Saturday, August 27, 2011

Black Venom

Despite my father, Merlin’s, admonishments to stay safe inside the castle walls and search for instances of the mysterious black armor in the ancient scrolls, I donned the chain shirt that Arthur had given me when he grew too large to fit.  I had no intention of sitting on the sidelines studying while my family fought for our survival, our freedom, and the lives of the humans who counted on us to keep them safe.  
I was both pleased and dismayed to discover that my shoulders were beginning to strain the limits of the chain’s flexibility.  Soon, I would outgrow it completely, assuming the army of the Black Knight didn’t slay me and my entire family first. 
I had been listening to the distant horns of the battle while I searched futilely through dusty old scrolls. They had blown the charge boldly, and my mind went with them, even if my body could not. When I heard the horns turn frantic, and the retreat sounded again and again, I could stand it no longer. I might be too young to be sent out to war, but in a few minutes, the war would come to me.
I climbed the narrow stairs to the east wall, sword banging against stone as I walked. I could hear the horns of the cavalry and the drums of the foot soldiers in the distance. I flattened against the wall periodically to let soldiers rush past on errands of importance. Their swords never seemed to bang against anything. I tried to study how they walked so I could learn the trick of that. I was focusing so hard on keeping my sword under control that I walked right into the broad chest of Sir Cedric. “Apologies,” I mumbled, ducked my head, and stepped aside.
Cedric didn’t rush past. He just stood there in my path like an implacable green and silver stone merged with the granite battlements. His scales were almost fully in, so he didn’t need chain mail, just a surcoat with Arthur’s colors that left his wings free to unfold if needed, and a sword belt. “Where do you think you’re going, young Robert?”
“To defend the wall, Sir,” I drew myself up to my full height and put my hand on my sword. That only brought the top of my head to Cedric’s chin, unfortunately.
“I thought Merlin had you cloistered in the library, researching.” The way he said ‘researching’ it sounded like a curse.
“I cannot hide behind walls while others bleed to defend them,” I said. “I am yours to command.”
“Mmm,” Cedric grunted. “Lucky me.” But Cedric and I shared a bond. We were both sons of Silver.  Only the daughters of Silver ever grew up to have the pure silver scales that could often turn aside even bespelled weapons, and the deadly venom that could paralyze any enemy.  The daughters of Avalon were the guardians of the land. Those of us born to Green fathers and Silver mothers inherited the hearts of warriors, but scales and venom better suited to healing than fighting, and we grew up motherless for the most part.
When a terrible crack of thunder heralded one of the Silver’s greatest powers, calling lightning from the sky, we both looked up at the summoned storm. Cedric grunted again. “Fine, boy. Find a spot on the wall, and don’t get killed. Your father would turn me into something unwholesome.”
I grinned my thanks to him, and ran along the battlement walkway before he changed his mind. I wasn’t about to tell him that Father could not turn him into anything, he could only change himself into birds and beasts.  People believed the strangest things about Merlin the Wizard. Father told me to let people think what they wished; they would anyway.
I found a spot and squeezed between two guardsmen so that I could see over the edge of the battlements.
Arthur’s troops were retreating at such speed, it looked like an orderless chaotic mass at first, but I could see the mounted knights holding the rear to give the common soldiers more time to get back to the dubious safety of the castle.
The storm winds blew rain hard into the faces of the pursuing black army, while our own troops ran on firm ground. That was my mother’s doing. She was the pendragon of Silver, the second eldest dragon in all of the islands, even though she was only half as old as Father.
Mother and her Silver sisters should have been fighting the Blacks in the stormy sky, but three Blacks flew all but unopposed, wreaking havoc with the retreating troops. I could see Father tending a badly wounded Aunt Fiona at the base of the walls, but I couldn’t see Aunt Cion.
All of that I understood in an instant, and forgot as I saw my mother struggle into the air, the tiny forms of King Arthur and Sir Gawain on her back, one of her legs streaked with crimson. The magnificent sight of my mother in her huge silver combat form, big enough to stand on her feet and peer over the castle wall always filled me with awe, but her usual grace and power were gone. She wobbled in the air like a drunkard on Midwinter’s Eve.
She flew directly toward me, growing larger and larger, her blue eyes glassy and half lidded as if she were struggling to stay awake. Her head passed less than a man’s height above me.
 I threw myself flat on the stone walkway as her limply hanging wounded leg crashed into the wall. Stones she knocked loose from the mortar hit my back hard. I suffered no more than minor bruises, thanks to my chain shirt, but I heard her scream in agony at the impact on her already wounded leg. The guardsman next to me didn’t duck. He shouted as the huge silver clawed foot knocked him off the walkway to the cobblestone courtyard, a fall that would shatter bones.
Mother didn’t land in the courtyard, so much as just stop flying. Gawain and Arthur jumped clear of her massive body as she fell on her side, one wing awkwardly half folded beneath her.
I struggled out of the chain shirt in seconds and my hands shook as I flung it aside. I jumped off the battlement before I even had my wings spread, just catching enough air to slow my fall, so my bones wouldn’t be shattered like the luckless guardsman’s.
I landed beside my Mother’s unmoving form, whispering to her again and again. “Please, be all right, Please.” Blood poured from the wound in her leg in buckets, and it smelled wrong. I could see an odd tint of black, like tarnish on her silver scales near the edges of the wound.
My scales were decades from coming in properly, but I had my venom, and already it had proven as effective at healing as Father’s, but only if I could calm my mind.
Tears streaked my cheeks as I touched my Mother’s silver scales that I had always thought impregnable. My throat closed and choked me. How could I be calm?
Anger stopped my useless tears. Because if I was not calm, my mother would die.
I tried to think of the wounded dragon in front of me as just a wounded animal. Use your head for more than a place to put your hat, Father always said. Think it through.
The wound was long and deep, the edges cleanly cut. A sword wound, from a very sharp blade, undoubtedly, and one powerfully bespelled to cut through Silver scales as if they were silk. It bled so much because the artery was cut. I found the artery, as big around as my finger. I put my hand into the cut and pushed to try to slow the flow.
“Help me!” I shouted.
Arthur and Gawain knelt beside me. Neither had inherited healing venom, only the paralysis venom of the Silvers. “What can we do?” Arthur asked me.
“Bring the edges of her wound together.” If I could calm myself enough, with a wound this clean, I might be able to heal it completely. You can do this, Robert.
My arm touched the black smears on the edge, and I smelled them. It smelled oddly pleasant, like something that would taste good, and just a little like my own venom. I touched it to my tongue and felt a trace of dizziness, like when I drank too much wine at dinner. Venom. Black venom, but incredible amounts of it, far more than a simple bite would produce.
Father had taught me the effects of all the venoms of the various dragon clans. Black venom caused passivity and compliance. It weakened the will of the one bitten and made them easy to control. But a massive amount of it like this might cause far more severe effects. 
Mother still breathed. I could see her huge chest rise and fall, but only shallowly, as if she had fallen into a very deep sleep. I didn’t know if my venom could counteract so much of the venom of the black, but there was only one way to find out. Her blood continued to pulse through my fingers even as Gawain and Arthur pushed the great wound closed.
I was as calm as I could be under the circumstances. I had to try my venom quickly. The only place I could bite her was in the wound itself. I couldn’t possibly pierce her scales with my fangs. I took a deep breath with eyes closed, breathed out again, and bit my mother’s torn flesh, piercing deep to give her all the venom I could.
The blood pulsing between my fingers slowed and stopped. I opened my eyes horrified.
She died. I was too late! My mother was dead, and it was my fault!
But, no. I wept with relief as I watched, the gaping wound sealed closed where the edges touched. I hastily shoved together the two ends of the severed artery, and it healed whole.
Mother didn’t waken, though. She lay in a sleep so deep that I wondered if she ever would.
As I wept beside her, I looked up to see a black-winged dragon fly over the wall, and for the first time ever, my heart filled with hate.

I woke up in my own bed, at 3 in the afternoon, my odd schedule’s equivalent of the dead of night. That boy in my dream was my dad, Sir Robert Drake. I dreamed my dad’s memories when he was a teenager. I immediately got up and wrote it every detail down in my diary. I don’t want to forget a moment of it. Seeing my grandmother’s life was cool, but this was so much better.  I was with my dad. It wasn’t a memory that I’d gone over a hundred times, fighting to hold on to every detail. This was a new memory, one I never could have shared with him when he was alive. My dad had faced a situation much like me on the dam with Vlad. It’s hard to be calm when someone you care about is bleeding in front of you. He would have understood.
I lay awake a long time, holding on to that memory, sad and violent though it was. It made me feel as if my dad had come to visit me.

D Dragon

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine

Two eighteen wheelers hit head-on on southbound 183. It was a huge mess. Jack and I got caught in the traffic snarl and didn’t get there with our usual speed. Jack put on the siren and drove on the shoulder to get around people, but the firemen still beat us to the scene. That’s pretty much the norm with most ambulances, but Jack takes considerable pride in reacting a lot faster than the norm.  It wasn’t just my healing venom that gave us the highest survival statistics of any ambulance team in the city.
Jack was so delighted to be working with me again, he hardly groused about getting beat by the firefighters. He’d been teamed up with Angela while I was out, recovering from Domina Death’s little present. (XxXxx) The new guy had puked all over the victim the first time he got called to a bad wreck with some guy ripped in half, so Angela was without a partner again. With me out sick, putting Jack and Angela together was a logical move for the Boss. The first time Angela tried to get Jack to turn down a particularly unsavory call because it was in the wrong neighborhood, things had gotten ugly.
I’d heard Angela making digs at Jack about being a cape chaser, one of those people who only sleep with supes, and Jack grumbled under his breath about prissy princesses who don’t want to break a nail having no business here. Safe to say their honeymoon was over.
Two fire trucks and a cop car were there ahead of us. I recognized Officer Flynn directing traffic and waved at him. He just nodded to me. If he’d waved, he might have caused another accident.
The firefighters were doing their primary job, putting fire suppressant on the engines of the two big rigs, one completely flipped upside down. There was the nose-searing stench of gasoline in quantity, and puddles of the stuff dripping everywhere. With Texas being in the middle of the worst drought since the dust bowl in the 1930’s, fire was a constant danger. And no, I’m not old enough to remember that, although my mother is.
In addition to the two putting chemical suppressant on the hot engines, one firefighter was crouched by the crushed sliver of window on the side of the inverted rig, and another met us as we arrived. She was a short, stocky woman with close cropped dark hair with a streak of blue. I didn’t know her, but that streak marked her as a rebel in the conservative world she worked in. I liked her instantly. “What’s the situation?” I asked.
“Two drivers, no passengers. Neither rig was carrying anything flammable, thank goodness.” She waved at the rig still mostly on its wheels. “This vehicle jumped the concrete median straight into oncoming traffic, nothing the other guy could have done. Driver is DOA. He doesn’t look messed up that bad. Might have had a heart attack behind the wheel.”
“What about the other driver?” Looking at the mangled, inverted rig, I suspected there wouldn’t be much for me and Jack to do this time.
“Alive, for the moment.”
“Yeah, but he won’t stay that way if we don’t figure out a way to get him out.”
“Jaws of life?” I asked.
She gestured to the giant hydraulic scissor-shaped jacks that have saved a lot of people trapped in wrecked vehicles, lying on the highway unused. “We can’t get them into position to do any good. We’re waiting on a wrecker to come turn this beast over, so we can, but no telling how long it will take for them to get here.”
We both turned and looked at the traffic. I could walk for miles on car hoods and never touch the ground.
While we were talking, Jack had crawled past the crouched firefighter into the tiny space under the edge of the rig.
I had to lay down on the blazing hot asphalt in the 106 degree heat to get a look at the guy. He was conscious, but blood was dripping down from a nasty gash in his forehead, and he looked pretty unfocused. I couldn’t see much, but his head and shoulders hanging upside down in the seatbelt. He looked to be in his mid-forties, short blond hair smeared with blood. One arm hung at an unnatural angle. The rest of him was tangled up in the mangled metal of his vehicle.
The inside of that rig in this heat would get hot enough to kill even an uninjured man in short order. Jack pushed an oxygen mask to within the driver’s reach. “Put this over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. It will help.”
The driver had enough snap left to pick up the mask and put it over his face with his good hand, although he couldn’t manage to get the elastic strap over, so he had to hold it.
Jack pushed the compressed air canister into the narrow space, and opened the valve a little. “Better?” Jack asked the guy, as cool fresh, oxygen rich air went into his lungs.
The driver managed a slight nod.
“What’s your name?” Jack asked him.
The driver pulled the mask away from his face a little to say, “Mike, Mike Aldus.”
“All right, Mike, you just keep that mask there, and we’ll see about getting you out. You’re going to be okay, Mike, I promise.”
Mike nodded again, a tiny movement. That gash, and the blow to the head that caused it probably made any kind of head movement, not to mention hanging upside down, torture.
With the heat, and the high probability of Mike losing blood from more than just that cut on his head, we had a pretty tight deadline if we wanted to keep Jack’s promise.
I studied the structure of the vehicle, and where Mike was trapped. The lady firefighter was right. There was no good place to put the Jaws of Life that wouldn’t be likely to crush Mike’s legs while getting him out. If the rig were upright, that would give a few more options, but Mike would likely be gone long before a wrecker could get there.
I glanced at the other firefighter, crouched beside us, and realized it was White Knight in his civilian persona, Mark Novak. “Novak,” I said. “Not much point in you being here. No news cameras.”
“Nice to see you, too, Dee,” he said. “Robbed any banks lately?”
“Stuff that, both of you,” Jack snapped. “You’re on Mike’s time now. Snipe at each other on your own.”
I bit my tongue on a retort. Jack was right.
Novak ducked his head to Jack. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get him out. I tried to flip this monster myself, but I’m not strong enough.”
Flip it himself? I looked at the huge tractor rig. It wasn’t attached to the trailer anymore, but it still weighed around 12 tons. I’d always thought White Knight had no powers, just the special armor and sword and stuff, but if that were the case, Fafnir would have swatted him like a fly the first time they met. He must have at least a measure of super strength. “Are you close to strong enough?” I asked him.
“I can budge it a little, but there’s no way I can get it all the way over.”
I looked at the massive hunk of machinery. I’d never even considered trying to move something that big, but my body changes had made me considerably stronger than I was used to being.
I put my hands, one covered in a leather glove, on the twisted hot metal frame, crouched and heaved. It sort of budged a little, but that was it. I strained harder. Mike, the truck driver, was stuck in there, dying.
“You can’t lift anything like that,” Novak said.
I blew out a frustrated breath, set the truck down gently so as not to hurt Mike, and turned on him. “Like what? You already said you can’t do it.”
He got right back in my face. “No, but I know how to lift, at least. It’s something you’d learn if you actually trained instead of just blundering into things.”
“Fine, mister superhero expert, tell me all about how I’m doing it wrong.”
“You’re trying to lift with your arms. You have to get under it, like this, and push against the ground with your legs.” Novak, the incredibly irritating White Knight, crouched low, back straight, put his hands under a section of frame, and pushed up, blowing air out hard. Veins stuck out and pulsed in his neck. This side of the truck actually shifted half a foot upward with a screech of twisted metal, but that was all he could manage. He lowered it back to its previous position carefully, and panted for breath.
Okay, fine. Maybe the arrogant bigoted jerk had a point. I imitated his stance, back straight, knees bent, and lifted with everything I had. The truck moved. I got it up a foot, nearly two, but every part of me burned.
“Together!” Jack said.
Novak stepped in beside me and lifted, too. It went up another foot, and both of us were standing, holding it, trembling.
Jack ducked under, fearlessly, to check on Mike.
“He’s okay. Can you keep going?” Jack asked.
I didn’t know if I had anything left, but the freakin White Knight was still heaving next to me, and I couldn’t give up before he did.
I lifted, with my arms now, my legs were straight. My left hand left dents in the steel as I pushed. We got it higher, up nearly on its distorted side, but I wanted to weep for the agonizing pain in every muscle in my body. “I can’t, Jack. I can’t get it any higher.” The side of the truck was bent in a curve, so it wouldn’t stay if we let go, we had to get it over the balance point, or it would just fall right back.
Jack looked at Novak, but all the White Knight could do was shake his head. His face was bright red with strain and the veins on his neck looked like they were going to pop.

We weren't going to be able to do it. Mike was going to die because even my enemy and me pushing together wasn't enough.
Suddenly, the mass of steel and rubber got a fraction lighter. The short firefighter with the blue streak in her hair pushed beside us, back straight and knees bent, just like Novak said. Jack lent his own back to the effort, and the two other firefighters joined us as well. It wasn’t a lot of difference, but it was a difference.
I took a deep breath, looked at Novak still straining beside me, and heaved even harder when I thought I couldn’t possibly lift more. He did the same, and that did it. That last push overbalanced the hunk of twisted metal and it fell all the way over onto what was left of its wheels.
We heard Mike, the driver, scream in pain as it landed. There was no way we could have kept that from being a big jolt to his already battered body. Jack scrambled up to see how bad the damage was. Mike was still alive. Jack stayed with Mike while the firefighters use the Jaws of Life to get Mike free now that he didn’t have 12 tons of truck keeping him prisoner, just a few inches of sheet metal.
I went to follow Jack and do my job, but I couldn’t. My legs felt like Jello with some kid wiggling the bowl. My hands shook, too. No way I was going to be putting any IVs in anyone for a while.
I just sat down on the asphalt and panted and shook.
Novak sat down next to me.
Neither one of us was able to move much until after they got Mike free of his vehicle. Jack and the firefighters got him onto a gurney.  I struggled to my feet, shaking like I was a hundred and ten.  Novak have me a shove to help, even though he was shaking just as bad.
“Thanks,” I said absently. Then I looked at him.
He looked up at me, brown hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, the scars on his lip and brow distinct against his reddened face. His hazel eyes held compassion for every man, woman and child on earth, as long as they weren’t like me. For once, instead of angry, it made me sad. Novak was a hero, any way you looked at it, but he was still my enemy, for no reason except that I was born the wrong species.
He nodded a you’re welcome absently, oblivious to the fact that the creature he’d sworn and trained and dedicated his life to slaughtering stood in front of him.
I injected Mike with healing venom on the way back to the hospital. He’ll make a full recovery. With my venom, he’ll even get back full use of his legs.

Without the help of a Georgian, that's one life I couldn't have saved.

D Dragon

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rise of the Black Knight

I roared a retreat signal to Arthur’s troops on the ground. My younger sisters Fiona and Cion grabbed huge boulders from the hillside and flew back with them to drop on the enemy soldiers and cover our retreat. Cion dropped her burden with deadly effect, then swooped low to wreak havoc with wing and claw. Merlin soared high above us, emerald scales darkened with stains of blood, mud and smoke against the storm clouds my power had summoned.
I touched his mind, seeking guidance. Merlin could not send his thoughts to me, but I could take them from him if he permitted it. “The Black Knight seeks Arthur,” Merlin thought. His mind was filled with flashing visions of the battle, things that he could see happening now, things that he could see, even though they happened far from him, and things that he saw, even though they had not yet happened, and might not ever. A vision, of the Black Knight on his huge black armored charger blasting through the line around Arthur and piercing the breast of Arthur’s horse with his black-bladed sword, overwhelmed Merlin for a moment, and me with him. I shook my head, unable to stop hearing the horse’s dying scream in my ears. Sometimes I wondered how Merlin could stand to live with such a “gift” without going mad.  Merlin’s gentle voice in our joined thoughts overrode the ugly vision. “Arthur’s defenders will not be enough. Send one of your sisters to aid him.”
I broke contact and opened my eyes to see the Black Knight just beginning the charge that Merlin’s vision saw concluded. Fiona screamed a battle cry and rotated in the air, still clinging to a boulder with her feet. A Black raked at her with his claws, trying to make her drop it on our own men.
I sent Cion to defend Arthur with a thought. My sisters and I touched each others’ minds so often, we sometimes thought the same thoughts as if we were one mind in three bodies. Another Black dragon dove from the cloud cover directly toward Cion’s back. I screamed a warning in our minds, and my sister swerved hard to the left, but the small, young Black dove with the speed and deadly accuracy of an arrow, and swerved with her as he did.
The smaller dragon hit my youngest sister square on the back hard enough to knock her from the sky. They both fell like stones. My link with my sister was strong enough that I felt the black’s fangs sink into her throat, poisoning her with the Black venom that brought euphoria and compliance. She went limp and the Black snapped her neck with his jaws.
The small Black soared away, while Cion plummeted onto the sharp rocks of the hills.
The light of her bright young life vanished from my mind, leaving an aching emptiness. NO!  My dear little sister! Less than two centuries ago, she had been a sparkling child with golden pigtails always coming loose, collecting frogs and salamanders from the lake shores.
But there was no time to grieve.
The Black Knight’s charger galloped through the shield line of defenders around Arthur, knocking them aside like they were made of straw. Gawain, Fiona’s young son rode to defend his king, but his destrier stepped on a dead man and stumbled. Gawain went down under his massive horse.
I felt the power gathering in the storm I had summoned. The Blacks were maddeningly immune to the power of the lightning I could call, though, and I was too far, myself to fly to Arthur’s aid. I watched in helpless horror as Merlin’s vision came to pass.
Arthur’s horse screamed and reared, throwing my grandson to the ground. He stood again, unharmed, but the Black Knight would ride him down in another moment.
I focused the pregnant power inherent in the storm. The power sought its balance with the earth. I channeled it through me, down and across the battlefield, directly into the Black Knight. He might be immune to lightning, thanks to the unnatural dragon scale armor he wore, but I was guessing that his horse was not.
I felt as much as heard Fiona’s bellow of triumph as she hurled the Black that harried her to the ground and smashed his head with the boulder. But the Black was wounded, not dead, and his army closed in. Arrows bespelled to pierce dragon scales flew at Fiona like a swarm of stinging insects. She retreated to the air, but could not gain enough altitude fast enough.
I felt arrow after arrow embed in her belly, arms, legs, and the delicate membranes of her wings. She fought hard, climbing by inches as darts continued to pepper her. I focused the wind and swept the swarm away from her, but the sudden gust unbalanced her flight.
I dove for her, just managing to grab her shoulders with my feet before she hit the ground. Her weight in full battle form was ten times one of the largest boulders. I strained to keep her aloft until we flew over our own men, retreating into the walls of Camelot. I laid her gently on the ground and sent a mental call for help to Merlin.
He was already on his way to Fiona’s side. His healing venom would have her ready to fight again in minutes, once he removed the arrows.
In the panic of almost losing another sister, I had lost track of Arthur.
I took to the sky again, just high enough for my wings to miss clipping the tips of the spears of our warriors, who were making a hasty, but ordered retreat into the castle.
I sent the image I saw to Fiona. Her son Gawain fought valiantly at Arthur’s side. The two excellent swordsmen fought the knight to a standstill. Though both Gawain and Arthur’s swords sparked on the black armor of the enemy knight, he shook off their blows as if nothing more than loving pats. Merlin had forged those swords himself, and they could cut through even my scales, yet the black armor showed no sign of dent or scratch.
Gawain and Arthur could defend against the Black Knight’s blows, but they could not defeat him. And while they fought, the black army surrounded them, isolating them from their own retreating men.
I saw all of that in an instant, just before I swooped up, just above Arthur and Gawain’s heads, then down and into the Black Knight’s face.
I had a moment of satisfaction as I saw dark eyes widen in the small eye holes of the black coif, then I hit the bastard with the spiked leading edge of my wing and flung him fifty feet, over the body of his dead horse and into the mass of his own onrushing soldiers. He knocked down a dozen of his own men as he flew. “Arrogant child,” I snorted.
I growled at the nearest line of soldiers, baring fangs and daring them to face me. I saw a man rush away, and suspected he went to fetch the archers. I had bought a few seconds only.
“On my back,” I shouted to Gawain and Arthur.
When they were mounted and clinging hard to my spikes, I sought the air.
The Black Knight had regained his feet by then and charged me, just as I took off.
I tried to grab him with a foot, intending to take him up to a very great height and let go, but he parried my claws with that massive black two-handed sword of his, and struck back. I felt it pierce my leg deeply, like a spear of acid. I could not control my scream of agony, but I pushed hard with my wings, and managed to convince the storm to give me some extra wind to lift me higher and faster, even as my vision darkened.
My dangling limp leg banged against the stones as I went over the walls of Camelot castle. Humiliatingly, I screamed again, but I managed to get my grandson and my nephew on the ground in the courtyard before I passed out.

As Nyneve’s vision went black, I awoke, trembling with adrenaline as if I fought for my life, and with tears of rage and grief streaking my face. My leg ached in sympathetic pain for a woman dead centuries before I was born.
Visions of things long past have all but replaced normal dreams for me, and I sometimes am confused at first what century or body I’m in. I try to write the dreams all down as soon as I wake up. Fafnir and my father’s stories never gave me this sense of truly being connected to my ancestors. I remember my grandfather and especially my grandmother now, not as a story, but as if I had known her, as if I had been her.

Dee Dragon

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Caged Dragon

After I cooled my heels in the blessedly dark, empty cell for about a hundred years, or maybe just a few hours, some uniformed cops came, handcuffed me with far more sturdy cuffs than before, and led me out. As soon as the door opened, I squeezed my eyes shut against the glare, and spent the rest of the time catching glimpses of what was happening through brief peeks under my lashes. I could tolerate most indoor lighting, but fluorescent lights had a disorienting strobe effect with my new senses, and a constant grating buzzing hum. At least I wasn’t totally blind like in sunlight. I shut my eyes, tucked my weird left hand into the back of my pants so it wasn’t showing, and trusted the cops not to lead me into walls.
I heard a familiar voice and peeked through one eye.
“But detective, the surveillance tapes don’t show …” He didn’t get a chance to finish.
A broad-shouldered, tough-looking white guy in a maroon shirt with a blue tie said, “That’s up to the judge to decide, Flynn. And you’re still on my list for that fiasco with the Death Dealers. I don’t know what your beef is with the supes, but if you don’t stay out of Protectors territory, you’ll be checking parking meters.”
I opened an eye a crack to see Officer Flynn glance my way, and shake his head. He said, “Yes, sir,” to the broad-shouldered man, and walked away through the crowd of desks.
Well, at least he tried. I appreciated the thought, especially from a guy who disliked me on sight because I wasn’t a normal.
I’d called Ma when they first brought me in and gave me my phone call. I don’t know what I expected her to be able to do, but I knew she was the one person who would move heaven and earth to get me free.
“Dee!” Jack sat next to Ma in a small area of chairs off to one side separated by a low wooden fence. Ma had her knitting bag with her. Judging by the number of little knit baby caps sitting next to her, they’d been there a while.
“Hi, Ma. Hi, Jack.” I would have waved, but my hands were still cuffed behind me. “You here to bail me out?”
“They won’t set bail for you until after a hearing, dear,” Ma said.
“Oh, right.” I didn’t really know much about the legal system. I needed a good lawyer. I didn’t have any money to pay a lawyer, though. They’d probably give me one of those public defender guys, overworked, and barely paid enough not to starve.
“It’ll be all right, Dee,” Jack shouted as the cops escorted me into another room.
Jack’s an optimistic kind of guy. I can’t say as I felt like agreeing with him just then.
The room was small, and I felt like I’d stepped into a cop show cliché. There was a mirror on one wall, which my new eyesight saw right through to the little observation room on the other side, and a table in the middle with a few chairs. The uniformed officers escorting me sat me down in one of the chairs, cuffed me to it, and left.
The only difference from the usual cop show set was that my chair appeared to be made of heavy duty titanium or some mega-alloy and was an integral part of the concrete floor, probably all the way to the steel beam understructure. Only way out of that chair was to take the building with me. Interrogation room for supe criminals. Kinda cool really. I’d have gotten a kick out of seeing it if I hadn’t been the one cuffed to the chair. Blessedly, the lights were incandescent. Still painfully bright, but no longer strobing.
I wondered when the good cop and the bad cop were going to show up.
I sat there for quite a while, long enough to get pretty bored, but finally, I heard voices outside the door.
“This is ridiculous. You can’t hold my client for armed robbery. She wasn’t armed, and she didn’t steal anything.”
“Attempted armed robbery. And you know the laws concerning supes with offensive abilities better than I do, Mr. McMillan. This suspect is always considered armed.”
“Armed or not, you’ve got no evidence that …”
“I’ve got a dependable eyewitness, the bank manager, who says your client tried to rob the place. That’s plenty of evidence for me.”
The door opened and the harried looking broad-shouldered man in the nice maroon shirt and blue tie walked in. The rich colors suited him well, and made the conservative male uniform look less severe, a cop with some personality. Behind him, came a tall, handsome black man with a briefcase, wearing a charcoal gray suit with matching gray silk tie that cost more than I make in a month. Not hard to tell which one was the lawyer. The trouble was, I couldn’t possibly afford any lawyer wearing that suit.
“Ms. Emerson, I’m Jerry McMillan, your lawyer. Mr. Tchovsky sent me.” The tall guy in the suit I couldn’t afford held a hand out for me to shake.
Unfortunately, I was still cuffed with solid bands of tempered steel alloy as wide as my belt.
“Who called Vlad? How did he know I needed a lawyer?”
“Mr. Tchovsky was contacted by your friend, Jack Nguyen.” He dropped his hand as he realized I couldn’t shake it, and turned back to the other guy.
“My client has shown no indication that she is not cooperative. I don’t see why cuffs are necessary, Detective Long.”
“I don’t have the key,” the guy in the blue tie grumbled, and sat down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table from me.
“Then send for someone to get it,” McMillan said, without sitting down. “My client shouldn’t be subjected to this unnecessary humiliation because it’s inconvenient for you to do anything about it.”
The detective gave a long suffering sigh, pushed himself back to his feet and stepped outside the door.
I glimpsed another familiar figure with bright red and black body armor just outside the door, but the detective wouldn’t let him in.
“At least give her these,” TakeDown said.
The detective came back in holding a set of keys and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. I’m not sure which one I was more glad to see.
“Thanks, TD!” I shouted.
The detective unlocked my cuffs and handed me the glasses.
“Thank you, sir.” I put the glasses on with a sigh of relief.
Mr. McMillan, the lawyer, sat next to me.  Detective Long sat down across from me again.
“So, Ms. Emerson, or is it Endriago? Or, Drake, perhaps?” Det. Long asked. He laid all my fake ID’s on the table.
“It’s Drake, I suppose, legally, Damson Diane Drake. My dad was Sir Robert Drake.”
His eyebrows went up. “Sir?”
I shrugged. “My dad was an English knight. So?”
“You do realize that it’s illegal to use false ID’s, Ms. Drake?”
“Yes, sir.” It grated on me to be called Drake. Yeah, it was my father’s name, but that’s because it was the English term for a male dragon.  I’m not a male dragon, so I’m not a Drake. I didn’t think Det. Long cared, though.
 “So, if you knew it was illegal to use false identification, why were you doing it?”
I started to answer, but the lawyer put a hand on my arm. “My client is not under arrest for using false identification, and in fact, you have no evidence that she ever used those ID’s.”
“Right. There’s the little matter of robbing the bank to consider beyond the ID’s.” The detective looked me hard in the eyes, or at least in the glasses. “Your three friends have been telling me about how you planned the robbery.”
“Uh, what? What friends?” I was confused for a second, then I realized he meant the three guys who actually tried to rob the bank. “Wait, they’re saying I planned it?”
“They seem pretty angry with you for dragging them into this and then throwing them under the bus when the cops showed up.”
“But … I didn’t. I mean, why would they even say that? I don’t even know those guys.”
My lawyer put a hand on my arm again to stop me from talking. “Detective, if you have statements from the other suspects in this case, I should be privy to them as the lawyer for the defense.”
Det. Long’s eyes flickered over to the lawyer for just a second. “Only if you intend to defend all of the suspects in this case. Otherwise, their statements are privileged information, only available to their lawyers and the prosecuting attorney.” He raised his eyebrows a bit as if in only mild curiosity. “Do you intend to defend all of the suspects in this case, counselor?”
“I have only been employed to defend one client.”
The detective nodded slightly as if that confirmed something he already knew or suspected.
“So, tell me, Ms. Drake …”
“Just Dee, please. Drake was my dad’s name. It’s not really mine.”
“I see.” He seemed to file that away mentally. “So, in your own words, Dee, tell me why you were in the bank today.”
“I haven’t been able to work for a while, and I needed money to pay my rent and stuff.”
“Do you have a family, Dee?”
“Just my mother. She’s in her 80’s and her health isn’t all that great, so she counts on me to take care of her.”
His demeanor seemed to soften a bit. “That can be tough, having someone depending on you, and not being able to provide for them.”
I started to like this guy. If anyone would understand my situation, it would be a cop. “Yeah. After Domina Death zapped me with that gizmo, I just haven’t been the same. My eyes are messed up, my hand is so strong I can’t control it sometimes, and my balance is off. I’m getting better, but there was just no way I could do my day job, or really my night job, since I work night shift.”
“I understand you’re an EMT?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And you helped out with that bomb threat on the dam a while back when the Protectors were in Japan?”
“Yes, sir.”
“You’ve done a lot for this city. And now, because of it, you can’t work to support your mother. That’s not very fair.” He nodded understanding.
I nodded with him. “Yeah, I just need something to get me through the lean spot, though. I’m adapting to the changes. I’ll be back fighting crime and saving lives soon.”
“Of course, all you need is a little money to tide you through. So, you went to the bank.”
“Right. I didn’t want to take money out of that bank, but I figured I’d put it back once I could work again.”
“Of course you would. The city owed you a bit after that last go-round with a super-villain messed you up, anyway.” He nodded again.
I started to nod with him, then stopped and thought about what he was getting at. “Wait, no. You don’t understand. I have an account in that bank. I was just going to withdraw some money from my rainy day account. This is sort of a rainy day for me, since I can’t work.”
He looked a bit confused. “That’s funny, the manager checked her records, and there’s no Diane Emerson in the computer.”
“I wasn’t Diane Emerson when I made the account.”
“Ah, back to the fake ID’s, that your lawyer tells me you’ve never used, since, of course, that’s illegal.”
The lawyer put his hand on my arm again. “My client has no intention of admitting to illegal activity of any kind.”
I picked up his hand off my arm, carefully so I wouldn’t damage him. “I didn’t hire you, and while I could use a good lawyer just now, I’m planning to tell the police the truth, and you can figure out what to do about it later.”
“That’s going to make defending you a lot more difficult, Ms. Drake.”
Again with the male dragon thing. “My name isn’t Drake, dammit. My dad was a drake, not me.”
Det. Long’s eyebrows about crawled up into his hairline. “A drake? As in a dragon?”
I suddenly got really nervous. Now that I wasn’t cuffed to the super-chair, I might be able to get out of the building. I’d have to grab Ma, split town and become someone else, with no money, but that would beat being trapped and helpless if any of these cops were Georgians.
“It’s just that I change my name a lot,” I said, avoiding the question. I realized I’d used my scaly hand to get the lawyer off of me, and I wasn’t wearing a glove. I hid the hand under the table.
“Why, Dee? Why do you need to have multiple names? And how would a young woman, no more than 25 at most, have a 30 year old bank account under one of the names on these ID’s, some of which are older than I am?”
I swallowed. He’d already found the account. I didn’t realize I’d set it up that long ago. “I don’t age like other people do, and I don’t want people to know I’m different, so I move around and change my name a lot.”
“How old are you, Dee?”
“64 next April, but Domina Death’s machine added somewhere between 60 and a hundred years to me, so I guess more like a hundred forty, give or take a few decades.” I fiddled with my scaly knuckles under the table, and flexed my claws in and out. It reminded me a little of clicking a pen repeatedly. If I wasn’t careful, it could develop into a nervous habit.
“Dragons live a long time, don’t they?”
“Yeah, thousands of years. I’m just a kid still.” Then I looked up and realized what he’d tricked me into admitting. This guy was the good cop AND the bad cop. And if he knew about dragons, he could easily be a Georgian. I might have just gotten myself killed with my stupid mouth. I got a rush of adrenaline and tucked my feet up under me, ready to launch myself over the table and out the door. I could feel every muscle in my body tense and my heart pound.
The Detective held up his hands in a calming motion. “It’s all right, Dee. No one’s going to hurt you here.” He sat very still for a moment and let me breathe. “You didn’t just change your name and move because you didn’t want to stand out. You were scared of something, weren’t you? You still are.”
I licked my lips. This guy was good. I really wanted to trust him, and tell him everything. The lawyer was practically dropping his head in his hands in frustration. He kept making shushing motions at me with his hands. For once, I did the prudent thing and clammed up. “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t really talk about that.”
Det. Long sighed and sat back in his chair. “That’s all right. I think you’ve said enough for me to fill in some blanks.”
The lawyer brightened up now that I seemed to be listening to him, and jumped in. “The civilian vigilante laws clearly allow for a superhero to go by an assumed name for the protection of themselves and their loved ones.”
“True, for registered heroes, but I understand you’re freelance, Dee? Not on the payroll or registration of any government or privately sponsored hero agency or group?”
“That’s true, sir. The Protectors have asked me to sign with them, but I said no.”
“Really?” I seemed to have caught the detective completely by surprise, rather than the feigned surprise and curiosity before. “Why would you do that? You do realize the Protectors get a good salary from the government, and benefits, including full family and disability benefits, particularly from injuries suffered in the line of duty?”
“I don’t like that they leave when we need them.” I fiddled with my knuckles under the table. “And, I don’t, you know, get along with all of them very well.”
The door opened, and the Protector I like least walked in. White Knight was actually the second one through the door. The first was the Devastator, middle-aged, average height and weight leader of the Protectors, and the most intimidating individual I’ve ever encountered.
Detective Long stood up, glanced at White Knight’s shield, with the silhouette of a knight slaying a dragon on it, glanced at me, and nodded slightly, as if he’d added up a few more things, and knew exactly which Protector I didn’t get along with so well.
The Devastator said, “Detective, we’ll be taking custody of this prisoner until the hearing. Super-crime is our jurisdiction, and we have reason to believe that she was acting in the line of duty as a civilian vigilante.”
“Really? Well, I guess she’s yours then,” Det. Long said, and I could tell he was feigning surprise. He already knew this was going to happen.
My heart started racing again. I had no way to cover my scaly hand. It was hidden under the table for the moment, but the minute I stood up, White Knight would see it.  And I was legally going to be in his custody. He could kill me easily. I swallowed hard, and looked at the lawyer. The lawyer seemed pleased. Great, he didn’t know. I looked at the detective, desperately hoping he wasn’t another Georgian.  Then faced the dark leader of the Protectors, “It’s fine, Devastator, sir. I appreciate the offer, but I’ll stay here.”
The Devastator and Knight both looked stunned. White Knight said, “Dee, whatever our differences, heroes look out for each other. You’ll be safe with us.”
That tightened my jaws. I’d seen him try to kill Vlad right after he saved the city. “Yeah, right.”
Det. Long turned to the tall lawyer. “Counselor, actually you and your client are free to go. The DA has decided not to prosecute.”
Gratitude and relief flooded me. “But you said the robbers claimed I planned the crime. Why would you let me go?”
The detective grinned at me. “I lied. The only person claiming you robbed the place is the bank manager.” He ran a hand across his brown buzz cut, and the harried look was back for a minute. “I’ve had TakeDown and one of my own beat cops in my office for hours insisting that the idea that you would rob a bank was ridiculous. And every shred of evidence, including the bank’s records of your account and the tape of the robbery corroborate your version of events. The only thing that looked suspicious was the way you broke down the door.”
“Sorry,” I clenched my scaly hand under the table. “I don’t have full control of the increased strength from Domina Death’s attack, yet.”
“You gained strength from Dr. White’s machine?” the Devastator said. “I was under the impression that it nearly killed you.”
“It did, but I survived, and it made me more powerful. I’ve just been having a hard time adjusting.”
“Knight has been trying to convince me that we need you on the Protectors. I’m beginning to think he’s right. I’d like you to interview for a place on the team.”  The Devastator said it like the honor that it was, with the assumption that my acceptance was never in question.
“No, thanks, sir. I prefer to be independent, like TakeDown.”
The Devastator blinked dark eyes in surprise, but nodded. “That’s your choice, of course.”
We all stayed where we were in awkward silence for a few seconds. Everyone expected me to stand up from behind the table that was hiding my scaly hand, and walk out the door. Wasn’t happening. Not with a Georgian standing right there.
The detective came to my rescue again. “Gentleman, Dee will need to be formally released from custody, and her effects returned to her before she goes home. It looks like you won’t be needed after all.”
The Devastator nodded crisply. “Let me know if you reconsider.” He walked out and White Knight followed, shaking his head, no doubt amazed at my level of mule-headed stubbornness.
When the room was clear, I thanked the lawyer, and told him I wouldn’t be needing his services after all, especially since I couldn’t afford to pay him.
When it was just me and the detective, I finally stood up, although I kept my scaly hand behind my back. “Look, I know you have all this recorded and stuff, but if the wrong people find out I’m a dragon …”  I’m dead, and they might even hurt Ma or Jack, I didn’t say, but I was thinking it pretty hard.
“What people, Dee?” The intensity in his eyes wasn’t the least bit feigned. He was a detective after all, and I was talking about a possible crime.
I looked at my feet and fiddled with my scaly knuckles some more. “The people who kill dragons.” I cleared my throat, and whispered to him, “The people who killed my dad.”
The detective squeezed my shoulder gently, and looked vaguely surprised when he touched something hard under the long sleeved t-shirt. “Matters related to a superhero’s identity and powers are automatically marked as extremely confidential. I’ll set you up as an officially registered Austin hero, an independent on call for supe emergencies of lower than Protectors level priority, similar to TakeDown. I’ll make sure the part about you being a dragon doesn’t go into any records, or beyond this room.”
That was a big load off my mind. “Thank you, sir.”
He chuckled. “You know, I never met a dragon before.”
“There aren’t many of us left.”

Dee Dragon