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49. Mind

Davy opened his eyes and was greeted with the color gray. It was in every direction. He was no longer seated in the chair in the Institute of Mind. He was instead standing in a vast, open gray space.

He looked down. There wasn’t even any sort of ground below him that he could see. He was just standing on the same gray that he saw in every other direction.

“Where am I?” Davy asked himself, not particularly expecting an answer.

He got one anyway. “Your mind…” a faint voice rang out through infinity.

Davy sighed. “Okay, I’m not really thrilled to see my mind being represented as a vast, empty space,” he said to himself. “There’s gotta be something here.”

As he said this, it seemed his mind had suddenly remembered the laws of physics exist and that Davy was apparently standing on nothing. Davy’s stomach rose as he began to fall into the total emptiness below him.

Only is apparently wasn’t total emptiness. Davy shut his eyes and felt a rush of cold as he broke through the surface of the water. He continued to sink down, further and further. After a few moments, Davy opened his eyes again. There was somehow enough light permeating into the depths of the water that he could see into the distance. It looked like he was in the middle of a vast ocean that was just as desolate as the gray space he was just in. Davy could not see an ocean floor or any other object in any direction.

He felt like he was continuing to sink for some inexplicable reason, but he also felt grossly disoriented. He had no idea which way was up or down. Davy realized he he needed to breathe; he had been holding his breath since he went underwater. Strangely enough, it he felt more and more like he needed air, but at the same time, he didn’t feel like he was drowning. He was just sort of floating in this empty ocean.

He felt the water quake around him. The quaking was shortly followed by a low rumbling noise. Davy noticed a dark shadow far off in the distance coming from below—or at least what he thought was below. The shadow grew larger and larger; it eventually began to form a vaguely humanoid shape. Davy was struck by just how gargantuan the shadow had become. He felt like a helpless speck floating in the presence of this shadowy figure. He wanted to swim away, but he also knew that he was small enough compared to the figure that no distance he could travel would likely put him out of its reach. Davy simply had to hope that this creature wouldn’t notice him.

The creature looked directly at him. It was still nothing more than a silhouette to Davy, but. Ow there were two glowing yellow dots on what looked like the creature’s face. They were pointed directly at Davy.

Davy wondered why his mind would make him out as a feeble speck, drowning in the middle of an endless, empty ocean while being stared down by an ambitious monstrous shadow. Davy realized there was probably all sorts of subtext here that he was resisting addressing. If this was a high school English class, Davy could probably sit down and work his way through this symbolism. But before Davy could ruminate on this any further, the creature began to swim away. It looked presumably upwards towards the surface, spread its arms and soon enough, it was gone.

Davy was alone again.

Maybe I feel lonely, Davy thought. It feels like that’s the subtext I’m getting. I’m lonely and have a fear of the unknown? That sounds like a strong takeaway. Or maybe I’m just subconsciously scared of sea monsters.

Davy noticed that he was getting pulled by a current. He felt his body move in a circle. After a second, he felt like he was also slowly dropping, and Davy realized what was happening. The ocean was draining.

He would have figured that a body of water that appeared to extend infinitely in every direction would take a long time to fully drain, but in no time at all, Davy found himself lying down on a cold stone floor, small puddles of water scattered around him.

Standing up on his feet, Davy also noticed he was completely dry. He took a look around him. There was this dark brown stone floor, which was a welcome development, but nothing else. The floor extended indefinitely into that same grayness in every direction. Davy was getting tired of this perpetual emptiness, when he spotted a hole in the ground a few feet in front of him.

He approached the hole and looked down. The opening was fairly narrow, just wide enough for him to barely fit through. The hole went straight down a foot or so and then turned about ninety degrees, running parallel to the surface of the floor he was standing on.

Davy stood looking at the hole in front of him? Was he supposed to go in there? He didn’t particularly want to go in there. He looked around him in every direction again. There was still nothing. Davy sighed. I guess this is all supposed to be in my head, Davy thought. None of this is supposed to be real. Worst case scenario, I find something bad in there and I just wake up.

Davy paused. Or worst case scenario, whatever I find down there drives me insane.

Davy sighed. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he had a growing suspicion that nothing was going to happen until he crawled into the hole. He looked up at the blank gray sky. “You’re the worst, mind,” he muttered to nobody. He got on his knees and stuck his hands into the opening. Arms out in front of him, he began to crawl headfirst into the hole.

He saw a narrow tunnel in front of him. “Okay, maybe this won’t be so bad,” he said with cautious optimism. He began to shimmy through the tunnel, the wet stone felt slimy, but also helped propel him through the right space he probably would have otherwise struggled to fit through.

The tunnel seemed to get even narrower as he continued to move forward. He felt like was starting to get a good rhythm going when he slid over a drop. It was only a few feet; the tunnel took a ninety degree drop straight down, his feet directly above him. Davy found himself upside down. On the plus side, his head had landed on his arms, cushioning his fall. On the downside, Davy found his arms were contorted against each other and could barely move them. The palm of his right hand was smushed up against his face, covering his eyes.

Davy wiggled his feet around. With his right foot, he could barely feel the ledge he had just fallen off of. He had dropped far enough that there was no way he could lift himself back up the way he came.

Davy struggled to move his arms to feel if the tunnel continued in any direction. To his dismay he only felt the cold, slimy stone on every side. Davy took a deep breath and exhaled.

He was stuck.

Stuck upside down in a dark tunnel with solid stones reading against him on every side. Unable to move virtually any part of his body. Unable to see anything, since he had a hand pressed over his eyes.

It was not a great situation.

Davy felt an itch on his nose. He was able to extend the pinky finger of his right hand and scratch the itch.

“Well, at least I was able to do that,” Davy mumbled to himself, trying to focus on the one silver lining.

Davy felt another itch on the bottom of his foot.

“Shoot,” Davy added.

Davy began to wonder what insanity would be like.

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48. Therapy

Davy heard screaming through a door he passed on the way to the therapy room. Davy could barely hear it, but he could make out the words “The Burning” come up repeatedly.

“Ignore her,” Consecration Tony snapped, still maintaining his goofy smile. “Her screams are unending, and she is thoroughly unpleasant to talk to.”

Davy went up to Steve and whispered, “Are you still feeling good about this?”

Steve’s stomach growled. “Honestly, I’m more focused on how badly I want more ice cream,” Steve whispered back. He gestured towards Consecration Tony. “Was this guy really putting brain stuff in there?”

“That’s what Lady Gut Possum said,” Davy replied. “And now we’re letting this guy access our brains directly.”

“But it’ll probably look so funny,” Olivia cut in. “Big, goofy, smiling, lizard poking at our brains and stuff. I want a poster of that to hang on my wall!”

“But what about the risk of going insane part?” Davy asked.

“Pssh,” Olivia replied. “I only grew myself a brain pretty recently. I can always grow myself a new one. Besides I went along for however many million years without a brain at all and did just fine.”

Steve’s jaw dropped slightly. “However many million years?” he said incredulously. “How old are you.”

Olivia realized she may have said too much. “Don’t worry about it,” she said quickly.

Connie came up behind them with a sly grin. “Davy’s got a point. He’s a sharp guy, just like the rest of you. But sometimes, it feels like life’s really too short to worry about whether or not you have gone insane as a result of indeterminate brain therapy conducted by a two-legged, smiling lizard.”

“You’re an awfully relaxed person, you know that?” Davy chimed.

“I just like not having to worry,” Connie responded casually.

They had arrived at the end of the hall. Consecration Tony stood in front of a black door and opened it. He beckoned to the group. “Enter this space,” he ordered. “Begin your mind opening.”

The group proceeded into the room. It was dimly lit from blinking fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Rows of metal chairs with worn-down leather padding stood in front of them, arranged in rows like in a movie theater. In the front of the room was a blank white screen hanging down from the ceiling.

“You must sit,” Consecration Tony declared. He pointed at the chairs.

Davy and the others looked at each other and shrugged as they shuffled to four chairs next to each other in the front row.

After they say down, Consecration Tony went up to Connie. He pointed to an armrest on the chair she was sitting on. “Your arm goes here,” Consecration Tony said, still smiling.

“You got it, boss,” Connie chirped as she placed her arms on the armrests.

Consecration Tony pulled out a leather strap from the right side of the chair and fastened Connie’s right arm down to the armrest. He did the same thing with her left arm. He then bent over and pulled out leather straps from below the chair that he fastened to Connie’s legs. She was now completely constrained.

Connie wiggled her arms and legs. The restraints were tight enough that she couldn’t break free. “Heh,” she laughed. She looked down the row at the rest of the group. “Looks like I’ll see you on the other side fellas.”

Davy ruminated to himself about how weirdly relaxed Connie had been about this whole thing. He wondered if this was unusual for her, before he realized he knew nothing about her. Davy noted that maybe he should make more of an effort to get to know his prophesized companions. Of course, that all depended on whether he was going to still have a functional brain an hour or so from now.

Consecration Toby moved on to Olivia. He pulled out the straps and restrained her the same way he restrained Connie.

“You know I can shapeshift, right,” she asked with a grin. “Like, I could get out of this chair easily if I wanted to.”

Consecration Tony looked directly at Olivia with his wide smile. “You have the ability to escape,” he admitted. “But you will not exercise this option. Mind therapy is engrossing. Remember this fact.”

As Consecration Tony finished restraining Olivia and began to restrain Steve, Steve looked to Davy. “Okay, I admit, I am getting a slightly bad feeling about this,” he said, visibly worried. “I don’t like leather straps,” he continued. “They chafe.”

Consecration Tony finally reached Davy. “How exactly does this kind therapy work?” he asked nervously as Consecration Tony applied the restraints.

“You will watch and then you will see,” Consecration Tony answered. “You will see the mind and all its acute fabrications, a laser light show of resplendent implications.”

This dos nothing to answer Davy’s question. Davy would have asked for clarification, but he figured any furthers answers would be just as nonsensical as the one he just received.

In another moment, all four of them were restrained to their chairs. Consecration Tony proceeded to the space right in front of the screen.

“Prepare your brain for abject penetration,” he stated. “Direct your eyes to the images; do not deviate from this course. You will be interwoven into the heart of your mind. Seek the truths from within; do not make a failure of your life.”

He held up a small electronic device and pressed a button. The lights in the room went off as Consecration Tony walked to the side of the room.

Steve’s voice meekly rang out in the dark. “Uh, so I just realized that I kind of need to go to the bathroom.”

Consecration Tony did not respond as the first image appeared on the screen. It was a blurry, black and white photo of a tree, sunlight pouring through from between the branches. Davy didn’t have time to soak in all the details, because the image of the tree was promptly replaced by a new blurry image, also on black and white. It was a small dog sitting on the floor looking up at the camera. Was it a poodle?

A new image promptly appeared on the screen. A fried egg sitting on a frying pan. Then a new image, then a new image, all in black and white and equally blurry.

A solitary basketball sitting alone on a concrete floor.

A dirty toothbrush lying in a grimy sink.

A tarantula crawling through the dirt.

The images began to cycle through more and more rapidly, almost rhythmically. Davy noticed what sounded like a bass drum, heavily distorted with what sounded like feedback from a poorly functioning speaker. The drum was barely audible in the back of his perception, pounding away in time with the flashing images.

A plastic chair sitting in a landfill.

A tornado ripping apart a wooden shed.

A crying baby.

The drum was getting louder. Its tempo picked up as the speed of the flashing images continued to escalate rapidly. Soon, the beating was too loud for Davy to handle. He wanted to get up and leave, but the restraints held him in place. Davy heard a new sound over the drums, a cacophonous roaring as if a running jet turbine had been placed right behind his head.

Davy clenched his eyes shut. Whatever was happening, or whatever was supposed to happen, it wasn’t working. The drum and the roaring were even louder now; Davy felt like he was about to snap. He couldn’t take the noise any longer.

And then it stopped.

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47. Tony

Davy looked closer at the lizard standing in front of him. He was scaly and brownish-green colored. He wore the top half of a sky blue medical scrub with loose-fitting black rubber gloves. Over the scrubs was a black medical apron. He was not wearing pants.

Davy found himself feeling uncomfortable at the sight of the lizard’s face. His mouth was wide open in a toothless, unnervingly wide smile. His eyes were large and round, almost looking like they belonged to a cartoon character.

Steve was similarly perturbed by the lizard. He didn’t look like the short lizards that ambushed them the day Davy first received word of his quest. This lizard had a shorter snout, and scales on the top of his head gave the appearance of small horns.

Steve sidled up to Lady Gut Possum. “What kind of lizard is that?” he whispered.

“The kind that can shoot blood from behind his eyes,” Lady Gut Possum snapped back. “So I suggest you remain silent and allow me to do the talking.”

The lizard spoke to them in a declarative voice that was accompanied by an unusual static sound, as if he was speaking from an old radio. As he spoke, his unnerving smile never faltered.

“This is the Institute of Mind,” he said. “What is your purpose?”

His gaze turned to Davy, who didn’t immediately respond.

“I am Consecration Tony,” the lizard continued in the same declarative voice. “Explain your presence.”

Lady Gut Possum came up to him and gave him a thwack on the head with her parasol. “What did I tell you?” she said angrily. “I said we need to keep a low profile while we’re in this world. And you go and open an ice cream establishment that surreptitiously serves your mind drugs or who-knows-what to the human populous!?”

“But no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” Davy, Steve, Olivia, and Connie chimed in simultaneously.

Lady Gut Possum looked at them then glared back at Consecration Tony. “What were you thinking? This is the Steward and his companions that you are drugging!” she exclaimed.

Consecration Tony looked back with his smile. “Their minds are untapped and ice cream is a magic food. It is an after-hours moonbeam in a corporeal state.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “That doesn’t make any sort of sense,” she replied. “You will stop drugging these people,” she declared. “I do not care if you continue serving food, but it shall not be laced with anything nefarious.”

Consecration Tony tilted his head. “I accept with reluctance,” he said.” You deplorable hard-boiled egg tart.”

Lady Gut Possum seemed too frustrated to pay any heed to Consecration Tony’s insult. She looked at Davy.

“Davy, this is Consecration Tony,” she said in a considerably softer tone. “He is going to help you.”

“Um,” Davy answered. He was already feeling some reservations about this.

“I am aware of your trepidation,” Lady Gut Possum acknowledged. “Consecration Tony is a constant source of consternation. But his methods have a knack for bringing about epiphanies in his subjects. Perhaps he can help you four come to discover what is needed to defeat your current foe.”

“So Tony will help us find out how to defeat the Iron League?” Connie asked. “Sounds good to me.”

Davy still wasn’t quite convinced. “Is there any downside here?” he asked.

“There is a small chance his methods will drive you to incurable madness,” Lady Gut Possum admitted.

“I like those odds,” Olivia chirped.

Davy looked at the rest of the group. “Are you all okay with this?”

Connie shrugged with a laid back grin. “I have a tendency to just go with whatever if presented to me, and it usually turns out just fine. Besides, you’re a sharp individual,” you can probably handle whatever Tony can throw at you,” she answered. “I wouldn’t worry.”

“Yeah,” Steve added. “Besides, my mind is an impenetrable fortress. I’ve never gone mad in my life, so that means it’s, like, statistically impossible for me to go mad today.”

“I mean, yeah, the brain lizard guy who drives people mad should be a giant red flag,” Olivia chimed in. “But look at his face! It’s so goofy and happy. I kind of want a stuffed toy of him that I can make my best friend.”

Davy looked back at Consecration Tony’s face. Maybe he was still in a good mood from the delicious Franklin Del-Mango RooseveltTM ice cream he had just eaten, but the adorable smile and wide, cartoony eyes put Davy at ease.

“Okay, I guess we can try this,” Davy relented. He turned to Lady Gut Possum. “But please don’t let us go insane.”

Lady Gut Possum nodded then glared at Consecration Tony. “Go ahead and prepare them for your mind therapy,” she said. “But you heard the Steward,” she continued. “If any one of them descends into insanity because of you, I swear I will raze your institute to the ground with my bare hands.”

Consecration Tony blinked then held his left hand in the air. “I swear to unlock the secrets in their brain space,” he said. “And that no one will be intentionally driven to madness. This time.”

Lady Gut Possum appeared to find this acceptable, she looked at Davy and the others. “Go on with Consecration Tony, he will get you ready for his therapy,” she said. “And remember if any of you goes insane, I will still love you.”

“Huh?” Steve interjected.

“Nothing,” Lady Gut Possum immediately replied. “Go on with Tony. I will wait for you here.”

The smiling lizard beckoned them to follow him down the hallway leading out of the entry area.

“I have a good feeling about this!” Olivia declared as they followed him down the hall. “Mind therapy sounds exciting!”

Consecration Tony beamed as he led them down to the therapy room. “Prepare for the opening of your mind!” he exclaimed. “Endeavor your brain might! Fail to be a cretin!”

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46. Institute

Institute of Mind

Those were not the words Davy was expecting to see as the elevator doors opened. They were in another cave, but this one was brightly lit. The words were engraved on a giant, futuristic, stone arch in front of them. The arch went over a wide path leading out directly in front of them. Extravagant fountains shot streaming water into the air on either side of the path. At the end of the path was an incredible building. It was mostly made of stone painted white. Massive glass domes came out of the building at different areas. It looked like a state-of-the-art science museum or the headquarters of the latest trending technology company.

“Follow me,” Lady Gut Possum beckoned.

As Davy went under the arch, he looked back up at the sign. The words were written in smooth, appealing typeface. In the center of the words was a graphic of a brain. There was a splash of vibrant yellow behind the words, made to resemble light illuminating from the brain.

The group continued down the path towards the framing glass doors of the building.

“This place looks awesome,” Steve remarked. “I gotta send my resume here.”

Olivia beamed at the fountain nearest to her. “I kind of want to swim in that,” she said. Her hands became webbed for a moment as she said this.

Lady Gut Possum huffed. “This is not a place where you want to be,” she stated. “This place is a trick. Unfortunately, I believe it is also what you need at this point in time.”

They walked through the glass doors. The interior was just as pristine as the outside. Upbeat, almost adventurous music—like what one would hear at a science exhibition—was playing over the speakers. Davy saw a cool green carpet at their feet, marble walls, and another fountain in the center of the room. There was a stone statue of a brain in the fountain, with water elegantly spurting from the top.

Lady Gut Possum approached the reception desk and began to angrily tap the bell. An empty dark doorway sat behind the desk. Lady Gut Possum did not receive a response.

She continued to ring the bell. “You know I’m here, Tony,” she grumbled. After about a minute, a zebra floated up through the empty doorway and behind the desk. She stood upright on two legs, like Lady Gut Possum. Or rather, she floated. She appeared to hover a few inches off the ground. She was holding her hands in the front pockets of her glossy black jacket. A matching black beret sat on her head. To Davy, her face, for lack of a better word, was bizarre. It almost looked like the living embodiment of what you would get if Pablo Picasso ever tried to pain to a zebra. Its features were cubic and distorted. Most notably, the zebra’s large right eye hovered off to the side of her face, not actually connected to the rest of her body.

The zebra looked squarely at Lady Gut Possum. “His name is not Tony,” she said.

Lady Gut Possum scowled. “You are not serious, are you?”

The zebra did not change her gaze. “His name is Consecration Tony. Just as I am Immolation Zebra.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “Fine. I need to see Consecration Tony,” she mumbled.

Immolation Zebra raised her hands. “Sight is but an illusion, sailing on the eternal winds of uncertainty.”

Lady Gut Possum held her hand to her face in exasperation. “I do not have time for your insipid euphemisms,” she stated. “I need to see Tony. Consecration Tony. It is about the Endocrine.”

Steve turned to Davy with a smile. “I am so confused right now,” he whispered.

Immolation Zebra continued to stare at Lady Gut Possum. “Consecration Tony is currently in the middle of an extraterrestrial fever dream, and must not be disturbed. The balance of his secondary neural dynamos needs realignment.”

“None of what you just said means anything, and you know that,” Lady Gut Possum retorted.

Immolation Zebra ignored her. She set her sights on Davy and began to float towards him. Davy was not happy about this development.

“You said you had a matter regarding the Endocrine,” Immolation Zebra said. “Am I to presume that this figure before me is the Steward?”

She came right up to Davy, her face inches from Davy’s face.

“Hi,” Davy stammered uncomfortably. She looked even more unsettling up close.

Immolation Zebra did not seem to hear him. “Your perception is a barren wasteland, devoid of purpose. Your supposed quest is merely a blanket in the void, a small comfort that will not protect you from the reckoning that will come to make slaves of us all. Or have you arrived at the unpalatable truth that we are all slaves already?” She somehow leaned in even closer. “Tell me, Davy,” she whispered. “What is it that you most fear? Because you are almost certainly wrong.”

Davy heard a thwack. Immolation Zebra backed off as Lady Gut Possum began to beat at her with her parasol. “You keep your nonsense away from the Steward!” she exclaimed. “Now go and bring me Tony!”

Immolation Zebra retreated to behind the desk. “Very well,” she replied, seemingly unfazed by the parasol. “But whatever shall transpire from this moment forward is shall be on your hands and your hands alone. No one can deny the colors of inevitability.”

She went back into the doorway. Lady Gut Possum brushed herself off. “Brace yourself, Steward,” she told Davy. “Immolation Zebra is but a taste of the insanity that is to come. Nothing good comes from this institute.”

Connie laughed. “Looks like we’re in for something real interesting,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Olivia replied. “That zebra gave me some major bad vibes. At least four or five too many.”

Steve laughed along with Connie, though his laughter was significantly more unnerved. “Yeah, if that Zebra was just a taste of insanity, can you imagine what Tony is gonna be like?” he asked.

Davy didn’t have to answer. He just nodded as he looked at the six foot, bipedal, horned lizard that had just appeared in front of them.

He was not excited about what was probably coming next.

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45. Dairy

The four of them sat glumly in the empty ice cream parlor. It was about seven in the evening on a Friday night. Davy was somewhat surprised to see the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory was desolate except for them at this hour. But more than that, he was sore.

All four of them has essentially been gut punched into the horizon, yet no one had suffered more that bruises and stiff muscles. What kind of bizarre cartoon physics were they dealing with against the Iron League?

Davy silently took a bite of his Franklin Del-Mango RooseveltTM ice cream. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t working.

“So that didn’t go great,” he said to the rest of the group. “Any ideas on what to do next?”

Connie held a wide smile as she took a spoonful of her Float Like a Buttermilk, Sting Like a BeeTM ice cream. “I think we did okay. You guys are pretty savvy; I’m sure you can think of something.”

Davy looked to Steve who was scarfing down his Seize the Cocoa Beans of ProductionTM ice cream. “How about you?” he asked.

Steve stopped eating for a second. “I think we should go at them again,” he replied. “I can probably take them. I actually probably could have done it last time, but I just got distracted.”

“What did you get distracted by?” Davy asked flatly. “Before you got punched into the sky?”

Steve thought for a moment. “World hunger,” he finally said.

“You were distracted at that moment in the middle of a fight by world hunger?” Davy responded.

“Yes, it’s very sad,” Steve said.

Davy didn’t reply. He looked at Olivia who had barely touched her You Can Have It Any Flavor So Long as It’s Black LicoriceTM ice cream. She was poking it with her spoon.

“They beat me twice,” she muttered. “Even Mother Martyr only got me once.”

Steve lowered his spoon. “Can’t you just get big again?” he asked. “Grow a bunch of mouths and eat them like last time?”

Olivia sighed. “It’s not that easy,” she said. “It takes just about everything I’ve got to do that. I don’t know if I’ve got the strength to do it again so soon. Besides they might just randomly pull out crazy explosion powers from some movie and still take me down.” She laughed wearily. “I also figured that fight with Mother Martyr would be the only time I’d need to do it. It just seemed so climactic. And cool.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Davy said. He turned to the rest of the group. “There’s got to be some way to beat those guys.”

“Maybe we just need to avoid facing them head-on,” Connie added. “Olivia’s right. They seem like they can pull whatever abilities they need out of a hat. Any confrontation is going to end with them surprising us. But they’re getting their power from somewhere. Maybe we find the source of their power and incapacitate them.”

“And how do we know we won’t run into them anyway and get pummeled again?” Steve asked. “There’s, uh, a chance I might get distracted by world hunger again.”

Davy shook his head. “We need to approach this from a new angle,” he sighed. He pointed to the entrance of the Ice Cream Factory. “It’s not like the solution is going to just walk through that door.”

At that moment, Lady Gut Possum walked through the front door. She looked around at the empty ice cream parlor with muted abhorrence.

“I told him we need to remain inconspicuous…” she muttered.

She approached the table the group was sitting at. With a look of concern, she said, “You haven’t recovered the artifact yet.”

“Just a small delay,” Connie replied. “We’ve got this, no problem.”

Davy cleared his throat. “Um, it seems like the Iron League of Reference Humor is tougher than we thought.”

“Indeed,” Lady Gut Possum replied. “It appears we all underestimated the Grumblegator’s current associates.”

“You didn’t think they would be this bad?” Olivia asked.

“Of course not,” Lady Gut Possum answered. “Have you seen them? They’re four nerds who wear animal masks. I certainly did not expect them to possess the strength they demonstrated against you.”

“So what do you want us to do,” Steve interjected, taking a heaping bite of his ice cream.

Lady Gut Possum’s eyes went wide seeing Steve take that bite. She noticed the rest of the group was also ravenously consuming ice cream as they conversed with her.

“What are you doing?” she asked in a somewhat raised voice. “Why are you eating that?”

“Because no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” the four of them chanted back in a simultaneous monotone.

Lady Gut Possum looked worried. “What did you just say?” she asked.

“Huh?” Davy said blankly.

“Just now,” Lady Gut Possum replied. “The four of you together.”

“I don’t remember saying anything,” Olivia responded.

“Yeah,” Steve chimed. “I was just enjoying this delicious ice cream, one of one hundred twenty-two flavors from the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

Lady Gut Possum shook her head. “He did it, didn’t he?” she grumbled to herself. “I told him not to, but he did it anyway.”

She looked at Davy and the rest of the group. “Come on, get up,” she said sternly. “You need to come with me.” She snatched Connie’s spoon out of her left hand as she was about to take another bite of her ice cream. “And no more of this ice cream.”

Davy stood up out of his chair. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Lady Gut Possum ignored Davy as she moved to behind the counter. Davy only just then realized there was no one else working back there. Lady Gut Possum began fiddling around with the cash register, pressing the buttons almost randomly. “One of these has got to do it,” she mumbled to herself. She finally pressed the button she was seemingly looking for. “Yes, that’s it,” she exclaimed.

Davy saw a door materialize on the wall behind Lady Gut Possum. It looked suspiciously similar to that door that appeared in front of Davy in the law library.

Lady Gut Possum Opened the door, revealing an elevator on the other side.

Davy restated his question. “Where are we going?”

“Lady Gut Possum beckoned them into the elevator. “We are going to have a chat with the owner of this establishment,” she answered. “It just so happens that he may be able to help you with your problem.” She continued to speak as they piled into the elevator. “Which is good for him, because I am this close to killing him.”

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44. Campground

Davy closed the door of the taxi. “At think at some point, we’re going to need a car or something,” he said.

“But I’m only a hundred points away from my cappuccino machine,” Steve whined.

“How many points do you have so far?” Connie asked.

“Eight,” Steve gloated.

They were in a heavily forested area next to a sizable pond. There was no other person in sight as the taxi drive away.

“Which way do we go now?” Olivia asked. “The Iron League has an appointment with justice.”

Connie looked down at her phone and gestures to a dirt path that followed the edge of the pond. “Looks like this path will take us straight to them,” she replied. “We can probably wrap this up quickly. I know a great barbecue place near here we can stop at for lunch.”

The group began to move down the path, Davy taking the lead. Olivia came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “So I might have some latent rage from last night,” she said matter-of-factly. “There’s a chance that I may unleash it indiscriminately on these guys when we find them. But I’ll make sure I hold back enough so that you can give Boss Stag a good, strong thwack on the head. I think that will be good for all of us.”

“Understood,” Davy answered. “You doing okay otherwise? Latent rage notwithstanding?”

“Oh yeah,” Olivia said. “My hang-ups about looking too weird suddenly don’t seem as big now that we’ve met the Iron League of Reference Humor.”

Steve grabbed Olivia and Davy by the shoulder and pushed them down behind a bush. They had arrived at a clearing. Through the bush, Davy saw a silver car about twenty feet in front of them.

Further behind the car, Davy saw an immense tent. Or a house. It looked almost like a three-story Victorian mansion. But it was made of canvas, like a camping tent. Strange colored light shone through the mostly opaque exterior of the tent. Davy saw the front door flap zip open. Boss Stag emerged from the flap, followed by the rest of the Iron League. They were still wearing their animal helmets, only now instead of gangster outfits, they were adorned in matching white track suits.

“Okay, how do we do this?” Davy whispered. “We probably don’t want to charge right at them again.”

“Maybe we can sneak up on them,” Steve answered. “Element of surprise and stuff.”

“Nice thinking, Steve,” Connie added.

Olivia nodded. “Cool, I can get up in the trees and easily get behind them without them seeing me,” she said. She looked at the other three. “How good aware the rest of you at climbing trees?”

“I’m pretty much an expert,” Steve replied.

“Okay, the two of us will climb up here,” Olivia continued, pointing to a nearby tree. “How are you two with approaching them from the front?” she asked Connie and Davy.

“I’m cool with it,” Connie responded. “We can come at them head on. Maybe we can even talk them out of whatever they’re planning.”

“Great,” Davy said. “If we’ve got them flanked, then maybe we can subdue them. Find out where the artifact is.”

“Awesome,” Steve chimed. “Let’s move out!”

Olivia went giddy. “Sneak attack time!” she whispered. She shot her arms into the branches had disappeared in one swift motion.

Steve ran to the trunk of the tree. He gripped it tightly and began to kick at the base of the trunk. Getting nowhere, he looked at Davy and Connie and gave an awkward smile. “Go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”

Davy and Connie crouched and made their way through the bushes. The leaned against the car and peered over it at the Iron League at the other side. Boss Wolf was breakdancing as the other three cheered her on.

“Go Ninja! Go Ninja! Go!”

Davy and Connie lowered their heads. Davy pulled out his golf club. He turned to Connie and asked, “Not like I’m an expert at all, but this could get violent. Do you have any experience in how to handle yourself in a fight?”

Connie smirked as she reached underneath her jacket with her left hand. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Connie withdrew a gleaming silver katana from inside her jacket. “Yeah man,” she said. “You could say that.”

They were interrupted by Boss Wolf leaping over the good of the car and jutting her head between the two of them. “Here’s Johnny!” she shrieked.

Davy and Connie slowly lifted their heads over the side of the car. Boss Stag was looking at them, stroking an imaginary cat in his arms. Even with the majority of his face covered by the helmet, Davy could still sense the smugness eliminating from the leader of the Iron League.

“Well, well, we’ll,” he leered in a mock nasally voice. “If it isn’t Turd Ferguson from last night.”

“You know my name’s not Turd Ferguson, right?” Davy said back.

“Whatever you say, Turd Ferguson,” Boss Stag answered. He began pacing back and forth. “Are you out here scouting possible locations for the Turd Ferguson Center for Kids Who Can’t Stop the Iron League Good and Wanna Learn Other Stuff Good Too? Because that sounds like something you would do.”

Boss Wolf laughed from the top of the car. She jumped off and planted herself next to Boss Stag. Davy stood up and cautiously made his way around the car. Connie slowly followed.

Boss Stag saw Connie’s katana and began to laugh. “Oh sorry, it’s not Turd Ferguson we’re dealing with here.” He looked to the rest of the Iron League. “Hey look guys,” he sneered. “It’s Lone Wolf and Butthead!”

Davy ignored him. “What’s in the tent?” he asked.

“What’s in the box!” Boss Lion yelled obnoxiously.

Boss Stag chuckled under his breath. “Nice,” he whispered to Boss Lion. He looked back at Davy and Connie. “There’s a time and place for everything,” he said. “But not now.”

“Didn’t you do that one already?” Connie asked. “At the bank?”

Boss Stag didn’t follow. “So what?”

“I mean, don’t you like to keep it fresh?” Connie continued. “Like, you don’t want to just endlessly repeat quotes that you’ve already used hundreds of times already, right?”

Boss Stag looked back at Connie blankly. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Davy held the golf club up to his chest. “Look, you guys are unarmed,” he said. “We don’t want a fight. We just want to know where the artifact is. If you return the money you stole, then we don’t can avoid this becoming a big problem.”

Boss Stag melodramatically held his hand in front of his chest. “Clutch the pearls!” he exclaimed with overt sarcasm. “I can’t believe I’ve seen the light! He began walking towards Davy. “Perhaps if we give these fine people what they want then perhaps we can avoid further bloodshed.” He stopped right in front of Davy as Boss Squid, Boss Lion, and Boss Wolf laughed together.

“Come on man,” Davy said, getting exasperated. “We don’t have to do this.”

Boss Stag nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Maybe instead, we can—SHORYUKEN!”

Boss Stag spun around and landed a powerful uppercut under Davy’s chin, launching him straight up in the air.

Connie instinctively extended her left arm, pointing her katana in Boss Stag’s direction. “You really shouldn’t have done that,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” Boss Stage leered. “And are you and those turd sandwiches you call friends going to do something about it?” He snapped his fingers at Boss Squid and Boss Wolf. “Come on folks,” he said to them. “Let’s put on a show.”

The two of them nodded and slammed their fists together. “Iron League powers, activate!” they exclaimed.

Boss Squid turned towards the nearest tree and charged towards it. He kicked his feet in front of him as his body became surrounded by flames. “FALCON KICK!” he screamed.

The tree violently reverberated upon impact with Boss Squid’s feet. A stunned Olivia tumbled onto the ground from the branches above.

Meanwhile, Boss Wolf extended her arm and a metal chain shot or from her sleeve into the bushes where Davy had been hiding moments before. After a second, she tugged on the chain and yanked Steve—tied up in the chain—into plain view. “GET OVER HERE!” she shrieked.

Steve was panicking. “They have reference-based powers guys! Reference based powers!”

Boss Stag gleefully cracked his knuckles as Connie looked around at her incapacitated teammates. “Now we don’t take kindly to trespassers out near our headquarters,” he said in a mock Southern accent. He looked towards his comrades. “Folks, let’s show ‘me what we do with trespassers.”

“You got it, Boss,” Boss Lion replied. “P.S. I love you,” she added under her breath.

“What?” Boss Stag snapped back, confused.

“Uh, nothing,” Boss Lion stammered. She turned to Connie and raised her fists in a boxing pose. “You’re about to get a pummeling,” she raised her fist in the air. “Cause I’m the champ, baby!”

Olivia saw Boss Squid standing a few feet in front of him. He raised his hands in a disrespectful salute. “Show me your moves!” he yelled.

“Uh, no,” Olivia answered. “Unless you mean this.” Her mouth opened wide and several tongue-like tendrils shot out of her mouth. Boss Squid rolled to the side at the last second and moved into a charge uppercut that caused flames to erupt around him again. He struck Olivia in the face, rocketing her upwards.

“Hyess!” Boss Squid chanted triumphantly.

Steve panicked as he fumbled through the pockets of his leather jacket. “Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrow, Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrow,” he mumbled as he searched his pockets. He failed to notice Boss Wolf charge towards him. She slid onto the ground into a splits and threw an upward punch into Steve’s groin. Steve buckled in pain and collapsed on the ground.

Boss Wolf looked to Boss Stag for guidance. Boss Stag looked back at her and gave a subtle nod. “Finish him,” he growled.

Having received her leader’s approval, Boss Wolf stepped back and shot out the chain from her sleeve again. It encircled and bound a whimpering Steve. She held the chain in both hands and began to spin. The centrifugal force threw Steve in the air. After several rotations, Boss Wolf finally let go of the chain. Steve was hurled at rapid speed away from the campground, becoming a speck in the sky falling towards the horizon.

Davy had managed to get to his feet. He saw Boss Stag staring him down. “Who are you guys?” he asked incredulously.

Boss Stag extended his arms straight in front of him, wrists touching and palms facing outward.

“Just a group of friends who are way, way cooler than you.” Light seemed to be gathering in front of Boss Stag’s hands. “HADOUKEN!” He shrieked as a burst of light exploded from his hands, colliding with Davy and knocking him back to the ground.

Connie was artfully dodging Boss Lion’s punches, but she was much more agile than Connie ever would have expected. “What’s your favorite flavor milkshake!?” Boss Lion yelled at her.

“Huh?” Connie uttered.

Her momentary confusion was just what Boss Lion needed. Connie felt a fist strike her hand, and they next thing she knew her katana was in the air, striking the dirt behind Boss Lion. “Mine’s chocolate,” Boss Lion exclaimed.

Olivia, crumpled on the ground, looked up. Boss Squid was standing right in front of her. He grabbed the cuff of her sweater and held her in the air. He pulled back his fist and Olivia groaned as flames once again began to surround him.


“Oh come on,” Olivia grunted. “Doesn’t this get tired after a while?”

Boss Squid ignored her. After a second, he thrust his flaming fist forward directly at Olivia’s gut.


And with that, just like Steve, Olivia was gone. A speck in the sky descending towards the horizon.

Connie tried sidestepping to either side to get around Boss Lion and back to her katana. It seemed like Boss Lion was able to predict her every move, however. As soon as Connie shifted her weight, Boss Lion was already moving in the same direction.

Suddenly, Boss Lion charged at Connie. She grabbed Connie in the collar in big hands and threw her up in the air. Looking down, Connie saw Boss Lion leap up straight towards her, her fist extended. Before the punch landed, Connie heard Boss Lion whisper in a gravelly voice, “Join the Iron League fan club today!”

“What does that even mean?” Connie stammered, but in another moment, Connie was another speck on the horizon.

Davy groaned as he laid on his back in the dirt. He tried to move as he saw Boss Stag stand over him.

Boss Stag sneered over him. In a gravelly voice, he said, “Go home and be a family man.”

Boss Stag picked up Davy by the back of his sweater. Davy assumed he was about to get super punched into the sky like his friends, but it seemed Boss Stag had a different idea, when he began to drag Davy towards the car.

“Don’t worry, I’m definitely going to sky punch you in a second,” Boss Stag said. He snapped his fingers and Boss Squid opened the front door of his car and pulled out a camera.

Boss Stag plopped Davy on the hood of the car and in leaned next to him. “Before you go, I thought it would be nice to commentate the moment,” Boss Stag continued. “You know, the moment you lost, because you suck and we’re cool.” Boss Squid came to the front of the car and held up the camera, pointing it at Davy and Boss Stag. Boss Lion and Boss Wolf huddled up next to Davy on the hood of the car and presumably smiled.

“You guys are so lame,” Davy stuttered.

“I know you are, but what am I,” Boss Stag snapped back, completely confident that he had just delivered the ultimate comeback.

He looked at the camera and held up two of his fingers in a peace sign. “Okay guys?” he said.

“Everybody say Fuzzy Pickles.”

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43. Tracker

The four of them sat glumly in the busy ice cream parlor. Davy was surprised to see the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory was so packed at nine in the morning, but he also had this weird hunch that this place was a must-do for anyone visiting the city. He silently took a bite of his Mary, Mary Quite RaspberryTM ice cream.

Connie was watching her phone that she held in her right hand while taking a scoop of her The Last of the Mocha-hicansTM ice cream in the other. She felt she really pulled through last night. Their first encounter with the Iron League of Reference Humor didn’t go great. The one silver lining was when Connie revealed to the rest of the group that she had covertly stuck a tracking device to the league’s car as they sped out of the bank. The downside was that it would take several hours before the tracker would activate and begin broadcasting the league’s location. Her phone was still waiting for a signal. Watching the screen, she took a bite of her ice cream and continued to wait.

Olivia continued to sip on her Banana CortezTM cream smoothie. In the grand scheme of things, having a car land on top of her wasn’t too bad, but she still felt embarrassed that she had let the Iron League get away so easily. She had to be more careful going forward and make sure she kept her hubris in check.

Steve looked down at his Okey Dokey ArtichokeyTM Ice Cream Sundae in disgust. He made a serious mistake ordering this. It was terrible.

“One hundred and twenty-two flavors,” he said. “Why did I choose the worst one?”

“Why did you think artichoke would be a good idea?” Davy asked.

Steve lowered his head. “I thought it sounded hip and trendy,” he whined.

“Don’t worry about it, Steve,” Connie chimed in cheerfully. “Any minute now, we’re going to find out where the Iron League is hiding. We’re going to find them, get the money back, get the artifact from them, and—bam—before you know it, we’ll be back here enjoying a victory ice cream. And you can get any flavor that you want.”

“I’ll do everything I can to help us succeed,” growled in her superhero voice. “My hubris was my undoing last night. I will ensure it does not happen again.”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Davy said. “You overcame some pretty heavy stuff in Heaven’s Head. After what happened there, I think we all kind of underestimated the guys with the goofy animal heads.”

“So what do we do when we find them again?” Steve asked. He had already pushed the scarcely touched ice cream sundae away from him towards the center of the table.

Davy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I guess we just need to be ready for anything. Surprise cars and stuff.”

“I’m getting the feeling like that car might be my new nemesis,” Olivia said. “Anyone else getting that feeling?”

“Olivia, your nemesis can be whoever you want it to be,” Connie said with a grin.

“So this League will lead us to the next artifact, right?” Steve asked. “That’s what Lady Gut Possum said.”

“I think so, yeah,” Davy replied. It was weird that she didn’t say anything about this tablet they saw on the boat tour, though. Then again, Lady Gut Possum hadn’t been the most forthcoming person with her key information. What was that star-shaped creature with the one eye?

“Cool,” Steve said. “I can probably take them. Now that I know what we’re up against.”

Olivia took the last sip of her smoothie. “That was good. At least we got to come here. I just had a weird feeling that our trip to Sangre Dios wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

“Yes,” the other three flatly stated simultaneously without any of them being entirely aware they did so.

Davy heard a ping on Connie’s phone. He saw her look closely at the screen.

“Good news,” she said. “I got a signal. They’re at a campground not far outside of town. Anyone feeling good about a round two?”

Steve stood up out of his chair. “Let’s do it!” he said. “Time to teach these losers a lesson.”

“What kind of lesson?” Davy asked, humoring Steve.

Steve slyly rubbed his hands together. “That reference humor is dumb.”