Northern Yukon Territory – 1913
Niles writes in his journal about his mission as part of the Bureau of Oddities, and how he's eager to prove what he's capable of. Niles' teammate Alastair Henderson checks his gun and reminds Niles that there are Turks in the area who aren't friendly. Niles says that there's no evidence that they're hunting is dangerous, but Alastair figures that the creature wants to do them harm.
Aretha goes into the forest and Niles stops to crap at the fire. He spots a footprint in the snow and sees wolves run through the nearby trees. One of them comes at Niles, and Alastair arrives and shoots it dead. As they talk, another wolf attacks Alastair, who yells at Niles to run. Niles takes off into the forest but twists his ankle and falls down a slope, breaking his leg. He crawls to a tree, putting it at his back, as the wolves close in. The horned humanoid creature advances on Niles and he begs it to stop.
In a house in West Seneca, NY, Ernest Franklin sits in his mother's basement and watches TV. His mother yells that they're out of Lean Cuisine, and tells Ernest to go to the market and get some. She nags Ernest into going and ignores him when he yells back.
At the supermarket, Ernest shops and sees an old man with a beard. He walks up to him and stares at the beard until the man notices. Ernest continues on his way to the register, and the clerk says that they know about his hemorrhoid preferences. An agent disguised as a shopper pulls up, and the clerk says that they're with the Bureau of Normalcy. The Bureau operates in the shadows but they're desperate and they need people like Ernest. Darren Jones failed to report in after an encounter with Niles' associates, and they want someone with Ernest's "talents" to find Niles and bring him in for questioning. Ernest agrees and the clerk calls him "Beard Hunter" and gives him a classified file.
Ernest returns home, gets his gear, and dons his costume.
Niles wakes up in a cave and takes in his surroundings. His leg has been covered in a foul-smelling liquid, and he hears someone in the shadows. A figure roars and Niles crawls for the entrance. He comes to rotting corpses in the snow, and something pulls him back into the cave.
Ernest arrives in Cloverton and finds one of Jane's posters.
At Doom Manor, Vic confirms that there's nothing wrong with the comatose Jane and the Spirit links Cliff's brain to Jane's. Rita asks Vic what the plan is, and Vic says that it's working whatever it is. She questions the spirit and it says nothing, and Vic says that they should get back to work.
Niles wakes up in the cave next to a fire, his hands tied, and introduces himself to the figure seated opposite him. He says that he's not a threat, but the figure ignores him. Niles says that the dead men were hunters and he's not a hunter but a friend, and asks to move a bit closer to the fire. When he grabs the figure's fur robes, the figure shrieks and whips Niles with it. The figure--a woman--throws the robes on the fire, smothering it, and walks away.
Vic tries to explain Danny to Rita and examines the comic book that Danny gave him. He figures that it's a clue and Rita goes through it. She points out that the muscleman in a Mentall-o advertisement is missing, like he walked out of the comic book.
Ernest enters Doom Manor and not-so-stealthily makes his way down the hall. He enters the bathroom and pulls Niles' hair out of the drain, and then eats it and passes out.
Niles spends weeks at the mercy of the woman, and makes a journal entry that she'd be the crown jewel of the Bureau's collection. The woman, Slava, comes in with fish and Niles tells her that his leg is doing better and he'll be able to leave soon. Slava doesn't respond and tosses Niles a fish, and says that his people would take good care of her. Niles realizes that she kidnapped him and he'll never leave, and insists that he's not an animal or a pet. He goes to the corpses and digs through the snow, saying that their men and deserve a proper burial. After a moment, Slava pulls one of the corpses into the forest.
Niles follows her to a clearing filled with stone plinths with markings of people on it. Niles estimates that they're what's left of a proud tribe, and they faded away one by one until only Slava was left. Slava lived for centuries, and makes a funeral pyre for the dead man. She gives a torch to Niles and he sets the pyre on fire. Slava mutters words and gestures at the sky, and Niles says the same words. The horned creature that Niles saw earlier appears from the smoke and comes over to join them.
Ernest wakes up and finds Vic and Rita looking at him. He recognizes Vic as Cyborg and says that he's looking for Niles. Ernest explains that the Bureau of Normalcy are looking for Niles and his "freaks", and introduces himself as the Beard Hunter. Rita points out that he doesn't have a beard, and Ernest says that he has a hormonal disorder. He explains that when he ate Niles' hair, he absorbed Niles' essence. As Vic questions him, Ernest looks at Vic's facial hair and licks his lips. Vic tells him to back off, and Rita says that Niles can't help Ernest. Ernest says that Niles isn't the man they've led him to believe, and he's a false god. Finding Niles will change nothing. He explains that Niles' beard calls out to him from across time and space, and stares rapturously at a beard fragment that falls off of Vic's chin, and Vic and Rita leave.
Niles chooses to remain and observe Slava in her natural habitat. They go out on the frozen lake and Niles falls through the ice. Shiva takes him back to warm up but Niles becomes ill. She tries to feed him and then holds him, sharing her body warmth. Slava absorbs his illness and passes out, and Niles tends to her. In time they draw closer to each other and make love.
Rita suggests that they use Ernest to find Niles. Meanwhile, Ernest manages to knock over the chair he's tied to and eat the hair from Vic's beard.
Vic suggests that they let Ernest go and then track him. They hear something bang and go to investigate. Ernest has freed himself and says that Vic hasn't told Rita what's wrong with him yet. He knows all about Vic's life, and easily ducks Vic's punch. When Vic tries to activate his arm cannon, it malfunctions and Gird informs him that his system has been compromised. The AI activates the cannon, blasting Rita and Ernest back and slamming Vic into a wall.
Ernest recovers first , grabs his equipment, and runs out. Vic and Rita go after him and find him, and Ernest tells Vic that he's afraid to find Niles because of what he'll learn when he finds him. Ernest tells Vic that he won't like the truth, and Grid says that Vic has been compromised and system control is necessary. It locks on to Ernest and ramps up to lethal force, and Vic and Rita manage to shove the cannon offline so that it hits a wall in the lab rather than Ernest. Vic activates Grid's emergency shutdown, and Rita tells Ernest to go. Ernest tells them to remember him as the man who defeated Cyborg and runs off.
Slava looks out at the wilderness beyond her cave. Niles chooses to remain in the north.
Slava teaches Niles how to hunt and he revels in the thrill of survival.
Niles and Slava watch the Aurora Borealis and the two embrace.
One day Niles tans a deer hide and sings. Alastair finds him and says that he's surprised to find Niles alive after two years. He apologizes for leaving Niles behind, and Niles thanks him because he's found where he belongs. Alastair says that the world has changed and they're at war, and the Bureau changed and the mission changed. Now normal is in, and they seek out that which is abnormal and exterminate it. Niles insists that the world always needs explorers, and Alastair asks him how he survived. His former partner claims that he found the bodies of the previous hunters and used their equipment while learning to hunt. Alastair asks if Slava had anything to do with Niles' survival, and says that he's been tracking her but hasn't found her nest. He tells Niles to show him the nest.
Vic claims that he glitched, and then tells Rita that something is wrong with him and it's getting worst. He can't trust Silas and insists that he'll fix it. Vic asks Rita not to tell anyone because they'll fear he's turning into the psychopath in Jane's painting. Rita says that she put the tracking device on Ernest and they'll track him down together once Vic finishes his repairs. Jane and Cliff wake up and Cliff notices the debris, and Vic and Rita say that what happened is a long story.
Niles takes Alastair across the wilderness, and Alastair asks how Niles found her. He says that Slava found him, and leads Alastair across the frozen lake. The ice breaks beneath Alastair and he drops into the water below. Niles tells Alastair that Slava is his secret to protect from the world, and Alastair sinks beneath the water. After a moment, Niles tosses his journal into the water and follows the smoke from the hunters' fire.
Later, Niles tells the Bureau that there is nothing odd to report in the north. All he discovered was the strength to outwit and outlast the true monsters in the world. Nobody is there and sarcastically joins in with the members' applause.
Niles finds himself back in the void with Nobody, who says that the memories he saw happened the day that Niles change. They've learned that Niles killed his friend and left his wife behind for true love, and Nobody points out that secrets have cost Niles and the search for Niles has cost his patients. Niles insists that they're stronger than Nobody thinks, but Nobody says that not all of them will make it to the end. He says that if Niles answers one question then Niles goes home and his "family" survives. Nobody asks where the girl is. Niles says that he doesn't know what he means, and Nobody figures that Niles' quest for eternal life has been to keep her safe. He wants the truth about Slava, but Niles refuses. Niles says that he doesn't care what happens to the other, and he won't give Nobody the satisfaction of breaking him.
Ernest tracks Niles into an Escherian maze of stairways and arrives at the bottom. A dummy is there wearing a mask made of Niles' beard, and the antlered creature attacks Ernest as he screams in terror.
Written by Gadfly on Apr 20, 2019