Friday, February 17, 2012

Blood Kin

I stood at the top of a tall stone building with long steep stairs leading down into a land so green it practically glowed with life. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people walked on the ground and the lower steps of the building. They brought flowers, jade jewelry, and little wooden cages with brilliantly colored butterflies fluttering inside. They laid these gifts at the feet of the man who stood beside me.
He was nearly as tall as Fafnir, pale-skinned and blond, with a thick beard. He wore a shimmering iridescent green and red cloak of feathers, a tall leopard spotted hat, a brightly beaded leather loincloth, and lots of jade jewelry.
The tall man looked nothing like all the other people. They were shorter than my mother, dark-skinned with dark hair. They wore simple loincloths, paint, beads, and some feathers, but nothing like the magnificent feather cloak of the man beside me.
The man raised his arms and all around me, the people fell silent. Many knelt reverently. Others put their hands over their foreheads and bowed their heads.
The tall white man smiled down at them. He waved a hand. All the people with butterflies in cages, opened the doors of the little cages at once.
As hundreds of butterflies filled the air, the white man shifted, growing larger and larger, until he was as big as Fafnir in battle form.  Royal purple scales as brilliantly iridescent as the butterfly wings and the feathers flowed over the man’s flesh like a flower blooming. The dragon spread wings to catch the morning sunlight, the feathery cloak still draped around his great shoulders.
Brilliant purple scales the same color as my own were marked with tiger stripes of red and accents of black and gold. He was the most beautiful dragon I’d ever seen.
I stood beside him and all the people looked up at us. Their faces were beautific with reverent joy. Tears flowed down some of their faces. Love. They loved him, this magnificent purple dragon.
He looked down at them with the same joy. He loved them back. He looked over at me, standing beside him and held out one giant golden-clawed hand. “Fly with me, child of another time,” he said, and smiled into my eyes.
He could see me.
Hundreds of people stared up at us, and I realized I was stark naked.

I woke up with a start. Weird dream. I’ve had enough dreams of the past now to recognize one when I had it. But that was the first time I’d ever had a dream where anyone could see me, as me. I wasn’t just riding along in someone else’s head. I wondered if it was a true dream of the past, or just the result of the drugs they’d given me in the hospital.
They told me later I’d been asleep for two days. Didn’t seem that long. I felt reasonably okay when I woke up, just thirsty, and I had to pee like a racehorse.
Jack slept in a chair next to my bed. He looked adorable, black hair fallen across one eye.
I reached over to brush it away, but my arm came up short. There was a bag of red fluid dripping through an IV tube into my arm.
Liberty must have found someone to donate.
I peeled back the covers to look at my torso. Tape and a big gauze pad covered the unarmored spot on my flank where Bobcat got the worst digs in.
I dragged the IV stand as quietly as possible, so as not to wake Jack, over to the bathroom and took care of things. While I was in there, I peeled off the gauze and looked underneath. The wounds were closed. Bright pink welts showed where they had been.
I peeled more gauze off the left half of my face, and found something similar. It could be a very cool scar, except I generally didn’t scar. It would fade away in a few weeks. I peeled another gauze patch off my right shoulder. I didn’t even remember getting clawed there.
I heard voices outside, arguing. I didn’t want them to wake up Jack. I quietly wheeled my IV as far as it would go. The beepy heart rate and blood oxygen, etc. monitors were plugged into the wall, so I had to extend my arm out behind me to get enough slack to reach the door of the tiny hospital room. I opened the door a crack, and leaned out.  Floyd “Tex” Donovan was arguing with Mark “White Knight” Novak. Everyone I know seems to have at least two sets of names.
“… I can’t even believe you have the guts to show your face here,” Donovan whispered really loudly. Like he wanted to shout, but was trying to remember he was in a hospital. Some of Novak’s friends murdered a bunch of Donovan’s friends. Needless to say, there was no love lost there.
“You don’t have the right to keep me out,” Novak said. “I just want to make sure she’s okay.”
“She’s fine,” I whispered. “But her boyfriend is asleep, so she would appreciate it if you two could argue somewhere else.”
“Vlad the Black is here?” Novak asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Vlad is not my boyfriend. Jack is my boyfriend.”
“But I thought … Who is Jack?”
“Is there something you want, Novak, or are you just here to quiz me about my love life?”
His cheeks shaded a little pink, and he ducked his head. It reminded me of the way he acted when the Georgians dressed him down. Beaten. Ashamed. “I just … it doesn’t matter.” He turned and started to walk away.
Donovan nodded in satisfaction and sat back down on the chair by my door. He’d been doing the bodyguard thing, watching over me while I was out cold and defenseless. Which made sense, since, technically, he was my bodyguard.
“Novak, wait!” I whispered loudly. I leaned as far out the door as my tether would allow.
He stopped, hesitated for a moment, then turned around slowly, like he expected me to say something nasty.
“Did you donate blood for me?”
He nodded, and waited stoically for my snarky retort.
“Thanks,” I told him. “That’s the second time you saved my life. I was kind of a jerk about it the first time.”
He crooked one side of his mouth a little in something sort of like a smile. “I think you’re still ahead of me by one.”
“Well, stop sticking your butt in cracks you can’t get out of then,” I told him with a smile to let him know I was just giving him crap.
He smiled back a little. “Same to you.”
“Liberty’s been looking for you. The Protectors are short-handed.”
The smile disappeared. He shrugged. “They don’t need me.”
I sighed, and decided to get pissy with him again. He seemed to respond better to that. “Guess my grandmother was wrong about you. She thought you were a hero.”
He winced a little. That was a low blow, I admit. I was hoping it would get him fighting back, but it seemed more like I’d just confirmed what he already believed. “She was wrong. I’m just a freak.”
“Welcome to the club.” I sighed. I felt a little woozy and the breeze on my back end from the useless tie-in-the-back hospital gown was getting annoying. “At least, let Liberty know I didn’t kill you before you vanish back into your self-pity hole.”
“Why would she think …?”
“You’ll have to ask her that. I need to go lie down.”
Donovan stood up and supported my scaly, non IV connected arm. “I think you’ve outstayed your welcome, hero.” He spat the last word like a curse.
Novak nodded, and walked away.
I felt sorry for the guy. He’d found out that everything he believed in, lived his life by, sweated and bled for was a lie. But I was kind of pissed off at him at the same time. My grandmother was famous for not letting just any old schmo wield her sword. Excalibur was not a sword for people who couldn’t take a bad blow and get back up again.
There were a lot of people out there who needed a White Knight to save them. My grandmother, Lady Nyneve, the Lady of the Lake, believed that Mark Novak was that Knight.  From what I’d seen, she generally knew what she was doing. I’d just have to trust her.
Jack was awake when I looked back over my shoulder.
He winked at me, and wiggled his eyebrows.
Apparently, he’d gotten a really good view of the gap in the back of my hospital gown while I’d been leaned out the door.
If I could blush, my cheeks would have glowed like Rudolph’s nose.

D Dragon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Truth Among Friends

As it so happened, the way Liberty looked at me like some king of demon was the least of my problems. Once the fighting rage died away a little, I got really dizzy. I’d wrapped the lady’s off white linen curtains around me to cover my scales, but they rapidly stained dark red. Someone was losing a lot of blood. I should do something about that. I wondered vaguely what I’d done with my kit.
Liberty caught me as I staggered. She carried me out as the world went all swirly. I had a bad feeling I was going to see the inside of a hospital room again.
Bobcat tried to use Liberty’s distraction to limp quietly away.
She stuck a foot out and hooked his good ankle, tripping him onto his furry face. The cop cars caught up with us about then, pulling to sudden stops all around us.  One cop pulled right up onto the lady’s lawn and jumped out.
“Hi, Flynn,” I waved with my non-scaly arm, the rest of me thoroughly covered, in increasingly blood-soaked curtains. Bobcat’s claws must have nicked a good sized vein somewhere in my belly. Or, he could have damaged my liver considering the location of the claw slashes. I’m not sure my internal organs are in the same place as a normal’s but that’s where a liver would normally be. “Can you call Jack for me? I think I need to go to the hospital.”
“Same thing happened last time I worked with you, supe girl,” Flynn commented.
“This time I got the bad guy, though.”
“Looks like he got you worse.”
“I need transport to the nearest hospital, right now,” Liberty said, all field commander again. “Special teams has the perpetrator in custody.” She nodded over where the supe squad SWAT guys had put a metal muzzle on Bobcat. Metal bowling ball looking things went over his hands. They put them on his feet, too, and loaded him on something that looked like a motorized wheelchair had a love child with a moving dolly. Yeah, Bobcat was bagged and tagged.
Liberty got in the back of Flynn’s squad car, still carrying me. She held me like a big baby, wrapped in red-soaked swaddling. Flynn ran the siren and the flashy lights and drove damn near as crazy as Jack. The siren sounded different, though. Police, fire, and ambulance sirens each have their own song.
“Dee, I need you to answer the question.” Liberty shook me a little.
I didn’t remember her asking me a question. “What question?”
“What are you, Dee?”
“I’m just me, okay?” The hurt I felt when Liberty saw me all scary-looking came back. I turned my head away so she wouldn’t see me trying not to cry. “No matter what I look like, I’m still me.”
“I know you are, Dee. I’m a Protector. I’ve worked with Platinum Princess, Stone Golem, and the Human Shark.”
“That guy is freaky-looking, with all those huge teeth.”
“He knows the genus and species of every butterfly and wildflower in Central Texas. His gardens are beautiful.” Liberty shook me a little again, like I’d started to doze off. Did I? Not sure. That ride is all a little fuzzy. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. I need to know if there’s anyone who might be able to donate for you.”
I chuckled a little. Some days it sucks to be an endangered species. I stopped because chuckling really hurt. My belly felt like it was stuck in the Human Shark’s mouth. My face itched, too. I touched my cheek and felt bone, though, so didn’t think scratching was a good move. “Maybe Vlad or Fafnir, but they’re the wrong clans. Knight would be my closest match, probably, but he’s gone, too.”
“White Knight could donate blood for you?” Liberty sounded surprised. “He’s like you?”
“We’re like 6th cousins or something, same species and clan in any case.”
“Dee, I’ve got one more question.”
“Shoot. I’m not going anywhere.” My whole body felt like it was made of lead. It was an amazing effort to wave one hand in a “whatever” kind of gesture.
“Did you kill White Knight?”
I blinked. That was a weird thing to ask. It woke me up a little. “Kill him? You have no idea how much trouble I went to to SAVE his sorry ass.” Some vague part of my mind realized that Liberty was using my woozy condition to pump me for information, but I couldn’t muster the energy to care.
“Is that what happened at Vlad Tchovsky’s house two months ago? You saved White Knight?”
“Vlad would have shishkabobbed him. Never go after Vlad with a sword. He’ll feed it to you.”
Liberty smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She nodded to herself as if I’d confirmed her suspicions. “I was afraid Knight might go after Tchovsky after that confrontation on Mansfield Dam. Knight seemed to think it was his duty to kill him because Mr. Tchovsky called himself a dragon.”
I nodded. “Because he’s like me.”
Liberty blinked. “You’re a dragon! Of course. That explains a lot.” Then a tiny wrinkle appeared between her perfect golden eyebrows. “But you said Knight was …”
“Yeah. Knight’s a dragon, too. He just didn’t know it before. He does now, unless he’s a complete idiot, which I wouldn’t rule out.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Knight’s alive, then.”
“Why did you think I killed him?” I wondered vaguely. I shivered under the curtains. “And why would you work with me if you thought that?” And why didn’t Flynn turn on the heat? It was freezing in that car. The siren kept going far away and coming back in some weird Doppler effect. He needed to get that looked at.
“Knight’s never taken more than a day or two off in the 40 years that the Protectors have existed. I asked Eye in the Sky to find him. Nothing. He’s completely off the grid. When I got the report about the disturbance at Tchovsky’s place the same night he ‘went on sabbatical’ I thought you and Tchovsky had probably killed him together.” she shrugged. “I worked with you because I wasn’t going to treat you like you were guilty until I had proof. And, I just didn’t think you were the kind of person to do something like that, unless Knight forced you to, in self-defense or to protect your friend.”
“Innocent until proven guilty.” Of course, Liberty would be the one person to live that to the letter. I huddled against her warmth. And she could deal with my weirdness. As friends go, she was okay.
Too bad she couldn’t pull several units of Silver or Green clan dragon blood out of thin air.
I fell asleep, knowing I wouldn’t wake up. Even Liberty couldn’t save me.

D Dragon

Friday, February 3, 2012

Freak Like Me

I ran to the car that one of the world’s most famous and powerful superheroes had crashed into from 7 stories up.
Liberty had a nose bleed. She sat up on one elbow on the ruined metal roof with an imprint of her whole body in it, wiped her nose on her hand, and looked at it quizzically for a moment. “I didn’t know you could fly,” she said after a moment, like she was irritated with me.
“Yeah, I don’t advertise,” I said, relieved beyond words that she wasn’t badly hurt.
“I need to know things like that if we’re going to work together." She shoved her crown back into place. "I wouldn’t have made that risky a move if I’d known you weren’t about to be killed.”
“Oh.” I looked up at the tall building above me. Bobcat jumped across the little sliver of parking to the adjacent building. “Crap.” I blew it, and the bad guy was getting away.
Liberty held up a hand for a second, listened intently, then sighed. “He’s gotten past our perimeter. I wish I had a flyer who could follow him.” She blinked, and looked at me. “He’s headed northeast. That way!” she snapped, pointing.
I hesitated. She wanted me to take off in the middle of town in early evening when hundreds of people were out.
“If we don’t catch him tonight, more women will die," Liberty said.
That was the essence of it. It didn’t matter if someone saw me in the sky and realized I was a dragon. It didn’t matter if someone posted pics of me on the internet and the Georgians hunted me down later. What mattered was pretty young women with their whole lives ahead of them getting ripped to pieces by a psycho because I messed up.
My jacket and shirt were toast, so I tossed them aside. I leapt as hard as I could using my wings to get higher, grabbed onto a third story window ledge on the other communication building, the one that’s only four stories tall. I leapt again to the edge of the building, pulled myself up to the roof, and used it as a launching point to leap as high as I could into the air. With that much altitude to start with I was headed in the right direction with good speed in seconds.
The mic in my ear crackled with static, then I heard Liberty’s voice. “Do you see him yet?”
“No sign,” I said. I scanned like a hawk hunting a mouse, widening my search in desperation, and saw a flash of movement far ahead. “I see him! He’s already up to 30th and Speedway. He’s heading into a neighborhood. Damn, that guy is fast!”
“I’m right behind you, Dee. Don’t lose him.” I could hear her breathing hard and realized she was running, following me as fast as her super-strong legs could carry her.
I flapped like a maniac until I felt like my arms were going to fall off, then dove again trading my altitude for more speed.
I saw him, jumping from roof to roof in a small neighborhood.
I saw him, but he didn’t see me. My wings were quiet as a whisper as I let the momentum I’d already built up be enough, and glided.
He sensed me somehow, at the very last second. He stood on the peak of a suburban house, about to jump to the next one, hesitated and turned around.
I hit him doing maybe thirty miles an hour.
“Mine!” I shouted in triumph. I flying tackled him off the roof of the unfortunately only one story house, riding the weight that was more than my wings could hold to the concrete of the street.
“Dee, no!” Liberty shouted in my ear. “Don’t engage him until I can get there to back you up!”
Too late, I thought, as I rolled in the street with a snarling, spitting, clawing demonic blond monster thing.
Those claws flew and slashed so fast that I couldn’t keep them off me. I raised my left arm up to cover my defenseless face. Without my jacket to conceal my vulnerabilities, the places that weren’t armored were all too obvious.
Bobcat found the bare section of my torso, just over my right hip. His claws ripped deep into flesh instead of scraping over scales.
He laughed as I screamed and bled.
I do not like being laughed at.
I growled in his face, overwhelmed with rage even more intense than the pain.
I got bigger. I didn’t exactly stop and analyze it right then. I was a bit busy fighting for my life, but I felt the shift in my body. My fangs popped out of their own accord, and I’d swear I had more and sharper teeth in my mouth, and it felt distorted, too. I have no doubt my eyes were as bright red as flashlights. My feet ripped through my shoes, the claws on them growing longer and sharper. I stopped trying to defend myself and returned the mad frenzy of claws.
I curled up, protecting my vulnerable torso with armored legs. I dug my feet into his belly and shoved, ripping flesh and fur as I launched him through someone’s rose trellis and into their living room window.
Without even stopping to think, I launched myself right after him.
Bloody gashes marred his furry belly where my foot claws had gotten him. He had a dozen small cuts from the window glass. The flickering light of a television set showed him snarling insane rage at me, bloody saliva dripping from his fangs.
I snarled my own rage right back and dove on him.
He rolled out of the way, and clawed at my armored back.
I twisted, grabbing for him, but he evaded.
He slashed my face, opening my cheek to the bone in three long gashes. My blood splattered onto some normal’s flower print couch.
Bobcat got to his feet, jumped, landed in the middle of my chest, and used me as a launching pad to hurl himself out the window again.
I tried to grab for him while I gasped for air, but only managed to scratch his ankle with the venomous claws of my left hand.
It was enough.
I saw him land in the large tree branch he’d been aiming for in the front yard, saw his foot, give under him, and saw him fall.
He tried to escape in a stumbling run, but Liberty tackled him. His claws didn’t do him any good against the queen of invulnerability.
She got super-cuffs on him in less than three seconds.
Then she looked up at me.
I stood in the darkness of the living room, the light of the television flickering over me, my wings half extended, wearing just my slashed blue jeans. Blood streamed from my ripped belly and my face and dripped from my clawed left hand.
I heard a noise behind me, footsteps.
I whirled to face the new threat. I snarled defiance.
A lady in pink bunny slippers and a blue velour robe dropped her cup of coffee on the floor and fainted.
I caught her before she hit the ground, laid her down gently, outside the spreading circle of the scalding hot spilled coffee. That was going to stain her rug, no doubt.
Liberty frog-marched Bobcat to the window. His right leg dragged like a dead thing. He looked woozy. Liberty’s hand might have been the only thing keeping him vertical.
Sirens closed on us from three sides.
Liberty looked at me crouched like a gargoyle over the lady in the bunny slippers. “What are you?”
I felt a flush of … I’m not sure what to call it. Embarrassment? Sort of. Shame? Not exactly.
The way Liberty, who I’d begun to think of as a friend, looked at me… It hurt. It hurt worse than the raw open wounds in my face and side.
I felt my body shrink back to its normal size and shape. I grabbed the bunny-slippered lady’s living room curtains to wrap myself up in. I covered myself, not out of fear of discovery, but because I didn’t want anyone looking at me like that.
Bobcat looked at me, too, but all I saw in his dazed yellow eyes was a perfectly normal hate. In that moment, I had more kinship with Bobcat than with Liberty.
“Like I told Bob, I’m a freak like him.”

D Dragon