The journey continued through the dense Minnesota pine forest. They trekked by foot for miles through the forest until, around 4 o’clock, they came at last to a huge clearing. Someone shimmied up a tree for a better sense of the layout and reported the details to the others.
The majority of the clearing would seem to be what Chuck referred to as Roostertown. The shacks mostly appeared to have been thrown together from chunks of aluminum siding, though log cabins were scattered amongst them. On the west side of the clearing were about two dozen shacks. On the east side were 20 shacks and cabins, with a fenced-off area behind them containing more cabins. Between these two sides was the temple itself. It was a two-story stone building set within a 10-foot high metal fence. The fence was then surrounded by a moat about eight to ten feet wide. The only entrance to the fenced enclosure seemed to be a wooden bridge leading through a brick gatehouse and leading into the gardens. The gardens were also enclosed in a high fence that ran down the length of the clearing all the way to a pair of three-story tall watchtowers. The watchtowers were on the shore of a large pond right in front of them, at the edge of the clearing. The pond was about 60 feet in diameter and could be walked around in either direction.
The whole clearing could be circled around, so long as they stayed in the forest, but as soon as they stepped into the clearing, they were likely to be seen.
Alpha-Woman was stumped at what to do...Step out too far, be seen; stay here, wonder what to do... "So, Chuck,” she said at last, “how are we going to make it through?"
The Mountain Man had long since tucked his bulletproof vest like a trophy into his pack. "Why are you asking Chuck what to do?” he retorted. “These guys sent him to capture you and bring you back here for who knows what. I wouldn't ask him to tie my shoe if I were you," the Mountain Man commented. "Say, ‘Goodnight’, Chuck." He added as he knocked Chuck out with a good punch to the jaw.
No one but Alpha-Woman seems concerned. Oh, I am surprised, as I thought we were going to use him to get into town," she said.
The Mountain Man started tying up Chuck with Chuck’s own shirt, since no one had rope on hand. "We can't take on all these people up front. It's already late. Let's wait until after dark and sneak in. Giant roosters should be easy enough to distract with some chicken feed," he said as he tied a good knot.
Captain Liberty had been trailing behind, having realized that his suit would stand out in the wilderness. He also remembered he had vast military training, but just as the image of some military base came to him, his memory faded away. Could I be some government experiment? He thought to himself. From behind Silver Scorpion, he whispered, “So what's the plan of attack? We could go in, fists blazing? Or I could try and intimidate them with a display of strength, allowing one of you to sneak in and find out what's going on. On the other hand, we could slowly draw them out a few at a time and whittle down their forces." He glanced around and waited for the group to respond.
Silver Scorpion paused, somewhat stunned by the sight before her. The 'Temple' seemed in fact to be a fortress! "One thing is for sure, we won't be able to fight our way through if all the townsfolk come out against us. As much as I think it's a crazy idea, I think I have to agree with Mountain Man. We've probably got our best chance to make it in after dark. Still, let us scout around the entire Temple Area from the safety of the woods. Maybe there will be an easier way in, or at least we may see somewhere we can scale the fence undetected at night."
They had four hours until twilight, so they circled the clearing and observed from a safe distance, making sure that Captain Liberty’s costume did not announce their presence. In fact, even Silver Scorpion’s shiny silver jumpsuit proved not hiding-friendly, requiring extra care and keeping deeper in the forest while others monitored the clearing for them.
Life in Roostertown seemed relatively idyllic from here, with idle men out throwing horseshoes or heading down to the pond to fish. Kids were running around chasing cats and dogs and throwing rocks at each other. There were women around, but they spent most of their time indoors. Later in the afternoon, a group of them came together outside to throw lawn darts, but soon wound up supervising the wild children so much that the lawn dart game was broken up.
The watchtowers each had two guards in them at all times. The heroes observed only one shift change. The guards had binoculars, but were not always using them. It looked like they had spotlights up there too. They were probably armed, but there were no weapons visible.
The gardens were surprisingly busy, with at least ten people tending to or patrolling the gardens at any time. They saw a few patrollers carrying rifles.
The temple could be seen, from closer up, to have a five-foot tall bust of a rooster -- and a pretty angry-looking rooster at that -- perched up on the roof over the entrance. The temple had narrow, high windows on the ground floor and larger windows on the upper floor.
The gatehouses that controlled entrance to the garden and from the garden to the temple courtyard were also manned, though the guards there varied from two to four at any given time. Though the fence around the temple and the gardens was 10 feet tall uniformly along its length, only a shorter four-foot barbed wire fence ran under the watchtowers to the shore of the pond.
Dice Morgan had been sitting around for hours, wracking his brain as to how to proceed. "Y'know, if we still had that lion here..." He suddenly remembered. "Oh yeah, ‘dat was the Chinaman, wasn't it?" Suddenly he stops and sits bolt upright. "Hey, why don't the Chinaman turn into a squirrel or rabbit or sumpthin' and go into town and look around. Who's gonna’ pay a second's worth of attention to some mangy critter?"
"Ah, it is not so easy," the Daoist said after Dice's suggestion. "The transformation is vewy’ taxing. I cannot stay in any form for ‘rong."
Man Thing by Jim Cheung
19 hours ago