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Dragon Knight

Published on December 2016 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 21 | Comments: 0

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Dragon Knight By: Brigham Merrell Chapter 1: The Girl Next Door My name is Jacob Flintwood, and I was stuck in math…again. I inhaled deeply as Allison walked past me, lighting up my senses as I was hit w ith the smell of strawberries, and something that could only be described as sun shine. I was sitting silently in my math class, counting down the seconds until class began, taking me that much closer to the end of class. Allison took her us ual seat next to me, and gave me a shy smile full of white teeth. She had dark b rown hair, the kind that is the result of a severe session of having it dyed. He r viridian eyes were the color of rose stems; and when she turned them to you, i t felt like you were the only one in the room. When she smiled, the dimples in h er cheeks looked so cute, a lesser man than I would have reached out and pinched them. Allison was a new student in my class at the time. Of course I didn’t take advantage of her vulnerable situation, and use it to make myself look good. Alth ough others might make it look that way. I didn’t even need to do that. I’m about 6 feet and change, with a medium build. I mean, I’m no ar-nold, but I do alright. I have brown hair that is cut close, but has enough room to adapt to various hairs tyles when I’m in the mood. Allison had started out stealing slight g lances, silently imploring anyone for help with her studies. Not being able to t ake my eyes off this wayward angel, I happily obliged. We had spent some happy a fternoons together. I had a great time answering her questions, and just getting to know each other better. Over time, I had learned that she had moved here, to Chicago, from her home in Milwaukee. Her parents had gotten divorced, and she m oved here with her dad. As Time passed, I came to know that she had a wonderful personality, and knew how to have a good time. I took her on a few dates, but we pretty much just goo fed off. We understood each other, and relied on each other, and it was such a c omfort to know that we could be there for each other. Back to the present. I tend to babble when I get nervous. The remainder of clas s was split into different sessions, at least for me anyway. Some of it was spen t discussing derivatives. But most of it was spent discussing Allison. I don’t kno w why, but whenever I see her, I have to put forth a more direct effort to pay a ttention to what was at hand. Sometimes I’m not the smartest guy. Don’t look at me like that. Anyway, after class I approached Allison in the hallway. “Hey Ali! Need any ‘help’ wit h the assignment tonight? Say, around 8?” I am king when it comes to subtlety. “O oh! That sounds kind of late.” She replied. “Maybe we’ll have to go out, and get some brain food while we’re at it.” She twirled her hair around her finger coyly, and tho se darn dimples were begging for some pinchin’! “What did you have in mind, Beautiful?” Yes. It’s true. I am also king when it comes t o originality. At this point, Ali and I had escalated slightly beyond the “just fr iends” status that the average onlooker might not have noticed. If anything, our w itty banter and joking attitudes were our ultimate cover. “I’ll think about it, handsome.” See what I mean? Witty. “Right now, I think pizza sound s good. But who knows what the night will bring?” “I knows!” I said, plugging my nose with my thumb and index finger. “It’s a date. I’ll pic k you up at 8 o’clock.” “No.” She said simply, taking me aback. “It’s a study session. But I’ll see you then.” She urned away from me, taking long swaying steps, full of sweet curves and feminini ty. I love this woman. The afternoon went by in a blur. I had finished that day’s assignment in no time, and pent the remaining hours sleeping and getting ready. Naps are good for the s oul, right? I headed out of my apartment and into the parking garage, towards my car. Keep i n mind that I use the term “car” loosely. What used to be a gleaming black Chevy ch arger now lay in a derelict jumble of metal that barely resembled the brilliant

genius of working parts it had been. I wrestled the driver’s side door open, and t he screaming metal was music to my ears. Hey, it may be a piece of junk, but by thunder it was mine. I eventually convinced “Rusty” to start for me, and headed out towards Ali’s. Allison lived in a large white house. One of those big fancy ones that make you wonder if the people inside even knew about little places like pizza hut. They p robably liked to eat from places that call themselves “pizza palace”. That is, if th ey don’t live in one already. Thinking more on it, one of Ali’s garden ornaments loo ked a lot like a giant pepperoni slice. Huh. Go figure. My date, the pizza queen . I rang the doorbell. Surrounding the little glowing button was some ornate patte rn carved into the brass. Or was it actual gold? Freaking rich people. Not that I have anything against them. Far from it. In fact, I am civilized enough to app reciate success when I see it. It just bothers me when they take every opportuni ty possible to point out how little money I make at my job. Ali’s father opened the door. He was getting along in his years. His full head of hair was beginning to turn gray. His face was full of smile lines that came easi ly. His eyes were like Ali’s, but seemed more…experienced. They glowed like aged, wr inkled dollar bills. He reminded me of someone’s football coach. “Heya Sport!” He wrapped me into a tight bear hug. For some reason, I thought that m ost dads were afraid of letting their daughters date men, and would interrogate them thoroughly before sending them on their way. After meeting Mr. Palmer, I don’t know what gave me that idea. “How are you Mr. Palmer?” I asked, genially. “Oh, and I’m looking for Allison.” “Of course you are! I’m doing well.” His voice was low, and uncannily smooth. It’s not v ery often that I’ve met a man with both of those qualities. “Allison!” he called in th at unnervingly smooth voice. “There’s a young man down here, waiting for you.” You kno w, given that it took almost 3 minutes before Ali showed up, I was still impress ed. This house was like having you own personal Labyrinth, and since Ali hadn’t li ved here very long, I considered her learning curve stunningly quick. But, being her math tutor, it was my job to study her learning speed. “Hey.” She said when she finally got to the bottom of the mammoth staircase. Impress ively, she wasn’t out of breath. But, being her boyfriend, it was my job to notice that too. “Hey.” I said back. Sherlock Holmes, feel the bite of my rapier wit. “You ready to go?” “Obviously.” She said with a smile, after double-checking herself. I forgot that som etimes I lose my cunning edge. “Right.” I said, as I scratched the back of my head. * * * We decided to go to the pizza hut (since there was a shortage of palaces) at the mall. I’d love to tell you that the ride there was full of adventure and frivolit y inside of ol’ “Rusty”, but the most exciting things that happened were that there we re 3 green lights in a row, and Ali slugged me in the arm. I asked for her reaso n of assault, and her only explanation, or attempt at one, was that she saw a Ut ah license plate. What’s up with that? The Chicago city mall was pretty much a snapshot copy of the “mall” stereotype: a sh oe store here, a kiosk there, a willing food court, and all of them filled with teenagers and college students like us. We headed to the accommodating pizza hut. I was in a fancy mood, so I got a supr eme pizza. The peppers and other delicious-looking toppings were steaming as I c arried my small personal dish over to our table. I looked over , and saw that Al i had (I knew it) pepperoni. “So what are your plans for the weekend?” She asked me through a mouthful of food. A man less generous than me would have condemned her for such an act. But all I n oticed was how the food seemed to emphasize her dimples. How cute. “Well, I was hoping we could get math out of the way, so we could go see a matinee .” See how original I can be? “A matinee?” She asked skeptically. “Why not just go at night?” “Uh…” I said intelligently. “I was just planning on…hanging out. I have other plans.” Smoot move, tough guy.

“Plans?” she echoed, sounding a little bit hurt. “What kind of plans?” “Oh. Just personal stuff I need to take care of.” I didn’t want to betray her trust. B ut it’s not like I could let every girl I grow attached to, in on my secret. Not o nly would that be irresponsible; it’d be kind of pathetic. She didn’t look completely reassured, but didn’t push the issue. By this time, it wa s getting close to closing time, and we were the only ones left in the now vacan t food court. Being the chivalrous guy that I am, I took pride in pulling Ali’s chair out for he r. “Oh my knight in shining armor!” she exclaimed with a hint of sarcasm. “I’ve been known to do crazy things like open doors and use manners too.” I replied. We headed out into the desolate parking lot. I whistled a western tune, and half -expected a tumbleweed to roll by. The parking lot was shaped, for the most part , like a giant “U”. “Rusty” was parked at the very middle of the big curve, tucked away in a little niche, partly covered in shadows cast from the towering mall. When w e were within 10 feet of the car, Ali let out a sharp squeal of pain that ended in horrifying silence. I whirled around, easily sliding into my fighting stance. There was Ali, big as life, lying unconscious on the ground with a giant of a ma n looming over her, holding a club in his fists that were the size of holiday ha ms—family size. My eyes widened as I realized what was happening. But it was merel y to get a look around for the others. This guy may be big, but he didn’t exactly ooze “organized crime boss”. If anything, he looked more like “hired goon” to me. Tweedle-dumb and Tweedle-dumber came out from behind the shadows behind me a sec ond later. One of them had a gun pointed at my face. Crap! “We figured the dame would make some unwanted noise in this predicament.” He spoke w ith an accent that belonged somewhere in “Joisey”. “Ah. You must be the brains of the outfit.” I said to Tweedle-dumb, who wasn’t holding the gun to my face. “S’right.” He said, pleased with himself. “And if you don’t want your brains splattered al l over the sidewalk there, you’ll give me your wallet and any valuables on the dam e.” He made a vague Gesture with his hands that I had to assume encouraged me to g et on with it. But I really had to pay attention, because at first I thought he just wanted to play patty-cake. “Forgive me for not wanting to accommodate you.” I consider myself a nice guy, becau se I was genuinely sorry for what was about to happen to these misguided bozos. I slowly lifted up my hands, so as not to startle the now nervous-looking gunman . When they were both over my head, I let the bad guys have it. I forced Power d own my arms, and into my palms. There was a sudden, blinding light that was prod uced. As predicted, the gun went off where I was standing. So I made plans to be somewhere else as soon as I released the power. I leaped 20 feet straight into the air. As I did, I reached deep into my mind, to that one part that isn’t all “me”, and seized the power. I suddenly felt the heat wash over me. It felt like steppi ng out of the shade, and into the hot summer sun. I felt myself sprout the famil iar horns, claws, and tail. My body “cooled” as my skin was coated in the tell-tale green armor. If you had been there watching, I would have looked like one of tho se national geographic time lapses of a flower blooming, in fast forward. I land ed in the shadows behind the blinded thugs. The whole process had taken 5 second s. Man, I’m good. Put down the weapon, and I won’t hurt you.” I whispered. My voice was a low, sinist er rumble. “Not a chance, Freak!” Tweedle-dumber said, his voice an octave too high. He tried t o get a bead on my glowing yellow eyes. I squinted them, and growled. Now, you might not think that these “hardened criminals” might be intimidated by so und alone. They might, and they might not. Either way, I couldn’t let that gun go off, and hurt anyone. Least of all me. So I took it a step further, and stepped out of the shadows, and let the sight of me soak in. I was a hulking nightmare. My horns were pointed straight up, out of the back of my skull. My eyes were a d emonic yellow, with my vertical pupils cutting right down the middles. My nose m erely consisted of two small slits. My fingers and toes ended in razor-sharp cla ws that could have cut through steel, if I had been so inclined. My powerful leg

s bent backwards, opposite of their usual jointedness, much better for jumping. And finally, my tail slithered out behind me, twitching in anticipation. My unif orm (I hate calling it a costume) was a black design over my chest in the shape of a “D”, with a vertical line down the middle, and some kind of tear-proof material of the same color served as my shorts. To give the guys credit, they didn’t run immediately. They gave me a double-take f irst. Then Tweedle-dumb took off with Tweedle-dumber right behind him. They were close enough that I could sweep my tail underneath them. I turned fast, and got a little momentum going, before I swept them both off of their feet. They tumbl ed to the pavement in a senseless heap. Tiny the Giant tried booking it too. But I sent a concentrated beam of heat at his left shoe as it hit the ground, melti ng it there. As he tried lifting it again, he let out a startled yelp, in a voic e too high to belong to a man- and entirely too high for a person that big- and landed on the blacktop—hard. I heard his teeth clack together as he settled in for a little nap. I looked at the four unconscious bodies, and reverted to my normal form before c alling 911, and picked up the one that I cared about. “Oh yeah,” I said to deaf ears. “I forgot to tell you. I’m half dragon.” Chapter 2: The Beginning I know what you’re thinking. There’s no such thing as dragons. It would certainly ma ke my life easier if I could just “not believe” in some of the horrors I’ve seen. I me an sure, it’s cool to become something out of the story books to scare and kick th e bad guys’ butts. But with all the stuff I can do, I feel a self-inflicted weight of responsibility. I know it sounds dumb, but I couldn’t live with myself if I kn ew that someone might have survived if I had done just a little more. And beside s, it’s not like there’s a whole lot of empowered beings patrolling Chicago that cou ld do the job for me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I bet you’re curious about my unique…talents. Well, r egardless of what you might think, I didn’t come from a doomed planet. And I’m prett y sure I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive, well, anything. If I was born this way, m y parents might’ve disowned me, or gone through quite a few more houses, due to “mys terious” fires. NO, lucky for them I was born just like everyone else. I grew up l ike everyone else. And I went on adventures with my friends just like everyone e lse. One of these adventures was with a few of my friends, just after we had graduate d high school. This took place about 5 years ago. We headed out to some sand dun es in New Mexico for some fun. Statistics show that four-wheelers can be very dangerous. Most accidents are cau sed by accelerating too fast, causing the vehicle to roll over the operator. Whe n we got to the dunes, I noted that the dunes looked shifty, and wouldn’t provide very good traction for turning or accelerating. It was a deathtrap. That said--ATV’s are fun! I found that when turning, if I squeezed on the throttle, it would not send me r olling under it’s metal form. It would actually throw my rear wheels out behind me , allowing me to fishtail and make my turns seem elegant and gradual. We went of f little jumps, and just had good times under the sun. But back to my story. After a while, I wandered away from the rest of the group. As I crested a particular dune, I came across an opening in the ground. It was about five feet across, and opened straight down into the earth. The walls were hired with jagged outcroppings made of rocks. A man less adventurous, and much s marter than me, would have considered the rocks looked a lot like teeth. But at the time, my only thought was something like, “Neat!” Yes, I was keeping up with the lingo. “I wonder where this dark, mysterious cave goes to?” With smarts like these, it’s a wonder I struggle in college at all. Anyhoo, I started to clamber down the little cave. When I reached about the five -foot mark, my left foot slipped off of the rock it had been resting on. I let o ut a cry, and tumbled tail over teakettle (how does that saying make any sense?)

down the cave. I bonked my head a couple times, and hit my chest and back a who le lot more. I finally reached the bottom, aching and hurting. It felt like I ha d fallen about 40 feet. I tried to look back to the entrance, but only saw darkn ess. I figured the way down must have curved in a different direction, because t here wasn’t any light to be seen. I hastily took out my phone, in an attempt to ma ke some light, but the little device seemed to cough, sputter, and die after a f ew seconds. Fortunately I had brought some chemical lights for some night riding later. I snapped a couple of them, and held them above me, casting an eerie gre en glow ahead of me. The walls were still as unfriendly as ever, although now I had a healthy level of respect for the pain they could cause. But the surface th at I was standing on was made of polished stone. I mean it was nice. There wasn’t even any dust on it. My instincts screamed at me to run, but my usual genius urg ed me on. I followed the path for a time, winding my way left and right until I found myse lf in a large chamber. I couldn’t exactly see the outer walls, but the sound of my footsteps echoed deeply, and the glow of my light was reflected from a thousand different surfaces in the round-looking cavern. All of the mini lights gave me a general idea of how big this room was. It was huge. Imagine one of the super b owl football stadiums. Now, imagine it just a bit bigger, with a roof. That’s what I was standing in. The whole floor was covered in the jagged rocks, while the s mooth path seemed to cut straight through it. I continued to follow the mysterio us walkway, leading me farther from the way I had come in. The more I walked, th e more I was able to see a figure in the distance. Keep in mind that it wasn’t the figure of a person. In fact, I couldn’t tell what it was at first. But as I approached it (it must have been a mile from the entranc e. Huff puff) I saw that it looked a little bit like a throne. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got to the throne-like structure. It was shaped lik e a normal, high-backed, chair. It had very complicated designs all over it, tha t looked like fire. The sides of the top of the chair each jutted out in a way t hat would have looked like horns on an animal. The ends of the armrests ended in claws, holding on like someone sitting there might do. So, naturally, I wanted to be that someone. But as I looked closer at the actual seat of the throne, I n oticed there was an object resting on the “cushion”. If you’ve ever seen a fish scale, then you’ll know what this object looked like. Only this one was as big as your f ace. In the center of the big “fish scale” was the letter “D”. The “spine” of the “D” was arched rd, towards the middle of the letter. In the center itself, was a single vertica l line that was thick in the center, and thinned out towards the ends. I remembe r looking on this artifact with an impossible fascination. I literally could not take my eyes off of the terrifyingly beautiful scale. As I looked closer, it se emed like the light jumped from his chemical light, into the letter, causing it to glow a throbbing green. It seemed to be pulsing with an unseen energy that dr ew my hands toward the scale. My mind was screaming at my arms to listen to who was boss. But they were unyielding and were determined to get themselves on the scale. The fingers closed around their new master (pretty fickle, if you ask me) and as they did, the big, glowing “D” seemed to blink, and the line in the middle m oved from side to side, like a big reptilian eye. “Human!” A massive voice filled my head, shaking me to my bones. After a second, I r ealized that the voice was coming from the scale. I didn’t hear the direction of i t’s origin, I just knew where it was coming from. “My name is Draco. I am Lord of th e dragons of Camelot. Tell me where I am, or I shall feast on thy heart!” Well whoever this thing was, they didn’t waste time getting to the point. But I te nd to make wisecracks when I get really scared. “You and what teeth, big boy?” “How dare thee?! You will pay for your insolence!” The yelling voice was almost unbe arable at it’s current volume. “Can’t we just talk?” I asked. “Why are you so angry? What are you anyway?” By this point, I had a bloody nose from the sheer voice of Draco’s voice in my head. “Very well, morsel. I will spare thee thy life… for now.” The funny part of the “threat” w as that he thought he actually had a choice. “As I told thee, I am Draco, Lord of the dragons. My cave lies among the weak Englishmen of the noble country. At lea

st it was, until that infernal Morgan Le Fay came up to my cave, and sealed me i n this accursed prison to be forced to do good for the pitiful human race.” “Do good, how?” I wasn’t sure if this was like one of the genies from the movies who “he lp” by trying to make the wish go as badly as possible. “I am to ‘aid the first being to find me, in whatever quests they deem worthy, for a s long as they wish my help.’ And since it seems that thou art the one to have fou nd me, thou art the one to whom I serve.” This guy really didn’t understand my question. “What can you do to help me?” I could f eel my heart begin beating frantically against my rib cage. I couldn’t believe wha t I was hearing. “Alas,” Draco said dramatically. “I am bound to dedicate all of my personal magical ta lents toward my …master.” Draco spat out the last word, as though it was something f oul. “What does all of that entail?” I couldn’t believe it! A freaking dragon was sitting i n my freaking hands (which seemed to be working again), and was offering me frea king magical powers! “I will tell thee over time. Right now, the most powerful tool I can give thee, is my knowledge, and sense of self. Simply hold this scale against thy breast.” I was still a little bit nervous about trusting the thing, but I was trapped hun dreds of feet underground, in a desert, all by myself. Magic, being real or not, sounded might handy. I did as Draco instructed, and held the plate against my c hest. I felt the scale actually melt into my skin. It was slightly disturbing, b ut not painful at first. When the scale was all the way gone, I looked through m y tattered shirt, which apparently had gotten in Draco’s way, to see where it had gone. On my bare chest was the same “D” that had been on the scale, but this one was black, and it hurt. After a while, I was dimly aware that someone was screaming . And after another while, I realized that it was me. So I shut my mouth to hold it in. “I am impressed, human. Most mortals would have quailed at such agony.” Draco was st ill in my head. “Yes I am.” Holy crap! He can read my mind! “I can still hear you huma n. I will be occupying thy mind, until it no longer functions. While I am here, all of my knowledge will at thy disposal.” “So you’re telling me that we’re stuck together…FOR LIFE?!” My mom’s gonna kill me. That is if I ever get out of this cave.” Looking around me, I began to feel hopeless. The n I realized that the cave was no longer dark. It was bathed in a golden light t hat illuminated every little crevice in the dwarfing room. “Whoa! Who turned on th e lights?” “Really human,” Draco started in a bored voice. “there isn’t any source of luminescence that has granted thee thy night sight. You now possess the eyes of a dragon.” “I have a name, you know.” I said indignantly. “It’s Jacob Flintwood. But thanks for the night vision. Do you think you’ll be able to get us out of here?” Things were defin itely easier to think about, when you could actually see where your feet were go ing. “Jacob Flintwood? I think it a simple manner to get us out. Take to the entrance t o where thou didst fall down.” “How did you know I fell down? You still thought you were in ancient Britain a few minutes ago.” “I am aware of, and know, everything thou knowest. Didst thou forget I was in thy very mind?” Draco’s voice was booming again. “Could you not yell so loudly? Yeah, I’ll get us there.” “Well technically I can’t yell since I don’t-“ “Oh shut up!” I wasn’t in the mood to talk to mister know-it-all dragon anymore. At le ast not for the moment. What a mess I had gotten myself into. Even if I didn’t make it out of the cave ali ve, I’d be talking to myself constantly, or else being constantly interrupted by a voice so loud, I literally could not hear myself think! “Not necessarily…Jacob.” Draco’s voice was lacking the same “boom” that it had possessed a oment ago. “After we escape from our current emergency, I will not be able to cont act thee, unless thou wisheth it.” Indeed, his voice, though still gruff, sounded less demeaning, and more… helpful? Friendly?

“Well that sounds better.” I grumbled. That, at least, would make life more manageab le for me. As we walked, I asked Draco some questions. “So Draco, what did you do that made Morgan so angry? Wasn’t she, like, King Arthur’s personal assistant?” “In thy terms, yes she was. She consulted with King Arthur in his dealings with th e kingdom of Camelot. However, she was also a worker in the arts of magic. Her s kills were only rivaled and matched by those of Merlin. King Arthur was a good h uman who ruled his subjects justly. I respected him. But Morgan saw me as a thre at. I had to eat, thou must understand. But all of the farmers had claimed owner ship of the beasts. So I had to take them. But every time I consumed one of thei r livestock, they became upset and offended. Many knights came to try their hand at slaying me. Their efforts were amusing, sometimes humorous, and always delic ious.” I sensed Draco smiling at past memories. “After a time, Lady Morgan came to c onfront me herself. We combated our magics against each other. The battle stayed fierce for quite a time, but she used a spell that I did not expect to come fro m someone so small. I was paralyzed, and therefore could not move.” “She came to my side, and knelt down as she would before worshipping the almighty, and ripped off one of my scales. She murmured her contentious spell that locked me away in my own scale until thou foundest me.” “Wow.” I mumbled to myself. “I had no idea, Draco. Well, for what it’s worth, I think Mo rgan sucks.” “Aye.” Draco agreed solemnly. “The maiden doth sucketh”. Despite the absurdity of my dire situation, I started laughing. It was a good la ugh. The kind that you feel all over. Then I heard a rockslide. When my night vi sion didn’t show me one, I realized that Draco was laughing too. And when he “saw” my reaction, he laughed even harder, and I joined in too. I reached the point where I had landed, and looked above me. Sure enough, the “tun nel” curved so that the light from the top didn’t reach me. “Alright Einstein, What do we do now?” “I’ll have thee knoweth that I am not a German scientist. Very well. Simply put thy hands on the wall, and pull thyself up, and thou wilt reach the entrance of this accursed pit in little time.” “You mean like Spider-man?” I asked dubiously. “Not so. From what I see in thy memories, the fictional character uses adhesive di gits to cling to the walls. Thy fingers will be secreting a chemical compound th at will create a fierce static charge between thyself and the surface. And if th e surface cannot conduct a charge, then instead of adhering to thy fingers, the “o oze” will adhere to the surface.” “So I just slap my palms on the surface of this here wall, and up I go?” I threw in a hillbilly accent just to annoy him and his pristine British charisma. “You put it succinctly.” He replied. I had the feeling he would be rubbing his templ es if he had temples to rub- or fingers for that matter. I tentatively raised my hand to the wall, and as it touched, I felt a moist feel ing that was the same temperature as my body, so as to not be uncomfortable. My fingers held, just as Draco said they would. I put my other hand higher than the first, and it stuck as well. “Haha!” I shouted exultantly. “So I just think something , and you change my body, to accommodate it?” “No Jacob. Thy body was changed when thou didst accept the scale into thy body. No w thou must simply choose to employ all that I gavest thee.” The climb up wasn’t really that difficult because of all the handholds the rocks p rovided. But as I was climbing, a thought occurred to me. “Hey Draco.” I said. “So thi s ooze let’s me stick to stuff, right? Even if I had the best grips possible, this should still be really slow going. Shouldn’t I be breaking a sweat, or breathing really hard?” “Thou speakest lowly of dragon might. It is the makings of legend.” He finished smug ly. “Wow.” I said again, soberly. This power was almost overwhelming. I mean super-stren gth alone is something to consider “How strong, exactly, is dragon might?” I was a l ittle nervous to find out. “A dragon would barely struggle to lift one of thy cars.” My heart skipped a beat. “Bu t I, Draco, would not struggle to throw one of thy buses over the great lakes.” He

finished smugly. I would have lost my grip, if it hadn’t been held in place by th e gunky stuff. This was a dangerous situation I had gotten myself into. But I d idn’t question it. Instead, I kept on climbing toward the entrance to keep myself thinking. What kind of situations would I need things like dragon might? After a while, I clambered out of the little cave, to find my friends gathered a round me, staring wide-eyed. It was nighttime now, and it appeared that my frien d, Thomas, was getting ready to go down to investigate the cave. Man, I had good friends. “Hey guys,” I said blearily. “don’t worry, I’m fine.” I dug out my jacket from the backpack on my ATV, and zipped it over the hole in my shirt, so no one would see the sign of Draco. “What happened to you man?” Dan asked anxiously. “I fell down the hole, and got banged up pretty badly.” I said, thinking fast. “Well let’s check you out, and see if you’re alright.” My girlfriend, Anna, said moving towards my jacket. She’s sweet that way. “NO!” I yelled, taking them all by surprise. “NO, I’m fine. I just need some sleep.” We al l piled into the suburban, and loaded the ATV’s into the trailer behind it. Then w e all headed back to our motel. My head lay in Anna’s lap, and as she stroked my d irty hair, the world faded into blackness. * * * I woke up to Draco’s increasingly Annoying voice in my head. It was a week later, and I was back in Chicago, in my home. “Jacob, you need to disappear for a while. Get a better control of your body, and learn the skills that will be needed.” “Needed for what?” “Skills needed for the situations that will come in times ahead.” Draco rumbled enig matically. “From what I have learned about thee over the past week, it seems that thou wouldst be willing to go to any lengths to protect others from those that w ould wish harm upon others.” “Yeah. For reasons unknown, it really irks me when somebody beats up somebody else . It’s this quirk that I’ve always had. But even if I did want to use these powers t o protect others, how am I supposed to gain these skills you were talking about?” “I will teach thee, of course. I have studied the ways of mortal combat, and the b est methods available. It would be simple to instruct thee in what I’ve discovered in that regard. However, the reason thou needest to leave, is to learn the reso urces that I have given thee, unavailable to other mortals.” “How long do you think it’ll take you to train me?” “I suppose that I could teach thee the basics of thy abilities in…about 1 year in th y time.” “ “A year?!” I blurted out loud. I was currently at a gas station, and when I started yelling at the innocent-looking gas pump, I got some weird looks. “What on Earth c ould I possibly tell my folks, to convince them to let me leave for so long?” “According to what I know of thy parents, it would be a simple matter to tell them thou art moving out to study abroad they do not believe thee to be a particular strength in the scholastic world.” Which was partly true. But not completely. I had the smarts that the education s ystem required, and then some. I was just never motivated to put what I learned to use. I could answer every question on the test correctly, but the questions w ere so mundane, that after years of struggling to keep myself awake through the horrible assignments, I got tired of it, and gave in. But Draco had a point that my parents would encourage me to further my academic skills. “Yeah well,” I said la mely. “I wasn’t exactly motivated in school. That might work.” So I hustled home from the gas store where I had been shouting at myself, to tel l my mom and dad that I would be going away from them for awhile. That was fun. “You’re doing WHAT?!” My mom was barely holding herself together, when I told her over my packed suitcase. “How on earth, are you going to afford that?” Which was a point that I hadn’t considered. But Draco quickly gave me an answer. “I’ve been budgeting my paychecks over the past 3 years, and I’ve been saving up for a big trip. I’ve recently decided that I need to take an active step toward my caree

r, by furthering my academic progress.” Repeating what Draco said was tricky. I ha d to catch myself several times so I didn’t say any medieval terms. My mom’s mouth was flopping openly, like a fish’s at the articulate sentence I had b een able to formulate. Apparently using big words distracted her from paying att ention to the actual excuse I had given her, but the fancy words had done the ta lking for me, convincing her that I was serious. “Well honey, how long are you pla nning on doing this for?” “I think that I’ll be doing for about a year.” I said calmly. Then I added, “I’ll come bac k soon, though.” “A YEAR?!” She shouted, much like I had not so long ago. Then she visibly restrained herself. “I guess it could be worse. I hope you remember to brush your teeth ever y night, before bedtime.” She finished lamely. “I’ll be fine mom. You don’t need to worry about me, I promise.” I gave her a hug, and p icked up my suitcase from beside the front door, before throwing it into ol’ Rusty . Now the hard part. I knocked on Anna’s door, dreading the coming minutes. Anna answered her own door, with a smile on her face, when she saw me. But it qu ickly disappeared when she saw the look in my eye. “What’s up Jake?” She asked nervous ly. “I’m going away for a year, Anna. I’m going to be taking some classes abroad.” I said it evenly, not letting my voice shake like it wanted to. I couldn’t show any weaknes s now. “I won’t be gone very long, and I won’t be upset if you don’t want to see me agai n.” Which was a flat-out lie. But I knew that Draco and I needed to do this. “You’re going away for a whole year? For school?” she sounded as dubious as my mother. Sheesh. Did I come off as that big of an idiot? I didn’t even need Draco for my n ext fancy sentence. “Yes. I recently realized that my sense of purpose is non-existent, and I need to get away to discover myself and who I want to be. I need to become a better me f or myself…as well as for you.” “I can respect that. But it’s still such a long time. I’m going to miss you so much. W hen are you leaving?” Tears were welling up in her eyes. “I’m actually heading out right now.” I nodded my head toward my car. I took a few ste ps closer to Anna, and held her in my arms. She looked up to me, and kissed me o n the mouth. It was a wet kiss, but that only filled it with more emotion, and w e kissed each more urgently. Anna was my anchor to sanity, and I held onto her a s I would a life-line. We broke the kiss together. A silent agreement that we bo th understood what was about to happen, but not knowing what would happen after. I turned away from her, got in my car, and chased down the Chicago pavement, hea ding North. * * * I drove up to the top of the state, and headed for the Lake Michigan National Pa rk. I figured that since I wasn’t going to need my car for a while, and I couldn’t j ust leave it in a parking lot for a year, and expect it not to get towed, I took it off the road, and left it in some forestry that looked secluded. Draco led m e to a secluded region by Lake Michigan itself that was far away from any trails where hikers might find me. I had brought some camping supplies, so I made camp . A thought suddenly struck me. I stuck my head out of my tent, and from a kneel ing position asked, “Hey Draco, What am I going to eat for a year?” Abruptly there was an old man in front of me. I hastily crab-walked away from hi m. “Why thou wilt hunt, of course.” Draco said in his new form. “Know that this is not a physical body as thou perceiveth it. It is merely an illusion that I set up i n thy mind, to help thee with the mortal aspect of training.” “You mean karate, right?” I asked, a little disappointed. “No.” was all Draco had to say. Then, without warning, my mind was flooded with imag es. But they were more than just pictures. They were more like memories. They sh owed my hands in front of me, performing all sorts of martial artistic moves tha t flowed in and out of an enemy’s defenses, and crippling their offenses. Thousand s of strategies and fighting styles were etched into my mind and muscles. Then h e showed me his memories. Pages in books, memories of Draco watching peasants fi ghting hand to hand, and to my surprise, flashes of fight scenes that he had pul

led from my memories that belonged to action movies I had seen. “Since these movem ents and counter-movements have been observed by me, and because I reside in thy mind, I need only implant the techniques and memories in thy muscles, and they will become thine.” “So what you’re saying-“ I shut my mouth as the Draco figure lunged at my throat. A su rge of adrenaline slowed the world down as it hit my bloodstream. My senses expl oded with a vivid awareness. The blades of grass under my bare feet each became an individual entity that I could sense. The silence of the woods roared in my e ars as Draco-man was still taking his first step. The air was moving in slow mot ion too, just like everything else, sending slight vibrations at my skin at an a lmost imperceptible level, alerting me that the danger was not in front of me, b ut behind me. Instinctively, I dropped to the ground with my left knee bent, kee ping my right leg extended and spinning in a clockwise direction. It swept the r eal Draco-man to the ground, just as his foot touched the ground. As he was fall ing, I stood up, and grabbed his right arm with mine at the wrist. He smacked hi s head on the ground, and the rest of him came flopping after. I knelt on his ch est, and maneuvered his captured arm so that it was at a right angle. My left ar m, seemingly of it’s own accord, snaked it’s way under his bicep, and grabbed my wri st, which was parallel to his upper arm, and cranked. He let out a strangled sou nd of pain, so I let him up. He punched me in the jaw. “Fool!” He cried, booming again. “Never show weakness!” “So you would rather I broke your arm off?” I fumed at him. “It is not me!” He said. Crazy old dragon. “It is just a physical construct in thy min d. I would cause me no pain. But,” He acknowledged, “Thou didst sense the danger, an d defeated it appropriately. Well done.” He finished smiling up at me. The following year was one I shall never forget. Draco and I became fast friends as he trained, and worked with me. Martial arts were only dealt with on that fi rst day, since it was only a matter of Draco “downloading” the moves to my muscles a nd nervous system. The next 9 months were spent learning how to meditate and foc us. The thing is, in order to access the powers Draco gave me, I had to learn to concentrate while being assaulted by distractions. If you’ve ever sung in a duet, you know what I’m talking about. Trying to sing your harmony, while someone else is belting out their pretty little melody. Needless to say, it takes practice. D raco helped a lot though. He had infinite patience, and labored diligently to he lp me understand the basics. Imagine your favorite memory, in devery detail. Now imagine a fist coming at your face, and your only chance of not getting clobber ed, is focusing on that memory. It takes a lot of time to get used to imminent t hreats to your health. After I was desensitized to the pain, he let me know all of my abilities, and to ld me how to use them. They were all “automatic” like my sticky fingers, as long as I held my focus (remember the happy memory?) in place. I won’t go into the specif ics right now, but I will tell you the most important of them all. “ I can turn into a dragon?!” I exclaimed. “Don’t kid thyself.” In the past months, Draco had caught onto most of modern-speaking terms, but he couldn’t quite drop the “thee’s and thou’s”. It sounded pretty ridiculous a t times. “Thou could never pass off as a dragon. The being that thou wilt become i s known as a Dragon Knight.” I stilled my racing thoughts, and reached for the power. Instead of claiming a s pecific aspect of trait, I went for the whole enchilada. “Don’t do that!” Draco stopped me. “Thy body is not meant to handle all of my power.” “I thought that’s what you told me to do.” I replied. “I must not have explained correctly,” he said in his infinitely patient voice. “Inste ad of taking all of the power, simply make a contact with all aspects of it. Thi nk of the power as a sphere, and all thou needest do, is wrap it in the folds of thy consciousness.” “Oh.” I said, chagrined. I tried again, and felt the change start immediately. It us ed to take me 15 minutes to reach the focus, but now I could do it in less than a second. The heat washed over my body and I got the tinglies all over. “It is done.” Draco said. “Go, and examine thyself in the river yonder.”

I crossed the now-familiar clearing, noting the plentiful scorch marks along the way. Yup. Learning fire-breathing had been fun. Beyond a pair of notably large oaks, the ground descended to the riverbed. The water was pure. The only kind that exists away from civilization. I stared i nto it’s depths, and just stared. My body had really changed! I no longer had hair on my head. Instead, it had a pattern of scales covering it. Two mall horns jut ted out of the back of my head, protruding about an inch-and-a-half skyward. My eyes were snake-like, and yellow. My mouth had suddenly filled with fangs. Yikes ! My body was green, and gave off the impression that nothing could bend it to i t’s will. I reached for my chest, but stopped myself. Seeing how sharp my fingers had beco me. I don’t care how hard my skin looked. My “claws” looked lethal. I hadn’t noticed bef ore, but I was walking with a different gait. My freaking legs were backwards! A s I realized this, I toppled over. It’s an odd feeling with your legs bending the wrong way. After a few attempts, I clumsily made my way to my feet. I really was a Dragon Knight. Draco trained me in my new body for the last three months. It turned out that I also had some hidden wings. They could disappear at will, just like every aspect of the Dragon Knight. Draco taught me the physics of flying, using the air to m y advantage, using my dragon eyes to see where the updrafts were, caused by hot air. It took some getting used to, but eventually I became an aerial ace. Oh yes. Throughout the year, Draco ran me through a brutal physical workout each day. And by “workout each day”, I mean a different workout each day. It was a grues ome process, but it definitely paid off. I came to the wilderness as an inexperi enced camper, who was wimpy at first glance. Now I was a determined woodsman who knew how to hunt I had sun-bronzed skin from hours in the daylight. And I had d eveloped calluses from hard work. In late June, I packed up my camp, and headed back to rusty. I was ready to make my contribution to society. Chapter 3: A Day in the Life Present day… On the way back to Ali’s house, I swung by the police station, and dropped off the thug’s gun, filed a report, and told them where to find the creeps. Then I starte d trying to formulate an excuse for Ali’s current condition to tell her father. “Why don’t you simply tell Mr. Palmer the truth?” Draco asked. He’d gone three years wit hout speaking like a fossil. Snaps for Mr. Modern. “It doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary.” “Except, “ I stated as if the problem was apparent. “that when people get mugged, both members of the couple become victims. I don’t want him to think I beat up on his daughter, because that’s what it’s starting to look like to my inner skeptic. And th en there’s the little matter where normal people don’t turn into super powered creat ures of the night.” “Suit yourself.” Draco replied. I carried Ali up the front steps to her house. I rang the doorbell, and waited p atiently for Mr. Palmer to answer the door. I could afford to wait because Ali, this angel from above, weighed nothing to my enhanced muscles. Mr. Palmer opened the door, and blanched when he saw Ali, unconscious, in my arm s. My face probably looked really guilty in that moment. His didn’t hold the expec ted anger, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t upset with me. “May I come in Mr. Palmer? My arms are getting tired.” I lied. “Yes. And then you can explain what happened to my daughter.” He said sternly. We wandered through the catacombs of the upper floor, until we reached Ali’s room. It was probably the size of my whole apartment! The walls were a bubblegum pink , with wallpaper in the design of a rose garden. To the left of the entrance, wa s her closet that I conspicuously avoided looking into. Beyond that, was a large mirror attached to a vanity desk. Covering the desk was an assortment of make-u p supplies. On the wall opposite the entrance, was a large window looking over t he front lawn, which, from this view looked like a big slice of pizza. To the ri

ght of us, and our destination, was Ali’s appropriately named queen-sized bed. I l aid her down on it, after Mr. Palmer had pulled down the blankets. He tucked her in, as I tried my best to be invisible, which I could have, if I wanted to. He turned his stony gaze to me, and indicated that I follow him, down to the front room. We made our way back to the ground floor, and he turned to me, a silent plea for an explanation in his eyes. “Before I jump to conclusions, I want to hear what ha ppened, from you. Why is my daughter unconscious?” “We were leaving the mall, to come back here, when some muggers came and attacked us. Ali was behind me, and they hit her when I couldn’t see them coming. They aske d for my money, and any expensive things Ali was carrying. I emptied my wallet t o them, and convinced them to leave Ali alone. After they left, I brought Ali he re.” I hoped that he would buy it. I didn’t feel like telling him I had a 2,000-year old dragon in my head, that gave me magical powers. That kind of thing just doe sn’t hold water. “’Convinced them’ huh? How’d ya swing that?” He still looked skeptical. Super. “Well…” I said, stalling. “I took the guy’s gun, ‘cause he was standing so close to me, and held it at him. I took self-defense classes a little while ago” Draco smiled at th at. “and learned how disarm an opponent. After they saw they had lost their weapon , they turned tail and ran.” I hoped that was a more believable story. “I believe you.” He said quietly. His smooth voice sent goose bumps down my spine. “I’m sorry I doubted you. Please accept this as a personal thank you, and to repay wh atever you lost.” He pulled out his checkbook. I started blushing profoundly. “No thank you, Mr. Palmer.” This was not at all what I had expected. Mr. Palmer really fell far from the “Date’s Father” tree. “It wasn’t that much money, and I’m just as glad as you are, that Ali’s safe.” I didn’t want to get pai d for the lies I had told him. Even though it was a good cover-story. “If you insist.” He put the checkbook away, and gave me a hug like the one he had gi ven me a few hours before. Thank goodness you were there to help my princess.” Coi ncidental nickname? I think not, pizza-boy. I’m on to you. “Don’t mention it, Mr. Palmer. Seriously. I don’t want Ali getting any ideas of false heroism.” I smirked at my cleverness, but Mr. Palmer didn’t catch it. His piercing green eyes shone, as he said, “God bless you, son. Thank you again fo r saving Allison.” He patted me on the back, as I headed out the door. Dan was already at the hideout when I showed up. Dan and Thomas were two of my b est friends. I’m pretty sure that we were “cut from the same cloth”—so to speak. We all met in our elementary school class, and spent all of our time together. Although lately, Thomas had been spending more time away from Dan and myself. Dan had rich, dark skin that looked like milk chocolate. His tight ebony curls c overed his head in a solid layer. Dan had stuck with me through so much, always supporting me with whatever help he could offer me. Thomas had been there for me too. Thomas was almost the opposite of Dan in every way. He had platinum-blonde hair that was wavy in every sense of the word. His startling blue eyes seemed to pierce me whenever we met each others’ gaze. His fai r skin could have passed him off as an elf from middle earth. But when it came t o problems, Thomas tended to tackle them, instead of solving it He had a strong passion for winning that came in handy over the years. But when it came to secre ts, and help, Dan was the one I knew would help me. Dan was the first person, besides my family, that I saw after my “study abroad” sess ion up north. After being in semi-solitude for so long (I was never completely a lone anymore), Dan’s friendship was a forgotten luxury. I missed having someone to talk to, about anything and everything going on in my life. After Dan stopped f reaking out, he thought it was kind of cool. He started calling me up, and paint ed an image of grandeur. He wanted me to be a super hero, and do daring do’s. I ha ve to admit that the thought had crossed my mind, As Draco had obviously seen on our first encounter. The more I believed the dream that Dan gave me, the more I thought it would be a good idea. But first we needed a base of operations to wo rk from. We spent a few fruitless weeks looking for a place we could work from. It wasn’t l ike we could just plug stuff into a rented cubicle, and pay rent. So we went hun

ting for an abandoned warehouse, or something. We got close. After two weeks, we finally came across a boarded-up gas station. We asked around, and discovered t hat they had closed it 10 years earlier. Dan and I cleaned the place up, and bro ught some emergency supplies for the “what would happen if…” situations. Next, we pool ed our money together, and got some has generators, so we could bring in some ac cessories. We also got a nice couch that was to die for. The first problem we ran into: police scanners. Apparently the police don’t take k indly to snot-nosed teenagers asking for police radios. So I had to be all sneak y-like. Draco had taught me how to use a camouflage-like power. It wasn’t complete invisibility, but all Dan could see of me was a slight distortion in the air as I crept toward a parked police cruiser. The cop was parked outside of some stor e. We got the police scanner with no problem, and it was gleaming in the boarded up window as I walked into the “hideout” in the present. Dan was wearing his usual gray hoodie that he wore so no one would recognize him , as he entered. I thought it was a hassle he didn’t have to bother with, since he made sure no one was looking before even going near the place. He rushed over to me, a worried expression on his face, mixed with excitement. T he small TV that was on the opposite wall was on the news. “…the two suspects are fl eeing down 3rd street, and are heavily armed…” “Jake! It’s all over the news, and the scanners. The Chicago savings and bank were r obbed about 10 minutes ago, man. You gotta get over there, and do something!” He s tarted flipping through his handy dandy notebook, looking up details I presumed. “They have to m40 shotguns. From the footage they showed on the news, it looked l ike they shaved the barrels down way below the legal limit. This is some dangero us stuff. These guys mean business. But I know that won’t stop you. Let mu just se e where they are now.” He turned his back to me, so he could focus on the radio sc anners. I had been listening to the scanner the whole time. I knew where they ha d gone to. By the time Dan turned around to inform me of his findings, I was lon g gone. * * * The last time I had checked, the bad guys had reached 7th St. So I headed that w ay. I had stepped out of “Sector 8” (so named because it was more secretive than sec tor 7), and immediately launched myself into the air, transforming and summoning my wings as I went. The best thing about Chicago is also the worst thing about Chicago-the wind. I m ean this town is seriously windy. You know those movies that show the leaf falli ng slowly to the ground, being carried by the gentle breeze. It’s almost hypnotic to watch the little leaf get tossed this way and that. When I go flying, on patr ol through the skyscraper canyons, I become that leaf on the wind. Let me tell ya—it ain’t fun. I jumped into the night sky, and was immediately buffeted by a strong gale. I wa s just glad that it wasn’t raining. Three guesses what happened next. The rain did not fall gently. Somebody up there dumped a big ol’ bucket of the wet stuff on me. Suddenly, it was all I could do to stay airborne. So instead of ju st riding the currents the way a lazy Dragon Knight might do, I pumped my avail muscles, and used my powerful tail as a rudder to guide me to my destination. I focused on the street signs as I was flying by. 5th Ave., 1st Ave., Main St., 3r d St., 6th St. As I press on, I heard the familiar, faint *pop* of distant gunsh ots. I flew higher on a nearby updraft, and rode it until I could land on the Wi lkinson Building, overlooking Pioneer Court. I folded my wings around me in a ma keshift cloak, sheltering me from the elements as I looked down on the scene bel ow. The robbers, whoever they were, definitely had their shotguns cut down to size. Most people grasp the concept that shotguns are cool because their bullets sprea d out over a distance. What they don’t understand, is how much it spreads. At abou t 100 yards, the most they’ll spread out is about as big as my spread hand. That’s w here the shortened barrel gets it’s illegality from. The shorter the barrel is, th e more spreading the bullets are able to do. It’s not very effective when taking o n enemies from far away, but it doesn’t take more than one bullet to puncture the skin, or cause internal bleeding from armor impact.

I didn’t waste time. Every second I stood watching was another chance someone coul d get hurt, or taken hostage. I leapt off the building, and started my freefall. When I was about 20 feet off the ground, I snapped my wings open, catching a po cket of air that slowed my decent comfortably. It also made a muffled “boom” sound, announcing my arrival. After all, you only get one first impression. The cops pe eked over their cruisers to see what was going on, and the guys with the illegal boom-boom sticks were just as curious. When I go into a fight, I have to be careful. Because most of the bad guys I fac e—alright, all of them—are mere mortals. So, to start things out, I threw them a fireball. The giant plume of flame was one of my favorite ways to start a battle. The effe ct was massive, but not very intense, because it covered a wide berth with not a lot of juice behind it. The guys instinctively raised their arms in front of th em. I jumped after my fireball, while the bad guys weren’t looking. I did a front flip as my wings dissolved into my back, then tumbled through the air, to land b ehind them. I picked the first goon up bodily, and jumped away with him, and spl ashed into a puddle—30 feet away. I tapped him on the jaw just hard enough to put him out. I set him aside, face-up so he wouldn’t drown, as goon #2 came wading tow ard us, through the gathering precipitation. Just for jollies, and because I lik e to be intimidating, I summoned my wings and blew a gust of wind that carried s ome water into good #2’s face. Something must have been in the stuff, ‘cause he star ted screaming as it entered his eyes. I chuckled to myself as he kept whining. I poked his right shoulder, and he looked up at me through bloodshot eyes. “You kno w,” I began in a dangerously low voice. “they give you a free toaster when you open up a new account at the bank.” I continued with a hissing drawl. “Let that be a less on to you: take the toaster, or be toast.” On the last word, I filled my mouth and eyes with flame. The guy must have wet his pants, but I couldn’t tell. He rolled his eyes back in his head, and he toppled backwards. I picked up the M40’s, and took them over to the cowering cops, wrapped in my wing s again. The officers looked new. I don’t think they’d met me yet. I try and make my self known, but nobody’s perfect. I handed them the guns, while they tried their b est not to touch my claws…or look scared spitless. “What are you?” The younger-looking cop asked. “I am the Dragon Knight. And don’t worry, I’m on your side.” I always made sure to make the right kind of first impression with the right kind of people. After all, my parents didn’t raise me to be some kind of Neanderthal. Before they could say anything else, I fled to the skies, heading back to Sector 8. I landed in the alley out to the back of the old station. I shrank back to n ormal size, and started to turn around, when I heard the hammer of a gun being c ocked, and a calm dangerous voice said, “Don’t move, or I’ll kill you.” Boy, I would have done anything to be at a late-night movie right about then.

Chapter 4: Back Home Four years ago… I stepped inside the door to my home, having barely remembered how to navigate t he street signs in this no-foreign jungle. My mom was home, and she rushed to ta ckle me in an air-stealing hug. She did it so fast that, due to my recent traini ng, I almost attacked her back. But I let her assault me anyway. It was a relief to make physical contact with someone in a non-violent way. She gently brought herself away from me, with tears in her eyes. I had been gone for only a year, b ut the emotions her hug brought with it were surprisingly powerful. But I did as Draco had taught me, and shut my emotions away for later. I told my mom about my year abroad. Or at least something a normal person would have done: that I visited some schools, and took some classes. I told her that I had learned a lot, which was true. Draco had taught me a great deal more than c

ombat. He taught me about nature. He explained philosophies that had been consid ered by the great minds. Is it necessary to listen to every word in a sentence? Should we only help people with big problems, or go out of our way to let others know that they are not alone? What does it mean to be a person? How do you cope with failure, when you were too late to do the right thing? Draco would ask one question after another, testing my knowledge, as well as my moral decision-maki ng skills. At first, I had made stupid mistakes, or I would give simple answers. But as time progressed, so did I. instead of answering right away, I would cons ider the consequences of my decision, and answer accordingly. Or other times, I would meet Draco’s question with one of my own. “If power is too much for thee to handle, and it corrupts thee, how dost thou give it up?” was an example of Draco’s philosophical questions. I would smile knowingly, recognizing that he could be referring to removing the power or the corruption. So I asked him in kind, “What qualities have I lost, that will make me whole?” Indeed, I had grown, and matured greatly since I had met Draco. He was my teache r, my companion, and above all, my friend. We hadn’t taken on any of the low-lifes yet, but it felt like we had been through a lot together. And it seemed that I had rubbed off on him, as he had on me. He started using modern-day terms instea d of medieval ones. But he still clung to those annoying “these & thous” that pretty much drove me crazy. After my brief recollection my mom about the past year, I headed up to my room, to go to bed. Inside my room, I noted that on the green LED display on my clock, the time was 11:30 PM. My father must be asleep already. I flipped on the light switch, and s aw that my nostalgia-inducing room was clean. I had never kept it organized in a ny way. My mom must have had withdrawals at some point during my absence. She pr obably had taken it harder than I originally thought. My window was opposite the doorway, framed by discreet brown curtains. As you walk in my room, everything, except my closet, is on the left. My walls are tan, with a tasteful black trim lining the ceiling. My bedspread was a blue, plaid design that complimented the wall color very well. My dark oak bedside table held my generic lamp, lighting m y room with a warm glow. Once upon a time, I would have relaxed, and flopped down on my bed, letting the world’s weight pass on by. But as I looked on the familiar scene, I felt only empt iness. This room could not bring me the reassuring place that I needed. Only mov ing forward could bring me that. Only pushing myself to the limit could let me r est easy. But I knew, deep down, that I would never rest easily again. I couldn’t let myself afford a moment’s easiness, knowing that there were people that needed my help, and I had the power they needed. I had to do whatever it took, wherever I was needed, whenever I was called. “Jake!” My mom yelled from the kitchen downstairs. “Dan’s been calling for you for the p ast week. He wants to know when you get home.” Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. People were already calling for me. I had to open up my little book of my friends’ number s, and look up “Dan Charleston”. I dialed his number, and waited. “Hello?” Came Dan’s unfamiliar voice from the other end of the line. He sounded tired.

“Hey Dan, it’s me. It’s Jacob.” I said nervously. I didn’t know how he’d react from hearing from me, after I bailed on him for a year. “Jake?! What the heck? Where have you been, man? When did you get back?” “I just got back, and my mom told me you’d been calling.” I didn’t know whether to tell Dan the truth or not. I wasn’t exactly close with my parents like Dan was with his . I was definitely closer to Dan tan I was to my folks. But I still didn’t know if I wanted to tell him about Draco. What I did know was that we needed to talk. I missed my best friend. “Dan, can you meet me at the ‘Shake Shop’?” “Sure thing, dude. What’s up?” “I just need to talk to you.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought it wou ld be a good idea to trust Dan. But I’d have to get some one-on-one time to make s ure. I was sure it would do more harm than good, if people were aware of my…situat ion. Even if it was my best friend. People change over time. I was living proof of that. So the only way I could make sure of Dan, was to see him in person.

“Alright Jake. I’m here for you.” His voice was tired, but determined. I believed him. “Just let me get some clothes on.” I chuckled at that. His friendship was always a foundation in my life, and it was a comfort to be able to know he was there for me. I shrugged into my coat, moseyed (yes, I actually moseyed) down the stairs, and out the door. The “Shake Shop” looks like something out of the “swinging 50’s”. It had the red and white -striped carousel shape. If you were a first-time customer, you wouldn’t be sure w here the front door was. Having come here for years, I located the double front doors, and entered the little creamery. Technically it wasn’t just a creamery anym ore. After the owner, Sam, had gone through a particularly good streak of busine ss, he had invested in a stove, a rotisserie grill, and took time to get some se rious cooking skills. Now, in addition to shakes, Sam sold hamburgers and hot do gs. His food was far from ordinary. It was considered by many, myself included, to be from heaven itself. Just walking in there, as I was now, set my drool fact or on maximum output. The interior of the “Shake Shop” carried the theme from the outside. There were boot hs lining the circular walls, full of red benches and cozy tables. Between the b enches and the middle of the room, were some free-standing tables surrounded by cushioned stools. In the middle of the round shop, was where same “lived”. He had an elegant bar counter that separated the customers from Sam’s workspace. From the c ounter, you could see everything he was doing. It was just something that furthe r convinced me that Sam was an all-around good guy. I walked in, and saw Dan sitting at the counter. I walked up and tapped him on t he shoulder. He turned around, and grinned up at me from his seated position. “Hey man, you look…older.” “Thanks Dan. My confidence is now overflowing because of your sensitive remark.” I s aid easily. “Sorry Jake. I didn’t mean it like that.” It didn’t look like he was very sorry to me. “Wh at did you want to talk about?” “Something important but not here.” I didn’t want to sound too crazy, so I added, “I jus t need to stretch my legs.” “You got it.” I knew he didn’t believe me, but he went along with me anyway. We walked around the city. I kept asking Dan about what had been going on. He ha d attended a few semesters and the University of Chicago. He had a job as a mana ger at a local bookstore, to boot. It sounded like things had been going well fo r him. Our stroll took us all over the city. At one point, I realized that we had gotte n to the middle of a deserted park. By this point, I honestly believed that I co uld tell Dan about Draco. So after he told me about what was going on in his life, I told him what had bee n going on in mine. I told him everything. Everything that happened to me. And D raco helped me out with the details of what happened to him. “So you expect me to believe that you have a ‘dragon’ in your head that you found in t hat cave we found you in, and that he gave you super powers? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? !” “I’m telling you the truth, Dan. You’re my Bro. and I just need you here, man.” “I get you. But I just don’t think I know how to believe that. It hasn’t ever happened before, outside of comic books. Can you, ya know, show me?” He sounded honestly c urious, and it did sound like he wanted to believe me. So I showed him the sign of Draco. “That’s your proof? That looks like some two-bit tattoo job. If you just wanted to s how me your tattoo, man, you could have just told me. Heck! I probably would hav e showed you mine!” I was slightly alarmed that Dan had a tattoo. But that didn’t ebb my gathering rag e. “Look Dan, I need you to believe me. I don’t care that you have a tattoo. This is not a tattoo.” I pointed at my pecs. “This is burned flesh from when I took the sca le through my skin. It hurt like crazy, and it endowed me with the power of magi c, and you’re laughing at ME?!” Dan looked ashamed. “I’m sorry man. You really got burned there?” “Yes.” Was all I said. I wanted him to believe me. I wanted it more than I wanted Sa

m’s triple-patty cheeseburger supreme. That was a serious statement indeed. But I realized that looking at a Dragon Knight could be a little unsettling. Just a bi t. So instead of “shifting” all the way, I simply reached into my power, as I had so many times before, and forced it into the form of a fireball, inches above my b are palm, casting a gentle orange glow on both of us. Let me just say that it was a good thing I didn’t turn into a big green monster. Dan nearly tripped over his own teeth in his haste to get away from me. He let o ut a yelp, and tried to crab-walk in the opposite direction. “Holy crap!” He squeale d in a manner similar to how I would have, were I in his situation. “What are you?” “I am a Dragon Knight.” I said, my voice full of power. “But I am still you friend, Ja cob Cornelius Flintwood. You can trust me.” I really wanted to press that point. “Your eyes are glowing, and you have a fireball in your hand. How does that make y ou a dragon-whatever?” “I’d show you, but I think it best if we burn that bridge another day.” I didn’t know my eyes lit up when I used my power. Oh well, all the better for me. “Cool, cool. I believe you. Could you put that thing…away?” I did as he asked and he s tood up again. I gave him a clap on the back, grinning. “So what do we do now?” he a sked his eyes widened. “You could totally fight crime as a superhero!” His excitemen t was gathering. “First, we need to get you some transportation. Then,-“ “I think we’re good on that front.” I said, cutting him off. “I have wings.” His eyes all but bugged out of his skull. “You can fly too?!” I half-expected him to start foaming at the mouth. “That is so unfair! But just think about being able t o save people with your powers. All the good you could do!” “I’ve thought about it, believe me.” He nodded frantically at that. “I just wanted you t o be there with me, and, ya know, help me out.” “You’ve got my support, man. The only thing I think you’re missing now is a secret bas e.” He had a point, of course. But I had no idea what I was supposed to do about it. “I don’t know any places we could use. Do you?” “Not off the top of my head. But I’ll look around.” “Alright, let me know.” We left the park, and bounced some more ideas off of each ot her, before we separated back to our homes. * * * I came in through the door of my home at about one in the morning, only to be ca ught up in a hug full of perfume that brought with it a fistful of memories that piled rived their way through my thick skull. “Hello Anna.” I managed. I couldn’t rea lly think of anything to say to my girlfriend that I’d left behind. Had she missed me? Had she fallen in love with someone else? And more importantly, had she for given me? Judging by the lack of oxygen in my lungs, it was a resounding yes. I held her gently, and we didn’t say anything for a while. We had been apart for a y ear now, and we had no idea what had happened to the other. All we knew was that we had this moment together. I liked it a lot. I held her to me or a few more minutes, then reluctantly let go. I noticed there were a few lamps on in the sitting room, and I walked Anna over so we could sit down on the white, floral-pattern couch. “It’s really good to see you Anna. How hav e you been?” It was so relaxing to be here with her. I could do it all night. Anna leaned toward me slowly, lips parted willingly, and… Slapped me in the face. I was so taken aback, that I yelped out loud and threw m yself away from her. It was more from shock, than actual pain. The most unsettli ng thing was that my training was absolutely useless in that situation. I didn’t e ven see it coming. Draco was choclaksjdldjfskdjfa;skdjf chortling somewhere in the back of my mind. “Shut up.” I thought to him. “That’s for leaving.” She slapped me again. “That’s for not ever writing to me, or talking to me in any way.” She was fuming now. I could see a tear about to fall from her left eye. “And this,” She said menacingly leaning in again. When she didn’t hit me, I relaxed. She tilted her head up, with her eyes half closed. After a moment to ge t off the emotional roller coaster, I realized what she was doing. I leaned down and kissed her softly. She kissed me again and again, softly, but with growing intensity. My hand held the small of her back, as she ran her fingers through my hair. All the while, our lips joined and parted in a slow, passionate, rhythm.

I felt her begin to end the kiss, and let her go. “…is for coming back. I thought yo u had died, or gotten yourself killed. I was so worried about you.” She lowered he r head from mine, and I saw her tears fall as she finally let them go. I pulled her into a hug. Not to show her I still loved her. She already knew tha t. I hugged her to let her know I was still here for her. That I wasn’t leaving an ytime soon. “I’m here.” I whispered in her ear.”I’m here.” She began to sob, and I felt he body shake as I rocked her gently. This moment, more than anything else, assure d me that I was needed to help people But I couldn’t tell Anna about my powers. It would be too dangerous for her to get involved. “I’m sorry I didn’t get a hold of you.” I really was. Draco had been furious at me for h olding onto things of the past. But looking at her now, I could sense that Draco wasn’t displeased with her in the least. “The whole point of me getting away to stu dy abroad, was to leave it all behind, and find myself. I couldn’t do that if I ke pt going back to the things I was attached to. I’m sorry I worried you.” I leaned my forehead on hers, to emphasize my point. Leaving Anna was probably the hardest part of my training. But I understood it had been necessary. “I know you are, Jake.” She gave me a rather wet smile that made her look absolutely gorgeous. “It was just hard to be here, alone.” Anna was a beautiful blonde hottie. She had been my high school sweetheart for t he last two years of high school. She had an absolutely flawless tan that made h er blue eyes pop out in the loveliest of ways. Her lips were like two rose petal s that positively glowed when she smiled. Ana was a very special girl who was ve ry special to me. “It wasn’t very easy for me either.” I thought back to the first days of training. Abo ut going to bed, thinking of the life that I had left behind, wondering if I had made the right choice. Then I remembered all the good that I’d be doing, and the people I’d be helping. But now I was back, and I had work to do. I stood up with Anna, and walked her to the door. She kissed me gently once more , and then she was gone. I stood in the lamp light for a minute more, then extinguished it, and was welco med by the night.

Chapter 5: Something Wicked

The first words most people learn is “no”. Some parents are concerned when this occu rs, afraid that “the cutest baby in the world” will turn into a rebellious teenager and then a contentious adult. That could happen. But just because the first word they learn isn’t “mama” or “dada”, doesn’t mean the kid’s a born troublemaker. It just mea they’re smart to start out with the easy stuff. Me? I’m a rebellious kind of guy. “Ups et the natural order!” “Stick it to the man!” That kind of thing. I’m also pretty stubbo rn. It usually takes a lot to persuade me to keep my mouth shut. Oddly enough, a gun threat in a dark alley is a very persuasive method. Back behind Sector 8, I looked into the darkness as my only normal exit was bloc ked by a very small tunnel that held a very sharp train that I was very keen to avoid. “What do you want?” I asked in a faux shaky voice. “’Cause if you want money, you’re the s econd me tonight, and I’m cleaned out.” “Don’t lie to me, Dragon Knight.” Chills ran down my spine. Whoever this person was, t heir voice was pitched low and gravelly. “That’s right. I know who you are.” My attack er leaned in close, and whispered, “and I know what you are.” He put the cold steel of the gun barrel on my bare neck. I threw my left elbow up, and to the back, hitting his gun arm away. As it was f ollowing it’s own momentum, I grabbed his elbow with my right hand, and his wrist in my left, and was about to snap it off when Dan’s voice came from the attacker’s m outh, in his usual tone. “Wait Jake! It’s me! I was only joking.” In his hands were a digital recorder, and a s crewdriver. I figured he must have used the recorder for the gun noises, and the

screwdriver was in the hand that had been holding the “gun.” “What the heck, man?!” I raged. “I could have killed you!” I was still pretty wound up a fter my little showdown in the shotgun corale not twenty minutes before. “Sorry Jake. I didn’t know you’d take it that way.” He lowered his head in shame. “How else was I supposed to react?!” I yelled. Dan flinched at the sudden increase i n volume. My face turned red as I realized how harshly I had been sounding. But I was still really scared at how close I had come to hurting Dan. We stood there in the rain for a moment, before I said, “I didn’t know it was you. Your voice didn’t even sound like you.” He grinned up at me, his teeth white against his dark skin. “Really? Did it really sound different?” His eyes looked really hopeful for some reason. “Yeah.” I said curiously. “I almost killed you because of it. I don’t know if you rememb er that part.” “I do! I do!” he said absentmindedly. “But I was practicing my voice skills. Ya know, just in case you need back up, or need help delivering threats. It turns out it’s also very effective when I just mess around with people. But I’ll make sure the vi ctim doesn’t have super powers, and stays out of arm’s reach next time. “Who knows? It might teach you a lesson. But I don’t think I have any use for a side kick who’s able to talk in a creepy voice.” But I’d have to take extra caution to make sure the alley was clear before I Shifted back to normal. “Just save the scary st uff for the bad guys.” I finished. “Alright Jake.” We started walking back toward the mouth of the alley. “The news chopp er covered the whole fight with those shotguns. The cameraman knew who you were, and didn’t mind giving a commentary on the whole thing.” “Well after five years of saving them, I hope people know who I am.” I said haughtil y. I could sense Draco’s agreement. We walked into the warm air of Sector 8, and took off our wet coats, throwing th em over the counter by the obsolete cash register. “He didn’t really need to. Aside from the rain, it was a pretty clear view. It was so cool when you let yourself fall off the building, and land dramatically. I thought that part was cool. Anyw ay…” I let him ramble on for a little while. My brain was entirely too tired to pay a ttention. “Jake? Are you okay? You don’t look too well.” He gave me a look I thought resembled t he look I gave roadkill, trying to guess what animal it had been. “I’m just tired” was what I tried to say. But the words got into a wreck on the way fr om my brain to my mouth, and all that came out was “Mjatard.” Dan’s look on intrigue d eepened as he cocked one eyebrow. I concentrated more, and said, “I’m really tired, I think I’m gonna go home.” I was real ly tempted to just camp out on “King Couch,” our amazing red sofa, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever get up again. I had started out the evening on a promising date, then I had to take care of, n ot one, but two crimes. Granted they weren’t very difficult, but adrenaline tends to wear me out. Then, after all that, my best friend scared me half to death. Ne edless to say, I had had a long night. I headed out the door, and Dan was right behind me. I drove back to my apartment, dropping Dan off at his home on the way . I got out of Rusty, and trundled up the stairs, and into my apartment. I flipped on the lightswitch that activated the lamps in the entryway. My apartment house s only me, and it’s not like I could fit another roommate in here. The walls were a faded green, the color of pea soup. Both of my hard, shag couches (count them, two!) were orange and tan, set in a plaid pattern. My carpet was a dull brown w ith the nubs of the carpet becoming stiff. The air constantly smelled like wet d og. I always loved coming back home. I shuffled like a zombie, into my bedroom, and didn’t bother turning on the light before hitting my pillow, and let exhaustion take me to oblivion… * * * I woke up in my closet-sized bedroom, with sun shining in through my window. It was slightly muted through my cream-colored curtains that I had picked out mysel f. I sat up in bed, and looked at my clock. It was 11 on Saturday morning. I jus

t love sleeping in. I showered, and got ready for the day. Just as I finished pouring my Lucky Charm s, my phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket, and saw Ali’s face on the little d isplay. Mentally kicking myself for not calling her sooner, I lifted the phone t o my ear, and answered. “Hello?” I said as if nothing strange happened last night. What was I going to say t o her. She wasn’t exactly stupid. “Jake! Are you alright?!” Her voice was frantic. My mind was racing, trying to come up with some excuse I could tell her, explain ing how our date ended abruptly, and the big goose egg she probably had on her n oggin. So I innocently asked, “What’s wrong, Ali?” “Don’t give me that! You know exactly what I’m talking about.” That wasn’t exactly true. I knew exactly what she thought she was talking about. I still didn’t know anything that happened after she woke up, so I wasn’t entirely sure anymore. “Actually I have no idea.” I said truthfully. “If this is about last night, I can expl ain-“ “There’s no need, my father already told me everything, and I think that I’m the lucki est girl in the world.” I could almost see her batter her eyelashes at me through the phone line. So she was told everything that I had told her dad. Hmmm. I guess I could live w ith that. “What exactly did he tell you happened?” I asked. I didn’t want to say anyth ing that she didn’t already know. “He told me that we were attacked last night, and that you saved us. He said you f ought them off, and then took me home.” Which wasn’t what I had told Mr. Palmer. I had had told him I paid the bad guys of f. He must have talked me up to Ali. I couldn’t have that. Secret identities aren’t any good if people get suspicious. “Well that’s not exactly what happened-“ I began. Ali ran me over again. “I don’t really care what happened. I just wanted to thank yo u for getting me home safely. “She took a deep breath. The whole ordeal must have been really exciting for her. I laughed when I imagined how ecstatic she’d be, if she had been awake for the actual event. But I knew she had to have one heck of a bump. “So, uh, how’s the battle wound?” I sai d, backtracking from the awkward subject. “It’s tender, but not unmanageable. It’s just a really big bruise on the back of my he ad.” She finished. She didn’t sound like she was putting on a tough act for my benef it. She sounded pretty alright. “Groovy.” I said. To be honest, I really was relieved. Who wouldn’t be? “Are we still going to the matinee today?” She asked. I had completely forgotten about our follow-up “study session!” Not that I had any o ther plans. “Are you sure you’re up to it? You’re not gonna pass out on me, are you?” If she’d been there in person, she would have punched me in the arm. I would have let her. “No,” she said in a dangerously sweet voice. “However I am feeling a bit naus eous. So I can’t make any promises.” There was that witty humor again. See what I me an? My girl ain’t slow. My phone emitted a tone, indicating that I had another call on the line. I lifte d the phone away from my face, and saw that Dan was calming me. “Hey Ali, can you hang on a sec? Dan’s calling me.” “Sure thing, sweetie.” She had upped the ante again. I smiled, and switched over to Dan’s call. “Phil’s Mystery Meat Emporium,” I said in my best Russian accent. “How may we boggle you today?” “What?” came Dan’s bewildered voice. “No. Jake, this is serious!” The word I would have used to describe his tone of voice would he panicked, not serious. I immediately switched personalities, and I felt Draco metaphorically p erk up his ear holes to the conversation. “What’s the situation?” “You know how those guys robbed the Chicago Savings and Bank?” I tried my best to gi ve him a look through the phone. Apparently it worked. “Of course you do.” He said, answering his own question. “Well CSI is down at the crime scene, to see what happ ened and, well, just look at the news; Channel 15.” “No thanks, I like to take a more ‘hands-on’ approach. Are they still down there?”

“Yeah. They got it all taped off and everything.” Alright, I’ll head over there right away.” “Good luck, man.” I switched lines again. “Ali?” I said, my voice hard. “What’s wrong, Jake?” Shea asked, worried. “What did Dan want?” I lightened up my tone. “Nothing too big. But I don’t think I’ll be back in time for t he matinee. Dan was just reminding me about a prior commitment I had made.” Wantin g to salvage some of the date, I added, “Maybe we can catch dinner and a movie lat er?” She got her flirt back on. “We did that last night. If we have time tonight, Why d on’t we do something else?” She proposed. I jumped at the thought, but I reeled in my emotions. “I’d love to Ali, but I don’t kn ow how long this will take.” “Alright,” She said, grudgingly. “Just call me when you get back.” “I wouldn’t miss you for the world.” I said. “Get well soon, okay?” I didn’t want her to fe l like I was avoiding her. “Okay.” She said, and then we hung up. I finished my Lucky Charms, and headed out to do business. * * * The roof of my apartment building was small, bare, and still wet because of the storm from the previous night. The skies, however, were clear save for a few fri endly-looking white clouds. The autumn air was crisp, and not as dominant as it had been. It was a good day. I got a running start towards the ledge at the end of the roof, and jumped off h ead-first. The wind blew briefly against my human eyes, causing tears to stream along my face. I Shifted into the Dragon Knight, and flared my wings slinging me up in a graceful arc, in the direction of the bank. I heard people gasp as they saw me fly by. Many people knew me now. The newspapers and news channels all ha d done their part in announcing “The Great Dragon Knight.” I even heard someone shou t my name from the ground, and I waved in the general direction it had come from . The Chicago Savings and Bank was on Woodruff Boulevard, which, conveniently, lay on the same street as my apartment. So I just headed south, down the street, a n enormous presence above the people below. “What do you suppose is happening at the bank, if the crime itself has already bee n resolved?” Draco asked me. “I don’t know.” I said aloud. “I probably should have checked before I left.” I acknowledg ed. “That probably would have been a good idea. Say!” He said sarcastically. “Maybe that’s w hy Dan suggested it!” Alright, So Draco had picked up a LOT of my personality over the past years. He was just having fun now. “I know. I know. But it’s too late now anyway. It’s water over the bridge, or in a spi lled cup, or wherever you like it.” Draco seemed to shake his head. Hey, I wasn’t in the mood for “I told-you-so’s” right then. Then again, I rarely was. “I guess we’ll just have to see when we get there.” Draco said solemnly. It took me about 10 minutes to get down to the bank. Rule #1 of Chicago: if some body tells you they live just down the street, clear all appointments for the da y. Lucky for me, I have alternate modes of transportation. When I got close to the bank, I saw a whole bunch of police cruisers out front. And, just like Dan had said, the place was plastered with yellow crime scene tap e. I angled my body down, my armor glinting in the sunlight. “Show off.” Muttered Dr aco. I came down for a landing, and alighted on one of cruisers’ hood. A nearby cob gog gled at me, and seemed unable to speak for a second. I was about to introduce my self, when the officer seemed to regain his composure and said, “H-hello Mr. Drago n Knight. How can I help you?” It was always nice to be recognized. I stepped off the hood of the car, letting it rise back to it’s normal suspension height. I put my wings away, revealing the Sign of Draco on my chest. “Just Dragon Knight will do nicely, and I was just goin g to ask you the same question. What is your name?” My voice was deeper than norma

l, but I’m pretty sure my 7-foot reptilian body was the reason he looked so intimi dated. I’d have to ask Dan for some scary voice lessons. “Walters, sir. John Walters.” “Nice to meet you, John. I would like to go in, and assist with whatever happened in there.” I tried to sound friendly, and I think I did a pretty good job. John seemed to relax just a bit. “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t let any civilians in. Eve n those with special…circumstances. I’m sorry.” He really did look apologetic. I was just about to tell him what he could do with his “sorry” and scare him out of his pants, when an older cop came bustling out of the building. He had gray hair and a bushy moustache that looked like a giant dust bunny gathering under his n ose. He had chubby cheeks and a bit of a paunch that he carried will. He walked over to us in his cheap suit, not even looking at me as he turned to officer Wal ters. His nametag identified him as “Sergeant D. Kennedy.” “What’s going on out here?” he roared. I had met Sergeant Donald Kennedy a long time a go, and had since helped him with a number of cases. “This civilian asked if he c-could come inside the crime scene, and I denied him a ccess.” Walters was having a hard time maintaining eye contact with his boss. “And why, Officer Walters, did you do that?” Kennedy’s voice was as deadly as a snake about to strike. “B-because civilians are not allowed on the scene?” Walters didn’t sound too sure of h is logic. “This civilian,” Kennedy started slowly. “is an honorary member of the Chicago police department. And any hindrance to him will be considered an OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTIC E!!!” He was yelling at this point. He caught himself and lowered his voice back to normal. “Have I made myself perfectly clear?” Walters put on a mask of calm serenity but his voice wounded determined. “Crystal, sir.” Kennedy finally let Walters free of his gaze, and turned his attention to me. “Com e on Scaly, I have something to show you.” I followed Kennedy into the bank. On the way, I mouthed “I’m sorry” to Walters, but he flinched away from my fangs. So I waved to him, and walked inside after the lea ding Sergeant. What Kennedy had said was true about me being a member of the CPD. A few years a fter I had started “superheroing”, the cops had seen me as a dangerous vigilante, if that. Most had merely thought of me as a monster. So one day, I flew down to th e police station to introduce myself. It was an odd feeling, walking into a poli ce station full of gun barrels aimed expertly at you. I walked in with my hands up, and told them I didn’t want any trouble, and wanted to help. To make a long, l egal-process-filled story short, I filled out some paperwork, and poof! I’m an hon orary member of the CPD, able to consult with cops, as well as hunt and take dow n any of the baddies. A few of the cops had been a little bit concerned at first , but under Sarge Kennedy’s command, they trusted me, and it had paid off. And spe aking of which, being on the payroll meant I got a fat paycheck when I did offic ial cases, compared to spur-of-the-moment crimes. And today was starting to look like an official case. I mentally rubbed my hands together at the thought. I ha d been falling behind on my rent payments. “What’s going on, Sarge?” I asked as if I hadn’t seen him verbally abuse a grown man in the last minute. “We have a DB in the vault room. COD unknown. The wounds on the body don’t match the MO from those punks last night, with the M40’s.” He sounded tired. “How bad are we talking, here?” I asked nervously. “Really bad. I tried to get a hold of you sooner...oh wait. You won’t give me your p hone number.” Now he was dancing to a familiar dance. But I knew this tune all too well. “You know perfectly well why not, Sarge.” I hisse d back. “I don’t want my personal life to get mixed up in all this.” “Then just let me get one for you. If you are going to be on my staff, I need you to be available to me.” “Gosh Sarge,” I said in a mocking tone. “We haven’t even been on a first date. And I don’t want your techs tinkering with it, and installing a tracking device. If you wan t to get me a phone, I want it untraceable, and I want to have my own associates

to scan it for any gps chips.” Which was fancy-speak for Dan tearing the phone up , and examining it’s innards. My expertise was in the field of arcane manipulation of the cosmos. I didn’t know what the kids were playing with these days. Kennedy considered it. After grinding his teeth he said, “I suppose we could do th at.” I wasn’t sure if he was surprised I had agreed, or if he was disappointed at my terms. We walked into the vault room. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled blood before. You can’t really tell with scrapes and cuts you get as a kid. You know it’s bad when th e smell of blood fills the entire room. It’s an intoxicating smell, both sweet and metallic as it fills your senses. The vault room had nice, professional, gray c arpet, that was surrounded by white walls that somehow muted the feel of the roo m To our right, lay the vault. It looked like a pretty standard vault: Cold stee l, a bajillion locks, and had an overall look of being impenetrable. The thing t hat set this vault apart from others I had seen, was the corpse in front of it, soaking that nice carpet with a whole lot of blood. My mind recoiled at once, but Draco made me pat attention to details. I took an involuntary step forward. Don’t think I’m squeamish, ‘cause I’m not. I’ve seen plenty of g unshot victims. Lots of blood there. Pretty normal in the superhero biz. What I was looking at, was barely recognizable as a human body. To me, it just looked l ike a bunch of mangled flesh. To Draco, it looked like lunch. “Some of your guard dogs get off their leashes, Sarge?” I rasped. My throat was sudd enly very dry. “This is no time to joke, boy.” He said urgently, looking up at me. I was impressed with the man’s courage to look me in my yellow eyes. I made me feel uncomfortable, and naked. “This poor man was torn to bits, and we don’t know what did it And this isn’t even all of it.” He rolled the man over and tore back the guard’s shirt. Cold fear washed through me, down to my core. The strange part was, it wasn’t my f ear. Draco’s terrified emotions were affecting my body. On what was left of the gu ard’s back, on a perfectly clean patch of skin, was what looked like a tattoo. Upo n closer inspection, I saw the pattern was made out of burned skin, similar to m y own. It looked like a giant paw print with an elegant letter “H” inscribed in the middle. “What is it?” I thought to Draco. Nothing should scare the lord of the dragons this much. It was an irrational, inexplicable, and inescapable fear that screamed at me to leave the body. But I gritted my fangs as I waited for my answer. “It is the Sign of the Hunter.” Draco said ominously. “We are all doomed.” Oh. Super. Chapter 6: Goblins, and Hunters, and Screams, OH MY! “Well?” Said Kennedy impatiently, gesturing to the body. “This isn’t like any cult pract ices we’ve seen before. We figured it must be something from ‘your people’.” He sounded disgusted at being forced to believe in mystical gobbledygook. “I don’t know, Sarge.” I said honestly. But my mama taught me to use what I had. “I reme mber coming upon it in my studies a long time ago. That,” I said pointing at the g rotesquely shriveled skin. “looks like the sign of the Hunter. I don’t have any more information beyond that right now, other than the fact that we are all in very big trouble.” I paused a minute before adding, “I’ll go back and gather all the inform ation I can though.” I trusted Draco would be willing to help me find out about wh at was going on. But, thanks to Morgan Le Fay’s little curse, he didn’t really have a choice, but to help me. “I hate you. So much.” Draco snarled quietly. “See that you do, boy.” Sarge said, almost as menacingly as Draco had spoken. “Me and my men have no idea what we’re dealing with, here. But whatever it is, it clearly ain’t human.” His moustache seemed to bristle as he took an accidental glance at the pile of ruined flesh. “Believe me Sarge, I don’t want the Hunter running around any more than you do.” Someo ne with a good head on their shoulders took that moment to turn on the AC, takin

g the pungent smell of blood into it’s system. Even still, I didn’t want to stick ar ound here anymore. “What was the guard’s name?” I asked. “Trebor Nilbog.” He read from his notepad of details. “He was considered, by his co-wo rkers, to always be a little strange.” Sarge finished in a tone that sounded like he was reciting something from memory for the thousandth time. My stomach seemed to grab itself, and form an even tighter knot than it was alre ady in. I didn’t feel well. Trebor Nilbog was a horrible disguise of a name for an underground mystical thug named Robert “Bobby” Goblin. He just reversed his names, in order to get a human id entity. But as far as these things go, his name was pretty mundane. One Ricky Go blin, the boss crew of the Chicago goblins, decided his disguise name was going to be Afalapawookytang Smith. He didn’t want to attract any attention or anything. Over the past few years, I had run into the occasional magical villain. I use th e word “villain” because it just seems to emphasize my superhero charisma. Anyway, t here was a pretty bad infestation of goblins that came to town. Yes goblins. Sho rt, evil-looking, pointy-eared, leathery-skinned goblins. They have a natural af finity for gold. They had used their particular sets of magical skills to gather , and hoard large amounts of money that they “liberated” from certain banks. Kennedy had called me in, and Draco had noticed the method of theft, as goblin work. I was able to track them to their hideout, and rough them up a bit. I threatened t hem, putting on my best scary-superhero face, saying that I would keep an eye on them, making sure they were obeying mortal laws. One of the universal talents the magical community possesses is being able to ap pear human. Using this power, they are able to blend in. The mortal world is con nected to the magical one in a very discreet way. Ogres usually shrink down and get jobs as moving men for homes, or in shipping, but still looked mountainous. In contrast, Fairies would enlarge themselves, and usually got jobs as a chefs, where they could be close to all the shiny silverware and small ware. And Goblin s, of course, got jobs at banks. Goblins were a tough crowd, and they were plent iful in their numbers. Their cleverness allowed them to stand up even to an ogre . I’ll never admit it out loud, but I had just barely beaten Ricky’s crew. Ricky was the crime boss, err, goblin boss ‘round these parts. If someone had taken out one of his crew, he’d want to know who did it. I turned my attention back o Kennedy. “Like I said, I’ll keep you informed.” He seemed taken aback by the abrupt dismissal. I summoned my wings and wrapped them aroun d myself as I stalked back towards the bank entrance. I sank close to the ground outside, then powered into the air. The wind blew against my armored face, and I didn’t blink as I headed to my thinking spot. * * * When life feels like it’s too much to bear, most people think their problems will go away if they run away and escape from it all. Or they have the same thought p rocess as an ostrich: if you can’t see the problem, the problem can’t see you. When I get in over my head, which doesn’t happen as often as you might think, I li ke to retreat so I can think things out. My favorite place to do this, is on a p articularly grotesque gargoyle perched on the Metro Center. He has bulging eyes, with curling horns, and he is frozen in time while sticking out his tongue. I c all him Spike. I flew up 21 stories to sit with Spike. The whole ordeal at the bank had been qu ite foreign to me. I had come to know Draco as a confident, powerful, and unshak eable person. Seeing him lose it, as he had, was very unnerving. It was made eve n more so, because I had to feel it with him. “Alright, Lord of the Dragons, what is the Hunter?” I demanded. “It is a born nightmare. It was ancient when I was alive.” Draco began slowly. I sta yed quiet, so he could gather his thoughts. “The Hunter is not an antagonist. It o nly becomes violent when provoked… most of the time. Usually the Hunter only hunts those it needs to survive. But there was one time when it went out of it’s way to track and kill an innocent creature.” Draco hesitated, full of emotion, before go ing on. ”Some of my subjects reported to me, that the Hunter had started on the tr ail of my mate, Cassandria. The Hunter is ruthless in it’s methods, Jacob. It can

teleport, fly, climb anything, shapeshift, and is nearly as strong as I am. The thing that makes the beast so dangerous, is the fact that anything that remains in contact with it begins to decay and die.” Now I was beginning to feel my own fears beginning to gather. “And the reason it is the most lethal thing to us, is it’s fireproof hide. After the Hunter killed Cassandria,” Draco paused again. “I tried to kill it. The Hunter stan ds like a man, and has horrid yellow fur covering it’s body. It doesn’t have any eye s that I was able to see, so I couldn’t blind it. My fire seemed to just flow arou nd the body of the beast. After I had exhausted my efforts, the Hunter left me p owerless, laughing as it walked away. Cassandria died in my arms that night, and I was never able to find the Hunter again. My mate’s killer never crossed my path again before Morgan Le Fat locked me up.” Draco’s sorrow was filling me all over. I couldn’t have moved if I had wanted to. I was so depressed. “The Hunter showed up t hroughout history, making other people disappear, and eventually all the dragons were slain.” A great wave of a feeling of loss overcame me. “That is what you’re dealing with, Jacob. You must stay away from the Hunter. I coul dn’t defeat it in my prime. If the Hunter is killing the goblins, let the goblins deal with their problem. You cannot win!” Draco finished in an urgent voice. “Draco, keep your emotions to yourself.” I said fiercely. Immediately, the flood of feelings ebbed away. “Now let me make something clear.” I said in a firm voice. “Just because it’s someone else’s fight, doesn’t mean we have to stay away.” I stood up. “I mad e a promise to myself, when we first met, that I would help those people who cou ldn’t help themselves. If anyone needs my help now, it sure sounds like Ricky Gobl in’s crew.” I felt that weight of the world set in on my shoulders as I gathered my thoughts . I had to help the goblins that had once stolen money from banks, but last I ha d checked, the goblins had been in the clear, earning their money fairly. I had to take on an undefeatable animal of some kind that had killed the queen of the dragons. An animal that also, by the way, was thousands of years old, and had ta ken time to get to know it’s body, whereas I only had about five years to learn my skills. This creature was the reason dragons were extinct, and I was to succeed where the Lord of the Dragons had failed. And if I didn’t, the Hunter was going t o continue killing people, magical or not. But no pressure. First thing I had to do, was warn Ricky that he was in danger. Who knew? Maybe he’d have some new info rmation for me. So, without further ado, I jumped into the empty air. * * * Ricky Goblin, aka Afalapawookytang Smith, worked at a lower-end bank. Being the goblin crew boss, he wanted to maintain the safety of a less conspicuous positio n. Goblins are clever that way. The name of the bank he worked for was the New E ngland Bank, in the financial district downtown. I headed down that way so I cou ld ask my questions. When I got close to the bank, I perched on a nearby roof so I could do some reco nnaissance. I waited on that roof for an hour, watching unfamiliar faces come an d go. I glided down slowly, drifting in circles so I could still have control. I landed on the ground, and got the usual reactions from the nearby fans and nonfans: “Dragon Knight, hi!”, “Dragon Knight! Can you take your picture with me?”. One fel low came up in a black coat held tight around is neck. He pulled out a crow bar from who knows where, and swung it at my head. I caught it without effort. I the n proceeded to take it from his hands and scrunch it into a little ball of metal that would be far less effective of a weapon. Then I walked over to the ridicul ously attractive lady, who had wanted to get a picture with me, and smiled for t he camera as if a man hadn’t just tried to end my life. She did the same, and took the photo. Then she turned and planted a big ol’ smackerooni on my cheek, and tol d me she was my biggest fan. He, I wasn’t complaining. She swayed away from me, and I watched her go. Draco made me feel a slap on my f ace, and I paid my attention back to the bank. It seemed very small, compared t o all the skyscrapers surrounding it. It was a red brick building, with it’s big g reen “New England Bank” logo on top of it’s roof. I came in through the glass doors like I wasn’t a green monster, and because of th

at, people didn’t treat me like one…right away. I was going to head to where I knew Ricky’s desk was. As it came into view, my blood ran cold. Sitting across from “Afal apawookytang Smith” was Thomas. He was looking at Ricky with such hate, that I was taken aback myself. As for Ricky, he was cowering in his desk, while still mana ging to look furious. Thomas flicked his gaze over to the green blob at the end of his vision that was me. His eyes widened when he saw me directly, wearing not hing but my black shorts. He stood up haughtily, growled something to Ricky, and left down another aisle of cubicles, so he wouldn’t bump into me. I stalked over to Ricky, and casually asked, “What’s up, Rick?” Since he was in his “Mr. Smith” disguise, he gave me an even more terrified look than he had given Thomas. But I knew he was just doing it to buy time, and lower my guard. Psh! Amateurs. “Wh-What do you want?” he stammered in a shrew-like voice. I didn’t buy it. “Oh drop the act, Ricky. I’m here to warn you.” I said impatiently. “Is that a threat?” he asked as he lowered his voice, so no one would hear him. I sa w his dark, beady eyes shift back and forth, calculating. His entire disguise di ssolved, metaphorically, as he stopped looking terrified. “No, it’s not a threat. I’m just trying to help you. When was the last time you heard from your boy, Bobby?” “I am not an imbecile, Dragon Knight. I knew what happened to my right-hand man as soon as it happened. And besides that fact,” he smiled wider. “it’s been on the news all day.” I felt really dumb when he brought the news into it. “Well I just thought I’d come warn you someone might be after your boys, and even yo u. Plus,” I added wickedly. “I have some information you might not have in your curr ent possession.” Goblins obsess over money because it brings them power and respect. They love po wer in general. They don’t care what form it comes in. Knowledge, however, is some thing they love almost as much as money. Ricky’s eyes shone greedily, but his voice remained calm. “What could you possibly k now, that I don’t, about the situation?” “Let me ask you a question,” I ran my finger along his fancy plaque that said, “A. Smi th.” “What do you know about the Hunter?” Everyone was trying not to look at the big, green superhero interrogating the teller, and failed miserably. Ricky’s disguise paled as he heard the name. He choked out, “Why do you ask, Dragon Knight?” His voice was a strained whisper, but he seemed to be in control of himse lf. Which just showed that either he didn’t know as much as Draco to appreciate th e severity of the situation. Or he was a whole lot braver. I was betting he didn’t know as much. Draco appreciated that thought. “Because Bobby Goblin has the sign of the Hunter on his back. That means that he a nd his whole ‘family’ have been targeted. I just thought I’d let you know.” I decided to push the “trust” my little tidbit of info. gave us. “Do you have any idea why the fre aking Hunter would be after you? Any idea at all?” I leaned in close to him so he could smell my breath. Today it smelled like burning wood. I liked it a lot bett er than the days it smelled like sulfur. Ricky held his ground, as he told me, “I have no idea. Any reason the Hunter had t o kill Bobby are unknown to me.” The look in his eyes could have refrozen the pola r ice caps. You don’t look at people like that when you’re trying to convince them y ou’re telling the truth. You give them that look when you’re daring them to make the first move. I didn’t trust him. So I had to convince him that I was serious. “Well it’s yours and your crew’s lives on the line.” I pointed out. “All I want to do , is make sure we don’t see ‘Afalapawookytang Smith’ and his co-workers met their ends tha nks to the Hunter.” I said evenly. I stood up, and walked out the front of the bank, being watched constantly by ne rvous security guards. Just as I was about to fly off, I heard a whole bunch of huffing and puffing coming from behind me. I turned to see Ricky’s squat form wadd ling up to me. I was still pretty cheesed off that he hadn’t cooperated right away . So I didn’t bend down to his height until he asked me to do so. I enjoyed humili ating him. I hunkered down on my backwards legs, and gave him my cheesiest smile. We had ac quired quite the non-professional crowd who was eager to eavesdrop, unlike the o

ne we had just left. So, not wanting to blow Ricky’s carefully constructed identit y, I asked, “Do you have anything else to say, Mr. Smith?” He shuffled uncomfortably, and I swear to high heaven, the guy almost drew his t oe in a line, showing his bashfulness. “Yes I do.” Then he whispered, “The reason the Hunter is after us,” he didn’t speak for almost two minutes. After prompting him, he said, “The reason the Hunter is after us is because we stole and sold the Lethal Lotus.” His eyes were bugging, and his face had lost all color. “What is the Lethal lotus.” Whatever this thing was, it was apparently something the Hunter wanted, and that couldn’t be good. “Who did you sell it to?” If Ricky Goblin was going to answer me, anything he would have said was silenced by the deafening thunderclap of a gunshot. I heard the *zzeeuu* sound of the sn iper bullet a split second before it blasted through one side of Ricky’s head, and out the other, shattering as it hit the pavement. I gaped openly as Ricky’s magic dissolved Afalapawookytang’s body, revealing the grotesque form of a goblin. “Oh come on!” I yelled at the sky as I picked up the bloody corpse and flew away fro m the dumbfounded crowd. Whoever had killed Ricky had been a pro. The fact that the bullet had shattered after hitting it’s target had eliminated any chance foren sics and ballistics had of discovering the killer’s identity. Plus he had timed hi s shot just right, so I was left with my curiosity all aquiver. Freaking assassi ns. “What the heck is the Lethal Lotus?” I wondered to myself. “I don’t know.” Draco said unnecessarily. It still felt good to know I wasn’t the only o ne confused. I carried Ricky to a hill just outside of the city, and buried him properly. I’d h ave to let his crew know where he was buried, so they could pay their dues. Feeling the unsettling fear fester in my guts, I leapt into the gathering clouds , looking for answers. Chapter 7: Enter the Dragon’s Fang The clouds definitely looked less friendly. They seemed to swirl and change as r estlessly as vultures, ominously watching as lesser beings struggled with their overpowering loads. Lightning flashed, heralding the imminent boom of the thunde r that rattled the windows of the skyscrapers blow me, creating a subliminal fee ling of panic. Today had turned from a promising Saturday morning, into a nightm are full of bloody corpses. Oi. I was still very confused as to what exactly I had gotten myself into. I had nev er even heard of the Lethal Lotus. What had the goblins wanted with it, and to w hom had they sold it? This hadn’t helped me get anywhere near the Hunter. It only told me why Bobby Goblin was slaughtered, and all the goblins were targeted. And since they were the only ones who had the information about the Lethal Lotus, i t was very inconvenient to have them all killed. Those poor goons with the M40’s p robably had no idea what had happened. I stopped in mid-flight as a thought struck me. Could those idiots have only been pretending to be so ostentatious? What if I ha d been maneuvered by the Hunter to come into the open, so it could have it’s chanc e at me? A chill went through me as I realized how much danger I might have been in. It probably wasn’t very likely, but I had to be sure. I changed directions and headed toward the police department. I landed and walked right by, coincidentally enough, John Walters. He didn’t make any move to stop me, So I continued in. I strode into Sergeant Kennedy’s office, a nd when he lifted his head up from his dismal stack of documents, I asked, “Where are the burglars from last night?” “They’re in their holding cells, where d’ya think?” he said, insulted. “Take me to them.” I said, I followed him out of the office door and to the left. He stomped up the staircase that split at the top. We took the left side. The hal was dark. Every so often, we would come upon a pathetic fluorescent ligh t that looked like it would die. The walls were cold stone that looked like it b elonged in a janitor’s closet…or a dungeon. The prisoners themselves looked absolute ly miserable. Their beds looked if possible, even harder than the floor. And the

smell of the place reminded me of vomit, wrapped up in poop, and stuck in a cor pse. I was pretty sure that was precisely what lay in this prison. I was so disg usted, I almost made my own contribution. Kennedy led me over to a cell near the end of the abysmal corridor. Inside it we re the two men from the night before. When I saw them, I smile. When they saw me smiling, they tried to hide behind the toilet. Wise. Very wise. “Hello boys!” I said enthusiastically. “What can either of you tell me about the Hunte r?” They exchanged a long look with each other, wondering what answer wouldn’t get the m barbequed. Then Goon #1 said, “We don’t know what you’re talking about scales.” He fin ished with a nervous expression on his face. I knew they were telling the truth. I didn’t want to waste any more time here anyw ay. I had to go talk to Dan, and tell him what had happened. I walked back, out of the depressing cell block, and descended down the staircase, with my wing-cap e trailing behind me. I waved at Walters on my way out. He almost didn’t flinch, b ut I ignored his reaction. I walked out the door and flew off to Sector 8. * * * I was taking Remington Ave. from the police station. It gave me the route to Sec tor 8. Remington Ave. is the broadway of fast food restaurants. I could see four golden arches, two Subways, 3 Wendy’s, and a Pizza Hut. And that was on one block alone. People were parking and unparking, coming and going, eating and…sick of eating. I watched them all go about their business from my aerial perspective. There’s something about being able to fly, that just sets you free. I used to get annoyed with crowds, anxious even. Ever since I met Draco, things have been diff erent. I walk through crowds with ease in my heart, head held high, knowing that I am special. Knowing that, at any moment, I could leap into the sky, and leave behind these mere mortals. I could fly away, and have the sky all to myself, an d the wind in my ears, silencing all the intruding noises. Those solitary moment s were what made freedom seem the most real to me in this busy city. Just as I was enjoying the peace and quiet, somebody had to mess it up by way of grunting rather obscenely. I looked down, and in the twilight of an alley, I sa w a young man running away from an old guy who was doubled over in pain. It look ed like a classic “snatch-and-run.” “Hero time.” I muttered to myself. I thought this little bit of “normal crime” would hel p the burden of my quite absurd day so far. Heaven knew I needed it. I folded my wings close to my body, and plummeted in a perfect dive. When I was still a good ways off, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my ey e. I stopped my descent, and looked in the direction I had seen it. I couldn’t see anything but some smoke that was swirling above a rooftop. It was stained pink by a nearby light, I assumed. I looked back down at the would-be escapee, and saw that the same smoke glimmeri ng pink of it’s own accord. It was puffing right in front of the terrified thug. Out of the strange effervescence stepped a figure clad entirely in white. He wor e white boots that held the bottom of his white pants. His white button-up shirt was undone at the top, showing his bare chest. He had a white duster on, that h ung from his shoulders, and fell just below his knees. The part that made this c haracter most intriguing, was it’s alabaster helmet. It had three “fins” protruding fr om it, to the back. One from the middle, and one running along each side. The he lmet was form-fitting, ending in a pointed “chin,” and obscured the figure’s face, usi ng only two red eye pieces for vision. They were angled triangles that managed t o make him look intimidating. And finally, there was some kind of tube-like devi ce on his back, that reminded me of a thermos. The thug had been running with a slight irregularity, so I had been thinking of naming him gimpy…or skippy. I like to name my victims-I mean criminals. Skippy ski dded to a halt surprisingly gracefully. Sliding on asphalt is not as easy as it looks. Don’t try it at home. He stopped before the white figure, and they seemed to be talking for a time. I noticed a shift in Skippy’s body language, telling me he was about to attack. The white figure noticed it too, and delivered six consecutive punches straight down

the middle of the guy’s body in under two seconds. The final punch landing on Ski ppy’s face, laying him out. It was over fast, and it was done in an eerily efficie nt manner. I watched the whole thing from my bird-eye position, and blinked as I realized t he fight was already over. The alien-like man picked up the old guy’s wallet, and searched until he found Skippy’s wallet and emptied it into grandpa’s. Then he walke d over and gave the guy his wallet back. Then he reached into a compartment on h is glove, and withdrew a small pellet of some kind, and cast it on the ground in front of him. The capsule exploded, creating an instant ink smoke screen. Simul taneously, a pink cloud appeared on the roof to my left, concealing the white fi gure. He had used the smoke to teleport! He pointed to me with a finger, and ind icated for me to come over to him. I did so. When I landed on his rooftop, I asked him, “Who are you?” I didn’t know what to expect, but I sure was surprised when he didn’t speak “alien.” “My n ame is Fang. My intentions are friendly, I assure you.” His helmet distorted his v oice, making me grudgingly admit that his voice was very impressive. “Yeah.” I said, gesturing toward the alley. “I saw how you befriended that guy onto hi s back. Way to go.” Although I probably would have done the same thing, I just wan ted to see how he reacted. “You would have done no less, I believe, in order to ensure the safe return of the elderly man’s possessions.” He said. Sheesh! Could the guy read minds too? “Dragon Kn ight, I have been aware of you for quite some time, and I respect your endeavors . Please believe me, when I tell you I am your ally.” He did sound sincere. “I see.” I began. “But I have two major objections. (1) I don’t trust people who wear ma sks and are strangers, and (2) I work alone.” I didn’t want people risking their liv es doing what I did, just because they thought t was cool and looked fun. Fang didn’t speak to me for a moment. I heard his voice, muffled by his helmet, sp eaking to someone. Maybe it was some kind of radio, and he was reporting his act ivities to his boss. Maybe He was some kind of mercenary. He Shifted his head in my direction, focusing on me once more. “If I tell you who I am, would you accept my help in locating the Hunter?” I was shocked by the amount of knowledge Fang possessed. Now I was very cautious of who I was dealing with. If he really was friendly, removing his helmet would only build trust. If this was some kind of ruse, by a new enemy, I would have a n advantage over him, he didn’t have over me. It could only help. And besides, he hadn’t asked me to reveal who I was, so Ali, Dan, and my folks would stay safe. I sighed. “Yes. I accept your terms.” We stood on the rooftop in silence for a moment, letting the sounds of the city float up to us. It was transitioning from twilight into total darkness, except f or the never-ending glow of Chicago itself. Fang seemed to be considering the consequences of his decision. Maybe he wouldn’t follow through after all. Then he set his shoulders and said, “And I accept yours .” He reached up to the right fin and pushed a button I hadn’t seen before. Immediate ly, the front of his helmet *whooshed* up ad collapsed into the top of his helme t. Then the right side opened up in an invisible hinge in the back. Inside the r ight fin was a hollow space, full of little screens and lights, as well as a lit tle chair. Sitting in the seat was a white pixie. And that wasn’t even the weird p art. Sure, seeing a little man sitting in a leather recliner in somebody’s helmet is a little unnerving, but what was even more unsettling, was Thomas’s face giving me a grim look of determination as he lowered the helmet from his head. “My name is Thomas Phillips, and I have been Fang for a little over a day.” I raised my eyebrows at that. He averted his gaze, embarrassed. He didn’t blush like I can’t help but do. Lucky. Now that I thought on it, the must be really scared to have lost his secret identity after a day, and was standing exposed under the scruti ny of an iconic superhero from Chicago. And I felt sorry for him. I looked at him sternly, then said, “Thomas, I would appreciate any help you have to offer. I would like to learn more about you, and your little friend there.” I s aid indicating the white pixie. “But not here. Follow me to my headquarters. Can y ou fly?” I finished, eyeing the device on his back.

“Yes I can. I’ll be right behind you, sir.” I almost laughed at having my best friend seriously refer to me as “sir.” “Alright then. Let’s go.” And with that, I jumped off of the building with Fang right behind me. * * * We came in for a landing in the alley behind Sector 8. Fang had his helmet back on. It turned out that the sleek doodad on his back used pixie dust to propel hi m, like a miniaturized jet pack. And the fins on his helmet helped steer him. We walked in the old gas station that was our headquarters. Dan got off the couc h to come talk with me. When Fang came in behind me, Dan stopped in his tracks. So did Fang. They looked at each other, before Dan turned to me, and asked, “Who’s y our friend, Dragon Knight?” I looked down at our newest partner, and said smiling, “Why don’t you tell him, Fang ? I believe you two have met.” I wish I could have seen the look on Thomas’s face w hen he saw Dan in the secret base of Dragon Knight. There was the slightest hesitation before Fang receded his helmet and removed it while the pixie stood on his shoulder. Thomas shook out his blonde hair, and he ld his helmet against his side, I had to admit he looked like a movie star who w as posing after getting off of his motorcycle. I really like the white duster he was wearing. Dan was staring at Thomas with his mouth open. Thomas was just smiling a crooked smile at Dan’s reaction. Dan started sputtering incomprehensibly at fang’s identity . I decided to intervene at that point and told Dan, “Thomas here, has offered to he lp us, and tell us about his story. What is your name?” I said turning to the pixi e. He took a step to stand behind Thomas’s neck. “Laif.” He said in a minute voice. I made my voice sound gentler, and leaned down. “Laif, may I assume you are respon sible for our friend’s current situation?” Laif stood out again, and gave a brief nod. “Well then, you can tell us your story too.” I said smiling. Then, without warning, I Shifted back to human form, smiling at Thomas much like he had been smiling at Dan. I loved seeing his jaw drop when he saw Jacob Flintwood standing where the famous Dragon Knight had been. I gestured to King Couch, and both of them wordl essly followed me. I spent the next 3 hours explaining to Thomas what had happen ed to me over the past five years, and spent time explaining in more detail, wha t had transpired, concerning the Hunter. Thomas leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and held his face in his hands. He blew out a long breath, before looking me in the eyes. Then he turned to Dan, saying, “Is he serious?” Dan shrugged, and said evenly, “I don’t know, you’re the one with a little dude on his shoulder, talking to a superhero that you worshipped for the past five years. Y ou tell me.” Thomas looked at me one more time, before turning to Laif, and whispered, “I think it would be better if you explain it.” “Alright.” Laif said, his voice was high, and he spoke with a heavy French accent. “I think you’re right.” He hopped off of Thomas’s Shoulder, and found his own comfy seat on the couch. “My family and I have lived in France for the past 100 years. We enjoyed the green fields in the countryside, the friendly culture, and the nearby ocean.” Laif bega n. “A few weeks ago, my parents and sister disappeared. I went out looking for the m for a whole day.” He made a gesture of raising his hands above his head, emphasi zing his point. “I came back, exhausted, the next day, and my family met me outsid e of my home, with our suitcases in hand. I was confused. So confused.” He buried his face in his hands, bawling. It was almost cute, except for the fact that it looked almost traumatic. “I asked them where they were going, and they said we wer e all going to America for a new life. I glimpsed inside the window and…and…” He broke down into sobs again. We all waited for him to recover. “I looked through the window, and saw my family’s bodies stacked inside the house, b y the fireplace. I knew in that instant, that the ‘family members’ in front of me we

re only pretenders.” “What happened next?” Dan asked, his eyes riveted on the tiny man. “ ‘The family’ saw my reaction, and turned to see what I was looking at, and found the bodies in plain sight. They turned back to me, and next thing I know, there wer e three Shriekers in front of me.” “I’m sorry. Did you say ‘Shriekers’?” Dan interrupted. “Yes, Shriekers. They’re like miniature goblins covered in black exoskeletons. They’re ruthless, and quick to anger. They murdered my family, and tried to kill me too , so I ran. The Shriekers used their so-named magic, and screamed at me until I was subdued.” “When I woke up, I realized that I wasn’t dead, and I was trapped. I figured out lat er that the Shriekers had taken me to America, but had been ambushed by some gob lins and kidnapped me, asking for a ransom. The person who was to pay the ransom was Dexis.” Draco sucked in a breath. “Dexis is the Hunter’s right-hand man, and has been, for centuries.” Laif explained. “He is a living shadow, able to disappear, man ipulate, and even form weapons from the shadows he thrives on. I shivered in my steel cell as I realized Dexis was coming for me, and that he had no intention o f paying the goblins their money.” “I was kept in the vault for what felt like two days, although there was no way to tell. Last night, he came for me. The vault opened up, but there was no light, no sound. It was as if death itself had come to claim me.” Laif said, shivering. “However, I knew that this would be my only chance to escape. So, with that in min d, I charged through the cloud of darkness, and into the main part of the bank. Nobody paid me any attention. They were all too focused on those two men waving around the metal tubes, and making a lot of noise.” “I flew outside with the Shriekers and Dexis right behind me. I was fast, but they were faster. My wings were getting tired, but still, I kept flying for my life , away from the nightmare. After a time, my wings refused to beat anymore, and I descended to land in the nearest house, which just so happened to be Thomas’s.” The y exchanged a glance with each other. I had to laugh. Thomas lived on the same street as the bank, like I did. He just lived in a different direction. Laif had exhausted his little body by flying “jus t down the street.” Haha. “I was at my Wing Chun, kung fu class at the time.” Thomas said, picking up the stor y where Laif had left off. “My parents were still home, though.” Thomas seemed choke d up for a moment. I could figure out the rest, but I figured it would be best f or Thomas to talk about it. “I came home, and saw that the living room downstairs had been devastated. With my heart racing, I ran to my parents room,” he paused, a nd I saw a tear run down his cheek. “They were already dead. They looked even wors e than that poor guard at the bank. The Shriekers had also marked them with the sign of the Hunter. I sank to my knees, disbelieving of what had happened. I don’t know how long I stayed that way, before Laif came, and found me there.” He finish ed. Laif picked up the story again. “I had been hiding inside the chimney, and they ha dn’t found me. I stayed in hiding, even after they left, just in case it was a mis leading trick. When I heard the door open again, I thought my suspicions had bee n correct. But when I heard Thomas crying, I knew it had been no trick. I flew o ver to him, barely conscious, and did my best to explain my situation to him.” “When I finished, Thomas didn’t react. There were no words for how we felt. We had b oth suffered a terrible loss.” “We woke up the next morning. I did my best to explain to Thomas the ins & outs of the magical community. He was able to remember things surprisingly well. We dec ided that, together, we would hunt down the Shadow that had caused us so much gr ief. I would offer him tools, and he would offer me protection.” Thomas decided to jump in again. “So we set to work on preparing our arsenal.” Thoma s stood up, showing us his outfit in detail. Now that I looked closer, I saw tha t the cloth seemed…polished, somehow. I pointed out my observation to Thomas. “Yes! Very good, Jake. It’s treated with pixie dust.” “I’ve heard of pixie dust.” I said. “But Draco and I are unclear as to the properties of it. What does it do?”

“Pixie dust is described as ‘the mind’s paintbrush’.” Thomas began. “It can literally be ma ipulated to do anything I want. In this case,” He said, indicating the mantle of h is duster. “I enhanced the properties of my clothes. Since clothes serve to protec t the body, from view as well as physical harm, they do so even more now. The sh irt and pants don’t do so well. They’re more like a metal plate: tough, but won’t stop a bullet. The coat though, is like Kevlar. It’s tougher than the others because i t’s natural identity, leather, is way more durable than the other’ natural forms, wh ich is cotton.” He lifted up his gauntlet, which I now noticed was leather, and I saw some pouches along it; tiny slits that could be easily accessed. “In these poc kets, I keep my ‘handy caps’. They’re tiny capsules that Laif made for me. He just wav es his hands and makes one out of thin air.” I raised my eyebrows at that. Being a ble to create raw matter was powerful magic indeed. “I fill them with different ki nds of pixie dust.” Thomas continued. At Dan’s and my inquisitive looks, he explaine d, “The whole ‘minds paintbrush’ thing is based off of your perceptions. I associate d ifferent colors of pixie dust with different abilities. For example,” he withdrew a pink cap from the second pouch on his left wrist. “Red signifies travel for me. My uncle owned a red cropduster that he let me fly in when I was little. When I throw this cap on the ground, the pixie dust allows me to travel by way of telep orting. Yellow let’s me fly when it’s put in my ‘Pixie Pack’.” He hooked a thumb to the no w-collapsed pack on his back. “It’s able to store an infinite amount of objects, tha nks to the blue pixie dust. That one is the enhancer I told you about. Green pix ies give me temporary strength, because it reminds me of the hulk. Black caps cr eate night vision for obvious reason. And Brown allows me to discern truth from lies.” “What about white ones like you, Laif?” I asked. “White pixies are the nobility of the pixies.” He huffed in a princely manner. “We del iver life. Our powers are supreme.” That would make sense, considering he could whip up the handy caps, whenever nee ded. “How do you collect the pixie dust?” I asked. As far as I knew, it was near im possible to catch a pixie. They were much rarer than fairies. “My subjects willingly serve their…king.” He still seemed shocked that his parents wer e dead. “It is a simple matter. I merely summon them, and they come. All Thomas ha s to do, is give them a little shake in order to collect their dust, and use it as he will. I asked him who would be most able to help us reach and defeat Dexis . He immediately told me of you. But now that I know you better, I suppose it wo uld be more accurate to say both of you. He said you were a magical creature who saved innocents.” “I tried to think of a name that I could use that would appeal to you, and be appe aling.” Thomas shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “Dragon Fang seemed appropriate, what with the white and all. But it seemed too long, so I just shortened it to ‘Fa ng’.” We set out to find you, and the rest is history.” He finished, spreading his han ds. “Where’s the first place to start looking for the Hunter?” asked Laif. “We hunt down, and find out what the rest of Ricky’s crew knows, before Dexis finds them too.” Dan turned on the news as Thomas, Laif, and I got our game faces on. Chapter 8: Into the Unknown I don’t know if you’ve ever had a special place you go to when you just want to be a lone, away from everyone else. Most people choose to retreat to their bedrooms t o be in isolation. But I find my apartment to be a little cramped. I much prefer to take to the skies, and let the constant hum of Chicago numb my thoughts, so I can think. Occasionally, I invite Draco into my thoughts, and we talk for quit e some time. With Fang at my side, it felt very wrong. Part of me died when he came along. My special time in the sky was no longer my own. We flew up to Spike, and I had Fang land first, because he still was a bit shaky with his landings, and I didn’t want to get knocked off by him.

He landed very unceremoniously on the ledge next to Spike, and windmilled his ar ms for a second, before finding his balance, and taking his seat next to the gar goyle. I floated down gracefully to take my place in the groove between Spike’s ho oked wings. I Shifted back to normal, letting the October wind breeze through my t-shirt and jeans. When I become Dragon Knight, I gain his characteristics. Dragon Knight is bold, fearless, and always does the right thing. When I become Jacob again, I lose som e of those qualities. I still have oodles of confidence, but I’m not as indestruct ible and careless. Sitting on the roof of a 21-story building, being held up by nothing by a stone outcropping is a lot more dangerous without wings. It gives m e a rush, and I love it. Thomas had removed the face of his helmet, and was beginning to look sick. We sat there in silence for a while, I’m not sure how long, before my phone rang a familiar tune. I pulled it out of my pocket, and saw Ali was calling me back. I answered. “Hey Jake.” She said. “What are you up to?” I grew my tail, and hung under Spike. “Oh, you know…stuff.” I said hanging 21 stories off the ground, suspended by a reptilian tail. “What are you up to?” “Missing you.” She said simply. “Ali and I were more than just friends, obviously. But we hadn’t gone anywhere near the boyfriend/girlfriend scene. No matter how much I wanted to, I wouldn’t ask Ali to do something she didn’t want to do. She and I had only known each other for… a y ear already?! Wow. Actually, now that I thought about it, she had been giving me plenty of hints lately. Maybe my waiting was over. “Ali I…I miss you too. In fact, I want to come over right now.” Thomas’s eyebrows rose a t that. “Where are you?” “I’m at the stupid library on campus, studying my butt off, and just doing homework.” Maybe she had been missing me for an entirely different reason than affection. O h well, I could wait. “But I wouldn’t mind having someone keep me company.” She finish ed. A part of me was wondering if all girls enjoyed teasing men this much. Another p art of me was shouting halluh-dang-lujah. “Well, to be honest, I’d be very happy to keep you company. I’ll be right there.” I said. “See you soon, Jake.” She said. Then she hung up. A second later, I reluctantly did the same. “You’re leaving me?” Thomas exclaimed as I restored my phone to my pocket. “Our family’s k iller is hunting down the last sources of the information we need, we don’t even k now what the Lethal Lotus is, and you’re headed off to help your girlfriend study? !” he asked. “She’s not my girlfriend…yet. And I’m not helping her study. I’m just keeping her company.” I said defiantly. “Oh forgive me.” Thomas said sarcastically. “You’re just keeping her company. At least y ou’re doing something productive.” “If you two want to go get the killers, go for it, but I’m not even sure where the g oblins are! Maybe I can figure out a way to find them while I’m at the library.” I s aid shrugging. “Look, Ali’s very special to me. If there’s any chance that she likes m e, or even loves me, I want to let her know how I feel. Maybe she’ll even accept m e as dragon Knight, if I tell her someday.” A wonderful dream started playing in m y head. It was brought up short as Thomas asked, “Isn’t that what went wrong with Anna?” I turned on him, and got right in his face, on the narrow ledge, and whispered, “D on’t you dare compare Ali to her. Ali is completely different, and would never do what… she did. I’m not saying I’m going to reveal who I am. I just want to spend some more time with her. Today’s been a really long day, and I just want to see her. La st time I saw her, she was unconscious after being hit by Tiny the giant.” Thomas didn’t speak for a few minutes. Then he said, “Alright. We’ll be waiting for yo u at Sector 8, when you’re ready.” “Thanks man.” I said. And with that, I let go of Spike, falling face-first. I rotate d my body through the air and Shifted. With my new wings, I took off to be with the girl of my dreams.

* * * Chicago University campus is just like every other college. The only difference is that this campus is all indoors. You can attend all your classes without goin g outside. Sometimes it can be a real challenge when trying to get to class on t ime, but lucky for me, it also means less foot traffic outdoors. I flew over the campus, seeing the scattered fluorescent lights stand out agains t the darkness. I circled around the taller buildings, before the library came i nto view. The Ernest L. Whitaker Library is underground. The whole thing, except for the pyramidal glass roof. I tried to look through it for Ali, but I couldn’t see her. I figured she must have been in the deeper recesses of the shelves; or at least at the study tables which must have been twenty feet beyond my range of vision. Oh well, it was worth a shot. I landed on the grass behind the little pyramid. After making sure no one was lo oking, I Shifted back to normal and fixed my hair as I looked in the glass. As I looked closer, I saw Ali. She was indeed sitting at the study tables on the sid e of the library opposite me. Her dark hair was covering her eyes, and her hand was pressed against her forehead. Her shoulders sagged as she sighed to herself, and then she looked up at the ceiling. Right at me. I quickly ducked my head be low the glass, then raised my head just enough to peek over the edge. Ali was st ill looking up, but now I could tell that she was just staring into space. She l ooked…lonely, and tired. I wondered why that might be. I figured I had waited up here long enough. I stood up all the way, and walked o ver to the staircase leading down to the library. I walked out of the concrete passage, into the warm, carpeted library. There wer e students everywhere. A group of really cute girls came over to me. I think I r ecognized one of them. They flocked over to me with a hungry look in their eyes. They converged, and st arted making funny movements, and odd sounds. Really, they were just embarrassin g themselves. The one I recognized as Linda, had dark skin, with a tasteful pony tail in her hair. She came up to me, and started rubbing my chest, and tried to squeeze my bicep, but her hand couldn’t get a good grip. Without breaking my eye c ontact with my destination, I brushed the girls aside like they were nothing, an d compared to Ali, that’s all they were. As I left them, Linda said a very unladylike word, and I laughed out loud. When she heard my laugh, Ali looked up at me and smiled. My heart, for some reason, s tarted beating very quickly, and my shirt felt very hot. The girl’s smile makes th e sun look dark in comparison. “You are so beautiful.” I said sincerely. “Well, thank you.” She said, hiding behind her curtain of hair again. “And thanks for coming. I was about to blow my brains out from sheer boredom.” She did an imitatio n of putting a gun to her head. I sat down to her left, and pulled her “weapon” away from her head, and pointed it in a safer direction, by holding it in my hand. She squeezed it gently. “I wouldn’t let you.” I said smugly. “What fixin’s have you got on the table tonight?” I asked, eye ing her stack of books. She took her hand from mine in order to move her books around. I mentally kicked myself in an attempt to take the question back. She caught the forlorn look on my face, and said, “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.” She grasped my hand again, and leaned over to put her head against my chest. Then she sat up again quickly, an d said, alarmed, “Jake did you run here? Your heart’s beating really fast!” She was lo oking me straight in the eye. Actually, I have eyesight that would make a hawk jealous, I can juggle taxis, an d throw fireballs. But for all the power I feel, it is nothing when compared to the heady sensation of your gaze upon me. Those were the words that tried to com e out, but they all tried to come out at the same time, and got jam-packed toget her. The only thing I ended up saying was, “Uh-huh.” She smiled knowingly, and leaned back down again. “I finished my chemistry and mat h homework.” We both smiled at that. “But I still have English and Psychology to fin ish.” She huffed out a breath. I wrapped my free arm around her, and kissed the t op of her hair. She shuddered at the touch and sat up again. I let her go. She w

as still holding my hand and smiling, when she said, “Let’s take a walk. I need to g o get a book for Psychology.” We stood up and switched hands, as we headed toward the rows of bookshelves. Ali tugged me over to the row of shelves that was on the very end. I noted that it was the fiction section. I smiled at the back of her head as she continued to lead me on to get her “Psychology” book. We turned into the empty aisle. It wasn’t dark exactly. But there was certainly le ss lighting in this particular row of books. We walked down the aisle, until we got to the end. Ali turned toward me, smiling . She let go of my hand, only to wrap both of her arms around my neck. By this p oint, my heart was sounding something similar to a rock drummer on caffeine. She looked up at me, and gave me my favorite shy smile of hers, before she quickly looked back down. Still smiling, I lifted her chin with my fingers. Her gaze was still averted from mine. She anxiously looked up, and her green eyes met my haz el ones. In that moment, she seemed to relax, and she smiled back at me. I cuppe d her face in both of my and, and leaned in to kiss her, closing my eyes. Before I closed them, I saw Ali get up on her toes to meet my kiss. We got closer to e ach other, still not touching, and were each a little bit nervous. But our excit ement was what caused the almost tangible tension between us. Her full lips crushed against mine, and for just a second, my racing heart stopp ed beating. It jump-started a second later as our lips parted. Her hands moved f rom my neck up to my hair, and began having their own happy time, exploring my h air. As our lips met again my hands left her face, and moved to her back, to pul l her to me. Ali’s personality was evident in the kiss. She would move tentatively at first, then she would move more confidently, and find her own rhythm. She sm elled absolutely wonderful, like standing in a flower garden after a light rain. Abruptly, the kiss broke as Ali giggled. As I looked down at her, I raised an ey ebrow in a silent question. “I… I think I love you.” She giggled again. She leaned on her toes, and kissed me once more. I’ve heard crazier things.” I said easily. I kissed her right back. “I’ve loved you for a long time.” I told her. She looked up at me with wonderment in her eyes. Her hair was cast in a halo of a nearby light. She looked absolutely angelic. She didn’t say anything. Instead, s he jumped at me, holding onto my neck and wrapping her legs around me. She laugh ed her adorable laugh, and I couldn’t help but join in. The librarian came over to our aisle, and shushed us. Our laughs diminished into strangled giggles like tw o kids caught doing something naughty as she still clung to me. She kissed me ag ain, and we leaned our heads against each other. “I love you.” I said again. “I love you too.” She replied. I set her down gently, and we walked back to the table, holding hands that were still devoid of Psychology books. Ali loved me! Something inside my chest reared it’s head, and beat it’s chest triumphantly. I pulled out her chair for her, and he lped her sit down. She looked up at me again, and I bent down and kissed her one more time. She smiled at me, and didn’t avert her gaze this time. I loved her smi le. “Ali, you’re amazing. I wish I could stay longer, but Thomas’s family was murdered las t night, and I promised him I’d help out any way I could.” I fely awful for leaving her like this, but I didn’t want to let Ricky’s crew get slaughtered while I was hav ing the time of my life. “Oh my gosh! Are you serious?!” she exclaimed. I don’t know why, but whenever I try an d make a serious statement, people always ask if I’m serious or not. I was just th ankful she believed me when I told her I loved her. “Yeah. He was really torn up when I talked to him last.” “Well, can I see you later?” She asked smiling. “I’d love to Ali, but I don’t even know what it is I’ll be doing for him. But I sure wan t to see you as soon as I can.” I kissed her to prove my point. She blushed as she smiled. “In that case, I will see you later.” She said smugly. “I love you.” I said, as I turned to leave. She grabbed my arm, and turned me to kiss her. I took great pleasure in doing so

. “I love you too.” She said. Then she turned back to her studies, looking much happ ier than she had before I had come. I wondered why that might be. As I walked past Linda and her posse, they seemed much more reluctant to throw t hemselves on me. I credited it to the thing in my chest that was snarling at the m. As I as shifting and taking off, I thought to myself: Alright, so Ali and I had gone beyond the “slightly more than friends” status. In fact, it turns out we were i n love with each other. Well that was pretty alright with me. * * * I walked in the doors of Sector 8, only to find Thomas and Dan asleep on King Co uch. I figured Laif was still asleep in Fang’s helmet. His little recliner had loo ked pretty luxurious. I strode over to them, and shook Thomas awake. I heard a tiny squeak as Laif exp erienced the sudden earthquake. Fang’s red eyes lit up as Thomas awakened. “You’re back.” He observed. His voice wasn’t distorted by the helmet anymore. I figured he must have very fine control over the blue pixie dust. Being able to make the helmet almost indestructible, while maintaining control of the voice-changing as pects. I’d have to ask him about that. But that would have to wait until later. “Yeah. I’m back. And I didn’t find a way to track down the goblins.” I tried to look sor ry. “I was…distracted.” I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I remembered Ali’s smile, and the smell of her hair and how it felt to hold her to me and—“ “Don’t worry about that.” Thomas said, interrupting my more-ahem- private thoughts. “Lai f and I took care of it.” He stood up, and reached his hand behind him to rest und er his pixie pack A second later, a device that looked like a gameboy fell into his open palm. Huh. Thought-controlled indefinite storage. Neat. “Laif knew what w e needed, and he set to work on building the Q.O.T.” He said, indicating the gameb oy. “What does Q.O.T. stand for?” I asked. “Quasiorganism tracker. It can track down any magical entities within 10 miles. An d it’s powered by happy thoughts.” He finished smugly. “That’s great!” I exclaimed. “Let’s go find the goblins!” He made a very dramatic show of stretching his muscles. “You may be ready and will ing to go, but I was almost asleep when you came in.” He yawned. “Well, I appreciate you allowing me to go see Ali, but as you pointed out earlier, it wasted time. For all we know the goblins are already dead.” Fang seemed to sober immediately. He powered on the device, and I came over to l ook at the screen. On the little display was a gorgeous model of Chicago. As the Q.O.T. finished it’s activation, the model popped off of the screen, and became a much larger display in 3D. Scattered throughout the “city” were many various-colore d dots. “Whoa!” I said. It was truly a magnificent thing to see. The silver city flo ated above Fang’s palm, filling the room. “What do the colors mean?” I asked, pointing to a yellow dot in a building next to me. Thomas listened to Laif for a minute, then turned to me, and said, “The yellow one s are the creatures in the city that are just there. The green ones,” he said poin ting out two on the southern part of the “city” “are the creatures that we’re looking fo r. In this case, goblins in Ricky’s crew.” Whew! Thank goodness they hadn’t killed yet . “Sweet!” I said. “Let’s get over there right away.” We recorded the address and just as Thomas was about to power down the Q.O.T. we noticed something new. Near the goblins, a red dot had appeared on a nearby roo f. “And what’s the red dot?” I asked nervously. A green dot disappeared. “Unknown.” Said Thomas in a dead voice as the second green dot vanished. We focused on the red circle, and watched in disbelief as it sank into the roof it had been on, and disappeared from the map entirely. There was one more green dot in the entire city, and we needed to get there befo re whatever had taken out the other goblins did. “What do you think that thing was?” Thomas asked, as we headed into the night. I Shifted and said in a murderous voice as I turned away from him, “Unknown.”

Chapter 9: Down These Mean Streets Fang and I were flying toward where the green dot had been located. I glided sil ently on the air currents, my wings were spread out as much as possible. Fang ha d his arms at his side, with his hands clenched into fists. He was trailing his yellow pixie dust behind him, through the night sky. We flew in silence for the whole way, except when Fang would tell me when to tur n. So I turned my attention to Draco. “Do you have any ideas on what might be out, killing goblins, that would do it fro m a nearby roof?” I asked him. “If I had to guess, I think it would be safe to assume that Ricky Goblin’s shooter i s finishing the job.” He replied. “That’s right!” I exclaimed. “I completely forgot about that!” I slowed my thoughts, and w orked through the facts methodically. “Alright, so we know that the assassin is us ing some sort of gun. That could narrow it down to anyone who possesses fingers. But thanks to the Q.O.T. we know that whoever is doing this, they can apparentl y travel through solid surfaces. That, or they can teleport slowly through the w all; probably using some kind of portal. So that eliminates any of the ‘normals.’ Ma ybe they were using disappearing dust, if they are a human assassin. But I’m betti ng it’s someone on the paranormal side of things. But human or not, who’s doing this ? Who hired them? Why are they killing the goblins?” My head was swimming in confu sion. I signaled for Draco to give his take on the information. “Well, we know that the Hunter is the one who wants the Lethal Lotus. Perhaps it i s eliminating the last sources of information so no one can claim what it desire s.” Draco said. “But I thought the hunter was all about the slash-and-dash. This doesn’t seem like i t’s style.” I countered. Arguments from both sides help provide the best solution. “It may be. But we don’t know. Remember it was the Shriekers that killed Trebor, and marked him with the sign of the Hunter. If the Hunter has moved on from traditi onal methods, it would genuinely shock me. Perhaps the Hunter is having someone else eliminate the goblins?” “Didn’t Laif say something about the Hunter’s right-hand man?” I asked. “What was his name ? Desius? Debkis?” “Dexis?” Draco supplied. “That was it. Laif said Dexis could control shadows, right? In fact, he said Dexis could create weapons from the shadows. Dexis probably created some kind of weap on to shoot Ricky, and those other goblins. And if he has access to shadow-porta ls, it would definitely explain why he was able to escape from me after killing Ricky.” “Perhaps the final goblin is in more danger than we previously thought.” Draco obser ved. “I agree.” I finished to Draco. Then I said to fang, “Fang! We need to double-time it to that goblin. Draco and I think Dexis might be the one taking out the goblins. He’s probably doing it on the Hunter’s orders.” Fang’s anger seemed to intensify as the red eyes on his helmet grew brighter. “I und erstand.” Was all he said. Then his pixie dust erupted from his pack in a burst, c atapulting him way ahead of me. I flapped after him, slicing through the air at a rapid pace. It turned out that the place the goblin was hiding at, was the Chicago Police St ation. I would have put on my fancy “Police Officer” lanyard, but truth be told, I d idn’t really have one. Besides, Fang beat me to the doors. I was close behind him. After he got through the doors, several police officers moved to intercept him. I saw him pull two things into his hands. One was a green handy cap from his rig ht glove that he crushed in his fist. Immediately, the loose folds of his duster were filled with his new muscles. In his other hand was a small tube that was t he same size as a cigarette. He crushed that in his hand too. When he did, it ex tended out of both ends of his fist, into a staff with a pronged end. It was whi te of course. The cops were still moving toward the alien-like man. He gripped his staff tightly, and beat them like nobody’s business.

Apparently Wing Chun teaches how to use a staff as part of the training, and it was Fang’s weapon of choice. He jabbed the pronged end of the staff into a cop’s thr oat, and then whipped it across the guy’s face. Then he swung his head down in an arc as his leg went up, to catch an officer in the jaw. The final guard caught t he staff horizontally across his chest, having the wind knocked out of him. Fang wrapped his arms behind the cop’s to regrab the staff. Then he stepped back, and twisted the guard over his hip, releasing his right grip as he did. The cop spun three times before he hit the ground senseless. Fang didn’t miss a beat as he headed up the stairs, away from the groaning policem en. I snaked my way through the wreckage, and followed after Fang. He was holding the Q.O.T. in front of him, allowing it to lead the way to the go blin. He took a left at the top of the staircase, that took us to the depressing cell block. Fang was still tramping on ahead of me, never looking away from the tiny screen. As we stepped in the hallway, the atmosphere was immediately filled with an invi sible tension of anxiety. The hall was still as dark as it had been, and it was never a problem to see in the dark with my reptilian eyes, but tonight, I couldn’t see the end of the hallway. As Fang and I drew closer to the shadows, the air g ot colder by degrees. It got to the point where I could see my breath. My unease grew as I recognized the cell Fang stopped at as the shotgun owners’. Fa ng was still empowered with his super strength. He gripped the jail (dungeon?) c ell bars, and pulled them apart with no apparent struggle. He stepped through th e gap, looking for all the world like a demonic angel of death, with gleaming re d eyes. The men in the cell were backed up against the wall, trying to escape. Fang igno red their efforts, and grasped each of the burly men by their throats, and raise d them off the ground. “Which one of you is a member of Ricky Goblin’s crew?” Fang yelled, his voice distorte d by the helmet, echoing off the confining walls. Both men’s eyes were bugging as they clawed at Fang’s gloved hands. “Ack!” said the one in Fang’s right hand. Fang loosened his grip on them, and lowered them to the ground. The one who had attempted to speak, I recognized as the goon I had splashed water on. They were both bald. The only way I could tell them ap art, was the bloodshot eyes goon #2 possessed still. A fact that I was very prou d of. I decided to call him Squints. “Who are you?” Fang asked, getting right to the point, and holding onto the man’s jump suit. “What is your name?” Before giving Fang his answer, Squints decided to get rid of his human façade. His skin seemed to bubble and melt off of him. All the while, Squints’ cellmate was l ooking more terrified of Squints than of Fang or me, but Fang wouldn’t let him mov e. A few minutes later, a brown-skinned goblin was being held in Fang’s gauntlet. “M y name is Matthew Goblin. What do you want with me?” His voice was lower than Rick y’s had been, and he was built stockier. But he still sounded terrified. “What is the Lethal Lotus?” Fang asked the ominous question that had been hanging ov er our heads. “I can’t tell you that, while still expecting to live.” Matthew said. “He’d kill me.” “Who would kill you? Your boss, Ricky, was gunned down today along with every othe r goblin in Chicago. Whoever killed them will come after you next. You’re the only target left. We just want to help you. What is the Lethal Lotus, and why does t he Hunter want it? Why would Ricky pick a fight with the Hunter by stealing from it?” Matthew wasn’t looking like he wanted to answer. Fang’s eyes grew brighter, illumina ting the tiny cell, and he growled menacingly. Matthew didn’t react. Ignoring the other inmate, fang grabbed Matthew with both hands by his orange ju mpsuit, and slammed him against the wall. “WHAT IS THE LETHAL LOTUS?!” Fang roared. Matthew didn’t react. Fang yelled incoherently out of frustration, and pulled Matthew from the wall. H e turned his gaze to me in a silent plea for assistance. As his luminescent eyes left the little goblin, I noticed that his shadow didn’t move. As I studied furth

er, I also noticed that Fang’s shadow didn’t look right. Fang was holding Matthew by his jumpsuit cuffs, while his shadow was gripping Matthew’s neck. His figure neve r wavering as the light bobbed up and down. As I turned my attention to Fang, literally, I heard a “chinking” sound. I looked do wn to see that my armored skin had been covered in ice. Goon #1 was shivering in a corner, and I figured fang’s coat had some fancy protection against the cold. B ut my superhuman nature allows me to stay inhumanly still, allowing the cold tem perature to condensate on my skin. But I’m part dragon, so cold isn’t really a probl em for me. I blew some flame out of my slitted nose, aiming down at my body. The heat washe d the unnatural ice from my body, as well as filling the cell with blinding ligh t. The shadow on the wall was a steady, black, staining presence. “Fang. I believe our work here is done.” I told him severely. “But we didn’t find out what the Lethal Lotus is!” fang said, turning his attention to Matthew, shaking him a little. “Look at him. He’s dead.” I said, indicating the lifeless form. Fang looked at the goblin closely for a second. “I swear I didn’t do it on purpose.” H e said. “I’m so sorry, Laif.” I heard a muffled reply from the French pixie. It was sa id in a comforting tone. “You didn’t do it Fang.” I said. “Look at the shadow.” Indeed the shadow was shifting constantly, even though Fang’s light source had cea sed moving. Then, as suddenly as the convulsions had started, they stopped. The shadow mirrored Fang once more. I approached the shadow with great caution, awar e that it might be Dexis himself. What I wasn’t aware of, was the fist that suddenly appeared in front of my face at a high velocity, and caught me in the kisser. Not many people have gotten close enough to me to give me a wallop. In fact, tho se who have tried to, and have succeeded, only managed to bruise their fingers o n my armor; Ogres included. This knuckle sandwich not only knocked me on my keis ter, but it sent me through some metal bars, two layers of brick walls, and a tw enty-foot fall, before I landed on my rump. I looked up at the hole in the wall, dumbfounded. I had but never been hit so ha rd in my life! I got unsteadily to my feet. Blowing through walls of any materia l doesn’t really hurt me. It feels more like getting hit with a really stiff pillo w. The worst damage was whiplash. My mouth, however, was feeling rather tender. I suddenly wanted to be with Ali again. Fang jumped out of the ruined jail cell, landing solidly beside me, slowing his descent with his pixie pack. “What happened?” Fang asked. “Your shadow punched me. And it hurt!” I replied. “I know that was Dexis. We’ve got to g et back up there.” I was about to flap into the air, when I saw Dexis coming to us. He moved as a l iteral shadow, down the side of the police station, dribbling along the bricks a nd windows like oil. When he reached the ground, the shadow took the form of a m an. He stepped out slowly. He was a dead, gray color, with a blue tint covering his body. The only thing he wore was a silver cloth. It must have been twenty fe et long. The middle of the cloth wrapped around his loins, then twisted up acros s his chest in an “X”, then the ends twined themselves around his arms. The tips of the cloth dissolved in a cloud of smoke, similar to the smog around his feet. Hi s eyes were black, and his left eye carried with it a red scar. He was a nightma re coming to meet us. Fang and I got into our fighting stances. For once, I was at a loss for words. U sually I can announce, “You’re under arrest!” for the mortal criminals. The magical cr iminals I can just beat on, until they’re willing to cooperate. But I had never de alt with a magical serial killer/terrorist. What was I supposed to say? But I co uldn’t just stay quiet. “Dexis. I know you are after the Lethal Lotus for your master, the Hunter. In the name of Draco, Lord of the dragons, I command you to give yourself up, and surre nder.” I said. I thought I did a pretty good job. Although I had no idea what I wo uld do with him if he resisted. This creature was definitely dangerous.

“Dragon Knight, you amuse me.” His voice was wispy, like the smoke surrounding him. “T here are no humane laws that I have broken. These goblins were a nuisance that n eeded extermination.” Dexis was still walking toward us, swathed in smoke and shad ow. As for the Lethal Lotus, knowing what it is, is none of your concern. You se e, you too have become a nuisance that needs extermination. My master feels that you pose a potential threat to our plan.” His pace never slowed as he said, “You mu st die.” “I haven’t even met the Hunter. How could I have offended it so much? You’re the one k illing everyone.” I retorted. “You have been hiding the Lethal Lotus from my master.” Dexis had almost reached us. “Besides, the Hunter mentioned that it has it’s own reasons for exterminating you.” T hen he said in that same whispery tone, “You must die.” “Over my dead body!” I said defiantly. Fang seemed to give me an arch look. “Duh.” He said. “Shut up.” I said. Then I decided to repay Dexis one punch-to-the-face, free of char ge. I feinted a left jab as I swung a right hook to the guy’s mug. Not only did he not flinch at the feint, but also let my fist sail right through his noggin. My body’s momentum carried the rest of me through the phantom. I tripped forward in order to turn my fall into a roll. I saw Fang apply some blue pixie dust onto hi s staff. He then took the end of it in both of his hands and swung it at Dexis. He had more luck than I did, because he actually hit Dexis. He was less fortunat e than me because it had hit Dexis’s hand. He caught the staff several times befor e he suddenly let go. He looked down at his feet, and I followed his gaze. He wa s knee deep in oil. No, it was shadow. Dexis had trapped Fang in a Shadow-portal , and he was sinking quickly. “Fang!” I yelled I jumped over to where he was trapped. I grasped his outstretched h and in mine, careful not to scratch him with my claws, and pulled. His descent i nto the shadows didn’t even slow down. Dexis was still holding onto Fang’s staff as he whispered, “You cannot save him.” He r eleased the staff. Fang’s head and hand were the only things left above the swirli ng shadows. “This is your last chance to save him.” Dexis said “Where are you keeping the Lethal Lotus?” “I told you I don’t know what the Lethal Lotus is! That’s why I asked you what it is. You’re not making any SENSE!” I yelled. ON the last word, I readied an igniter in my palm, and put a lot of energy into it, as I sent a jet of flame at Dexis. His b ody dissipated into a bluish-gray fog. I stopped trying to toast him, and he ref ormed himself. “Your efforts are useless. You must die.” He said for the third time. “Who writes your lines? Alfred Hitchcock?” I said. Thank goodness for wisecracks. I was scared stiff as I watched Fang’s shadow-portal disappear. White-hot anger fill ed me, as I felt a tear fall down my cheek. “Talking will do you no good. You must die.” Dexis’s wispy voice made my skin crawl, like having m=nails scraped against a chalkboard. “Yeah? Well try this on for size!” I picked a nearby Toyota, and played whack-a-shad ow with Dexis. I didn’t have any false hopes that it would hit him. Instead, I wat ched him reform himself to the side of the car, and I smashed it on him again. D issolving, and reappearing would probably take a lot of energy, and this car was n’t very heavy—probably a couple-thousand pounds—I could keep this up all day! I only hoped that Dexis couldn’t do the same. After all, he had just teleported/killed a hulk-like man not five minutes before. That had to have taken a large amount of energy. After a few more rounds of trying to hit Dexis, he didn’t reform himself. I lifted the car all the way over my head, to get a better view. I didn’t see Dexis anywhe re. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I swung the car around at Dexis, but no on e was there. Again, he tapped me on the shoulder. He vanished before I could see him. Then something ripped the car from my claws. Well most of it. I still held the detached bumper. I scrunched it into a ball of metal, and sent it sailing t hrough Dexis’s face. It went right on through, like I knew it would, and I was rig ht in front of him when his head reformed. I gathered an igniter in each hand an d was about to sandwich his skull between the two, when-

Dexis grabbed my hands and extinguished my fire. His hands were like ice as they forced my arms down. His smoky cloth wrapped me up, like to two silver tentacles. They shoved me down, through the ground, which had suddenly become another shadow-portal. Every part of me that entered, sudde nly lost feeling, as if put into an ice bath. The shadow man looked at me throug h his black eyes as the ground swallowed me up into the darkest shadows of the n ight. Chapter 10: Smoke and Mirrors The first thing I realized when I woke up, was the pain. My head was throbbing s omethin’ fierce. I didn’t know why my head would be hurting. I didn’t recall Dexis eve r hitting me after the first sucker punch. The second thing I noticed was the sm ell. It smelled awful! It smell like sewage, or like rotten food from a dumpster . It smelled like death. It smelled like hate and murder that had festered and r otted someone from the inside out after they died. Emotions and actions can do t hat to someone. It was an evil, overwhelming odor that stifled my breathing as I inhaled. The third thing I realized was that I was still in Dragon Knight form. I wasn’t sure how I had managed that. “I’m afraid I have to take the blame for that.” Draco said in a timid voice. “As you wer e descending into that fearsome shadow-portal, I began feeding my power to you d irectly.” He paused. “I couldn’t let him find out who you were. He would have come aft er Ali.” “Hey back off. She’s my girl.” I said with a slur. “So thank you.” Draco had saved me once again. What a stud. I opened my eyes groggily. Apparently I had been out for quite some time. “I would assume it to be about Sunday morning.” Draco provided. As I looked around, everything looked like big fuzzy fireworks as my eyes focuse d. My back was against a round wall. My hands were held above my head by some so rt of manacles. I tried pulling them free, but as I looked up, I noticed that th e cuffs were made of the same shadows that Dexis used; always shifting, but neve r changing their shape. I couldn’t break free. Fang was likewise imprisoned beside me. It looked like he was still unconscious, but at least he was alive. The roo m I was in, was made of enormous stone masonry. It appeared to be a giant circul ar room that towered high above me. There were torches lining the wall, spaced r egularly. There were also some that ascended along a spiral staircase that lined the wall. It wasn’t very bright in the room, but it would be enough light to let Fang see what he was doing. But I guess it wouldn’t matter, if he used one of his black caps to give him night vision. But it was still a creepy place. I heard a creaking sound, followed by the *boom* of a large wooden door being c losed above me. I saw smoke flowing off the edge of the stairs, as Dexis descend ed toward Fang and me, while we were helpless to move. He took his sweet time, w alking with the relentless patience of a predator who knew it had all the time i n the world. He finally got to the part of the staircase where I could see him. He looked just as I remembered: a combination of bad special effects, and some b utt-ugly guy with black eyes. Draco seemed a bit more cautious about Dexis. That’s why I keep him around. He’s the morale officer, managing moods one situation at a time. But I had an image to maintain. “Hey Dexis! What happened to ‘You must die?’” I asked, putting on my best imitation of D exis. “Didn’t have the backbone?” I said, eyeing his lack of solid figure. “That is true, Dragon Knight.” He said in his chilling voice. “But I did not say where or when.” “Well that’s really mature.” I retorted. I let my head sag. My body felt fatigued from the long hours in the uncomfortable position. A wicked smile graced Dexis’s grim countenance. For some reason it made me feel li ke I had just witnessed a baby being slaughtered. It was wrong, and shouldn’t happ en. “Your talking will do you no good. I have my instructions, and you will meet y our end here.” He said gesturing to the circular room. “Well I’m glad we got that settled.” I said. “Why Does the Hunter want to kill me anyway ? What does the Hunter want with the Lethal Lotus?”

“I have already told you that it is not your concern.” He said, rather stubbornly. R ude. An idea occurred to me, as I remembered something else Dexis had told me. “If you kill me, you’ll never find out where the Lethal Lotus is!” I said, as Dexis drew clo ser still. He was suddenly holding a shadow-sword in his right hand. He maneuvered it so th e tip was pointed at Fang’s throat. “That is what the human is for.” Dexis said, with a sneer on his face. “Now you’re just being stupid.” I said shaking my head. “That human found out about the magical world yesterday. He couldn’t possibly know anything about the Lethal Lotus , much less where it could be.” “Interesting, isn’t it?” Dexis asked, turning his attention back to me. “How you decided to take a random mortal under you wing, so to speak, and teach him about the my stic arts. Why would you do that?” “I…uh…” I stammered. “You didn’t, did you?” Dexis turned back to the unconscious Fang. “It was a white pixie that happened upon the Phillips’s residence, wasn’t it?” he was exploring the white he lmet now, probing it. I conspicuously avoided talking. “It was the white pixie I was chasing. It wasn’t a tulip pixie. It wasn’t a lilac pixi e. It was a lotus pixie.” He paused in his searching of the helmet, and turned to me, as the meaning of his words hit me. Oh gosh. Laif had been the lethal Lotus al along! How did I miss it for so long? He was kidnapped by Dexis’s Shriekers, who subsequently worked for the Hunter, an d was captured by the goblins who had just wanted to make a quick buck. So the g oblins take out the Shriekers, and hold Laif, the Lethal Lotus, up for a ransom that Dexis has to pay to get the pixie back. What Ricky didn’t count on, was the S hriekers coming back for revenge. Or a little mutiny on Matthew Goblin’s part. Bec ause “Trebor Nilbog” was distracted by the robbers, “Robert Goblin” was never able to se e the Shriekers and Dexis come to claim their prize. “Alright so Laif is the Lethal Lotus.” I said calmly. “What makes him so Lethal?” Dexis found the button on Fang’s helmet, and opened it up, grabbing the screaming Laif. “There was a particular minstrel in the court of Camelot that was ridiculed by his peers. He sung of different things than the others; Horribly great things .” His black eyes shone as he held Laif in his hand. “There was one particular bard that told of a Lethal Lotus. Everyone mocked him, because he sung of a harmless flower as a magical entity with untold power. All of the Denizens discounted him as insane. And by today’s terms, they would be correct. But this minstrel was als o gifted. His name was Rothburton. “I knew Rothburton!” Draco said. “He was a good man.” “Well that’s nice. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE LETHAL LOTUS?!” I asked him. “Because he never came up to my cave to sing to me. I watched all the town’s folk fr om afar.” “Rothburton’s bard was not taken any more seriously than his others.” Dexis went on, u naware of our private conversation. “But it held power in the folds of the ordinar y words.” THE LETHAL LOTUS COMES THE LAST IT SERVES TO UNITE THE PRESENT AND PAST WHEN TAKEN INTO THE ‘SHIFTER’S HEART THE BONDS OF LIFE WILL BE TORN APART ONE WILL RISE UP TO SEIZE THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD IN IT’S DARKEST HOUR TO ‘TWINE THE FATES OF BEAST AND MAN THEY SHAN’T EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN Dexis recited the prophecy religiously. “My master will consume the life energy of the last lotus pixie, and shall have the power to change the world into it’s dark

est hour. The Hunter will no longer stand in peace. Once the Hunter absorbs the Lethal Lotus, life as you know it will cease to exist.” With that, he created a black device, and clamped it down on Laif’s little wings, so he couldn’t fly away. I was filled with such hate at seeing Laif’s pitiful struggles beneath Dexis’s gleef ul gaze, that my vision was lined with red. “I’ll stop you.” I said quietly. My body w as shutting down. Dexis stopped walking, turned around, and came back to me. “Look at yourself. You can’t even hold your head and body up. Not to mention that you couldn’t even touch m e when you did have the strength.” He released Laif, and I watched him fall to the ground, as Dexis slugged me in the gut. My powerful armor that had stopped bull ets in the past, bent under Dexis’s powerful blow. My breath whooshed out of me, so I could not cry out in pain. I was grateful for that. He hit me again, this time in the chest, and I heard bones crack. My body cringed at the pain, unable to do more, because of the shackles on my hands and feet. I must have been quite the pathetic sight. But I was supposed to be the u nshakeable superhero. Not being able to breathe very easily, I spat out some blood, before saying, “So y our master plan is to smack me until…what exactly?” “Oh I don’t plan on merely hitting you, Dragon Knight.” He whipped out the shadow sabe r again. Without batting an eye, he slid the blade through my armor, and in betw een my ribs. My eyes shot open as I felt little notches along the blade, tear in to my flesh as it exited my back. “I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry.” I said over and over in my head. “Jacob, you’ve been stabbed!” The ever-vigilant Draco pointed out. “Yeah. Thanks for telling me, because I thought I was getting spooned.” I retorted. Blood was flowing down my abdomen as it glurped out of the wound. “I was merely saying that getting stabbed, and dying, would completely justify she dding tears.” Draco said, even as I felt the hot liquid stream down my face. I had failed. Thomas would die. Laif would die. And Ali would be forced to live in a world run by the Hunter. “Wait a minute! I can’t die. I’m supposed to see Ali later.” I exclaimed. “I believe this part of dying is known as denial.” Draco observed. “Jacob, you’ve been s tabbed. I don’t think Ali would want to ‘hang out’ while you’re bleeding all over the Em ergency Room. That is, if you could even get out of this place.” “Yes she would.” I said defiantly. “She loves me!” My vision was fading black as I kept talking with Draco. “You don’t need to speak, Jacob. I’ll stay here with you.” He said in a comforting tone. “I consider myself lucky to have been bound to one such as you.” “No! Draco! I’m not in denial of dying. I’m not going to die!” I said. “Jacob, that’s the definition of denial.” “Or it’s somebody with a crazy plan!” I said. I reached for my power, just like I had so long ago, delving into my mind, and instead of pulling one aspect of the powe r, I pulled all of it at once. “Jacob don’t! You’ll be killed!” Draco exclaimed. “Honestly, I don’t see the point in not trying, then.” I said, feeling a fierce smile spread across my face. Dexis saw me smiling, and his disappeared. He yanked the saber out, taking more of me with it. I screamed out in pain. It was not a dignified scream. It was the sound of a man who had no strength left to fight. But I had the strength to get the strength to fight. I didn’t know what would happen, but I continued to gather the power up, into my control as I continued to lose consciousness. By this time, Fang had regained his consciousness. When he saw the wound in my s ide, and my now-deformed chest, he shouted my name, “DRAGON KNIGHT!!!” My eyes, which had been closed in concentration, snapped open as the gathered po wer flowed through me. My wounds seared hot as they were repaired magically. The puncture wound closed all the way, and my ribs popped back out to their normal place. It was almost as painful as taking Draco’s scale into my skin had been. Alm ost. So far the power didn’t turn out to be too bad. That was when I caught fire.

My head caught up in a fireball as the flames leapt from my skull. I now appeare d to have a head full of fiery hair. My clawed hands had fire cast all around th em. My legs disappeared and everything below my waist caught fire, and was swirl ing in a tornado of flame. I screamed in agony as my nerves were hit with a mill ion lumens of pain. It felt like fire on my normal skin. I was burning alive. By this time, the shackles were incinerated by this new kind of fire. “Jacob!” Draco yelled. I could barely hear him over my own screaming voice. But I was silenced as flame also covered my mouth. Now my arms and torso were the only things that still retained the green armor, and wasn’t on fire. The pain was so intense that I had to focus intently on managing it. After a while, I was able to think clear ly, even though the pain was still extreme. “Amazing.” Draco said. “This only happened one other time, that I am aware of.” “What happened?” I asked. “You know how you can become a Dragon Knight?” “Yeah.” “Well you’re not a Dragon Knight anymore.” Draco said. At my feelings of confusion, Dr aco went on. “The being that you have become is a Pyronius. Jacob! You are literal ly a spirit of Fire!” Draco was getting very excited. Draco’s and my conversation was carried out at the sped of thought, but it was sti ll pretty lengthy. Dexis was standing below where I was floating in my fire torn ado. H swung his sword at me. I heard it whip through the air before I caught hi s wrist in my flaming hand. If it had been anyone else, it would have been unrem arkable. But I had just grabbed the smoky assassin I hadn’t laid a claw on, the ni ght before. His black eyes bugged as he realized he was in trouble. The fire was agonizing to me, but I reveled in it. I squeezed the shadow’s wrist until I heard the bones pop. The sword disappeared as Dexis let out a screech that sounded wh olly inhuman. Above me, there was an answering cry as the door slammed open and the top of the tower was filled with dozens of oily-black Shriekers. Their wings were flapping quickly, and they were weaving in between each other, looking like a giant mass of shiny, black skin. They were using their magical sc reeching, bouncing it off the walls, magnifying the effect. I looked over, to se e Thomas’s ears and nose letting out little trails of blood. To me, it just sounded like an annoying racket. The Shriekers had red eyes, and I instinctively knew that the red haze that sti ll laced my vision was red armor covering my eyes as well. I focused my power to my eyes and hands, and shot up four Pyronius-powered beams of heat at the cloud of Shriekers. As they neared the Shriekers, all of the beams prismed, and split four ways. Instead of four blasts, I now had sixteen. They plowed through the l ittle creatures like butter. Limbs and heads rained down from the scattering clo ud above us. Dexis dissipated, and I extended my index finger and thumb, making a gun shape, and zapping the targets that got too close to me. I felt a tugging sensation on my left arm. I turned down, to see a Shrieker that had escaped my n otice, chewing on my armor. I zapped him with my eyes. The chaos died away as the last of the Shriekers was destroyed. Dexis and I face d each other from opposite sides of the stone room, framed by the corpses of his minions. “What are you?” Dexis asked me. Usually I’d have some snappy retort on the tip of my tongue, ready to throw at him . But in this instance, I figured I was more likely to make him soil his loinclo th if I just stayed quiet. I floated over to him, and waited. He threw a punch at me, and I lazily slapped it away. He swung a kick at my lowe r body, but went right through my miniature cyclone, igniting his leg on fire. H e screamed in surprise, and let his leg dissipate to extinguish the fire. When i t reformed, the bluish-gray skin was black and burned. Interesting. I shot beam after beam at Dexis, watching him frantically make holes in himself in order to not get burned. One time though, he wasn’t fast enough, and I shot flame through h is chest, making my own hole. He made a gurgling sound as I walked up to him, and laid my flaming hands on eit her side of his head. His eyes bulged, and the only sound in the room was Dexis’s quiet ,frantic breathing. The look in his eyes begged for mercy. Instead, I gave

him the last three words he would ever hear, delivered in a voice filled with p ower, “YOU MUST DIE.” He made one more strangled sound of pain as I turned up the he at, and crushed his head between my hands. I watched his body fade into smoke en tirely, leaving me alone with Fang, Laif, and a whole bunch of dead Shriekers. Laif was lying on the ground, looking pitiful. I couldn’t pick him up, because my hands were flaming deathtraps. But I still could get rid of the doohickey that D exis had clamped down on his wings. I got a very small flame on the tip of my cl aw, similar to that of a welding torch, and laid it on the vice. It incinerated instantly, turning to smoke, just like Dexis had. I dispatched Thomas’s cuffs in a similar manner. “Thanks…Dragon Knight?” Thomas said, collapsing on the floor. I urged him up, pointing up. I couldn’t speak again, because when I had spoken to Dexis, I had singed my t ongue. Nothing would taste right for a week. “How are we going to get out of here?” Thomas asked, as he restored Laif to the helmet, and the helmet to his head. Aga in, I pointed to the stairs. Then I realized that the torches had been extinguis hed, and the room was in darkness. So, instead of just raising my hand, I shot a firebeam up into the tower. Then I floated over to the stairs, and began ascend ing the way. Fang followed in my firelight, and I heard him crack open a cap, I assumed it was his black cap. We reached the top of the staircase, and blasted t he door inwards, when it refused to open. We now appeared to be in the top of so me kind of giant foyer. It was also made of stone, I figured we were in some kin d of castle. A mammoth chandelier hung over the enormous staircase. We entered t hrough the ruined doorway I had just destroyed, and descended toward the main en trance. When we got to the door, I pulled the handle, and the door showed me…a jail cell. But as I studied it more closely, I realized that it was Matthew Goblin’s cell. I was staring out from the part of the wall that I had not been able to see before . Obviously this was a shadow-portal that Dexis had used to get to the goblin. R emembering the icy feeling that accompanied the shadow-portal, I was cautious as I stepped through. Not only did the temperature not become subzero, but I didn’t pass out. I stepped through as easily as I would any other doorway. I watched in anticipation as fang fought to follow me through. He arrived gasping, resting h is hands on his knees as he caught his breath. It was indeed daytime, although the dark clouds prevented the sun from shining d own to our level. I was floating over to the hole in the police station, when I suddenly found myself falling towards the floor. It rushed up to me, even as I f elt the Pyronius fade from my body, and all was cold and dark. * * * As I regained consciousness, I realized that I was getting really annoyed at bei ng forced to miss parts of my life. But all the same, I was lying on something s oft, and someone was stroking my hair slowly. My eyes snapped open as I realized this. Looking down at me was Ali. Apparently I was resting in her lap. “Hey handsome, How ya feeling?” She asked. My heart jump-started as I heard her voic e. I liked that feeling. But my chest felt bruised. “Well my chest is a little sore. But I’m feeling much better now.” I said, smiling up at her. I breathed out a sigh of content as I enjoyed the feeling of being close to her like this. “Where are we?” I asked her. Thomas came into my field of vision, spoiling my tender moment with Ali, and sai d, “We’re in your apartment. Dan and I brought you here after you fell down those st airs.” He put an emphasis on the excuse that was the reason for me being unconscio us. I sat up groggily as Dan walked over to sit on my other shag couch. “Yeah man. We were really worried about you. Thomas called me over, to clean you up. And when I got here, your phone was ringing ‘cause Ali was calling.” “It was the bajillionth time that I had called you, but you didn’t answer any of the m.” I pulled out my phone and sure enough, I had exactly three missed calls. I smi led at her because of the exaggeration, and she leaned over to give me a kiss. D an and Thomas were dumbfounded. I sat up, and looked around my familiar apartment. Everything was as it should b e: brown carpet with assorted stains—check; green walls the color of pea soup vomi

t—check; friends and girlfriends that I love, chilling on my grandpa couches—check. The only thing missing was a couple of cold root beers. “Hey Dan,” I said, looking at him. “Would you go get some root beer out of the fridge in the kitchen? It should be on the second shelf up.” Dan wordlessly got up off the couch, and sauntered into the kitchen “chamber.” I say chamber, because you walk through a doorway, and the entire kitchen, including the fridge, is on the left-hand side. I live with the cutting edge of technology with my near-obsolete kitchenware from the 50’s. Really it is an impressive sight to behold the salmon-colored oven and various-colored countertops. The tile was a green and white checkered-pattern that spanned the length of the chamber. Dan walked in, not bothering to turn on the lights, navigating purely by memory and touch…or by the light of his cell phone. I chuckled after a while, noting the absence of any fridge-opening sounds. “Hey!” I called. “Ya need me to come turn on the lights for you?” Dan didn’t reply. Instead we all heard the door open, followed by a meaty splutch sound. Similar to a watermelon splattering on the ground. “Dan!” I yelled. I sprang from the couch, and sprinted over to the little kitchen, A li’s and Thomas’s footsteps pounding right behind me. As we entered the kitchen, I flicked on the light. There was my little kitchen, covered in red liquid that did not look like root beer. I focused on Dan, and sa w his clothes covered in the same liquid—with a fist protruding from the middle of his chest. He tried to speak when he saw us enter, but only succeeded in gurgli ng blood, before his head slumped. Ali screamed. Dan feel forward as the hand wi thdrew. My blood ran cold and gooseflesh erupted on my skin as I saw who the new comer was. “Thomas! Get Ali out of here. NOW!” Thomas picked up Ali, and carried her toward the front door, despite her protests. There, framed by the fridge light, and covere d in Dan’s blood, stood Anna. Chapter 11: Cross My Heart, and Hope to Die Yes, Anna. You know: blonde, hot, bloody. I hadn’t seen her for a few years, which was not my fault, by the way. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad of it. If I had stayed with Anna, I would never have met Ali. Besides the last days I had sp ent with Anna, were not exactly treasures. It all started with the chocolates… Three years ago I marched confidently over to Anna’s house with my box of chocolates in hand. I fe lt especially good about my decision, because it helped me develop my growing se nse of originality. That’s important when being a superhero. Having fans is like h aving a girlfriend—they get bored easily if they see the same thing over and over again. This was why I currently had two-dozen assorted chocolates tucked away in the crook of my arm that I had picked up after catching one of those clumsy sca ffolding workers. Starting out on my grand adventure, I was surprised to find ou t how many people tend to leap from their little platforms as I get there just i n the nick of time. Anyway, today’s would-be victim was Gerald Pope, a seasonal fl orist that was currently doubling as a candy vendor in celebration of Valentine’s Day, as well as washing skyscraper windows. So not only did I take him safely to the ground, I took him to his shop. I took a look at his wares amid his other c ustomers, who parted when I came thudding toward them (must be the horns), until I picked out the perfect thing to celebrate Anna’s and my 4-year anniversary—the ch ocolates. I waited in line, being careful not to hit anyone with my tail. When I got to the register, I pulled my wallet out from my black shorts, only find it devoid of the green stuff. I couldn’t hand him my shiny credit card. It did all so rts of neat things, like use money that could be cancelled if lost, use money yo u didn’t have yet, and use money that could identify the owner of the card. So I f igured I had to run to the ATM. “Hey Gerald, do you do lay-away? I don’t have any ca sh on me. Could you hold onto these, while I go make a withdrawal?” I said, embarr assed indicating the box. “Nah dragon Knight. Don’t worry about it. I figure I owe you a solid for… ya know, sav

ing me. Do you have yerself a sweet tooth…er, fang?” He said winking, trying to be f unny. Amateur. “Actually, it’s for my girlfriend.” I said. “She is human,” I said at his questioning look . “And this is her favorite brand. I thought I’d get her something for Valentine’s, wh ile I was in the neighborhood.” “Gotcha.” Gerald said. He bagged the box of chocolates, and handed it to me, over th e counter. I then flew across the city, to deliver the Anniversary/Valentine’s cho colates to Anna. Which was how I came to find myself walking up Anna’s steps in the early Spring. I knocked on the door, grinning like a fool, and waited for her to open the door so I could see her smiling face. She opened the door, but when I saw her face, I could tell something was on her mind. “What’s up?” I asked, concerned. I handed her the chocolates to cheer her up, and she forced a smile just to be polite. It didn’t really help very much. “We need to talk.” She said. Her voice was deadpan, and her face was expressionless. That was the mask she put on whenever she didn’t want me to know I had hurt her f eelings. In a way, it hurt me even more, to know I couldn’t be trusted. “Alright,” I said calmly. “let’s talk.” I folded my arms, not moving an inch. “Come on, don’t be like that.” Shi implored. She reached into my arms, and dug out my hands to hold them in hers. She led me down the steps of her home. We walked down the street, holding hands. I held onto her, but her hand felt str angely limp. Eventually we got to the Chicago City Park. “Do you remember when we came here, together, for the first time?” She asked me, as we trod below the arcin g trees that formed the tunnel. “How could I forget?” I said. “we came here for the fourth of July, and you chased me around that pond.” I said, pointing. “And then you pushed me in.” I finished, smiling. “That’s right. And then you pulled me in with you.” She said, giving me a nudge with h er hip. We both started laughing at the good past memories. “So what did you want to talk about?” I asked Anna, as we both settled down. I was i n a much better mood, and I was hoping Anna was too. “I was just wondering…if you’ve been honest with me.” She said, after a moment of hesita tion. She looked up at me. I tried my best not to look guilty, and failed entirely. Over the past year, I h ad had to duck out of several potentially well-spent evenings with Anna, due to my relatively new situation. I took a few moments to consider Anna’s question. It was almost painstaking to weigh the consequences that were impossible to know. A fter a long while, I made up my mind, and said, “No.” She winced and pulled away from me. “You haven’t?” she asked. “No.” I said again. I didn’t want to lie to her anymore. “Have you been seeing anyone else?” She asked, hopefully. “No I haven’t.” I said honestly. “I actually got another job that I never told you about .” “Another job? Really?” She asked sarcastically. “You expect me to believe that?” I rested my hands on her shoulders, and looked her in the eyes. “Yes. I do.” I said with a horrifying pause in between. Anna averted her gaze, and simply asked, “What’s the job?” “Have you ever heard of Dragon Knight?” I asked ominously. “Bits and pieces. Apparently he’s some sort of dragon-man that’s trying to be a superh ero. Last I heard, the cops were after him. But Jake, what’s he got to do with any thing?” She asked. “That’s what I’m trying to say.” I said. “That’s my other job. I’m Dragon Knight.” I said. “Are you serious?! She asked. There it was again! That darn incredulity that seeme d to follow me around. So instead of wasting my breath, I merely Shifted in fron t of her, slowly, so she could see me. “This is a bad idea.” Draco said. “Hush!” I replied. “Let’s see what happens.” I muttered as though scaring my 4-year girlfr iend would be an interesting experiment. Anna didn’t so much as blink. “This is who I am, Anna.” I said, pretending she was reacting the way a normal perso

n would. “I hope you understand.” “It all makes sense.” She said. Her voice was disturbingly monotone. “Anna! Are you alright?” You’re not going into shock, are you?” I asked her. “Yes, I’m fine Jake, really. I just wanted to make sure of your honesty before I lef t.” She said. What was she getting at? I Shifted back to normal, and asked, “What do you mean, ‘leaving?’” “My family’s moving to Romania. I won’t be able to see you anymore.” She said, abruptly. I couldn’t believe my ears. Anna’s family had never, ever appeared to have considere d moving. At least not to my knowledge. “Why on the heck are you guys moving to Ro mania, of all places?” “My father was recently offered a leadership position in the government.” According to what information I had gleaned about Anna’s parents (I had never actu ally met them. They were always busy.), they were both politicians that were nev er available to be at home. So the only really confusing part to me, was why two American politicians were moving into a leadership position in a non-American g overnment. Weird. “When are you supposed to leave?” “As soon as possible.” She said, her voice returning to normal. I duly noted that th at was also weird. “I just wanted to see you one last time.” She wrapped her arms ar ound me, and gave me a kiss. “Even if you are green and scaly.” She finished with a smile. “That’s me.” I said, smiling against the pain. “Tall, green, and handsome.” “And I’m your biggest fan.” She said, smiling until her nose wrinkled. “I always will be .” “Promise?” I asked. “Cross my heart and hope to die.” * * * That was the last time I had seen my girlfriend. As for the situation at hand, w ith Dan’s corpse at my feet, I was flailing with my imagination, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. “Confused?” offered Anna, as she rubbed her bloody hands together, making sure to la ther thoroughly. I nodded wordlessly. I was starting to feel sick. And my mind h adn’t even come to grips with the fact that I would never see Dan again. My mind s huddered at the thought. He is…was my best friend, my confidant, and I could not—wou ld not accept that Anna had taken him from me. I didn’t think I could bare to have Dan murdered because of me. Anna smiled in a manner the Grinch did, when he had a horrible, horribly-awful i dea. “Where to begin?” She asked herself, tapping her finger on her lips pensively, dabbing them with blood. “I guess the most basic thing would be to get acquainted with who we really are. For example,” She laid the pads of her right fingertips ov er her voluptuous chest and said, “I have more names than just Anna Metson. I have also been known as Wendy Kensington,” She said with a perfect British accent. “Doro thy West,” She said in a southern accent, “Maria Gonzales, Maya Gillerto, Gwenevere Jones, and so on, and so on.” She waved her hand dismissively. She saw my nonpluss ed expression, and sighed a sigh similar to the kind a patient parent might, if they were dealing with a particularly slow child. “I am not 20 years old, as you a re Jacob. I have had all these aliases in order to allow my longevity to blend i n with the world. I have two names you might recognize—two identities.” Her features became longer, and more wizened. Her previously bloodstained t-shirt and jeans flowed until they became an elegant scarlet cloak, full of rippling folds, and I hated this woman. But as I paid more attention, I realized that it was Draco’s em otions spilling out again. At my command, I was myself again. “This body’s name was Morgan Le Fay.” Said the former Anna Metson, formerly Wendy Kensington, formerly D orothy West, formerly Maria Gonzales, formerly Maya Gillerto, formerly Gwenevere Jones. Now it all made sense. Morgan had been keeping tabs on Draco, making herself liv e longer, to see what became of her work. “So you just wanted to see the job throu gh to the end, with Draco, is that it?” I said, baring my fangs at her that had ap peared in my human mouth. “No, dear boy. He was simply in the way of me getting the Lethal Lotus.”

“Great!” I said sarcastically, on the verge of giving up on sanity entirely. “You’re aft er the Lethal Lotus too?!” I asked angrily. Morgan smiled her wicked smile that made me grit my teeth. Then she spoke in her British accent, every word dripping with poisonous malice. “I have always been af ter the Lethal Lotus. It is the only way to achieve more power than I could ever have on my own. Draco’s mate, what was her name?” “Cassandria.” I hissed. She snapped her fingers in recognition. “That’s the one. Well she got in my way as w ell. She realized that I could destroy the world with that power. So I had to ma ke sure she would not interfere anymore.” “I think you’re getting your facts mixed up, Anna—Morg—whoever you are! The Hunter kille d Cassandria. YOU imprisoned Draco. “No. I did both. As for what you should call me, I believe Hunter will do nicely.” I stared in disbelief as Morgan started dawning a mild shade of yellow in her sk in that increased in opacity as time moved on. She took a step toward me. “I was t here from the beginning, Jacob.” Her fingernails grew into claws, jutting from the end of her human fingernails. “Albeit not on purpose. I was looking to have my ne w life be a young one. I would have left you eventually.” Her voice was deepening as she acknowledged me as worthless. It reminded me of someone putting a recordi ng on slow motion. I backed away from her relentless advance toward me. “But when I saw you fall in that cave, I followed you down, maintaining my guise as the ‘lov ing girlfriend’. I watched you take the scale.” Her face was sprouting yellow fuzzie s. “I tried to examine you afterwards, to make sure of the scale, but you wouldn’t l et me.” She was getting taller by the second. “I followed you to the clearing, and w atched you train your body and mind.” I was backed up against the front door of my apartment. I opened it, and paced up the access stairs, so I could get to the r oof, all the while I was followed by the shape shifting Hunter. “Then, after you h ad been doing your good deeds for a year, I knew I could no longer waste my time in delaying my quest for the Lethal Lotus.” We were still ascending. The hooded c loak slid down to the waist of the not-quite-human figure, all the while it cont inued to follow me. It was now wearing a scarlet cloth around it’s waist, flowing around it’s feet. “The Lethal Lotus isn’t a specific pixie. It is the last of it’s kind. Once I absorb all the life energy of the entire Lotus pixie race, I will be gra nted the powers of the creation and destruction of life.” The facial features diss olved entirely, and was replaced with a large maw, full of deadly fangs. Hunter’s voice was rough and throaty, and when it spoke, I could feel the sound waves vib rate my rib cage. We achieved the rooftop as Hunter continued to follow me. “It was an unfortunate o ccurrence that you had to destroy Dexis but I probably would have had to do it e ventually myself. Similar to how you must be destroyed, so-called Dragon Knight.” “Draco told me that part of his imprisonment, was being forced to do good with the first being that found him.” I told Hunter. “Why would you do that, knowing how pow erful he is? That has got to be the most unintelligent thing I’ve ever heard of.” “Ahem. Jacob.” Draco said. “Is that what he told you?” Hunter let out a rumbling chuckle. “I just imprisoned him there, allowing him to be freed only by someone with pure intentions, and an enl ightened mind.” Hunter replied. My cheeks burned as I learned this. I could feel a similar reaction from Draco’s e mbarrassment. “I wasn’t completely honest with you that first week. I was still tryi ng to remain intimidating to you. You don’t know what it’s like, being imprisoned fo r centuries, wondering what your first impression should be like.” “Well that’s just great.” I said to Draco. Then, to Hunter, “Draco mislead me. But our i ntentions are complimentary, and we will stop you from getting the Lethal Lotus.” We had been circling around the rooftop, and now the stairway was to my back. I was about to shift, and show Hunter who it’s daddy was, when I heard a soft “Eep!” com e from behind m. There, standing on the stairway, was Ali. Which would have been really swell and all, if not for the fact that the world’s most ancient and deadl y predator was on the same of level of said hottie, and I couldn’t shift without A li seeing me do so. I just wasn’t sure if I was willing to risk showing her who I was, knowing that she might leave and never come back to me. On the other hand,

she might get slashed and torn if I didn’t save us both. So I had to choose betwee n possible rejection of the woman I loved, or letting her die a horrible and pai nful death. I thought about it. Ali ran up to me, and I met her halfway, so she wouldn’t get close to Hunter, and held her in my arms. “Ali! What are you doing here? I thought Thomas took you with him?” I said. “He tried to.” She said proudly into my suddenly moist shoulder. “But I kept fighting him off, and telling him I wasn’t going anywhere without you. So he said that afte r you were done talking to your girlfriend,” she wrinkled her nose attractively at the mention of Anna. “that we should meet him at Sector 8. But I didn’t even know w here that was, so I waited at the front of the apartment building for you to com e out. I got hungry, and went to buy a hot dog from the nearby vendor, and when I looked back up, I saw you go onto the roof. So I came up here for you. Is your girl friend still waiting for you downstairs for you, sweetie?” She put a distinc t gap between “girl” and “friend”. A man less innately kind than myself might have detec ted a smidge of jealousy toward the blood-covered girl that had been in my kitch en. But all I caught was the sarcasm. “No, she’s up here with us, silly.” I said with forced euphoria, pointing to the big y ellow Hunter that had apparently escaped Ali’s notice. Her eyes widened in fear. “Oh gosh. What is that?” She asked, as if it was some unat tractive animal. “That,” I said happily. “is my ex-girlfriend.” “It is?” She said, incredulously. “What are we going to do, Jake?” She asked, frightened . “I don’t know.” I said, I hadn’t made up my mind about dying together, or living alone a fter she rejected me. Anna, apparently, had only accepted me as Dragon Knight, b ecause she already knew. That wasn’t likely to happen with a normal person. Ali was fidgeting next to me. “C-Couldn’t you just f-fly us away?” she asked nervously . I looked at her as if she had suddenly sprouted a beak, yellow fluffy wings, and welcomed me to sesame street. “What did you say?” “I said, ‘couldn’t you fly us away from her—it?’” She repeated. “I saw you beat up those th at the mall. They had hit me, but I wasn’t unconscious. My head just hurt. But I saw you transform into Dragon Knight, and save me.” She was giving me the googly e yes. “Jake! You’re a superhero!” She exclaimed, looking up from her position against m y chest. “Duly noted.” I said in a daze. So Ali had seen me beat up those bad guys as dragon Knight before she told me she loved me. Well I guess that solved my current dile mma. It also explained why her story hadn’t coincided with the story I had told he r father. So she loved me, and she loved me being a superhero. Sweet. “You knew th is whole time?” I asked. “Just since then.” She said simply. “That was why I wanted to make sure you were alrig ht yesterday. I saw those two awful men shooting at ‘Dragon Knight’ on the news.” She made little quotation fingers around my name. “And then I got to see you, and… and k iss you. And then you told me you loved me.” She stopped speaking for a moment. “I j ust love you so much, Jake.” She pressed her soft lips to mine, and kissed me pass ionately. Just once. “Isn’t this sweet?” Hunter said, coming over to us.” Little Jacob’s moved on from our rela tionship. At least this way, you won’t have to live without him.” Hunter said, raisi ng it’s paw above it’s head, to strike. But I had made up my mind. Option C: live together happily with the woman who lo ves and accepts me. “Not today, Fuzzball.” I said. Then I scooped up Ali, so she was on my back, holding onto my neck, and leapt over the edge of the roof. I Shifte d, and my wings sprouted on either side of Ali’s body. We cut though the air at a rapid clip. But Hunter was trailing behind us in the skyscraper canyon, with it’s scarlet skir t billowing behind it. I forgot that Hunter could fly. Crap. We were rocketing down Thames Street, in the region of one-hundred miles per hou r. Ali had her head nestled against my neck as I strived to stay away from Hunte

r. I dodged left and right, high and low, always Hunter kept with me. As we burst out of a particularly alley, I heard a loud thud come from behind me . I turned around quickly in time to see a white blur flying away, and Hunter wa s losing altitude. “What is that?” Ali asked. I grinned and said, “The cavalry.” Fang was hulked up again, and had tackled the Hunter out of it’s flight pattern, a nd whilst doing so, had made the thudding sound that now seemed most satisfying.

“And who, pray tell, might you be?” Hunter asked angrily, stabilizing and turning to Fang. Fang removed his helmet, and Laif took his place on his shoulder. “Ah, Thomas.” Hunt er exclaimed in recognition. “You brought me the Lethal Lotus. How kind.” Thomas replaced his helmet, and replied, “Up yours, Fluffy. If you think I’m just go nna let you take Laif, you’ve got another thing coming!” “Why you little-“ Hunter said, lunging for Fang. A burst of yellow sparks sent Fang a few yards out of the Hunter’s grasp. “Dragon Knight! Take Ali to the headquarters. Keep her safe.” Fang yelled. “Will do.” I said, even as I was turning around. As I was flying toward sector 8, I heard Fang’s taunts such as, “is that all you’ve got?” or “You’ll have to do better than th t!”, before we both moved. I moved towards the safehouse, while Fang led the Hunte r farther away, using the Lethal Lotus as bait. Ali, for her part, was having the time of her life, and asking me all these ques tions, as I stayed vigilant for any sign of the Hunter resuming it’s pursuit. “So ho w long have you been Dragon Knight?” She asked. “Did you inherit the mantle and duti es from some other Dragon Knight? It seems like he’s been around forever.” “No, I didn’t get this way from another dragon Knight. It’s always been me; ever since I was eighteen years old.” She squeezed me tightly. “I told Dan about it, a year af ter the fact, but that was just being selfish. I needed him.” And now he’s gone. I t hought And I’ll never see him again. “I’m so sorry, Jake.” Ali said fiercely. “You must miss him so much.” “I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry.” We flew in silence, with the wind against our faces. Ali seemed to be enjoying h erself. “So you can just fly around, whenever you want?” She asked. “Whenever I want.” I affirmed. “I’m so jealous!” She said. My chest swelled with pride. “You’ll have to take me for a rid e sometime, okay?” “Okay.” “Promise?” “Cross my heart and hope to die.” I said. I chose that moment to land in Sector 8’s pa rking lot. “What is this place?” she asked me. Indignantly, I said, “This is my Sector 8!” “This is your secret hideout?” she asked, skeptically, giving the deserted gas stati on a wary look. I was suddenly very nervous about taking my girlfriend into my 5-year bachelor p ad. I Shifted, and raced over to the door, barricading it with my body. “You don’t want to go in there!” I said, anxiously. “I thought that was the whole point of you bringing me here.” She said, arching her eyebrow intelligently. “Uh.” I countered, just as intelligently. “She walked up to me, and kissed me intensely. As she finished, and stepped away f orm me, my eyes were out of focus, and I just stood there stupidly, feeling like jelly. “Now why don’t you be a sweetheart, and give me the grand tour?” she asked me. With just a touch, she had disarmed me. Blast! I came out of my temporary stupor, and said sensibly, “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I fought the formerly-automatic doors open, and led Ali in, behind me. The smell alone, would have been enough to tranquilize a buffalo. For some reason, I had

never noticed it before. Ali seemed to be gagging on her tongue, and to save my pride, I pretended not to notice. But after a few moments, she composed herself, and gestured for me to continue on. Dan and I had long ago rid the store of all the product shelves that had once sold Cheetos, Doritos, dried Spaghetti O’s, and all other forms of snackage, and deposited them in the back alley, leaving the store with a wide open space. Aside from the service counter (which was impossi ble to move, unfortunately), the only things in the room were King Couch, and ou r little TV. We strode across the floor, and as we got nearer to the sofa, the s mell of uncleanliness faded away, replaced by a far more delightful scent. “Is that Febreeze?” Ali asked. “Sure is. ‘Mountain Lilacs.’” I said proudly. “It was one of Dan’s little tendencies that s ved me over the years.” I said smiling. “I’m sure.” She said, plopping down on the Godsend of a sofa. “Oh my gosh! This couch is amazing! Where did you get it?!” She asked, excitedly. “Dunno. Dan Brought it in, one day.” I said, full of emotion. Ali thought for a minute. “He was really important to you, wasn’t he?” she asked. A tear fell down my cheek. “Yeah. He was my very best friend. I’m gonna miss him.” She got up off the couch, and gave me a hug that made me feel a whole lot better . “It’s alright. You’ll get through this. I’ll help you.” Her arms squeezed me, and I held her gently. We went over, sat down, and turned on the news. Immediately, we were met with fo otage of an aerial battle between Fang and Hunter. Moving so fast, Fang looked l ike a brilliant shooting star, and Hunter looked vaguely like a fuzzy blob of mu stard I once blew out of my straw in my third grade cafeteria. And it didn’t help that the cameraman had a shaky grip on the camera. From what I could see, the fi ght wasn’t going well for Fang. He would zip in, and land a few of his fancy kung fu punches, before quickly dodging away. But even though he was able to do this, his movements seemed sluggish. He wouldn’t see Hunter’s counter-attack until a spli t second before. Either that, or he wouldn’t know which way to dodge, even though he saw the attack coming. Either way, it didn’t look like he could hold onto his s lim lead for long. The cameraman was rambling off a speedy commentary, which I c ould no longer hear over the rushing sound in my ears. I stood up. “I have to go help him.” I said. Ali got a fearful expression on her face. “Isn’t that thing, like, super dangerous?” s he asked. “You don’t know the half of it.” But even as I said it, our attention was drawn back t o the TV. Fang had gotten three super-powered punches on Hunter, before it telep orted out of existence, only to reappear behind Fang. It hit him from above, sen ding him careening towards the pavement. I said a silent prayer, asking that I w ouldn’t be looking at Fang soup in the next moment. Thankfully, it seemed that his clothes protected him from his fall, because a mi nute later, he seemed to be struggling to get up. But suddenly Hunter landed for cefully, sending a network of spiderweb cracks through the middle of the road. I t picked up Fang by the napes of his duster, causing it to decay until it dissol ved into red dust, before turning to face the particular camera whose broadcast we were watching, as it moved it’s grip to Fang’s throat. “Dragon Knight. I’ve changed my mind. I would like to see the end of Draco. Bring hi m to me, or you will lose your precious Dragon’s Fang.” And with that, It threw Fang to the pavement, where he moved no more. Chapter 12: The Beginning of the End I turned hopelessly to Ali, not knowing what to do. “Is Fang alright” She asked, worried. “I don’t know.” “Are you going to give Draco to it?” “Heck no!” I said violently. Draco was like a brother to me. I could never even cons ider harming him. And because he was way older and experienced than me, I decide d to ask Draco for advice.

“What’s the plan?” I asked him. “I’m not going to give you up.” Draco gave a soft chuckle. “I can hear what you’re thinking. I know you won’t.” “That is so unfair! How come I can’t hear your thoughts?” I asked. “Because of the barrier that separates us. I cannot help it. It is simply how the curse was designed.” “Lame.” I finished. We were sidestepping the dilemma at hand, and we both knew it. A t least, I was pretty sure Draco was avoiding it too. “While I do not think it wise to confront the Hunter, I believe that it must pay d early for Dan’s death. I would hate for Thomas to meet his end at the Hunter’s claws .” “I couldn’t agree more.” I said. “But how are we supposed to kill the Hunter, if it coul dn’t be killed by the entire race of Dragons?” “Most dragons are weaker than you people think. They were not meant for war and ba ttle.” “It defeated you and Cassandria.” I said quietly. Draco hesitated. “Yes it did.” “Maybe the Pyronius could defeat it.” I proposed. “Even after the Hunter absorbs the Lethal Lotus, if it hasn’t already?” “Oh no! Laif!” I had forgotten that the little pixie was in Fang’s helmet with the Hun ter. Maybe we’d get lucky, and he wouldn’t know Laif was there. “Thomas took off the helmet in front of the Hunter, though.” Draco pointed out. “That was the whole reason the Hunter left you alone, and went after Fang.” My hopes fell. Ali had been sitting quietly, watching me as Draco and I spoke wi th each other. When I ran out of ideas, and realized Laif might already be out o f time, Ali saw my downcast face and came over to me. “I don’t know how being Dragon Knight works. Are you sick of radioactivity or someth ing?” I had to fight desperately to keep the smile off my face. I hadn’t had a chance to explain to Ali how Draco and I had met, or how any of it worked. So I took ten minutes to explain to her how I had found the scale, and how my powers worked. “So you’re not radioactive?” She asked, chagrined. “No. I was just talking with Draco.” “Oh. What’s it like?” “It’s kind of like having someone speaking softly into both your ears. Not a whisper , certainly. But it fills your mind as much as your own thoughts.” “Does that ever get annoying?” She asked, smiling now. “It did at first.” I said, thinking back to the first few days. “But he’s been one of my best friends, always there for me.” “Could I talk to him?” She asked, rising and resting her hand on my arm. “Yeah, I’d be happy to translate—“ Suddenly I was having an out-of-body experience…more or less. I was still in my bo dy, but I no longer had control of myself. “I can introduce myself.” My mouth said in Draco’s rumbling, distinguished British voi ce. Ali stepped back in shock, both from my interrupting myself, as well as my voic e that was now gravelly, and two octaves lower. “Pleased to meet you…sir.” She address ed me. She seemed very confused. She held out her hand to shake mine, and I foun d myself taking it, and planting a deep kiss upon it. She raised her other hand to her mouth, trying to suppress a giggle. It must have looked pretty funny to s ee her goofy boyfriend acting civilized and out of character. “Pleased to finally meet you in person, my lady.” I said again. “What are you doing?” I asked Draco. “Merely saying salutations to the damsel.” Draco replied. “How did you take control of my body, though?” I demanded. “You’ve never been able to do it before.” “I have never had a desire to do so.” Draco replied, and instantly, I was returned c ontrol to my body. I looked down at myself, and patted my chest and cheeks a cou ple times to make sure I was me again. ‘I’m back.” I told Ali. “That’s never happened before.” “Well it was…interesting.” She replied. We stood in the gas station in silence for a f

ew moments before I said, “I need to go save Thomas.” Determination rang in my voice . “Yes you do.” She said. “You haven’t been procrastinating, have you?” She gave me a wry sm ile. My mouth fell open, and I tried my best to look offended, as if that would be so mething I wouldn’t even consider. “Wha—No! I was—I was just—“ “Save the excuses, Scales.” She said, putting a finger to my lips. “I’m scared too.” Her fingers fell away, and I cast my gaze downward, ashamed. I looked around Sec tor 8, desperate to avoid looking at Ali. “I’m terrified, Ali. This Hunter is old, s cary, and deadly. When Draco was still a dragon, the Hunter took him down. It wa s like David and Goliath, but the Hunter didn’t even need a stone. I don’t know. Goi ng up against something that dangerous just seems…hopeless.” I still didn’t look at h er. She reached up again, and laid a hand on each side of my face. Her soft touch fe lt like a livewire to my skin. But I still felt too ashamed to look at her. I si mply closed my eyes and listened. “When my parents got divorced last year—gosh, even before that, I couldn’t stand being around them. They were always yelling at each other, and sometimes my mom would yell at me.” Her voice was very small, almost a whisper. I finally looked at her. She had a single tear falling down her cheek. As it rounded the curve of her di mple, I realized that although she was reliving what was apparently a very sad m emory, her eyes showed me no fear—only a quiet strength that seared it’s passion int o me. She continued boring into me with her stare. “When we left her, my family wa s no longer whole. Nothing felt right, and everything was off-balance.” She shudde red slightly, and I knew it wasn’t from the cold. I reached out to hold her, but s he shook her head, indicating I shouldn’t. I let my arms fall back to my side. “I fe lt everything was hopeless too, Jake. I didn’t think I would ever feel better.” She took a deep breath. “And then I met you.” Her eyes seemed to shine with happiness. I t poured into me, and I felt that happiness grow into a warmth that spread throu ghout my whole body. “You showed me happiness again. You showed me a hope that I t hought was lost to me. And now you have to do that again, right now. Dragon Knig ht has been a symbol of hope and righteousness to those who had none. To those w ho needed help, Dragon Knight was there to give it; diving into any situation, h eedless of the danger, just to help that stranger. Well now it’s Thomas’s life on th e line. It shouldn’t matter who it is that’s threatening him. But this time it does. This time, it’s Dan’s murderer that’s calling you out. Are you going to let the Hunte r get away for what it’s done?” She said defiantly, daring me to act hopeless. “No.” I croaked out weakly. “Are you going to crawl away from it’s challenge, with your tail between your legs?” S he asked louder, encouraging me. “No.” I said, sounding more confident. “And are you going to stay here while Thomas lies at the Hunter’s mercy, waiting for you to come and save him?!” Ali was yelling at point-blank range, a fierce grin s pread across her face. I felt my own lips spread in a triumphant smile, and a surge of adrenaline pump through me as I yelled, “Never!” “That’s my man.” Ali said. She pulled my face down to hers, and gave me a deep kiss. W e were both scared, but we knew what had to be done, and because of Ali, I now h ad the strength to do it. She let her hands finally fall from my face. My heart was racing now, because of the anticipation of the coming battle, as well as the attraction I felt wheneve r I was around Ali. I Shifted, and smiled down at her. Not only did she not flinch, but she ran up, and gave me a big hug goodbye. Using it, instead of saying the thoughts we refus ed to acknowledge we were both thinking. My wings appeared around me, and I started toward the door, when suddenly Laif f ew in through a few of the boarded windows appearing to be a white streak of lig ht. Because he was moving so fast though, he was unable to steer clear of the ca sh register that blocked his path of flight. It pinged open comically as he boun ced off of it. He continued to bounce off of most of the walls before he managed

to arc himself toward King Couch, where the heaven-sent cushions absorbed his o utrageous speed, allowing him to halt his absurd journey around my headquarters. Ali and I walked over to him to see what was going on. Laif struggled out of his confinement in the red plush and practically screamed at me, “ ‘elp Monsieur Thomas PLEASE!!!” His voice was a frantic wail, and with his t hick French accent, it was all I could do to barely understand him. “We know, Laif. I’m on my way to help him right now.” I said in my hissing Dragon Knig ht voice. “Why are you here, instead of with Thomas?” “Monsieur Thomas thought it would be best if I were not near the Hunter’s grasp.” “That was a good move on his part.” I said. “you stay here with Ali, she’ll take care of you. I’m going to go after the Hunter.” With that, I stepped outside, and flared my wings. I raised them above me, reach ing for the heavens, looking for all the world like some dark avenging angel, an d threw them down, catapulting me into the sky. I hadn’t gone ten yards, before th ere was an impact between my two avial blades, throwing me forward. It wasn’t a sh arp impact, merely a solid force that threw me forward. As it was, I found mysel f flying very fast over the earth, rotating slowly, so that one moment the sky w as above me, the next moment the ground was, until several moments later I found myself slamming through a concrete barrier back-first and upside-down. A familiar, dreadful voice rang out amidst the rubble I found myself in, “You real ly should be more careful about being followed, lotus pixie. I was able to pursu e you all the way back here. Straight to Dragon Knight’s hideout. Well great. Now I didn’t have a place to retreat to, if things got dicey. And what’s worse, the Hunter had found Ali again. That was just swell. I picked myself up from the debris, and looked back to Sector 8. The Hunter was standing there, “looking” back at me with it’s eyeless face. I shook off the dust, and flew back to the base, landing by the decrepit gas pumps. I imitated dusting off my shoulders with the back of my hand. “Not very respectful , Hunter. You didn’t even wait until dusk.” The Hunter stared sightlessly at me, not very amused by my insults. Then shruggi ng itself into motion, it turned from me, and entered Sector 8. “I did not know th is is where the pixie was headed, Dragon Knight. But nevertheless, I know how yo u are attached to the pixie, and how you wanted to defend it, so I attempted to remove you from the problem so we would not quarrel just yet. And if we are to b egin discussing dishonesties,” The Hunter said sinisterly. “Were you not rushing to confront me, and save your precious Fang?” I glared back at the Hunter, knowing that I had been bested before the battle ha d even begun. I had been the dishonest one. But I , at least, hadn’t planned on be ing sneaky, and catching him off-guard. I would have announced myself and fought honorably. Wouldn’t I? I lifted myself off of the ground by a few feet, flapping steadily, before prope lling myself at the Hunter, aiming to impale him. I probably should have used my head in a better way. The Hunter threw Laif back into the station, and sidestepped at the last moment, but not completely free. At first, I thought it was because I had been going so fast, but it turned out that the Hunter just wanted to use it to angle my momen tum off course. After the initial impact on my right shoulder, I felt the Hunter hook it’s claws under my arms, and use both it’s body, as well as my now-changing m omentum, to throw me exactly one-hundred-and-eighty degrees back to where I had come from. I felt my back crash through the stone pillars that supported the sma ll roof overlooking the gas pumps. It didn’t hurt because of my armor, but I still got an adrenaline rush as I saw the ceiling falling toward me, followed by the tell-tale smell of gasoline filling my nose. One of the pumps had been punctured . Well dang. I was just about to throw a couple fireballs to see just how thorough ly fireproof the Hunter’s hide was. I couldn’t risk it now, and cause the station to blow up, with Ali and Laif in there. So now I either had to move Ali and Laif, or somehow clear up the gas. I figured it would be best to take care of the leak , both to save my headquarters as well as to keep Ali’s presence secret. She had p robably hidden from the Hunter when it had gone in to get Laif. The Hunter might

not have noticed her yet. The rectangular pump had a large chunk missing from when I had crashed through i t. Most of the pump was just that: a mechanism that brought the fuel up, through a pipe, and into the service hoses. Most of the transfer pipe had emerged from the incident unscathed, but there was a section about the width of my tail missi ng from the side of it. I could see the air in front of the hole, waving with th e invisible threads of the noxious fumes. As I approached the gas pipe, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, that the Hunte r was pacing back and forth like a caged animal guarding it’s territory from poten tial threats, watching me anxiously and releasing an occasional growl. But I kne w it was so much more than a mere animal. I got my Dragon Ooze all over my hands . The combined width of both my hands was enough to cover the hole, and the leng th was easily covered as I laid my fingers down, sealing the space. I removed my hands, separating them from the gap, and watched in fascination as it crystalli zed and hardened into a substance harder than diamonds, sealing the gas leak com pletely. Now I had to take care of the fumes already in the air. I raised my wings once m ore, and instead of bringing them straight down, threw them forward, taking all of the flammable gases away. I repeated this two more times for good measure. Bu t because the wind was moving forward, sir Isaac Newton and his laws of physics reared their ugly heads and sent an opposite force moving back at me. I had to d ig my claws into the asphalt to keep myself from moving. But on the last flap, I released my grip on the ground, and propelled myself back to a safe distance fr om the Hunter, with a fireball in hand. I let it fly, as I brought my arm arcing down. It struck home. Or at least it was until it suddenly deflected off in ano ther direction. But I expected no less. I already had a small igniter flame in m y hand as soon as the fireball had left. I focused my energy through the focal p oint of the little flame, and it came out as a searing beam of heat. It was bigg er than any I had used before, and it erupted toward the Hunter with a thunderou s clap. I might as well have tried to kill the Hunter with a bad joke. “Told you so.” Draco sneered smugly. “I know. I know.” I snapped back. “I was just making sure it hadn’t worn off over the ye ars, or anything.” “It seems it hasn’t.” Draco pointed out the obvious. “I KNOW DRACO!!!” I thundered. Then I lowered my voice, and said, “I know. I just can’t afford to take any chances with this creature. I can’t assume anything.” I looked back up at the Hunter and little alarm bells started sounding in my hea d. I couldn’t figure out why. The Hunter was right where it had been. Then the wor ld suddenly went into focus as it slowed down. The particles of smoke from the r ubble were seen individually. A dog’s bark could be heard from the other side of t he city, and my skin grew super-sensitive as I felt the air’s most delicate vibrat ions. Compared to the rest of the city’s generally calm activity, I felt a huge di sturbance behind me. Acting purely on instinct, I dove to my right, just as the Hunter’s massive fist landed on the ground where I had just been standing. I flick ed my gaze over to where the hunter had been pacing. I caught a glimpse of the f igure fading into nothingness. “An illusion!” Draco exclaimed. “It created a doppelganger to trick you!” “You mean an illusion was able to deflect my fire?” I asked. “Obviously.” Draco said serenely. Okay. So now I had to watch out for fake Hunters too, that could do anything the original Hunter could. I rolled to my feet, and spared a moment to glare at the Hunter out of frustrati on before I charged at it. Chapter 13: The Lethal Lotus You know that stupid kid in the back of your kindergarten class? The one that wo uld eat the paste, shove crayons up his nose, or run around in circles, screamin

g after he “burned” himself on the plastic stove? That kid was me. I had a whole bun ch of “brilliant” ideas that I felt compelled to demonstrate to my fellow man. At t his time, I took the opportunity to do just that, by way of trying to lay a punc h on the who-knew-how-old Hunter. Big mistake. My arm had barely extended when the Hunter grabbed my fist, held all of it compl etely still, before squeezing it with crushing force. I cried out in agony, as I felt my curled fingers snap in half, and fold in on themselves, diminishing in size. Pain, white-hot pain exploded behind my eyes reducing me to my knees. The popping of my own bones’ demise rang in my ears. Still the Hunter refused to relea se me. That is, until from beneath his robe-skirt a fuzzy foot emerged and kicke d me in the face. I flew back, and toppled over until I rested still. I didn’t wan t to go back to face that monster. I looked up blearily to see we had acquired quite the crowd. The Hunter had walk ed over to the edge of the ring of people, and had grabbed two people by the thr oat: a man and his wife. I stared on in horror as I saw the familiar crimson dec ay forming around it’s claws the. The couple spasmed for a few moments before the life left them, and they stilled. Rage filled me, and, with my ruined hand tucked safely behind me, rushed up behi nd the Hunter, intent on stopping it. Right as I was about to reach it, the Hunt er backhanded me without looking at me, and I found myself careening helplessly through the air once more. I landed with a dull thud. I could’ve just laid there and died quietly, but the cr owd’s screams were ringing through the turmoil. To my surprise and protest, I foun d myself staggering back to my feet. I rushed the Hunter again, keeping in mind this time not to assume I was catchin g it off guard. Sure enough, when I got within arm’s reach, a golden paw leapt at my face in a great haymaker. But this time I was ready and playing it smart. I r aised my left arm to block, but after the impact hit, I realized that the Hunter’s strength greatly exceeded my own. I started moving with the punch, diving to my right, and landing in a roll, putting my wings away as I did so. I uncurled, an d sprang up, snapping out a quick uppercut that sent the Hunter staggering back a few steps. It threw a blind jab at me, but I ducked low and popped it once in the kisser—just to keep it honest—before quickly hoping away. It feinted a left hook , while carrying through with another right jab. I reached out with my own right hand, and created a slat that the jab ran the length of, before, at the end, I added some force to the arm, sending it away while the Hunter was forced to spin counter-clockwise, following it’s arm’s momentum. Now that the Hunter’s back was faci ng me, I took the liberty of not holding any of my strength back, and laid a sol id punch right on the monster’s spine. The Hunter dug it’s claws into the pavement, and chuckled. Realizing my master plan had failed. I crouched down low, and swung my great tai l at the beast, in order to fling it away. For some reason I didn’t know, it worke d where my punch had not. The Hunter emitted a soft grunt before it flew silently through the air and land ed in a heap not so differently than I had a little while before it. And then the Hunter was gone. The only signs that the Hunter had ever been in the now-empty pile of rocks, wer e the few pebbles that fell through the void of space that the Hunter had left b ehind. I got low on my haunches, and hissed in frustration and fear, flicking my head left and right, trying to find where it had teleported to. My tail twitche d in anticipation as my senses were tuned up to full-alert. My earholes picked up the noise of rustling of cloth high above me. I raised my eyes to see the Hunter plummeting at me, one-hundred feet away. I spread my legs , bracing them, and bared my fangs in challenge. But even though I was paying at tention to what the Hunter was doing, I was still caught by surprise when it tel eported from it’s already fast-paced path of movement. One moment the Hunter was a good distance away, giving me plenty of time to plan. The next thing I knew, it was right in front of me, and boxing me on the ears. I was thrown off-balance, mentally, and watched in horror as one of the three blurry Hunters that I now sa

w in front of me, put each of it’s arms under my armpits and picked me up. I lashe d out with my right foot, trying to hurt the Hunter in the same place my tail ha d, hoping for a weak spot. It didn’t work. The Hunter proceeded to twist itself, throwing me over it’s body. I was now, once again, flying over the ground. Only this time I was not flipping helplessly. I w as flying straight as an arrow toward nothing that would cause me pain. I sighte d in relief as I realized this. At least I hadn’t been punched this time. I though t the fight was going rather well. Oh wait. The Hunter didn’t seem to really be hu rt by the damage I thought I had done so far. Crap. I was about to spread my wings and fly back to show my ex-girlfriend some what-f er, when she showed up in front of me. I closed my eyes, hoping to wake up and f ind out it was all a bad dream. The Hunter gave me an uppercut that changed my h orizontal momentum vertical, sending me straight up in the air. I knew what was coming next, as the Hunter blinked into existence in front of me. I flared my wi ngs to rotate myself o that I was flying up feet first. I used my feet to hit th e Hunter’s arm aside before using my hands to handspring off of it’s back. I depende d on my wings once more to rotate my body again, so that I was facing the Hunter . I used one giant flap to plummet on top of it, driving us both back to the ear th. We exchanged blows to each other. It broke my ribs, I failed to scratch it’s f ace. It snapped off one of my horns, and I thought I heard a laugh when I slugge d it in the gut again. It head butted me, and it was all I could do to hold onto consciousness. We crashed into the road amidst the cloud of torn-up asphalt tha t rained around us like jagged ashes after a volcanic eruption. I was in too much pain to move. The Hunter took the initiative, and rolled me of f of itself. Luckily I knew what to do when I got hurt this badly. I reached dee p into my mind, and pulled my power. I saw my body leap into flames, and my nerv ous system light up with pain as my body repaired itself, and I became the Pyron ius. I looked around for my adversary, through my red eyes, and saw the Hunter emergi ng from Sector 8, carrying Laif in it’s claw again, apparently thinking it was don e with me. I rocketed toward him, like a mother bear racing to save it’s cub from a curious tourist that had gotten too close. The Hunter raised it’s hand toward me, and I stopped. Mind you, I didn’t stop of my own free will, but the Hunter’s hand had a green glow of magic energy surrounding it, preventing me from moving even an inch. The Hunter started chanting quietly in it’s low, gravelly voice. I couldn’t understa nd what it was saying at first, but it grew steadily louder until I understood i t at last. “THE LETHAL LOTUS COMES THE LAST IT SERVES TO UNITE THE PRESENT AND PAST WHEN TAKEN INTO THE ‘SHIFTER’S HEART THE BONDS OF LIFE WILL BE TORN APART ONE WILL RISE UP TO SEIZE THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD IN IT’S DARKEST HOUR TO ‘TWINE THE FATES OF BEAST AND MAN THEY SHAN’T EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN THE LETHAL LOTUS COMES THE LAST…” Over and over again. Louder and louder it grew. A dull white glow engulfed Laif and increased in intensity as the Hunter continued to chant the horrible Lethal Lotus prophecy. I was forced to look on, as the Hunter held me in place. The air around the Hunter thrummed with power, and I felt it vibrate against my armor, until it got to the point where the whole ground was shaking and I felt my fangs clatter against each other from the raw force of the energy surrounding the Hun ter. My ears detected a low rumble from that energy. It placed a metallic flavor

on my tongue, and the whole parking lot was shimmering as if the ground was mad e of open gas lines, leaking toxic fumes. Each of my senses’ awareness of this pow er increased to the point where I was unable to bear it. Then, without warning, it stopped. Everything was silent. I realized I had been closing my eyes because of the painful volume of the rumbling power. I opened my eyes in time to see the white glow that had been surrounding Laif, separate fro m him and move toward the Hunter’s open mouth, leaving Laif hanging limply over th e edge of the Hunter’s massive hand. I tracked his falling body, as he was release d and fell to the ground without ceremony. “NO!” I shouted, even as I saw the Hunter snap it’s jaws shut, winking out Laif’s life e nergy like a dead firefly. The sky overhead was a roiling mass of darkness, as the tumultuous clouds shifte d over one another making it impossible to tell them apart. The Hunter was shivering. I didn’t think anything of it until it released me, and let it’s hand fall. My firetornado legs wouldn’t let me hit the ground. Although it did take me a few seconds to catch my balance. A streak of lightning cracked the sky, as the Hunter began laughing. Chills crawled up and down my spine when I heard that sound. It’s laugh spasmed out of it’s mouth at an irregular rate, vomited out like something foul t hat was not supposed to be there. I agreed. That was why my spirits lifted when the laughing abruptly turned into violent coughs and hacking. The Hunter was we akened until it was forced down on it’s hands and knees. I guessed the Lethal Lotu s was lethal to whoever utilize dit. As I thought that, the Hunter looked at me. When someone looks at you, it’s usually no big deal; the Hunter included, because it can’t really look at you without eyes. What sent me running for my life, were t he blood-red eyes staring at me from the Hunter’s face. The coughing had stopped, and the Hunter got to it’s feet, sprouting spikes from it’s shoulders as it did so. These were not little pin-pricking spikes. It had three medieval-class iron poke rs protruding from it’s arms, the size of safety cones. Next, the same deadly spir es appeared in a line along it’s skull, and trailed down it’s spine, and, I noticed, it’s newly formed tail. All of the golden fur, that had been the color of Ana’s hai r, had fallen from it’s body, leaving behind a dead-gray leathery hide. On the top of each of the Hunter’s wrists were two of the same spikes that seemed to be appe aring all over this new Hunter. It pulled away the robe-skirt, revealing two bac kwards-jointed legs, with the tell-tale spikes protruding, one from each knee. I t stood as tall as a bus was long. It growled at me. I was very grateful I wasn’t wearing pants at that moment…for they would be soiled. On the outside, my only response was a narrowing of my eyes. I couldn’t use words because of the flame plate covering my mouth. I knew what I was capable of as a Pyronius—mostly—and was gonna make sure the Hunter couldn’t kill anymore people. “I don’t know what you are, Jake,” the new Hunter said. I hated it when people used my name when I shifted. “But I will destroy you, and fulfill the prophecy of changin g the world into it’s darkest hour, as my will directs.” The Hunter lowered it’s volum e, and said with a sneer, “There is nothing you can do to sop me.” I was contemplating how correct the Hunter’s statement sounded to me, when Draco s poke up. “That’s twice now, that I have noticed the same irregularity with the proph ecy.” He said. “Both Dexis and the Hunter recited the prophecy ‘to change the world in it’s darkest hour.’ And then clarify that they will change the world into it’s darkest hour. You canno t clarify prophecies.” Draco spat out the words indignantly. “I think something is w rong. I just can’t put my claw on it.” “We’ll have to figure it out later, Draco. Right now, we have to focus on not dying.” “Quite right.” Draco agreed. So, with my limbs burning from the Pyronius flames, I began on my impossible foe . I hadn’t had a lot of time to practice with this body, so I didn’t really know all t hat I was capable of. But I decided to give it all I had. I erupted the fire-tor nado into a jet that threw me forward so fast, it was almost instantaneous. But even still, the Hunter teleported out of the way, leaving me propelled toward Se

ctor 8. But with a turn of my head, I instantly changed directions, so that I fo und myself flying up. I felt like laughing triumphantly, and making a taunting r emark, but I still could not. This new body could turn on a dime—much more accurat ely than my bulky wings had been able to—but I still couldn’t talk. I’d put up with th e rest of my body feeling like it was on fire and be Pyronius all the time. But I burnt tongue was where I drew the line. So there I was in the sky, looking on the ground for the Hutner. It wasn’t very ha rd. It had only teleported a few yards away from it’s original spot—not worried abou t hiding anymore. I flew down, not bothering to rush it this time. We stared at each other (because we could) for a moment, before the Hunter teleported in fron t of me, and latched it’s sharp claws onto my shoulders and jumped both of us into the sky. It all happened so fast that I didn’t know what had happened, until we w ere above a few skyscrapers. I felt the stinging of the Hunter’s Decaying grip bur ning my armor. It hurt. It headbutted me hard, separating us. I let out a few sh ort bursts of fire to stabilize myself in the air. I looked over to see the Hunt er flying opposite me, twitching it’s ugly tail in delight. I gathered a Pyronius-powered fireball, red in color, compared to my orange Drag on Knight fire, and flung it at him. To my great surprise, it didn’t move, and sub sequently hit it. To my even great disappointment, it smiled. Okay, so fire still didn’t work on it. I was really hoping that it would be that simple. I mentally shook my head clear as I realized that I would have to do this the old-fashioned way. But I decided to wait for it to attack me this time. I didn’t have to wait long. The Hunter sta rted at me, turning it’s shoulders toward me, pointing the lethal spikes at my bod y. It was odd having a massive foe fighting someone smaller than it, using the n ormal methods. But I guess the giants in the movies never won by simply swinging their big arms the way I wanted the Hunter to. I easily dodged the spike, but was not in time to avoid the giant tail as it cha rged past. It caught me in the jaw—alright, the face—and it took me a couple tries t o steady myself. But by that time, the Hunter was already reorienting. I felt so mething slam into my back, sending me lurching forward. I couldn’t stop myself fro m crashing into one of the skyscrapers that had one of the entire side of the bu ilding was made of windows. I grunted as I flew out the other side of the buildi ng. I looked above me, only see the ground where the sky should have been. I rot ated myself so that I was comfortable with my descent, still angling head-first. The Hunter appeared in front of me, I blasted around it, and continued winding my way in a circular path, dodging the occasional arm or tail, always leaving a streak of fire. I wasn’t doing this to double check if fire could hurt the Hunter, or because it looked cool(You’ll have to take my word on this), but because the H unter had eyes now. Eyes could be blinded. “Well done, lad!” Draco congratulated me. I beamed at the compliment. With the Hunter’s sight taken care of, I continued fly ing until I got to the back of it’s head. I hit it with one of my flaming hands wi th a resounding *crack*. I could see the Hunter was trying to get things under c ontrol, but I wouldn’t give it the chance. I rocketed after it. I didn’t pause as I passed the plummeting beast, and punched it in the back, then zipped over to the side and delivered what I thought was a kidney punch. I continued doing that for a while, hitting it as hard and as fast as possible, all the while, we continued to fall. I never said a word throughout the silent s truggle. The Hunter always tried to get a hold of me, but I never held still as I kept throwing off it’s balance. “Very good—ooph—Jake. Dan would be—ack—proud.” At the mention of the name, I faltered in my focus of the next attack. The Hunter took advantage of the pause, and swung it’s g reat fist over and down on top of me. I instinctively raised my hands in front o f me, but it did no good. My speed increased dramatically, and my stomach clench ed with the sudden drop, and when I saw we were only one-hundred feet off the gr ound. I fought to reorient myself, but the Hunter’s blow had sent me plummeting at a far faster rate than normal. The air in my lungs whooshed out in a hiss, desp ite my enhanced armor. I choked in a breath after a few moments of concentrating

on breathing. I lifted my pitiful self out of the crater I had made. I heard a *wumf* sound as the Hunter descended above me, and not a second later, my face was shoved through the ground, and I lay still, hurting some more. I tr ied for a backhand from my downed position. The Hunter easily saw it coming, and wrenched it behind my back. I cried out in pain, which only served to fill my v ulnerable mouth with Pyronius-fire. I shut up quickly, but was still in a tremen dous amount of agonizing pain. The hunter released my trapped arm, only to pick up my entire body and punch me again. I enjoyed the now-familiar, painless sensa tion of flying through the air, not of my own accord. As I was enjoying my fligh t, trying not to focus on the fresh pain in my stomach, I noticed that I was hea ding toward a crows of onlookers. My flaming body was sure to incinerate anyone who got too close. So, gritting my teeth, I set to work on halting my progress t owards the people. It was easier said than done. Mostly, I was flapping my arms, and bending at the waist, until my fire-tornado legs were pointed at the crowd, and I could propel myself the other way. The crowd, for their part, were scatte ring like drug dealers from the Boys in Blue. Apparently something akin to a big green mermaid—ahem. Merman—who had happened to get it’s fin on fire flying at you, wa s something to be afraid of. There was one boy, however, that seemed utterly int rigued by my display of windmilling arms, and odd contortions, and refused to mo ve. Most of the crowd had backed up enough that I could slow down before hitting them. But if I turned up the heat to slow down faster, I would toast the kid. S o, instead of trying to stop myself directly, I aimed myself higher up, therefor e above the crowd. I popped myself up and over the onlookers, into an upside-dow n position similar to a backflip, careful to turn off my propulsion. My head of flames was a mere foot away from the small boy, as I continued on my path of mot ion. I noticed the kid was waving and clapping his hands as his mother raced to pick him up. The joys of parenthood. I could see the lizard-like Hunter in the distance, but that didn’t mean anything. With the ability to teleport, the Hunter could be everywhere. If it got weak en ough and felt threatened, it could simply disappear, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it. But I’d worry about that later. For the moment, I just land ed in the middle of the road, twenty feet away. Traffic was nonexistent here. We stood there in silence, sizing each other up under the dark sky. Neither of u s moved, or seemed to breathe under the tension placed between us. I watched in anticipation as the Hunter slowly started to lift both hands over it’s head. It wa s just a slight movement so far, they were still by it’s waist. It was almost too much to hope for! Had the Hunter really given up? The hands were still rising. N ow they were lined up with my line of sight. All I could see were the two fists and the spikes mounted on top of them. That was when the Hunter shot me. Even at the relatively large distance, I didn’t have time to move . Or maybe I did , and they were moving so fast, they still hit me. The Hunter didn’t use a gun, or anything. The spikes on the wrists just seemed to leap out and at me. I dodged one, but I felt the other slide neatly through my chest. Oh boy. That couldn’t be good. “Jacob! You’ve been stabbed!” Draco observed. “Right on cue!” I said angrily. “Do you have anything, besides what I already know, th at can help me?” “Jacob, I am not a—“ “DRACO! I’M DYING! Help me. Anything!” My mind was getting fuzzy, and I was desperate. “Jacob listen to me! I don’t have any ideas. You cannot stop death. You merely heale d your wounds last time, with Dexis. You cannot bond yourself to life forever.” Dr aco finished with a sigh. “Wait a second.” A thought was forming in my fading mind. “Didn’t the prophecy say somet hing about the bonds of life?” I struggled to remember it. Draco placed it in my m ind for me to review. “Yeah. ‘The bonds of life will be torn apart. One will rize up to seize the power to change the world in it’s darkest hour. To ‘twine the fates of beast and man.’ Draco! I don’t think you said that on accident. I think you’re part o

f the prophecy!” I was getting excited as the life continued to ebb from me. “Jacob, I don’t think I—“ “I do.” I said definitively. “When was the last time there was a dragon Knight?” The question obviously caught him off guard. “Well…um… quite some time—“ “Exactly!” I exclaimed “Do you think there will ever be another one?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “NO! There aren’t anymore dragons to bond with humans. Don’t you see? The pro phecy could apply to me too. ‘To ‘twine the fates of beast and man.’ Laif isn’t exactly a man. It must be talking about us!” “Well if that’s the case, why are you dying first? Once you’re dead, you can’t really do anything.” “I don’t think I’m dying. I think we can get out of this mess. But what about this par t?” I brought a part of the prophecy to the front of my mind. “’When taken into the ‘shi fter’s heart, the bonds of life will be torn apart.’ I think you’re the Lethal Lotus, Draco. I took your scale into me. And when I transform, I never think ‘transform.’ I always think shift. I’m the shifter! Not the shapeshifting Hunter. Me! You’re here to finally kill the murderer of you mate.” Draco’s sudden fury was so great, that it spilled over the barrier of his thoughts , into mine. Which reminded me.. “Draco. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it together. No more hiding your th oughts. We must be one in purpose, in thought, and in being.” “I’m not sure I know how to do that, Jacob. It’s not a conscious act that I do. The ba rrier’s just…there.” “Alright then, I’ll do it.” I thought back over the prophecy, analyzing every bit of i t. One particular part stood out to me. “One will rize up to seize the power.” I whi spered to myself. I grunted as I got shakily to my feet, with the spike still pr otruding from my chest. Next, I did the more complicated part. I reached for the power, and instead of pulling or touching it, I applied the pressure of my mind to the outside of the shell of power, attempting to hammer down the barrier tha t separated Draco and me. That’s when something rather odd happened. With each men tal blow that I dealt the barrier, a beautiful tenor note rang out through my mi nd and through the years. It sang of Jacob Flintwood and the person he was. *wha m* Strong and Courageous. *clang* Love and determination. *slam* Curious and Pen sive. All of these qualities were shown to me in that one pure note that resound ed in my mind. Still the barrier stood. So instead of alternating blows, I follo wed the prophecy’s directions and applied a constant pressure, attempting to crush it. I knew it was working, because I could “feel” the barrier weakening, and becaus e that note that had been filling my mind was suddenly joined by a much deeper b ass note. It sang of someone else. Nestmate and Ruler. Then louder. Fighter and Hunter. Still louder. Judge and Advocate. Draco’s note grew until the barrier vani shed, only to be replaced by a massive sensation of being that was so monumental , it was almost inconceivable. Yet at the same time, I understood every facet of character and choice that Draco was. I knew him. I was him. And he was me. Our notes overwhelmed our minds until they sang in perfect harmony, resounding as a single powerful note. We were one. We were no longer Jacob and Draco. We were Ev enaut. We looked down at our new body. It was a whole body. It was made of white armor. We had spikes on our head that were each as long as the length of our head. We had no mouth. We had no wings, n o tail. Our legs were as a normal person’s, and we stood thirty feet tall. The Hunter still stood twenty feet away from us, but we could see it was scared. We could see what the Hunter was. We could see life. We were life. The Hunter w as only death. It was an abomination. The Hunter, obviously panicked, began shooting it’s death-spikes at us again. We r aised our hand, and the spikes stopped in midair. We tossed them away. The Hunte r started backing up nervously. We stared on emotionless. Justice was unbiased. We only served to eliminate the death abomination. The Hunter threw a volkswagon at us. We didn’t bother raising our hand. The car disintegrated before it got within ten yards of us. Still, we marched on. The Hunter tripped over a piece of stray rubble from one o f our various crash-landings. It landed on it’s tail, causing obvious discomfort.

This pleased us. The creature was guilty. The guilty deserve the harsh justice d ealt to them. We were indeed the judge. We were to carry out the requiem demande d by the victims of the death abomination. We picked up one of the dropped death -spikes that we had disposed of. We calmly walked up to the Hunter and stabbed i t where it had stabbed us. It let out a cry of anguished pain as the spire pierc ed it. “What…are you?” The Hunter asked in a strained voice. WE ARE EVENAUT. We spoke to it’s mind. Both the notes of Jacob and Draco rang thei r harmony through the words. It was a voice of power. THE DELIVERER OF JUSTICE. THE LETHAL LOTUS—“ “I am the Lethal Lotus! I will bring the world to it’s darkest hour!” The Hunter raise d it’s claw to the black sky. We stared at the hand, and it was destroyed. The Hunter gaped at where the appendage used to be. It shrieked in pain again. W e were aware of a tugging sensation. Apparently the Hunter was trying to telepor t away, and we were preventing it. Then, suddenly, there was a dragon where the Hutner had been. We dispassionately realized that it was Cassandria. DO NOT PLAY GAMES WITH US, TRICKSTER. YOU ARE GUILTY OF THE MURDER OF OUR RACE, AND THOUSANDS MORE. JUSTICE WILL BE DEALT “Spare me, great Evenaut. Cassandria would have wanted mercy.” Speaking of our nestmate made us angry. We were no longer the bringer of justice . We were no longer balanced by Draco’s seemingly unshakeable determination, and J acob’s passionate will. Now we were filed with a holy wrath. It filled our being. Our entire body was swathed in fire. We whispered, “I hope you rot in the deepest pit of Purgatory, you filthy maggot.” We squinted our eyes, and the Hunter’s head wa s dismembered from it’s body. We watched, apathetic once more, as the light faded from the Hunter’s eyes. Laif’s a long with it. After burning the accursed body, We flew back to Sector 8 and landed in the park ing lot, our enormous stature towering over the gas station. We picked up the sm all pixie in our left hand. Ali chose that moment to come out, gasping in surpr ise. With our right hand, we created an opening to the Evenite, the source of li fe, and exposed the little pixie to it. The little body floated off of our palm. For a minute, nothing happened. Then the pixie started coughing as the white g low that had been lost to it, returned. It looked at us with great apprehension, before bowing deeply, and saying, “Mercí Monsieur.” He stood up, and fluttered down to Ali. We turned around and willed ourselves to our apartment. We appeared in front of the access stairs, eye level with the third floor. We opened the door to our apa rtment, and reached in, to pick the fallen Dan from where he still lay,. Once ag ain, we exposed one of our friends to the Evenite. Dan coughed weakly, and we wa tched as his chest was made whole. We willed ourselves to Dan’s home, and we rang the doorbell. Both parents were present as the door opened. His mother squeaked in fright, but his father merely looked on in silence, although he did it with rather large ey es. HERE IS YOUR SON we said, lowering Dan. They wordlessly accepted him into their arms. We willed ourselves once more to Sector 8. Ali was still waiting outside. “Is that you, Jake?” She asked. I nodded, not wanting to invade her mind. I replaced the barrier between Draco and myself, and I became Jacob Flintwood on ce more. I stumbled toward Ali, and she stepped forward to catch me, as I hoped she would. We went inside, and I collapsed in King Couch. The last things I reme mber were Thomas, smiling down at me, and Ali stroking my hair, and telling me s he loved me, before all was quiet, and I faded into sleep.

Chapter 14: Happily Ever After

I tried to fight Ali off as I reached desperately for my ringing phone that was trapped in my pocket. She laughed lightly, and hugged me tighter. I laughed with her, as we continued walking down the street. Eventually I wrestled the special phone from it’s confinement, and answered it in my Dragon Knight voice. “Hello?...Alright, Thank you Sergeant.” I threw in a hissing “s” sound when I addressed him. I flipped the phone shut, and replaced it in my pocket. “Who was that?” Ali asked, looking up at me. Speaking in my normal voice, I replied, “That was Sergeant Kennedy. He said my pay check’s been deposited. And,” I waggled my eyebrows at her. “I got a bonus.” She scoffed. “The Sergeant knows who you are?” “No.” I said simply. “Since Dragon Knight and Jacob are different people, or at least different bodies, the Sarge and I just created a whole new identity for Dragon K night. Groovy, Huh?” “So you’re accepting money for being a superhero?” I nodded. “You are such a dork.” She bu bbled out a laugh that made my heart beat a little faster. “Hey!” I said in a faux-indignant voice. “I need some way to pay my rent.” We continued teasing each other as we neared the city park. It had been a week s ince my showdown with the Hunter. Dan, Thomas, and Laif were all fine. I had fuz zy details about some of the events that had occurred, but my friends filled me in. Sergeant Kennedy had been true to his word, and had given me the phone I had just finished hanging up. As for Thomas, he couldn’t stand being in his home, so he grabbed what materials he needed, and moved into the apartment below mine, be cause of a sudden vacancy. Apparently the previous tenant had been a dirty blond e that went by the name of Wendy Kensington(a.k.a. Anna), who had suddenly disap peared. Ali and I finally arrived at the park, and sat on a friendly-looking bench that was hidden in the shade. The leaves shook as a slight breeze tickled the branche s that held them, causing a light show as the sunbeams danced across our faces. We sat there, with my arm around her, and her head lay on my chest: Our favorite position. After about fifteen minutes, Thomas came over and joined us. He was w earing a stylish brown overcoat over his white shirt, and slacks. He patted me lightly on the back, as he took his spot to my left. “What’s going on, Jake? Hey Ali.” “Hey Thomas.” Ali said. “Thanks again for saving my man, here.” A quizzical look appeared on Thomas’s face. “But Ali,” He protested. “He’s the one that sa ved me.” She shook her head, sending her dark hair waving in front of her face. “He had nev er been really scared ever since he became Dragon Knight. That is, until he was forced to stand up to the Hunter. He wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t been brave enough to try and distract the Hunter and save us.” She finished, appreciation evident in her voice. She hugged me some more, and I kissed the top of her hair. It took T homas a few seconds to work out her reasoning, but after that, he beamed at her, pleased with the compliment. “Anytime.” Ali and Thomas carried on small talk for a while, getting to know each other bet ter, while I was stuck in the middle, throwing in the occasional helpful comment . Eventually, Dan showed up to join our little family. I released Ali, and stood up to meet him. I hadn’t seen him since Anna had stabbed him, because when I had seen him through the Evenaut’s eyes, I couldn’t remember se eing him. We looked at each other in silence. Words could not convey the feeling s that were being felt. I grabbed him up in my arms, and felt him, being real. H e was really alive. Tears streamed down my face, as I realized that my best fri end was really here. We released our hold of each other, and stepped back, rubbing our eyes. Ali came up, and wrapped herself around me once more. Thomas thumped Dan on the back, an d also made sure he was alright, in a similar fashion. It was very manly. “How ya doin’ Jake?” Dan asked. “I’m doing well.” I replied. Then I burst out laughing. I received four pairs of eyes settle on me with alarmed expressions, including Laif’s. I wasn’t laughing at anyone in particular, but the notion that we were talking as if everything was normal.

Which, I suppose it was. But only after Dan had been murdered by an Ancient Mon ster, and I had subsequently been brought him back to life. But things were defi nitely normal now. And I didn’t feel like telling anyone why I suddenly had the gi ggles. So I just waved their inquisitor faces away, and composed myself. Then I put on my best straight face I could muster, turned to Ali, and said in m y best 007accent, “Egad! Do you know what time it is?” Draco seemed utterly offended at how badly I had botched the accent. Ali picked up n her cue, and said, “You know I do.” And, with the sunset gleaming in our faces, my friends and I strode off, toward the horizon(and to my favorite pizza hut).

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