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Spunk | Chapter 2

By: A Certain Type of Decisive


    A little rat once told me that if you mix Gatorade with crushed up Gushers and dip a knife in, it can neutralize any magician. I have since learned to trust rats with my life- and I was starting to miss that 5-hour energy.

    "911, what's your emergency?" 
    "So I was walking into this grocery store, right? To get my groceries, some bagels, some almond milk, spider egg cheese, the works-"
    "What is your emergency, Ma'am?"
    "Oh, right, so I walk in, after talking with this sphinx, Deborah the Okay? She has these terrible riddles and I didn't want to answer, because it's just too much work and-"
    "Ma'am," said the operator, getting impatient. He was beginning to suspect this was a prank call- it would be the second one today. A couple mermaid kids thought it'd be funny to tell him their houses were on fire. At the bottom of Clarton Lake. 
    I looked around at the burning grocery store, clerks screaming and customers passed out from smoke inhalation. Burning boxes of crackers from the display had fallen around me. I looked down at my bleeding chest where a silvery knife was lodged.
    "Yeah, there are dragons inside the Logomart."
    Red and blue light began to pour in through the sliding doors, now blocked by shelving units and free sample trays. Most everyone had been allowed to leave the store, knives to back and gun to head, but not me. I guess it's my own fault I can't teleport my way out- I did become a regular at the only magic-free grocery store in the county. Even if it wasn't, the chemically fruity smell hit me the second that knife was shoved between my ribs- I would recognize it anywhere. 
    Someone was shouting through a bullhorn outside, but no one was listening. There must've been police from everywhere, feds and high guards alike. Everyone wanted to be part of what might be the biggest bust of the century- or try to stop the worst massacre. The dragons themselves weren't really very concerning, any fool with some armor and a magic sword can kill a dragon, but it was not a dragon who stabbed me.
    It was the dragon riders.

    "How long did you really think you could hide from us, Jajka?"
    "That's Dr. Stone to you- and if you think I'm going to join you and you're little gang-"
    "The West Dragon Riders," he interrupted, "Are an ancient, powerful organization."
    I rolled my eyes. Clinton had always been a ride or die for the dragon riders- and on top of that, a drama queen. The little stunt I'd done with the dragon riders was not permanent and no matter what oath I took, it couldn't bind me and he knew that. Everyone knew that.
    "And I'm an ancient and powerful wizard-"
    He snorted.
    "-So why don't we split our differences and leave each other alone. You take out this knife, I don't spell you to Hades, we call it a day. What'd you say, Clint?"
    He looked at me, eyes glancing down toward the silver handle. His usually somber face broke into a grin. It was a fissure, a red chasm spreading across the endless plane of his face. His face was so close to mine- I could see his eyes weren't really black, as I had always thought. They were brown, and I could see where the iris met the pupil. I could feel the heat radiating off his body. The Flame, they always called it- the only thing keeping dragon riders alive. Something connecting them to the immortality of dragons. It was not their only similarity, I thought, staring into the white fangs of his mouth.
    "Days are for humans. Night belongs to dragon riders."

    "Dr. Stone," I interrupted. I hated that name- I always wished I could change it, but half of a spell's an identity- it wasn't really an option. The dragons had encircled me, large bodies blocking any non-magical route of escape. Clinton had scampered off, loading up the dragons with a couple others. They were taking as much supplies as they could, stuffing the money from the ATM's vaults into their pockets. The captain was sitting on the dragon's head directly in front of me, looking shocked at the interruption.
    "You got a PhD? It's been only 6 months," he said, raising an eyebrow. He had one of those faces, the kind where every muscle is finely tuned and well practiced. The kind of face you see on TV, actors and politicians. Professional liars.
    "It's been ten years, Chad."
    "It's Chaadrickihn, but Captain will do just fine," he said, frowning. The Dragon Riders had always been overly fond of the past- clinging to ancient unpronounceable names. They lived too long and learned too little- labelled with impractical badges of honor to set them apart. I had tried to convince them to adapt- well, let's just say our arrangement ended for a bigger reason than a broken contract.
    "Listen Captain Chad, there's nothing left I can do for you. You've gotta let go of this war- you lost, the dragon riders are a gang, nothing more."
    That probably wasn't the best thing to say, looking back, but wisdom has never really been my strong suit. The motion in the room froze, like a dance halted by the lights clicked on. All eyes were on me, but only for a moment. The movement of eyes and swivel of heads was tangible in the air as they landed on the captain. Even behind his well trained face, I could see the anger in his eyes. 
    I tried to cast a couple teleportation spells, but there was no surprise they didn't work. Calming spells, invisibility spells, transmutation spells- hell, I even tried to plane jump- but it seemed that whatever enchantment  was on that knife was enough to cut me off. I wished I could wrench it out, grab on and throw it to the ground. Don't think I hadn't tried, but I knew it was useless, the knife was a spell, and spells can only be undone by the caster. At least I couldn’t be physically harmed by it, I thought.
    "Brentro'ok," he sighed, gesturing towards a man, advancing towards me. Chad turned to face the launch direction of the dragons, preparing to take off. Several dragon riders had surrounded me, but just as I was preparing to fight, they clapped in unison. The resulting magical vibration was simple- not to mention weak- but I wasn't really the most formidable opponent. With a knife lodged in my chest and no magic, I might’ve done better escaping as a mushroom.
    That's when everything went dark.

    "You've got spunk, kid," he grinned.
    "I've got anxiety- and a lock pick, so shut the hell up and let me work."
    The Dragon Rider's dungeon looked like bad movie magic- vines strategically placed one the wall, a skeleton collapsed over-dramatically in the corner- this couldn't be what real dungeons were like. This fortress was old, but it was made to look older. It was built with already crumbling stone, with out of date architecture. The whole idea brought me back to my awful teenage years- acne and the plague were not a good combination.
    I had learned to pick locks at a swap meet- back when I thought it worth the same as my old Hello Kitty alarm clock. It was not. Betty White cheated me out of that limited edition casting device and I'll never forgive her- no matter how many times I rewatch the Golden Girls. 
    I fumbled around with the lock, searching for something familiar to the cam-lock she showed me. As I did, I realized that this would've been impossible if they had splurged on some electronic locks. I was almost glad they had ignored my upgrade suggestions- a high tech security system was not something I wanted to deal with. I looked down, seeing the dagger still stuck in my chest- maybe I should stop giving advice.
    "Why don't we magic it open?" 
    "Wow, Gary! If only someone in this cell knew how to do magic- you can't, I can't, what if we ask ol' dusty over there?"
    "I prefer Dustin," the skeleton said, shifting position. "But no, I can't."
    Gary stuck his hands in his pockets, looking bored. He had been caught trying to break in- here to steal the Breath of the North or some shit like that. He was short, but built like a tank. When they disarmed him, he had mountains of weapons- two swords, a hand ax, a crossbow- but without them he seemed empty.
    Dustin, on the other hand, was probably a plant.  I hadn't ever heard of a necromantic Dragon Rider, but I wouldn't be surprised. They wouldn't just leave a cell unguarded like this. Not unless they were more starving for resources than they let on. Entrance rates had been declining for years- maybe that's why they suddenly wanted to follow up on my contract.
    Gary's pacing suddenly stopped and I was aware of a presence in front of me. Hands still on the lock, I looked up, meeting eyes with a disgruntled Dragon Rider.
    "Dustin!" I whispered. "You were supposed to be keeping watch!"
    "I don't have eyes!" he whispered back, though lacking organs had never stopped him from any other pursuit. Like talking.
    "Jajka," the man sighed, reaching into his pocket. For a moment, I expected him to draw a gun, shoot me there on the spot. Instead, he fished out a ring of keys, sliding one into the door's lock. As the door creaked open, I could see his face unobstructed and there was something about him.
    "You ain't supposed to talk to me, doctor, and it's Jhima're, now," he said, leading me through the hallways. There was a sadness in his voice- I wondered if I was about to be executed. He was so much older, but much of him had stayed the same. He was taller, but still shorter than me. His thick black eyebrows and crooked nose looked like just about everyone else here, but his freckles hadn't been lost through a new beard. Jimmy had been an intern back when I quit- I knew working for the dragon riders wasn't easy. I had always felt bad for the kid. 
    "How about we compromise on Jim?" He didn't respond. I wasn't usually one for compromise, but I was in no position to make demands. As he ushered me down the hallway, the sense of powerless truly swept in. A panic- I had tried to get rid of panic years ago, sell it off to a warlock, but I had gotten distracted.

    I remembered that market, the moment when the tables flipped over, sparks flying. A deafening explosion shook the ground as an amateur wizard failed to cast. A fight in the square had gotten out of hand. I would've run away- I almost did. Chickens had flown in every direction, knocking me on my back. I heard horses, a rhythmic pounding getting closer. The “police” was a new force in those days, still slower than the high guard. Head against the cobblestone path, I could hear their horse approaching. I remembered opening my eyes in pain, I remembered those dark green eyes I had looked up into- I would never forget. Ruby-
    I tried to push the thought of her out of my mind but I couldn't. I could stop myself from remembering every moment. My first adventuring party- my fellow soldiers- my friends- my wife- five idiots who thought they could stop a war. Five morons who thought the power of friendship could rescue a man from the largest military power in the world. Five numbskulls who thought they could escape the highest security prison on the planet. And me, the biggest idiot of all, for thinking sacrificing myself would save them.

    "Jajka Stone, you stand before the jury, accused of breaking a sacred oath. You face death by the sword. But in lieu of the times, we will offer you a plea bargain."
    "I'll take execution." Jim put his head in his hands, obviously not excited to be my lawyer. I knew they weren't going to kill me- they didn't know how. My life had always stayed in that awkward middle ground between mortal and immortal. I was going to die, yes, but not for a couple thousand years.  There was nothing anyone could do to change that- and they knew that. 
    Cather of Rosenheart, the head Juror, pursed her lips- visibly annoyed. The court of the dragon riders was not one set on justice, really, but good at masquerading it to get what they wanted. There was no persecution, exactly, but if you were suspected of a crime, seven people would argue over whether or not you had done it and what you deserved if you had. There was no judge either, just the head juror and a single lawyer. She had been appointed by the captain over a hundred years ago, but had been practicing long before.
    Suffice to say it wasn't exactly a fair trial. They showed me my contract, signed in blood, mostly taped together and badly burned. I tried to set in on fire again, but only managed to slip a spark before passing out. When I returned from the astral plane, I had a different knife in my chest- I wondered how they had gotten access to such a powerful spell. 
    "If the jury will recall that I-" he shot me an angry glance, "and only I speak on behalf of my client. Please continue, high juror."
    "Thank you, Jhima're. The plea bargain is as follows: you will be allowed to live in exchange for permanent loyalty to the High Dragon Riders of the West."
    "Absolutely not."
    "Jajka-" Jim warned, but I wasn't listening. I was still dizzy from passing out before, but I had honestly been through much worse. I stood up, sending the chair backwards into the thin rail separating us from the crowd of bored riders. 
    "You can't kill me, Catie of Wherever- so just skip the goddamn threat of execution and tell me what you want- because it's not to make me a member!"
    "Head Juror-" Jim interrupted, trying to intervene, but Catie silenced him. Her expression had remained neutral, despite the outburst. She carefully set down her papers, readjusting her glasses. 
    "We want you to undo a spell," she said, after a long pause. She rubbed her temples, "If you undo this one spell, and never bother us again, we'll let you be."
    "I'm pretty sure you kidnapped me- but go off, I guess."
    "Is that a yes?"
    "What? No-"
    "Yes!" Jim shouted, also standing. Papers spilled off his desk and he hurriedly regathered them. He knew this was the only way out, whether anyone liked it or not- if this could be the end, it would be a happy one, "She means yes. We accept the plea bargain."
    There was an uproar in the crowds as well as the rest of the jury- this is not meant to happen, but there was nothing anyone could do- I stared at Jim, betrayed. Betrayed, but not exactly upset. I signed the contract- I didn't have a choice, whatever the outcome of the court was written in blood- it was magic stronger than me, dagger or not. But honestly? I was curious about what spell they wanted out of me. I was offered so many quests on a daily basis- I couldn't walk down the street without being asked to save the world. Everyone seems to think only the most powerful wizard in the world can help them- right up until I turn them down. Then they come to realize anything can be done with the power of friendship. Or money. The Dragon Riders had been harnessing the power of money and the spellcasting ability of loyalty for ages- the thing that got them to change their minds? I had to get involved with the one thing only I could do.

Message to Readers

Sound reverberates in a way so that if you listen closely, you can hear ghost telling you to mind your own business.
(This is part two of the "Chillax" series, stay tuned for part three)

Peer Review

I really love your writing! There's so much personality in the characters, and you have amazing description. I especially liked the idea of this story - dragons and magic is awesome.

I was really confused by the settings. It wasn't really said anywhere when and where the story is taking place, and it doesn't help that sometimes there's horses and sometimes modern-era phones and media. The first person perspective is also a little jarring because I didn't really know if the perspective was changing with the setting, or if it was the same character.

Reviewer Comments

Congrats on winning the contest!