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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Escaping the Dragon, #4 (Low Fantasy Serial)


Entry 4
Date: Don't Care
Locale: <redacted> Comic Book Universe

So, today didn't meet my expectations, and that's really saying something. Something good!

So, if you flip back you'll see last night I slept behind the dumpster, and I wasn't in the best of spirits. Well, halfway through the night I heard a woman scream, like right by my head, and some men—well, I don't have to finish the thought, really, you get it. Men like that are why I hate dolphins. Male dolphins will separate a female from her friends and not let her eat or sleep or anything until they have their way with her, and that “ga-ga-ga-ga” cackle dolphins make sounds pretty damn human at times.

It took me a second to get my bearings by the sound. You don't want to burst into a fight and get stabbed, but in this case, my sleepy head said “element of surprise”--and me and the whole pile of black trash bags tumbled forward. Three screams. “What the f—“

I'm not bleeping it out because I don't like cussing, I'm bleeping it out because he didn't get to finish the word. A heavy trash bag full of metal cans and glass impacted his face first. Someone stabbed at me, but I had another black trash bag, a thick one, between me and him. I jabbed my hand down on the stabber's wrist; his grip loosened on his knife as I beat him over the head with my can-bag.

“My knife,” I snarled. I dunno why, but I did, and it sounded freaky. Very throaty, hissy. Like demon freaky, dragon freaky. He flipped out just for an instant—just enough to widen his eyes and let go of the knife. “Mine!”

So there I am swinging my trashbag in one hand, jabbing around with the knife in the other, and I've got this circle of like three more dudes around me. The woman's scrambling for her purse spilled on the ground—I guess they let her go for a moment when the trash-monster appeared? I'm screaming, “go, go, go woman!” and cussing like my mouth's on fire, because one more dude totally has a knife and the other two aren't quite as surprised anymore. We break a gap between two dudes and the lady makes a break for it, and I do something really dumb.

I probably should pause here to explain or point out that abilities and sometimes even attitudes aren't conserved between dimensions. If you're a dimension-traveller you already know that. But that's why even though I teach martial arts, meditation, and magic in one universe, I'm a scrappy little idiot in another—okay not an idiot, just my body there doesn't have the muscle memory. I know, cognitively, what I should do in a fight, but I'm not used to doing it. Matter's still conserved, and I don't get to take bodies from one dimension to another, so, you know, there's that. Sometimes abilities bleed over. I haven't quite finished researching why they do and when they don't—if I could, oh man, that would rock—because of this whole Dragon mess. But anyway, that's my excuse for why my tone changes from dimension to dimension, and for what happened next.

See, the woman more or less escaped, but one of the guys charged after her—and instead of just whacking him again with my trash bag I dropped everything and leapt at his neck from behind. It was instinct—my whole everything said “NO YOU DON'T.” Because I know I'm not a very fast runner; I know that once he got going I'd never catch up before he got her—but honestly I should have just stabbed him. I just don't really like stabbing people.

So—present tense again—I'm totally stumbling around open at my back while I've got this dude in a goose-neck choke hold, and he's clawing at my forearm and grunting and someone behind me straight up stabs me.

But I don't even get to feel more than the tip of the knife in my shoulder-blade before two grunts, two thuds, and then two big silences fall behind me. We stagger around, this guy and me, in almost dead silence except for his whole silly “trying-to-breathe” thing. My back's stinging. We kinda turn, and I see a friend of mine standing there all tall in pink with the K.O.'d goons at her feet, biting her lip like a kid scared of asking the teacher something. Me and Mr. Wants-to-Breathe do another turn. She's kinda twiddling her hands, trying to look somewhere else. He jerks backwards and knocks me against the dumpster. She's got her hands in her skirt pockets. I totally know what she wants to ask.

“Uh...do you want me to take care of him?”

But she doesn't want to make poor little non-super-powered me feel bad, so she doesn't.


Awkward.

I did finally stabilize that blood choke, and Ladypants—okay, let's call her Estrella—and I went out for midnight munchies. That's why I said the day really didn't meet my expectations. I mean, I hadn't seen her in forever. And get this—she didn't just happen to come by. She'd been looking for me! For me, specifically! Score!

“I thought you had moved in with the Shadow, after—well, after.” She stirs her milkshake with her straw. “After.”

“After Jake died,” I said. “I was there, it's not like—I dunno, not like you can sanitize it for me.”

“I know.” She doesn't say anything else. She puts her hand on my little face and waits for me to answer her first question.

Now's a good time to mention that in this dimension I'm like ten or twelve years old.

Yeah.

And having been an adult, I can say behavior's definitely influenced by both physiology and social expectations. You really feel different urges in a little girl's body. And it's harder for the Dragon to grab on to children, for that reason.

Or it should be. But I wasn't always a child in this dimension: an unfortunate accident saving Estrella from a giant time-moth actually reversed my age just a few months before Jake died, and that's why Estrella feels bad saving my life, and let me take down that one guy by himself. I used to be kind of a superhero. I had the power to “borrow” powers—just for a few minutes, but when you're part of a huge team of superheroes that's hours and hours of unimaginable awesome! When you're alone, not so much. But if you're fighting someone with powers at least you can even the odds for a bit, and you've got the element of surprise, so—anyway, being Wildcard rocked.

But I'm not Wildcard. I'm a kid in a sweatshirt twice my size sitting on my knees in front of a chocolate malt at a run-down little retro drugstore in the depths of some ugly ugly city.

“What are you doing out here, sweetie?” Estrella doesn't wait for an answer. “Why do you not come live with us?”

“What us? I don't know most of the people who live there now. Our old team's all kinda gone their own way.”

“Do not say that!”

It's her biggest fear, to lose us all to a drift like that. I should know better.

“I'm sorry,” I say. “That's—not what I meant. I just mean that everyone doesn't live all together anymore.”

“We still run missions together. You could live with me.”

“I—I don't know why. I just don't...Look, I'm pretty much a civilian now. What are you gonna do with someone who's just going to get injured? Someone you'd have to rescue all the time? You're pretty much asking a kid to live in a danger zone. You know you're always a target. And you know I'd love to, but is it fair to you all? No.”

She smirks. “I would—how you say—I would buy that if you did not put yourself in danger every single day. I heard about some of the things you did for the Shadow. And I saw you just now.”

“Okay, okay, that's fair. I mean, being a kid doesn't make me useless. All that experience still adds up to something. And I'm using that something. Something little, but something!”

“But you would be safer in a team, with us.”

“You wouldn't be.” I lean in, jaw tightening. “Jake wasn't.”

Tears well up in her eyes; they make a knot in my stomach because I'm not crying, I can't cry, I want to cry, but I can only tighten my fists and feel my knees tremble as she slides over to my side of the table and wraps her arms around my shoulders. “Oh sweetie, sweetie that was not your fault!” she cries. “Please do not let that ruin your life, you--”

“Strey, I can ruin it on my own,” I mutter.

I needed Jake. He helped me fight my Dragon. No, more than that, we'd pretty much killed it. After months and months—and years on my part—finally it'd receded into something tiny and manageable, especially after I turned into a kid. No one else knew it still existed, no one but him and me. And this is after everyone else tried to help me fight it. After all my friends gave up on me, after I lost my place on our team, after I got kicked out of the dimension, after one of my dearest friends brought me back in, after all the tough love and therapy and yelling and not yelling and meditation and everything we'd all tried—Jake helped. Probably because he, like me, had his own issues, and trying to help drag him out of his muck forced me to climb a little out of mine.

That's why I'm cognizant enough to write this, really.

And I kind of realized that, right in the middle of the conversation with her. Realized that my fear wasn't of the Dragon eating my friends, it was of my weak powerless little self getting them into trouble. My Dragon didn't kill Jake. A bullet did.

And in a dark and twisted way, that gives me hope.

“Estrella...Strey,” I said. “I can't come live with you guys. I can't be responsible for that liability. But...I can come spend the night while I figure out how to get stronger.”

“I'd—I'd like that.”

So tonight I'm sleeping in a little cot, in a little studio apartment, and I kind of figured out my next step.

I'm going to get the Shadow to train me.

And then I won't be a liability ever again. Until the Dragon comes back. And you know what? When he does, I'll be stronger. Because Jake believed we could kill it.

And we can.

Entry five

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