen for just over two days. He was reported missing after the terrorist attack at Norrisville High on Tuesday. Anyone with any information as to his whereabouts is urged to call the Norrisville Police tip hotline."

Heidi rolled her head to gaze at the screen with glazed eyes. The reporter's calm voice seemed surreal. How could she keep a blank face when the world was about to end? How could everyone just go about their daily lives like it was nothing. She had to keep reminding herself that she was one of the few people who knew what was actually going on. It didn't matter though. Watching the people of Norrisville wander the streets oblivious to the looming danger was...unsettling.

A knock at the door shook her from her reverie. She glanced towards the door but found that she lacked the motivation to move from where she lay on the couch. She lowered her head and settled back into the pillows. The knocking came again, this time much harder as if someone were trying to break the door down. Her eyes shot open, adrenaline rushing through her veins. She rushed to the door, grabbing a heavy vase and raising it behind her head, ready to jump whatever creep decided to mess with her. The door gave way with a sickening crack and fell to the ground at her feet. Heidi gasped, her brain refusing to process what her eyes were seeing. Four hulking robots, each armed with a battle-axe and menacing red glare, stood on the front porch. Faster than her eyes could track a cold metal hand seized her neck and slammed her into a wall as the vase shattered on the floor.

WHERE IS HOWARD WEINERMAN

She struggled against the iron grip, her mind racing as she searched for a way out.

“I-I don't know,” she sputtered, praying Howard would hear the disturbance and run.

POLYGRAPH SCAN: NEGATIVE

The robot brandished its weapon in its free hand, bringing the edge to rest just under her chin.

WHERE IS HOWARD WEINERMAN

Heidi swallowed the lump in her throat and gathered her courage, shooting the monster a piercing glare. No. No way was anyone hurting her little brother.

“I'll never tell you.”

SO BE IT

It drew its arm back and she squeezed her eyes closed, bracing herself for whatever was to come.

WE FOUND IT

The metal hand pulled away and Heidi collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath. She glanced up to find the robots crowded around the door to the basement with its obnoxious yellow sign.

 

Property of Howard Weinerman

No Sisters Allowed

She watched one of the robots open the door and suddenly she was moving. She sprinted to the door, ducking between the robots and flying down the stairs.

“Howard! Howard run!” She pounded the on door, her voice cracking at the top of her scream. She spun to face the approaching robots, flinging her arms wide in a feeble attempt to stop them.

STAND ASIDE

“No way! You are not hurting my brother.”

AS YOU WISH

She barely saw the arm move before it collided with her head, throwing her into the wall. The world tilted and the next thing she knew she was watching blurry gray shapes swarm past her. She tried to move but found that everything felt fuzzy. Her hand twitched but didn't move as she wanted, and as she wondered at the why a cool sense of calm washed over her. Why did she want to move so badly? What had she been doing before now? The questions chased each other around her head. She strained to remember, the answer dancing just out of reach. Something to do with Howard. Howard...

THE BOY IS NOT HERE

“What?” Her eyes flew wide open as a robot dragged her to her feet and flung her into her brother's room, slamming it behind her. She fell hard against the cold, concrete floor, narrowly avoiding another blow to the head.

Howard. They had threatened Howard and now he was missing. She grabbed the edge of her brother's desk and used it to haul herself to her feet. Holding one hand to her head she stumbled back to the door and grabbed the doorknob. She screamed, reeling back in shock and pain from the burns on her hand. The world tilted and she collapsed onto the bed, forcing herself to take deep breaths until the pain faded. Once her head cleared she eased herself up onto her elbows and glanced around the room, setting her gaze on a discarded shirt. She picked it up and wrapped it carefully around her uninjured hand before trying the door again. It wouldn't budge. She furrowed her brow and twisted harder, her hand only slipping against the smooth metal. She threw her weight against the door, twisting the doorknob in a vice grip. The door didn't even rattle, taking her attacks like a titanium wall. Heidi turned to lean against the door, eyes closing as the despair of defeat washed over her.

The gravity of the past few minute settled around her head, pushing down on her sanity and shutting out logic. Less than a minute. It had been less than a minute, but it felt like an eternity. A silent tear slipped down her cheek. It was too much. Too much for a lifetime, let alone three days. How could things fall apart so fast? She drew a shaky breath and let herself slide to the floor, hugging her knees to her chest. This couldn't be happening. Things like this only happened in horror movies and dark fairy tales. Right? One minute ago she'd been sitting on the couch, still trying to pull her life back together as much as she could. Now she was locked in a basement, alone and helpless and more shaken than ever.

A cool breeze drifted through the small window, pulling at her hair. Wait.

She turned and nearly smacked herself in exasperation. Had she learned nothing from years of babysitting her little brother? She eased herself to her feet and hurried over to the makeshift staircase of chairs and books leading up to a tiny window. Like hell was she going to sit there crying while evil robots hunted her brother. She climbed up to the window and eased herself into the back yard, barely stopping to breathe before dashing to the front door. She snatched her keys off the table and darted back through the battered threshold to her car. No way were those robo-jerks gonna get her brother.

Which, by the way, when I find him, he's so dead.


“Honkin'-”

Crash

“-sword-”

Crash

“-s'posed to-”

Crash

“-be able to-”

Crash

“-cut through-”

Crash

“anything.”

Howard slammed the tip of the blade into the stone as hard as he could, only for it to slide across the surface and lodge itself in the floor. He screamed in frustration and flung the sword across the room to join the other discarded weapons. He dropped to his knees before the stone.

“I'm right here! Go ahead and possess me! All alone and defenseless, no ninja to-” Howard choked on his words, tears spilling from his eyes.

“C'mon you dumb bird,” he croaked as he tried to stop his body shaking and threatening to fall apart.

“Who are you talking to?” He hastily wiped his tears and turned to face the intruders, nearly doing a double take as they came into view. Theresa was wearing a simple black dress rather than her usual obnoxiously yellow twirl team uniform. Julian, on the other hand, looked even more depressing than usual.

“None of your business, Fowler.”

Theresa glanced around at the various weapons littering the floor and frowned. “Are...are you okay?”

“Peachy!” He spat at her, turning his attention back to the stone.

“Do you...wanna talk about anything.”

“No. Now go away.”

"Excuse me?” She gawked, her hands curling into fists at her sides. “You don't own the school. We have just as much of a right to be here as you do."

“Fine, just don't bother me.” He grabbed a small dagger and pressing the blade to the smooth surface. “What are you and lord creepy doing here anyways?”

Theresa's face fell, her anger evaporating. “W-well, we just thought...maybe we could find something. Ya know, since the police don't know what actually happened here and...I dunno, we just thought maybe trying to find out who did it would-” Her words were drowned out by the booming laughter echoing through the room. Howard doubled over gasping for air until his laughter slowly died out. He took several deep breathes and turned to his stunned peers, a goofy grin plastered across his face.

“Oh ho ho that is rich. The cheerleader and her pet goth are gonna play detective and unmask the bad guy.”

“But-”

“What are you gonna do? Just waltz up to his front door and ask for a confession? No no wait, maybe you'll twirl your little sticks and they'll just let you search the place with your world renowned detective skills.” He broke out in another round of laughter as the two stared in disbelief, Theresa's face turning beet red.

“Oh yeah, w-well, at least we're trying! Instead of...of yelling at a rock and throwing a tantrum like a baby-”

“What do you mean him?”

Howard's laughter ceased and they both turned to stare at Julian, standing nearly forgotten a few steps behind his companion. In an instant Howard's gleeful composure fell back to his normal dower glare. “Hannibal McFist.”

“Wait, what?”

“Hannibal McFist did it.”

“Hannibal McFist like, billionaire, owns-half-of-Norrisville Hannibal McFist. That Hannibal McFist?”

“That's the one.”

“But...what? He's a businessman. A philanthropist. He holds fundraisers for underprivileged puppies.”

“It's an act. He's evil. Stone cold evil. He's been trying to sell out the whole world for power and whoopdy look at that, he finally did it.”

“Howard, what do you mean? And what proof do you have? This is ridiculous.”

Howard snapped. “You think robots just materialize and attack the school for no reason? Open your eyes, Fowler! Someone's been behind it all from the beginning and that someone is Hannibal McFist, beloved billionaire, working for the monster that lives right under our feet.” He took a deep breath before meeting the twin stares of shock and confusion. He sighed and took a moment to collect himself before continuing. “Look, it's a long story, and to be honest, I don't feel like telling it right now. Believe me or don't, but if you have nothing else to cry about, leave me alone.”

He turned and trudged back to the orange stone. Theresa was the first to recover from the outburst. She hurried after him and grabbed his shoulder. “Howard no. This is important! We should go to the police, tell them everything-”

“And what? It's our word against his. They'd just write us off as crazy traumatized kids. If we want to do anything about it, we're on our own.”

Theresa bit her lip, turning the statement over in her head. “Okay then. Lets do it.”

“Wait, what?”

He raised an eyebrow at the look of sheer determination plastered on her face. “If no one will help us, we'll do it ourselves. We'll find proof and make them believe us.”

“That's insane.”

“Oh right, says the guy screaming at a rock.”

“Ya know what, Fowler? You wanna go get yourself killed go right ahead because clearly you're not interested in listening to the one guy who actually knows what's going on.”

“Come with us.”

“What?”

“Oh I'm sorry, would you rather keep beating up a rock? Cuz you seem to be making a lot of progress there.” Howard glared daggers but didn't argue, the small victory urging Theresa on. “You said yourself, you know what's going on. We could use you.” He glanced between the two, holding a poker face as he considered the proposition. It was stupid. No, it was suicidal. He knew with absolute certainty that if they entered McFist's domain they wouldn't be coming out. Then again...

“Okay.”

“You mean it?”

“Sure. What've I got to lose, right?” He turned and scanned the room before retrieving two short black sticks and tossing them to Theresa. She turned the weapons over in her hands, glancing between them and Howard. “What's this for?”

“Fighting, duh. If we're caught I don't think McFist is gonna just let us walk away. They expand if you-” A short shriek cut off his explanation as one baton jumped in her hand, tripling in size in an instant. “Yeah like that.”

He turned his attention to the boy hovering a bit behind Theresa. “Julian, I don't know what you can do. Maybe find something to cower behind.” The boy silently crossed the room, pausing before selecting a small, elegant sword from the array of weapons. With practiced precision he effortlessly swung the blade, cutting the air with a satisfying whoosh. A smile bloomed on his face as he took in the confused and shocked stare Howard was giving him. Julian grinned wider and twirled the sword in his hands.

“What's wrong Howard? Surprised I can handle a blade?”

The boy scrambled to regain his composure, returning to his standard glare. “I'm surprised you can handle a kitten.” He grabbed a set of spiked iron knuckles, tucking them carefully into his pockets before slipping his sai through his belt loop and turning to face his classmates. “Alright, lets go.”


“Y-You do realize this is a terrible idea, right?”

“If you don't wanna be here, Julian, you can leave.” The boy glanced around nervously but continued following the other two through the large glass doors. They paused just around the corner from the front desk.

“The elevator's down that hall. Julian, go distract that robo-ape so we can sneak past.”

“W-what? Me? But, you're the most eloquent speaker in the school.”

“Yeah but you're the least threatening and out of the three of us I know this facility best.” Julian sighed in defeat, handing his sword to the other boy before drawing a deep breath and walking up to the reception desk.

“Um, e-excuse me, I'm here to see Bash Johnson.”

The robo-ape paused and looked up at him. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Well, no, but-”

She turned her attention back to her nail file. “I'm sorry. Please call five to seven business days in advance to schedule an appointment.

“B-but, we're working on a project together for science class, a-and I really must see him.”

“Mister Johnson works with Mister Viceroy on all of his school projects.”

“Err, well, that is...”

She set the file on her desk and reached for the phone. “I am going to call security.”

“No don't! You're right. I lied. The truth is I'm...I-I'm...I'm in love with him.” The receptionist paused, her attention now completely focused on him. Julian threw one arm across his face, the other hand clutching at his chest. “Oh how my heart aches. I just can't take it anymore. I must tell him. Today. Now! If not, I fear my heart will perish from shear agony.”

She pursed her lips, her eyes somehow softening “Very well. But don't say I am the one who let you in.”

“Oh thank you. I shall find a way to repay this kindness someday.” He hurried down the hall and the elevator doors slid open. He slowed just before reaching the threshold, allowing the two figures hidden in the shadows to slip in before he followed and mashed the door close button. The doors clicked shut and all three let out a sigh of relief.

“Well, where to?”

Howard stared at the rows of buttons. “I have no idea. I guess...start from the top and work our way down?” Twin nods answered him and he pushed the button for the top floor.

Theresa gripped her batons tight and glanced nervously at the boys. “So, um, Howard? If we do run into anyone...or anything, what-”

A violent shake threw them against the wall as the fluorescent light flickered and died. The whole building shifted every few seconds, each one smaller than the last but just as terrifying. The tremors continued for almost a minute before they finally stopped, leaving behind an eerie silence. For a moment no one moved.

Howard squinted in the darkness, trying to make out the other two teenagers. “Is everyone okay?”

Theresa pressed herself into a corner, shaking like a leaf. “Oh god what do we do? We're trapped!”

Julian placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and locked her gaze. “Hey, we're gonna be okay, okay? Everything's gonna be fine.” She hesitated before giving a weak nod.

The gondola shifted again, this time under the weight of something large and heavy hitting the roof of their cage. All three of them screamed as a part of the roof was blasted away, letting the faint green glow of emergency lights rush in. A second later the intruder landed crouched in the corner. It was humanoid, but couldn't possibly be human. It moved like a predator stalking its prey, too light on its feet and too calm in the present situation. And then there was the glowing, a dark red aura rolling off it like flames yes somehow keeping the figure veiled in shadow. Except for its eyes. Burning, vicious red eyes that were now locked on the nearest target. The beast rose from its crouch and stalked slowly and deliberately towards Howard Weinerman.


Heidi ran through the dark halls at breakneck pace, her fast, heavy footsteps echoing all around her.

“Howard?” She screamed between labored breathes, her voice cracking from the strain. She turned hard around the corner and dashed down the next hall.

“Howard? Howard!” She burst through double doors into the atrium and skidded to a halt, staring aghast at the scene before her. The setting sun bled through the tall windows painting the cavernous room a deep, bloody red. Scattered all around her the light reflected off every weapon she'd ever seen the ninja use, and several she hadn't. The light shone like fresh blood on the cold blades, the brilliant mosaic floor looking like a battlefield.

A glint in the middle of the mess caught her eye, drawing her attention to the gleaming orange stone. Her own words from hours earlier echoed in her head. There's an evil 800 year old wizard trapped under the carp mosaic...

She shrieked as the whole front of the school cracked, bits of wall crashing to the floor. All too quickly the fissure snaked across the floor on a collision course with her position. She staggered back, fighting to keep her balance through the tremors and the panic. Her heel caught the edge of the stairs and she fell back, the impact forcing the air from her lungs. She pushed herself up with her hands braced against the stairs behind her and gasped for breath.

As suddenly as it had come the shaking stopped with one last crash, like the sound of breaking ice. Heidi heaved a sigh of relief, nearly choking on her own breathe as her eyes went wide taking in the sight before her. The scene seemed to play out in slow motion. A wisp of black smoke wound up from the carp's eye, now laying broken in the center of the floor. It grew and solidified into a dark, hulking form looming over her. Color bloomed from the head, forming a cruel white and red mask as massive wings unfurled. For a moment the monster hung in the air, its empty eyes holding her petrified on the floor. Her heartbeat crashed through her ears and the demon bore down on her. Her scream was swallowed by the oppressive darkness that pushed in all around her, suffocating her until she was left all alone in the dark.

 

Chapter Text

Here goes nothing

Randy crossed his legs and leaned against the bars, taking several deep breathes to calm himself. He closed his eyes and searched for the power. After several minutes of sitting in silence, he felt a familiar presence, warm and sharp and strong. He pulled it up until he could feel it flowing through his entire body. He sighed out a breath and focused on the spell.

 

Stay grounded, do not waver,
The dirt itself will pay you a favor.
No cage can hold me, no chains I can't break,
Time to turn the tables with a massive earthquake

 

The room remained dark and still. Randy slumped in his position, his heart sinking. He was out of ideas.

His misery was interrupted as a violent jolt threw him to the floor. The horrible sound of earth splitting metal echoed through the room for what seemed like an eternity. Randy cradled his head in his hands, his teeth gritted against every shock of pain the movement sent racing through him. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was gone.

Randy eased himself up on his hands and knees and stared out into the darkness. He didn't know what he'd expected to happen, maybe for the whole pyramid to crack in half. He rolled his eyes at the notion, his gaze drifting up to the ceiling. Suddenly a thought hit him and he pressed hit face to the front bars of his cage. He searched for the small red light of the security camera, but all he could see was inky blackness. For the first time in days, a small, slow smile ghosted over his lips. No power, that was it! A moment later the room lit up with the dim red glow of emergency lights. Randy surveyed his surroundings and pushed experimentally on the cage door. It held solid under his feeble efforts, but the low electric hum that had pulsed around him for days was gone. He sat back and collected himself, his hands forming a loose sphere in front of him. He reached again for that familiar energy and focused on the air around him. Slowly, it began to collect and churn between his palms. He waited as long as possible, until the force he held threatened to escape his control, and released it.

“Ninja Air Fist!” He cringed at the awful screech as the door ripped from its hinges and flew across the room, embedding itself in a large metal crate. A grin broke across his face and he laughed in jubilation. He eased himself through the opening with extreme caution, avoiding sharp bits of broken metal protruding from all sides. Once he was clear of the cage, he crawled to a nearby crate and leaned heavily on it as he hauled himself to his feet. Small, breathy laughter continued to spill from his mouth. In a more lucid state he might have perceived the wild laughter as a sign of insanity, but right now he couldn't care less. Maybe he was insane, but he was out. Upon locating the door, he let go of his crutch and took his first step towards freedom...

And immediately collapsed on the ground. He cried out in agony and clutched his head in his hands. Every beat of his heart drove another spike of pain into his head. It didn't matter, he realized. He was too tired, too hungry, too broken in far too many places, and all the willpower in the world wouldn't carry him beyond this room. He squeezed his eyes closed, cursing every action that had brought him here. Damn the Sorcerer. Damn the Nomicon. Damn McFist and Viceroy. Damn the whole town and damn him for being so stupid, for every misstep since he woke up in that damned cage that led to every preventable injury that was keeping him rooted to the floor of this damned building. Damn it. Damn it all!

He grimaced as the pain morphed into an all encompassing pressure pushing down on his brain. He took a shaky breathe that only seemed to make it worse. He cried out in pain as he writhed on the floor, the crushing pressure pushing against every bone in his body. He was dying. It was the only explanation, because nothing else in the world could possibly hurt this much.

And then it was gone, vanished as if it had never existed in the first place. Cold peace settled over him, soothing him, seeping into his bones and making his body hum. No, not cold. It was fire. He dared to open his eyes, hands still clamped to either side of his head, and stared in awe. The floor around him was lit by a low orange glow, flickering softly in time with his pulse. He hesitated, removing one hand and then the other, pushing himself onto his knees, his feet. He stared down at himself, at the pulsing aura surrounding him, and experimentally flexed his hand. He didn't feel any pain. To be more precise, he didn’t feel anything. But that wasn't important now. His head was clear for the first time in days, and only one word echoed through it. Howard. McFist would pay, but right now Randy wouldn't care if the bastard dropped dead in front of him. He would not rest until Howard was safe, and god help anyone who got in his way.

He turned towards the door. Outside. Howard is outside. He stalked towards the door, his gait smooth and calm as if nothing had happened, and gripped the edges of the sliding doors. The orange aura flared as he shoved them apart, letting out an ear-splitting screech of metal on metal. He glanced down the long hallway before picking a direction at random and continuing his search. As he turned a corner he glimpsed the triangular door of the elevator and swiftly closed the distance. He pried the doors apart, leaving charred imprints where his hands had been. Down. He glanced down at the gondola several stories below and a wicked grin spread across his face. Perfect. Randy jumped and landed hard on the ceiling, the compartment shaking under the force. He straightened and stared down at his next obstacle. Fire pooled in his hand as naturally as breathing and he flung a fireball at the far corner of the compartment. The metal melted away in an instant, leaving a gaping, molten hole. He smiled as he jumped down into the elevator.

Randy landed crouched on the floor and straightened to look around. His eyes flitted between the three figures, two cowering in the corner and one...

His hand shot out almost before his opponent moved and squeezed its wrist in a crushing grip. It struggled a moment before dropping its weapon. A cruel grin spread across Randy's face as he turned and advanced, backing his opponent into the wall. It was almost too easy. He called a fireball into his hand, the orange aura swarming around him and swelling at the use of his power, and held it to his opponent's face-

He froze. “...Howard?”

“C-Cunningham?”

“Howard!” In an instant the fire disappeared and both hands gripped his friend's shoulders. “You're okay! Are you okay? Oh my god I thought he had you, thank cheese, Howard...”

He cried out as all his suppressed pain and fatigue crashed down on him and reached out a hand to brace himself against the cool metal wall. He was distantly aware of hysterical screaming and someone shaking his shoulders. Spikes of pain resurfaced as the motion jolted his injuries but it didn't matter. Howard was safe. Howard was here.

“Randy? Randy can you hear me?” His vision swam, shifting in and out of focus, but he was able to make out the distinctive top hat.

“Ju....Julin?” He rasped, his voice was barely audible.

“Randy, is there somewhere we can go that would have a first aid kit, running water, anything?”

“thrs...break room...ery floor...” His legs finally gave out and he collapsed.

Howard caught him and wrapped his arms around his friend, hugging him fiercely to his chest. He cringed. Randy was always so bright and energetic, even after a bad fight, even when they stayed up 48 hours straight playing Grave Puncher before passing out on the floor. The boy in his arms felt so faint, so lifeless. It made his skin crawl.

“Howard?” Howard glanced up at the two figures staring at him across the small space and realized they were waiting for him to do something. He glanced around the dimly lit compartment before coming to rest on the sword at Julian's hip.

“Cut the door down.”

“Excuse me?”

“A ninja sword can cut through anything, now do it!” Julian hesitated another second before drawing his blade and driving it through the door. He stared in shock as his first swipe cut effortlessly through the layers of steel. He repeated the process with growing confidence, backing away as the panels fell at his feet. The red glare of emergency lights flooded the compartment, and in the dim glow they could see that the elevator had come to rest mere inches above the floor. The three students hurried out into the hallway and raced towards relative safety.


Upon finding the break room, Julian immediately ran to the cabinets, wrenching the doors open and pulling out anything that looked remotely useful. He spared a glance behind him to assess the situation. Howard was carefully laying his friend on one of the metal tables, and Theresa...

“Theresa,” He moved to position himself in front of her, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders. “Theresa, look at me.” She quivered like a leaf under his touch. She slowly tilted her head to meet his gaze. Her face was as pale as a ghost and her breathing came just short of hyperventilating.

“Theresa, I need you to go sit in the corner, close your eyes, and count backwards from 100 by threes. Can you do that?” She sucked in a shaky breathe, looking like she was about to burst into tears, and nodded mechanically. Julian let go of her shoulders and pulled off his coat, wrapping it around her. He replaced his hands on her shoulders and caught her petrified gaze again. “You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay, I promise.” He spun her towards the corner and gave her a small push before hurrying back to his search. He spared another glance at the table. Howard was leaning over his friend, staring as if he could wish away his friend's injuries. “Howard, get him some water.”

Howard's head snapped up as he realized his trance state. He marched to the sink and jerked the handle up. Nothing happened, and he swore under his breathe. “The earthquake must have busted the pipes.”

“Theresa has a water bottle in her bag.” Howard turned and nearly ran to where the girl sat huddled in the corner. She didn't seem to notice as he knelt beside her and rummaged through the bag still looped around her shoulder.

“...91...88...85...” He raised an eyebrow at the strange mantra but lost interest as his fingers closed around the cool metal container. He jumped to his feet and raced back to where Julian stood leaning over his patient.

“Randy, I need you to talk to me. Can you tell me your name?”

Randy's eyelids fluttered and he spoke in a weak, strained whisper. “Randy...Cunningham.”

“How old are you?”

“F-Fourteen.”

Howard shoved the water bottle at Julian's face. "Excellent. Help him drink."

He hesitated before walking around to his friend's side and easing him upright. He unscrewed the cap and held the bottle to his friend's lips. Randy sputtered and choked, and Howard began to pull away. He jumped as Randy seized the bottle and drained it in a matter of seconds. Howard stared for a moment, still holding his friend up while he panted. He carefully eased the boy back to the table and turned back to Julian.

“What can I do now?” Julian spared a glance at the boy before returning to his work.

“Go talk to Theresa.”

“What? My best friend is bleeding out and you want me to go make casual conversation? No way, I'm not leaving.”

Julian stopped and addressed Howard in earnest. “He's not going to bleed out. I understand you're worried and I appreciate that you want to help, but you've done what you can and hovering isn't going to help. Theresa is hemophobic and on the verge of a panic attack. I gave her a concentration exercise but anything else you can do to distract her would be a huge help. Getting out of here will be harder if we can't calm her down.”

Howard ground his teeth but couldn't deny the boy's logic. “Fine” He turned and stalked towards his classmate, coming to sit next to her on the floor. “Hey.”

Theresa flinched but recovered quickly. “W-What is it, Howard?” She remained frozen in place, addressing the corner rather than him.

“Julian told me to talk to you so we're gonna talk. Speaking of, when did lord creepy become doctor creepy?”

She drew a deep breath, and when she spoke again her voice didn't shake. “He took a class at a hospital last summer...like a summer camp for people going into that stuff.”

Howard's eyebrows shot up. “Julian wants to be a doctor?”

“A mortician.”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course he does.”


Randy squinted through the pain throbbing against his head, trying to make sense of the events of the last few minutes. Or hours. He wasn't quite sure. All he was sure of was that he wasn't dead, or maybe he was, and now Julian was playing doctor and he was pretty sure Howard and Theresa were there too, but he couldn't see them anymore. Whatever was going on, it didn't make any sense, and he intended to get some answers...once he remembered how to form a sentence.

He tilted his head towards Julian. “What are you doing here?”

“It's...a long story. But you've got a lot more explaining to do than I.”

Randy cringed at the implication and drew a deep breath as he prepared to speak again.

“So I guess everyone knows now, huh?”

“That you're the ninja?” He nodded faintly. “Everyone who was there. The public doesn't know what really happened.”

Randy sighed. He reached up to rub his raw throat and his fingers instead met cold steel. Right. He carefully rolled his head to the side to watch Julian as he examined his injuries, but his gaze instead came to rest on the black sheathe hanging at Julian's side and the familiar hilt protruding from it.

“Julian—where did you get that sword?”

He glanced down at the sword. “Oh. Howard retrieved it, actually. It was from somewhere in the school, I believe. He said it was a—”

“Ninja sword. Lemme see it.” Julian hesitated, staring at Randy like he'd grown another head. Randy sighed. “It's alright, Julian. Please, I'd really like to get this off of me.” He gestured to the thin band of metal around his neck. Julian gaped at him, his mouth opening and closing like a confused fish before he finally found his voice.

“Yes, um, w-well,” he cleared his throat. “W-What do you need me to do?”

“Just hold it steady.” Julian nodded and drew the sword like it was a live grenade. Randy reached out with equal care, not quite trusting his limbs yet, and gingerly gripped the dull side of the blade. He brought his other hand around and used it to guide the point to the top of the collar. The metal clinked as they made contact. He glanced up at Julian, who held the hilt perfectly still despite the fear swimming in his eyes. Randy took a deep breath to steady himself, closed his eyes, and swiftly slid the blade through the collar. He released the blade and opened his eyes as Julian shoved the sword back into its sheathe and jumped to his side to examine the damage. Julian drew a sharp breath and looked away.

“Okay Randy, this is going to hurt.”

Randy nodded. “I don't care. Just get it off.”

Julian took hold of the collar on either side of the cut and carefully pealed the metal band away from his friend's throat. Randy hissed as fire flashed along the newly liberated skin. Finally, he felt the last bit of contact slip away. He squinted at Julian and found the collar clutched in his hands. Before the other boy could react, Randy snatched it, sat up, and hurled the accursed device against the wall. Howard and Theresa jumped and looked back at their hero. He sat panting, his arms resting on his knees, glaring murder at the scrap of metal.

“Cunningham!” Howard sprinted to his friend's side. “Cunningham, are you okay?”

Randy dropped his head to rest on one arm. “Yeah, Howard, I'm brucetastic.”

“Good, then that means I can yell at you—”

“Howard, you'd be totally justified in doing that, but can we take a rain check?” He lifted his head and turned to face his best friend. “Right now we need to focus on escaping. You can yell all you want after I find the mask so I can get us out of here.”

Howard exploded. “No! You aren't doing anything. We are getting out of here together! I am done with your self-sacrificial bullshit!”

Randy sighed and turned to face his friend. “Howard—”

“What's it gonna take for you to realize you can't do everything alone? That it's okay to accept help?”

“It's my job to protect you—”

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!”

Randy paused and dropped his gaze, unable to take the pain in Howard's eyes. “...so did I.” He drew a shaky breath and clutched the edge of the table for support. “I'm...I'm sorry, Howard.”

Howard pulled his friend into a fierce hug, his face buried in the taller boy's chest. “Don't ever do that again.”

Randy took a deep breath and hugged his friend back. His voice came out in a pained whisper that had nothing to do with his physical state. “Okay, buddy.”

Howard lifted his head to glare at him. “Promise me.”

“I promise.”

For a moment, no one spoke, and the silence hung thick in the air. Randy sighed and glanced up at the waiting faces around him. Howard's stern glare softened and he dropped his gaze. “So...any ideas?”

Randy nodded slowly. “Yeah, a couple.”

Julian fidgeted and cleared his throat. “Not to sound completely ignorant, but, can't we just sneak out?”

Randy closed his eyes for a moment, considering the situation. “Maybe.” He began to tick off scenarios on his fingers. “If we're extremely lucky, don't run into any guards, and they don't notice I'm gone, then maybe. But I don't like those odds.”

“We have weapons...” Theresa offered, her voice trailing off as Randy leveled a grim gaze at her.

“Theresa, not to ignore the fact that you guys were able to get into this place at all, which I'll definitely have questions about later,” He threw an accusatory glare at Howard who bristled under the gaze.

“Hey, I tried to shake 'em and they weren't havin' it. They insisted on coming with.” Randy rolled his eyes before turning back to Theresa, his eyes staring straight into hers.

“Are you prepared to fight your way out?” She started to speak and the words caught in her throat. She glanced down and clasped her hands together. “McFist has an army of robo-apes and as many of Viceroy's monsters as will fit in the halls, and if they find us, they wouldn't hesitate to kill all of you to get to me, and I can't fight in this condition, and-”

Howard rolled his eyes and cut in. “Alright, so walking out the front door isn't an option. Any idea where the mask is?”

Randy cringed. “Probably in Viceroy's lab, aka one of the most dangerous places in the entire building.” He drew his hands down his face and sighed. “There's a big central heating duct that cuts right over the lab, I use it all the time. I can climb in there and see what we're dealing with, then...”

Howard placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We'll figure it out. Can you walk?”

Randy eased himself to the floor and shifted his weight experimentally. He nodded. “Yeah. Lets go.”