Pudgy rubbed his sides, as he started to sit up. The hedgehog was in a black void. There was no light, no features, nothing to lock his eyes onto. This reminded him of lake Pontchartrain when the void opened, and Cthulhu started to emerge. He opened his mouth, but no words came out when he tried to speak. When he tried to take a breath of air, nothing happened. The hedgehog started to wiggle, but nothing happened, he just was in a void.
However, he could feel one thing, and the talisman he wore around his neck, was starting to vibrate. Reaching up to touch it with his paw, he could just barely feel movement, being pulled to an unknown destination. The darkness began to fade, and soon the outlines of the mountains approached. Pudgy could see the lights of the cities below, dotted in clusters. Huge snow tipped mountains stretched from eye to eye, and he was quickly flying. Across the mountains, and through the valleys he flew, until he reached the snow-covered mountain from his dream.
His flight path took him through a thick forest, and along a winding river. Then from out of nowhere, the hedgehog ran headfirst into a big metal sign. “Welcome to Ashford,” the sign read in big white letters on a green painted background with a mountain on it. Pudgy felt dazed, and then felt his body being pulled once again, up the front of the sign and then back into the sky. He could see the mountain looming in the distance, and once more the forests grew in thick around him. In an abrupt flight motion, suddenly instead of flying forward, Pudgy went straight down and landed hard onto the ground. This time, the hedgehog felt something, and found delicate pale fingers wrapping around his body. He was being held gently with two hands, and soon a woman’s face began to appear, with black hair. Her eyes were the purest of blue, and almost seemed to glow.
Pudgy looked up at the woman’s face and started to whimper. Her red lips curled into a smile, and then gently kissed the tip of his nose. “Shh, little one, I will not hurt you. I have helped you once before, remember?” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy remember, you are Goddess Hecate. You are Hecate’s Daughter Mommy.” The goddess smiled but cocked one of her finely shaped brown eyebrows. “Why is it that you call Angeliki that?” Pudgy looked confused, “Pudgy see that as her online name.” The goddess laughed, “I know not of this online you speak of, but my daughter’s name is Angeliki. I have summoned you here, to this Mount Rainier, as the mortals call it.” The hedgehog nodded, and turned around in her cupped hands, so he could face forward.
The Goddess floated upwards effortlessly and started to stand on the tip of a pine tree. “On that mountain is a place I can not go to. My daughter is being held prisoner there, by the false king and his minions.” Pudgy pointed, “The Kaiser has Angeliki?” The goddess nodded and looked down at the hedgehog. “I know not why this Kaiser has her, but for reasons that are unclear, this is the closest I can reach. This false king has gathered unto him, great power, so that he may enslave this world to his dark whims and desires. Wrongs committed in the past, by those in the iron power, will be righted by his might. Or so he believes,” Hecate said with a slight tinge of anger to her tone. Pudgy nodded and tried to remember everything he was seeing.
“How can Pudgy stop the shade creatures?” The hedgehog asked, while turning around in her hands. Hecate had changed, this time having piercing grey eyes and blonde hair that hung around her shoulders. His confused expression made the Goddess smile, and she turned him slightly to see the black-haired Goddess was now standing behind her. There was also a white-haired woman behind as well, and the three seemed to be standing in a triangle with their backs to one another. Hecate cleared her throat, “The talisman, holds great power, for those with a pure heart and the will to use it. Fear not, for it will protect you.” Pudgy raised his paw, “it won’t work, Pudgy don’t know how to speak the funny language.” He felt himself being tossed up, and soon was in the cupped hands of the Goddess with the white hair. Her eyes were black voids, and the hedgehog watched as her thumb reached up and tapped the talisman, “That should help, now go back to your forest, and your friends. Fear will make the talisman fail…” The voice trailed off, and soon Pudgy was flying at a terrific rate of speed once more.
Meanwhile, Argente was furiously shaking Pudgy, while dragging him back to the underground home. Mister Bear had recovered and was attacking the shade creature once more. The Kevlar armor he was wearing was helping, though had been ripped off in several sections. Cobalt continued to fire the rifle and had managed to shoot out one of the green orbs. The man had been thrown by the shade and had reopened his wounds from the earlier attack. With blood discoloring the shirt, the firing continued in between attacks by the enraged bear. Pudgy sat up in front of Argente and rubbed his sides. Everything hurt. The female fox immediately hugged him, “don’t you ever do that again! I thought you died.” The hedgehog hugged her back, and started to stand up, turning to face the shade creature.
As the hedgehog touched his talisman, his little eyes started to glow bright white. The tips of his quills started to crackle, and faintly glow with a similar white light. Argente backed away slowly, unsure what was going on. The light caught Mister Bear and Cobalt off guard and stopped their attacks to stare at Pudgy. The shade turned, and its one remaining green orb burned with an unearthly fire. “I thought I got rid of you. Wait, what are you doing?” In Pudgy’s mind, the fear was gone, and he was keenly focused on the shade creature. This monster had hurt his friends and had a role in kidnapping Angeliki. He needed to pay for his actions and holding the talisman in front of him the hedgehog continued to approach step by step. He left little glowing paw prints behind him, which made Argente sniff at the ground. “You go away now, and never come back!” Pudgy shouted, while a beam of pure white light shot down from the skies above.
The shade roared in anger and wailed its claws in all directions. The beam of light had captured the creature, and Pudgy started to chant. “open the gate to the north, open the gate to the south, open the gate to the east, open the gate to the west. By the Goddess’s will, I cast you beyond the ends of the earth.” The creature roared, and soon the beam of light separated into four, and the creature was ripped asunder, and flung far in all directions. The light beam dissipated, and soon the fark of the night had returned to the forest. The hedgehog fell to the ground once again and wiggled as he felt electric tingles still surging through his body. Argente looked in disbelief, and padded cautiously up to her friend, and sniffed. While he smelled like ozone, there was no sign of death like there was before.
Cobalt walked up, with his hunting rifle in hand. He was in the process of reloading when Mister Bear walked up beside him. “Good job, Cobalt. Hey, what caliber is that rifle?” The brown bear said, with pieces of Kevlar sticking out from his body at different angles. The man laughed, “it is a 22, but I did splurge on the night vision scope. I sold all my larger gauges to the local gun store. I had to pay for all these Pudgy adventures somehow. Argente, how is Pudgy?” The fox had a worried expression on her face, “I thought Pudgy was dead earlier, but he is now alive once again? Pudgy, what happened, what did you do?” The hedgehog sat up and waved at everyone, while looking around the dark forest. Motioning to follow, he started to walk slowly on all fours to the front door of his home. He disappeared inside, though soon the lights turned on one by one, and a shadow moved inside.
Argente followed Pudgy inside of the home, and as Cobalt stood guard, Mister Bear walked slowly up to the big round bifold door. The door started to swing open, and the interior light started to illuminate the area in front of the door. “Cobalt, you can go inside now, I’ll stay outside, in case of trouble.” The tired brown bear said, while sniffing the air. The man nodded, and backed inside the room, with his rifle sticking out into the forest. Once inside, he put the safety on the trigger, and then sat back into the banquette seat within the underground home’s big room. The bear turned in such a way so he could listen but keep an eye on the surrounding area. Pudgy sat on the concrete floor, and looked around at all his friends, and took a deep breath. The little hedgehog began to tell his story, of the strange void area, then the flight out west. The sign he ran into, and then meeting the goddesses. Mount Rainier, and that Hecate’s daughter was imprisoned somewhere on the mountain. The goddess had altered the talisman, so Pudgy could use it without speaking Greek, before being sent back.
The room was quiet, as everyone was feeling the rush of adrenaline fade, and tiredness seep into their muscles. Argente was hugging Pudgy, with sad brown eyes watching over him. Pudgy coughed, making his ribs hurt, “Pudgy need to go to scary mountain. Pudgy must save Angeliki. and stop the shades.” Mister bear nodded, “she’s my friend too Pudgy, but how can we help her? The mountain is a huge place, and even if I were to go with you, it would take us months to get there.” Cobalt was still reloading his rifle, but nodded as he spoke, “the sapphire crystal is too dangerous to use now. The shades and the Kaiser know each time you use it. So even short trips, result in unwanted attention.” Pudgy raised his paw, “Pudgy can ask Sandra, she can fly Pudgy west.” Argente nodded, “yes, but all the way over the mountains? And once there, what then?”
The man nodded but looked up at Mister Bea as an idea formed. “Comix Villain, he helped us with the moon adventure. I am unsure if the league of villains would help, but he seems to be all right for a potential heroic adventure. Several of our friends online Pudgy, live out west, perhaps someone heard something? I think Bionic lives out in Washington state also. But one thing is for certain, no rushing off half cocked so to speak. We need a plan, we need intelligence, and we need supplies.” The brown bear nodded, “Yes, and somehow get Pudgy able to maneuver quicker. There is all manner of woodland creatures that live on and around the mountain. While most will be helpful, some may not, and those are the ones you must watch out for.”
The female silver fox nodded her head, “I agree with all of this. I will tell you all that I remember, but my memories are a bit hazy, as it has been awhile. Pudgy, I think I should go with you as well.” As the hedgehog nodded, and snuggled into Argente’s warm fur, he yawned. Cobalt sighed and looked around the small golden oak room. “One shade dispatched in Texas, one shade dealt with in Pennsylvania, which means 2 are left.” The bear nodded, “plus the Kaiser, who we can assume is much worse. This might be a rescue and escape mission, leave the Kaiser for another day?” Cobalt and Argente nodded at the same time and spoke, “agreed.” The hedgehog looked up at all his friends once more, “thank you all for helping Pudgy.”
Cobalt took out his cell phone and scrolled though his list of contacts. He messaged Comix, asking if the league of villains were able to help Pudgy with another adventure? There was no response, but it was exceptionally late, so he may have been in bed. Looking up at Mister Bear, “I’m staying here tonight,” Cobalt said while standing up and starting to exit the room. The bear nodded, “agreed, it’s too dangerous.” As the man stood, he took the safety off the trigger, and looked out into the forest with his scope. “Don’t see anything yet, so how about I take the first watch? All of you, get some rest.” Argente nodded and helped Pudgy inside his living area. The bear backed into the big room, and wiggled into place, filling every available space within, and looked out at Cobalt through the door jamb. There was no way the door could be shut; the bear was too big.
Far up into the trees, the pigeon bats looked on, and were nervously watching the skies. Seeing Pudgy’s friend Cobalt armed and working with the large brown bear to fight the shadowy monster, put a sense of fear into them. The man walked around the front of the home, sighting through the scope occasionally. When the man spotted the bats, he waved, but noticed they only peeked at him. The forest was warm, and humid, with the skies starting to clear above. Cobalt looked up, at a waning moon, wondering how Pudgy’s dinosaur friends were doing. Sighting the forest once more with his scope, he scanned the area slowly. There was nothing, only calm darkness, buzzzz……buzzzz…..buzzzz…. His phone started to vibrate in his pocket. Taking it out, the glow of the screen illuminated his face.
Comix had responded and sent a request through a chat program to do a voice call. “Hello Cobalt, how are you? Man, it has been awhile?” Cobalt smiled, and slung the rifle over his shoulder, placing the phone against his ear. “Yes, it has Comix, Pudgy and I have been terribly busy since our last chat. But so far ok, though we have a big issue again.” Cobalt began to give the summarized version of everything that was going on. He also took some grainy night photos of the fortified underground home of Pudgy, which drew an immediate concerned response. After the story finished, Comix cleared his throat. “Cobalt, this sounds bad, I mean really bad. The way you describe this, this may be even worse than the Moon. The league of Villains, well…. disbanded. There were disagreements, and some no longer wanted to be part of the ground. Frankun is still around, and stops by to visit, but that is about it. But Pudgy is our friend too. I will talk to him, and we will start researching Mount Rainier. What sort of timeframe do we have?”
As Mister Bear walked up to Cobalt, he tapped him on the hip with his large paw. The man smiled, “Comix, not immediate, so we have time. I need to get in contact with another Pudgy friend, to see about an airplane trip.” Comix was muttering to himself, “ok, I’ll be in touch, as soon as I get some information together.” As the call ended, Cobalt looked down at Mister Bear. “Comix is on board, though the league of villains has disbanded. But any information that can be obtained, is better than none.” The bear nodded, “agreed. Now go back to Pudgy’s, I’ll take over.” The man patted the bear gently on his head, and headed back to the underground home, stepping inside the room. Thankfully for the rest of the night, there was no further incidents. The armored brown bear was a lot louder than he normally was but was still an impressive sight to be seen. The other woodland creatures knew something was wrong and were staying away.
Far away, just barely over the ridge line, 2 glowing yellow orbs were surveying the forest. The orbs faded away into a mist, which started to float low over the ground. The mist weaved its way through the plants slowly, seeping into the areas between. While the first rays of light began to appear in the morning skies above, the yellow orbs began to glow once more faintly. Watching the home, and the patrolling armored bear, until the dawn came in earnest. The mists shrunk back, and underneath the rocks, taking refuge in the shadowy voids underneath them.
Having slept at an extremely uncomfortable angle, Cobalt had a sore neck and back. Standing up, he exited the home, and waved at Mister Bear. The bear waved his paw back, “I’m heading back to my home now. If you need me, fire 2 shots into the air, and I will come.” The man nodded, “I will, and thank you again, Mister Bear.” As the large animal took his leave, heading back to his cabin, Cobalt ran off to find a tree to provide some semblance of cover. He really needed to take care of some business, and as he was just about to lower his zipper, the gray fluffy bunnies hopped up. They saw him, and immediately noticed the rifle. “Pudgy is all right, but we had a rough night. You two can go in, I think he’s up.” The bunnies nodded and hopped quickly inside. After checking again, and no woodland creatures around, he was able to utilize the tree accordingly.
The gray fluffy bunnies raced inside the underground home and found Pudgy still in bed. Argente was awake but being quiet. Though any semblance of quiet was shattered, with rapid fire bunny questions. Pudgy woke up, and exited his bed, waving tiredly at his friends. The room gasped, as the hedgehog’s quills had started to change colors. He was no longer the dark brown color as before and had changed to a tinge of gray on the tips. His belly fur had also lightened, though he seemed no worse for wear. The fox inspected him, and then excused herself to go check on Cobalt. As the fox exited the home, she could see Cobalt positioned in a funny way around a tree. So, she padded up, and looked up around him, “Cobalt, are you ok?”
The man laughed, and had his hand on his zipper, making a noise. The fox had perfect timing and had missed what was being strategically done. That was the last thing he needed, was to have to explain human anatomy to the woodland critters. “yes, I am fine Argente. How are you, and Pudgy?” As the man turned, he started to walk back to the home. The fox did not immediately join him, so he figured the same thing he needed to do, she was as well at the same tree. She padded up quickly beside him, “tired, but we’re ok. The bunnies woke up Pudgy. Cobalt, his quills are turning gray, and his fur lightened. I must admit, I like the gray on him, but still…” She tailed off with a worried look in her eyes. Cobalt nodded, “I agree, I am concerned as well. That Talisman is doing something to him. I think the stone as well, so all the reason more, to not use them willy nilly.”
Cobalt yawned, and he stepped inside the big room, “Pudgy, I need to head back to my house.” The hedgehog scampered out, and like Argente said, he had indeed started to turn gray. Kneeling, the man gently scooped up his hedgehog friend, and hugged him gently. “If you need me call, but I am going to suggest you stay inside today, and just rest.” Pudgy hugged back, and nodded, looking up at Cobalt. “Pudgy will, Pudgy tired.” After another long hug, the man sat him down beside the gear cranks for the door, and then backed out of the room. Waving, he watched the bifold round doors started to swing shut in the middle, and soon the familiar clunk sound as they locked into place. Cobalt watched as Argente padded back inside through the front door, and what remained of the security door was lowered into place. The home was barricaded once more, with bunnies peeking out through the shuttered windows. Turning, the man headed back to his place across the forest, with the rifle on his shoulder.
As Cobalt advised, both Argente and Pudgy slept for most of the day. They took frequent naps and munched on the variety of sweet and savory goodies that were stocked in Pudgy’s home. The hedgehog always kept extra supplies, mainly due to winter. While his human friend could bring stuff if need be, the hedgehog needed to be able to be self-sufficient in case of a heavy snow or other weather situation. The bunnies were too energetic, and soon needed to be let outside to play. When they left, the home grew incredibly quiet. Argente would watch Pudgy, moving constantly in his sleep. His little paws moving, like he was running, and a quick jerking of his muscles as he sprung awake. When he would take, he did not remember anything, just being in a black void, trying to get free but not able to. The rest was helping, and soon he was recovered enough to start cooking lunch for them.
Meanwhile across the forest, a tired Cobalt was on his 2nd pot of coffee, trying to stay awake at his job. Remote work was a wonderful thing, given the constant hedgehog related adventures. His phone was occasionally buzzing, as Comix had begun to feed information over of a variety of topics. A story was found, of a group of rock climbers who had gone to a formation to the west of the Mountain, called Tokaloo Rock. Strange shadowy monsters had been seen recently, standing on the peak to the rock formation. They shadow never did anything, only standing and watching. Several ghost hunting groups had gone out but had found no evidence of the supernatural. One park ranger had an unsubstantiated report of a woman in white being seen, but that was only by one teenager, who was with his family on a hiking trip. He also located an airfield that was nearby: Packwood Airport-55S. It was in a place called Packwood.
When it was time to log out for lunch time, Cobalt sent a message to Sandra and Raymond. Raymond answered first, and after a brief discussion of what was going on, the faithful husband explained it was doable, but he needed to talk to his wife first. She was on another courier flight, this time to Vermont, but she should be back later in the day. Cobalt thanked him and said he would pay for fuel and anything else if they could get Pudgy to Mount Rainier. Buzzy, buzz, and another story was sent from Comix Villain. This time, it was hikers from the wonderland trail. That trail was on the eastern side of the mountain, which was around Packwood. They reported strange men walking the trail, all dressed in black. One was extremely tall, maybe 7 feet, and wore a pinstripe black suit. He had an eyepatch over one eye and spoke with a thick German accent. The men were stopped by park rangers, who were summarily beat up. The park rangers had contacted the Washington state police and were on the lookout for the gentlemen.
Shortly after starting a report for his job, Frankun then sent a message causing the cell phone to buzz on Cobalt’s work desk. Locating a story on Eagle Peak Mine, which was the south by southwest of the mountain. It was a copper mine, and there had been several reports of strange shadowy creatures flying in the skies above the mine. There has been an unexplained mine safety issue, causing a full evacuation of the mine a week ago. The mine had been cleared and sealed off since. There was talk of a possible fire, and if that were the case, it would be best to wait and let the fire burn itself out. Unless they hit a coal seam, then it might burn for decades. The mine safety administration had not yet cleared the mine to re-open. This was a blow to the local economy, as the mine was expected to change hands soon, to a Deutsche bank backed investment firm, based in Germany. He had even found a picture of the head of the investment firm, which was a steely eyes German man with white hair, and a full beard flecked with black. The deal was on hold due to the mine safety issue, and an accounting irregularity. There was an audit in progress by MIM Accounting.
Rubbing his chin, that name sounded awfully familiar to Cobalt. Sending yet another message out, this time he contacted Loki, and asked if he knew anything about MIM Accounting? Loki was busy doing a show, so he was not able to respond at that time, but it was a possible lead, that needed to be investigated. But the main thing was, he really needed to get back to work. Pudgy adventures were fun, but he needed to pay his bills, so the research was placed on hold. The rest of the workday went fine, with a deluge of buzzing from the various friends of Pudgy sending reports, and documentation to Cobalt. After work was over and the computer logged out and shut down. He started to read the assembled documents. He also had a request from Loki to call him. Dialing the telephone number provided, his phone began to ring. The familiar voice, and distinctive laugh filled his basement as the call was on speakerphone.
“Hello, my friend Cobalt, how are you doing? Sure, as shoot, I will help Pudgy on another adventure!” The man said in a very animated tone. Cobalt thanked him and started to explain what had been going on. Turning the video function on, Loki could see how beat up Cobalt looked, and the blood-stained shirt he still had on. This snapped his jovial mood, when the story turned to how they had taken down a shade in the forest. The call grew incredibly quiet, and Cobalt cleared his throat. “Loki, have you ever heard of something called MIM Accounting?” There was a snort, “shoot, Cobalt, that’s Mexican Iron Man Accounting, it’s his firm. Do you want me to ask him about the deal? I am unsure what he can tell you, but it may help. Hey, are you, all right? If you are out of commission, who is going to help Pudgy?” Cobalt nodded, “yes please, send him my information. I patched myself up, but I need some time to rest. Thank you, Loki, for helping us with this.” The call ended, and Cobalt decided he really needed a hot shower.
A couple hours later, after hot shower, fresh bandages, and clean clothes: Cobalt felt much better. He was texting Pudgy, who was still doing ok. He let his little friend know that their friends were sending in a deluge of information. Comix and Frankun on board, finding out all sorts of information on the mountain and its surrounding areas. The copper mine seemed to be the focal point of the shadowy activities. Mexican Iron man had not yet responded to Loki, but Loki too was finding out information. Sandra was late, having hit bad weather over New York state, so the airplane was delayed. She wanted to speak to Cobalt first, but the call kept dropping as the cell service was extremely bad in the airplane. As Cobalt was watching the news, and eating supper, his phone’s battery was almost at zero percent. So, he instantly searched for the charger. As he located it, the screen turned off. “gosh darn it, not now.”
Connecting the charger, he had to wait for the phone to charge up enough, to turn it back on. As he looked out of his living room window, he saw a black miasma floating over the treetops. “Oh no….” he stammered out, “another shade!” The phone was dead, so he left it. Racing the man leapt down the stairs, and quickly grabbed the rifle. The scope was charged up, with its green light indicating full battery. He unplugged the power adapter and slung the rifle over his shoulder. Clipping the machete back to his belt, he also put in his metal claw hammer for good measure. If he ran out of bullets, he was still able to fight. He ran through his basement and opened the back door to the patio. As the door sung shut behind him, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Could he get to Pudgy’s house in time?