A/N: A few days ago, The Legend of Total Drama Island reached the front page of the most Favorites listing under the default K-T rating. (For the moment, anyway, since the front-page threshold is a moving target.) Thanks to all of you who are still with me despite the sporadic updating.

When we last saw our heroes, Owen had just been summarily eliminated in a cruel twist, but had the opportunity to take someone with him. Among those of you who expressed opinions to me, the consensus was that he is trying to take out Heather but will be thwarted somehow. It's time to find out.


The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother, who had neither spouse nor partner, went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


The plaque spun through the air, directly toward Heather. Too stunned to evade, the Dragon Queen was helpless. All her scheming, all her strategizing—all ashes. All the toes she had stepped on, all the backs she had stabbed, all the enemies she'd made—all for nothing.

Until Izzy stepped in front of her and casually snatched the toxic missile from the air.

"Owen, you should be ashamed of yourself!" the off-kilter cop declared, also displaying genuine anger for the first time. "And you seemed like such a nice guy."

Unprepared for the intensity of Izzy's reaction, Owen stammered, "But … but … you know what Heather's like!"

"That doesn't give you the right to bean her! She could have been seriously hurt!" Izzy replied sternly, her hands on her hips and steel in her eyes.

Belatedly realizing he had lost control, the man-mountain withered under Izzy's piercing gaze. Hanging his head, he limply offered, "Uh, sorry, Heather. I don't know what got into me."

Heather did not respond directly. Eyeing Owen warily, she said to no one in particular, "It's always the one you least suspect."

"Well, not always," Izzy remarked in a conversational tone as she inspected the wooden plaque, looking for the grain, "but often enough." Finding the grain, she turned the plaque to align it properly, and broke it over her knee.

Chris interrupted this tableau, for he had a show to produce. "You do realize, Izzy," he reminded her, "that by touching the death mark, you've eliminated yourself?"

"Meh," replied the formerly demented redhead. "You said yourself I was just playing spoiler and wasn't eligible to win. This way, my quote-unquote 'death' counts for something, so it's all good."

"Yeah, but taking a bullet for Heather?" Duncan asked incredulously.

"Hello!" Izzy retorted. "I'm a police officer, remember? 'To Protect and Serve' and all that? Don't tell me you don't understand that, with your bloodlines."

Duncan had no answer, nonplussed that Izzy knew so much about him. Despite his disdain for law and order, Duncan's family tree was full of cops, and it had been barely four years since his cousin Alex had become the first of their line to be killed in the line of duty.[01]

Heather belatedly said, "Thanks, Izzy. I owe you one."

"Don't thank me too much," Izzy replied coolly. "If that thing hadn't been heavy enough to be dangerous, I would probably have let him have you."


The evening meal was much as the campers had come to expect, which is to say the "pirate stew" was not fit for rats. Trent had the most trouble with his gag reflex, for the downside of having sat out most of the game was that his stomach had not been fully hardened to Chef's cooking. In desperation, the axboy mixed his bumbo into his stew to make it more palatable, with limited success.

There was no elimination ceremony that night, for it would have had no suspense and therefore no drama; and in Chris' world, having no drama meant having no point. Instead, the Lord of the Game led the campers directly to the dock for the customary leavetaking rituals as soon as the twilight had deepened enough for the tiki torches lining the dock to be useful.

The other campers offered condolences to Owen in whatever way seemed best to them, for they thought his elimination a cheap one. Granted, his departure removed a significant threat; but the other teens, one and all, understood that he had fallen and they survived by pure chance. To Heather, the gamebot, this thought was especially sobering. On an intellectual level, she had known all along that it was entirely possible to make no mistakes and still lose, but Owen's fate drove that point home like a punch in the gut.

Before the condemned campers began their Dock walk, Izzy left the survivors with a tongue in cheek warning. "Don't assume you've seen the last of me," she said. "If the Powers that Be decide I wasn't here long enough to satisfy my community service sentence, the producers might find an excuse to bring me back again. That would be fun, wouldn't it? Or maybe they'll have me do something with the losers. We'll just have to see. Until then … cheerio, bros and bras! I'll see you at the finale, if nothing else."[02]

Owen had already started to walk dejectedly down the dock, so Izzy dashed to catch him up. She took his hand in hers and spoke words of comfort as they walked. Only they know what she said to him, but it took away his self-pity.[03]

The condemned campers reached the end of the dock. Still upset, and understandably so, at the unorthodox method of his elimination, Owen thought of a way to express his displeasure in his own inimitable style. Without warning, he bent over, clenched, and emitted a truly thunderous fart Chris and the remaining campers could hear all the way at the other end of the dock. There could be no doubt that this butt blast was far more powerful than the one that had felled Gwen and Trent during the Awake-a-Thon.

"Whew," Duncan said, "Good thing he didn't cut that one when we were all together at the bonfire or something."

Chris' face suddenly took on a look of pure panic. "The torches!" he cried. "Hit the deck!"

Realizing the danger, the campers measured their lengths in the dust, flattening themselves as best they might. Not a moment too soon, for the trees around them were bathed in a flash of blue light[04] and lost most of their foliage as the shockwave swept over the host and his playthings.

The danger past, Chris and the campers raised themselves again from the embrace of Mother Earth and looked toward the boat. Owen had heard Chris' warning and turned around just in time to catch the blast full in the face. The man-mountain had been blown onto the deck of the Loser Boat and lay there flat on his back, stunned. Izzy had ridden out the blast with more success, and now sat cross-legged atop the boat's charthouse, where the shockwave had left her. Chef Hatchet had also heard the warning and done a quick duck-and-cover, so he was not injured when the boat's windows blew out. At Ground Zero, a five-meter stretch of the dock was gone.

"Awesome!" Izzy cried happily. "An atomic fart fireball! I've never seen one before!"

After the boat departed to the customary singing of the Pie Jesu, the campers began the short trek back to the lodge for a round of marshmallow-garnished cocoa in lieu of their standard elimination ceremony treat, for there was no bonfire. D.J., trailing a little way behind, looked ruefully at the denuded trees beyond the dock and said rhetorically, "I hope Perola's not too pissed at what we just did to her forest."

It will recover.

D.J. did a double take, wondering if he had actually heard the forest spirit. "Perola? Is that you?" he asked experimentally, but there was no answer.


"It sounds like Owen went out in a blaze of glory," Brett mused.

"If 'glory' is what you want to call it," his mother conceded. "Of course he was as complex a person as the rest of us, and he could be a real powerhouse in challenges that played to his strengths, but TDI was nominally a kid's show, so the producers wanted things they thought would appeal to kids. Owen was a big eater with an inefficient digestive system, so he got a 'toilet humor' edit. He did have some juvenile sensibilities, and he was a 'go with the flow' guy in any case, so when he found out after his first elimination how he was being portrayed, he embraced it."

"You've mentioned before that the show targeted kids," Brett noted uncertainly, "so why was Chris so keen to revive a love triangle? That doesn't seem like something kids would be all that interested in, even if they do understand it."

"For better or worse, kids nowadays aren't as innocent as they used to be. You know that. Besides, that kids show turned out in practice to be more of a 'kids of all ages' show, and I'm sure it didn't take Chris or the producers long to figure that out. In any case, even kids who don't understand love triangles can understand jealousy and conflict."

The night was still young, so Brett's mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then resumed her tale.


EPISODE #17: THE TALE OF CHEF HATCHET'S MANHUNT
Original title: Hide and be Sneaky

"I'm so glad they included Grapetastic pop in my challenge reward yesterday. It's the one thing I've really been craving on the island," Lindsay confided to Heather and Katie before taking another swig from her bottle, as the three took their ease outside the reward trailer. The distinctive sounds of carpentry echoed faintly from the nearby dock.

"I know, right? I wonder why the Tuck Shoppe doesn't have it," Katie mused between bites of toast spread with lemon curd.

"One of their competitors probably sponsors the show," Heather ventured. "But yeah, you really lucked out with that fancy breakfast basket. All I got out of that lame pirate challenge was a couple of bags of chips—and one of those was barbecue, which I hate."

"You also got the trailer and breakfast delivered to your door, don't forget," Katie reminded her liege.

With Owen eliminated despite winning the trailer, Heather had been next in line for that coveted reward, but the queen bee had been of two minds about it. Staying in the trailer would tend to isolate the lucky camper from the others, and Heather craved that; but she also feared it, for she felt she needed to keep Lindsay and especially Katie on short leashes. So it was that Heather invited—commanded, perhaps more accurately—her vassals to join her at the trailer for breakfast. Between Lindsay's gift basket and the delivered meal that came with the trailer stay, there was enough for all three.

"Yeah, thanks to Chris' trick," Heather admitted sourly. "I still can't believe Owen tried to bean me!"

"Well, you did try to steal Gwen's boyfriend," Lindsay reminded her. "That's pretty major."

"Shut up!" Heather commanded as she snatched the bottle from Lindsay's hand. She took a swig to assert her dominance, but reflexively spat it out. In the heat of the moment, the queen bee had forgotten that she did not actually like ultra-sweet fruity sodas such as Grapetastic.

"Ugh! How can you drink this sugar water?!" the Dragon Queen challenged rhetorically as she cast the bottle away. Her arm was strong, as she had demonstrated during the dodgeball challenge, and the bottle chanced to strike a rock, so Lindsay's precious nutrientless nectar was lost.

Lindsay looked wistfully at the shattered bottle as someone from the dock called desperately for a medic. Katie, meanwhile, did her best to keep her face unreadable. If Heather knew of or suspected Katie's betrayal, she had given no sign, so Katie was keeping her head down in hope the incident would blow over.


The next morning, Heather and her vassals again broke their fast at the trailer, this time without incident. Shortly thereafter, the Lord of the Game summoned them and the other campers to the newly rebuilt dock. Chef Hatchet was also there, carrying a high-powered water gun.

"Today's challenge is a good old-fashioned game of Hide and Seek," Chris decreed. "Chef will be the seeker because—"

"It gives you an excuse to take the day off?" Gwen suggested.

"These kids know you too well," Hatchet observed.

"If I may continue?" Chris shot back testily. "As I was saying, Chef will be the seeker because, with his military background and his wicked tracking skills,[05] he is uniquely qualified to make this challenge excruciatingly hard.

"The lifeguard chair is home base. If you reach it, you're safe; but if Chef catches you, he'll douse you with his water gun."

"Ooh, we're going to get splashed with a little water. Now I'm terrified!" Duncan said in a tone suggesting he was anything but.

"Don't knock it," Heather admonished. "Knowing Chris, we should be thankful Chef isn't using live ammunition."

"Yeah, that would have put our ratings through the roof," Chris admitted wistfully. "Sadly, Legal said 'no', but we came as close as we could. Chef, would you care to demonstrate?"

Without a word, Hatchet turned and blasted Chris at point blank range, blowing the black-hearted host off the dock like a feather and dumping him into the lake.

"Not on me, dude!" Chris spluttered as he trod water. "Darn it, that hurt!"

Hatchet turned to the campers and looked Duncan straight in the eye. "This gun has three power settings. That was 'low'."

Gwen quipped, "That's as good as live ammunition for Heather, anyway."[06]

Heather scowled at the Goth, but said nothing.

Chris hauled himself back onto the dock and continued the briefing as if nothing had happened. "To give you a fighting chance, there are not one, not two, but three ways to get invincibility. The first way is the Hide and Seek standard of not being discovered in your hiding place. Chef has until sundown to find you; but with so many of you, it's just possible he might run out of time.

"The second way is the other Hide and Seek standard of beating Chef back to base when he does find you. To get invincibility this way, though, you have to get back without getting sprayed.

"The third way to get invincibility is the nastiest, meanest, sickest way of all. If Chef catches you and douses you, you can help him find other campers. If you succeed, either on your own or by giving Chef a useful tip, your butt will be safe from elimination … this time."

Cody could not help casting a surreptitious glance toward Leshawna, and this did not escape the curvaceous homegirl's notice. "Don't get your hopes up, short stuff," she admonished. "This T-shirt ain't getting wet."

"A man can dream," Cody replied.

"So, how much head start do we get?" Katie asked.

Hatchet answered, "I was up very early this morning, so I'm going to take a nap in the lifeguard chair. When I wake up, I'll start searching. Could be ten minutes, could be twenty."

"Any other questions?" Chris asked. There were none, so he said, "In that case … go!"

The campers scattered in haste. Courtney sprinted for the girls' cabin, for she had a cunning plan but little time to implement it. Gwen and Trent, seeing a chance to spend the day together with little distraction, headed into the woods. Duncan likewise elected to take his chances in the forest, but took a different path from Gwen and Trent because he could guess the lovebirds' intent. Cody headed for a certain storage tent because he, too, had a plan. The other campers sought hiding places in or near the camp.

Courtney collected a small bundle from the cabin and ran to the boathouse as fast as she might, for her plan would fail if she was not out of sight from the camp proper by the time Hatchet started seeking. When she reached the boathouse, she went inside and quickly changed, for the bundle she had brought with her was the wetsuit she had worn whilst immersed in Jell-O for the phobia challenge, as has been told of before, and which the show's staff had not bothered to reclaim. The onetime CIT stashed her normal clothing in a burlap sack, which she concealed under a large fishnet. She also grabbed a snorkel, hoping Hatchet would not notice it was missing.

The boathouse had a small window facing the camp, and Courtney used this to scan for the Seeker; for if she did not know his position, she might be spotted when she quit her temporary shelter. Courtney knew Hatchet would come to the boathouse in due course, but she presumed he would search areas nearer the base first.


Five minutes later, Chris ambled to the lifeguard's chair and tapped his softly snoring aide on the leg. "Yo, dude. It's time."

Hatchet awakened promptly and removed his sleeping mask. In a trice, he jumped down from the chair and grabbed his water gun, for his days in the Service had given him the enviable ability to pass quickly from deep sleep to full alertness. He went to the dock's edge and fired a medium-power blast into the lake, which churned all around the dock.

"Anyone hiding under the dock is out!" the Seeker announced, but no one had tried that trick. Leshawna had considered it, but had thought better of it because she feared Hatchet might do exactly as he had done.[07]

Hatchet searched first the boys' cabin and then the girls', but found no one, for the cabins offered few viable hiding places. The washroom likewise yielded no prey, for the same reason.


When Hatchet entered the first cabin, Courtney remained where she was and waited for him to emerge. When he did so, the concealed camper concluded the boathouse had been out of his sight for long enough; so when the Seeker entered the other cabin, Courtney made her move. Crouching as low as she might, the onetime CIT went onto the boathouse dock and slipped quietly into the water. With the dock between her and the camp, she swam silently westward, submerged at snorkel depth.

Courtney followed the shoreline until she came to the river, where she turned upstream. She surfaced soon after and continued her aquatic journey like a salmon returning to its birthplace, easily overcoming the gentle current.


When the Seeker entered the main lodge, he heard Heather and Lindsay arguing in the kitchen, presumably over who should get to hide there. Heather based her claim on being the captain of their alliance, with the usual veiled threats to expel Lindsay from the alliance if the latter did not mind her place, whereas Lindsay pleaded that she had gotten there first.

Hatchet barged through the swinging doors, trained his gun on the girls, and thundered, "This is my kitchen, also known as 'Forbidden Territory'!" He could have easily doused both girls from the hip, but held his fire because his kitchen contained too many things that even an allegedly low-power blast could damage.

"Take her!" Heather cried as she pushed the unsuspecting Lindsay into the Seeker.

Hatchet tried to grab Lindsay with one arm as Heather dashed through the doors, but the top-heavy gymnast recovered quickly and eluded him. She dashed through the doors after her liege, with Hatchet hot on her heels.

This pursuit did not go unobserved. D.J. had taken refuge on the forest-facing side of the boys' cabin roof, and from that position was invisible from most of the camp. With Hatchet's attention entirely on the fleeing girls, D.J. saw his chance. Trusting to luck, the graceful brickhouse leapt catlike onto the ground and ran after the Seeker and his quarry.

Hatchet and the girls sprinted for the dock. The Seeker could have gunned Lindsay down at any time, but only at the cost of letting Heather escape, for he would have to stop running to shoot accurately and the dragon girl's lead was large.

Neither girl was a strong runner, but Lindsay was stronger, so Hatchet inexorably gained on Heather even as he paced Lindsay. His hope was that Lindsay would draw close enough to Heather for him to eliminate both with a single blast. As he pursued his prey, Hatchet switched the power level on his water cannon to "high", for he suspected he might need the extra range.

Finally, Hatchet deemed his prey close enough, and none too soon, for Heather had reached the base of the dock. The Seeker pulled up and quickly took aim. He rhetorically muttered, "Say 'Goodnight'," and fired.

Hatchet's shot went wild and his water gun flew from his hands as D.J. slammed into him from behind. Reacting more quickly than his flummoxed quarry, the brickhouse grabbed Hatchet's weapon and sprinted after Heather and Lindsay to the dock. All three tagged the lifeguard chair to claim victory. Nor were they the only ones, for Katie and Leshawna were hiding nearby. When these two saw how the hunter had become the hunted, stick girl and homegirl quit bush and copse and dashed for the dock in a bid for safety. Katie reached the chair easily; and although Hatchet very nearly brought down Leshawna with a shoestring tackle, she eluded him as well.

When Hatchet reached the base, he silently demanded his water gun. D.J. had no further use for it, so he handed it over.

"OK, girls, you have your darned invincibility," the irritated Seeker snapped before turning back to D.J. "As for you," he added, fixing the brickhouse with an icy glare before breaking character and favoring the boy with a wry smile, "There's hope for you, yet."

"I owed Heather a favor," D.J. explained. He turned to the Dragon Queen and declared, "We're even."

Heather had bigger plans for calling in the debt D.J. owed her for helping him expel Ezekiel, so her first instinct was to protest; but when she saw the steel in D.J.'s eyes, she knew it was pointless to argue. He had, after all, delivered invincibility not only to her, but to her vassals as well.

"Fine. We're even," the queen bee conceded grudgingly.


In the fullness of time, Courtney came to the waterfall where Ezekiel had his fateful tryst with Izzy. This was Courtney's destination, for she had noticed something in her earlier visit to this place. She made her way through the modest waterfall near one edge, for it was still important that she leave no trail, and emerged into the gap between the falls and the cliff face. This clearance, though small, was enough for the onetime CIT to climb the cliff to a small, shallow cave.

As Courtney had hoped, the cave was deep enough that she could stay out of sight from any angle from which someone on shore could see behind the waterfall. The small portion of daylight penetrating the water "shield", and a dim greenish glow from some sort of bioluminescent organism, provided enough light to see by, although there was little to see.[08]


Hatchet resumed his manhunt, grumbling to himself at how fully half the campers managed to gain invincibility in one fell swoop. He quickly searched the rest of the main camp and verified that the five campers still at large had taken to the proverbial hills.

At the tent where the ultralight aircraft were stored, the Seeker picked up Cody's trail, which was easy to follow because the science geek appeared to be dragging something. Cody had not taken one of the ultralights, though, for their motors made them too heavy to transport easily and too noisy for a game of stealth such as Hide and Seek. Instead, the science geek had taken the unpowered hang glider Tyler had brought to the island. The only good place on the island to launch a hang glider was the western end with its high cliffs. Specifically, the diving cliff, which was the highest point on the island and an area the campers knew.

Clever, Hatchet thought, but not clever enough.

Hatchet could have easily caught Cody before the science geek reached the cliffs, but shooting a bird on the wing is more sporting than shooting it on the ground. The Seeker decided to let Cody's plan ripen.

The Seeker continued his tour of the camp perimeter and picked up the remaining trails. None were difficult to follow, because only Courtney had appreciable knowledge of woodcraft, and she had plainly chosen speed over stealth.

Was Courtney planning to simply outrun him? That was a viable strategy, for it was difficult to make good time whilst tracking. Courtney had performed better in the 20K run than Hatchet could have, and while the game was called Hide and Seek, Chris had not explicitly forbidden the "keep moving" strategy. Nor was that an oversight. Allowing the campers the entire island instead of just the camp, the multiple ways to win, the "state's evidence" option of ratting out fellow campers, allowing campers to keep moving … all these rules had the same purpose: to guarantee that someone would win the challenge and claim invincibility, not to mention the reward trailer. And if, by some miscalculation—failure to account for D.J.'s stratagem, for example—all this had made the challenge so easy that everyone managed to best him, there was enough wiggle room in the production schedule to make the Hide and Seek game a reward challenge with no elimination.

Better to pick the low-hanging fruit first, the Seeker thought, so he returned to Gwen and Trent's trail. In the fullness of time, he tracked the lovebirds to a cave where he found them making out—"rounding second and heading for third" as the Seeker later put it, although this was an exaggeration.

Chef Hatchet did not come across as an intellectual because he did not cultivate that image; but this blue-collar Renaissance man had not only read the classics, he had read many of them in their original Latin.[09] So it was that finding the oblivious couple in the cave reminded him of a scene from The Aeneid, yet one thing was missing.

Hatchet raised his water cannon. Only when Gwen and Trent were in his sights did he intone, loudly enough for the lovebirds to hear, "Let there be rain."[10]


Courtney's wetsuit and physical exertion had kept her reasonably warm during her journey; but deprived of that exertion, she grew increasingly cold and miserable. Her wetsuit stopped her becoming dangerously hypothermic—indeed, the cave would not have been a viable hiding place without it—but it was going to be a long day.

As the day dragged on, Courtney began to jog in place, much as she had initially done during the Awake-a-thon as has been told of before, interspersed with various stretching and flexibility exercises. These activities helped both to warm her and to pass the time.


Chef Hatchet returned to the camp with two drenched teenagers in tow. Neither Gwen nor Trent had any useful information for the Seeker, but knew they had nothing to lose by helping him, so they volunteered to become his deputies.[11] Hatchet accepted their fealty by telling them what he knew of the remaining campers' whereabouts.

Trent did a quick mental calculation and asked, "So, five are accounted for. Does anyone have invincibility yet?"

"They all do," the Seeker admitted. "It's a long story I don't feel like telling right now. You can ask around if you really want to know, but I'd suggest waiting until after the challenge, because right now, you two are the only ones on the block.

"I'm going after punk boy next, but that still leaves two; so if you're good enough or lucky enough, you can both still save yourselves. The Quartermaster has the gear you'll need."

Gwen and Trent made haste to the Quartermaster's tent, where Alejandro gave them camouflage clothing, radio handsets, Super Soaker-class water guns which were far less powerful than the Seeker's but nevertheless potent enough to command respect, and knapsacks with spare water tanks.

The lovebirds briefly discussed their options. Although they would have preferred to stay together, Alejandro had warned them that only one could get credit for a kill—or a tip, for that matter—so they agreed they should hunt separately. They assumed they would have to actually shoot Cody, for the Seeker seemed to know or have guessed too much about the science geek's plan for a mere tip to be useful.

Trent was more physically fit, so he made haste for the diving cliff in hope of catching Cody. Gwen went to the boathouse to search for any sign of Courtney.


PETER THE WOLF[12]

In the fullness of time, Chef Hatchet tracked Duncan down and spotted him at the edge of a small glade. The scorner of laws was still on the move, albeit by accident and not by design. He had simply not found a hiding place he thought good enough to thwart the Seeker.

This is going to be fun, Hatchet thought as he switched his water gun's power setting to "high".

Something stirred in the bush. Duncan noticed, cocked his head, and looked intently. Hatchet saw his quarry's reaction and heard the movement, so he held his fire in case this unknown beast was something dangerous he needed to drive off.

A wolf emerged from a thicket and approached Duncan timidly. Although the delinquent knew little about wilderness matters, something in the back of his mind told him this was not normal behavior for a wolf. Duncan looked more closely, and saw the wolf had a badly swollen muzzle and appeared to be starving.

The sight of this forlorn-looking canine roused a childhood memory in Duncan. Without fully realizing what he was doing, the delinquent dropped to one knee and extended his hand. The wolf, now almost close enough for Duncan to touch, opened its mouth to reveal that its tongue had somehow become impaled on one of its fangs.

Duncan pulled the swollen, infected tongue from its fetter. Although he worked as gently as he might, the procedure must have been terribly painful for the wolf, but the beast bore it stoically.

Finally, the tongue was free. "There you go, Petey," Duncan assured it, and gave the wolf a brief scratch behind one ear, which had a floppy tip from some old injury. The wolf whined softly, turned, and loped into the bush.[13] There was every possibility the beast might still die, but now it had a fighting chance.

As Duncan watched it go, a thought struck him. Why on Earth had he called the wolf "Petey?"

Duncan stood where he was, lost in thought. He was still an easy target, but Hatchet held his fire and slipped away unnoticed.


Trent did not waste time trying to track Cody, for the science geek could only have gone to the diving cliff unless he had second thoughts about his plan and decided to ditch the glider; and if he had done that, Trent was likely to encounter it and could begin tracking from that point.

"Yo, dude! Need a lift?"

Trent turned and saw a grungy-looking intern approaching in an ATV. A water gun similar to Trent's stood propped between the front seats.

"I could sure use one … Shawn, is it?" Trent admitted. "But won't Chef get mad?"

"I doubt it," the Zombie Master assured the axboy. "Chef figures that Cody should be ready to launch his glider by now, but Cody's got no reason to launch until someone—or something—comes after him.[14] If nothing or no one does, he could win the challenge and get invincibility just by staying up there all day. That's where I come in. My job is to flush him, but he might not think I would actually shoot him; and, I have to admit, my gun's mostly for show. Having you with me will make the threat more credible because he'll know that you will shoot if I can get us close enough."

Trent filled the "shotgun" seat and said, "Sounds like a plan. Let's ride."


Hatchet's radio clamored for attention. He opened the channel and curtly acknowledged, "Hatchet here."

"This is Gwen. I'm at the boathouse. All the canoes are here, but I found Courtney's clothes in a sack. It looks like she decided to swim for it."

"Because a canoe would be too visible, which would defeat the purpose of leaving no trail," the Seeker surmised. "Well done."

"So, do I get invincibility?" Gwen asked hopefully.

"Only if one of us can catch her. That's why I gave you a water gun."

Gwen said nothing in response, but Hatchet thought he heard a sigh of disappointment.

"My guess is she swam away from the camp," the Seeker said. "If she had swum toward it, I would have spotted her. Follow the shoreline and look for footprints. The water's cold, so she had to come out somewhere. Unless … do you know if she still has that wetsuit we put her in for the phobia challenge?

"I don't know," Gwen admitted. "But if you and the interns don't know, then she probably does."

"That complicates things. With that, she just might be able to stay in the water all day; and with this level of planning, she probably has a snorkel or something. On the other hand, the lampreys will probably keep her close to shore.

"I think your best bet is still to follow the shore and look for signs that she came out somewhere; but if you see a place in the water where you think she might be hiding, fire a blast into it. If she's in the water close enough to that point, you'll get credit for a kill.

"You can start with the boathouse dock, in case she's hiding under it. Good hunting."


Trent and Shawn watched Cody glide away. Despite their best efforts to approach stealthily, they had failed to surprise the science geek, although they had gotten close enough for Trent to take a shot.

Shawn radioed Hatchet and said, "Cody's away, heading east along the shore. By the look of it, he's trying to stay low, otherwise everyone on the island would see him. I have Trent with me."

"Let me talk to him," the Seeker replied.

"Trent here. I got a shot and hit his glider, but Shawn doesn't think I hit him. Does that count?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"Yeah, I was afraid of that," the axboy admitted.

"You still have a few options," the Seeker assured him. "Do you know how to drive?"

"Yeah, I got my license last winter."

"In that case, you could come back to camp in the ATV and leave Shawn to watch Cody. It's a longshot, but if you can get to the dock before Cody does, I'll let you have the first shot. You can also stay where you are and keep an eye on Cody. If he ditches the glider somewhere, although I'm not sure where he could do that safely, you can pass on that info; and if I can catch him, you'll get credit for the tip.

"The third option is to try to find Duncan. I can tell you exactly where I lost his trail." This was technically true, for the Seeker had made no further effort to track Duncan after the encounter with "Petey"; and while Hatchet had spared the scorner of laws for his conduct in that incident, there was no reason that choice should bind Trent.

"I'll go with Door Number Two,"[15] Trent said. "If it doesn't pan out, I can still go after Duncan."

"Exactly. Hatchet out."

Trent handed the handset back to Shawn as they watched Cody glide. Trent asked, "If Cody doesn't ditch, would it be okay for you to drive me to the place Chef mentioned? It would save me a lot of time."

"That's why I'm still here," replied the Zombie Master. "I seriously doubt Chef would mind. In fact, he's probably expecting me to do that."


As Hatchet had surmised, the island's heavily forested interior offered no place where a pilot of Cody's limited skill could land safely. The only good places to land were in or near the camp.

During the time Cody waited for a reason to launch his glider, he had briefly considered leaving the island altogether, for the diving cliff was high enough that he could probably have glided all the way to Boney Island without being seen from the camp. While this was an entertaining fantasy, Cody had quickly dismissed it for two reasons. First was the danger that Chris might interpret such an unauthorized departure to mean Cody had quit the game. Second was the even greater danger that Chris might simply leave him on Boney Island with only the dead and various dangerous predators for company.

On the other hand, the camp island was hillier than is typical of northern Ontario, so the terrain might conceivably conceal his approach if he kept his altitude low. So it was that Cody rounded the eastern end of the island at little more than treetop level and began his final approach to the Promised Land.

Cody's heart sank when he saw Hatchet waiting for him on the lakeshore, with the dock some twenty meters beyond, for he knew then that the Seeker had guessed his plan; but there was no help for it, for Cody was committed to his course. Hatchet waited until his quarry was within low-power range, and calmly shot the science geek out of the sky.

After bagging his bird, Hatchet called to Cody, instructing the science geek to leave the glider where it was and wade ashore as quickly as he might. The Seeker radioed for an intern detail to retrieve the glider, and then called a certain turncoat camper.

Hatchet told Trent where he had allegedly lost Duncan's trail, and gave Shawn leave to drive the axboy to that place. Shawn was then to meet Hatchet at the boathouse, for the Seeker did not wish to waste time on ground Gwen had already covered.

Cody emerged from the lake and asked if anyone was still at large. Hatchet told him how Gwen and Trent were deployed, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here. Cody agreed to help the Seeker and resolved to hunt Duncan, for this was now his only chance to gain invincibility without doing so at Gwen's expense. Cody repaired to the Quartermaster, and Chef to the boathouse.

When Shawn arrived with the ATV, Hatchet boarded and made a radio call as they headed west along the shoreline.

"Gwen here," answered the Goth's filtered voice.

"Hatchet. Report."

"I still haven't seen any sign of Courtney. When I got to the river, I decided to follow it upstream. I figure that's what she'd do because there are probably more hiding places nearby than there would be on the lakeshore, and there isn't as much sand or mud to show her footprints."

"Very good. Are you on the near bank or the far bank from camp?"

"The near bank."

"Then I'll take the far bank. Carry on.[16] Hatchet out."


Trent stalked through the underbrush as quietly as he might, for he had spotted his prey. Duncan had still not found a hiding place he liked, and now sat on a fallen log, apparently contemplating his next move.

Trent suddenly wondered if his weapon's water tank was still properly pressurized, but he dismissed the thought. If the pressure had indeed faded, Trent could not pump now without alerting the delinquent.

Trent continued to stalk as Duncan continued to ponder. Just a little closer, Trent thought.

A loud, outraged squawk sounded from Trent's feet. A pheasant hen half-ran away, dragging a wing that it clearly wanted Trent to believe was broken. The axboy had blundered onto the bird's nest, nearly crushing its precious contents in the process, and the hen sought to lure away what it could only assume was a predator.

Unsurprisingly, the incident caught Duncan's attention. "Nice try, dude! You nearly had me!" the scorner of laws conceded.[17] "Feel like running?"

Duncan dodged Trent's shot, however narrowly, and the chase was on.


In the fullness of time, Shawn and Chef forded the river near its mouth. Hatchet sent the intern on to scout the shoreline whilst Hatchet searched the river bank. Hatchet made better time than Gwen, and caught up to her by the time she arrived at the waterfall pool.

Whilst searching the area, Gwen fired two blasts into the reeds Izzy had hidden in before ambushing Ezekiel a week earlier, but of course Courtney was not there.


Duncan zigzagged unpredictably through the woods. The delinquent was a slightly better broken-field runner than Trent and also had the advantage of acting instead of reacting, so he was able to stay out of range but unable to shake his pursuer completely.

In the fullness of time, Duncan emerged from the forest and entered the camp. As the scorner of laws approached the dock, now decisively ahead of Trent, Cody stepped out from behind a defoliated tree and quickly took aim. The science geek had staked out the base in hope of getting just such an opportunity as had now come to him.

Cody expected Duncan to react instinctively by either swerving or braking for a moment, either of which would give Cody a good shot. Duncan did indeed react instinctively, but his instinct was not what the science geek had predicted.

Without breaking stride, Duncan threw his knife.


Gwen peered behind the waterfall and beheld a most intriguing sight. She withdrew a little way to lessen the background noise and unholstered her radio.

"Chef?"

"Report, deputy."

"I think I see a cave behind the falls, maybe five meters up."

Hatchet came to the falls and peered behind them. "If there is a cave, it's not visible from this side. Check it out, if you can get to it, while I find a place to cross."

As it happened, the river was fordable a little way below the pool outlet, with water depth about halfway up Hatchet's thighs. As he was crossing, he received another radio call.

Meanwhile, Gwen thrice tried to climb to the cave, and thrice had to retreat, for she lacked Courtney's protective suit and was less skilled a climber than the onetime CIT in any case. So it was that the Seeker found his deputy looking like a drowned gothic rat.

"I can't get to the cave," Gwen admitted as she showed the Seeker its location.

"I can see why. If Courtney is in there, then she definitely has the wetsuit."

"I was thinking," Gwen said, "If we can get a straight shot into the cave, is your gun powerful enough to punch through the waterfall?"

"Maybe, but it doesn't matter. Chris just called. Time's up."

"Crap," said the disappointed Goth.

"Crap, indeed."

Hatchet unholstered a bullhorn he carried for this eventuality. He called out, "Courtney, if you're behind the waterfall, you can come out now. The challenge is over. You've won."

Courtney burst through the waterfall and arced into the pool with a graceful swan dive as she grinned through blue-tinted lips.[18]


After tagging the lifeguard's chair to claim invincibility, Duncan sauntered back the way he had come. He met Cody near the base of the dock and held out a hand, silently demanding his knife.

"Dude, what were you thinking? You could have put out my eye or something!" the science geek griped as he surrendered the knife.

"I didn't have time to think," Duncan protested. "You really did surprise me. Good job with that, by the way. But let me tell you something. No matter what you see in the movies, you're probably not going to hurt someone by throwing a knife at them unless it's specially designed for throwing, and most knives aren't.[19] Mine sure isn't. But I didn't need to hurt you, I just needed to distract you."

That, Duncan had done. His switchblade had struck Cody high on his forehead—lengthwise, with the unsharpened back edge of the blade, as it turned out—leaving Cody unhurt but mightily distracted. Only for a moment, to be sure, but that moment was all Duncan needed. By the time Cody had recovered his wits, the Juvenile Hall alumnus had sprinted past him and was on the dock and out of range.


When Shawn brought Chef, Gwen and Courtney back to camp, Chris summoned the campers to the lodge.

"So, Chef, who gets the trailer?" Chris asked theatrically.

"I was the first one to win, so I should get it," Heather prompted.

"Nice try, but won't fly," Chef Hatchet replied. "Who helped you win? For that matter, who was responsible for half of you getting invincibility all at once?"

"Yes, who, Chef? That sounds like quite an achievement," Chris prompted curiously, for in truth he did not know. The Lord of the Game had spent the day in his own pursuits, leaving to his versatile aide the business of running the challenge.

Hatchet did not answer his overlord directly, but turned to the lucky camper and said, "D.J., the trailer is yours."

Hatchet handed Chris a list of who had been caught and who had not. The host briefly scanned the paper and did a double take. "Seven out of ten have invincibility?" Chris asked incredulously. "Seriously, Chef? Do I have to do everything myself?"

"You're welcome to, but that would mean you'd have to do actual work," replied the unamused man hunter. Several campers chuckled at that.

"Whatever," the host replied, and flashed an "I'm watching you" sign at his aide. He looked over his "little list"[20] again, and gave a chuckle of his own. "Actually, this works," he noted rhetorically. Turning to the campers, some of whom had a fair idea what he meant, Chris said, "It seems Gwen, Trent and Cody are the only three who didn't get invincibility, which means the rest of you have a love triangle to break up. Should make for a nice, dramatic elimination ceremony."


Not long after the campers dispersed to await their late dinner, Cody went to find Heather and asked her to join him in the woods near camp. This gave the queen bee a fair idea what he wanted. No, not that.

When they rendezvoused, out of sight and earshot from the camp, they looked around to make sure neither of them had been followed. Cody said, "I need your help."

"So you do," Heather replied noncommittally. "Works for me. It's about time we got rid of Gwen, anyway."

"No way!" Cody shot back reflexively. "If that's my only other option, I'd rather go myself!"

"Kidding, kidding," Heather said, with a gesture warning Cody to keep his voice down. "I get that you're totally devoted to Gwen. I'll never understand why, but whatever. You've shown that you can be useful, so I think we can come to an agreement. We just have to work out the price."

Cody said, "All the rest of us have a better chance in this game if Trent goes. You, Katie, Lindsay, everyone. Remember what Chris said when Trent came back to the island? That he couldn't tell us anything he might have found out 'by means not available on the island'? Trent probably got to see all sorts of confessional spots and stuff that we don't get to see. There's no telling what kind of dirt he might have on us. Sure, he's not supposed to talk about it, but that doesn't mean he can't use it himself."

"That's a good point," Heather acknowledged grimly. "I have a fair idea what I'd do with that kind of info if I had it."

"So we don't really need a 'price', do we?" Cody suggested hopefully. "It's enlightened self-interest."

"Can't argue with that," Heather admitted. "So, it sounds like we have a deal. It shouldn't be too hard for me to get Courtney to vote with us. She knows all about 'enlightened self-interest', too. Five votes should be enough, if Duncan still thinks the girls are conspiring against the boys."

"He still does, as far as I know."

"Great. That means he'll probably vote for Gwen, so the five votes we don't have will be split. If I can get Courtney, then it won't matter what D.J. or Leshawna do."

"Uh, there's just one thing," Cody began. Heather gave him a quizzical look, and he explained, "It's a long story, but I'm honor-bound to vote against myself this time."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm bound to never vote against either Gwen or Trent.[21] I'm the only other candidate this time, and we're not allowed to abstain."

"Are you crazy?!" Heather cried, and it was Cody's turn to warn against letting their voices rise. "You can't make commitments like that in a game like this!" The dragon girl sighed and shook her head at Cody's folly. "Are you sure there's no way out of it?"

"My word is my bond."

Heather was about to upbraid Cody further for his "honor before reason" attitude, but she bit her tongue, for she had thought of a way to take advantage of the situation. With a calculating air, she said, "That means four votes against you already, since Leshawna will probably vote with Gwen; and even if Courtney votes with us, we've only got four."

The Dragon Queen pondered for a moment. "You've just made my job a lot harder. A lot harder than it needed to be. Which means … the price has gone up."

The hour was growing late, so Brett's mother left off her tale and suggested he prepare for bed.


NOTES:

[01] Duncan's late cousin (a police officer killed in the line of duty) is named after Alexander James Murphy, the title character in the 1987 film, Robocop.

[02] Izzy's second theme is "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers. A video link is available on the author's profile page. Apart from the Storyteller, who has themes for both her current and (so far unidentified) past selves, Izzy is the only character with two themes, due to the nature of her characterization.

[03] Izzy holding hands with Owen during their Dock walk is a nod to their canonical relationship.

[04] The ignition of Owen's fart produced a blue flash instead of an orange one because his flammable gases (mostly methane, which is also the main component of natural gas) had time to mix with air before reaching the torches. This mixing is also what, under the right conditions, produces an explosion instead of a flame. In short, it is a cartoonish exaggeration of a real-world phenomenon.

[05] In the original, Chris claimed that Chef holds an advanced degree in manhunting. There is no such degree to the best of the author's knowledge, so in this reimagining Chris substitutes a more generic description of Chef's skills.

[06] Gwen's comment that Chef's water gun is as dangerous to Heather as live ammunition alludes to a climactic incident in The Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch of the West melts after being splashed with water.

[07] Leshawna won the canonical version of the Hide and Seek challenge by hiding under the dock.

[08] Courtney was originally planned to find Ella's body in the cave, secreted there by someone (presumably Dawn) and preserved incorruptible, in reference to the "Disney Princess" origins of Ella's canon counterpart. This detail was scrapped because adding the "really a nature spirit" wrinkle to Ella's characterization gave Dawn less reason to care about the disposition of Ella/Perola's physical body.

[09] Chef Hatchet's hidden intellectual side is based on former U.S. President Harry Truman (1884-1972, President 1945-53), who likewise did not have an intellectual image, yet read most of the classics in their original language. It is also based on the canonical TDI episode, "Are We There, Yeti?" (episode 24) wherein Hatchet spends a free day in such pursuits as playing a harp and learning a language.

[10] The Aeneid is an epic poem by the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, commonly known as Virgil, and is counted among the Latin-language classics. In the scene Chef is reminded of and subsequently invokes, Aeneas, a Trojan prince left homeless by the fall of Troy, and Dido, Queen of Carthage, are separated from their hunting party in a rainstorm and take shelter together in a cave. This was all arranged by the goddess Juno (Hera to the Greeks) in an attempt to thwart a prophecy she found unpleasant. Juno loved Carthage, and reasoned that if she could cause Aeneas to fall in love with Dido and settle down in Carthage to rule by her side, Aeneas would not go on to set in motion a series of events that would culminate, centuries later, in the destruction of Carthage by the Romans.

[11] In the original, the captured campers showed a curious indifference to the "help Chef" option, possibly because the "every camper for themselves" mindset had not yet taken hold so soon after the merge. Izzy did not expose Leshawna despite having both opportunity and incentive to do so, and none of the other boys exposed Duncan despite having both opportunity and incentive. Indeed, most of the captured campers did nothing but follow Chef around in the challenge's latter stages. Only Heather helped Chef, and even she merely took an opportunity that fell into her lap. (This was part of a string of contrivances to keep the reviled and villainous Heather in the game past her natural time.) In this reimagining, the captured campers fully understand the benefit of helping Chef, and actively assist him.

[12] The section title, "Peter the Wolf" is a play on Peter and the Wolf, the famous "symphonic fairy tale for children" by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

[13] Duncan assisting the wolf is based on an apparently true story the author read about as a child. In the original incident, if memory serves (it's been almost 50 years, so some of the details are fuzzy) the animal was a lynx and the person, whose name escapes the author, was a park ranger or some such. Duncan showing his softer side was foreshadowed as "another story for another time" when Duncan arrived on the island and traded barbs with Heather (First Night), and the Storyteller noted that Duncan would one day show himself to be "more than just piercings and attitude".

[14] Shawn speaking of "someone … or something" coming after Cody is Shawn's obligatory reference to a zombie apocalypse.

[15] Trent choosing the second of three options Chef Hatchet offered him, and calling that option "Door Number Two" refers to the game show, Let's Make A Deal. The climax of each episode was the "Big Deal of the Day" where the contestant would win a very valuable prize (frequently a new car) if they could correctly guess which of three numbered doors concealed it.

[16] In military parlance, "carry on" means "go back to doing whatever you were doing before I interrupted you".

[17] Trent's failed stalk of Duncan is based on an incident in the canonical paintball episode, where Owen tries to ambush Duncan but is betrayed by an ill-timed fart. That particular device is not consistent with Trent's characterization, and a broken twig would have been too cliché, hence the pheasant cameo.

[18] Courtney winning the challenge by using the wetsuit was foreshadowed as "another story for another time" after the phobia challenge (episode 7, Twelfth Night). The Storyteller noted that because no one bothered to retrieve the protective wetsuit Courtney wore when she was immersed in Jell-O, she kept it and it would again serve her well. Courtney's "blue-tinted lips" indicate mild hypothermia.

[19] The U.S. Army's policy on knife throwing is simple and direct: "Don't throw your knife. You are unlikely to incapacitate your target, and you give him a weapon." The Canadian Army's policy is presumably similar.

[20] Describing the list of who has invincibility and who doesn't as Chris' "little list" refers to the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. In the song, "As Someday It May Happen", popularly known as "the Little List song", the Lord High Executioner details his "little list" of people who could be executed if the need arose because they "never would be missed". The song is essentially a listing of Gilbert's pet peeves.

[21] When Cody confessed his role in Trent's first elimination (episode 5, Seventh Night), his pledge to never vote against Gwen—nor Trent, should he return—was the price of Gwen's forgiveness.


ELIMINATION HISTORY:

Harold (Muskies): Eaten by sharks. (Beth reprieved after being voted off)

*Owen (Eagles): Believed to have cost his team the challenge when he gassed Gwen and Trent

*Trent (Eagles): Blindsided by Heather and Cody. Heather wanted to hurt Gwen, and Cody wanted to get a romantic rival out of the way.

Bridgette (Muskies): Injured Courtney and was believed to have indirectly cost her team the challenge as a result

Geoff (Muskies): Too distractible for his team's liking. Lost the tiebreaker.

Justin (Eagles): Wimped out of his phobia test, and got the girls mad at him when they heard how badly he dissed Beth

**Izzy (Muskies): The RCMP came for her after she set off a nuclear bomb, so she fled. (Courtney reprieved after being voted off)

Sadie (Eagles): Backstabbed by Heather and Cody. Heather saw her as a potential betrayal threat, and Cody saw her as an obstacle to Noah hooking up with Katie.

Noah (Eagles): Injured and not expected to recover before the merge. His shorthanded team didn't want to risk trying to carry a nonperformer.

Eva (Muskies): Her temper got the better of her once too often.

Beth (Muskies): Enabled underage drinking at the boot camp party, so when her team lost the challenge, Chris coerced her teammates into voting her off.

Tyler (Muskies): Performed poorly in the challenge. Implied to be on the wrong side of a majority alliance.

— EATING CHALLENGE – NO ELIMINATION — Owen and Trent return

— TEAMS MERGED — Izzy returns

Ezekiel: Party to multiple incompatible alliances; forced to betray one

Owen*: Summarily eliminated by a challenge twist

Izzy**: Sacrificed herself by tanking a potentially dangerous attack meant for Heather

REMAINING BOYS (4): Cody, D.J., Duncan, Trent*

REMAINING GIRLS (6): Courtney, Gwen, Heather, Katie, Leshawna, Lindsay

* Returned at "halftime", a.k.a. the eating challenge

** Returned after the eating challenge, but was not eligible to win the game


INTERN UPDATE:

Confirmed dead (7): Anne Maria, Cameron, Dave, Jo, Lightning, Max, Scott

Presumably dead (1): Brick

Define "dead" (1): Ella

Status uncertain (1): Staci

Presumably alive (11): B, Beardo, Carrie, Dawn (departed), Ennui, Jasmine, Leonard, Rodney (injured, departed), Ryan, Scarlett (injured), Sky

Confirmed alive (2): Alejandro, Shawn

NOTE: Although it is technically possible for an intern to die within seconds of their last "sighting", for purposes of this listing anyone appearing on the most recent day of the story's chronology is "confirmed alive" unless otherwise noted. Interns who have appeared or been stated to be alive in the latest week or so of the story's chronology, or who have left the island, are "presumably alive" unless otherwise noted.


APPEARANCE CHANGES:

In addition to numerous brief changes, due mainly to various campers and interns appearing in nonstandard outfits for one challenge or another, several characters have more or less permanent changes to their appearance:

Intern uniforms (and life expectancies) are similar to those of Captain Kirk's security personnel in the original Star Trek.

Lindsay has a short, brunette hairdo, resulting from her hair being burned in a challenge accident.

Katie and Sadie got makeovers after giving one to Lindsay. They now wear big hair and visibly mended sundresses.

Gwen has her left wrist in a cast, lost the pinky finger from her left hand, and until recently had her left arm in a sling after being seriously injured in a challenge accident. Her arm is healing nicely, but she still does not have full use of it.

Scarlett's knee injury, suffered during setup for the Labors of Heracles challenge, is serious enough to require a brace.

Additional changes pertain to characters currently out of the story.


A/N: What will Heather demand for her help? Will she be able to bail Cody out? Should Cody be lauded for his principles, or derided as an idiot? Or both, for that matter? If you have thoughts on these or other matters, I'd love to hear them.

In addition to the "even Owen won't eat it" joke in the eating challenge (24th Night), the "weapons-grade fart" joke in this chapter was my other major reason for bringing Owen back. Neither gag would have worked with anyone else, and both were planned before Owen's first elimination way back in the Fifth Night chapter.

Once again, I find myself apologizing for an excessively long interval between updates. The reasons were many, but the biggest culprit was "good" old-fashioned writer's block. The problem was that, for longest time, the cliffhanger I wanted made the chapter too short (by this story's standards, anyway) because D.J.'s stratagem made for a relatively short challenge, and the next good cliffhanger spot would have made the chapter too long. Finally, though, I was able to add 4,000 words in a way that—I hope—doesn't come across as filler. The final chapter length of about 8200 words is still below average for this story, but well within my target range.

Next up is the bicycle challenge, which will have major changes from its canon counterpart.