Red Dragon

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The Eye of the Storm

Francis returned to class. Why, though? He didn’t have a chance to decompress. In fact, that... wretch riled him up further, so why was he bothering? He was only going to get more pissed as he scrutinized over those questions, as he questioned even further if it was right or if he was overthinking or underthinking OR JUST THINKING AT ALL- no good deed goes unpunished, but what about a deed that seems good but comes off as a back-handed compliment if not plain old servitude!

No.

He couldn’t do it.

He ripped his pencil across the page, answering the last few questions, and tossed it on Johnny’s desk before storming out of the room.

“Junior? You okay?” The incubus called after, but why bother? He can read his mind, couldn’t he? He could see EXACTLY what had him so steamed, as well as the ceiling above... As well as the ceiling above.

He stopped at the end of the hall, and pulled out his cell. The camera snapped happily on, pointing out to the spiral staircase and the chandelier... but that wasn’t the camera he was hoping to use. No, he was using the other one, the one he despised: The selfie shooter. He needed to see... He hadn’t paid much mind to his face since... he last brushed his teeth. How long ago was that! Again, it really didn’t matter given that fire cleansed all, but-

“Holy shit!” He boomed, looking up the darkened scales that were once his “beard”. What were once carbuncles, pale, white tips, were now a swirl of color, matching the folds of his wings. They didn’t stop on those mountaintops, though, spanning down then up to his ears, giving him a valley of color, an actual beard.

That wasn’t the main reason he pulled up the camera, though. Instead, he wanted to see the flames... roiling out of both his mouth and nose. Bright, white flames. They cooled to a heated orange then deep red as they cascaded to the ceiling, but they put everyone’s favorite pyro to shame in their majesty and girth. Guess that was to be expected, though? He was a dragon... Half of one, at least.

And how many would be wanting a quarter in their bloodline? How many would want his strength- rather, the strength of the dragon, in theirs... As much as he hated to admit it (and he did), there was truth in Sarah’s words, and loathed it even more as he thought of his date Sunday. Cassidy Crane, of the Crane family, a prestigious family, a powerful family. Wanting to be even more powerful.

What were Cassidy’s intentions really? Tina now made sense, and why her mother would push it. If you can’t beat him join him mentality. He had proven to be strong- and why Ezra wanted him! After what he did to her mom, she could easily become the predominant voice if she tamed him- if Jessica tamed him- IF ANY OF THEM TAMED HIM- TAMED TAMED TAMED!

“Junior?” Johnny said, clasping his shoulder, and he didn’t even flinch as Francis wheeled on him, as the drachen bore down upon that incubus. He simply had a sad smile, holding up the torn test- letting it go as it caught alight in the mere presence of his flames, of his ire. “Well, that’s even worse. You do realize this means you have to take the test again-”

“Whatever,” he spat out, and wrenched away from the incubus’s grasp. “I’ll come in tomorrow to do it... Too much on my mind at the moment.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be here regardless, so we can take it in Lilith’s office-”

“I don’t think that’d be wise, dear,” the Devil, Herself, said, walking around the drachen and into Johnny’s embrace. “I don’t think he very much cares for my company, but the detention hall should be clear. If he puts his nose to the grindstone, it shouldn’t take him more than twenty minutes anyways.”

“That’s how it should be,” Francis blurted, the flames rising again, “but because of your ‘dear’s’ wondrous advice I used this entire day on one fucking test... AND STILL FUCKED IT UP.”

“Did he get them right, dear?” Lilith asked Johnny.

“He did. I was going to simply make a mock-up of the last few questions since I knew he understood the others.”

“Ah. Then it shouldn’t take him more than twenty minutes.”

“You’re not even talking to me,” Francis muttered. “You’re not even paying me any mind.”

“Oh, we are,” Lilith said, giving him a side glance... wincing as she did. “It’s just that... I’d rather not direct more attention to you than needed.”

“Yeah,” Johnny said, drawling it out before he huffed. “You weren’t kidding about having a lot on your mind. I only caught the snippet about me reading it in that... cacophony. I doubt you even know the extent of how much is truly on it.”

“You’re right,” Francis said... and huffed again. “I won’t mind taking it in your office. Maybe it’ll force my mind to focus on the task at hand instead of worry about every little fucking thing around.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Lilith said, and patted his shoulder. “I promise you it won’t be the most terrible experience you ever had.”

“It might be in the top ten, though.”

“That depends if she makes her tea,” Johnny mumbled into his ear, but already clenched, ready for Lilith’s scoff.

“I didn’t hear you complain about it your first year here,” she exclaimed... and whined, pulling his head to her chest. “That’s a lie. I heard it in your mind, but it was for the best. It was needed to combat Deckard’s underhanded means-”

“Which she tried to use on Junior here.”

“What?” Both the succubus and drachen said. Lilith followed it up, clenching Francis’s shoulder tight. “Did she really offer him-”

“She did. In far greater concentration. If I had to wager a guess, about three-quarters to every one-quarter.”

“Oh dear. If she did that to you, you would have been little more than a dildo in her bed.”

“She should have used more. It barely scathed him.”

“Truly?” She actually did turn her head, and beamed at Francis. “Well, your genetic... hardiness saved you from a rather unfortunate fate.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Johnny said, clearing his throat. “He still has the hots for her regardless.”

“Oh my... Does he know?”

“Now,” Francis said. “At least, I’m piecing it together... For now, though, I’m putting that on the back-burner. I have a feeling, come the spring, it’ll be A LOT of fun to exploit... but yeah. I still like her. She’s sweet, doting... a freak in the sheets... or the car- anywhere except a fucking mini golf course.”

Lilith huffed, and loosened her grip. Her smile also faded, matching her husband’s sad little gesture. The difference, though, was that he knew it was a mockery, a lie with her.

“Still,” she said. “I think it best if you do not continue that course of action. Aside the Witch’s Curse, there is no happy road to follow with her... I know you aren’t inclined to take my word for it -nor should you if your feelings are genuine- but-”

“Don’t worry. I’ve been giving... all of it a lot of thought... I’m focusing on the now, though, and, right now, I want to go home, take my knocks, come back in the morning, then hit the card shop. Sunday is a date with a certain harpy, hit another key moment, and then the travesty that is next week unfolds. Where shit definitely hits the fan... if it doesn’t hit sooner. But, again, only the now.”

He huffed one last time, and spun away, heading for the stairs. Johnny and his cling didn’t immediately follow after, giving him the space he needed... Was it him they were distancing from or the storm in his mind? How large was it? He couldn’t “see” how far, being in the eye, but no matter which way he “looked” lightning lanced and crashed into the stony ground around, eroding it away to an earthen whirlpool, pulling him under.

It continued to pull him deeper, slogging his steps home. The sun shined over the mountains, but they added no warmth that morning. The concrete was covered in a thin layer of rime, hidden under a few feet of fog, making him feel like he was already trudging through a dream, making his way through yet another ghost town lost and forsaken.

So many towns, cities he terrorized, laid claim to. So many homes, people he played tyrant to, demanding recompense for his “protection”... and yet, now that he was here, in a town begging to be ruled, a haven in which saw him as a true protector... He didn’t seek power. He didn’t want prestige. And yet, not even eight months ago, he tried to rule over Eve’s goblins... and Nicole put him in his place.

“What happened to me,” he asked himself, standing at the foot of the steps of the apartments... and the fire rose again. “What happened to me?”

He shot a glance back over his shoulder, at that Academy, at the last car to leave its parking lot. It seemed to slow as its engine revved, passing by the apartments. He could see in clear detail that black sedan, its silver trim along the doors, windows, and handles. He could see inside the slightly dimmed windows, and make out the succubus at the wheel. Gone in a blink.

His wings rustled. Both sets of them. A growl rumbled deep in his belly, stirring the flames that continued to froth and roll free. No wonder she never complained about his anger, his loathing towards her; she was guilty. And she knew it. It’s why she couldn’t say much about Bridget, for she was just as dirty in meddling with people’s minds, their emotions. Their desires.

He snorted, charring the ice on the concrete outside The Chalice, then turned fully to the stairs again, lumbering up them. This time he did go to his apartment, where he steeled himself before the door before opening. He inhaled, his lips cooled of any flame, and whistled, shoving that bastion against the wall.

“Hey, Nicole,” he barked. “I’m here. Happy?”

“With that tone? Unlikely.”

Francis’s blood chilled in his veins. His face paled, shivering as he leaned in and looked around the corner into the kitchen. Seeing Eve at the table. She was in a purple dress that day, strapless, while her legs were in dark stockings, ending in black heels. She had a cup of tea, along with a plate of bruschetta between her and Nicole across. As well as a new goblin, that bore a striking resemblance to Nicole.

Eve smirked, and waved for Francis to come in. As if strung along on those dainty digits, with each curl, the drachen followed them back to their master, lurching into the kitchen. Eve stood, pushing in her chair, and grabbed her tea with the free hand, taking another sip as he made his way to her. She set it back down, the drachen on her precipice, and finally let her digits stop, instead feeling his chin, rubbing his cheek as he looked into her eyes.

“It’s been a while. Hasn’t it, little bird?” She said- and, like that, the final dam broke. His haughty demeanor, his fury, his mask... shattered. Tears rolled down his cheek, hot, shameful things, and he sobbed as he hugged her, quaking even harder. She shushed him, rubbed, patted his back as she covered his shaggy hair in kisses. “Now now. It’s all right... I am here. I am here...”

He wanted to stop, but it just kept coming and coming. It had only been a couple months, but so much had happened. So many things have built, had worked to tear him down, plotted to destroy him... Now all being let go upon her shoulder. He never knew his mother, but the one person that accepted him, that waited for him to understand she wasn’t leaving him, that she would always be there for him... She disappeared. She left him to writhe and suffer in that place.

But she was here... why was she here? Why now... At last, his tears stuttered, and he used that to rebuild the wall, to reshape his mask. He eased away from her, and snorted, burning away the streaks on his cheeks as he looked to the goblins. Nicole looked like she was ready to get off from his misery, enjoying it way too much... but the other... she looked... disappointed?

“Right. Take a seat,” Eve said, and gestured to the chair against the wall. Francis squeezed in, and she waited for him to settle before sitting beside, taking another sip of her tea. “Francis, I am here to introduce you to your permanent caretaker. This is Francine.”

“Completely circumstantial, I assure you,” the young goblin said, gesturing to Nicole. “You already know my grandmother-”

“I sort of assumed you two were related, but didn’t want to seem racist,” Francis said, trying to hide his elation. Failing to as his lips quivered and a laugh gurgled free. It was made worse as he looked to Nicole, wearing a fool’s grin. “Does that mean you’re no longer stopping by? That’s a real shame, that, but, since there’s now a permanent caretaker, looks like you don’t have t-”

“Don’t be so quick on that, laddie,” Nicole said, tittering. “Ah’ll have more reason te visit now. Ah have to check on me own lassie-”

“But not as much.”

“Aye. Not as much. So long as ye treat her right.”

“Trust me. You have no worry about that. You won’t hear a peep out of her for anything. Absolutely nothing.”

“That’s good to hear... but what about you, lassie? How do ye think ye’ll get along with the wee barra?”

“If he’s always so melodramatic, I don’t think there will be an issue,” Francine said, scoffing. “Really, the way the others painted him up, I expected a rape machine. All I see is a sniveling brat.”

“Francine! Watch yer tongue.”

“I can tell we’re going to get along marvelously,” Francis said, and picked up one of the bruschetta. “You don’t have to worry, though. I have my own gaggle to pick from that I don’t have to be desperate.”

“A rather crass way to put it, but it sounds as if this will work out well enough,” Eve stated, sipping her tea again. “I am here for a second reason. Beatrice contacted me about your work.”

“Yup. I start this week-”

“You were... supposed to.” She reached under the table, under her chair, where her purse had been the entire time, and pulled out her wallet. She clicked it open, and handed four clasps of twenty-dollar bills to Francis. “This should suffice until after the holidays... I’m afraid there’s no way around it. To work while attending Vereor Nox, you need the worker’s permit.”

“Well... Bea won’t be happy about this.”

“She’s not. At all.” She sighed, and finished her tea at last, standing. Nicole did as well, and both the goblin and Eve turned around, giving their tablemate a soft peck on top of the head. Eve beamed at Francis, rubbing his cheek again. “Thanksgiving is right around the corner, little bird. We’ll spend more time then... Be good, okay?”

“I will I will... Nothing’s stopping you from calling, you know.”

“Nothing is stopping you, either.”

Touche, he thought, and grabbed another bruschetta as the two women left. Leaving him alone with the fresh meat. He shot her a side glance, and drank in her features. For as quick as it was. She was pretty much a clone of Nicole save for a braid of white hair instead. She wore a red maid uniform, “customized” near her chest to allow those green beauties to breathe –which there was the first sign of a difference: She had a tribal tattoo. He didn’t know how long it was (yet), but he could catch traces of it as it wrapped up and around her left breast before descending down to her r-

“Done eye-fucking me?” Francine blurted.

He scoffed, focusing towards the doorway again. Shut.

“You give yourself too much credit,” he grumbled. “Just gauging if you are likely to be as crazy as your grandma. At least you don’t have her accent-”

The bruschetta hit the ground. As did the table a moment after, tossed aside by the tiny goblin. She held his head, while her other hand kept a fine, silver dagger pierced through his throat. Her eyes were wild, and filled with such... hate. Such vehemence... such revulsion.

“I have waited so long to do that,” she whispered, twisting the dagger before pulling out. She drove it through his chest next, through both lungs, gashing them and his shirt as she made sure each one was punctured nine times. “It might not kill you, but it will hurt like hell... One prick for each goblin you killed. For each goblin’s life you’ve taken.”

“Y...yo...” He tried to gurgle out, reaching for her... and stopped as she tittered.

“Go ahead. Do something. Do anything... I’m sure Nicole will take that well.” She sighed, and dragged the knife down to his pants. Cutting through. The goblin worked it under his leg, forced him to stand, and sheared the rest of the denim apart, making them fall. Francine pushed that gilded tip under his meaty one, raising it, shaking her head. “How can such an unrefined weapon take so many... How does it still take, with such an amateur user? It would be better if I just... cut it off.”

He gripped her shoulder, growling... spurting blood out onto her.

“Nicole or not... I’d sooner kill you,” he managed to say, cut off as she giggled.

“Oh, relax. I’m not going to... Why ruin a good toy?” She flipped the dagger around and pressed the cold pommel against the base, wrapping a finger around as she did. “Come along. You have to introduce me proper... Grandma told me she broke you in, but... she is on the older side. Let’s see how well she really did.”

It runs in the family, apparently, he thought, and gulped. How could he focus on the now when it kept changing at the drop of the hat? Once upon a time it meant in a year... now? Barely an hour. And the storm continued to rage on... did he dare hope she was at least more a braggart than Nicole? Did he hope she didn’t have the bite to back her bark?

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