Everything felt surreal, was surreal.
As he sat on the ground in a daze, Howard lost track of time. People moved around him, whispering, crying, and huddling together to find comfort.
But Howard didn't care about them. To him, those people felt as distant as an unreachable dream, almost as if they existed only as characters of a movie. There, yet not exactly there. All he could think about was how he had seen his best friend on the ground, laying in a growing puddle of his own blood with a broken and torn body.
Shocked to the core, the boy never realized Heidi walked up to him until she placed a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. His body shuddered at the contact, and he looked up at her with eyes filled with fear and emotional pain.
“Come on, Howard,” Heidi whispered, helping her younger brother up on his feet. “Let's go home. Mom and dad must be worried sick by now.”
At first Howard refused, wishing he could just sit where he was and wait, hoping that it had been a bad joke. Yet, no matter how much he wanted to stay, his sister started to push him towards her car.
“Heidi...” his voice was nothing more than a whisper that was almost drowned by the sounds coming from around them. “I...”
Whatever he was trying to say, though, did not get past his lips as Heidi pushed him once again. She wasn't being forceful, but her insistence was a distraction that he could not get rid of. Part of him was glad for it, because he forgot about the blood and the open wounds for a few moments. Yet another hated it with a passion because he was forgetting about his best friend.
“Heidi...” he tried again, finally finding enough strength in his legs to stop moving along the path. “Heidi, I have to go... I... he... I can't leave him alone.”
He was not sure why he felt the desperate need to go to the hospital. It wasn't as if being there would give Randy a better chance at surviving, and to be truthful his best friend wasn't alone at all. He had all the doctors and nurses that would take care of him. He would have his mother once they figured out who he was under the mask. And he had that stupid book.
But again, they were not Howard.
“Tell mom and dad I'm fine,” the younger Weinerman said, pulling his shoulder free from Heidi's hand by taking a step away from her. “Tell them to not worry.”
Before she could ask or stop him, Howard turned around and started to run as fast as his stubby little legs could carry him. He ignored his sister's cries. He ignored the confused gazes of the people he pushed past. He even ignored the stinging of his eyes and the weariness of his feet.
Nothing would stop him from being at his best friend's side.
Not even his sister's maniacal honking as she followed him in her car, screaming demands of where he was going and why.
By the time the hospital was in view, Howard was feeling like jelly. His run had slowed down a lot compared to when he started. His knees were shaking under his weight and his feet were even worse. If at the beginning they were hurting, now Howard felt as if he was running on hot iron spikes.
Still, he struggled with his own body and pushed past a few doctors and guards, ignoring their cries and their attempts to stop him. Heidi, having left her car in the parking lot, was right on his heels and was doing everything she could to reach him.
Heedless of the ruckus he was creating, the boy threw open the double doors and searched every corner for his best friend. Yet the confusion inside the emergency department was so overwhelming that Howard felt as lost as a wet puppy during a storm.
Gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, the boy mentally cursed everything he could think of. He was so close, yet...
Then Heidi was standing right in front of him, her hands on her hips and glaring at him with all the anger and frustration she could muster.
“Howard Weinerman!” her voice would have been scary if it wasn't drowned by the surrounding confusion. “What has gotten into you? Running like that through half the city and ignoring me! Do you know how worried mom and dad are? They asked me to take you home so...”
The more she spoke, the more Heidi realized that there was something wrong with her brother. He was leaning against the nearby wall, his eyes darting left and right in search of something only he knew of.
“I can't go home, Heidi,” the boy replied before his sister could ask what was wrong. “I have to be here. I have to find him and make sure he is alright!”
For a moment the two remained in silence as Heidi tried to understand what her brother was saying. Then a sudden realization hit her and she almost gave a loud sigh. “Howard,” she placed a firm hand on his shoulder and looked at him in the eyes. “I'm sure everyone here has the situation under control even if it doesn't look like it. The Ninja is in good hands.”
Howard immediately shook his head, refusing any kind of comforting words. “No, Heidi! You don't know him like I do! The monsters, the robots... do you really think they are the real problem?” the boy took a pause and watched as his sister became speechless. “Heidi, they are only the surface! There's so much worse out there, and if... if his secrets falls into the wrong hands...”
The boy shook his head once again and forced down the urge to cry. He placed a hand against his eyes and spent a few seconds focusing on breathing. It was a little trick Randy had taught him for when he needed to calm down. He would never admit it to his friend, but he felt better.
Taking one last deep breath, the boy looked straight into Heidi's eyes. “He's my friend, Heidi,” he said, willingly omitting the 'best' part to keep the Ninja's identity hidden. “I don't know what I can do, but I will not let anyone steal his secrets!”
And with those words heavy with meaning, the boy realized that his sister was not the only one listening to him.
He had no idea how or when the Nomicon's large form had walked up to them unnoticed. Yet, by whatever means it had used, the spirit was now standing right behind Heidi with its ancient samurai mask staring at him.
“Howard Weinerman,” it spoke, scaring Heidi and making Howard cringe. It was the first time that the ancient book was speaking to him directly, and it made the boy feel small. "We have often disagreed, but your loyalty and your willingness to protect our secrets do not go unnoticed.”
The giant samurai's figure was fizzling in and out of existence as it struggled to remain corporeal. It reminded Howard of a TV with horrible reception. Despite that though, the ancient spirit stood straight and its presence was as imposing as it had been when it first appeared.
A bunch of rushing doctors pushed a stretcher past the trio and the Nomicon's behavior changed. It tensed and its left fist clenched around the familiar black and red fabric of the mask.
“That... that was him, wasn't it?” Howard asked, feeling a burst of courage that he didn't know was there. “How is he? Is he...”
Despite Howard being unable to finish, the Nomicon understood. It cast its ancient eyes onto the stout boy and gave a small nod of reassurance. “He will live.”
And for the first time that day, Howard cried in relief upon hearing that everything would be alright.