AGENT KOBA

INCIDENT REPORT - THE SKELETON WARS

SECTION 4: INTERMISSION 1 (AKA WHEN PIGS FLY)

[BELLA'S POV]

After the second skeleton battle-the ones with the skeleton pirates in the ocean, which had nothing to do with Lord of the Rings-Tristan and I were separated. On our own, we each went through a series of nonsensical events that can't exactly be classified as battles; I've elected to call them intermissions.

Rolling over, I woke with a feverish groan. Where was I? Why did it smell like death? I groaned, trying to grasp distant thoughts such as what I had been doing and who I was.

For the record, I always wake up this disoriented. So next time HQ decides to call me at 5am and I answer sounding like I've been mindwiped, there's no need to call me in for a psychiatric exam. (Please, not again.)

Wiping my eyes, I blinked away the blurriness of my vision. The first thing that came into focus was the simple command: 'Do not feed the humans until landing.'

Wait! These weren't my eyes. I didn't have eyes. Oh, right-I was a skeleton.

The Skeleton Wars.

As I came to my senses, I bolted upright, frantically looking around for my partner. You know what kind of stuff happens when I leave her alone. Not only was she nowhere to be found, but I found myself locked in a crude, primitive cage-the metal, collapsable kind I assume you can pick up at PetCo. Judging by the dip and sway of my surroundings, as well as the context of the sign, I was on some sort of aircraft.

Naturally, I went for my phone to contact Agent Tris10-or HQ, if all else failed-but it was gone. In fact, all of my equipment was gone, and had been since the war started, I realized. I could only hope the general was holding onto it.

(And (s)he was! I have it back now. Please don't doc my pay.)

The reeling of my mind was very rudely interrupted by a distinct snort. In response, my eyes darted to the left, and I was shocked to see an entire clan of not skeletons, but pigs. Flesh and blood pigs.

I blinked at the pigs.

The pigs blinked back.

Very, very slowly, I reached for the hatch of the cage I was in. Its cold, soulless stare never wavering, the closest pig-I reasonably assumed it was their leader-blocked the latch with its hoof.

So I was, indeed, being held captive. My Agency training kicked in; before the thought of panicking could even cross my mind, I was assessing my surroundings and formulating a plan of escape. To my right lay an axe-I have no explanation of why it was there, other than to further the scenario, as seemed to be the overall trend of the Skeleton Wars. Inconspicuously, I wrapped my fingers around the hilt.

Then, without warning, I clanged the axe against the door of the cage as forcefully as I could. Startled, the pigs reeled back. This was my chance.

Lifting the latch and charging through the cage, I engaged in a furious battle with the Almighty Pig Clan. There were so many of them. It was a massacre, pigs flying left and right, squealing hilariously. In a gruesome, dark sort of way, it was almost therapeutic to slaughter them; it gave me the same sort of euphoria as when you stomp out an ant hill, or squash a host of cockroaches under your feet.

You know what I mean?

My only regret is that all those corpses went to waste. Think of the amount of bacon, tragically lost to the physics of an irrelevant pocket universe!

I emerged victorious.

Covered in pig blood, yes. But victorious, nonetheless.

I didn't exactly have time to revel in triumph, though. Before I could so much as breathe a sigh of relief, the plane took an abrupt dive and I was slung across the cabin along with everything else aboard. The bodies of many, many pigs piled atop of me in some fit of karmic poetic justice or something. I swear. Fate is a heartless, malicious witch who's had it out for me, final destination style, my entire life.

And as for gravity, my greatest enemy, that evil, unforgiving entity, that which is always, always lurking, watching, waiting for you to make the slightest mistake so it can claim your life, swallowing you into the void without so much as a hint of condolence, well. It was not on my side. No surprise there. And so, struggle as I did to escape, I could not dislodge the multitude of pig carcasses that crushed the life out of me. Hopeless, afraid, and alone, I slipped out of consciousness for what I was afraid would be the last time…

...

...

With a sigh, Bella deactivated her gravity belt, landing on her feet and trudging over to her partner's half of the lab. There, she found Tristan sulking in an excessive pile of clown horns, her back turned to Bella in a clear sign of defeat.

Reluctantly, Bella crossed the threshold. "Hey, Tristan."

"Have you come to laugh at my failures?" She did not turn around. "Then go ahead. Laugh."

Bella rolled her eyes. "Come on. Stop being so melodramatic." She offered the datapad to Tristan's turned back. "Listen, I got to the section when we were separated. I think it's only fair that you should be the one to chronicle your own experiences, since I wasn't there and I have no idea what your intermission was like."

Glancing over her shoulder briefly, she spun around and snatched the datapad like a bloodthirsty lion devouring a gazelle. Her tone was still defensive, though. "Aren't you afraid it'll read like a bad children's book?"

"Terribly," Bella muttered, turning around and walking back to her half of the lab. "Stop being mad at me. It's annoying."

...

...

AGENT TRIS10

INCIDENT REPORT - THE SKELETON WARS

SECTION 5: INTERMISSION 2 (AKA THE GREAT BEAR HUNT)

[TRISTAN'S POV]

When at last I stirred, I was alone; Skella was nowhere to be seen. My seemingly loyal sidekick had abandoned me at long last. Astonished and filled with grief, I blinked (or whatever the skeleton equivalent must have been) as my vision focused not on skeletons, but humans. In the flesh. Literally.

The terrain surrounding me was somewhat familiar; since that one disaster fueled by my sidekick's characteristic lapse in judgement (see, Incident Report: The Owlchemy), this place had become a hotbed for abnormal temporal activity. This was no skeleton battle-it was something far more brutal.

A high school homecoming football game.

Considering my persisting lack of flesh, I could only assume that I was still in one of the pocket universes that made up the Skeleton Wars, this one consisting of Bella's alma mater, Smith County High School. An admittedly temporally important landmark, at this point. What was strange was the apparent lack of skeletons; as far as I could see, which was very far because even in skeleton form I have impeccable eyesight, I was the only one here without flesh and blood.

In fact, as a skeleton in a cheerleader outfit, I may have seemed out of place if it wasn't for the more immediate demand of everyone's attention: the thousand-pound bear charging around in one of those wearable tubas.

"HE'S GOT THE SOUSA!" What an oddly familiar voice. "AFTER HIM!"

I whipped around to see the entire marching band-I could tell because of their silly hats-sporting pitchforks rather than musical instruments, as I understand marching bands typically do. They were charging after the bear, so to avoid being trampled, I started sprinting along with them.

A bear hunt! Primitive, but exciting. My society was far too advanced for me to have experienced anything like this before.

Also, I was royalty. But I won't prattle on about that right now.

With no clue what was going on, I could only manage to keep my place in the stampede, right behind a boy with drum sticks and a bowl on his head. Surely, like all of our other experiences in the Skeleton Wars, this was a scenario in need of completion. So, I'd help find the bear, retrieve the wearable tuba, and then presumably be rocketed away to some other problem in need of my benevolent solving.

Honestly, what would the skeleverses do without me as their savior?

Just inside the woods behind the football field, the leader of the marching band (and thus, the stampede) brought everyone to a halt, climbing onto a massive stump to address us. She was almost unrecognizable; her face was younger, her long limbs shorter, and as she pulled off her silly feather hat, a cascade of long, red hair erupted into the wind like an inferno; I'd never seen it grow long enough to so much as cover her ears.

"Bella!" I called out, waving at this younger iteration of my partner.

Shocked, she gaped down at me. "Is that cheerleader a skeleton?"

"BOO!" The drummer in front of me raised his pitchfork as he heckled. "Death to the bourgeoisie who impose dangerous beauty standards on teen girls! Who are you, to call attention to her weight in front of a crowd?"

"No, I mean-" Bella sighed, pinching the bandaid over the bridge of her nose. "Nevermind. Alright, guys, the bear took all of our instruments, even the sousa, and so it must pay!"

To that, everyone in the mob cheered.

"These tracks lead deeper into the woods," advised my dashing young sidekick. "Release whatever pent up rage surges through your veins, but stay together and follow the tracks. We can't afford to lose some of you." She pointed. "I'm looking at you, lead trumpets."

And with that, the great bear hunt resumed. Vigilantly, we complied with Bella's suggestion and followed the tracks for hours. At times, it seemed like we were going in circles, but we pressed on until we realized that we were, in fact, going in circles. These weren't bear tracks, as it turned out. One of the flag people just had very oddly shaped feet.

Nevertheless, our relentless pursuit of the bear did eventually bear (hehe) fruit when we stumbled upon a cave.

"The bear's den!" Bella shouted, thrusting her pitchfork towards the maw. "Go forth and reclaim what is ours!"

Now, as you at the Agency know, I have basically the most impressive skill set ever. But when I try to describe what magic occured in that desolate cavern, my words fail me.

We found the bear posing atop a mound of musical instruments, still brandishing the wearable tuba. Predictably, the band members' first move was to equip their instruments and play their school's fight song. (Of course, it's common knowledge that you can't have an epic battle without a fight song.)

What no one expected was for the bear to join in.

His tone was immaculate, his articulation impeccable. The deep, sultry sounds of the wearable tuba echoed throughout the cavern to the beat of Bella's conducting. It was absolutely mystical.

So mystical, in fact, that the rest of the cheer squad and the dance team appeared out of nowhere and began dancing to it. And before I knew what was happening, an entire football game was happening right outside Noah's den!

(We named the bear Noah. it seemed fitting.)

In the end, Noah joined the marching band, always performing perfectly until he graduated high school as valedictorian. May he rest in peace.

...

...

Bella squinted over her partner's shoulder. "What in the sesame street is this!? Tristan, is that really what you think high school football games are like?"

"Listen, I didn't design the pocket universe. I just survived it."

"You were on codeine again, weren't you. And what is that ending? There's no way you would have been around to see all of that play out, even if the rest of this really happened."

"Oh, sure. Everyone's a critic." Tristan huffed, tossing the datapad over her shoulder with no regard to whether or not her partner would catch it. "We fought off hordes of evil zombie babies, and you think a tuba playing bear is unbelievable?"

"I hesitate to believe anything you say," Bella mumbled, tapping the datapad to indent the report. "And speaking of the babies, I'd better cover that disaster as well…"

...

...

AGENT KOBA

INCIDENT REPORT - THE SKELETON WARS

SECTION 6: INTERMISSION 3 (AKA ATTACK OF THE BABIES)

[BELLA'S POV]

As skeptical as I am about the occurrences which Agent Tris10 described above, I admit that many of our misadventures in this handful of pocket universes are utterly nonsensical. For example, this next stint did in fact occur in some pocket universe replica of my high school, which, as Tristan may have mentioned, does house a lot of weird time shenanigans these days. It felt like a fever dream, even more so than the skeleton battles or the almighty pig clan, but I'll recount it to the best of my ability.

When I came to, a full moon hung high above our heads, casting light upon the foggy night in which we found ourselves. Tristan and I were lying in the parking lot outside said school, reunited at last.

"Skella!" she whisper-yelled, scrambling into a sitting position. "I feared you lost forever, a casualty in this endless, bloody war!"

"We don't even have blood," I remarked, dusting off my kneecaps as I rose to my feet. "Although, wherever I just was, there were no skeletons. Just pigs."

"I went on a bear hunt," she contributed, accepting my hand and hoisting herself up. "It feels like we're in some sort of limbo between battles, maybe? Or perhaps the Skeleton Wars grow more inexplicably chaotic the further we go."

My gaze lingered on a note lodged between Tristan's ribs. "Have you been eating paper again?"

"Recently? No." She glanced down. "Oh, would you look at that."

Plucking it from her bones, I unfolded it to reveal a message hastily scrawled in red ink. "'Come to the office. Hurry! -Mrs. Hex XOXOX'."

"Mrs. Hex?"

I made a face. "She was the principal for my freshman and sophomore years. I'm still 88% convinced she was a literal witch."

"It would be pretty stupid to be an undercover witch and give yourself the name 'Mrs. Hex', Skella."

"Okay, Tristan, code name Tris10."

"That's totally different."

"Of course it is," I muttered, crumpling the note and going to stick it in my pocket before realizing I didn't have one. "Here, put this back in your ribs."

"Are you really concerned about littering in a pocket universe?" she patronized, although she complied with my request nonetheless.

"No, but I hate throwing away papers. You never know when you're gonna need them again." Nodding towards the building, I let her take the lead and followed on the rear flank. With nothing but the moonlight to illuminate it, the old building looked haunted. Which at this point in my career, would hardly surprise me.

"What I'm concerned about is why she put the kissing and hugging shorthand on the note," proclaimed my partner over her shoulder. "I've been among humans for a considerable amount of time, and that registers as creepy even in your culture."

I shuddered. "I know. True to her character. But we should probably go anyways if we don't want to be stuck here forever as skeletons."

"You're right." Oh, how seldom those words leave her lips. "Although, I actually don't mind the lack of flesh that much. I mean, really, all it does is weigh you down, you know?"

Before I could present a counter argument, the doors of the school swung open before us and we both sprung into action, reaching for the weapons that should have been on our hips but were not. Luckily, the man-yes, the man, not the skeleton-who emerged was non-threatening, although he did look suspiciously like Morgan Freeman, as he always had.

The tension melted away from my shoulders as I put a hand on my still-apprehensive partner's back. "It's just the plumber."

"His aura registers as serial killer," she protested.

"Oh, forget it," I dismissed, rolling my eye sockets and moving past her. "His 'aura'. We're scientists."

"You know as well as I do that magic is simply a subset of science," she insisted, trotting to catch up as I hauled the door open.

"Yeah, and aura detection is not within the skillset of the naked eye," I retorted. "Or eye socket, as the case is. And even if it was, you're still half colorblind, so you wouldn't know what the stahn you were seeing."

"At least I'm not colordeaf," she sneered. "BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!"

"Stop yelling colors!" I shouted, covering my ears. "You know I can't hear them!"

Before we could make it to the office, none other than my old principal intersected us, skidding around the corner in the hallway. Panting, she held up a tray featuring what looked like a half-eaten rat. "Eat this. You'll need your strength."

"I think the hell not," I remarked, crossing my arms. As neither Tristan nor I reached out to accept her offering, Mrs. Hex stared blankly at the pair of us until a thunderous crash sounded outside.

"Hurry!" she shrieked, thrusting the rat at us only for it to clatter to the ground. "The babies are upon us!"

Now, of course we were skeptical.

"If eating this rat is how I get my skin back, I don't miss it," Tris10 grumbled."

Forcing open a window, I leaned my head out. "Hmm...mhmm...yeah...okay...alright. There is definitely a horde of zombie infants trying to infiltrate the school."

"You think we should do something about that?"

"Well it's that or the rat, as far as I can tell."

Both of us leapt from the window, armed with nothing more than guard rifles that Mrs. Hex offered as blunt weapons. Before us in formation stood a giant swathe of zombie babies.

"Babies!" screamed one of them as we landed. "Scatter!"

For hours, we held back the crimson tide of the infant menace until our prop rifles broke down into splinters. Over and over again, we repaired them with electrical tape, but there came a point at which it was no use.

And that is how Tristan and I, the final hope of mankind, fell to the babies. As everything went dark, the future slipped away from our fingers and into tiny, clenched fists.

The fight was done. The babies would reign for all eternity.

...

...

"Wow, overdramatic much?" Tristan plopped into a chair next to Bella's. "And you wanna criticize my endings?"

"Just because the apocalypse happened in a pocket universe doesn't mean it wasn't real for the people who lived there," Bella reminded her. "It's actually kind of tragic, how many skeletons we screwed over during the Wars."

"We did what we had to do," Tristan recalled mistily. "Now will you pass the datapad? I wanna finish out the report."

Too tired to argue, Bella handed it over. "Whatever. Just don't make me sound like an imbecile, okay?"

"You don't need my help," Tristan assured with a sweet smile.

...