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[IC][Arc 1][Story]As the Woods Turn
[IC][Arc 1][Story]As the Woods Turn
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Yeah, yeah - three-and-a-half weeks, and that's the best title I could come up with? Sorry... This is set a few months past the current end of the main narrative, but, hey, it's a standalone piece.






Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 2, 2017
4:44 PM


The water pitcher on Rob's desk started glowing. He immediately moved it to the floor. After the glowing stopped, Rob asked, "To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, milady Skuld?"

"I suspect you won't think it's a pleasure once I've told you what's wrong." She did, in detail.

"Oh, gods. But isn't that something you could just swat with your hammer?"

"Ordinarily, yes, but they have a barrier up that's hiding the exact location, and we're too busy to devote the necessary effort it would take to break through it. Somebody needs to actually go in and switch on a beacon." She handed him a device that resembled the cellphones she had provided when the displacees started showing up.

"I see. When do I leave?"

"You don't. They need to be young."

"Oh, right. I only watched the movie once. I'll go call for volunteers. Where are they going?"

Skuld handed Rob a tablet displaying Google Maps. "If the team gets to that gas station -" she pointed at a particular spot on the map "- at 1:47 PM tomorrow, they'll be able to head off the five people who have been manipulated into making that trip."

"Can we have Washuu-chan on call? If I remember the movie correctly, at least two of them have been drugged, and who knows whether those intelligence depressors will ever wear off."

Skuld smiled. "You're settling into the role of the Hero nicely, Rob. Thank you for thinking of saving them as well."





June 2, 2017
8:21 PM


As the movie's ending credits rolled, Usagi excused herself to make a dash for the washroom. A moment later, some obvious sounds came from where she'd gone.

"Are you going to be okay, Usagi?" Rob asked as he turned off the Netflix feed.

"Oh, gods... How could somebody do that?"

"In story, they thought they were doing what they had to do. Not that I agree." Rob sighed. "Out here, the movie was marketed as entertainment, but it was really a statement on what had happened to the genre."

"Please tell me people listened to that statement."

"I'd rather not lie to you, Hyoga."

"Oh. Is this why you never watch horror movies?"

"Pretty much, yeah. Are you still willing to do this, everyone?"

"Yes..." Usagi replied weakly as she came back into the room, wiping her chin with a wet cloth. Mamoru, Hyoga, and Mii just nodded. Makoto said, "This'll give me a chance to field-test some of the techniques Mii and I have been working on."

"Who fills which role?" Mii asked.

Rob looked quickly at everyone. "Usagi's the only blonde in the group."

"I don't want to die first!"

"I don't want any of you dying at all. Head off the students, take their place, get in there, and get this done as fast as you can. But you asked about roles. Mii, you're wearing glasses; take a thick book with you." She nodded. "Mamoru, you get to be the jock who's dating the blonde."

"I don't need to pretend to be dating Usako."

"But you do need to hide your intelligence. Makoto, can you pretend to be a ditz?"

"For a while, I guess. I'm not going to take any drugs, though."

"Thanks. Hyoga, you need to be the virgin." Hyoga giggled at that.

Mamoru raised an eyebrow. "Playing favourites?"

"No. If Usagi dies, only Hyoga has the raw power to even try to hold the gate closed until Skuld gets there."

Hyoga frowned. "I don't like the way you said that."

"Neither do I."





At the side of a quiet road
June 3, 2017
1:47 PM


Mamoru pulled the van up to the gas station's pump island just as the driver and passengers of the RV already parked there stormed out of the building. One of the male college students was talking to the blonde by his side. "The nerve of him, calling you a - Oh." He noticed they weren't the only ones at the pumps.

"Hi, there," Mamoru said with a smile as he, Mii, and Hyoga got out of the van. Mamoru stopped at the pump while Hyoga walked around the RV and Mii headed into the station. "You're going camping, too?"

"No, my brother's lent me his cabin. We're going there for the weekend."

"That's a kind brother you've got. We have to pitch a tent somewhere in a public park. What's your brother do for a living, that he can afford a vacation place out here?"

"He's a... he's... I don't remember." The boy looked puzzled.

"You must remember his name, at least."

"Of course I do! It's... it's..."

Mamoru looked him straight in the eye. "Do you even have a brother?"

He blinked a couple of times as a shadow fell across the fuel pumps. "No?"

"Then you're the people we've been looking for. You've been drugged. So has your girlfriend."

From the back of the van Mamoru had been driving came the cry "Moon Healing Escalation!" The effect went through the van's wall without affecting it, hit the students, then went through the RV without marking it.

The blonde shook her head once, then let go of the boy's arm; she suddenly seemed to be more alert than she had been. "What the hell have I been doing? And why did I get a dye job?"

Mamoru leaned to the van's window. "I hope you limited that, Usako."

"She didn't," replied Hyoga as she folded her wings, letting the sun shine on the pumps again, "but I absorbed the excess energy, and it looks like Mii kept the man in the building from noticing us."

"Who are you? Are you an ... angel?"

"We're friends," Hyoga replied. "And volunteers to take your places in the horror you were driving into. And I'm only an angel part-time," she finished with a grin.

"I ... see, I think. How can we thank you?"

"You can give us the keys to the cabin, so we don't have to break in. Oh, and we know a very good doctor who can probably counteract those drugs you've been given; here's her card."





June 3, 2017
1:55 PM


The phone rang once before it was picked up.

"It's about time you called. Did you warn them?"

"Yes, I did, and they ignored me. But then they changed their minds! The boys and girls are going home!"

"Oh, shit."

"Mind your language! All is not lost! There's a second group that they gave the cabin key to!"

"Maybe we can still make this work. How many?"

"Five little slant-eyed sacrifical lambs, and they match the roles. Although the whore is younger than most."

"There's something wrong there... but we don't have time to be choosy. Did you warn them?"

"I did, and those heathens refused to listen! They are on their way to the slaughter!"

"Fine."





The end of the line
June 3, 2017
2:33 PM


"Well, here we are." Mamoru held the van's door open for Usagi, then let the others make their own way out of the van.

"Nice place," Makoto nodded. "Lots of windows. And a roof!"

Mii barely looked up from her book. "As long as it has an Internet connection."

"No such luck," Mamoru answered with Usagi hanging off his arm. "We are off the net. But we aren't off the grid."

"As long as we have some place to put the groceries," replied Hyoga with her hands full.

Usagi nodded. "Right - let's go put the food in the fridge."

"Then we can explore the cabin! I bet it has rooms! I wonder whether it has a basement?" Makoto asked.

Hyoga leaned over to Makoto and whispered, "You're getting a little too much into your role."

***

"Isn't it too early in the day for them to go to the basement?"

"Some of the traps work better in the daytime. Maybe we can get this done quickly for a change, and go home early."






June 3, 2017
2:58 PM


"Well, here's the basement."

"It's hot in here."

"You could take your coat off, Makoto."

She pouted. "But it's my coat."

"Look at all this stuff!" Usagi exclaimed.

"How much of it is cursed, do you think?" asked Hyoga.

***

"Oh, shit! Do they know?"

***

Mii looked around while wearing the glasses Skuld had given her. "You see that end table over there? The one with the puzzle box on it?" Everyone else nodded. "The table itself doesn't have any magic. Everything else does."

"What do you want to choose, then? The merman, maybe?" Mamoru gestured toward a figurine.

Usagi shook here head. "No, there isn't enough water here."

***

"Awwww..."

"We have more important things to worry about than them not picking the God-damned merman! How the hell do they know what's going on?" The director stopped ranting, then sighed. "I knew there was something wrong."

"There's no time to worry about that. They're reading from Buckner's diary."

"No! They shouldn't! They know what's going on!" The director glanced at the red phone on the wall, but didn't move toward it. "Or should they?"

"Sir. We. Can't. Stop. Them."


***

"Your accent is impeccable, Hyoga."

"Thank you, Mii. How soon will it be before the pain-worshiping redneck zombies show up?"

"I think we have to coax them out by somebody having sex," Makoto pointed out.

"That's our cue, Mamo-chan!"

"Usako!"

She pouted. "I'm just staying in character."

"Usagi -"

Mamoru held up one hand in a 'stop' gesture. "Mii, if they don't know by now that we know, either they aren't watching or they're idiots."





June 3, 2017
3:37 PM


"That isn't something I want to watch." Makoto and Hyoga were outside, standing on either side of an open window and trying to ignore the sounds coming from inside.

"I agree - I feel like I'm intruding, even with the curtains drawn. But at least it sounds like they're having fun."

"Are they really ..."

Hyoga nodded. "The only way for it to seem real enough is for it to be real."

"Then my friends are really-- Supreme Thunder!"

A bear trap sparked and bounced twice on the ground as the zombie that was wielding it as a weapon collapsed into a pile of ashes.

***

"What the hell did she do?"

***

Hyoga shouted, "Mii! It's showtime!"

Mii's answer came from across the clearing behind the cabin - it sounded like she was running. "I've found the graves, and three zombies have found me!"

"We're on our way! Makoto, destroy or capture? Maybe Usagi can heal them, if she and Mamoru are finished."

Usagi and Mamoru stepped out of the cabin's front door, adjusting their clothes. "Ewww... I don't want to heal the pain-worshiping redneck zombies, but I guess I should at least try. Oh, and whoever was watching better not have tried to record what Mamo-chan and I just did, because I'm not 18 yet, and we kept our clothes on anyway!"

"Too much informaton, Usagi," Makoto said as she finally took her coat off... to reveal she'd been in her Sailor Jupiter form all along.

"Sorry, Mako-chan. Moon Cosmic Power, Make-up!"

All Tuxedo Kamen said was, "Let's go."

***

"Oh, shit! Fucking magical girls! Fucking Sailor Soldiers!" The director grabbed the red phone. "Come on! Answer!"





June 3, 2017
3:43 PM


There weren't any pain-worshiping redneck zombies left for Sailor Moon to heal. A rose by any other name would go through their heads just as quickly... and so would a lightning bolt.

That just left them with how to get underground - but they knew they needed to act fast. "Mii, any luck?"

She nodded. "Over here, Usagi. There's a control panel inside this grave."

"Ick." Hyoga frowned. "Well, let's see what we can do."

Makoto ripped the cover off the control panel, Mamoru hot-wired it, and the group was on its way underground, passing dozens of different transparent boxes holding as many different monsters.

"Hey, look! Elves!" Usagi waved at them through the clear front of their box as they passed by. The elves bared their teeth and jumped toward them, hitting the clear front of their box.

"I doubt they know Ail and Ann."

"Probably not, Mamo-chan."

The box continued on.

***

"I recognize three of them - Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Tuxedo Mask. ... Yes, exactly like in the cartoon. ... How should I know? I don't even know where we get our slashers from. That's your job. The other two, I don't recognize, but it's obvious that one of them has some sort of psychometry or penetrating vision. ... Because she knew what was cursed and where the elevator controls were. ... No, ma'am, the 'virgin' hasn't done anything yet to hint what her magic is. ... Yes, they are. My assistant already sounded the alarm."





June 3, 2017
4:00 PM


The box stopped.

The door opened up.

So did the guards.

Their bullets hit only Tuxedo Kamen's cape.

Their submachine guns ran dry. As the troops moved to reload, Makoto shouted "Jupiter Taser Blast!"

Lightning arced through the antechamber, and the troops collapsed like puppets with their strings cut.

Hyoga blinked. "I didn't know you could do that!"

"No more chatter," ordered Mii. "Assault now, talk later. And keep your eyes open! We can't count on the others being this sloppy with their tactics."

The five took off down the corridor, leaving the monsters locked up in the boxes behind them.





June 3, 2017
4:09 PM


They reached the control room ... only to find it deserted. Papers were spread across desks, coffee was cooling in cups, and a jacket was half-draped on the back of a chair, but all of the people were gone.

"I guess they knew we were coming."

Mii sighed. "You can drop the act, Mako-chan."

"But I wasn't ..." She was cut off by a phone ringing.

Hyoga was the first to reach the red phone. "Hello! Do you have a paranormal infestation? Do you need expert help? We're ready to believe you!"

"What is she going on about?" Mamoru asked.

Usagi put her hand on Mamoru's arm. "We all know who's on the other end of that call. Remember who played her in the movie?"

"Oh. Right." Mamoru sighed and shook his head once. "Hyoga's been hanging around Ruiko too much."

Hyoga ignored them. "We know exactly what's going on here. Give us a reason to let it continue, and we might go along with it, or we might not. ... No, not over the phone. In person, where all of us can hear you. No side deals with only one of us. ... Or we destroy this place and banish all your monsters back to wherever they came from. You know we have the power to do that."

Mii leaned over to Usagi. "Do we have the power to do that?"

"Hyoga says we do. Don't you trust her?"

Hyoga hung up as a door unlocked and opened on its own. "She's agreed to explain things in person. Let's go." As they moved toward the door, Hyoga stopped Usagi. "You need to be in the middle of the group."

"Okay, but why?"

Mii smiled. "According to their plans, you have to die first, remember? Let's not make it easy for them by putting you at either end."





June 3, 2017
4:17 PM


The five walked into a cavern, large enough to hold them all without stepping into the mystic circle that was inlaid on the floor. The place was dark, and malevolent, and waiting for death - they had the feeling that it didn't care whose death, as long as the sacrifices were young.

Hyoga stopped the group from going any farther. "Here we are, now. Entertain us."

"That's supposed to be my line, or, rather, the line of the Beings who we guard against," came a voice from the shadows. The woman who had spoken stepped out where they could see her.

"Wow. She actually looks like Ms. Wea-"

"Not important, Usagi!"

The woman raised an eyebrow. "Usagi? Not Serena? It appears I was misinformed. Are you all Japanese?"

"We are," Mii replied.

"Then you might be too old. But the ritual here requires students, not children. Your friend said that you knew what was happening here. That means you know that the fate of the entire world depends on your sacrifice. At least you three have been willing to die for the world in the past." She gestured toward Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Tuxedo Kamen. "Will you die for us here? Please?"

Usagi's voice was like steel. "We are willing to die in combat, but not as helpless pawns for some entity's amusement."

"Then you will condemn us all. There are only two options: You can die for us, or with us."

Hyoga reached into her pocket, and smiled the smile that she had seen on the face of the Best of Hounds when she was still a collection of forces so many months ago. "We choose a third option." Withdrawing her hand from her pocket to reveal Skuld's Beacon, she switched it on.

It shifted shape into a teacup, which filled with water on its own.

And the room was filled with a divine radiance.

"What is that?" the woman asked. "What are you doing?"

"I HAVE BEEN SUMMONED."

And above the teacup was the Valkyrie who is a Norn, the Keeper of the Future, the Divine Debugger, the Raven-Haired, Skuld. Clad in her finest armour and wielding her warhammer, she stepped forward to face the woman who spoke for the Entities below them. "YOUR TIME OF JUDGMENT HAS COME. YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED AND FOUND UNWORTHY OF VALHALLA. TO HEL WITH YOU."

And she swung her hammer.

And the woman collapsed, her head staved in.

Skuld turned to the five who had been her proxies in the search for the chamber. "It's time for four of you to leave. Hyoga, would you stay behind and assist me?"

"Of course, milady Skuld. How much of my power do you need to borrow?"

"All of it, please."

Hyoga turned to her friends. "Run."

The others ran for the door, as fast as they were able, barely outracing the light that filled most of the corridor behind them, not stopping until they reached the control room with the red phone.

Nine minutes later, Hyoga followed them out... and collapsed at their feet. "I never want to do anything like that again."

"Are we ..."

"We're safe, Usagi. The portal is sealed. Skuld locked it herself. Only a Norn or Hild could get through it now."

"So," Usagi asked, "do you want to stay and enjoy the rest of the weekend in a cabin in the woods?"

Everybody else stared at her.

Finally, Hyoga replied, "Let's get the Hel out of here."
--
Rob Kelk

"Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of the same sovereign, servants of the same law."
- Michael Ignatieff, addressing Stanford University in 2012


"Dont let anyone think for you; most people can barely think for themselves."
-
Rare Earth, "The Giants You Can't See from the Ground"
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