Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to Monster. I hope you enjoy the ride. Additional notes at the end for anyone who wants to read them.
Disclaimer: I don't own Jak and Daxter. If I did... Well, take a look down.
Arc the First: Rescue Chapter One
Mightily, doth the hero climb, nearing the summit of the barrier. With a flex of brawny thews, he heaves himself up to the barred gateway, and takes a mighty hold. With a powerful heave, he-
A slip, a shriek, and a splash.
-falls into a puddle of... I don't even want to know what.
Dax didn't even bother groaning. Luckily the puddle of oil, water, and other various, noxious smelling liquids had broken his fall. Luckily small animals could survive falls that would maim or kill a human.
Luckily I'm used to this. Oh, my arm! He could move his feet, legs, tail, and left arm just fine; it was the right that dangled uselessly. He thought he remembered his paw catching in the ventilation grate for just a second too long, before he went splat. He felt carefully at his shoulder, and winced. Dislocated.
"That," Sig said, "looked like it hurt."
"Oh, ye of massive understatement... no kidding." Dax sat up, and looked down at his shoulder. Then he turned and looked at Sig, who had gone back to keeping an eye on the street. Yeah, maybe not. Sig was great in a fight, but he couldn't see a person who casually broke bones turning around and helping fix a dislocated shoulder.
Down and dirty method it was, then. Dax managed to get to his feet, and over to the wall with a minimum of stumbling. He hesitated a few seconds, then slammed his right shoulder into the wall, and felt- and heard- the nasty pop that went along with a burst of pain.
"You alright there, cherry?"
"Peachy," he gasped. The pain was fading. Going numb, he supposed, or maybe his nerves were just over stimulated and couldn't take any more agony. "I don't think I'm getting in that way," he said, meaning the grate.
"No," Sig said, abandoning his post. He took the four steps necessary to get to Dax, then reached down and scooped him up. "Can you hang on, at least?"
"Hey, only my one arm's a problem," he said, and scrambled up onto Sig's shoulder. The armor there was spiky, and he wrapped his good arm around a spike. Useful, these. He'd have to convince Jak to invest in similar shoulder armor.
Sig grunted, then headed out. There was one thing about traveling with Sig, Dax thought. He might've been exposed to more metal-head hunts and bar fights than was healthy for anyone, but most people, including the KG, were wary of getting in the way of a six-foot-seven man who wore the skulls of his dead enemies as battle armor.
Now, if I could only find the armor made out of human skulls... Nah. Too gruesome. He probably has them made into candle holders or something...
Dax let his tail sway in time with Sig's steps. The slums- at least, the dry slums- were a surprisingly clean place. Sure, the occupants got a little odorous- water cost money, after all- but there wasn't any food lying around to rot in the non-existent gutters. When he'd been on the streets 24-7, he'd gone up to where the people with money lived. Not only did they throw out perfectly good food, they left it in the streets to rot, and chased off anyone who came by to clean things up.
Now that he was hanging with Sig, though, he got regular meals and the assurance that stray cats and anyone looking to add a bit of meat to their diet would leave him alone.
"Where're we headed?" he asked. The answer itself didn't matter. As far as things went, he only cared where he was when he was working his way into the prison. He couldn't do that today, with his arm numb and unresponsive as it was. Tomorrow for sure.
His gut wanted to twist itself into knots, but he had two years, almost two and a half, of knowing failure. Still, if you tried enough times, you'd eventually end up succeeding.
"The Broken Arms," Sig said, naming a tavern that was down along the harbor. Dax grimaced; there were few places where he could talk, and the Arms wasn't one of them.
"Anything you want to hear specifically?" he asked.
Sig hummed, then shook his head. "It's all quiet on the western front," he said. "At least for what I'm hunting. Thought I'd help you out with your little quest. I know a guy who knows guys, and he's been hearing odd stories."
Dax pricked his ears forward. "Now that's what I like to hear, Sig m' man," he said, practically crowing. "If this pans out- man, I hope this pans out."
Sig flashed his pearly whites in a smile that had Dax feeling warm and fuzzy. It also made an approaching KG hesitate, then step aside. Some people just didn't appreciate potential mayhem.
Sig continued to saunter. A few KG slowed down when they caught sight of him. Dax wished he could see their faces; must've been a sight. Yeah, he thought, he's walking around with a banned weapon... but do you really want to try taking it from him?
Or, for that matter, try sending Sig to prison. That would've been an interesting encounter, except then Dax would've had two people to rescue, not just one.
He sighed, and shifted to a new position, one that took the last little bit of weight off his sore arm. Sig glanced over, but didn't alter stride any.
The Wastelander was a good ally, Dax decided. It'd been a good day when he'd chosen to run and hide behind Sig's foot, as compared to running and hiding beneath a dumpster in an alley. It didn't hurt that Sig was a soft-touch; he fed stray animals, tossed coins to children begging in the streets, and helped ottsels on hopeless missions without complaint.
Granted, he didn't help ottsels on hopeless missions for free, but it wasn't like he asked for a lot. Dax got into places where he wasn't supposed to be, a lot. Sometimes he overheard things. Sometimes he overheard things other people wanted to know. He told Sig, Sig told these other people, Sig got paid and Dax earned his keep.
He had a feeling, whatever Sig said otherwise, he'd be doing something like it this evening. The Broken Arms was always good for gossip, and knowing when someone was going to have a go at a warehouse, or where the KG was going to patrol heavily for the next week, was all useful for somebody.
There was a blockade up ahead, where the slums let out into the industrial section. Dax flattened his ears, and did his best to look like a dumb animal. Even Sig had to walk careful when going through a KG blockade.
He had to wonder, though, who they were trying to catch this time.
The blockades were always set up to catch someone, he knew. A few times he'd even snuck up to the KG running the things, and got into position to see the papers they were comparing everyone to. He'd warned a few people, when he did that, and they'd always seemed thankful, terrified, and determined. Not exactly the normal reaction from your average Joe Citizen.
Sig joined the disorderly group waiting to go through the blockade, and ended up behind a shorter, dark skinned man with his hair pulled back in long dreadlocks. Dax gave the guy a quick once over out of habit; then stopped, and gave the guy a second, more careful look.
There was no question about it; that was a gun tucked into the waistband of the man's pants, covered by his shirt tails. Dax leaned forward and sniffed, picking up Sig's normal scent of sweat and gun charges, but also the oddly sweet scent of plastic explosives that wafted off the guy ahead like perfume.
"What is it?" Sig asked, the words a low rumble, nearly incomprehensible.
"Explosives," Dax muttered back. "The guy must've rolled in it."
Sig grunted, and tilted his head very slightly. "Didn't that warehouse of KG weapons go up last night?" he asked.
Dax nodded. That was one reason he'd chosen to climb the prison wall and go through a grate; the whole city was up in arms, with the KG patrolling in greater numbers than usual. "Wanna bet we found the one responsible?" he asked.
"You found," Sig corrected. "But I think we've got us a problem."
Dax nodded, and sat up. He raked his good hand back over his neck, smoothing down fur that was on end from tension.
The people slowly shuffled their way along. Dax made sure to keep sniffing. No doubt about it; he could pick up the scent he'd learnt to associate with fear. It was strong enough that the scent of explosives was a little less obvious, at least to his nose.
Then it was the guy's turn. Sig was pretending oblivious; Dax, at least, could look as interested as he felt.
The guy stepped up to the KG who looked everyone over before letting them through.
"Name," the guard snapped.
"Jerald," the guy said. Dax tilted his ears, the better to hear them talking.
The guard- even behind the mask- gave 'Jerald' an obvious once over, then glanced down at the paper he kept checking. Dax tensed. For that matter, so did the guy.
The guard looked back up, and reached for his gun.
Sig was faster.
"Jerry!" he boomed, taking the single step forward necessary to get in reach of the guy, and wrap one massive arm around his shoulders. "That's you? Damn, man, where've you been?"
The KG gave an obvious double take at the sight of Sig, grinning in that vaguely feral way he had. Dax hid a smirk, and blinked innocently at the guard.
'Jerry' jumped, but apparently had more than a few brain cells in his head. "Taking care of my mother," he said. "She's been ill. Took a turn for the better last night though."
"That's good!" Sig turned his eye on the guard, grinning a little wider. "Ain't that good news? Old Mama Earline makes one mean meat stew," he said.
"Just don't ask what's in it," Jerry muttered, and turned his head to hide a grin.
The KG was really hesitating now, and Dax saw the moment he made his decision. "Keep moving," he snapped. "The both of you."
Dax smirked, and shifted to Sig's other shoulder, the better to inspect the guy they'd rescued.
Only after they'd stepped around the corner, and were out of sight as far as the blockade went, did the guy start shaking.
"Okay," Sig breathed, and helped the man prop himself up against an odd corner. "Dax, keep watch, would you?"
"No problem," Dax said, shifting back to his original spot. He'd keep watch, sure, but he'd also keep an ear pointed back at the conversation.
"Man," 'Jerry' breathed. "Thank you so much."
"You blew up that warehouse last night, didn't you?" Sig asked.
Dax glanced back just in time to see Jerry blanch dead white. He heard Sig chuckle. "Nah, I'm not going to tell. But I'm betting they-" meaning the KG, "-want your head on a platter."
"Yeah," Jerry said. "Yeah, they kind of do."
Dax narrowed his eyes. "KG approaching," he said, softly enough his voice didn't carry beyond the three of them.
He could feel the guy staring at him. "Did that rat just talk?"
Intelligently, too. "Yeah, I talk," he said. "Wanna maybe look less freaked out?"
Sig helped Jerry straighten up, and they started talking about the weather. Dax kept his attention on the guard walking past. The guard glanced over, but like every other KG in the city, didn't want to go mano a mano with Sig and kept walking.
"Okay," he said. "I think we're good."
Sig nodded, then closed his hand around Jerry's bicep. "Why don't we talk somewhere a little more private?" he asked. "C'mon, I know a good place."
Dax grinned. Not only would Sig get all the information he could out of the guy, he'd probably buy them all a meal. Maybe drinks too, though the beer at the Broken Arms could strip paint off a Hellcat Cruiser.
The Broken Arms had all the ambiance of a wasteland metal-head's corpse, but it was also the one place the KG were guaranteed to never go, in force or not. The clientele was made up of criminals and their informants, and everyone went armed.
Except, of course, Dax. Not that he needed a weapon; everyone thought he was Sig's pet, and Sig commanded enough respect that even his pets were treated nice.
At least, no one tried to kill Dax for his fur, but considering the company, that was practically five-star treatment.
"So," Sig said, and took a gulp of the Arms' special beer. Dax didn't dare even try a sip; the fumes alone were enough to make him feel tipsy.
"So," Jerry- he hadn't given any other name- said in reply. He, quite sensibly, didn't try the beer.
"The warehouse?" Sig prompted, then interpreted the look Jerry gave to their surroundings. "Relax. No one'll tell on you. No one cares."
"Sure about that," Jerry asked. "People talk under torture."
And why do you think torture's an option with this information? Dax wondered. He shook his head, and suffered a quick scratch behind the ears as one of the Broken Arms' waitresses walked by. Her nails were sharp and pointed, like miniature knives, and he couldn't think of anything more uncomfortable.
Well, maybe a bed studded with nails, but that was about it.
"Not these people," Sig said. "They don't listen in. Can't tell what you didn't hear. So, the warehouse?"
Jerry sniffed at his tankard of beer, and took a cautious sip. He immediately winced and put the tankard down. "Maybe I wanted to strike back against the baron," he said.
"John Q. Citizen doesn't have access to C4," Sig said. Dax had placed the explosives scent on the walk to the tavern, and quietly passed the information on. "Or dark eco charges."
Jerry frowned, then shook his head. "How'd you know that?"
"My friend has a great nose."
"No kidding," Jerry muttered, and eyed Dax suspiciously. Dax gave him an innocent look in return. "Look, me and a couple guys, we remember how this city used to be. And maybe we'd like it to go back that way, but the baron needs to go down."
"No argument," Sig said. "This group of yours, is it well known?"
Their new friend grinned, then apparently forgot himself and took a swig of beer. Once he'd finished choking, he licked his lips and shrugged. "Not well known to, ah, how'd you put it... John Q. Citizen, but the KG know us well enough."
"As?" Sig asked.
Jerry gave the two of them a surprisingly penetrating look. "Can't tell you that," he said. "But, look, if you're ever in a bind... Find your way to the underground."
"The underground? I don't think I know that street," Sig said.
"It's in the slums. Look, thanks for the save, and the drink, but I've got to go."
"Things to blow up?" Dax asked, very quietly.
Jerry glanced down. "Maybe, maybe not. Can't say."
"Fair enough," Sig said. "Pass on that I'm in the information business, a'right? Maybe me an' your friends could do us some business."
"I'll tell them," Jerry said, and nodded. "Be seeing you."
"Hopefully not at any checkpoints." Sig waited until Jerry was halfway across the room, before he leaned back in his chair and looked down at Dax. "Well."
Yeah. Dax nodded, but only after making sure there wasn't anyone paying attention to such a strangely intelligent animal.
Still, he had a feeling he'd be listening for references to any 'underground' in the near future. Heck, maybe he'd pick up information such as more explosions, things that would distract the KG and draw them away from the prison. That would only be a good thing.
He looked up when another person sat down at Sig's table.
The man was almost a direct contrast to Jerry, who'd been there only minutes previously. Where Jerry had been tall, with skin almost as dark as Sig's, and with long, black dreadlocks, this guy barely topped four-foot-nine, was so pale it was possible to see the veins under his skin, and completely bald. Jerry had been dressed in casual clothes, stuff that didn't stand out on any street but the rich ones. This guy wore black clothes, but had apparently tossed neon paint at his shirt and pants, leaving streaks of bright pink, green, and yellow in random patterns.
"Ghost," Sig said, and smiled. "Good to see you. Heard you had some trouble a few weeks back, was surprised when you got in touch."
"Sig." 'Ghost', as if that was his real name, didn't smile in return. "I did. Krew doesn't like hearing the word 'no', but he's distracted."
"Won't mention you to him."
The man- an albino, Dax realized- nodded, once. "You have interesting questions," he said.
"I've got interesting investigations," Sig replied.
Ghost looked down at Dax, his eyes (pink and red, Dax realized, and did his best not to flinch) narrowed. "And interesting company."
Dax gave his best dumb pet impression yet.
Ghost looked up at Sig. "You wanted to know about the prison."
"Yeah," Sig said. "I did. Something's up. Guy I know got taken in there."
Jak. Dax swallowed, as all the guilt he'd shoved to the side chose that exact moment to rush in and clobber him. He was just screwing up all over the place. If he hadn't chosen to pair up with Sig for safety, would he have his buddy out by now? Maybe. If he hadn't paired up with Sig, he could've spent all his time and energy focused on the problem, instead of helping the Wastelander out with his problems.
Ghost tapped a finger against the table, catching Dax's wandering attention. "I don't know much about that," he said. "The streets, sure. For the prison... You need the underground."
"That's the second time today I've heard that. Underground. What is it?"
Ghost almost smiled. "A movement for change. Disgruntled former KG, kamikaze young fools willing to make a statement, who knows what else. People who miss the old king, and are willing to do something about the asshole running the show."
"The old king's gone," Sig said.
Carefully, Dax realized. Sig knew something about the king- after four months helping the big guy ferret out information, Dax knew when someone was holding back on things they knew. It wasn't too much of a surprise, just... interesting.
"Rumor has it the prince isn't." Ghost leaned forward, lowering his already quiet voice. "He'd be five, almost six now, wouldn't he?"
Sig didn't change his non-existent expression. "I wouldn't know."
At that, the informant chuckled, and leaned back. "A child cannot rule," he said. "But he could sit on the throne. A figurehead might be better than Praxis... maybe."
"And what would the Underground have to do with all this?" Sig asked. "Rumors of a prince, the prison..." He raised an eyebrow.
"The Underground knows about the prisons. Most of their people end up there, for a short time. Sometimes longer. Sometimes... permanently." Ghost shrugged. "They're also the ones behind the prince rumors."
"And how would we find these fine, upstanding citizens?"
"I've heard their headquarters are somewhere in the slums," Ghost said. "Down a dead-end alley, one the KG somehow never patrol. Then again, there's never any trouble in that particular area, so why would they?"
Hadn't Ghost said there were former members of the KG in the Underground? Dax frowned, and narrowed his eyes. He had to wonder, exactly how 'former' some of the members were. After all, if the Underground had members in the guard, they could ensure their little hideaway wasn't found.
Or at least, make it very difficult for people to find it.
"Have you any idea just how many blind alleys there are in the slums?" Sig asked, with a reasonable amount of heat.
I do, Dax thought, and grinned.
Sig must have noticed the expression, because he glanced down, and a little of his ire went away. "You have to have more for me than that!"
"They're a secretive bunch, the Underground," Ghost said, and sniffed. "I understand there is a door, with a knife crossed over a shield," he said. "Not very subtle, but there you have it."
Dax nodded. He knew that place. The door had no handle; he'd assumed, as he supposed everyone was supposed to, that the door no longer worked. He'd seen similar images painted on walls around the slums; there were always people being forced to wash them off. But no one had ever bothered with that particular image, and now he knew why.
"They don't accept just anyone," Ghost warned. "And they don't talk to anyone that doesn't belong with them."
Sig hummed, and caressed the gun he'd left propped against the table beside him. "I'm sure I can find a way to be useful," he said.
Ghost looked down at the gun. "I'm sure you can. Now. All this talking is thirsty work. Don't you buy people like me drinks?"
Sig nodded, and glanced down at Dax. Dax nodded back, and slipped down onto the floor. Time to circle the room and listen to things he wasn't supposed to. He and Sig would talk more, later.
Well, ladies and gents, welcome to Monster. This has been in the planning and writing stages for- nearly eight months now. The entire story is (mostly) plotted out, and I've got some chapters pre-written. I'll be posting every other Monday- so not the sixth, but the thirteenth of this month, for those curious. Pairings will happen, but won't be the focus of the story.
Questions, comments, or encouragement, you know where the review button is. I'll be talking, so to speak, with you again on the sixteenth!