There was a knock on the door at 9 in the morning. I had just gotten to sleep when I heard it. Jack and Brad, who both work night shift same as me, were out cold in the living room. So, Ma answered it.
“You,” Ma said. “What do you want?” Ma greets census takers with more warmth than that.
Concerned, I dragged my butt out of bed to see who it was. White Knight stood there in full armor, shield strapped to his back and sword in scabbard.
“Um, I was looking for Dee, maam?” he said.
Ma stood up to him with her full 5’4”, arms crossed. “Damson is asleep.” She started to shut the door in his face.
“Hold on, Ma,” I said and stood beside her in my thigh length sleepy T with the white tiger cubs, sweats and fuzzy slippers. I hid my scaly left hand behind my back. Not sure why, but I worried that my hair was probably sticking up in the back. “Why are you here, Knight?”
“You don’t look ready,” he said.
“Ready for what?” And then it hit me. I’d called Liberty, and told her I was willing to begin the training to eventually become a Protector. She told me the training would begin at 9:30 on Tuesday, and she’d have someone pick me up. I smacked myself on the head. “Oh, crap. Liberty meant 9:30 AM!” I’m so used to night shift, I assumed she meant 9:30 PM. Who would do anything at 9:30 AM?
“Just hold on a sec. Let me throw on some clothes.” I closed the door in Knight’s face, and ran to my room to grab my jeans, denim jacket and black mask that I’d been doing the superhero thing in.
Ma followed me, arms still crossed. “What is that …” She paused and made a face. “That Georgian doing here?”
“He must be the one Liberty sent to take me to training. I told you I was going to start getting training from the Protectors.”
“You should tell Liberty you’ve changed your mind. You need to stay as far out of the spotlight and as far away from that …” She had to swallow a less ladylike noun. “Georgian as you can.”
“Ma, we’ve been through this. I’ve started to feel like I make a real difference. People are alive and well today who would be dead if not for what I’m doing. And Liberty can teach me how to do it better.”
“Liberty and her Protectors are on the news every other day. You can’t afford that.” Her voice was low and urgent, but we’d already had this argument a few days ago for the thousandth time. It was different this time, though. She lost.
“I’m doing this, Ma. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s what I want. I won’t let fear keep me cowering in the shadows my whole life.”
She seemed to deflate a little, getting smaller and showing every wrinkle of her 87 years. “I know I can’t stop you, Damson. Just, please, be careful.”
I pulled the black leather glove over my left hand to hide the scales, and pulled Ma into a quick hug. The accelerated aging had made me a couple inches taller than the 5’8” I’d been for the last 4 decades. She felt so tiny and fragile to me now. “I will, Ma. I promise.”
I grabbed my dark sunglasses and followed Knight downstairs. “Is that really what you intend to fight in?” he asked, eyeing my jeans and jacket dubiously.
“You were no doubt hoping for a spandex cheerleader outfit.”
Knight wisely refrained from commenting.
Truth be told, I’d love to have a full body outfit made from the stuff they make firefighter coats from, fireproof and a lot tougher than denim. Maybe I can get the Protectors to help me out a bit. I just can’t explain to anyone why I need every inch of my skin other than my right hand and face covered up all the time, and not with anything as revealing as spandex.
I balked when I saw the official Protectors vehicle Knight led me to in the apartment parking garage. “Seriously? A Prius?”
Knight grimaced. “Liberty is very environmentally conscious.”
I sighed and got in the plastic hybrid. Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to chase any bad guys driving anything faster than a moped.
The sun blazed at me, even through the special glasses TakeDown hooked me up with. I put the shade down, but it didn’t help much. I closed my eyes for just a second, and the car stopped. I blinked awake, and wished I didn’t live in a world where everyone thought they should do things in the blinding daylight. “What would be wrong with training at night?” I grumbled. “Doesn’t more crime happen at night anyway?”
Knight’s lips twisted in disapproval. “Which would be why we train in the daytime. We have too much to do at night.”
Hadn’t thought of it that way.
Knight led me around the back of the Protectors’ tower to what looked a lot like a Parkour course, with weird robotic installations here and there. It covered an acre or two. I couldn’t see even half of it at once.
I looked around. “Where’s Liberty?”
“She had to fly to Washington, she had a meeting with the head of Homeland Security.”
Knight hauled a big dufflebag out of the back of the Prius that reminded me of the one Vlad used when he trained me in sword combat.
I had an ugly revelation. “YOU are my trainer?”
“Damson, I don’t understand what you have against me.”
Damson? When did he …? Oh, right. His ears are as good as mine. He must have overheard Ma talking to me. “What do I have against you? Let’s see.” I started ticking things off on my fingers. “You use superhearing to listen in on private conversations and use a name you don’t have a right to.”
He flushed at that one.
“You tried to kill two of my friends.”
“They’re dragons. They only pretend to be your friends. They’ll turn on you when it benefits them,” he said with a “You’ll see” tone.
“Both of them have risked their lives to save mine. Forgive me if I base my judgment of them on their actions, not your prejudices.” I put up a third gloved finger. “And that brings me to the third reason I really don’t like you. You’re a know-it-all jerk who treats everyone else like idiot children.”
“I have my reasons,” he said with that irritating know-it-all tone.
I rolled my eyes. “Being older than the people around you doesn’t automatically make you smarter, you know.”
He looked startled for a second, then shook it off. “You have no idea how old I am.”
“I know more than you think.” I looked him up and down, thought about his dragon blood. He was perhaps one quarter dragon from the visions I had seen, maybe even half like me, and he looked to be in his late twenties. Liberty said he was one of the original Protectors founders back in the sixties when the Triple A went commercial. “You’re what, 70? 75?”
He blinked. “73.”
“I’ll be 64 next April. So stop giving me the condescending, I’m older and wiser, bullshit.”
“How did you know how old I was?”
“I know more about you than you know about yourself,” I told him, glad to be on the opposite side of the know-it-all attitude for a change.
“Like what do you think you know about me?”
“Like, …” I almost told him he was a dragon, but he’d just laugh at me. “Like you got those scars on your face defending a little girl from a bully at the orphanage you were raised in.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “How could you possibly know …?”
That was not a question I really wanted to answer. What was I going to say? Your armor told me?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer.
Another car pulled up next to the training ground, not a Prius, a sleek black non-descript sedan with a purring engine that could probably do zero to sixty in 3 seconds. There was a small, fancy red cross with Greek letters in a sticker in the window. I recognized it, of course. Ma made sure I knew what all the symbols of the Georgian order looked like.
White Knight’s face had been flushed red with anger from our argument. It paled visibly when he saw the car.
The window rolled down on the driver’s side and a guy who looked a lot like he ought to have an ear piece and be walking behind the president glared out at Knight. He didn’t look happy.
“I think training will have to wait,” Knight said.
“Novak. We need to speak with you.” The windows were tinted more than was probably legal in this state, but not enough to hide from my new eyes. Three other men were in the car, and every one of them looked tough, dangerous, and pissed off.
“Yes, sir,” Knight said, voice subdued. He sounded almost, ashamed.
The car pulled into the lot next to the six story tower that held the Protectors offices in Austin. Knight walked to the big glass front door and held it for me and the four solemn men in black suits.
I didn’t get too close to them. I was a little afraid that one of them would be able to tell somehow, like smell or something, that I was a dragon.
Knight led the men into a room with a conference table, and gestured toward a room across the hall from it with a TV, fridge, microwave and comfortable looking chairs and a couch. “I’m sorry, Dee. Wait for me in the break room. Hopefully, this won’t take very long” He sounded like a man walking to his own execution.
I refrained from giving him shit. It just didn’t seem fair right then. I meekly went into the room indicated and picked a comfy chair in front of the TV, like I was going to watch soaps until he was done with his little Georgian confab.
As soon as he went into the conference room and shut the door behind himself, I crossed the hall and put my ear to the door. Fortunately, it was just a regular conference room, no special defenses against superhearing.
I’ll have to write about what they said later. I’m wiped out and can barely keep my eyes open any longer.