(Murder World, Quadrant 3)
It’s evening and Nico & Chase are both wide awake. Chase says that he believes they have a good thing going. They sit tight, protect their little bit of beach and… He pauses as he hears a “Hoo Hoo” coming from the trees. “What was…?” he asks. Nico replies that it was an owl. Chase relaxes and continues to point out that they have the waves at their backs and Nico’s taken care of the food stuffs. They’re set up. They can let all the nasty play out over there. They can pop fools in the mouth now and then if they’re dumb enough to set foot in their pad and bring the pain when the last of them come looking to end it. Nico isn’t interested in his macho rhetoric and says that, in the end, they’ll just flip a coin or something and let fate decide whether she kills him or he kills her. Chase reckons it won’t come to that. “Do you have a coin?” she asks. Chase reiterates that it won’t come to that. Sitting under a tree that has borne magic fruit, Nico asks if he can take first watch. She wants to try and sleep.
As Nico settles down, Chase has a little time to think. His parents were no-joke super-genius smart. Him, he was good at sports; not that they thought it was an okay trade-off. When he was ten and won the little league, on the way home they drove by a pier so he could chuck his trophy into the ocean. His father told him to bite his lip. He would be great at something else, something important and those awards they would keep. Two days before he broke the middle school receiving record, his dad broke a lamp and three bookshelves because they’d booted him out of AP science.
Then, in the senior year, he would have been captain of their state champion lacrosse team, except he had to run away when he and his friends found out their parents were secretly super-villains, sacrificing virgins and feeding souls to big, meaty-looking demon things. Mom was right, though. He did finally find something other than sports he was great at. It turns out he’s the idiot Kung Fu master of surviving horrible, terrifying £&%@*. He outlives everybody. Other people? Smarter people? Nah, they all die. Alex died at the hand of the Gibborim as did his mom and dad. Gert, the first girl he ever… Anyway, she died in his arms. Twice. So, for once in his life he’s not worried about losing the game. He’s scared he’ll win.
As he thinks back, he hears something and stands up, immediately using his Fistigons to blast into the forest. Nico wakes with a start and asks what’s going on. Chase tells her he doesn’t know. He heard something moving and started roasting. She says it looks like he got it. They see a burning pile and she reckons it’s still an owl and what looks like its dinner - the chipmunk. Nico turns and says this isn’t working. They’ll go crazy trying to defend the place, just the two of them. Every night and no sleep, and that’s if they don’t die in a fire. Chase says he’s sorry, but what other option have they got? “We find roommates,” replies Nico. The Staff of One glows and she says, “Uproot.” Her tree with the magic fruit severs from the ground.
Hazmat is in a clearing. “Morning Reptil,” she says. “Any luck?” Reptil emerges from the trees and replies that he’s had none, and how does she always hear him coming? He was being sneaky. She asks him to look at himself. His upper half is human but his lower half is part dinosaur with the large feet to go with it. He admits that he’s found no food and no Juston. X-23 then appears from under the snow and says it’s the same there. Her appearance startles Reptil, who says she’s like a ghost. Hazmat tells him that, compared to him, everyone’s a ghost. Laura explains that the Sentinel’s wreckage ends just outside the quadrant border. It also looks like Arcade’s cut off the food supply.
As they sit around a fire, Laura informs them that she’s only seen one rabbit in three days. Humberto replies that there’s nothing left in the woods, unless they’re hungry for loud British kids. Hazmat bets that the sick red-headed %&$*@ is planning something. She figures hunting is off the table. They’ll spend that energy searching for Juston. It’s time to take the search south. “Jen,” says Reptil. Hazmat asks him not to call her that. He points out that if Juston got dumped in the desert days ago… it’s like 103 degrees in the shade. Hazmat stands up and barks that they’re not leaving him out there. Humberto replies that he didn’t mean that, but how are they supposed to survive the desert on snow melt and no food?
From the forest emerge Chase and Nico, both with their arms raised. Nico tells them she might have an idea about that. Chase whispers that he sure hopes it better than this one. “Reptil,” says Hazmat. He immediately stomps them, pinning them both to the ground with his clawed feet. Chase grimaces and tells him that that was a bad move. Nico asks him to calm down. She has this under control. The three academy students look up to see the glowing tree hovering beside them. “What is that?” asks Laura. Hazmat says she doesn’t know, but she should kill it. Reptil asks how. Jenny doesn’t know. She tells Nico that she doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be but right now she orders her to call it off before she microwaves her boyfriend’s skull. Nico struggles to reply, but manages to explains that it’s not what she thinks it is. It’s food!
Reptil allows them to get to their feet and Nico explains that she and Chase figured out pretty quick that their survival skills stop just shy of hunting and gathering. They’re from Malibu. She found this probably poisonous berry tree in the woods and started enchanting it. She asks if they remember how her magic works. She cuts herself to summon the staff and then there’s a lot of guesswork involved. The magic’s even wonkier there than back home. Escape spells don’t work and she can’t touch Arcade. The tree took a lot of effort to get right, but now it bears fruit every eight hours. She reaches up and grabs one of the glowing gold fruits, adding that it’s high protein and vitamin rich. Chase has a bite and says that they taste like a food sex bomb exploded in your mouth. “Food sex bomb?” asks Reptil. Nico asks him please not to have him explain that. X23 asks Hazmat what she thinks. Nico says they need the food whilst they need a safe place to sleep. They could all use a little strength in numbers. Reluctantly, Hazmat grabs one of the fruits and says fine, but if this is some kind of trick…
Before long, Chase and Nico get their heads down, though Chase bets her fifty bucks they’ll kill them in their sleep. “You’re on,” replies Nico. Time passes and they fall asleep. X-23, Reptil and Hazmat gorge themselves on the fruit. They fill up so much they have to let it digest, but soon they are dancing around the fire, enjoying themselves for a change.
Chase is awake and he goes for a walk with Reptil whilst the others sleep. Chase admits that he’s still not sold on the code name thing. Humberto admits it’s kinda cheesy, but he guesses they’re like band names. All the good ones are taken. Chase asks what he missed. Reptil says he missed sixteen hours and a lot of face stuffing. He points out that Nico’s still asleep. Chase is pleased. Nico needed it. Reptil admits that he thought about killing them earlier. It’s not like he didn’t want to or anything, but when he had them by the throats he considered it. How messed up is that? Chase understands. It’s the place. It does that to ya. Reptil tells him that what’s messing him up though is that he’s still him after that. He was an inch away from murder earlier today and all he can think about is this chica back home and whether they’re still a thing or not. It’s like nothing’s changed. It’s just another part of his day.
They walk a while before Reptil sits down on a fallen tree. Chase tells him he’s a bad person. He sits beside Humberto and tells him that he’s never done anything for the right reason. His whole life he’s done whatever’s easy and whatever’s safe. What gets him something without having to work. Back when Nico and the rest of them fought against their parents, when they got ‘em killed saving the world, he didn’t care about the world. He just wanted to get back at his old man. He hated him and now he’s dead. He used to tell himself that he was getting better and he does try, mostly because he doesn’t want to disappoint his friends. But, at the end of the day, in this place it’s a lost cause. He’s crap. So, killing him wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They’d all be better off. But, he adds, if he ever thinks about hurting Nico again, he’ll rip his spine out through his throat. With that, Chase stands up and says he has to take a leak. Reptil sits there for a moment before looking over to the trees. He sees a swirl of flame develop and calls out Chase’s name. Before anyone can answer, Reptil is enveloped in flame and he screams as his skin starts to burn.
Once Chase has finished, he returns to see X-23 standing over Humberto’s sizzling body. He asks what the &%#* happened. Is he gonna be okay? How did this happen? Laura tells him it was some kid with a flame thrower. It came at him out of the woods. She then turns and snikts her claws. “You were in the woods,” she snarls. Hazmat then appears and warns Chase to back away from her friends... right now! Chase stands and assures her that he didn’t burn the kid. He wouldn’t! Hazmat powers up and as she blasts him with a radioactive burst, Nico appears and uses a couple of spells, firstly ‘Fallout’ to create a wall to stop Hazmat’s attack and secondly ‘Chill out’ to create a pool of cold water to dampen Hazmat’s spirits.
Nico then apologizes, but she doesn’t want anyone to do anything they’ll regret. Chase whispers that he’s about to do something she’ll regret. Nico asks why they don’t figure out what just happened here. Hazmat replies that they’ve had one cheap shot apiece and they’re still standing. As X-23 stands beside her, she asks how they fancy their chances two on two. Chase, though gritted teeth, says he’s sorry for what happened to her boy, for real, but he’ll end them both before he lets them… Nico interjects, pointing out that they don’t want to fight. They’ll go. They can keep all the fruit they want but they’ll take their tree and go. Hazmat grins and aims her hand at the tree. “You mean this tree? Yeah?” She then blasts it, burning it to ash. “I think it might be sick.”
Disappointed, Chase and Nico turn to leave. Chase asks what now. Nico admits that she doesn’t know. He asks if they are going back to the beach. “I guess,” she replies, clearly saddened by what just happened. Chase says he’s sorry about the tree. He knows that it took a lot to cook that thing up. But, the next one will be even more dope. She turns and tells him that there is no next one. He knows that she can’t repeat spells. Chase is lost for words and Nico asks if he has some plan to share. Of course he doesn’t, she adds. That back there was it. They were their best shot at surviving and he just… She turns and tells him to forget it. Chase asks her to wait. She doesn’t think he attacked Reptil does she? Does she? She replies that she doesn’t know, but probably. She asks what difference it makes. They’re screwed either way.
Chase watches her walk away, lit by a full moon. He thinks about all the filthy &*%@ they’ve crawled through together. She’ll save his life but she still doesn’t trust him. How is he supposed to keep her alive if she doesn’t even want him around? He then notices Darkhawk’s amulet hanging in a tree from a chain. He opens his Fistigon and the amulet drops into his hand. Before he can react, the amulet lights up ruby red, swings around and plunges itself into his chest. He is then transformed as a Darkhawk costume builds around him; his Fistigons bearing three scary-looking blades each.