Flee, My Pretty One

by Eneasz Brodski

 

From up on the stage, half-blinded by the lights, all I saw of him were piercing blue eyes. The crowd churned before me, pounding music whipping them into a froth, but those eyes glittered calmly in the chaos. They shone at me, reflecting the strobe lights like jewel shards, floating over the bass pulses that rose from the floor to rattle my rib cage.

I stepped to the mic, screamed the chorus line. “Death to all collaborators!” His eyes never left mine.

Three beats to my guitar solo. I threw myself into it with a quickened pulse. I would never slack at a gig–this is my communion, the guitar sings my blood. And yet, there’s an extra charge to it when you’re showing off for someone beautiful. The blood burns a little hotter. Look at me–this is who I am inside. Eat of my body.

When the surge of emotion finally ebbed, I could breathe once more. The last notes faded, we said our thank yous, we turned away. Only his eyes remained unchanged, numinous among the vulgar. I imagined briefly that he loved to submit to vulgar, mohawked girls.

He came up to talk with us afterwards, which was too bad. Not because the rest of him sunk the fantasy. He was thin, with the delicate features that make it attractive–I like the pretty boys. No, it’s because when new fans come up to see me they realize the slouch isn’t a stage affectation. They see me without a guitar to hide my stance, catch me pressing my back against a wall for the relief it brings. They realize I’m twisted. Their interest fades and we both wish we’d just left the damned fantasy undisturbed.

Except he wasn’t repelled by me, didn’t rebound to Zoe or the guys. He smiled for me. Me alone.

“You rail against collaborators way more than the dragons themselves,” he commented after introductions. “You never rage against the damn dragons. Always their human agents. You one of those non-sentience wonks?” A flutter in his voice as he said it, as if he feared challenging me, but couldn’t stop himself.

From the corner of my eye I saw Liam perk up from the merch table. When his head swiveled over to us, the raised lights of the club glinted off the metal of his piercings like a flesh-and-silver disco ball. He must have been dying to jump in on this. He believed that dragons have personhood and their own motives. I wasn’t so sure. There’s those who theorize that the dragons are just dumb optimizers. No self-awareness, simply responding to the stimuli of human desires. We’d stayed up countless nights arguing this.

“I’m with Greenwald,” I replied. “We’ll probably never know, and it doesn’t matter anyway. They don’t have human values. The longer they stay off-leash, the worse the world gets.”

My pretty fan-boy nodded. “I hear they’re expecting another wave of refugees from Louisiana this month. How do you explain the repatriation collapse, if not intentional malice?” He stepped forward and motioned to the audio cables as I coiled them. “And can I help you with that?”

We continued our political bitching. Neither of us screwed up too badly in the conversation, and it’d been a while since I’d gotten any. He came home with me that night.

I woke up smiling, with that warm glow that comes from being well-laid. Restraints and toys lay scattered around the bed. I rolled over awkwardly to admire his sleeping face. I rested an arm on him, one breast pressing against his bare chest, and I realized I couldn’t recall his name. I’m sure he gave it, but who knew he was going to stick around? I hadn’t paid that much attention. Shit.

A fist banging against my door startled me. My band-mate Tyrell yelled through the flimsy wood.

“Jo! Wake up! You gotta see this!”

The boy beneath me stirred awake, gazed at me with bleary eyes. “Good morning,” he said, and gave me a grin.

I kissed his collarbone, then his neck, and then Tyrell banged on the damn door again.

“Seriously Jo, come check this out! This is big!”

“Fine, I’m up!” I yelled back. “Give me a damn minute!”

I let my gaze wander over the boy’s body and back up to his face. “Hey, look,” I said, “I feel really lame about this, but I don’t remember your name. I’m Josephine. And you’re…?”

He laughed, and the rising sun caught his eyes, clear as the sky.

“Hi, Josephine. I’m Aiden.”

I grinned. “More later,” I promised. I rolled off him, and we pulled on our clothes to go eat and see Tyrell’s big deal. Tyrell sat by his laptop in the kitchen, a video queued up for us.

On screen, a business-suited man left a government building. The news banner identified him as an emissary for Hirath’bur, an elder oil-and-gas extraction dragon. A gathered crowd of the unshaven and emaciated exploded in jeers as he stepped out. Hirath’bur destroyed the land where it operated–poisoned the groundwater, blighted the soil. It had been corrupting the government for years with bribes and threats, turning our protectors into its accomplices. Whole counties had been despoiled when rich deposits were discovered. The emissary didn’t spare a glance at the angry rabble. Cops corralled the protesters behind thin barriers, their hands at the pepper-spray canisters on their belts.

An unusual movement in the air drew my eye. One of those miniature quad-copters that make up any city’s backdrop–routing packages or surveilling traffic or whatever they did. It had been passing overhead, and now tipped into a sharp dive, directly at the emissary. Four bursts of gray smoke erupted from its front. Simultaneously, four bursts of red liquid burst from the emissary’s chest, and the man staggered. The drone shot up, high into the air, fleeing the scene. The man dropped, blood soaking his suit and spilling onto the cement. The crowd screamed, scattered, and the video cut off. I stared over at Tyrell.

“The hell just happened?” I asked.

“An assassination,” Tyrell replied. “One of three, all within a few minutes, all carried out by modified delivery-drones. They targeted emissaries of major dragons.”

“Holy shit. Is this what I think it is?”

“Uh huh. Looks like the resistance just got serious.”

My eyes flickered to the boy I’d just met, listening to us intently.

“Um… Aiden, maybe you should go. I mean, leave me your number, last night was good, but you probably don’t want to get mixed up in this.”

Aiden gave me a disbelieving look.

“Are you kidding me?” He gestured to his T-shirt, which sported an image of V as Guy Fawkes, holding crossed daggers before him. Aiden grinned wildly, almost floating. “I’ve been waiting years for this!”

And so our relationship was born the same day as the resistance. I should have known it was a bad sign.

#

They hadn’t always been called dragons. Centuries ago, when those incorporeal inhuman minds were first discovered, they were called some variation of “messenger” or “muse.” Those less kindly inclined called them “whisperers.” In an effort to remove the mysticism from the language, Adam Smith referred to them as “the Invisible Handlers.”

Quickly their nature became apparent. Under their influence, country sides were stripped to their bones. Cities choked on toxic smoke. Summoners grew gross with wealth, while the commoners withered into skeletons. Karl Marx coined the term “dragons” in reference to the destructive, rapacious creatures of legend.

The first resistance started same as our current one. Small groups taking local action. Individual acts of sabotage and vandalism. Growing riots. I hadn’t been in a riot yet, but that was about to change. We’d entered mid-summer. The city park bustled with activity as I helped erect the stage for a protest concert. We’d received permits and cleared everything with the authorities, because we were still playing by the rules. We hadn’t yet re-learned the lessons of 1917. Not until buildings are burning do governments take you seriously. It takes a revolution to force them into restricting dragons. “From this day forward, you may not dump your poisonous waste into our water. From this day forward, you may not work our children.” Not because our rulers care, but because they fear. Not discernment from above, but demands from below.

Hunched over and irritable, I struggled to lock another folding joint of the stage scaffolding. The midday sun beat down on me with spite. Every single stand and brace needed to be pummeled into submission. I was an inch from flinging the whole thing overhead and stomping off when Aiden’s arms descended over me from behind.

He wrapped me in an embrace and nuzzled my hair. “Hey sexy girl.”

I exhaled gratefully, relaxed back into him. He was lean, gentle affection. With maybe a hint of firmness around the crotch right now. I smiled.

“Here to help us?” I asked.

“Anything to get the show going. I still get goosebumps when you scream. But . . .” He gestured at the cops patrolling the perimeter. “It looks like we’re gonna get shut down.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Everything’s clear. We got a Free Speech Zone designation for the day.”

It still makes me sick to think back on how compliant we were. Free speech zones? The dragons had learned to fear the power of government over the last century. Now every dragon had phalanxes of well-funded emissaries. “What is good for Genimette is good for the country,” they said. They were patient. Slowly they wormed their way into the machinery of politics. Which is how you get bullshit like “Free Speech Zones.” Maybe there’d been a time when cops served and protected the public. Now they’re thugs who serve the dragons and protect their profits.

Our band, Against Dragons, wouldn’t go onstage until 9:00 p.m., but other locals were playing nonstop from midafternoon. The music burned violent and spectacular. The cops hated it. Which meant they had to piss on anyone they could. Shouting matches erupted. Twice pepper spray hissed and they hauled off some kid in cuffs. People drifted away, not wanting to deal with the pigs. Those who stayed were on edge. Belligerent, pierced, tattooed punks, sticking it out explicitly because it did bother the police, and damn proud of it. We were in good company.

When we took the stage, the setting sun igniting the horizon, the air held a buzzing tension. Like the charge that builds inside you when a storm is rolling in, or the last pregnant note before a DJ drops the bass. I fingered my rosary as I scanned the crowd, matching my tempo to their pulse. We could use this. I pocketed the beads at salva nos ab igne inferiori, nodded to Liam. Zoe started us off with a bass riff.

The stage lights picked us out in a giant, harsh halo. As the sky grew darker and the heavens tightened around us, that tension worked itself into our instruments. It seeped into Liam’s voice. It became a part of the music. The crowd fed it back to us, boiling, pushing us to a frantic thrashing. My hand clutched at the guitar as I choked it with my fingertips. My heart raced, and we were diving straight from one song into the next without pause. Because fuck pauses, we have this burning in our throats, and we don’t know any way to get it out other than to roar it at an audience and hear them scream with us.

We smashed into our breakout song and all the riotgrrrlz and punk boys below us roared in approval. We moved as one.

There’s four words all piggies hate. They glare from spray-painted buildings and overpasses. They bleed from the shadows of hushed conversations. They’re the chorus to this song. “Death to All Collaborators.”

The chorus approached, and I stepped to the mic. Instead of looking into the crowd, I looked to the cops looming at the perimeter, and showed some teeth. I picked out one huffing like a pent-up bull. I stared him down. I screamed out my line just for him.

Death to all collaborators!

You could call that a mistake, maybe. But it had to start somewhere.

Halfway through my solo, a meaty hand clamped onto my shoulder and spun me around. The amps squealed as the notes died on my strings, and I stood eye-to-chest with a man in a dark blue uniform snorting fire.

“This show’s over,” he rumbled. “You’re coming with us.”

“Piss off, pig.” I spat. I shrugged him off, turned back with derision. My stomach clenched in terror, but I wasn’t doing this for myself anymore. This was for everyone who’d put up with their sneering abuse tonight. Put up with it for generations.

His hand shoved me from behind, hitting right at the apex of my hump. I yelped and pitched forward, but I hadn’t gone one step before he wrenched my left arm behind me and screaming pain forced me to my knees.

I twisted, shrieking, as he yanked and pinned my other arm. My spine torqued, wedged vertebrae biting into calcified discs. A zip-cuff cinched one wrist, and I knew I’d be trapped like this for hours, blind with agony. Somewhere I heard Tyrell yelling, the sounds of movement, but they were dim outlines under a flood of pain.

Sudden sharp relief. I collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. The stage rocked beneath me. I rolled over and saw Aiden grappling with the cop. My boy was no match for the hulking man, but as he pretzeled Aiden into submission, more angry punks leapt over me, piled on. The cop was big, but not a-dozen-angry-teens big, and he tipped over under the onslaught. His hands grasped for something at his belt and heavy boots came down to crunch his fingers before he got there.

Lights flashed, strobing blue and red. Whooping sirens drowned out the music of struggle, replaced it with the music of authority. Liam yelled into the microphone, something hot and angry, and the crowd erupted. Two nearby cops jumped onto the stage to free their trapped brother and Zoe, little Zoe, strode up behind them. She held her bass like a two-handed cudgel, back and to the side. She lunged forward, swung her guitar overhead, and brought it down on the bigger pig’s head. The violent jangle of the strings breaking sounded through the park, and it was the sweetest music I’d ever heard. Bottles flew. I could barely hear the sirens over the blood-lust roar of the crowd.

Zoe picked up the mic and yelled into it. “Time to roast some pigs! Let’s start some fires!”

The crowd surged like an incoming tide, bursting around the stage at the edges, breaking over the top in fury. I knew after this we were going underground. I staggered to my feet, pushed into the nearest knot of bodies, grasped for Aiden’s arm. I dug him from the group stripping the pig’s weapons, pulled him into the lee of one of the man-height amps. I still shook with aftershocks of pain, and I needed his attention on me. He took one look at my contorted face and wrapped his arms around me, bent his head down to mine. I clutched at him and raged against a stupid urge to cry.

“Thank you,” I said. Plastic zip cuffs dangled from my left wrist. And deep inside a longing swelled, a longing I’d been beating back for weeks. It broke over my inner walls before I even knew it was happening.

“I love you,” spilled out of my mouth. My heart sank. I hadn’t meant to say it. Shit.

His eyes shone. “I love you too,” he replied, his voice soaring.

#

Six months later found us hunkered down in the blacked-out basement of Liam’s squat, having settled into the fugitive life. I sat on the floor, bent over my phone, resting my back against the wall. Aiden knelt beside me, kneading my shoulders and massaging along the top of my hump. He, Zoe, and Liam observed an informal remembrance of Tyrell in low tones as we waited. Tyrell had disappeared three weeks back, his door kicked in and his place ransacked. The dragons had him now.

Liam’s brother Marcus arrived last, a half hour late. Over an inch shorter than Liam, with more hair and less piercings. Chemical burns ringed his eyes in flaming red. He limped in, favoring his right leg, but grinned when he saw us.

“Christ,” Zoe said. “What happened to you?”

“I was at yesterday’s protest at Union Station. Brought a megaphone and said some true things.”

“And what’d that get you?” Liam asked, raising an eyebrow.

Marcus’s grin faltered. “Someone tossed a Molly, before the pigs started cracking heads.”

Liam snorted. “We should be past flinging cocktails. If this was L.A., the whole district would be in flames, and the pigs would be hiding behind barricades.”

“Next time will be bigger. Next time we rush City Hall.”

“It’s been ‘next time’ for weeks. We’re dying out there. For nothing.”

“Hey, back off. You just call us here to bitch us out?”

“No.” Liam straightened. “I have something to show you. We can still get our shit in order before they eat us alive.”

He led us to the next room, also blacked out. He flicked on a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, and something glinted on the floor. A thick line of metal lay on the cement. My eyes followed it, bending smoothly, arcing around the whole room. The line of metal grazed each wall, encompassed where we were standing, and returned to touch itself. A very large circle. It looked faintly yellow. Like gold.

We were in the center of a summoning circle.

“Liam, what the fuck is this?” I asked.

Zoe gaped. “Where did you get this much gold?”

Aiden inhaled sharply and jabbed an accusing finger at Liam.

“You’re going to summon a dragon? Are you insane?”

Liam looked Aiden in the eyes and spoke calmly, as if he’d rehearsed this. “Dragons are a tool. They are a goddamned amazing tool which we’re leaving lying around out of ideological purity, and it’s costing us lives. If you’re willing to kill a man to save your species, you should be willing to use the dragons against each other.”

“No.” Aiden stated flatly. “Too dangerous. They get out of control. Always.”

I spoke up now. “We haven’t had a single politician who isn’t owned by a dragon for . . . hell, longer than I’ve been alive. You can vote blue or you can vote red, but you can’t vote against the interests of Auramagos. You want to add us to that equation too? Remove even us as an option?”

“In a gunfight, the side without a gun loses,” Liam replied. “You can rage about how unfair that is, but if you don’t pick up a gun, you just guarantee that the other side wins.”

“Bullshit,” Aiden spat.

“Cells on the west coast have already summoned some,” Liam stated.

That shut us all up. He gave it a second to sink in.

“You haven’t wondered how they’ve been doing so well?” he continued. “They’ve been using these things for a while. They call them Dragon-Eaters. They’re advancing the struggle, and we’re dragging them down. We’re killing the resistance.”

His words hung in the room. The circle of gold held us in its grip like a tourniquet.  A bronze bowl rested against one wall, the athame inside it lay in wait. Overshadowing them, a tall wooden crucifix held a beautifully carved corpus of Christ, twisted in agony up toward the heavens. His eyes gazed at me from under the barbed crown, asking me how much I was willing to give to make the future better. How much of myself would I sacrifice for the good of others?

Liam’s brother spoke up first. “I’m willing to die for the resistance. I don’t want that to be for nothing. If this is what it takes . . . I’ll do it.”

Zoe nodded. “If this is a mistake, it’s not permanent. We’re the summoners, we can always banish it.”

Aiden looked back and forth among us in dawning disbelief. “Oh no . . . you guys aren’t buying this. You can’t be buying this.”

I opened my mouth to agree with him. A mental image of Tyrell being tortured stopped me. “We can’t let them keep getting away with it,” I said instead. “If we’re defeated, it could be generations before people rise up again. Maybe never. I can’t live in that world.”

Aiden stared at us, a fire in his eyes. His breathing came heavier. His hands clenched into fists.

“You unbelievable idiots. You’re damned if you go down this path. You’re all damned, and you’re doing it to yourselves.”

“Aiden, we’re losing. We have to try.” I extended a hand, not used to his opposition. He jerked away from me.

“No. Fuck this. I’m outta here. Damn yourself by yourself.”

He turned and stormed out. The door creaked slowly in his wake, as if buffeted by the fury of his passing.

“He’ll come around,” I told the group, ignoring the pinch of doubt in my guts. “I’ll bring him over.”

Zoe and Marcus murmured agreement.

Liam began the summoning. He knew exactly what he was doing; he’d been preparing for weeks. Within minutes the athame sliced over my palm. The blade split the skin neatly, drawing a perfect red line that wept into the bowl. It mingled with Liam’s, Zoe’s, and Marcus’s. I stared at it as Liam worked, a buzzing in my head. Or was it in the room? It shifted, doubled, spawned low hums.

The gold ring thinned, evaporating, and the air grew heavy with an alien presence. Not just the air. Everything grew heavy–my clothes, my body. Breath came hard. The light from the bulb distorted and played over the walls as if filtered through choppy waters. A foreign mental process shoved against my mind, pushing my thoughts in unwelcome directions.

I glanced at Zoe. Under the distorted light her spiked hair looked like tarantula tufts. Strange shadows shifted behind her, giving her the appearance of having extra limbs. I saw a spider whose life consisted of the constant knitting of webs of emotional dependence, until her entire identity was a tangled social net and the upkeep it required. She crept into the lives of others, insinuating herself under the guise of extroverted friendship. Only by manipulating people did she accomplished anything.

This was the first gift of the dragons–the dragon sight. It strips away the facades we monkeys erect to make ourselves feel noble and pure. It reveals that we are simply biological constructs, responding to incentives, executing crude survival strategies. I looked to Marcus. I saw him whither into little more than a fluttering shadow. Unable to make his own way in a confusing world, he leached vitality from his brother’s desperation. Dark tendrils slipped from his lethifold form, grasped after Liam, hanging onto another’s life since he couldn’t direct his own.

Liam had become a shimmering mirage in the wavering light, almost not there at all. His defiance paled into the flailings of a man who couldn’t compete with his peers. He was plain, so he mutilated his face with pounds of metal. His voice couldn’t soar, so he screamed and growled instead. Everywhere that he couldn’t excel, he carved out his own pool of excess. He couldn’t even fight the revolution with his natural talents, so he’d do it as a dragon-summoner.

I’d lived in a dream world where people ran on ideals. The dragon sight stripped that away, showed us our true motivations. I refused to look at myself.

As we gazed at each other, the light stabilized, and the droning hums and buzzes shifted. Wove together. They coalesced into a scratchy whisper–the dragon’s murmurings, the second gift. The invisible presence hooked its claws into my psyche. From now on, a part of it would be with me, always. My chest swelled with power as the creature spoke. It began–

If you wish to prevail against dragons, this is what you must do . . .

#

We kept our dragon sight suppressed most of the time. Permanently living in a world stripped of its masks would have driven anyone crazy. I did use the dragon sight on Aiden later that week, though, after five days of him refusing to take my calls or respond to my texts. I’d have done it sooner, but I had trouble tracking him down.  I saw an insubstantial, hollow-boned thing that lived vicariously through the emotions of others. He rejoiced when I took my pleasure from him. He exulted in my passion when I raged against the dragons. But above all, he was addicted to the concentrated distillation of emotion that made up primal music. Soaring high in that jet stream was the only time he felt alive.

Immediately I found a new drummer for Against Dragons. As we released new music, Aiden spiraled in closer around me, pulled by a gale of desire, until all I had to do was reach out and pluck him back in. I got what I wanted, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I’d seen him as a biological construct responding to incentives, rather than a person. I didn’t use the dragon sight on him again.

#

Months later, I sat on the remains of a couch in the remains of an apartment, my guitar in my lap. I fingered the strings absently. Sunlight streamed in from glass sliding doors, still intact, that led out to a balcony twelve stories above an alley strewn with trash. From the kitchen came the smells of Aiden frying us eggs. I pondered, examining the dragon problem, again. For their entire existence, dragons lived only as long as they produced wealth for their summoners. Failure to do so meant “banishment.” Death. A single unprofitable year could kill a dragon, regardless of how great the rewards for sacrifice would be five years down the line. With incentives like that, no wonder they scorched the earth to achieve the results we demanded. They were only responding to the survival pressures humanity had placed on them.

A pang of regret cut me, knowing that I couldn’t discuss this sort of thing with Aiden anymore. He wouldn’t even talk about our Dragon-Eater. He couldn’t rejoin our cell, not being a summoner. Fortunately he was extremely valuable as the leader of my sub-cell, as our part of the resistance had flourished in the months following the summoning. Recruiting had skyrocketed. It became so much easier when we saw what motivated people, what kept them loyal, what they could be pushed to do. The dragon sight let us estimate what each member could contribute, how much they were worth. It brought us successes–devastating guerrilla strikes with very acceptable losses on our side. Success was the biggest draw of all, I couldn’t believe how quickly our ranks swelled.

Even the smattering of recent failures were easily turned into rousing stories of sacrifice. Nothing fired up our people like a strong martyr.

Aiden emerged from the kitchen carrying two plates loaded with greasy eggs and sausage. A niggling irritation scampered in my mind, scratching away at the corners of my brain like a rat. It nipped at my thoughts, but every time I looked for it, there were only tattered worries and rodent droppings.

Aiden’s eyes caught the sunlight, sparkling cerulean blue. I smiled. They brought me back into the living, breathing world. He didn’t smile back, but I didn’t mind.

“Hey sexy boy,” I greeted, and set my guitar aside. He sat down by me mutely and handed me a plate. I finally noticed his distant expression, his troubled brow. A weight of guilt smothered my hunger. How long had he been like this? I’d been ignoring him again, fretting over last week’s barely-salvaged disaster.

“Did I keep you up too late last night?” I asked.

“It’s not that. I woke up dreaming of Zoe again.”

“Oh.” I crossed myself. “Shit, sorry.”

“I keep trying to picture her last moments.” His voice came timid, as if scared to confide in me. That hurt. I pushed down the urge to use my dragon sight. “I wonder if she was terrified when she ran for the explosives. Was she already shot and bleeding out? Or did she detonate them defiantly, triumphantly? I think I like that better. I can see her with a detonator in hand, yelling at the top of her lungs that they’ll never take her alive.” A slight smile twisted his face. “Took a hell of a lot of pigs with her.”

I nodded and ignored the piece of me searching for an answer that would make it better. Instead I forced up the core of dread that had been smoldering inside me for weeks, hot coals of regret. They burned me when I spoke. “It wasn’t a fair trade.”

A strong knock startled us. The front door swung open and Liam stepped inside, eyes hard. His brother Marcus followed, as well as a man I didn’t recognize. The dragon whispered inside me–he’s brought along extra muscle. Something is going down.

“Liam?” I asked as he closed the door behind them. “Who’s this?”

Liam pursed his lips. His eyes moved to Aiden, his face darkened. That pestering rat at the back of my mind started scurrying again.

“Jo, why haven’t you been freaking out about our failures over the last month?”

I hesitated, felt the dragon’s cunning prodding my thoughts. “Our estimates are off. We’re absorbing the data and adjusting our probabilities. It happens. We’ll just have to be more conservative for a while.”

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.

“They’re off in a consistent way,” Liam said. “It looks like chaos at first, until you change a simple basic assumption. Then it becomes a predictable flaw.”

Aiden’s hand came to rest on my hip. “What are you trying to say?” he asked.

Claw, claw, claw. Bite, bite, bite.

Liam pierced me with a stare. “You should be able to see it.”

The rat in my mind leapt at his words, and rapidly everything tumbled into place.

Don’t look at the data in one pool–split it into two populations. The operations I’m not involved in, failing and succeeding roughly at the rate expected.

The operations I do have a hand in still succeeding often enough, but at a lower rate. Those that do succeed get us less supplies, less info, or cost more lives than expected. Enough success to keep us in the game, but costly enough to slowly bleed us dry.

He was right, I should have been the first to see it. The data is explained if I’m a mole, working with the old dragons to rot us away from inside.

But if they were convinced that I’m a mole, I’d be dead right now, came the whisper. The fact that they were here, appealing to me, was evidence they’d reached a different conclusion.

A chill spread from where Aiden’s hand rested on my hip. Ice crept up my spine and sunk claws into my chest. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I turned around to look at Aiden.

“What’s up?” he asked, confusion in his eyes.

I looked through the dragon sight. Before me sat a man who only ever saw my hunched back as part of what made me who I am. I wasn’t ugly to him. That was rare enough, but out of all the men who weren’t turned off by me, how many would I be compatible with? How many took sex the way I loved to give it? How many would be caring and sweet, and love my bitchiness and aggression? How many could know all of me, and love me anyway?

No one else. I couldn’t lose him.

So when I’d realized what was happening, I’d suppressed that knowledge. I knew, somewhere, what he’d done. The knowledge skittered in my mind like a rat in the walls. Hiding from sight but sometimes heard fleetingly, hatefully.

I didn’t see Aiden below me. I saw my own lies. I’d endangered the resistance with my selfishness. Destroyed resources. Lost advantages. Killed Zoe.

“Oh, God no.” The words escaped like smoke rising from my lungs, trickling from my mouth. I stepped back, back, until I stood pressed against the wall.

“Jo, are you ok?” my lies asked me, concern in his voice. He sounded ignorant, innocent. He lies well.

I closed my eyes and banished the dragon sight. Around me the sounds of three men stepping forward, laying hands on Aiden. A brief struggle I couldn’t watch. My eyes burned.

“Jo, help me! What the hell? Get off me!”

I opened my eyes and gazed at Aiden, bent over, arms wrenched behind him. Confused, pained.

“Why?” I asked. But I already knew. Biological constructs running off simple incentives. Aiden secretly working with the dragons for months? That kind of bitter dedication only came from someone deeply wronged.

He drew a shallow breath. “Like you care,” he said quietly. “You declared humans don’t matter. Dragons are the true players in the world, humans are just the pieces they play with. Even you admitted it. Even you. I hope you burn.”

We studied each other. He looked so fragile, bound up by angry friends. It hurt to see him like that. To see that in the end, he had been driven to the dragons, too. Aiden had realized that you could only seek vengeance upon a summoner by turning to a dragon of your own. When it came to something he truly, desperately wanted, even Aiden had succumbed. And I had set that precedent.

“Get him out of here.”

The other three wrestled him out the sliding door, onto the patio. It overlooked a dozen floors of empty space, terminating in concrete far below.

Aiden struggled, thrashing. “No! Jo! Stop them! Please, Jo!”

Slowly I shuffled up to him on the balcony. My hands trembled. The words scraped my throat on their way out:

“Death to all collaborators.”

They heaved him over the edge, and for one infinite split-second he hung in the air, surprise still on his face. Then gravity took him.

He fell, screaming, shattering the serenity of the sky. As he plummeted something bulged under his shirt, something large and swelling. The shirt shredded at the shoulders and downy growths burst from his back.

Long graceful wings, thick with snow-white feathers, erupted from the flesh. They snapped open, spanning yards across, and caught the air in a full embrace.

I should have been terrified. I should have recoiled in horror at this invasion into our material realm. The dragons had found a way to affect physical reality. The war was escalating, and there was no knowing where it would go now.

Instead I sank to my knees in gratitude, choking on sobs of relief. Tears spilled down my cheeks. I watched Aiden through a liquid blur as he swooped up, up into the endless blue sky, free of me finally and forever.

I haven’t seen him since. I am grateful. The war grows bloodier, and our world grows bizarre. Yet I still craft the most volcanic music I can at night. I scream it into the sky, my personal siren songs. Sometimes I think I can see Aiden’s figure far above, suspended from outstretched wings. I imagine he can hear my violent hymns, and I wonder how he would answer my rage. My accusations, my inquisitions.

When the dragons are finally ground to dust, I fear I may snare him and find out.

 

 

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One Response to “Flee, My Pretty One”

  1. Defenestrationism.net » Blog Archive » 2018 Fan Voting and Fall Schedule Says:

    […] “Flee, My Pretty One” by Eneasz Brodski […]

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