Red Dragon

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The Plan

The countdown to the end of the day seemed to stretch out, languishing on every moment- on every minute. Francis wished he had his phone because watching the digital clock on the whiteboard was a special kind of torture. He swore it was messing with him at times, swapping numbers around only to blink and return to normal. Maybe, if what Johnny was teaching wasn’t complete common sense, it wouldn’t have felt so bad, but no.

His stomach grumbled more than him, dissolving a burger that was mostly shoved down his gullet... along with a few breakfast meals. He didn’t want that much, just the breakfast, but Bridget insisted, saying he was a big man and needed more if he were to stay alert... She wasn’t wrong, but alert for what? He raced back to Johnny... only for him to teach compound exponential growth. Something he knew about since he was nineteen. He needed to learn as he wore the guise of an “accountant” for his crew. Drew had the greatest idea to open several savings accounts and funnel funds into them before donating to local charities.

“You can lie all you want to everyone else, but you don’t lie to the IRS,” he said, and kept Francis on the ball. Especially around tax season. It turned out moving funds between savings accounts at the opportune moments, given them different integer variants, lead to greater growths than simply accruing them all at once, which meant he needed to keep those funds moving every. Single. Month... which was why what Johnny was teaching him now was moot. The examples alone were trash; if any of it happened in real life, those idiots would have been locked up for life. Again, you don’t screw with the IRS.

Sadly, that was the most interesting part the incubus had to teach Francis that day. The rest became watching that bloody clock... but... it was inevitable. It was down to the last three minutes. Three, long minutes before Johnny could dismiss the class. Everyone was already checked out and packed, but he needed to follow the rules. Or else Lilith would-

“You have no idea,” Johnny blurted, and sighed as he creased his hands together on his podium. “Though it’s only out of obligation. If she had it her way, we would have been done fifteen minutes ago and I would be down in her office.”

“The baby is getting close, huh?” Lucas said. “I heard, during a woman’s second trimester, they get unbelievably horny.”

“Please don’t curse me like that,” Johnny grumbled, laughing. It was a bitter thing, though, from a man hollowed and gutted and pushed so far. “She’s not even there yet.”

“Really?” Deren said. “Isn’t normal gestation for humanoids nine-to-ten months?”

“Succubus are... special apparently. They take upwards of twenty-four.”

“Two years?” Olen exclaimed. “I can’t imagine any woman staying sane that long.”

“Luckily she’s already insane,” Francis said.

“You’re not wrong,” Johnny muttered, and jumped as the door opened, fixed when everyone was gone. A habit Francis only now noticed... and one he was starting to have, as well. He watched Johnny, though, as his face went from dread, to irritation- to elation seeing it was only- “Penny! It’s nice to see you.”

“Yeah yeah,” she grumbled. She was in what appeared to be true “wizard” clothes that day, though Francis wondered why she thought it was a good idea to where thigh-hugger leather shorts. She had “stockings” on, one leg wrapped up in nothing but belts, so it couldn’t have been that warm. Even her cape didn’t seem to serve much purpose, which meant it all depended upon her hat. Which was huge. Even by a wizard’s standard, it was huge, falling over her eyes as she tapped her foot, glowering at Francis. “Well? You ready to go, dumbass?”

“Not sure. Let me ask the others.”

“Others?”

“I am prepared,” Carl said, standing up as he slung his satchel over his shoulders.

“Always,” Mordred said, once again looming over Francis.

“Anyone else?” Francis said. “Any others want to see this train-wreck unfold?”

“What train-wreck?” Penny said.

“He has a plan,” Johnny answered. “Be afraid. Be very afraid...”

“Ah! There ye are, laddie,” Nicole said, turning off the water in the kitchen. She hopped down off her stool, and after a small grunt it clicked shut and was pushed beside the roll-out spice cabin. The goblin stretched her arms, her back popping, and finally opened her eyes... seeing Mordred there. “Yer not mah wee barra... Ya have three seconds to explain why yer hear, dark stalker, before ah see just how hard yer mettle really be.”

“Invited,” Mordred said, and moved passed to the living room. Francis could barely hold his laughter as he nudged Carl in next. He didn’t show any hesitation, lumbering through the archway of his apartment and stopping before the one for the kitchen- and showed no fear as a knife sung, released from its block.

“All right. Ah know you weren’t. The laddie told me he despised all but one of you Fangers.”

“You’re right,” Carl said.

“Then ye better turn around and head- ah! What are you doing-”

“I invited myself,” he said, taking another step into the kitchen. “He told the class so much about you that I needed to see for myself... I will give credit: You do come across as intimidating.”

“Thank you? Wait... Laddie told me about you. Yeah... yeah! The pinhead, the lanky features. The tattoos... Yer the one known as Carl, aye?”

“I am, and you have me at a disadvantage. Francis never mentioned you by name. Only by deed.”

“Ah, the wee barra boasts about me at school, eh?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“It must make all the girls so afraid to approach him, then, thinking he’s too wise and experienced beyond his years. No wonder the laddie don’t have a girlfriend yet.”

“Yeah. That must be it.”

“So where is he? He allowed you in- oh, don’t tell me he sneaked over to the witch’s for a round.”

“I’m right here,” Francis grumbled. He won the war against his laughter, since her question made his blood boil. “And what if I did?”

“Ah meant nothing by it, laddie, but if I may spake plain: You deserve far better.”

“Are you sure,” Carl asked.

“What was that?” Francis blurted, growling.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but she is a professor. She is living well, has a stable income, a good personality, and obviously loves him. I can’t imagine a better woman in this scenario.”

“Oh. Right. You are agonizingly sincere with everything... you’re not wrong-”

“Ah, but he is wrong,” Nicole interjected. “She does not have as good a personality as she lets on. Personally, ah think Beatrice is a better suit for you, laddie.”

“Yes, well, her love is money and I can’t come in between that.” He sighed- turned to a yawn as he continued on to the living room, joining his “date” on the couch. Mordred already had the remote, flipping through channels, lounged back in the couch. He moved a little as Francis plopped beside- and the drachen heard a yawn emanate in that tin can around his head. “I’ve been meaning to ask.”

“Hmm?” Mordred said, looking his way.

“Do you always need to wear that armor? Can you alter your appearance in any way?”

“I can. Entirely.”

“So why do you wear that suit of armor. It seems unbelievably cumbersome. Don’t get me wrong: It looks cool, but there has to be a line between fashion and function.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something not so... evil overlord-ish. Each of those shoulder pads is a city block, for crying out loud. Maybe trim those down, lose the spiky bits, integrate more leather -especially the arms and hands. Do you really need metal on your hands and arms everyday- or legs- yeah! Like that.”

As he spoke, the darkness that wrapped around Mordred bubbled and burned. It melted the pauldrons away, slimming to the shoulders, slimmer than Francis expected them to be. The same was true about his legs, waist, and middle. His chest remained quite large, giving him an almost hourglass figure, but was kept straight by a crimson hauberk, ending at their knees. His torso still had a suit of plate on it, but far more modest than it once was.

“Better?” He said.

“Very much. Now I know the next time we fight where to grab.”

He chortled and shoved Mordred’s shoulder playfully –who followed in kind. A cycle. The couch begged as it groaned, teetering this way and that as they continued to up their shoves. It wasn’t long before the poor thing stood on its end, crashing back down onto the carpet and floor only for the other side to rise, but neither one was falling off it.

Francis gripped its back fierce, his side risen to the sky. He growled, and shoved Mordred with his entire weight, slamming the couch back down at the same time. The floor thundered, and a leg dove through it as the other side rose high. Only to fall and crash through as Mordred returned in kind- pushing it, finally, over the top. The knight and Francis both fell out of it as it crashed on them, showing them who truly was boss. It thundered on Francis’ back, who was flung upon Mordred, holding both of them down.

“What is going on here?” Nicole exclaimed, her and Carl rushing into the living room. She growled, and helped Francis push the couch off. “What were you two doing?”

“Vigorous foreplay,” Mordred said- which how deadpan it was caught Francis off-guard, making him wheeze with laughter.

“Damn right,” he managed to say, and clapped the sides of the knight’s tin can (the only part that wasn’t changed) before he stood. “Why let you two have all the fun, after all.”

“‘Fun’? Are ye daft? Did that fall do some damage to the tiny walnut still left between your ears?” She patted his arm... then waved to the others. “It was wonderful you guys visited, but it’s obvious mah wee barra needs rest.”

“No no. I’m fine. Morty and I were just goofing around. Why don’t you and Carl keep talking? We won’t try to murder each other anymore.”

“That’s quite all right,” Carl said. “We talked enough. She was just telling me about how much you have come around since being introduced to ‘this world’. You’ve only known you were a drachen for six months?”

“Really?” Mordred said. “What did you think you were?”

“A thug,” Francis stated. “That wasn’t wrong, either- you guys shouldn’t be talking about me. That’s no way to talk.”

“Isn’t it?” Carl said. “I mean, we just met and you are the common denominator between us.”

“No I’m not! I’m the least common thing between. After all, I hate you-”

“Eh? Hate?” Nicole said, prodding his chest. “Hate’s a strong word, laddie, and shouldn’t be used so brazenly. What has this fellow done to earn your hate?”

“Existing for starters,” Carl said.

“See? He knows,” Francis said, chuckling- hissing as Nicole grabbed his ear.

“Existence isn’t enough of a sin to consider hatred,” she stated. “After all, look at how many treat you the same way.”

“In that way it’s mutual since I hate them, as well- agh!”

“Ah, but do you hate them because they are there or what they say... This fellow hasn’t done a thing wrong to you. The fact he is here, willing to joke with you, shows he doesn’t hate you. Nor has shown hate... Even though you have done enough in the last two minutes for him to hate you.”

“Not really,” Carl said. “This is normal for him. You should have seen him at the beginning of the week. Mordred had to lay him out-”

“What!” Nicole boomed, and charged towards the shade. “What gave you the right to go after me laddie?”

“Bullying Carl,” Mordred said. “Got tired of it.”

Nicole... tittered, and held out her hand.

“Then you are right in my books. Never let a bully go is what I always say.” She looked over her shoulder, and a chill ran up Francis’ spine. “Meanwhile, you’re bullying others, div?”

“O-only C-C-Carl,” he mumbled out, feeling ever smaller under the goblin’s glare.

“Well... Ahm gonna have to ask you to both leave. It was a pleasure to see you two, but I must attend to my duties.”

“See you later, Francis,” Carl said, yawning as he lumbered to the entry.

“Until Monday,” Mordred said, and followed after. Much to Francis’s distress.

“W-wait! Where are you guy’s going? You just got here!” He barked after, but didn’t look away- couldn’t look away as Nicole’s gaze continued to bore into his. Holding him. “W-what are you going to d-”

“As I said. I have to fulfill my duties,” she said, and took a step towards him. Francis backed three- and scrambled up the standing couch, pushing it over as he rolled into-then-through his bedroom door. She followed, though, slow, even. Steady. Maliciously. “Ye have been a bad boy, Francis. Ya know what happens to bad boys?”

“Please,” he whimpered, trying for the bathroom- and yelped as she grabbed his leg.

“They get punished.”

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