It had been an hour and the Scout found that, despite heavy pounding and kicking, the metal door to his prison would not budge. His finger tips were stinging and stained with rust as he put all his strength into prying the hinges out using various tools he found strewn across the tables. He banged his palms on the metal door a few more times before letting out a frustrated yell, grabbing the nearest object, and throwing it against the wall. He wasn't sure what it was, but it smashed satisfyingly into a million pieces and littered the floor.
"You fuckin' prick! Open this door!" he shouted but the door remained bolted.
It was amazing how quickly Scout had regained his pride following Crowder's previous attack. He was itching for a fight now; anything to blow off steam. And throwing things just wasn't cutting it. Even though Crowder showed that he could reduce him to a heap of writhing pain on the floor with a single touch, Scout's fighter spirit was burning hotter than ever.
The young man grit his teeth and let out a disgruntled growl. Perhaps he wasn't using enough force to pry the hinges off the door. There had to be a mallet or heavy piece of metal somewhere amongst the tools and scraps. Scout launched himself at the workshop tables and swept his hands over the piles of junk.
"Yes!" he hissed when he finally found what he was looking for. A hammer.
Scout flipped it in the air and caught it by the handle expertly. A smug grin crept across his face and he immediately got to work to loosen the bolts holding the door shut. He jutted the claw of the hammer up into whatever miniscule space he could find within the hinge and pried the handle down with every drop of strength he had. But the door still refused to give.
"C'mon!" Scout growled.
He pressed his shoulder into the door, keeping his elbows close to his body as he continued to pull the hammer downwards, attempting to give himself as much leverage as possible. His face turned red and he held his breath, pulling and pulling until CRACK!
Scout was on the floor before he knew what hit him. The hammer had broken in half, sending the heavy, metal head of the tool spiraling through the air and hitting him square in the face. For the next few seconds, Scout could have swore he saw reindeer dancing around in circles in front of his face. A nice, puffy bruise was already forming above his right brow. He groaned and shook his head, banishing his hallucinations and feeling the full brunt of the pain beginning to ebb forward. It was then, as his vision began to clear, that he found himself laying flat on his back and staring up at the most beautiful sight he ever laid eyes on (other than Miss Pauling, of course). A ventilation shaft.
Scout's wits had never returned to him so quickly. He launched himself off the floor, ignoring a fresh wave of vertigo, and stared up at the grate above him that blocked his only means of escape. He reached up for it and then finally jumped, feeling his fingertips brush against the cold metal. Glancing around the room frantically, Scout looked for something to stand on. First, he tried to move the tables but they were bolted to the floor. Next, he set his heart on a stack of small, wooden crates in the corner. He couldn't be sure if they would even hold his weight but it was the only thing he could try. He practically threw them across the room towards the area where the vent was and they crashed loudly into each other as they tumbled over the floor. Scout stacked them so that they offered the most leverage and stability. Even so, they only allowed him a foot or so off the floor. He carefully stepped up onto the wobbly boxes and balanced himself with his arms out at each side. When he was sure he had a foothold, he reached up for the ceiling, wrapped his fingers around the cage-like grate, and gave it a firm tug.
"Ha. Piece'a cake."
The ventilation cover swung down and hung by its hinges towards the floor, swinging idly. Scout clumsily scrambled off the boxes and hurried towards the workshop tables, looking for anything he could use as a weapon. A long piece of thin iron would suffice and he shoved it into his belt like a sheathed sword. Breathing heavily, Scout clambered up onto the crates once more and hooked his fingers around the edges of the shaft above him. With a groan and a kick of his feet, he muscled himself upwards and climbed into the opening, army crawling forward until he was completely inside the tunnel before stopping to rest and survey his surroundings. He wasn't sure where he'd end up or if he'd even find an escape, but Scout hoped that maybe he'd pop out into the arid New Mexico desert and that everything he'd been through, so far, was the result of a bump on the head.
It was hard for the RED Spy not to go into full stealth mode as he silently approached the BLU team's headquarters. The crunching of gravel underneath his shoes was rhythmic and somewhat therapeutic with every step. Golden light pooling out from the windows of the base cast an eerie glow across his face. He stopped before the entrance, taking several puffs of his cigarette and trying to figure out just how, exactly, he was going to gain access. Even though they weren't in mission mode, members of the enemy team can still be a little...testy. Grudges held strong.
The Spy gave a little grunt of amusement and blew a thick trail of smoke into the air.
"Maintenant ou jamais," he muttered. Now or never...
He moved forward to cautiously knock upon the front entrance, feeling exposed and foolish, when he heard something to his right. It was the barely audible but unmistakable sound of someone adjusting their footing in the gravel. The Spy looked around suspiciously and unsheathed his Ambassador, keeping it pointed towards the sky tightly against his chest. He pressed himself against the outside wall of the establishment. Adrenaline began coursing through his veins; it was enough to almost make him grin. Very slowly and deliberately, the Spy approached a corner of the base and was about to round it, gun at the ready, when a sudden intuition told him to turn around. Thankfully, he listened to his instincts for he barely had time to block the downward thrust of a massive kukri. It was the BLU Sniper, attacking with an animalistic ferocity.
The Sniper grunted in frustration every time he swiped the knife through the air and missed his intended target. The Spy evaded his every attack with a deft, expert swiftness. To anyone watching, their movements were almost artistic; like a dance. Both highly practiced in their craft, the tango of jabs, ducks, and blocks continued evenly matched. It wasn't until the Sniper stopped trying to slash at the Spy and shouldered into him instead that the battle reached a stalemate. The Spy's back hit the concrete wall of the building and the wind was knocked from him. He raised his gun and pulled back the hammer just as the Sniper was upon him, kukri raised and poised at the Spy's neck. Both men stood there for the next several seconds, panting from their excursions and refusing to lower their weapons.
"Well, where do you suppose we go from here, my dear friend?" asked the Spy, finding the whole situation rather amusing.
The BLU Sniper, having not forgotten the many scores he had to settle with the RED Spy, only grit his teeth and pressed the blade of his knife harder against the neck of his enemy. "You've got a lotta nerve showin' up here. I outta gut you like a pig! "
"Oh, come now, Sniper. You mustn't take your constant defeat so personally," said the Spy, his voice laced with sarcasm. "We are gentlemen here, non?"
"There's only one gentleman here. The other's a back stabbin' coward!"
Spy chuckled and tutted. "A pity you see yourself that way."
Sniper snarled and pressed the blade of his knife up under the Spy's Adam's apple enough to draw a thin, red line of blood. Spy cleared his throat, feeling the time had come to put an end to the banter and reveal his true motive before he was given a Columbian necktie.
"Alright, very well," he sighed in defeat. "I am here to speak to your team about a certain matter that occurred yesterday."
Sniper narrowed his eyes. "What matter?"
"The one involving a certain 'Spirit of Australian Christmas' and a shopping mall."
The Sniper's features softened slightly; his interest piqued. "He's dead. Stabbed in the neck-"
"He's alive. And he has our Scout."
"What the hell do ya want us t'do about it? That's your problem."
"It was your Scout, Soldier, and Spy that encountered this 'problem' yesterday. Crowder does not distinguish between BLU and RED. And neither does the Administrator."
The Sniper slowly lowered the kukri from the Spy's neck. "What are you gettin' at?"
"Well, if we do not get Scout back in 24 hours, the Administrator will consider it a breach of contract and we will all be terminated."
"...Metaphorically or literally?"
The Spy raised an eyebrow, looking at the Sniper condescendingly as if to ask, Are you kidding me? Sniper seemed to understand. Slowly, he backed off from his nemesis and lowered his knife to his side. He nodded towards the main entrance of the headquarters, gesturing the Spy to move.
"They ain't gonna to be happy to see you," he warned.
Spy smiled, holstering his revolver. "No one on your team ever is."
It had seemed like a decade had passed when the Scout finally came across another ventilation grate in the ceiling of another room. Dim, orange light cast eerie, checkered shadows on the walls of the shaft and Scout's face as he peered downward. A deep chill was rising from the grill of the ventilation cover and Scout relished in the relief it provided for his tired, sweating body. The room he peered into looked much different from the workshop. Gone were the concrete walls and industrial setting and replaced by stone walls and medieval-looking lanterns. It reminded Scout of a dungeon, except there were no visible signs of the room ever holding prisoners. In fact, there was little evidence that the room had ever been walked into at all.
"What a freak," Scout muttered to himself.
He moved on. It wasn't long before he came to a fork in the vent and he was faced with the difficult task of maneuvering around a tight corner. He hissed in pain when the sharp edge of the adjoining shaft pressed into his stomach as he wriggled his body around it until he finally was facing the direction he wanted to go. It occurred to him, suddenly, that the air in the ventilation shaft was becoming more cold and less stagnant. A chilled breeze assaulted his reddening nose, causing his eyes to water. Where it was once relief across his heated body, the Scout now found himself shivering.
What kind of moron turns the air conditionin' on in the middle of December?
Scout shook his head in disbelief and soldiered on. Up ahead, he could see another square of checkered light. As he crawled towards it, the metal rod sheathed against his hip scraping lightly against the aluminum of the vent, the cool air worsened. The sour stench of manure and wet hay intensified every time he inched closer. When he finally came across the top of the grate, the metal was so cold against his fingertips that it stung his flesh. The acrid stench became overwhelming. He looked down and gazed into a large, stable-like room. The eight "flying" kangaroos that had pulled him to his demise grazed listlessly on stale hay and oats. They were either oblivious to Scout observing them from above or indifferent altogether. Scout hoped it was the latter. He knew this was the first room he had come across that held any promise of escape. The stable had to lead outside.
"All right," Scout said to himself. "Here goes nothin'."
His fingers wrapped around the holes in the grate and he pushed it as quietly as he could. The metal trap swung downward and hung on its hinges with a high-pitched squeal. Scout froze. A few kangaroos looked up curiously for a moment but returned to graze soon after. Letting out a sigh of relief, Scout braced himself on the edges of the open shaft and eased his legs down towards the floor, dangling for a moment before dropping to his feet. He brushed off his clothes and looked around to make sure his surroundings were still docile; only moving when he felt confident he wasn't going to get mauled by rabid marsupials. A few kangaroos looked up at him as they grazed on their cud but showed little, if any, interest in him.
Scout noticed it was colder now that he was on the ground and followed the draught in an attempt to find where it was originating from. The cool air brought him to a corner of the L shaped room and he cautiously peered down a corridor of stables. It was dark at the end; so dark that he wondered if it was even worth it to check it out but his reckless curiosity got the best of him. Maybe there would be a door.
For a brief moment, Scout thought he heard the rustling of hay but couldn't tell if it was coming from ahead of him or all around him. The kangaroos were grazing non-stop. Cautiously, he unsheathed the iron bar from his belt and held it poised over his shoulder, ready to attack or defend himself. His steps were slow and deliberate, his neck craned out to catch a glimpse of anything down the dark passageway, and his hands clutched the iron bar with sweaty, tingling fingers. The rustling was now unmistakable. Scout couldn't tell if he was trembling from the temperature or from the adrenaline pumping through his veins.
He pinpointed the noise to the far left stable and kept to the right as much as possible. But when he finally was close enough to see inside the hay-strewn kennel, there was nothing there. His shoulders slumped and he let the iron weapon fall to his side, giving a great big sigh of relief. And to his delight, Scout also saw a large dungeon door, locked with a single bar of wood.
"Oh, yeah!" he whooped in triumph and tucked the iron bar back into his belt.
The air coming from the seams of the door was absolutely frigid but Scout paid it no heed. He braced his shoulder underneath the wooden bar and prepared to heave it up and away when the rustling sound returned. This time, there was no mistaking; it was coming from right behind him. Scout froze, his eyes widening. Very slowly, he turned his head to look over his shoulder and saw the brown, furry chest of a large creature. His gaze traveled upwards until he came nose to nose with a fuming, gigantic kangaroo. Crowder's lead kangaroo. Foam was dripping from its mouth and scars of past battles dotted its face. It was a beast of an animal; twice as big as the others. Scout had never felt so small.
It seemed like they stayed that way forever; locked in a frozen standoff. His eyes broke the staring contest for only a split second to gauge how far away the corridor was. It was all the lapse in concentration the kangaroo needed. Scout's muscles barely twitched into action when he was kicked violently backwards into the double door; the back of his head smacking against the wood. Blurs of light danced across his vision and his lungs refused to fill with air. He slumped to the floor, doubled over and gasping. Crowder's kangaroo poised itself to strike with its hind legs again and Scout, relying only on pure fight or flight, rolled out of the way at the last second. The sound of the kangaroo's giant claws slicing off large splinters of tinder from the door made Scout's stomach flip. He stumbled to his feet and rounded the L shaped corridor clumsily, using the wall to ricochet his body around the tight corner and into the open stable area where the kangaroos continued to eat, indifferent to the ongoing chaos. Practically defying gravity, Scout double jumped for the opening of the ventilation shaft in the ceiling and barely grasped the edges. His legs dangled for a second before he used every ounce of strength he had to pull his body weight up into the tiny shaft. The kangaroo grabbed at his ankles, ripping holes in his socks and shoes and tearing skin. Scout cried out and kicked his feet furiously, nailing the animal in the snout and finally pulling himself to safety.
He collapsed inside the ventilation shaft, closing his eyes to rest while he regained his breath. Below him, he could hear the kangaroo jumping and clawing at the ceiling.
Scout knew he would have to move soon. The animal was creating too much noise and disturbance to go unnoticed by Crowder for long. And the deep scratches along his ankles were beginning to throb and ooze heavily with thick blood. Anger welled up in him. He had been so close to escape and it was ruined by a psychotic marsupial. Scout didn't think his day could get any more miserable...or weirder. What he wouldn't give to have his Force-A-Nature on hand to blow that stupid kangaroo's maw off. Scout banged his fist against the metal of the vent in frustration and decided it was time to move on and find another way out. Dejectedly, he crawled forward, ignoring the throbbing ache he felt across his body.
The RED Spy couldn't help but feel incredibly amused at the BLU team's tenacity when it came to precautions against the enemy. As soon as he had stepped foot into the headquarters, he was attacked, en masse, by the Heavy, Scout, and Soldier. He chuckled at them, despite being manhandled against a nearby wall by the Heavy and held by the throat. The sound of various guns cocking filled the room and the cold barrels were pressed against his chest and temple. Of course, BLU Sniper did little to keep his teammates hospitable.
"MAGGOT!" the Soldier barked. "I have a grenade with your name on it!"
"Walkin' in through the front door?" BLU Scout said, smacking his baseball bat against his palm. "You're losin' your touch."
"That's not what your mother said last night," Spy responded with a wicked grin.
The Scout's face turned an angry shade of red and he raised his bat in the air to strike. "Kiss those pearly whites goodbye, ya shapeshiftin' son of a b-!"
Sniper caught the bat in his hand, mid-swing, with a loud SMACK!
"He ain't here on a mission. Put your weapons away."
The Heavy's grip only slightly loosened on the Spy's neck. "No mission?" he asked, his features changing from a cold determination to slight puzzlement. "What then?"
"Who cares? Lemme bash his skull in!"
The Scout engaged in a small game of tug-o-war with his bat versus the Sniper but lost; his weapon ripped from his fingers and kept at bay.
"In a minute," Sniper reassured him. "He's here about that Australian Christmas fella you blokes met at the mall yesterday."
The Scout and the Soldier looked at the Sniper in astonishment and then turned their attention to the Spy. He idly puffed on the cigarette held between his teeth and smirked. Finally, the Heavy released him from his massive grip and the Spy relaxed slightly, fixing his lapel.
"What about that nut job? He's dead," Scout told the Spy.
"Oh, really? Then tell me: who has captured my team's Scout? Some other maniacal gentleman with a reindeer helmet and a sleigh?"
Scout furrowed his eyebrows. "He was stabbed in the neck, man. Ask our Spy. He was the one who set the whole thing up."
"That really is irrelevant now," RED Spy said, dropping the cigarette from his mouth and snuffing it out with his heel. "What is relevant is that the Administrator wants that annoying little man back to base by tomorrow or else our contracts are terminated."
"Why should we care about your stupid team?"
The Spy lit up another cigarette from his Spytron 3000, clipped the case shut, and tucked it neatly back inside his jacket. "Because," he said, "this Nicolas Crowder has kidnapped our Scout under the pretenses that he is you. You were the one who had the confrontation at the mall yesterday, yes? We may, perhaps, lose our jobs but it is you who Crowder will come for in the end."
The Scout couldn't hide the fact that that notion made him quite uncomfortable. He paled slightly but tried to play it off. "Pshh. I ain't scared of that old geezer."
"That 'old geezer' wiped my entire team out in one blow. You may have been lucky yesterday, but I assure you he will not be fooled twice. I need to know what you used to fight him."
The Soldier, who had been silently absorbing this information until now, finally spoke. "That is classified information!"
The other team members silently backed him up.
What a bunch of moronic baboons, Spy thought to himself, feeling a headache creep up his temples.
"Very well," he said. "We will make sure we send him your regards. Gentlemen."
The Spy nodded a polite farewell to his enemies and started for the door. The BLU Scout, Heavy, Sniper, and Soldier watched his back retreat reluctantly. The Scout clenched his fists together at his side and ground his teeth. If the RED team's Scout was overpowered by Nicolas Crowder, then the idea of the creepy old nut job coming back with a vendetta and a bounty on his head made him a little uneasy. He wanted this kidnapping son of a bitch gone for good.
"Yo! It's his helmet," he said. The others looked at him in surprise. The Spy stopped walking but didn't turn around. Scout sheepishly continued. "I...I think it's his helmet. That lame-o reindeer skull one. I caught him off guard when I nailed 'im with an ornament to the head...but wasn't 'til Soldier knocked his helmet off that he became all talk and no walk."
"You are a disgrace! You aren't even being tortured and you are giving away intel!" Soldier reprimanded the Scout.
"Shut up," Scout argued. "I don't want that creep comin' to my apartment and yankin' me outta bed in the middle of the night!"
The Spy smirked, peering over his shoulders. "Merci. Your information has been very illuminating."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now get the hell outta here before I rearrange that smug face of yours."
The Spy gave a little arrogant wave and exited the building. "Til next time."
"AND STAY AWAY FROM MY MA!"