The Game: Escape from the Toy Box
By Sean McDonald

How did I get myself into this mess? Dr. Collins thought as he adjusted his glasses. Iím a shrink, not a superhero. The empathy therapist was not used to his current surroundings. The checkerboard floors and ornate walls were unusual for a building in the ravaged part of town it was in, but the doctor had bigger concerns than the Gamesterís interior decorating. He never lost a patient and he wasnít going to now. Not even if it meant sneaking into a villainís hideout. How he wasnít dead by now was a testament to his mental powers. He hadnít used them for purposes like these since his days pulling pranks back in high school. He had since found better things to do with them, like what he was doing now. Soon Dr. Collins heard faint flute music in the distance. It meant two things. First, he would have to brace his mind to go any further without succumbing to the musicís hypnotic influence. Second, he was almost there.

He came to a heavy door and looked through the small opening in it. This was where they were keeping his patient. Spectreblade sat there catatonic in a corner on the floor of his cell, still in his armor. There was something else in there, too. A speaker attached to the wall played the spellbinding flute melodies that kept him sedated. If not for the music, the door wouldíve easily splintered apart with a few hits from Spectrebladeís sword. These guys must be crazy to have him so lightly guarded, Dr. Collins thought. "Hey there, Spectreblade," he said. The knight simply stared blankly at him. Then he went to work, willing the speaker from its mount in the wall and repeatedly smashing it against the cell floor until it shattered. It worked. The doctorís patient was dazed, but at least he was conscious now.

"Where am I?" Spectreblade asked.
"You never showed up for our appointment, so I came looking for you," Dr. Collins replied.
"How did you find me?"
"Youíre not the only hero I work with. I heard about the robbery at Exarch. I guess things didnít go too well, huh?"
"Well, are we ready to leave, then?"
As they went back the way Dr. Collins came, the black and blue knight regained enough sense to say more than "Yep" and "Nope." "I got to say Piperís music blows Öno pun intended. Itís no Justice Radio, thatís for sure." They continued chatting until they came upon an elevator. "Going up?" Spectreblade asked.
"Yep," the doctor answered. "ÖGreat. Now Iím doing it."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, a man in a red jacket with a feather in his hat pushed a button on a computer terminal marked "Elevator Override". "Going down?" he said with gleeful deviousness.
The woman behind him spoke. "Do you realize where youíre leading them?"
"I do indeed, Fortuneteller. Iím leading them into a trap," he answered back.
"But canít you set it up somewhere else, Piper?" she said, somewhat annoyed. "I canít predict whatíll happen if they live to tell what they see there. Besides, that room isnít too stable."
"All the more reason to send them there. We can destroy them and the evidence in that room if we have to."
"But wonít that upset him? I really donít think we want to upset him."
"Iím sure heíll understand once you explain it to him," Piper reassured her. "You know him better than any of us."
"You mean you want me to go into that room and fight Spectreblade and his little friend by myself."
"Oh, you wonít be alone. Iím sending my new friend down there with you. Sheís been waiting for a chance to play with her new toys."

The elevator arrived at its destination. "This isnít our floor," Dr. Collins mused to himself. He pushed the button to go up but nothing happened. "This isnít good."
"Well, I guess weíre going to be in a fight any minute now." Spectreblade knowingly replied. That wasnít something the doctor wanted to hear.
"But Iím no fighter!" he cried. "Iím a therapist. How am I supposed to beat whatever theyíre sending to get us?"
"Donít worry about it. Youíve been a great help so far, and with me here, weíll get through this just fine. Now letís get ready for this fight."

They went the only direction they could; forward, deeper into the Gamesterís lair. The pair found themselves at a tall door at the end of a long hallway. "Is it me, or is it cold down here?" Dr. Collins timidly asked as Spectreblade opened the doors.

What they found was both beautiful and frightening. Every surface of the room was coated with a thick sheet of ice. An exquisite sculpture of a woman holding a pomegranate stood frozen near a wall. Crudely carved columns of frozen water formed a path to an ice-block altar. Next to the altar, stacked against the wall, were dozens of gift boxes. Dr. Collins went pale for more reasons than one as he noticed a woman in red and black holding a deck of cards. "Spectreblade, is it? I see you found our little shrine to the Winter Lord. Heís been most gracious to allow us the use of his hordes."
"So youíre some kind of Winter Lord cult?" Spectreblade asked.
Fortuneteller laughed. "Weíre no snowman worshippers. Weíve just made a strategic alliance. Thatís all. We must make use of what fate provides for us." She continued. "I see you have a friend with you. I brought a friend with me, too. Spectreblade, meet Toyster." From behind the altar a child walked into view. She wore the blood red jacket of the Gamesterís minions and a red skirt, below which extended legs encased in what looked like black and white armor down to the knees, where they were met by black socks. She had a mask like the Gamesterís other lieutenants, but Spectreblade knew immediately who she was by the sad, hateful look in her eyes.

"I remember her. She was one of the kids who helped rob Exarch Industries. Sheís being controlled by these lunatics. Think you can break their hold on her, doctor?" the shrouded knight demanded.
"Letís hope so," Dr. Collins quietly said.
"Itís playtime, Teddy Bear!" the child cheerfully shouted as she pushed a button on her arm. A present behind the heroes opened and out crawled a man-sized stuffed animal with glowing red eyes. "Entering aggressive mode," the toy droned as it pointed its arm at Spectreblade and fired its lasers. He jumped out of the way as his armor came to life with its dark energy. He pulled out his broadsword and sliced at the monstrosity, cutting the plush faÁade from its metal skeleton. Dr. Collins went straight for Toyster, hoping to stop the robot at its source. She pulled out a colorful ball and threw it at his feet, entangling him in strands of webbing. He couldnít move, but he wasnít down by any means. He went into the childís mind to free her from the Gamesterís control. But it didnít work.

"What the Ö" the doctor yelped.
"Silly man," she said. "I donít need the flute anymore. Iím a big girl now."
"You mean to say youíre not being controlled?"
"Thatís right. Uncle Gamester gave me all these toys after that mean old knight over there tried to hurt me."
"What?!?!" He turned to Spectreblade. "Is this true?"
"Iím afraid so." He said as he dodged another blast from the machine. "They had me down. I had to do it. Besides, it was only a little soul transfer. Itís not like I tried to split her head." Fortuneteller pulled a card from her deck. "Lecture me later," Spectreblade shouted as he leapt at him, cutting the webbing from the doctorís feet.

With his legs free, he dodged the card, but the blast knocked them to the floor. Dr. Collins concentrated on healing their wounds, and they healed through the power of his mind. The knight turned his attention toward Fortuneteller, but she teleported out of the way as he swung at air. She pulled another card from her deck and threw it, but Dr. Collins caught it with his mind and redirected it toward the teddy-bot. It blew off what little semblance of cuteness it had left. Spectreblade rushed at the robot, bringing down his sword on its tattered form, cutting it in two.
"No! My Teddy Bear!" Toyster wailed. Then the two remaining villains stopped as though they heard something. Fortuneteller pushed a button on her wrist and teleported out.
"You broke my little Teddy Bear, you big meanie! Iíll get my revenge!" the child cried in her sweet young voice as she, too, disappeared.
"Thatís weird," Spectreblade mused.
"Iím just glad itís over," Dr. Collins sighed. Then the wrecked battle drone started beeping as its eyes flashed red.
"You had to say it, didnít you, doctor."

"RUN!" they screamed to each other. The two sprinted down the corridor as fast as they could. Once they were at a safe distance, they turned back to see the ice lining the walls vaporized by the explosion, leaving a charred skeleton of a room.
"Looks like there wonít be anymore snowmen," Dr Collins panted.
"I wouldnít be too sure." Spectreblade countered. "Iíve heard some people say the kids were in Boomtown, and others say theyíre in the Hollows. There might be another base with another shrine. Speaking of which, where are we?"

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