Deciding to go inspect the park a bit more had been Brinly’s idea, so naturally Calder was there, but Melanie, Ben, Doug, and Zoey agreed to go along with them, even if it was an excuse to go for an evening stroll under more protection. It was also half to get Ben out of the house, as his parents were overprotective in normal circumstances, but with people seeming to be abducted or attacked around every corner, he was being placed under even more difficult ‘safety precautions’. So, they told his parents he was going to go for a run with Calder. Being the two most openly athletic friends, it made sense for them to continue training, even after swimming and track season came to a close. The dragons seemed to have a little extra strength though, thanks to their DNA tampering, and of course Melanie would blast everyone away at a swim meet, so they stayed away from trying out at sports at all.
Brinly was inspecting the tire tracks left behind from the large van Dominic’s group had been using.
“Well, they aren’t really much for subtlety are they?” She remarked, looking around. “We should have brought Oscar along, gotten him to scan the park for electronics, like cameras. Ones they could have planted, I know they don’t have ones here normally.” She continued, and then looked directly at Zoey. “Where exactly was Dominic hiding? I want to see if he left anything behind, although I doubt they did.”
Zoey pointed to the bunch of trees Dominic had used, and mentally cursed herself for mentioning where they were going a few nights ago in front of Dominic. Brinly strode forward towards the area, and made a comment towards Doug to stop trying to save the flowers and focus.
Calder and Ben actually started to race each other down the path, not seeing what else they could do, and Melanie called out after them to not trip over anything, as it was getting darker out. They ran towards the end of the park trail, which joined up to a boardwalk and dock system, as the park connected to the Oceanside. That was one of the draws for it being a popular walking destination, and, in this case, had left it open to attacks from many sides due to its multiple entrances. As they were focused on running, they weren’t really keeping up a conversation, so when Calder noticed a group of people walking along the boardwalk, he clotheslined Ben to make him stop.
“What was that for?” Ben asked, between trying not to cough up his lungs.
“Look over there, some of those people look like JARGON workers… I mean, who wears a lab coat on a walk?” Calder hissed, pulling Ben by his shirt into the brush, eyeing up the group in front of them. “They’re meeting up with some people… and that pompous-looking guy, that HAS to be Karver. I mean, it’s dark, but I remember him.” He told Ben, who was still catching his breath. Calder wished he had the cross bow he’d been designing at home. He made a decision, in that split second. Shoving Ben backwards, back towards the trail, he hissed for him to go get the others, and then threw himself as gracefully as he could into the water. He ducked under the boardwalk, arms brushing against slimy algae-covered wood, and rough barnacle-covered woods. It was dark enough out that the water was an inky black, and late enough in the year that he had to will his teeth not to chatter. He listened, hoping he had been far away enough that they hadn’t noticed him. He didn’t hear anything except for Ben scrambling off in the distance. That was when it occurred to him that maybe Ben, the swimmer, should have been the one to jump into the ocean, and he, the runner, should have gone off in search of the others. Oh well, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t swim, and he was already soaked, so he slowly made his way over to the suspicious group as quietly as he could.
Calder had to swim so that he was almost under them in order to hear them, as they were speaking low, and the waves from the ocean were sloshing around him and making too much noise, much to his chagrin.
“So how much money were we talking about for our… ‘investment’?” asked one of the non-JARGON people. They seemed nervous, out in the open. Calder could barely see him wringing his hands through a slot in the wood above him.
“I think you’ll be willing to part with the sum we’re interested in. We’ve already successfully completed the experiments before, and the protection they will give you… well that’s priceless, isn’t it?” One of the researchers countered, and there was a murmur between the two groups. It was obvious that JARGON was feeling very confident, and that the second group did not.
Calder felt a chill run up his spine and he turned his head to see behind him. Dark waters, making a slurry around him and the coast. When he turned back though, a grinning Karver was materializing from the water in front of him.
“Now, now. It’s not nice to eavesdrop.” Karver chided, and Calder backpedalled, but of course, Karver easily swam forward, catching him.
Calder had never been turned into water before, but had heard Melanie mention it before, so he was surprised and terrified when he found himself suddenly shivering on the top of the boardwalk, surrounded by the two groups. Karver sent all the water from himself back into the ocean, but left Calder sopping wet and uncomfortable.
“As you can see, Karver is a prime example of what our experiments can do.” One of the JARGON workers told them smugly, and Calder hissed.
“Y-you… what are you trying to do?” Calder stammered, teeth chattering.
Karver shot him a confused look, still looking down at him. Calder could stand on his own, as he wasn’t injured, but he knew they would just grab him.
“You’re awfully confident for someone surrounded, unarmed, and on their own. Do you realize your situation right now?” Karver threatened vaguely, crossing his arms.
Blythe flashed through Calder’s mind and he nearly let out a whimper. “Don’t! Don’t use me in the experiments, please!” He begged, feeling humiliated. He looked up when he heard one of the JARGON workers scoff, looking him over.
“Why would we ever use you?” He asked, pointing to Calder’s below-the-knee prosthetics. “We don’t just waste money, you know. I’m not working with a faulty product.”
Calder felt his stomach drop, even though the fear of being tortured was now gone, he had never been spoken to in such way, and he also had to wonder what they were going to do to him instead. He didn’t have to wonder long though, as a spike of ice taller than him launched up from the ground, piercing through the joint between the workers arm and his chest, thus pulling him a few inches into the air, suspended. He let out a shriek that was barely audible over Brinly screeching for everyone to step away from her boyfriend. Calder felt the tension melt away, and tried to scramble up and run, forgetting about Karver right beside him, who reached for him and slammed him right back down.
The people who were meeting with JARGON scrambled the opposite way up the dock, yelling, and Brinly let the JARGON worker drop, de-materializing the ice. She eyed Karver carefully, before ordering him to let Calder go.
“Why would I do that?” He asked, voice calm. He could tell that Brinly wasn’t about to use her normally aggressive fighting tactics around Calder.
“I will turn each one of you into little ice kebabs. I promise you that.” She stated, keeping her voice just as even. Frost formed around her arms as if she was a fairy, dark hair and eyes dangerously focused on Karver.
Karver let out a laugh and whipped his hand out, water forming a large tidal wave and sending it spiralling in her direction. She didn’t even flinch, but instead smirked as it froze in place, hovering in front of them, maintaining its liquid form. Melanie had caught up to Brinly, along with Doug, Ben, and Zoey. Karver flexed his wrist visibly, and the water wiggled between them, but Melanie laughed, goading him.
“Is that all you have?” she laughed again, and sent the water spiralling back at him, soaking him. His hair now falling into his face, sopping wet, she heard his groan of frustration.
Karver swirled his hair back up, drying himself again. Melanie had dried Calder off from afar, and he shot her a relieved thumbs up. Karver stomped his feet and sent another blast of water out at them, only to be stopped by Melanie again. This time he shot her a look of confusion instead of horror, but then lashed out with more viciousness than she had expected, and the water cut both Brinly and Melanie on the arm by sheer force. He pulled his arm back for a second, then repositioned and refocused himself as Doug tried to trip him up with some vines. He turned into water, and Calder took that moment to run back to the group, hoping to be faster than Karver’s materialization.
At this, the researchers, who had been trying to tend to the person who had been pierced, decided it was best to cut their losses and run, carrying the wounded worker off. Karver now stood alone against the others, and was starting to look nervous. So, he turned to run off as well.
“Not after this you don’t!” Doug hissed, breaking off into a jog after him. Everyone else looked like they wanted to follow, but Brinly was busy checking Calder over for wounds, and Ben was worrying over Melanie’s scratch. Zoey tried running after Doug, but knew she wasn’t as fast as he was. Still, she was able to track them to the woods nearby, where Ferris had joined them, probably due to Ben rapidly texting everyone in a panic.
Ferris had already received a scrape across his shoulder from Karver’s water, but as he was about to send another blast, he was snagged by Doug’s vines. He had one arm out, which he transformed and clawed his way out as Doug tried to pull him closer. Ferris dropped a large boulder on him, and Karver blasted it to tiny pieces with water and one swipe of his clawed arm. He scrambled to his feet, looking dishevelled and frustrated. He was proving to be terrifyingly strong, but Ferris and Doug managed to keep their faces unreadable.
“Have you had enough, Karver? Well, too bad, after what you’ve done to us.” Doug spat, earning him a glare from Karver in return.
Karver stomped his foot in agitation, and the rest of them stared at him in slight pity. This did nothing to quell his anger, as he wasn’t looking for pity, he wanted fear, and he wanted to beat them. The plan he had so carefully constructed was going awry as it always did, when Ferris didn’t react how he wanted him to and didn’t panic.
They turned towards two figures approaching through the trees. Doug and Ferris started glancing around, wondering if they had enough time to convert the ground into something that didn’t resemble a battle zone. Luckily, the first figure was Sullivan, cape swooping out behind him, looking tired, as if he had just gotten out of bed for this.
“So what’s going on here, exactly?” he asked, giving a nod to Doug and Ferris, then a sly grin to Karver.
Karver’s eyes had grown wider, this was even more unexpected, and Sullivan was far more powerful than his water powers could counter. His hands began to shake a bit as Skyler arrived, just behind his brother. Instead of looking smug like his brother, Skyler was livid, glaring sharply at Karver. There was a flash of light and a sweep of shadow, and suddenly they were on either side of Karver, glowering at him. He shrunk back, wondering what they were going to do to him.
“The amount of times you have tried- and succeeded- to hurt my family is astounding.” Skyler began, snarling out each word. “You would think you would learn your lesson and start being a good human being.” He added. Karver avoided eye contact.
“How can you blame us for running away from that cursed place? Why would you be trying to change anyone else, or bring anyone into that?” Sullivan queried, closing the gap as Karver took a shaky step back. Skyler put one hand out to halt his brother, but still glared down.
“We know that one, actually.” Ferris called over in a bored voice, breaking their concentration. He was busy pushing rocks back into their places.
“Yeah, he doesn’t remember any of the conversion and experiments.” Doug finished, adding a thin layer of moss to one of the rocks Ferris had just placed. “He mentioned it when we first fought him. Something about forgiving too, but that seems simple when you don’t remember what actually happened.”
Skyler and Sullivan turned back to the cowering teen, both cocking their heads to one side at the same time, which would have been comical in any other situation. They were bewildered.
“That explains quite a bit. I wonder if you repressed it somehow.” Skyler spoke aloud, but sounded as if he was thinking it over.
“Don’t you go trying to take pity on me, I’m fine! I’m better than fine! I am privileged to have survived the change, and become a dragon! You… You’re all so ungrateful for what JARGON has given you.” Karver spat, trying to sound more ferocious than he was. He was still trembling beside them, and Skyler looked as if he was trying to decide what to do with him when Karver burst into the sky and flew off.
“Do you want to catch him? You could outrun him in your light form.” Sullivan suggested quickly.
Skyler shook his head, sighing. “That won’t be the last time we see him. We have to see to everyone else. Zoey, are you alright?” he asked, and Zoey took a moment to remember that she was there, too. Doug and Ferris had finished returning the grounds to something normal looking, and she could hear Brinly, Calder, Ben, and Melanie stumbling through the dark woods to them.
“I’m fine!” Zoey called out, and watched Doug move on to helping Ferris, Melanie and Brinly with their wounds.
Skyler hovered nervously over them as Doug worked, but it didn’t appear to be over the job that Doug was doing, rather the fact that they were hurt at all.
Sullivan looked completely fed up with the situation, like he wished his brother had gone after Karver, and maybe disembowelled him while he was at it, but he wasn’t going to argue with his decision either. Not in front of everyone else, anyway.
Zoey had to be thankful for the fact that it was dark enough to hide how she was currently feeling. Firstly, she was relieved that everyone was relatively safe, but she was also feeling a little warm and fuzzy over the fact that Skyler had asked if she was alright first. She’d been included yet again, in the family check up. She couldn’t really say anything about it though, so she silently waited for Doug to be finished with helping his siblings, then carefully stepped over to him. He nearly startled her when she made it over, as he’d changed his eyes to the ones he had in his dragon form, but he blinked and then they were normal again.
“Sorry, I can see better with those eyes. Don’t want to mess up any of the poultices.” He told her, and she could tell from the sound of his voice that he was probably blushing, embarrassed. She pulled him into a hug and felt him relax a little. “Thank you.”
“We need to start WANTING to see Karver when we go out, because when we don’t want to see him, he appears, so by that logic, if we want him around he’ll disappear.” Zoey suggested, voice still muffled by Doug’s shoulder.
“I’m still not letting Dominic off the hook either, but your point is noted.” Doug told her, laughing a little.
“Hey, light up your fancy eyes again, we need to find our way out of these woods. My parents are going to be livid I ended up out this long.” Zoey told him, sliding away from him, but finding his hand to hold onto.