Red Dragon

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Age of Dragons: Origins

The car took its time rumbling to life, but soon it was on the road out of that dead city. There was only one way, in or out, and it was over a bridge that lead up a rocky hill to the interstate. Francis looked out the left window, watching the paltry offerings the town offer zip by. It at least had a strip mall, but Eve clarified that it was actually the apartments.

Which they passed.

Francis blinked. He raised his finger, head darting to Eve, still playing on her phone.

“Uh,” he began, but it seemed she wasn’t too engrossed this time.

“The offices are closed until the morning,” she answered, her skin given a pulse of brilliant blue. “We’ll come by in the evening.”

“Oh. Great. Wish you told me that sooner!”

He groaned, and flung himself against the seat hard. That simply statement made it into a long... long... long drive, and it would be an even longer day. Though he wished he could keep his blood nice and boiled, his temper stoked, tempered... The statement, also, doused any determination. The dark’s brisk breath didn’t help, either. It whisked its way into the car, permeating it with the autumn’s caress. The moon was hidden behind thick, black clouds, while stars glinted through in patches, fading as dawn crept ever closer. The heat above clashed with the chill that wanted and longed to hold, flashing through that expanse.

The highway was blanketed in that darkness, lit by those flashes, but was clear save for the lone trucker or night owl making their way along their lonesome path, heading to paths that were so much closer yet far less appealing to the drachen. Even then, Francis wanted nothing more than to keep his anger hot in contrast, to stay awake... but, with Eve’s choice in music, his mind soon gave to the next, dreadful feeling, the one that often came before he sank into the dark’s embrace. Regret.

He did not desire it, the one thing he never yearned nor lusted for. How he tried- needed to keep it repressed, to keep it at bay, but how could he as the shadows loomed, their cold teeth biting into him. It chilled the last of the blood on him, taking away the dripping, the soft pattering as it congealed to his skin. It was a casing, a mask, a reminder of the monster he allowed them to forge.

The day was going to be long, but what of the night that came before? What about the month, months prior? He felt his throat clench. His teeth grit and ground as his mind wrenched and tore him back to that balmy night in June. Unlike the... woodland of Paradise -in truth all of West Virginia permeated it- there was always a metallic tang to the air in Pennsylvania. An acrid combination of steel, sulfur, and sewage –and that’s before taking in the smell of the area. The people, themselves, reeked and emanated of this... vile tincture, of that... abominable scum. Yet, those who live there grow to accept it –or at least go “blind” to it- or maybe it simply becomes them. The “people” from there were more temperamental, brunt, brazen and brash compared to their neighbors in Ohio and West Virginia. He was living proof of that.

But we aren’t talking about the state. Not all of it. Only the one city he stalked on that muggy day in June. It rained the night before. The concrete shimmered with the oil and water that was pulled up from it during the day, and it settled, like a fine hue, over the quiet little hovel of Norwick. It was little more than a gas station and a four-way, a speck of a speck on a mite on the map lost between Washington and Claysville. To Francis, though, it was his home, his sanctuary, his asylum.

His lair.

He tried the larger cities years in the past, joined their “families”, but he found he had an exceptional affinity for burning in general. His specialty was bridges. He was hunted. For a time. He needed it, to gain notoriety so that he could join the next, but that inevitably lead to more running, forcing him upon this one-horse and no-car “town”... but what better place to hunt than the closest you will have to the wild west?

The town was so antiquated it even didn’t have cameras. Not at the gas station, little more than a post box in the middle of four pumps, nor at the four-way. It was lucky enough to have one street light, and that was extravagant. To the point only four of the lights in the boxes actually worked. It was placed (haphazardly) at that four-way, while the only light that touched the gas station and the three houses behind it were from the cracked, browning windows of the post box. Two of the houses were abandoned, their stone forms crumbling away yet still holding, while the third was empty this night. As it was most nights... save for the rare weekend when its “owner” decided to come home. That was fine for Francis. He made sure to keep it nice and stocked and conveniently dusty whenever she decided to pay it a visit. They were in a interparasitic relationship, after all: she kept the lights on, and he kept her lab cooking. It was the “good shit”, too; it kept him up for seven days once, and he spent the majority of that time dealing with an even more demanding body part. He broke several records during that, including a new one on skeet shooting: thirty feet. If there was an actual clay pigeon, he could have shot it down.

Thunder rumbled, both in reality and in that dream, that vision. The clouds broke for a moment over the town, washing the four-way in the moon’s silver light. It was a crescent, though, and fading. Even then, it gave the town more light than it truly needed. Or wanted. It was getting too much attention; there was traffic, actual traffic, passing through the town, more than Francis ever saw.

Did something happen on the interstate? Were they being detoured through? How could they be so conniving? He couldn’t pick a target! Not like this. Not when it was car after car, truck after truck rumbling their way through that tiny patch. A shame, too; there was a perfect target just begging to be taken. It was a hot red convertible filled with red hots. Even from where he sat, on his “co-owned” apartment, he could hear those giggling girls, cackling away... which, given how it was swerving, they were already partied up. A perfect target... too perfect.

Francis checked “his” phone, the date and day... and used that as another reason to avoid this mark. There was no way that wasn’t bait; a Tuesday in June... and sorority girls come driving through his territory? They were looking for trouble, which made every car that passed through another chill down his spine. Who were they? What were they truly doing there? What was known, or being told... He always chose his marks carefully. The majority that came through this area were dumb, lost, unlucky... and most of the time all three. Men he was merciful with. He would take them to the ATM in the gas station, have them withdraw all their cash, then slit their throat before dumping them in their car and driving them off into the forest to the south. He had grown quite a collection, arranged by color and size. He almost had a mural of a great blue dragon made before the metal started to rust away, so he just left them there to rot –a sight not uncommon in the area.

Women, however, he gave more... attention.

Francis always enjoyed the company of women more than men, but the feeling was never mutual. In his first outing, joining one of the smaller families up in York, the head, James, had a sister. Gianna. Sweet girl, if a bit arrogant. There was no question that Francis wasn’t her first, even if she was his... as well as her last. The next morning, when James returned to the base, his dark skin was almost white as chalk, quickly turned green to the carnage that seeped down the walls and men around. Francis remembered him asking their “bros” why none of them stopped it, but he already knew the answer. As did Francis, his mind his own once more.

That was the first family that accepted him, that took him in after he fled his burning home... and that’s how he repaid them. He found no joy, and any joy he might have felt was taken from him as that darkness and fire erupted forth. It was his first time, after all. In more ways than one.

It wouldn’t be his last, either. He fled further north and found another family to join in Scranton. Unlike the warm welcome before, though, this family cut ties to the gang in Philly. They had their fair share of trust issues, and demanded a true trial, a test of Francis’s loyalty, his devotion to their causes and his desire to bond to them. Signed in blood. At that time, Francis hadn’t killed anyone –not of his volition. He was no stranger to crime, in throwing his bulk around and getting what he wanted, but to outright take a life?

There was no other option, though, nowhere else he could turn. They knew his face, but what was more important was he knew theirs. He knew the cost all too well. He took to the streets, claimed his hunting ground, preying on any game that traversed. Francis wasn’t the ugliest, nor was he the prettiest. He didn’t stand out in any way –when he wanted to. He mastered the art of “hiding” inside the wallflower back in middle school, but he was not afraid to leave it and reveal the raging hornet that he was.

That’s how he came across Stephanie. She, too, was on the hunt, but not for the same game. Her goal was more sinister, wanting to make her ex, Mark, jealous with another, nicer looking guy. Taller, too. It succeeded.

They just sat down to enjoy their coffee at the quaint little cafe after they got done leaving a mess in the alley behind it when he came storming in. Unlike his first experience, Francis didn’t black out. He actually felt all the pleasure it entailed. He was jubilant, bubbly, basking in the afterglow that radiated off him. And Stephanie. It was because of this that it took the third shot in the gut that he realized that Mark had a gun at all, and the fourth that he was being shot.

When he did, though, the darkness, the fire returned. It held for so long, long enough that, when it finally gave, he found he was sitting in a jail cell, clinging to its bars, and coated in blood. So, so much blood... Yet none of it his.

He stood there, washed in the rays of dusk. They burned through the bars behind him as he realized those cliched cells on TV were true, fading to the soft bulb on the desk down the cement hall, hidden as the sheriff approached.

And let him go.

Self-defense, mental duress from statutory rape; if he wasn’t a minor, he wondered whose side of the story the sheriff really would have believed, but he made sure Stephanie joined her ex before he returned to his family, who welcomed him with open arms. It wasn’t long after that Francis grew weary of them, as well. He thought they would be stealing cars -entire shipments of them- doing bank robberies. Instead? They were the lazy kind of family, that simply sat around and made drug packets or popped bottles to slip into baggies.

But, worse than that, with his bulk, his power... they only used him to run drugs. He was a minor, after all. A perfect mule. Given his size, he was the perfect enforcer, rolled into one. Yet they never offered any better pay, no! Not even when he had the best record, not even when his clientele was never short on their payment... At least he grew to understand his preferences when it came to the opposite sex. Skinny ones bruised far too easily and felt like he was going to break them, while the larger ones were just boring. He always fantasized about enormous breasts (bigger than B-D’s), but, feeling them in real life, he grew disenchanted. That’s not to say he didn’t like something there (like Big-D’s; one day she will be mine. And her faggot brother will know. Oh yes he will), but they also needed a nice ass (which, again, Big-D... and Dixie). For some odd reason, he preferred them a little hairy down there, as well. The fully shaved ones reeked, while those that completely forgone the razor were already filthy to begin with so that set the bar low. Hair color didn’t matter; neither did hair length. After all, at the end of the day, he would still be clawing their head and leaving it a mess, even those that completely shaved. Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, smart, dumb, poor, rich- rather, had more than the poor; he partook in them all... and it didn’t matter. All of them were cock-sleeves, and each one was a treasure he truly didn’t want to give back to their husbands.

Not even his boss. Especially his boss. That was his “bonus”.

Word spread quick after the last “chance” encounter, but it wasn’t as fast as his feet. He was gone to Hershey before the pregnancy test was even done, and was in Johnstown before her body was cold. He hunkered there for three weeks, bedding an older woman by the name of Nikita. Her husband was off in the Middle East for his sixth tour, and he was her thirtieth during. Called him her shiner, “because the other army wives call me no good and you brighten my day.”

It was with a heavy heart he needed to leave, but he didn’t want to tempt fate any more than he already was. Nor create drama if he could help it. Her children caught wind of another man staying in her house. If they weren’t so loud with their snooping, they would have caught him sooner, but he really didn’t want to a shotgun facial. He was simply thankful Mark had four blanks at the top of his sixteen-count mag... At least, he hoped they were blanks.

His next stop was Pittsburgh, but he didn’t have to go searching for the family that ran that town.

They found him.

He never found out who the head was, nor what they looked like. Their voice was androgynous but held the Pennsylvania dialect, along with the arrogance, bitterness, and crassness that came with it. They gave him the simplest, most understandable of requests: get out of their city. They, also, added that he should be thankful he didn’t go to Philadelphia instead. Their brother was far... far less understanding.

What did Francis do? Why, this is about regret. He was young still, cocky, naive and certain that he would be fine. Better than fine. Most people were all talk. Especially those higher in power; they might have been tough once, but that’s before they found others willing to do their dirty work. He had grown in his travel, in his time, and was now a behemoth among man. There was nobody that could take him down, especially when that darkness and rage took over. No! He was more than a behemoth, greater than a titan. He was... a god.

Lo. In Philadelphia, he found out that gods could bleed.

He found out that gods feared death, and what a god truly was to a nonbeliever... There was great fire, darkness... then cold. The world closed around him, binding him as water filled his lungs. He tried to reach out, to claw at that darkness, but his arms were limp. They were broken, left as mangled heaps knotted together upon his chest. He tried to kick, his legs little more than decoration, ribbons as they ebbed to the flow of the Delaware, dragging him down to its bottom.

All hope seemed loss, but it was with his teeth, still pristine, untouched even as the rest of his face was battered and beaten, that finally ripped his way out of the darkness. And the entirety of the river was let into that bag. It crashed against him, taking what air he managed to keep, but at least dragged him out of that garbage bag into the murk and desolation that was the current. Fish gathered around him, pecking at the black bag, eating away the blood that had dried on its front, but it was the darker shadows lurking beyond, the long bodies, the bulky heads, and the dead, doll-like eyes, that pushed him, that made one thing very clear: he needed to get out of there. He needed to get angry.

For the second time in his life, up to that point, he found... he couldn’t. For the second time ever, all he could feel was fear. His mind was screaming at him so many things. His lungs begged and pried for air, burning in his chest, throbbing, aching from the cuts... and holes in it.

They still oozed fresh red into the water around, shrouding him in a cloud of crimson. He could finally see his arms, his legs, and his heart sank. His mind roared at him louder than the water around, making those limbs ripple like a tree’s in a hurricane.

That didn’t stop him from trying. And keep trying even when trying wasn’t trying enough. He didn’t come all this way to die to water, like a little bitch! He didn’t fight his whole life after the “arson” to give up! Not now! What would his dad think... what would his mom say?

Sorry. Not ready to join you two yet, he thought, and growled, lunging out with his teeth. The current toyed with him, whipping his arms out of the way just in time, but, at last, he caught the right. It cracked then popped, the muscles pushing the bone out of the skin, tearing it apart as he inched it up, reaching the hand. The fingers twitched, jerked against his will, snapping away from his teeth as he lunged at them, trying so hard to catch them.

His head was spinning, reaching a painful haze, but he managed to snap right into his thumb, holding it firm. He could taste his blood, the beaten flesh, coated in slime from the streets and the metal and wood used to make him into a fine pavement patty- and gasped- gagged as he almost let go. It made a thunderous crack, though, stilling in his mouth. Moving like he wanted it to.

He let it go, and flexed his fingers, synchronizing before he grabbed his other arm, popping it back into place. Though they hurt, he could at least move them. He could at least swim up, towards those bright heights so, so far above. His eyes were fogged, nose and mouth fighting so hard to remain shut (again). They were locked, his teeth drawing blood with how hard they remained latched as he stroked upwards. It became harder to do so as it grew ever brighter, the top coming into focus, shimmering and pattering away.

With his last bit of air, he cried out, bubbles rushing up to it.

As he was pulled down. Water and blood roared by in thick sheets as he looked down. And saw that one of those figures finally broke through the veil. The bull shark was latched onto his left leg, tearing into it.

He tried to pull it up, but the shark didn’t follow. It was more than happy to take the juicy calf.

And left him to deal with the second shadow, tearing its way through the crimson curtain. Its eyes were rolled back, those black pits replaced with white, bearing down upon his head. Its jowls were opened, its rows of teeth glinting with the light caught from above, and Francis knew that it wasn’t the teeth he saw then and there. What he was staring at, what awaited him were the pearly gates, fast approaching to snap shut upon him.

He might have been afraid. He had every right to be. However, at that moment, he had more than fear. Thanks to its brethren, he had pain, more pain than ever before. Pain begets anger, anger begets rage.

Rage begets fire.

The shark snapped away, bending in half to get away from the red-hot jet that hissed through the water. It broiled against his face, opening a pocket underwater. Francis drew a breath, panting- before remembering he was STILL underwater. He held it in as the water closed around his head once more, welcomed to cool his burning cheeks.

The drachen looked to the sky again, to salvation, and swam as hard as he could, reinvigorated with the air he managed to catch before clapping through the surface. His head was next, bobbing thrice before holding above, and he aimed towards the northern shore. He might have had a hard life in Pennsylvania, but he would sooner step on its shore than ever into New Jersey.

What anger he had quickly faded, returning to panic and fear as he paddled towards that bank. His eyes drooped, wanting to give into the shock and pain, but he endured, as he always did. He held until he dragged himself onto the muddy shoreline, where he laid, gasping. And bleeding. The rain was hot compared to the river, smacking him in the face again and again, as if punishing him for his hubris, for his arrogance. He was one man against forty. Easy. They weren’t the problem... it was the ones that came after. Who knew how many showed up then, when the fight turned... serious...

He blacked out. The rain stopped before he gained consciousness again. When he did stir, he saw the sun, off to the east, caressing, warming him on that shore. He was hidden away from the rest of the city by a curve in the bank, but it seemed he didn’t need anyone regardless. His legs were healed. His arms whole, the bones well inside again. Even his face no longer ached... though he was still perplexed by it. He smacked his lips, blew as hard as he could, even tried to rhyme, but he could not get any more fire going no matter how he tried.

“How did I-” He began to question... but decided not to. It did happen. That’s all that matters, for that allowed him to live. With blood regret... On that day he swore he would never black out again. He would be in control of his rage, and get his revenge on the boss of Philly. He simply needed to lay low, so he set out west, back towards Pittsburgh and beyond. To Norwick.

All of this passed through his mind as he watched the traffic, the cars, those party girls pass through. He feared the boss must have caught wind... but, after a while, the traffic faded. No one stopped. No one stayed longer than to fill their vehicle at the gas station then was off. As the moon started to sink over the horizon, he was ready to call it a night.

When one, final, lone vehicle came rumbling into the “town”.

It was a basic, red sedan. An older model, but recent enough to have a USB hub and an LCD for it. He could just make it out, shining awfully bright inside the compact, but even it couldn’t hide how... strange its occupants were. The driver was more effeminate than the thing he turned into a window-licker a few hours before in the present, but at least he could tell that it was male... somewhat. He was arguing about directions –which, as he pulled into the gas station, he wondered why his passenger would even think it wise to let him drive. His arms moved more than one of those inflatable tube men. Poor guy; Francis couldn’t imagine living with such a serious palsy.

But that went out the window as his eyes drank in his passenger. She stepped out of the car, which took her long, curvy leg a moment to straighten, belonging to that tall, dark, voluptuous drink of fine dark chocolate. A bit too heavy in the front and rear for his liking, but there was something about her, something that, even from the roof he sat upon, drew his attention, that enthralled him, had him simply... watch her as she filled the car, without paying, then started to drive away. He could just make her face out in the cabin, washed in light from the LCD. It was rounded, almost heart-shaped, framed with long, blacker hair than her, while her eyes held such a fire that they hurt to look at, even from so far away.

They approached the four-way- and that’s when he knew. He couldn’t let them go. Not yet... He needed to sate his sweet tooth. He jumped down from the roof, sprinting to that four-way... but it was too late. They already began down the other road, leading towards salvation, depriving him of his chocolate fix.

The brake lights came on, and the car’s wheels shrieked through the “town”. The reverse lights snapped on, and it backed itself right into the gas station, much to the woman’s disdain... but Francis’ gratitude. The woman growled as she flung the car into park, and left the keys in as she flung open the door and stepped out again. Francis was closer now -still a road and brush away but closer- but now he could see just how tall she really was, almost Amazonian. He could, also, see she was well-built, which made her ratio of tits-and-ass to body perfect. Oh, she had muscle, a fair deal of it, complementing, almost melding with her soft curves and skin, in perfect harmony. It only it wasn’t for that pair of black sweats and a red tube top. That will be fixed, soon enough.

He licked his lips, growling with her-

Stifled as her gaze shot his way.

Francis lowered himself further, hiding as best he could behind the veil of tall grass ahead of him. He made it across the street, at least, now stopped as she scanned around the gas station, sneering at it all. Her gaze passed over him again, and he froze. He didn’t even breathe. It felt as if her gaze rested on him forever, both times yet knew they were actually fleeting, returning to their path, continuing their smooth scan.

Before it was cut as she spun towards the vehicle and leaned in the window.

“I pulled back in, but I don’t see anyone minding the pumps,” She said, her voice incredibly southern, accentuated by the drawl her ethnicity holds. She growled again, smacking the door. “Dammit, Norman! You and your goodie two-shoes. We could have simply left.”

“There’s someone here. I assure you,” the softest, wimpiest, unseemly voice answered, followed by the most sheepish, weakest chuckles. “Just go leave the ten on the counter.”

“Fine... you a right pain my ass.” She huffed, and stomped into the post box... Francis eyeing her the entire way. The way her body moved, all of it, every single motion it made with her gait; it just fueled his need for a taste. Too much sweets may be bad for one, but it wouldn’t hurt him to indulge. It’s been almost... two months since he had any kind of chocolate-

“Why are you still sitting there?” The wimpy voice said. Right beside him. His head shot to the left, where he felt it tickle... but there was no one there. The hairs on his nape stood on end, and seemed to buzz as he heard a giggle behind him. “Go on... What are you waiting? They’re no match for you.”

“Yeah... they aren’t,” he mumbled, and started back through the grass- stopped again as the fine sweet returned. She returned to her window, leaning through it.

“Did you want anything?” She grumbled. “The place is completely deserted. The shitter isn’t even locked.”

“I would love a birch beer,” the wimpy voice said, still so soft, so timid... yet it sent a fresh chill down Francis’s spine. “Oh! And some corn chips.”

“Fine... You sure we’re going the right way, though? Awfully strange shortcut.”

“To be honest, It’s been forever since I’ve been up here. We hitched a ride on I-79, right?”

“Wait. Seventy-nine? I thought you said seventy! And even then would it be east or west? North or south?”

“I am guessing it would be west or south. Your true love is waiting downstate-”

“Don’t give me that guessing shit! Do you think or do you know?”

“I told you. I can’t know because I haven’t been up here in a while.” The light flashed in the cabin, and the boy chuckled again. “Oh! There we go. We now have service.”

“Took that bitch forever... So what’s it say... Well... Norman!”

“I’m trying to put it into words...”

“Oh, hell no! It’s THAT bad?”

“Not bad, per say, but we are... well, a few light years off the reservation.” The passenger door opened, miraculously, and the boy eased himself out of the car. His hands still writhed and twisted in ways that no one should be able to... or should have to suffer through. Somehow, though, he still managed to hold onto the phone, and was able to smile at the busty lady. “Let’s look on the bright side. At least we now know where to go!”

The woman sighed. She was completely exasperated now- and jumped a bit as her stomach growled, making herself growl again.

“But we couldn’t stop someplace with fucking food? Real fucking food; not this gas station shit. At any moment I expect Leatherface or some shit to come busting out of nowhere to get us.”

“No, but what about the guy in the grass?”

“Shit, that guy is as scary as a teddy bear. He thinks he being so sly by laying low in the dead grass. Shit, that nigga retarded.”

That... gave Francis the push he needed. If he had wings, they would have slowed his flight down. He was upon her in a blink of an eye. Both of her arms were shoved up, her face pressed down on the car. A growl rumbled forth as he shoved against her waist, his turgid member lavishing through his gray slacks against her bountiful butt.

“Who you calling a nigger, you fat black cow?” He said, shoving hard against her again, making the car creak. “Oh, yeah. I’m gonna love this.”

He bashed her head against it again before letting it go, grabbing her pants-

“Uh, nigga, you really think you want to be doing that?” She said, and her voice gave him pause. It was still the harsh growl as before, but something in it seemed... softer. Enticing. He paused, and she wrenched free, turning around. Her eyes were bright red, actually red, while their centers held such a soft, blue flame. As he watched, they seemed to flicker, to dance and grow. He could see a house, a man... a woman. They... she seemed so... familiar... But he couldn’t quite make her out. She still seemed so far away, so distant; he focused, squinted harder. It seemed to work. She was growing... yes... yes! He did recognize her. Those soft, black locks. That narrow face... those sparkling eyes. They were brown, but almost yellow, if not old with how they shined. He reached out to her-

Pushed back by the black woman before him.

“What the f-” He began, silenced as his head was slammed into the car. Four times. But she didn’t stop. Not yet.

“Do you think that’s wise, Ayn?” The boy said. “We sort of need the car.”

“It’ll run just fine. I’ll tear off the roof if it gets too bad,” she said, still slamming his head into it, denting it further and further into the cab. “Just teaching this backwoods inbred honky his place.”

“B-backwoods in-b-” Francis managed to splutter out, lost to another growl. Returning to his senses. His fingers popped, curled into fists. When she raised him for another bash, he spun, sending the right flying towards her face.

Caught.

She pursed her lip, looking at the fist in her closed hand, and rolled her eyes.

Crushing it in her palm.

It wasn’t painful. At first. However as she pressed, as Francis was forced to stare into her eyes again... he found it harder to breathe, returned to those swirling, blue flames. He crumbled to his knees... before another rush of fire swelled in his chest. He growled, standing again, and drove his second fist towards her –also caught. And crushed.

“Interesting,” she said, nonplussed by it all while Francis continued to sink to his knees. “You must have some serious retard strength, nigga. Or maybe your brain too hot-wired to understand.”

“Maybe you should be careful, Ayn,” the boy spoke again. “We don’t need him running to the authorities and letting Them catch wind of us.”

“I can assure you, Norman honey, he ain’t running to no cops. He’s as dirty as they come... I knew a guy like you once. Thought he was top shit, could get any woman he wanted; difference was I left him with a woman that broke him.”

“Who... what are you?” Francis managed to say. Which made her cluck her tongue.

“Man, you do have some willpower. I told yo cracka nigga ass to shut the fuck up yet you still keep on talkin’.” She scoffed- then slammed her forehead into his nose. Stars overtook a moment, but he heard the bitch boy whine about something again- which, for some reason, she knew to hit him again for thinking that. “Have a look around, Norman honey. What authorities? We could kill this nigga and nobody would know. After all, that’s what this hicks been doing.”

She nodded towards the woods... towards Francis’s collection. Which made his skin crawl. It shouldn’t have been able to be seen. Too dark, too overgrown to shine in the moonlight or even the headlights of the cars. How did s-

“Oh! He’s not completely retarded. He caught on finally.” She let his hands go, allowed him to fall back onto the dirt- and dug her bare heel into his chest for good measure, kicking, flinging him back onto the dusty asphalt before spitting on his face. “Here’s a good idea, fuck head: stay down. You have no idea what you’re messing with.”

“What I’m messing with? What I’M messing with!” Francis bellowed, and the corners of his vision began to fade. The fire in his chest became too great, the fury that roared in his ears too hot. He thundered to his feet, his growls rumbling as he clenched his fists, popping painfully as he bore down upon her again. His vision narrowed to pinholes, seeing his fist fly once again.

However, they cleared, instantly. It was the meek boy, not the succubus, that caught it.

“Norman!” The woman exclaimed... but he simply eased her aside, standing before Francis. “The fuck y-”

“It’s okay, Ayn. He’s not going to hurt me,” he said. His voice was still so weak, so unseemly, almost cowardly... and yet his statement resonated with such strength, such... understanding. Francis knew he was right; he wasn’t going to hurt him. Even if he did, actually try. The boy chuckled, cocking his head, and his long, red hair flowed with it, making his face look almost more feminine than the woman’s. Almost... but still had its own... charm. Its own allure. “We’ve both been rather rude. My apologies, from the both of us.”

“T...that’s okay?” Francis said... more shocked that he spoke at all than actually accepting his word.

The boy continued, “shaking” Francis’s hand.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Norman. Norman Manson, and my friend here is Ayn.”

“F... Francis. I’m Francis.” He growled, shook his head, and wrenched his hand free. Ayn started to move, but Norman raised his other, still smiling at him. Beaming at him... Normally, Francis would think that kind of grin was condescending, saccharine, if not just cocky... but... he felt no such animosity. In fact, just by looking at him, he thought there wasn’t a single, negative thought nor inkling in his entire body. Almost... pure.

“Well, we’re sorry we ruined your evening, Francis,” he said, “but we were simply on our way downstate so that my friend Ayn could meet her true love.” He leaned in, “cupping” his mouth as best he could against Francis’s ear, and he could now smell him. A strange thing, but he couldn’t help but note his soft, lavender scent, as if it was coming from those purple beauties that were his eyes. “You see, she’s been rather antsy for the last decade or so. We were hoping to get her to the man of her dreams before she completely melted down.”

“What was that?” Ayn squawked.

“Nothing! Nothing,” he giggled as he straightened himself, then clapped his hands. “Anyways, Frankie –you don’t mind me calling you that, do you?”

“N-no... but...”

“But?”

“It’s... it’s nothing- er, it’s fine.”

“Okay, Frankie. Would you happen to know the quickest way back onto the highway? GPS is good and all, but we don’t want to end up in a dead-zone again.”

“W-well... most people take a left at the four-way.” He answered, but he felt... dumb with it. He never really paid it any mind; why would he, when most people who stopped and asked were shown their final destination... He cleared his throat, scratching the back of his head as he dug his foot into the ground. “Passed that I have no idea... Sorry. Really.”

“It’s fine. It’s at least a start... What about you? What are you doing here?”

“M-me? Well... I don’t... I don’t really have a reason, in truth.”

“That’s a sly way to get around the fact you been terrorizing this area for the last three years,” Ayn retorted, and nodded towards his trove again. “There must be at least a hundred people over there. The things you’ve done with those women-”

“How do you even know that?” He blurted.

“Aw shit, nigga. Here I gave you some cred earlier. Now you gonna be dumb?”

She tapped her forehead, shaking her head as she did, but his attention was pulled back to Norman as he chuckled.

“Now now. Let’s not stir the pot up again,” he said. “He didn’t lie to me, Ayn. He doesn’t really have a reason to be here; all of that is the effect of him being here.”

Norman opened his eyes, which Francis just realized he had them closed the entire time. What was he staring at earlier, and why were they the exact same? They were soft, like his other features, but were that fine shade of purple, glittering with such... mystery. With such intrigue. “If you would be so kind... oh, I really shouldn’t. We’ve only met.”

“What is it?” Francis said, lost, himself.

“Well... it’s not my place to ask-”

“Let’s just go, Norman,” Ayn pleaded. “They could be here any minute.”

“Just a bit longer, Ayn. I promise... Anyways, would you mind telling me what.”

“What I... want?”

“Yeah. If you could have anything... no. That’s not right... If you could have THE thing you want... what would it be?”

“Norman,” the woman began, her tone far more... wary, but he simply kept his hand up.

THE thing he wanted; Francis stood there, stark still, mulling, contemplating what he meant. There was a lot he wanted: money, more power, women, revenge... but... THE thing he wanted- no, needed above all else... There was only one thing that could eclipse all of it.

“I want to be somewhere I truly belong,” he said, and his heart fluttered, realizing the... weakness in his voice. It hadn’t been that soft since... since... He shook his head, growling again, and lurched towards Norman, grabbing him by the arms. “What are you? How did y-”

Sirens blared.

Red and blue burned through the night, an engine roaring hot as it drifted into the gas station. Out of nowhere, as if it simply appeared... and the woman and the boy disappeared. He simply sat there, on the cold ground, looking up at a pair of good old boys in blue, telling him to roll over. Like the dog he was.

He... didn’t argue. He couldn’t argue. His mind was gone, so he simply obeyed. He rolled on his back, and placed his hands in the small of it. He allowed the cops to hoist him to his feet and to pull him into the back of the car, but he didn’t look at anything. Was any of it real? Was that woman real? That... that... he wasn’t even sure what it was. For all he knew it was an alien... What he knew was real was that he was in custody, and being taken to the police station. In Washington.

Where he met Eve.

The country music finally stopped, cut as the car was shut down. Francis snorted, shrinking a bit into himself as Eve glared at him... at the drool on his chin. It took him a moment to realize they were in the parking garage outside of her estate. If he had to wager, they were in the usual spot: three levels down, forty cards long and fifty wide, parked in the central ring, just before the platform down to the next level.

Eve sighed, and opened the door, gesturing him to step out. The driver was already out, gone to get the shuttle car, while they stood by the blue limo and waited. And Francis was weighed down by that regret again... Eve touched his hand, smiling at him, as she did that day, so long ago when she freed him from his cell... but that part of his trip down dreary lane would simply have to wait. He had a date with a goblin.

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