Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone, living or dead, is pure coincidence. These characters are all mine =)

I warn you of glib turtles, angry Dragons and surprised Chupacabras. There will also be Magic, Mayhem, Mystery, Murder, and MacDonald's… Basically, a lot of M's with some other letters thrown in for good measure.

If you're sitting down then I'd also like to add that this will involve feelings between women, so if you don't like that, look elsewhere. If you weren't sitting down for that, please sit down and read the previous sentence again.

No Beta has dared to enter this jungle, so any and all errors rests on my shoulders alone.

As always, I'd like to thank Silverwriter01 for being there to kick me in the pants when I need it. Or when she thinks I need it.

Any and all comments and critiques can be sent to Lazylaziel@gmail.com where they will be most welcomed.



Magi Consulting I

Inveniens domum

Chapter 1

”So what you're saying is that a Dragon stole your stock portfolio?”

She looked over at the man sitting across her desk. He was short, a tad chubby and starting to go bald, something he was trying to hide with a bad comb over. He peered owlishly at her from behind thick glasses and even thicker beard. Maybe the hair migrated south, she mused silently to herself as he started to fiddle with his briefcase. A nervous habit apparently, since it returned every time he spoke.

“Yes!” He cried out with a squeaky voice. “He came right out and took it! No warning, no formal greeting. He didn't even try to barter.” His voice started to falter and his shoulders slumped.

“So this… Dragon stole your shares; all 16 of them, in the mining company ‘Southgate Exploration, Inc' without any prior notice?” She asked as she went over the notes she had written down earlier. “And you don't know the name of this Dragon. All you can tell me is that it was a He, he was purple, and that he had a 'well shaped tail' with yellow markings.”

She nodded as she placed the small notebook on the desk while locking eyes with her potential client, her soft blue eyes friendly. She had never laughed a client in the face before, and she wasn't going to start now, though the amount of restraint she was displaying should have won her some sort of medal. Thankfully, the man seemed oblivious to the internal struggle she was suffering through.

“So, I suppose my question now is what you want me to do to this… Dragon once I find him? Slay him and take back the shares?” She started to smile, but his eyes grew wide at her question and he started to shake his head violently, causing it to slide right off.

“Oh no! No no no no no. No! Nothing like that! I just want my shares back. I don't want you to kill him!” He suddenly snickered. “Kill a Dragon, just like that. I've never heard anything so…” Then he froze and gave the woman a wide eyed stare, much like a deer caught in headlights. “N-not that I don't think you couldn't do it! I mean, you're a, well, you know. And I'm sure you're very powerful. But there is no need to go that far. I… maybe you could just talk to him? You know, convince him to give it back? I don't want any trouble.”

Now his lower lip started to tremble and she had to close her eyes. There was just something wrong with seeing the short, chubby, grown man nearly bursting into tears.

“I…” He continued. “I got them from my grandmother on her deathbed. It's all I have left of her, bless her buried heart.”

And now he was bringing dead relatives into it. This had gone far enough. She rapidly stood up and walked around the desk to face him. Face down at him at any rate. She wasn't that tall and yet this guy barely got past her waist when standing up.

“Well Mr. Kerr, let me check things out. If I think I can help then I'll contact you next week, say Monday or Tuesday. Even if I can't, I'll try to find someone who can. Does that sound good enough?” She asked as she extended her hand. The smile on his face would have been answer enough though.

“Oh yes! Bless you Miss! Bless you!” He took the offered hand and started to shake it vigorously. “I knew I came to the right place Lady Magi!” He said as he came down from the chair that had been just a touch too big for him.

She sighed. “My names isn't Magi, Mr. Kerr, it's…” But he had disappeared out the door, leaving her talking to an empty office. Seeing him gone she couldn't keep another sigh from escaping as she finished. “It's Amy Quinn…”

She glanced at the clock ticking away on the office wall. It was only a quarter to four, the meeting having gone faster then she had anticipated. Amy briefly toyed with the idea to be good and actually keep working until four, but it was a thought soon discarded. What was the point of being your own boss if you couldn't be lazy from time to time, especially after a client like that? Besides, she thought in an effort to sooth her conscious. It was Friday.

The blonde stuck her head out of her office and eyed the comfortable little waiting room. Soft chairs, a table with some magazines posed on it and the walls adorned with a couple of nature paintings. The offices were located high enough so that the windows that covered the back wall gave a nice view of the New York City skyline and made the three rooms they had feel more open.

Her eyes finally stopped when she came to the grey hairs of her office manager. She was sitting at her desk, placed firmly in the middle of the room like an all seeing sentry, where she appeared to be deeply engrossed in her work.

Kathy was somewhere in her mid-fifties, or thirties if you'd believe her husband, and had soft grey eyes that where framed by laugh lines to go along with her dark and grey hair. When Amy had decided to quit her old job as a consultant for INT industries and start up her own business, she had left with her potted plants, her bunny stapler and Kathy. Her job at INT had been her first one as a consultant and like everyone; she had been wet behind the ears and horribly naïve about how offices usually worked. But thankfully Kathy had been there. For some reason, reasons she still wondered about sometimes, she had been taken under the older woman's wing. Office politics can be brutal even if, perhaps especially if, one tries to stay out of them, but Kathy had guided her through and helped her grow.

She was the mother of four, grandmother of ten, and she had continued to look out for Amy even after she had started to get the hang of things. They had even become friends of sorts, and when Amy had decided to leave and try things her own way, she had jokingly asked Kathy to go with her. Even though the pay would probably suck.

Katy had gotten this thoughtful look as she eyed Amy up and down. Then she had simply said yes, something that continued to befuddle her whenever she thought about it, much like her reasons for helping Amy out in the first place.

But to this day, Amy counted it as one of the best questions she had asked in her life. Kathy had shown herself to be the backbone that had been needed to get the company off the ground. If not for her, things would probably have crashed and burned a month in. But here they were, six months later and things were still going strong. Sort of.

“Hey Kathy!” Amy said as she cleared her doorway and plopped down in the chair in front of Kathy's desk.

“Hello dear,” Kathy replied with a smile. “I take it the meeting went well?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Amy groaned as her forehead hit the desk. “What is it with me that make all the weird ones come out of the woodwork?”

“He was peculiar?” Her voice sounded surprised. “He just wanted some consultation on how he could get back the stocks that he… lost.” Amy lifted her head and looked up at Kathy with narrow eyes, noticing that the gentle smile had transformed into a wide, wicked grin. Oh yes, she had known what Kerr had wanted.

“Et tu, Kathy? You really let me meet with a guy that thought a Dragon had stolen his stocks?” Kathy just kept grinning at her.

Amy let her forehead hit the desk once again. “I… suppose it beats the guy that came in last week. The one that wanted advice on how to exorcise the ghost of his dead father from his bedroom. That was disturbing on so many levels.” Not getting what she wanted, she instead leaned back in her chair so she could stare at the white ceiling.

“But honestly, is it me? Do I send out some sort of whacko signal? Is that why every other person who walks through that door acts crazy?” She groaned as she continued. “Some even seems to think that I'm a wizard or something.”

“Well dear,” Kathy replied as she went back to shuffling papers. “You did name your company ‘Magi consulting'. I guess it does sound kind of magic-y. And I think you mean witch. I'm fairly sure women can't be wizards.”

And Amy groaned again. “It wasn't supposed to be Magi as in magician! It was supposed to be Magi as in the three wise men. You know, ‘Wise consulting', not ‘Magical consulting'.” She closed her eyes and briefly thought back to the last few months.

Things had started off well enough. She had created a nice contact net while at INT industries, one that served her well now that she was an independent player. INT had been a large consulting company, focusing on helping companies that were just as large. And that was something that had never really suited her. Instead she had taken Kathy and a surprising inheritance from her grandmother to build up a business that offered consulting on a smaller scale. And she had gotten a nice house in the city, but that sounded less noble.

Mostly she worked as a ‘match maker'. People came in with their problems and she set them up with a freelance consultant that could help them. Help with contracts, finances, computers, personnel. Anything, basically. She even took the odd consulting job herself when it was something she could provide insight for. All of which had worked fine for the first couple of months. That is, until word of mouth had started to spread.

That was something that had actually been a part of her plan. Magi consulting could only have survived on her earlier contacts for just so long before things would have started to dry up, so getting new business had been vital. That's when the problems started. They got a lot of walk-in clients, something natural for a company of their size. But it hadn't taken long for the people that came in to shift from regular folks to, well, weird ones.

She could still remember the first one that had seemed just a bit odd, especially in hindsight. He had wanted advice on how act in a business meeting with Faeries, his words, since he had never dealt with them before. Figuring he was just very politically incorrect, she had set him up with a sensitivity coach. This had worked out just fine apparently. He had called later on and thanked her profusely. But things started to go downhill from there.

Pretty soon, about every third person walking through their door had an odd request they needed help with. She had been reluctant to throw them out though. Even if the requests were weird, the people asking for help seemed sane. And truth be told, business was business.

But now things had started to go from weird to crazy weird, and being asked to give a dragon, one that stole stocks, a stern talking to must take some sort of prize.

“Honestly Kathy, I think we need to start screening out the odd ones. I hate to say it, but it'll probably start to affect our reputation sooner rather than later and we don't need that at this stage.” Amy said as she blew out some air and looked at Kathy. The grin was still there on her face, but she also gave a quick nod in agreement.

“I have to agree dear. I don't know what would hit us the hardest, that our potential clients are odd or the fact that we can't assist them with what they need, but something will give. It was fun while it lasted though.” Kathy's eyes seemed to sparkle as she thought back to some of the clients that had walked through the doors. “Now, did you come out here for a reason or did you just need to vent?”

“Oh, right.” Amy said as she stood, flicking back the solid braid that had snuck over her shoulder, something the stealthy thing always seemed to do. “I'm going to cheat and quit early, so you can head out with me if you want. And I won't even rat you out to the boss if you do.”

“Oh, no thank you dear. Thomas won't be home until later tonight, so I'm going to stay here and get some filing done. But thank you for your offer not to narc on me to yourself.” Kathy replied as she stood up as well and followed Amy to the office door.

“So, what are you going to do tonight Amy? Read a book? Watch the Discovery Channel?”

“I honestly don't know.” She answered as made a quick trip to fetch her bag. “But yes, I'll probably just take it easy.” The statement was greeted with a tsk sound from Kathy as she walked Amy to the building hallway.

“You know dear, you should get out more. Go to a bar or something and make some friends.” The smile she gave Amy was downright motherly. “Maybe even a special friend with decent stamina.” Alright, maybe not so motherly.

“Ugh. No thanks. I just want to go home and relax.”

“Dating can be relaxing.”

“Right, said the woman who has been happily married for how many years?”

“Fine, it's been a while.” She admitted. “But it can still be relaxing.”

“For some people, maybe. But not to me.” Amy said as she smiled at Kathy.

“Okay, fine. Rain on my parade will you. But if you won't take my advice, I cast you out from my kingdom. So shoo!” She punctuated her statement by waving her hands at Amy, as if trying to get a cat to move out of the way. In response, Amy narrowed her eyes and growled lightly at her.

“Fine. I'll move. But it's only because I want to move!”

“Keep telling yourself that dear.” Kathy threw back as she went back into the office and locked the door behind her.

“I know where you work!” The blonde yelled at the door somewhat ineffectual. “So there.” She added with a sharp nod and an equally sharp tug on her shirt, as if to make the straight garment even straighter. The last word meant that the discussion had been her win. Even if the words had been directed at a door.

As she walked to the elevator, she played with the thought of going out but ignored it almost right away. While a night out was nice once in a while, she had no interest in replacing one set of crazies for another.

She stepped into the elevator and pressed the bottom floor button, and she couldn't help but to glance up at the edges of the small hatch visible in the ceiling. She had seen elevator shafts in movies and in one oddly interesting documentary, but she had never seen one, or been in one, herself. Not that she had any special interest in seeing one, she admitted, but sometimes random thoughts just had to play themselves out.

The elevator slid down, floor by floor, and she imagined the darkness surrounding her cage. Steel cables creaking, motors rumbling. The oily buildup on the ladder that should be set in one of the walls. Maybe some electric wiring that sparked from time to time. She was inches from a whole world she had never seen before, and the brief thought fascinated her. Then the doors opened, and it slid away.

Finally stepping out into the lobby, she gave a wave and a smile to the guard stationed there before she walked out into the late summer heat of New York City .

She almost groaned as the hellish heat enveloped her, but that would have forced her to suck in more warm, moist air than necessary, so she refrained with a softly uttered “Ugh.” Instead, she looked and saw no clouds in the small part of the sky she could see, the hope that she would see rainclouds amassing dashed.

“Wonderful.” She mumbled as she absentmindedly rubbed the bump on her nose. It took a minute, but she finally decided keep up her hedonist streak and forego her normal walk home. A taxi in this heat sounded wonderful. Plus, her freckles were visible enough without the extra sun bringing them out.

After a stretched out arm and some solid eye contact, she was soon sitting in a cab for the brief journey home. The cab pulled away from the sidewalk and she cradled her chin in her palm, looking out the window with an easy gaze. The Indian gentleman driving clearly took the unspoken hint since he didn't start up any small talk, a compulsion for some cab drivers it seemed. Not that she usually minded talking to them. Interestingly enough, some of her more fascinating conversations had happened with cabbies, but today she wasn't in the mood.

What should I do this weekend? She wondered to herself as the cab started to crawl through the streets. The evening was already planned, the main focus being a frozen treat, possibly a container of Ben & Jerry's Americone dream. But the rest of the weekend was wide open. Maybe she'd visit Valentine and his family. She perked up at the thought. It had been some time since they had been over for dinner and she was due for a visit.

As the car came to a slow stop before another red light, she was suddenly ripped from her musings as her unfocused gaze zeroed in on the alley she was now looking into. She stared straight at it with surprise before her eyes started to slide up. And up. And up just a bit further. As it turns out, purple dragons were big.

It took some effort to close her eyes and give them a quick rub. She could feel a throbbing behind her eyes; a soft pain she figured would spread to the rest of her head. But she ignored it and moments later she looked out of the cab again and saw a big, trash filled alley devoid of dragons that were three story tall, purple or otherwise. The only real sign of life was the handful of people that crossed the entrance to the alleyway. A mother with a stroller almost dragging groceries after her, a young man with a dark jacket, a gang of kids on the way home from school with backpacks filled to the brim, hopefully with textbooks. No dragon anywhere, even though one of the kids did reminded her of a snake.

She leaned back into her seat and stared at the ceiling of the cab, actually not noticing the pain behind her eyes fade away. “We really need to stop these odd clients.” She finally mumbled. “A purple dragon. In New York . That certainly takes the cake.”

“Although,” she admitted a moment later, “If purple dragons did exists, this would certainly be the place for it. God knows it's a weird enough place.”

The cab suddenly came to a halt and a happy voice caught her by surprise from her thoughts. “We're here Ms.” The cabbie said as he looked over his shoulder. She turned her head and saw that they were indeed idling in front of her house. Fast, she mused as she paid with both cash and a smile.

After stepping out of the car she got a few moments to get clear before the cab pulled out into traffic again. The townhouse where she lived was certainly far removed from the farm she had grown up. The only green around here being the small trees placed evenly along the sidewalk. The leaves were in full bloom, but as she looked on they barely twitched, showing that any wind besides the drafts created by passing cars were out of the question.

Sometimes she missed it, having nature all around. Especially on days like these, when that special New York smell fermented in the heat. But most of the time, the good outweighed the bad and she couldn't help but to love the city, flaws and all.

Finally she walked up the stone steps and put the keys in the lock. In the blink of an eye she had opened the door and slipped in, a sigh of happiness escaping as she felt the cooler air of the house envelop her. For a minute she just stood there and soaked it in. She had realized early in life that she was many things, but built to thrive in warm weather was not one of them.

With a pleasurable hum, she pushed away from the door she had been leaning on and walked to the kitchen, hanging her keys on a hook next to the hallway mirror as she passed it.

“Charlie!” She called out as she stripped off her shoes, and this time the noise had graduated from a sigh into a full blown groan of happiness as she wiggled her toes in the thick carpet. Pantyhose or no, it was a divine feeling being free of her shoes after work.

“Charlie, where are you?”

“In here!” The reply finally came from the living room and the leathery voice seemed annoyed.

“Yea,” she winced softly. It had been a stupid question. Charlie was always in the living room when she got home. She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and walked to the living room, stopping at the door to survey it. It was a nice room, she knew, and she had nothing to do with it. Valentine had done most of it as a favor to her after some minor inputs, though she knew they really had nothing to do with the great end results. A perfect shade of yellow covered the walls, along with almost every other room in the house as well. Some paintings dotted the walls, landscapes and abstracts mostly, though one side of the room was dominated by a big bookshelf. A thick carpet covered the floor and two recliners flanked a sofa that overlooked a low table. And mounted on the wall, giving a perfect view to anyone that sat on what some, meaning Charlie, had dubbed the greatest sofa in the world, was a big, flat screen TV.

She took it all in, stopping for a moment to look at the small picture of her parents resting on the bookshelf, before she walked up to the back of the sofa and vaulted over it to land with a bounce on the other side.

“Hey!” Came an annoyed voice from her right, one that she ignored as she leaned back and put her feet up on the table. Her mother would have given her a steel melting glare if she'd seen that, but that was one of the perks of living alone. That, and eating cookies before dinner.

Take that mother, she though gleefully, only to feel guilty moments later. ”Sorry mother,” she muttered under her breath. Intellectually she knew that her mother couldn't hear what she said, nor hear her thoughts, but one could never be sure about mothers. They had Powers. That's what she had thought as a kid anyway, and certain things were hard to shake even as an adult.

She finally looked at the TV were a nun was giving what looked to be a very stern talk to a willow tree. A daytime soap by the looks of it, she mused. Something that was right up Charlie's alley. She finally glanced to the right and looked down at her best friend since she was five years old.

Not many people had a turtle as a best friend, she conceded to herself as she studied her friend. And even fewer were, for all intents and purposes, imaginary.

Charlie the Greek turtle was staring at the show on the TV, almost completely enraptured. Or to be perfectly truthful, Greek Tortoise. But Charlie still maintained that she was a turtle, mainly because they had ninjas.

Her small form was placed in the center of the sofa, still sitting where she had been when Amy left her this morning. Or she was possibly standing. Truth be told, it was a little hard to tell with turtles, especially when positioned on something with a bit of give. Apparently Amy's jostling of the sofa had only disturbed her focus momentarily since she was staring at the TV intently.

“Maybe birds of a feather do flock together…” Amy whispered as she turned and looked out of the window. What right did she have to call some of her potential clients crazy when a doctor would have her committed for observation after one truthful conversation about her life?

She could still remember it like it was yesterday, the day Charlie came into her life. The smell of the wet asphalt, the soft wind that made her hair flutter and tickle her nose. The cow keeping pace with her on the other side of the fence as she ran. The sudden surprise when she turned from looking at the cow to run face first into a mailbox.

She reached up and rubbed the bridge of her nose gently as phantom pains suddenly laced through it. It had been bad luck. A decent speed and her height caused her to hit the edge of the box, fracturing her nose in the process. She remembered crying for a few moments and then stopping. It had hurt, more hurt than her five year old mind could remember, but she had stopped and picked herself up from the ground.

She couldn't remember why she picked herself up though. Fragments of memory flashed in her mind, snow, bricks, sad brown, before going quiet again. Nothing that made sense. Whatever the reason, she had managed to walk back up to the house.

She couldn't stop from cringing slightly as she thought back. She hadn't exactly gotten permission to go out and play by herself and her mother hadn't exactly been happy about that. She had screamed like a banshee when Amy walked into the kitchen. Blood covered her shirt and half her face, while fresh streams came from both her nose and the deep wound on it.

The doctors had fixed her up the best they could, but there was still a small scar there, and her nose had an odd, flat bump that clearly showed that it had been broken. On a bad day she thought it made her look hideous, while on a good one she could swear that it gave her a certain ‘tough girl' air. It was conflicted, the relationship she had with her nose.

But the biggest thing about that day hadn't been the accident, the injury or the doctor visit. No, it had come that night as she tried to get to sleep. As she lay there, after being tucked in by her mom, dad and big brother, a tingling had started in her head. It was small at first, but grew quickly until her entire body was feeling it. She tried scratching and rubbing her arms and legs, but nothing helped. When she thought about the tingling, she also remembered the doctor saying something about com-pli-ca-tions and that it was bad. Figuring that this was what it was, she opened her mouth to call for her mother, but before she could get a word out the tingling suddenly changed. The intensity grew and soon it wasn't like an itch that needed to be scratched. Instead it was like a fire burning under her skin, ripping her nerves to shreds and tearing at her essence. Her body had gone rigid, muscles locking in an agony she couldn't voice.

After a few seconds, minutes hours, the fire had started to shift. All of a sudden, it was if it was draining upwards. First her toes were free of the pain, then her feet. Then her legs. As more and more of her body became free, it started to get more intense in the areas that still felt it. And it didn't take long for head to become the only area still flaring.

It was the oddest thing she had ever felt in her life, before that and since then. While her entire skull was enveloped, the feeling was focused at her broken nose and in the center of her head, at the place where the tingling had first started. And now it was starting to move around.

She had curled into a little ball then, her muscles finally obeying her. “Please stop…” She had whispered, her hands covering her bandaged nose. And to her shocked surprise, it had. As she said the words, the fire suddenly faded as if it had all been a bad dream. Though it hadn't just disappeared at her plea. Instead the fire had fallen inwards, towards the spot inside her head. It had grown smaller and smaller, until finally she couldn't feel it anymore. That's when she had heard the pop from the other side of the room.

It was like the pop of a chewing gum bubble, and it drew her attention. She looked up from her twisted and sweat soaked blanket and came face to face with Charlie. She hadn't known that at the time though. All she knew then was that there was a cow standing next to her bed. Cows weren't supposed to be in the house, much less in her room. So she did what any sensible 5 year old with a broken nose should do when faced with a strange cow in their room in the middle of the night. Scream for mommy.

She couldn't help but to chuckle now, as she looked down at the stripes of sunlight coming in through her living room window. That had been an interesting night, especially since no one in her family saw the big cow in her room when they came rushing in. They had all been confused when she had tried to point it out, and in the end they had written her cow babbling off as an aftereffect from hitting her head, complete with a follow-up visit to the hospital the next day.

And that was as good an explanation as any for why Charlie had stayed around for over twenty years.

“Great, so maybe I'm not crazy. Maybe I'm simply brain damaged.” She said as she waved a tiny, invisible flag in a victory gesture. But she admitted that it didn't really matter how Charlie came to be. She was here, and she was a great friend. If just a little bit too addicted to daytime soaps.

“Did you say something?” The dry voice drew her attention and she looked at Charlie who was now looking at her. She glanced at the TV and saw that it wasn't worry, but a commercial break that had finally given her Charlie's attention.

“Oh, it's nothing. Crazies at work.” She said as the little turtle, about the size of Amy's palm, did a complicated little dance to turn so that she was facing Amy.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Well, only if you know where I can find a purple dragon to get back some stolen shares.” Amy asked in an amused voice.

“244, 5 th Avenue ?” Charlie suddenly said as Amy looked at her.

“You can find a dragon there?” She wondered, somewhat surprised. Charlie was a wealth of information when she wanted to be, something Amy didn't want to think too hard about. How Charlie, her imaginary friend, knew things she didn't know herself was a mystery she wasn't eager to solve just yet.

“Probably. Or at least some part of its anatomy if you look hard enough.” Then again, she could, and would, pull out a joke in a heartbeat.

“Yea, I don't think I'll go and look.”

“Your loss.” Charlie said with a sniff in the air. She tossed her head back and managed to pull off a decent royal indignation routine, an act that shattered when the commercial suddenly ended on the TV. Amy had never seen an animal move that fast before. The tiny green legs in a blur as Charlie spun 90 degrees to face the TV again, eyes riveted on the nun, a different one this time, that had appeared on the screen. She was lecturing a younger woman and a little boy on what sounded suspiciously like nuclear physics.

“What kind of show is this?” Amy wondered, half horrified.

“Rose thorn abbey. Just started last week. Isn't it brilliant?” Charlie replied. “Now shhh.”

“Did you just shush me?”

“Shhh! They're gonna reveal if the barnacle soup from two days ago poisoned the carrot patch! So even though I love you, shush!”

So this is my life, Amy thought as she gave Charlie the evil eye. I have a nice job. Great friends. A loving family. And at home I have a turtle that tells me to shush when she's watching her Stories, something she's been doing all day anyway. I'm living the dream.

Stemming from long time practice, her mind simply ignored the fact that her imaginary friend apparently existed at home even when she wasn't there. And that Charlie saw and remembered things Amy had never seen. While there was no way of knowing, she was reasonably sure that those thoughts would lead to a padded room in some institution, even without the added help from a doctor this time.

She finally just shrugged and got up from the sofa. She stretched out, arms above her head, and groaned just a little as her muscles protested slightly. It had been a while since she last visited the gym, and maybe it was time to go again.

“I'm going to get something to eat Charlie.” Amy said as she bent down and gave the turtle head a soft scratch with a blunt nail, something that made Charlie shudder in delight. “You can finish watching, but tonight the TV's mine.” In response she got an affirmative mumble. Or that's what it sounded like anyway.

Grabbing her now half-filled water bottle, she made her way to the kitchen again, but stopped halfway and chewed on her lip. She should be good and fix something up. There was rice just waiting to be cooked and some nice pieces of chicken to go with it. But it was Friday, and she had already shown how weak her will was this glorious T.G.I.F.

“Well, no reason to disappoint the judges.” She finally said with a naughty smile. Instead of going to the kitchen, she reached down and picked up the phone and, to her secret shame, dialed the number to Terrific Nicks from memory. A short conversation later, she was the proud owner of a future meat lover's pizza, to be delivered in 30 minutes or less.

She looked down at her office clothes and swiftly decided that it wouldn't do. She got going again, this time going up the stairs to the second floor.

As she walked, she started things off by releasing her blond hair from her braid. Gently she fluffed it out until it was as untangled as it could be without a brush. Then she got to work on her clothes and a minute later, the path between the stairs and her bedroom was littered with garments. Amy herself stood in her bedroom, happily naked, while eyeing the contents of her dresser.

This evening of decadence would require the full offensive, she decided finally. She pulled out her favorite grass green underwear and put them on, followed by her lucky blue sweatpants and her well-worn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt. The poor thing had been washed so many times that the original vibrant green had turned a weak mint color, while the small holes that dotted it's surface told a tale of an item that had served its duty and was ready for honorable retirement any day now.

As she pulled the shirt over her head, she looked down and sent a grateful thought to her biological parents, whoever they were. While she wasn't fat, she wasn't exactly rail thin either. Instead she had managed to hit that healthy sweet spot that gave her important edges a hint of rounded softness that was the envy of many friends. But it wasn't like the gym visits didn't help. She had, in her opinion, killer legs, something she owed the treadmill.

She patted her stomach through the t-shirt and breathed in the scent the shirt released. It reminded her of home and she finally made up her mind to visit Valentine the next day. At the same time she also decided to take a weekend sometime soon to drive up and visit her parents, the summer scent of her clothes having dragged up nice memories.

Staring off into space, mired in the happy memories of her parents, she didn't feel the soft tingling in the back of her head, nor did she hear herself softly say, “I hope they won't worry too much if it happens.”

Minutes later, she shook her head and blinked rapidly, for a moment unsure about where she was. Then she saw herself in the mirror, the muted colors of her bedroom in the background, and the present came flooding back. She smirked at her reflection and resolutely pushed her future plans to the back of her head. They were penciled in and done now, and it was time to focus on the now.

She danced her way out of her bedroom and down the stairs, finishing with a quick pirouette and a bow for her invisible audience as she reached the bottom.

The doorbell signaled the end of her performance and just as she hoped, it was the pizza girl bringing her food. She paid her for it, tipped her, and most importantly, didn't blush when her stomach roared out it's anticipation for the bounty it was about to receive. Didn't blush much anyway.

Closing the door on the smiling girl, Amy grabbed the food and marched into the living room, as usual not bothering with a plate.

“You forgot your knife and fork.” Charlie said as Amy sat down on her earlier spot. An optimist might have lauded Charlie for tearing herself from her addiction, but the credits scrolling on the screen to soft music showed the real score.

“No I didn't.” She tossed the lid back and eyed the glorious creation in front of her. Pieces of grilled meat, entrenched in a cheese desert. Terrific Nicks were really good at what they did. She inhaled deeply as she made a pass over the pie, getting all the scents processed.

“Yes, you did.” Charlie countered as she eyed Amy, her food, and the clear lack of eating utensils with hopeful and expectant eyes.

“Are we going to have this argument every time I have a pizza?”

“Clearly we must, since you apparently refuse to learn.”

This was a side of Charlie that always surprised her. She was, without a doubt, the loosest turtle Amy knew. Not that she knew a lot of turtles personally. The point was, Charlie was a laid back imaginary friend. But when any discussion shifted to how a person should eat their food,, she could make Kim Jong-il look like an amateur. Food was to be eaten with a knife and fork, Charlie reasoned. Exceptions were made for soup which she admitted needed a spoon, and in some extreme cases chopsticks were allowed.

Anything else belonged to the knife and fork combo. Even ice-cream, though Amy did admit that at times, the frozen dessert was actually fun to eat with a fork. How a turtle who didn't eat, and who couldn't use the utensils, had become a champion for its cause was beyond her.

Maybe that's it; Amy mused as she took control of the remote and started to flick through the channels. Maybe she's sad that she can't use them herself and instead choose to live vigorously through me.

“It's simple.” Amy replied. “Outside, at a fancy restaurant, I could maybe, just maybe, use a knife and fork for eating pizza. If I had a gun to my head. Or my mother. But at a normal place? And at home? Please, I'm no Donald Trump. I don't eat my pizza with a fucking fork.” The last part was said with a horrible Jersey accent as she channeled her best Jon Stewart.

The devastated and mournful look she got from Charlie made her suspect that it still needed some work.

“Everyone's a critic.” She muttered as she finally arrived at the Discovery Channel. Her small frown turned around however when she saw Mike Rowe on the screen, lying down on a guy lying on a crocodile.

“Dirty jobs it is!” She declared as she tossed the remote on the table and instead leaned back with a slice of pizza in her hand and a napkin on her chest. Next to her, Charlie was staring at her hand and the clear lack of a fork before firmly declaring “There is something wrong with you.”

“And happy about it.” Amy replied just as firmly. Not knowing if she meant about the utensils, or trying to convince herself that she thought so about her entire life.

That's how she ended up spending her evening, eating and watching TV, a rare hedonistic night with just herself and Charlie. The only thing marring the evening had been the split second headache at around eight; Telling Amy that the sun had finally set.

Why her head hurt every time the sun set or rose, she didn't know. A doctor had said it had something to do with her accident, that it somehow made her sensitive to the way light changed when the sun disappeared and reappeared. This, even to her five year old mind, had sounded like something pulled out of his ass. So she ended up painting it with the same brush she painted Charlie, that it just was what it was.

Finally, at eleven she used the remote to shut off the TV while trying to stifle a yawn with her free hand.

“C'mon Charlie. Time for bed.” She said when she saw Charlie yawning as well. She stood up and eyed the empty pizza box and the carton devoid of ice-cream and decided that it could stay until tomorrow. Instead she reached out and lifted Charlie from the couch, giving the turtle another one of the scratches she loved so much in the process. Then Amy finally placed her best friend on top of her head, feeling Charlie's four legs extend and softly tangle in her hair. Charlie, who had shifted animal shapes when Amy was little before seemingly settling on being a turtle, loved riding along on Amy's head and she in turn had to admit that she didn't hate it. It brought them closer somehow, in more ways than the obvious one.

She shuffled her way out of the living room and up the stairs, not having quite the same spring in her steps as earlier. Amy could feel her body slumping slightly as she walked, but it was a good slump, a product of a well spent evening, so she didn't try to correct herself.

She passed through her bedroom and used the attached bathroom to get herself ready for bed. The minimalistic makeup she had forgotten earlier was removed. As she brushed her teeth she could feel Charlie's small head slump down to rest on her hair and a quick look in the mirror revealed a sleeping turtle.

She grinned as she made her last preparations and started the final walk towards her bed. There she gently removed Charlie from her head and placed the turtle on her side of the giant bed before removing her t-shirt and pants.

Clad in her underwear, she finally slipped into the cool bed and shuddered slightly in delight. “G'night Charlie.” Amy said as she reached out and turned off the lamp on her nightstand, plunging the room into darkness.

As lethargic as she felt, she still spent a few minutes awake, staring up at the ceiling she could barely see while mentally going over her day. It was a way for her to relax by trying to put the day in some sort of perspective, to get everything in its proper place. When she was done, she nodded to herself in satisfaction.

“A good day.” She mumbled as she closed her eyes and let her body relax. She couldn't fall asleep at the drop of a hat like her brother, but this time she didn't have to wait and she soon she was fast asleep, her breathing in legato with Charlie's.



Chapter 2


Slow as a glacier, Amy cracked open the eye not currently buried into a pillow. It opened just a hair, but it was a hair too much and with a wince, she slammed it shut. The sun was shining, lighting up the whole room and it was utterly repulsive.

Whining to the empty air, she swiftly drew the comforter up over her head and reveled in the darkness. Morning sun was way to chipper for its own good.

She ended up lasting three whole minutes before the heat became too much and she ripped the comforter away faster than she had pulled it up.

She faced the ceiling, still not opening her eyes, and contemplated what she should do with her morning. So many choices, but only two really mattered.

“To get up or not get up, that is the question.” She mumbled as she rubbed her crusty eyes. Moments after saying it however, the choice was taken from her when she twisted slightly and pressure was placed on her bladder. With a quiet groan, she slid out of the bed and shuffled into the white bathroom that connected her room with the guest bedroom. Her eyes finally being open, she managed to find the toilet by sight rather than by using the crude system of banging her shins on everything.

She took a few minutes in the bathroom, washing up and tossing some water in her face to feel more alert. She contemplated taking a shower, but she remembered the stuff she had to clean up from last night and decided to put the shower on hold for just a little while.

She walked out of the bathroom and glanced at the clock on her nightstand. It was eleven o'clock and she figured that she could take an hour or two before heading out to her planned visit. As she passed the bed to pick up the t-shirt from yesterday for some easy morning wear, she saw Charlie all hunkered down on her side of the bed, sleeping without a care in the world. The white comforter was bunched around her in a circle, and it looked like a cozy little nest. She was tempted to reach down and jostle Charlie out of her soft bed, but as she pulled the t-shirt over her head she decided to show mercy this morning.

“You're lucky.” Amy said as she gave Charlie a final glance.

“I'm sexy and I know it.” Charlie mumbled in her sleep, her tiny tail and backside suddenly wagging slightly from side to side to a rhythm only she could hear.

Faced with a sight like that, Amy could only stare at her friend in horrified fascination. When the laughter came bubbling up a few moments later, she was barely able to suppress it by biting her fist. Hand firmly in place; she beat a quick retreat out in the hallway where she leaned with her back to a wall.

“Priceless!” She managed to gasp out as she stifled her giggles. It took a few minutes, but she finally managed to collect herself. Just thinking of that cute little wiggle had sent her laughing again and again, but now she felt calm and as she looked over the clothes strewn across the hallway carpet, she refocused on her goals for the morning. It didn't take long to pick it all up and deposit the bundle in the laundry hamper, everything done with a smile on her face. While she didn't have any proof, she suspected that few people would have been able to resist grinning after seeing that display of turtle sexiness.

The small mess in the living room was taken care of just as easily, and two empty cartons of Americone dream joined the empty pizza box in the trash. Declaring her chores done for the morning, she claimed the two slices of cold, leftover pizza she had placed in the fridge the night before. She made quick work of the breakfast slices, washing them down with a glass of milk. She thought about having some orange juice for that morning health boost, but she had no urge to experience that weird taste in her mouth when she brushed her teeth later.

“Breakfast of champions” She said as she cleaned the glass and small plate she had been using. As she finished drying the plate, she looked at the kitchen clock. The cleanup and breakfast hadn't taken long and she still had time before she needed to get ready. She wrestled with herself and unsurprisingly, cartoons won out in the end.

Sliding into the living room, she laid down on the couch and spread out. With a small sigh of pleasure, she turned the TV on and flipped the channel to Cartoon Network where she let her mind relax to the antics of a boy genius and his sister.

Fifteen minutes, and two transforming super robots later, she felt a tingle in the back of her head. She leaned up and looked over the back of the couch, finding a sleepy looking Charlie floating towards her through the air.

“Good morning sleepyhead!” She greeted Charlie as she leaned back and refocused on the TV.

“G'mornin.” Was Charlies mumbled reply as she floated down and nestled in between Amy's breasts.

Amy looked down, slightly cross-eyed, at Charlie who seemed to be asleep again.

“Hey, what's the matter with you Charlie?” she mumbled as she started to gently stroke the shell, her cartoons momentarily forgotten. “I know you aren't exactly a morning person, but you're usually up ahead of me.

“No reason. Just tired.”

“How do imaginary beings get tired? Calisthenics?” At that Charlie snorted, forcing a giggle out of her as it tickled.

“Nah.” Charlie looked up, and with those sleepy, half closed eyes, she looked more like a turtle than usual. “It's like… Like…” She paused, looking for the words while Amy's look sharpened.

Charlie almost never explained things. It felt weird when it happened though, Charlie talking about being Charlie. It was an out of control feeling, like if her fingers just started talking to her head, explaining that it was cool being a finger since one got to see such interesting places. Simply weird all around.

“Alright, I got it.” Charlie said after a few moments. “You know that cheap pickup line?”

“I think you need to be more specific there. Aren't they all cheap?”

“Eh, just about. Though you have to admit, much of it depends on the delivery. Anyway, I'm talking about the mind one. ‘Boy, you must be tired, ‘Cause you've been running through my mind all day.'”

“Ah, that one. Don't think I've ever been subjected to it though.”

“You haven't” Charlie confirmed. “But it's like that.”

“Like what? That didn't explain anything.”

“Sure it did.”

“No…” She drew out. “It didn't.”

“Of course it did. I'm tired. So I must have been running through your mind.” Charlie's mouth widened a fraction, her version of a grin, just as she closed her eyes and went limp. “I always knew you had a thing for me, but all day? Wow. One can't help but to admire your stamina, but we can't all be like you. You've got to let a girl rest from time to time.”

Amy stared down for a moment before slowly, and deliberately, turning her head back to her cartoons. A joke like that was more like what she had been expecting. While she would have liked an explanation, she couldn't stop the twitching of her mouth that valiantly tried to turn into a smile, much to her chagrin.

“What can I say Charlie?” she finally uttered. “I love you, and with that raw, sensual, animal magnetism you're radiating I can barely control myself. It's no wonder you're on my mind all day. And if that makes you tired then by everything that is holy, it is a price that I am willing to pay.”

It started with a chuckle, but they weren't certain which one cracked first. Though in the end it really didn't matter, since they both ended up crying from laughter. It really wasn't that funny. But sometimes, when it's a Saturday morning and sleep still clung to your head, you just had to laugh with your best friend.

It took a while for them to calm down, mostly because the laughter just returned when their eyes met. Finally after the sixth, or possibly seventh, laugh attack, Amy glanced to her left and noticed the time blinking away on her VCR.

“Whoops.” She said as she slowly pulled herself up. “Time to get ready.”

“Ready for what?” Charlie asked as she was deposited on the table.

“Our trip to Valentine.”

“Oh. Alright.” She said with acceptance. “It's been a while since we saw the little tyke. And the Tykette. And the tykesters.”

“Mm.” Amy acknowledged. “I'm just gonna get in the shower and we'll leave when I'm done.”

“I'll be here.” Charlie said as she turned around on the table and started to watch the cartoon Casanova currently on screen. Cartoons were a guilty pleasure she had never really outgrown and Charlie was the same. She smiled and bounced up the stairs, shedding the few items she wore and tossed them in the laundry basket as well. She grabbed a fresh towel from the linen closet in the hallway and then walked to the bathroom, only pausing on the way to quickly make the bed.

She hung the towel near the shower and started to get in when she remembered that she needed to brush her teeth, so she turned around and made a move to pick up her toothbrush when her brain suddenly froze. What should she do first? Brush or shower?

It was one of those things you never really thought about until you did, and then they consumed your mind. Brush and then shower? Or shower and then brush? What was the best way to do it? And what did she normally do? But hard as she tried, she drew a blank as she stared at the clean, white sink.

She stood there for a minute, mulling it over until she figured that she'd just take the smart way out. One quick game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe later she stepped into the shower with a grin.

While she could luxuriate under the hot spray for a long time, this time she didn't drag it out but quickly washed her long hair instead, followed by her body. Dragging her hands over her legs, she decided that they didn't really need a shave, and since everything else was trimmed there was no need to bring out the razor today. In the end, the shower didn't last as long as she had thought. She knew that there was no need to rush, but the water had woken her up and she felt fired up and ready to go.

She turned the water off and took the towel and started to dry herself, grinning at the combined smell of her shampoo, body lotion and fresh towel. She knew that after spending a few hours at her brother's house it would be obliterated, so she reveled in it now that she could.

She dried her hair as much as she could before proceeding to gently finger comb through it in an effort to get rid of the tangles. Satisfied that the worst was out, she finished straightening out her hair using her wide tooth comb.

As she walked out of the bathroom, she took the hair and with experience coming from practice, tied her hair up in a very loose braid.

She hummed to herself as she got out the clothes of the day. A nice summer dress was bypassed for the comfort of jeans and a loose white t-shirt, knowing that whatever she wore would be dirty by the days end. It would have been smarter to go with black, but she couldn't help but to like the white ones, especially when a day with her nephews loomed.

She gave herself a final look in the mirror and, after spending a short pause wondering if her freckles had actually grown a little bigger, she declared herself ready.

“Alright Charlie,” she said as she walked down the stairs. “I'm ready to go.”

“Then let's do it!” Charlie said as she came floating out of the living room. Amy put on her shoes, sneakers today, and grabbed her bag from the hallway floor.

As she grabbed the keys from the hook, she absentmindedly felt Charlie settle down on her head again. She really did fit up there.

She walked out of the house, locking the door behind her, and down the five concrete steps. For a Saturday, it was unusually sedated, the only one out being her old next door neighbor who she said hello to as he shuffled past.

“I'm guessing we're taking the car?” Charlie said as Amy started to walk to the right.

“Mmm.” Amy agreed quietly. This was one of the pitfalls going out with Charlie for company, having no real way to talk with her. She knew that she could, but talking to thin air, while not unusual in New York, would not endear her to anyone she met, making her refrain from I when she could. Not that it stopped Charlie from usually talking her ears off when outside.

Growing up, she had always talked to Charlie, almost always when she was alone, and by now it was ingrained in her. For a while she had experimented with thinking her responses, reasoning that since Charlie was a figment of her imagination she should be able to understand, but that had gotten nowhere. Either it didn't work, or Charlie refused to acknowledge it. The end result was the same, forcing them to talk to each other.

She finally stopped next to a silver Volvo S40, her car, and unlocked it with a click on the remote, pausing just long enough to let Charlie float inside before getting in herself.

“What, no dashboard this time?” Amy asked as she closed the door behind her and started the car.

“No, not today. Right now I want to sit on something soft, and while the dash has a great view, soft it is not.” Charlie said just as she went limp on the passenger seat, her legs spreading out.

“Suit yourself.”

Amy gently navigated the car out of its parking spot and onto the road, mentally plotting how she would get out of town, finally settling on a slightly different route she had been thinking of trying out. She didn't drive very often, mostly because it was easier and cheaper to get around town by walking and taking the subway, or a taxi, but her brother lived just a little bit too far away for that to be easy, hence the car. Which was the only real use she had for it, to visit her brother and her parents. She wouldn't even have it if her friend hadn't decided to sell it cheap. In the end she had reasoned that it was better to have and not need, than to need and not have.

Her eyes moved from side to side, taking in the traffic as she drove. And, since it was Saturday in New York , when the traffic slowed to a crawl she took the opportunity to study the massive buildings and the people she could see instead.

It was true that New York had its flaws, maybe more than most cities, but it was such a melting pot of people and ideas, cultures and, well, lives, that it was more than compensated for by the rewards.

She moved her head slightly, feeling the cars air conditioner hit her face, while smiling at a bulldog running down the sidewalk, dragging the excited kid holding its leash along. As crazy as it sounded, not everyone hated this heat wave apparently.

Everywhere she looked people went about their business. Some looked stressed and hurried down the street, eyes downcast. For once however, a majority seemed to take their time to enjoy the day, smiling, laughing.

“Yea,” she said softly as she continued to look around, rubbing her face a little when the AC air made it tingle. “It's a great city.”

The car ahead of her moved forward and she followed suit, moving a whole ten feet before coming to a stop again. She wasn't an expert when it came to New York traffic, far from it, but she did know that this part was something of a bottleneck and once they got past the next intersection it would be mostly smooth sailing to her brother's house.

She was eyeing a juggler dressed as Winnie the Pooh when she saw a flicker of something bright in the corner of her eyes. She turned her head swiftly, trying to spot whatever it was, but closed her eyes with a wince as she felt a stabbing pain behind her eyes. In reflex she gripped the steering wheel tightly, the plastic creaking softly in protest. The pain had taken her by surprise and it took her a moment to get used to it.

Amy opened her eyes slowly, the darkness giving away to the bright interior of her car. The white knuckles of her hands were the first thing she saw as they clung to the steering wheel, and she slowly eased up on her grip with a conscious effort. She gingerly flexed her fingers as she looked up.

“Darn it,” she cursed while she looked around; trying to spot whatever she had noticed. Since she had felt pain for it, she was at the very least going to see it. Whatever it was. She looked to her right and when she saw nothing specific she eyed the car in front of her, though it seemed innocent as well. She threw a quick glance in her rear view mirror before shifting her focus to the cars on her left side.

It took ten whole seconds before she slowly stopped eyeing the cars around her with suspicion and instead focus back on her rearview mirror. It took additional seconds before she could figure out what she was looking at, her brain continuously refusing to admit what her eyes were reporting. In the end it gave up, grudgingly admitting that maybe there was a chance that her eyes saw what they thought they saw.

“Huh…” Amy said slowly. “It is well shaped…”

In the mirror she could see a gigantic being walking away from her, the giant purple tail, with yellow markings, swishing without a care in the world above people's heads. It was limber, graceful even, as it traced patters in the air. Beyond the tail, the big creature seemed to be brushing up to the building next to it as it lumbered along, more specifically it's folded wings, and even though it seemed like the bricks should come crashing down, they didn't, just as the people under it who should be reacting to the massive, freaking, dragon walking amongst them, but didn't.

A loud honk startled Amy from her inspection of fantasy become manifest and she shifted her look to the car behind her, somewhat angry that it had interrupted her.

She was greeted by the universal gesture that told her to go fuck herself That, and the look of impatience on the woman who looked remarkably like Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls , made her realize that the car in front of her had moved quite a distance and she stepped on the gas to catch up, her anger transforming into a tiny blush.

It didn't take long, just a couple of seconds, for her to get back in position. She began idling again and she eagerly looked back in the rearview mirror.

Just as sudden as it had appeared, the purple dragon was gone, making her almost able to taste the disappointment. With a tightening of her grip and a soft curse, she scanned the road and sidewalks stretching out far behind her, but nothing out of the ordinary popped up. Just people, cars and the occasional animal. The only relief was that the pain that had torn through her head minutes ago was starting to receding, making her sigh happily. Briefly she thought about the fact that her headaches had been growing worse recently, painful though short in duration, but she brushed it aside for now, deciding to think about it later.

“Did you see that!?” She exclaimed as she looked at Charlie who was still stretched out on the seat.

“Saw what?” Charlie said with a voice that made Amy narrow her eyes. The leathery voice sounded strained.

“You okay?” Amy asked, worry tinting her voice.

“I'm fine.” All of a sudden Charlie sounded like she usually did, all creaky, grandmotherly and happy, making Amy wonder if her ears had been playing tricks on her.

“Are you sure?”

“Last time I checked I felt fine.” The little thing grinned up at Amy. “In fact, I'd be willing to bet good money that I could take that hare bastard in a straight up race.

“Ah.” Amy acknowledge as she moved her car further down the road. She had liked the story about the Tortoise and the Hare when she was a child and had loved it right away, but Charlie had always hated the Hare. Maybe it was a genuine dislike, maybe it was simple reptile solidarity, but the end result was the same.

“I'm pretty sure he's juicing.” Charlie muttered into the grey fabric of the seat she was laying on.

“Well, he lost.” Amy said, for a moment distracted from what she saw. “So if he was juicing, then that just makes the story show that it's a bad idea.” Charlie actually seemed to mull this over before shaking her head.

“Maybe… But it's the principle of the thing!” She finally looked up and fixed her eyes on Amy. “Now what was this about seeing something?”

“I was asking if you saw…” Her words faltered before she forced herself to continue. What's the worst thing that could happen? That Charlie laughed at her? Possible, but unlikely. “Did you see that dragon?”

She had been right. Charlie didn't laugh. She blinked. And then she laughed at her, a very subtle distinction that was of no comfort.

Amy stared grimly ahead as she navigated through traffic that was becoming less dense by the minute while Charlie was snickering like mad next to her. “I really don't see what's so funny about that.”

“A dragon!” Charlie managed to howl out before dissolving into another laughing fit.

By now she could feel the doubts starting to gnaw at her guts. Dragons weren't real. She knew that. Everyone knew that. But still, some part of her had wondered. Hoped, really, that it was true. She knew she had an active imagination, Charlie the biggest, but by no means the only, proof of that. But even she wouldn't conjure up an imaginary dragon after hearing a client talk about it. Right?

Incidents from her past floated by, things she had seen that made her think… Resolutely she pushed it all away, just like the thoughts about her headaches.

She glanced at Charlie. The little thing was just wheezing now, trying to regain her breath. Of course Charlie was right. It was just a silly fantasy she had conjured up to deal with the headache. Headaches really, since she had seen it yesterday as well. With a quick shake of her head she focused on steering the car while a rare cloud of depression settled over her.

Just as it was stupid to think that she had actually seen a dragon, it was stupid to get depressed over it, but she couldn't help it. The dark cloud was a brief thing however. After paying the toll to get out of the city, she thought about her plans for the day and her spirit started to lift. In the end she resolutely crammed any thoughts about dragons into a small, dark corner of her mind, hiding it from view. If she was prone to worrying, she'd start to wonder if it wasn't getting just a little bit full back there. Instead, she drove the car with a chipper smile.

She didn't look down to see Charlie staring up at her, relief and trepidation warring on her green face.

With Amy resolutely ignoring her earlier question and Charlie not bringing it up, they spent the rest of the trip in silence. Usually music would fill the car, mostly for Charlie's benefit, but this time Amy didn't turn it on. Maybe it was petty. But maybe Charlie hadn't needed to laugh so hard. Not that it seemed to matter; she realized when she finally looked down after driving in silence for a while, since Charlie was apparently sleeping again.

Thirty minutes later she was deep in the bowels of New Jersey in the town Ho-Ho-Kus, a name that still made her snicker. With eyes on the road, she reached down to softly knock on Charlie's shell. “Wakey, wakey, sleeping beauty. We're almost there.”

“F-ve m'r min'ts” Charlie mumbled as she slowly started to come to.

“Five more minutes? Sure. Heck, take an hour or so if you want, I don't really mind.” This seemed to satisfy Charlie who started to slip pack to sleep. “Of course, then you won't get any French fries.”

“Fries?” Suddenly Charlie was wide awake, looking around rapidly before turning to look at Amy. “Did you say fries?”

“Well, we are going to Valentine's on a Saturday. What did you think we were going to eat?”

“I… I didn't think.” She suddenly got a blissful look on her face. “Mmm… Tyke fries.” This was a statement Amy silently agreed with just as she turned into her brother's street. Valentine was a horrible cook, but his fries were, for a lack of a better word, divine. And definitely not good for you.

She finally parked in front of a modest two story house, painted in a lovely shade of red with well-groomed flower bushes lining it. She got out of the car and just stood there for a moment, taking it all in. She had to admit; sometimes she was jealous of her brother. He had a nice house, a job that he loved and a family that he loved even more.

She had nailed two out of three herself, but the third one still eluded her. Not, she admitted, that she was actively looking at the moment. But when she saw the look on his face when his wife was around, she couldn't help but to want the same thing herself. That one person you loved with all of your heart and soul.

As Charlie landed on her head she shook off the feeling. One day she'd find her one and only, just not right this moment.

As she walked up to the house after locking her car, she could hear squeals and laughter coming from behind the house, so she ignored the front door to slip around the side of the house instead. The big ‘beware the dog' sign that hung from the low wooden fence didn't make her pause, only smile a little bit as she opened the small door to step inside the backyard.

The smile grew wider when she peeked around the corner of the house. In the corner of the yard farthest from her stood a big oak tree with a picnic table under it, and in another was a small swing set. Situated in the middle of the very green lawn was a medium sized pool with sparkling and, most importantly, cool water. She cursed silently, as she saw her sister in law and her nephews playing around in the pool. How could I forget my swimsuit? She asked as she watched them.

Lisa Quinn was a tiny woman of Chinese decent, shorter than Amy. She was thin with dark hair, but she had an inner strength and a quiet and confident demeanor about her that never failed to impress Amy.

At the moment she was focusing on David, her three year old son, trying to teach him to swim properly. But the little guy was having none of that.

Clad in red floaties, he was more interested in silently observing his six year old big brother, Jason, who was happily playing with a rubber ball by himself in the slightly deeper end of the pool.

When they were together like that, the children's chocolate skin was remarkably different when compared to their mothers pale tones, but she knew that when you looked in their faces, they took after their mother. Same chin, same nose, same mouth and almost the same eyes. Hopefully they would copy their mother when it came to height as well, but she didn't hold out much hope for that.

She looked to her left and sure enough, standing on the back porch was Valentine with a big, dopey smile on his face.

The man was, well, a behemoth. Almost two heads taller than Amy and nearly twice as wide, the ebony man dwarfed everyone around him. But he was also what people referred to as a friendly giant and wouldn't hurt a soul if he could help it.

He had gone to college on a basketball scholarship where he had surprised everyone except his family by becoming a licensed veterinarian. Now, with a degree and his own clinic where Lisa also worked, he didn't play that much anymore. Now, instead of trying to score points, he used that drive to help his patients, and he was damn good at it. They both were.

But he was getting a little bigger around the stomach, Amy noted with amusement as she gave him a once over, so maybe it'd do him some good to play more regularly.

And at his feet, slumbering in the warm summer day, the family's fierce guard dog slept away. Bob was a mix breed and the runt of a litter of puppies that Valentine had helped save. He had more than a few races in him, but the dominant one was Yorkshire terrier. Amy could easily hold him in one hand and next to Valentine he looked like a small, stuffed Happy Meal toy. He did have a good nose on him though, as the sudden twitching could attest to.

He went from sleeping to wide awake and a few sniffs in the air later, he locked eyes with Amy, who still only had part of her head around the corner. With a joyous bark sprinted from the porch, as always thrilled to spot his rarely seen playmate.

“Aunty!” Her nephews cheered happily when they saw what had gotten Bob riled up, getting them to scramble out of the pool as fast as they could. Amy barely had time to brace herself before Jason jumped into her arms, shortly followed by David.

She staggered just a little bit under the weight, gasping when the wet bodies chilled her skin. A few steps backwards helped her regain her balance and she proceeded to give the children an affectionate look and a wide grin.

“How are my two favorite tykesters doing!?” She asked happily.

“I can juggle Aunty!” Jason happily replied, looking quite proud of himself.

“Really?” she said while giving him an impressed nod. Behind the children, she could see Valentine embrace Lisa, who was leaning back into him, with an indulgent smile. And the guy still had that dopey look on his face.

“So how many are we talking about here?” She continued. “Are you juggling 5? 8?”

He laughed. “No. I'm juggling two! But I'm gonna start with three soon.”

“Well hey, two is something to be proud of.” She replied while bouncing him lightly on her rapidly tiring arm. “Wow, two chainsaws. I know I couldn't even juggle one.”

It was, in a twisted sort of way, fun to see. At the mention of chainsaws the two boys' eyes grew big and Jason started to explain that he juggled colorful balls that were very soft. And at the same time, she saw Valentine react in the background. His earlier look slid right off his face just to be replaced by rapidly blinking eyes and a shell-shocked gaze that seemed to say, ‘I just missed something and it's going to come back and bite me in the ass.' If the twinkle in Jason's eyes were any indication, Valentine wasn't far from the truth.

As she walked over to the happy, but slightly worried, couple, she looked down at David who looked back with a happy smile. He could talk just fine, but he preferred to sit silently and observe things, just like he did now. It's the quiet ones you have to watch, she mused as she made a funny face at him.

She deposited her cargo at the feet of their parents and managed to give Lisa a quick hug before being enveloped by her brothers crushing limbs.

“Ah, little sis! How are you doing?” He chortled as he easily lifted her off the ground. This is what you get when you have a physical family, she thought as she grunted softly when her brother squeezed.

“I'm doing alright, ya big Tyke.” She laughed while she gave his fuzz covered head a vigorous rub. “And I'm thinking it's the same for you.”

“You got that right.” He replied with a grin. He gently placed her back on the ground and topped things of by ruffling her hair gently. Not enough to wreck her hair, even though it was already a little messy, but just enough to show that she was still his beloved little sister. Lisa had taught him well.

As he removed his hand and gestured for her to join him on the porch, she could feel a small shudder run through Charlie before she floated up and away to sit herself down on the porch railing. Not surprising since she hated having things go through her.

Then they all stood there on the porch for a while. Tall, short, shorter and shortest, since Bob had placed himself below Charlie, just being there and enjoying the sight of the three family members that had returned to play in the pool.

“So what brings you here sis?” He finally asked. She had an open invitation to visit anytime, extended both by Valentine, and Lisa separately, but it was rare for her to just drop by unannounced.

“I just…” She started but paused. Then she sighed and continued. “I just needed to get away from the crazies for a little while. Have a piece of normal in my life.”

“Hmm?” He asked with a slightly furrowed brow, his way of asking without really prodding. For a moment she contemplated telling him about the dragon she saw, or thought she saw, but slowly decided against it. She had told him about the influx of increasingly odd people, but the dragon bit would probably be a bit much. Even for him.

“Nah, nothing big.” She said finally with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Just the same thing over and over. In the end it gets to be a little much.”

“I get ya.”

“I know you do.” And the matter dropped, both content with that for now.


Chapter 3


After borrowing some sunscreen and smearing it all over, Amy and Charlie spent the next few hours relaxing. A gossiping session with Lisa transformed into a rousing game of Calvin ball with the kids, the almost rule free competition making them happily exhausted by the time Valentine fired up the garden grill. Charlie took the easy way out, not that she had much choice, and sat herself down on the kid sized, inflatable mattress that was floating in the pool and just soaked up the sun. The only thing really lacking for her was a pair of sunglasses for that really ‘cool' turtle look.

The grill starting up was the signal that made everyone stop and focus on the upcoming dinner. Like a well-oiled machine, they all started to get things ready. Lisa took charge of the grill while Valentine started to fix the rest of the food. Like always when she was there, Jason and Amy were left in charge of setting the picnic table and they hopped to it, though only after shooting off snappy salutes to the chuckling parents. Even David started to help, carrying some paper plates and feeling very proud for doing so.

The food was barely on the table when the extended family started to dig in, Amy loading down her plate with a big hamburger and a boatload of fries drenched in ketchup and a little mustard. In theory there was also some salad on the plate, though she would have been hard pressed to pinpoint exactly were without the help of some sort of archeological expedition.

Casually she flicked her braid from her shoulder before taking a big bite out of her hamburger, letting a small moan of happiness escape as she started to chew.

“You outdid yourself Lisa.” Amy murmured with an appreciative glance at her sister-in-law, a sentiment quickly echoed around the table.

“Oh, I didn't do anything special,” she replied with a serene look. “You're all just hungry little beasts!”

Valentines stomach took that opportunity to voice its pleasure at the small taste of food it had gotten, unleashing a round of giggles from the rest. It was, apparently, a family trait.

“Yes, well.” He said with a faint blush. “Hunger or no hunger, it's still great.”

“It really is.” Amy added sincerely while savoring a couple of French fries.

It didn't take long for most of the food to disappear and Amy rested her head on her palmed hands with a satisfactory sigh, her eyes half closed as she listened to Lisa and Valentine talking.

“Aunty?” Jason's soft voice finally made her focus and she looked across the table to see him staring intently at her plate.


“Why do you always leave some food behind? Mommy says that we always have to eat what we take. But you never do!”

With a hidden wince she glanced down at her plate. She had polished off almost everything, even the uncovered salad, but there were still some French fries on the plate. Four of them, the biggest she could find, jutted halfway off the plate while they glistened in the sun. To everyone else they looked forgotten, but in her eyes it was slightly different.

Charlie was sitting next to her plate, the small form happily munching away at the golden fries. Every time she took a bite, part of it seemed to disappear, only to return after Amy blinked. Charlie didn't, couldn't, eat the fries, but that didn't stop her from enjoying them.

“Well…” She started slowly, unsure on how to proceed. It was something that had begun when she was a kid, like most things in her life. Charlie had looked so interested when she ate food that she had let her try some of it. There shouldn't have any problems, but she would have sworn before a judge and a grand jury that after Charlie ‘ate' something, it tasted like ash in her own mouth when she tried to eat the same piece.

In the end they made a deal. Charlie got a small piece of the food as her own while Amy ate the rest. There really hadn't been a reason for it. Just seemed like the right thing to do.

She looked around the table and saw that Lisa had perked up at the question, apparently interested in the answer herself. She hadn't thought about it before, but now she realized that Lisa had never asked about it, and she had never offered an answer to her, well, sister. So she went with the near truth, the one that she had told her parents as a child.

“Well Jason, it's like this. A long time ago, when people wanted help from the gods, or maybe just wanted to say ‘thank you', they'd give them a gift of some sort. Every god was different. Some liked money, some liked prayers, and some liked items. And the gods loved it.” Amy knew that Jason was a bright kid, had to be with his parents, and that he had recently started to learn various constellations from his grandfather, so she didn't think this was beyond him. With studied indifference she avoided looking down, knowing that she would see a gigantic smirk on Charlie's face. She could already hear the soft chuckles.

“So, when I was a little girl, around your age, I thought that I should say thank you somehow. Since I didn't have any money to give,” here she winked at Jason. “Because sometimes we just have to buy a comic book. I didn't know any real prayers and the ones I came up with myself sounded silly. So I decided to say thank you for everything by sharing a little bit of my food with… The gods I suppose.”

He was nodding slowly, a good sign that he was taking it all in. David was nodding as well, imitating his older brother. Only he got the tempo wrong and it looked like the little Tykester was head banging. “Anyway, that's when I started and it just became a habit I guess.”

“Okay.” He said slowly, accepting it as only a child could, all the while below her head, Charlie continued to laugh in between bites of fries. The little green egomaniac had always loved being compared to a god.

That turned out to be the intellectual highpoint of the dinner as David challenged his aunt to an arm wrestling contest which, after a tie breaker, Amy won.

After the food was gone, Amy helped clear the table against Lisa and Valentine's wishes, though only after making sure that Charlie had finished up her last piece. The afternoon heat and the food filling their bellies made everyone slightly sluggish, but it didn't take long before everything was cleaned away.

“I should probably hit the road.” Amy finally said, an hour after they had finished dinner. There where moans of disappointments from the Tykesters, still wanting to play around, and arguments for her to stay started to spew out from Jason with backup comments from David.

“Okay, tell you what,” she finally said as she tapped a finger on her chin, looking at her nephews with calculating eyes. “If, and I mean if, it's okay with your mom and dad… What do you think about coming to visit next weekend and staying for a few nights?”

Jason grinned widely, revealing a lost tooth that had gone unnoticed until now, and turned towards his parents that were sitting in a pair of sun chairs next to the pool. “Can we? Please say that we can! Pleeeease!?”

Amy had kept an eye on the pair while mentioning her spur of the moment idea and she stifled a chuckle as Jason started pleading. Jason had been thrilled at the idea, true, but Valentine's and Lisa's faces had looked ecstatic before hiding behind their parental masks.

“Well…” Lisa started slowly, only to be interrupted by the chuckle Amy couldn't hold back any more. The Asian woman looked up, and then down, cuckling herself when she saw that Valentine had slipped of the sun chair to join their sons with a pleading look of his own.

“I'll even take Bob.” Amy added, knowing that if there were any doubts, that last promise would tip the scales in her favor.

“Oh, alright.” Said Lisa with a mock pout. “We'll let you borrow them for two nights. But then it's back to the salt mines with them.”

“Excellent!” Amy finished over the children's cheers. “But it'll only happen if you're good this week, alright?”

For a moment an uncertainty hovered in the air, but in the end the boys decided to play it safe and the children, and Valentine, nodded gravely at Amy while Lisa shared a smirk with her over their heads. Bob was the only one appearing unfazed as he snoozed in the shadow of one of the chairs, the thought of a weekend getaway in the city not moving him one way or the other.

“Well then.” Amy said as she rose from her chair ten minutes later. “I'll call you later in the week and will fix the last details, okay?”

“Sure sis.” Valentine replied, his voice a deep and pleasant rumble. He got up as well and gave Amy another crushing hug. When he finally let her go, Lisa stepped up and gave Amy a softer, but no less heartfelt, hug.

Why the hell did I even think about not coming here? She thought finally. It was just what the doctor ordered.

“Tykesters!” She called out with wide spread arms as she looked down. “Say goodbye to your Aunty.” She bent down and scooped the brothers into her arms and covered their faces with big, sloppy kisses, extracting giggles and groans from them as they said goodbye.

“Remember what I said, you be good now.” They both nodded rapidly.

“And make sure you take care of the Tyke and the Tyket… Mom.” She coughed slightly. Hoping it covered her tiny slip. She glanced surreptitiously at Lisa for a moment as the boys nodded again. There was just something about her, an aura or something that said ‘Sure, call me Tykette. Then we can go call the Queen of England ‘Hey you, Queenie!'”

Lisa was one of the kindest persons she knew, but sometimes the reward wasn't worth the risk, so the nickname stayed inside her head.

For now, her mind quietly added in silent rebellion.

She gave her nephews a final squeeze before setting them down and walking out, getting out the same way she had come in earlier.

“Good fries.” She heard Charlie say, once again enthroned on top of her head, and she bopped it slightly in acknowledgement.

“They really were.”

“And I want to realize that I did not, not once, comment on the lack of forks.”

Amy barked out a laugh. That was actually true, she admitted, so she reached up and scratched Charlie lightly under the chin, her hand somehow knowing exactly where the little head was.

“Although,” Amy said as they moved slowly over the front yard grass. “I do seem to recall several spoons. And two barbeque forks.”

“You just keep telling yourself that those fork mutations count, dear.” It was amazing how condescending the soft pat of a turtle foot on the head could be.

“You are such a snob!” Amy chuckled as she waved Charlie away and unlocked the car door. “And you wonder why I won't listen to your arguments?”

“I've ridden on it long enough to know that it's just because you're thickheaded. You'll come around, I'm sure of it.” With a chuckle of her own, Charlie floated off Amy's head and into the car, this time doing it slowly with a smooth glide that seemed to keep her hovering over the driver seat forever. Smiling, she formed a retort.

Out of nowhere, pain sliced through her head and she barely managed to brace herself on the car as her strength suddenly left her, making her cling to the roof. Any response to Charlie's antics died in her throat, lingering there as she barely managed to gasp for breath.

She couldn't see, couldn't hear -couldn't think - She would have panicked if she could, if some part of her could remember how to do it. Her entire world had narrowed down to a searing, crippling agony that tried to tear its way out of her mind.

Then, just as sudden as it had arrived, it was gone. She could feel the wind kissing her face, the smell of leaves carried along and she relished it as she sucked down air. It couldn't have been long, she reasoned slowly, no more than ten seconds. Her legs however trembled like those of a newborn foals.

She knew she had been in pain, had felt it. But now it was like it had never happened, an odd, empty feeling the only thing that lingered.

“Amy? You okay?” It took a while before Charlie's voice registered; making Amy open eyes she didn't even realize were closed.

“I-I'm fine.” She called back into the car and she winced silently. She could hear the tremble in her own voice.

“Right...” Charlie said as she came floating into view. “You're fine and I'm the President of these United States . You want to tell me the truth?” The concern was evident and Amy shot her a grin that only shook a little.

“Just a headache, that's all. It's gone now.” She pushed away from the car and stood up straight, feeling oddly proud that her hands didn't shake as she smoothed out her T-shirt.

“Now come on, we need to get going if we're gonna beat the traffic.” She smiled at Charlie and shooed gently at her. With a lingering backward glance, Charlie slowly floated back into the car, though it was easy to see that it was under protest. Amy slid in after her, the weak smile she had been able to muster falling from her face, and it wasn't long before the car was making its way out of Ho-Ho-Kus filled with silence.


Chapter 4


The quiet didn't last long, the border of the town seemingly acting as a starting pistol for Charlie who was sitting on the dashboard this time.

“A headache, huh?” Charlie said, making a point of staring straight ahead.

It took a while, but Amy finally responded with a sigh. “Yea.”

“Is it my imagination… Or are they coming more often?”

Amy glanced at Charlie and took her in. The green of her shell, each segment a slightly different shade, and the brighter green of her hide made her stand out from the grey dashboard. She couldn't see them from here, but she knew that Charlie's eyes would be a solid black. Usually they were clear and happy, but she could imagine that they'd look tired, if the droopiness of the rest of her was any indication.

“I've never had one like that before,” she started slowly. “But yea. They are coming more often.” She answered with a thick voice.


“And what?”

“And what are you going to do about it?” Now she glanced back at Amy with a glare, anger and worry on her face in equal measure.

For a moment she contemplated dragging it out, making a joke of it all. Truth be told however, she was scared herself. The headaches at dusk and dawn she could deal with, had been since she was a kid. Hell, she didn't even notice them most of the time. But these new ones were different.

So when she came to another red light, sandwiched between a pickup and a tractor, she sighed again. “I'm gonna call the Doctors office on Monday and schedule a time with the dermatologist.”

“Good.” Charlie grunted, satisfied enough to turn back and stare out the windshield.

Amy started a slow count in her head.

She managed to get to 48 Mippipippi before Charlie swung back with another glare.

“Wait, what the hell do you mean, ‘dermatologist'?”

“I never said that!” She retorted. “I said Otolaryngologist.” So she couldn't stop from playing with her a little. Not much else to do at a red light.

She didn't reply, but Amy could feel the turtles gaze shift down to the scar across her nose and without meaning to, she fingered it nervously, a childhood habit that still came back from time to time.

“Oncologist?” She tried valiantly.

“That might not be a bad call actually. You do seem to be talking out of your ass.”

“Hey,” Amy said with a laugh. “No need for that.”

The Charlie became serious again. “Please Amy, tell me you're gonna call the doctor. I'm… I'm not liking this.” Amy looked at her with tender eyes and nodded slightly.

“I am Charlie. Don't know exactly who's going to get to check me out, but I will call.” This time Charlie heard the sincerity, could even see it. So she returned to her view satisfied. At least until Monday.

The noise of the cars behind them started to get louder, the car horns starting up creating a song protesting the still red light. While she wasn't a critic, Amy had to admit that it wasn't exactly a great tune.

“Well, I will if we can get out of this traffic.” She grumbled, realizing that her great plan for bypassing traffic by leaving when she did had backfired.

Not usually bothered by traffic, the fact that she was beginning to grow warmer, even with the AC unit blasting, wasn't helping her mood, something that had steadily started to deteriorate since the ache outside Valentine's house. She wasn't an angry person at heart, and she wasn't as pissed off as the rest of the trapped motorists, but still. A girl could only take so much before needing to vent a little.

“Come on!” She half whispered while she made a sharp hand gesture towards the red lights, something her father had ‘taught' her as a child. “Turn green, turn green, turn green!”

Somewhere, deep in the bowels of an almost forgotten electric system, a tiny blue spark came to life. It wasn't the first time a spark had been created like this, and like its sisters, it didn't exist long, maybe half a second. But it was enough to create a power surge that forced a computer system to see a zero when it should have seen a one.

It wasn't the first time a tiny blue spark just like that had been created, driven only by a single will, a single voice. Others had been made before, at other times, only to sputter out after doing nothing. But this one was a rebel, going against the stream by doing what it had been created to do. The zero that should have been a one forced the traffic control system to suddenly reverse everything for a little while, turning red to green and green to red.

And that was the feather that got the first domino falling.

It wasn't the first time a tiny blue spark had been created from nothing to do something, but it wasn't going to be the last. It had made sure of that.

“Oh, cool!” Amy said with a surprised look moments later. “It turned green.”

With some of her earlier mirth restored, she followed the pickup towards the city. This time she relented and turned on some music for Charlie, and herself.

“You feeling up for doing something tomorrow Charlie?” Amy asked some twenty minutes later, after paying the toll to get back on the island. She looked over and could see the wheels turning in Charlie's head before she finally shook it. She did try to suppress a shudder, but Amy could see it.

“No, I think I'll just stay home. Maybe soak up some sun.” Like usual, they both though with mirth.

“You sure? I was thinking the Museum of Natural History .” She tried to tempt. “They have dinosaurs!”

“Tempting… But no.” Charlie said as she looked back at Amy with an indulgent look on her face.

Truth be told, she hadn't really expected another response from Charlie. For some reason, the reptile had a strange and irrational aversion to museums. As she turned down another street, this one less packed, she rubbed her nose lightly and remembered the first time they had been to a museum. After the first exhibit, one showing a Narwhal skeleton, Charlie had made the oddest squeak before rushing into Amy's sweatshirt hood where she had stayed for the rest of the trip. That had been Charlie's first, and last, trip to a museum. But she still had faith that Charlie would come around, one way or another.

But there really wasn't any point in forcing her this time. Instead she should just go by herself for once and take in that new Nordic exhibit th-

Amy suddenly stepped on the breaks, making her jerk into the seatbelt and Charlie slamming slam into the windshield with surprising force.

“Wad the ‘ell!” Charlie cried out as she stared at her, apparently insane, friend, her bruised nose making her speech sound thicker. Amy wasn't paying any attention, ignoring both Charlie, the honking horns, and curses coming from behind her car. Instead she was focusing on the purple tail with yellow markings that slid around the corner, half a block away. When it disappeared, it only took her a second to make up her mind. It took her an additional two seconds to get the car moving again.

“Not again you purple bastard!” She muttered under her breath, her voice laced with anger. Once she could ignore, twice she could explain away. But three times demanded a real answer, no matter what it would be.

She was remarkably gentle as she turned to the right at the crossing, making Charlie wonder what was going on since their house was in the other direction.

“Were ar-“ Charlie's question was interrupted with a sharp hush from Amy. Charlie turned around and looked at Amy with some irritation, opening her mouth again. Not missing a beat, Amy twisted her head slightly and gave Charlie a short but piercing glare that drew the turtle up short. She couldn't deal with Charlie at the moment.

Despite her resolve, she felt a moment of surprise when Charlie squatted down a fraction, dipping her head just as low. She quickly filed it away in her mind to examine later, adding the, almost certainly, faulty memory of Charlie's happy little smile.

Instead she looked back at the sidewalk as she gripped the steering wheel tighter. She had slowed down the car to a near crawl, not that difficult since this lane was packed, and she searched up and down the street. After the third pass, she swore as she hit the steering wheel.

Nothing, she thought bitterly. Not anything even remotely dragon like. She hit the wheel again dejectedly, her mind invariably starting to turn gloomy. She had seen enough medical shows on TV to know that this didn't bode well for the doctor visit that existed in her future.

She rubbed her face and with a sigh gave the sidewalk a final dismissive glance.

It appeared again a moment later. One moment the air was empty and the next it was filled with an unmistakable dragon, again half a block down from where she drove.

"Got ya!" She cried out in delight as she looked the creature over. It looked just like before, walking with a lumbering gait that made its tail cut through the air. It was covered in thick, purple scales that glistened when the sun managed to reach it between the buildings. There was still quite a bit of distance between it and the car, but Amy could still see it with a crystal clarity that should have surprised her. It was as if, now that she could see it and focus, it was more real than the reality it inhabited. Its colors shone brighter while the world around it seemed to become colorless. It was an odd thing to experience and it should probably have scared her, but she couldn't help but to quirk her lips in a half smile.

You have to be real, she thought as she saw the dance of muscles under its skin. You're too real not to be.

As she took him in, the dragon looked to the left briefly, giving Amy a short glimpse of the giant head. A gigantic yellow eye that somehow radiated intelligence, powerful jaws and long, razor-sharp teeth, all topped off with horns that curved back and up from its skull forced her to gasp and lean backwards for a moment.

The face screamed of power, and not only physical, even though that was a part of it. There was something else there, a force surrounding it like a regal cloak that was almost visible now that she had seen its eye.

You exist because that is what I want, the creature seemed to say as it looked around the crowded New York street . So don't fuck with me if you want to keep it that way.

That's when it stumbled. Legs flailed, wings with an impressive span stretched out and the long tail suddenly stood straight up, like a marker.

Something that big should have shook the ground as it went down, she realized, but she didn't even feel a tremor. It made her frown slightly

She could see it scramble back on to its feet in moments, but if she was reading it correctly, the darker color that seemed to flow over its scales in a short-lived wave was a blush of embarrassment, so what happened hadn't been planned.

It all looked so very normal, like a dragon messing up as it tried to look tough was an everyday occurrence, that when it turned to the right and disappeared straight into an old brick building she was genuinely surprised. It didn't just enter a gigantic door, or disappear once it touched the mortar, instead it touched it, snout first, and bit by bit phased into the building. It just kept walking as if the man-made construct hadn't been there.

She stared at the building with wide eyes, trying to process it all as color flooded back to the rest of reality. Things were getting crazier by the minute, and she couldn't tell if it was the world that was messed up, or her. But there was one thing she was sure of. The dragon hadn't disappeared when she wasn't looking like before, and that had to mean something.

As she drove past the building the dragon had disappeared into, she studied it just as intently as she had the creature. Unfortunately it didn't exactly stand out.

It was a reddish-brown color, not exactly new, and the wear and tear on the facade was evident. It didn't seem to be from neglect, merely the steady march of time that had taken its toll.

Nothing stays perfect, she acknowledged, especially in New York . It looked like a regular building, not like the dragon swallowing thing it apparently was. She had nearly driven past it when she noticed the small set of stairs on the sidewalk, a wooden sign hanging still above it. It was small, hidden, and situated almost exactly where the dragon had disappeared.

"Could it have...?” She asked herself slowly as she passed it. When she came to the cross street, she made a snap decision and continued to keep the dragon block to her right. She couldn't say exactly why, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the door would be her best bet if she wanted to know more about her dragon.

And it was her dragon now, some part of her recognized. Mr. Kerr's request a mere afterthought, at least until she could figure out why she was seeing this thing.

She made a complete run around the block, keeping an eye out for purple and yellow all the way, but by the time she was back at that first street again, she had seen nothing. Well, some graffiti showing Pac-Man eating out a very happy woman, but that was the highpoint. Of sorts.

Erotic displays aside, she really hadn't expected to see anything. Her only chance now rested with the door she had seen, and she was willing to bet two cows that it led to a bar of some sort. Either that or random chance. Which, she admitted to herself as she started to look for a parking spot, had been on her side since yesterday. Or appeared to be anyway.

In the end it took an extra lap around the block to get a free parking space. The traffic was thick again, thanks to the randomness that was New York , and that made it hard to spot free spots When she finally managed to squeeze in her Volvo between the two American muscle cars, she breathed a sigh of relief and checked the time. If she remembered things correctly, it had been roughly five minutes since the disappearance.

A part of Amy, and not the one enamored with thoughts of a dragon, wondered what the hell was going on. No sane person saw a dragon walking the streets. Much less deciding to stalk it in an effort to learn more.

And few sane persons have kept an imaginary friend since they were five, another part chimed in, happily playing the devil's advocate. So maybe you've always been bat shit crazy and its growing worse.

As she sat there in the now silent car, she recalled that she had been around fifteen the first time she had worried about her mind. An argument with Charlie, one of her first recurring headaches and a green Asian man walking past her with a big cup of water on his head had nearly paralyzed her. It had taken weeks before she felt okay inside again.

One of the first times she had wondered about her mind, but not the last. It had taken time to achieve equilibrium with herself, years. Maybe she was crazy, but if she was it didn't hurt anyone else, so what did it matter? It didn't stop her from enjoying what she had. But sometimes the very human fears came back and gnawed at her, like an old broken bone that now ached when a storm was coming.

And now, now she didn't know what to think. She could feel it in her blood that something had to give. What she was seeing now, the headaches that pained her more and more, it was eating away at her. Even the peace she had felt after her brother's place had shatter minutes later. Things had never been this bad, her mind and body pushing things to the edge. And she had no control about the outcome. It was terrifying, not knowing if she could trust her own mind.

She didn't like terrifying.

So she fought back.

It was simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing she had taught herself how to do, learning how to contain this particular fear.

Between one breath and the next, she looked into herself and accepted things as they were. She couldn't trust her mind, she knew, not now. But she could trust in the fact that she couldn't trust it. And that was enough for the moment. It made no sense, but it really was enough to get her through the day.

She could feel a calm spread through her body, loosening tense muscles and causing her to breathe just a tiny bit easier. Absentmindedly she reached up and played with the end of her braid while staring straight ahead, not registering the ‘Honk if you're a homemaker' bumper sticker she was looking at. It didn't matter what this little investigation would reveal. All she really had to remember was that afterwards she would have some ice-cream, and an early night, getting her ready for her museum trip. That's what mattered.

She looked down to the seat next to her and met the worried eyes of Charlie, giving a half smile in response.

“I'm good Charlie.” She said as she gave Charlie a quick pat.

“So you say.”

“No, I mean it. I'm good.” She thought about the small ache she felt dance around her head. Nothing like before, but still. “Mind you, that doesn't mean great.”

“Then let's go home. Take an aspirin or three and go to sleep.” Charlie practically growled. “I bet it'll be better in the morning.”

“No bet,” Amy replied with a soft laugh. “And I will, just after I check this place out.” She added with a nod towards the stairs further down the street. It didn't calm Charlie, not that she thought it would.

“Forget about it.” She argued, emboldened by not being hushed again. “Whatever this is about, it isn't worth you feeling like road kill.”

“Charlie, I'm g-“

“And don't give me that ‘good' crap. I'm the only one you can't hide anything from. Whatever this is about isn't as important as taking care of yourself.”

“Charlie.” Amy said, her voice carrying a bit of the earlier steel in it. “I have to do this; I have to check this out. Otherwise…” She paused, not really knowing how to describe what she felt. “If I don't… I'll always wonder about what I saw, and if it would have made a difference if I checked it out.” She slowly unbuckled her seatbelt and then removed the key from the ignition. “It doesn't matter what I'll see, it just matters if I do it or not.”

“See what!?” Charlie cried out, her legs spread out and looking like she was ready to charge.

Amy stepped out of the car, taking care not to interfere with the traffic. Before she shut the door behind her, she leaned back in and looked at Charlie. “To understand what the deal is with the purple dragon I've been seeing. Now stay!”

She gently slammed the door shut on Charlie's surprised face, locking the doors quickly with the remote. Charlie would have no trouble following her, physical walls having been proven to not be that great at containing imagination. But hopefully Charlie would respect her wish.

As she walked towards the stairs, moving between the people that surrounded her, she studied the sign swinging above the door. It was wood, that much she could tell. Possibly Ironwood, though she wasn't exactly an expert on the matter despite her dad trying to teach her.

Carved into the hard wood was an old fashioned shield, like the ones knights used, situated over the flames of a campfire. Next to the shield, much smaller but still visible once you got close, was three stars in a tight grouping, carved on top of a circle cut in two, right down the middle. One half depicted the sun while the other half depicted the moon.

That's what it looked like to her anyway, acknowledging that there was a better than average chance that she was wrong. Topping the images was the name of the bar, ‘The warm shield' in curly letters, apparently founded in 1883. As she studied the sign, she couldn't help but to admire the craftsmanship. The whole thing was rough, but that seemed to only enhance the aesthetics of it. She made a mental note, telling herself to check if there was any woodworking classes offered in town. Maybe her dad had a point.

She tore herself away from the sign and looked to the heavy doors at the bottom of the stairs, noting the well-worn wood. It seemed like it was a popular place.

It also reminded her of mom and dad's favorite bar. They had brought her there a couple of times, when they stopped by during the day to say hello. Mostly because it was situated between their house and the town. It had been one of the friendliest places she had ever visited.

One time they stopped there, a tourist had stepped through the doors and all eyes had focused on him. Even hers from where she was sitting on top of the bar. She would have sworn that she could have heard a pin drop. Not surprisingly, he had taken one look at the interior, swallowed, and then asked for directions with a quivering voice. The moment he had them he had rushed out, leaving a swinging door and a round of good natured laughter behind him.

A family bar, mom had called it. A scary place, if you didn't have the guts to stick around, but if you did it turned into a second home. Like Cheers , but with more angry faces.

“Okay,” she said to herself as she pushed her braid to rest on her back. “Don't show fear. Act like you got every right to be there. Order something to drink and then sit down.”

She took a step down the stairs and then paused again. “Just don't order milk.” She amended slowly. No need to be a walking cliché.

She took a deep breath as she reached the door and pushed it open.


Chapter 5


The bar interior bar was brighter then she had anticipated, though still dark after coming in from the harsh sunlight. She blinked, trying to get a sense of things, but she only managed to clear her vision enough to notice the wooden counter a few feet in front of her. Even though she couldn't really see, she figured she shouldn't stay by the door and look like the tourist she recalled from her childhood. She took a step, and then faltered a bit as she bit back a wince. The headache that had barely registered in the car suddenly increased its intensity. Yea, she thought as she pushed the pain away, I definitely saw some painkillers in my future.

She continued to walk up to the bar that was almost as high as her chest, half fake confidence pushing her forward, and leaned on it with crossed arms. The cold wood caused goose bumps to spread up her arms, something that contrasted nicely with her head. That's when she noticed that while the bar was much cooler than the outside, she couldn't hear any fans going in the background. I wouldn't mind having an AC unit as quiet as that, she mused as her eyes finally adjusted to the interior.

The wood she was leaning on was a dark and rich brown that gleamed in the light from the lamps and the rays coming in from the small windows near the ceiling. The place wasn't even half full, despite the fact that it was Saturday afternoon. Lucky in a way since almost everyone in the bar was focusing on her, just as she thought they would.

She swallowed silently, but didn't back down. She locked eyes with the person nearest to her, a man in a green tracksuit with a slight beer gut, and stared at him for a few moments before looking at the next person. It was a trick she had picked up at INT, a way of saying ‘I'm here, get used to it' without looking threatening. Not that she usually looked threatening. No, cute and adorable was the terms most often used to describe her.

But playing with her nephews had brought an unexpected bonus. Her clothes were slightly stained from rolling around in the grass and even her hair was a bit of a mess, small locks of hair having gotten free from the braid to frame her face. When she saw herself in the car mirror earlier, she thought she had looked kind of dashing, but to the people here she probably looked a bit rough.

She only had to meet the eyes of a few before they started to get the message and turn back to whatever they were doing when she walked in. Most went back to conversations and their drinks while a few walked around a corner at the end of the room, pool cues in hand.

The sound of billiard balls hitting each other was the last piece and almost unnoticed the conversations started to go from quiet mumbles to a more normal din. Okay, I think I'm good. She thought with a mental sigh and a subtle relaxation of her shoulders.

The bartender, a young guy with blonde hair and a smile on his face walked up to her end of the bar and gave her a quick once over.

“Hi there,” he asked with a raised eyebrow. “What can I get ya? A drink?” He paused and looked at one of the bigger grass stains on her shirt. “Or maybe a phone?”

She had to admit that she liked that he asked, the concern putting him above most of the bartenders she had met. Not that there had been many. She smiled in return and gestured towards her clothes with a chuckle.

“Family get-together,” she explained. “And the youngest tend not to play fair when a soccer ball is involved.” He nodded at that, sharing a look with her. The guy apparently had young family of his own.

“But yea, I'd like a drink. M-“ She barely stopped her runaway tongue in time, covering herself with a cough. “White Russian.” She finished, rolling her eyes when the bartender turned away after an affirmative nod. You stopped yourself from ordering milk, only to order milk and vodka instead. Very smooth, she berated herself.

It didn't take long for the guy to return with her drink and she took it, thanking him with a graceful tip of the glass. She sipped it just a little, humming appreciatively at the cool liquid. It was good; she thought, as she turned from the bar and scanned the room for a place to sit. She had worked out a plan, once her eyes had gotten used to the room. She'd sit down and sip her drink slowly, keeping an eye out anything dragon like. Then, if she hadn't seen anything by the time the White Russian was gone, she'd leave and call the whole thing a wash. And start to think about what to tell the doctor on Monday.

It never crossed her mind to do the opposite, to formulate a plan for the eventuality that she'd actually find the dragon she was looking for.

In the end she didn't move far, taking a few steps to sit down at the corner of the wooden bar. The booths in the bar were nice, but the walls that offered a hint of privacy would also stop her from looking around, so she chose a spot by the bar. It was a nice seat, the black, round leather on it being just a bit worn but soft. The fact that it offered her a terrific view of the rest of the bar was a nice bonus. The door she had entered through was behind her, slightly to the right, and it offered her a combination of fear and relief, a decidedly odd mix. She could exit in moments if she wanted to, but anyone entering would have to pass behind her back.

Well, Amy thought as she took another tiny sip. Can't win them all I guess. She dismissed it and instead she began to give the people there another look.

And came up with nothing, no one acting anything like a dragon that could walk through walls.

“Not that I'd know how one would act this close up.” She admitted.

The age range was varied, a few looking to barely dance in above the drinking limit while some seemed old enough to have lived through two world wars. What was a bit odd was the fact that it didn't seem to bother any of them.

Rather than keeping to their age groups, it seemed very mixed. Especially further back where a small party was gathered around two people playing a game. Go it looked like, youth and age battling it out with the black and white stones. She didn't know how to play, but if she'd have to guess she'd say that they were even.

She heard the faint creek of a door and she looked down to the end of the bar, back where another room turned the bars real layout into an L, and she saw a small door open. A stray ray of sunlight hit it as the door swung, illuminating the small figures that marked it as a toilet. Absentmindedly she registered the man walking out, noting his slick backed dark hair, pale complexion and leather outfit. Good looking, in a sharp sort of way, and probably a few years younger than her.

The man walked partway up the room and sat down next to one of the men she had observed, this one having brown hair and prominent glasses, who sat nursing his beer. He seemed older than the guy in leathers, but more sure of himself. The leather guy sat down with legs wide and his arms spread over the backrest, full of confidence, but it just looked like youthful and immature arrogance instead of the dominant look he had been trying for. The man was almost the opposite, looking unassuming, but when sitting next to the other man, a boy really, the brown haired guy seemed sure of himself, confident, but in a subtle way.

She smiled as she took a sip of her drink and focused on the grains in the bar wood. She respected people like the guy wearing glasses. They were her favorite clients, and she enjoyed it when encountering them at the companies she helped. They didn't pose because they didn't need to, already secure with their knowledge of themselves. They were the doers in most companies, the ones that didn't stand out. But if they were removed the company would be crippled. The Atlas' of the company world.

She continued to look around and at yet another table a man and a woman sat, by all accounts arguing about whether or not a vendetta was worse than blood vengeance or nor.

It seemed to be a nice, diverse place, and she couldn't help but to like it a little bit.

She was moving to take another sip when her arm froze, halfway to her mouth. Snatches of conversation floated through the room and nothing really stood out, yet she thought she had heard… something.

She slowly lowered her glass to rest on the bar, straining her ears to listen with a slightly cocked head.

“…Atari old man…”

“…It is worse you little…”

“… New moon ritual…”

“…G'wan, call. I need that fairy dust…”

“… And I think the Kerr dwarf cried…”

“… Well, call me a monkey's uncle…

Her blue eyes grew wider, the only visible reaction to what she was hearing. She knew that name. She knew it all too well.

She slowly stood up, making a point of yawning before taking her still half full glass to sit down at one of the booths. She leaned back against the wall, trying to look relaxed as she did.

“Now why did you go and do that Janus?” A voice said from the other side of the thin wall to her left. It reminded her of her history teacher from the fifth grade, only male. “You should have just talked to him. There are customs to follow.”

“Hah, talk. That's all those little stone munchers do these days, talk.” This voice was younger and sounded almost as slick as its owners hair. “Back in my father's time, they'd actually fight for what they believed in.”

She could her someone slap the table and she assumed it was leather boy, punctuating his remark.

“Mind you,” he continued. “It was annoying as hell. But at least you could respect that, you know? But these city Dwarves have become pushovers.”

“I suppose.” It was hard to pinpoint if the brown haired man agreed with leather boy or if he was only humoring him. “So did anything else happen?”

“Nah. As I said, I took the stocks and left. But he took it really hard.” She could hear a short, slick chuckle that soon stopped.

“Don't look at me like that Henry.” He said with exasperation. “We both know I didn't steal them. They belonged to me.” There was a slight pause. “Okay, maybe not the stocks, but he did owe the family some gold. Since those stocks covered the price, I took them instead. No harm, no foul.”

“What's with you?” The other man said in a mocking voice “Since the dawn of time you people have loved gold. Hoarded it to such an extent that it became the foundation for epic tales. And here you are, the dragon that hoards stocks, shares and bonds. Flat paper instead of shiny gold.” Any sting in the words was softened by the humor in the voice and the gentle laugh that followed. Apparently they were good friends.

But at the table next to them, Amy had stopped listening. Her mind was racing, headache and the surrounding world pushed aside for the moment as her brain made leaps of logic, trying to fit everything that had happened since yesterday in a nice little box. Preferably with a nice little bow on top.

She had been asked by Mr. Kerr to find a dragon, probably a metaphor for the leather boy at the other table. Not really a dragon, only appearing to be one due to his actions when stealing the stocks. And that meant she hadn't really seen a giant dragon walking around. Instead her subconscious had probably seen leather boy walking around and, after making a swift connection that only the subconscious could do, probably projected the image of a dragon to get her to pay attention.

There was a lot of ‘probably' in there, something she did an admirable job of ignoring since ‘Probably' did more for her peace of mind than actually having seen a dragon walking around would have. She could work with ‘probably'.

Like a stray spark landing on dry kindling, her sense of relief was suddenly washed away by anger that made her grind her teeth. So he's the reason, she thought. The reason that her one, constant fear had resurfaced again. He was to blame for all of this crap.

As she sat there, she knew that she was being unfair. That it wasn't possible to lay everything she felt at his feet. He couldn't know what his actions would make Kerr do, or how it would affect her mind. But it was an abstract concept, like the fact that Europe actually existed or that there was a valid reason for bent spaghetti to always break into three or more pieces.

She had seen a dragon, felt her mind starting to crumble. No, it wasn't the first time she had felt that particular fear. But now she had a target to focus her feelings on, and that felt so very good.

But it wasn't like she was going to slug the man. She cocked her head at the thought and amended it slowly. Probably not.

She placed the glass she had been holding on the table, still almost completely full, and looked down at herself. Her outfit wasn't going to improve anytime soon, so she might as well get the show on the road.

With slow, deliberate steps and clenched fists, she walked around the partition that separated the tables and stopped in front of the two men's table. They were laughing, sharing a joke that she had missed while thinking and it took a moment for them to notice her. The guy in glasses was first, looking up at her in surprise. Leather boy took a few seconds longer, looking first at Glasses then towards Amy.

This close, she could see that leather boy's jacket wasn't actually black, but a deep, dark purple. Probably with some yellow on it, somewhere, she thought as she focused on him.

“Can we help you?” Leather boy finally said, breaking the silence that had surrounded them.

Amy looked him in the eyes before replying. They were green, she noted. “What's your name?” Amy managed to surprise herself with the tone of her voice. It was calm and collected, betraying nothing of what she was really feeling.

“My name?” The corner of leather boy's mouth quirked up to form a tiny smirk. “Janus. Janus Hellianor, at your service.” As if he suddenly remembered, he gestured across the table to his friend. “And this is Henry Bennet.”

She smiled at Henry who looked back with a thoughtful face that was hard to read. Then she looked at Janus. Henry's face might have been unclear, but Janus' wasn't hard to decipher. With a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows he gestured to the seat next to him. “Would you care to join us Miss…?”

“Okay, listen to me you little good-for-nothing punk.” She interrupted with a growl as she placed her knuckles on the table and leaned across it, staring into Janus' now wide eyes without blinking. “I'm having a really bad day, so I'm just going to say this once and you better pay attention.”

He made some sort of noise and she continued.

“My name is Amy Quinn and I represent Howard Kerr in the matter of his stolen stock portfolio. Since you practically confessed to the entire bar with that loud mouth of yours, there is no need to deny it.” As she looked at him, she could feel her headache starting to grow in strength, the tingling only annoying her further. She bared her teeth in what could be called a smile, just like a hurricane could be called a cooling breeze.

“I'm giving you two options. One, you return the stocks to Mr. Kerr by Monday. No harm, no foul.” She said, tossing his earlier words back in his face. “You both walk your separate ways and forget this ever happened. Two, you decide to keep the stocks which will force me to go after them. Normally that would simply be by using legal means, or at worst a New Jersey collection agency. But the way I'm feeling right now, if you choose option two I wouldn't dismiss taking you outside and giving you the spanking that you apparently need.”

She was too focused to notice that the bar had gone quiet again. Everyone was staring at her, this time while looking surprised. Even the fellows from the pool room had their heads stuck out. But none looked more surprised than Janus, his jaw hanging open as if he couldn't quite believe what was happening. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her wallet.

“This is my business card,” she said as she tossed the laminated paper on the table. “If you have any trouble finding Mr. Kerr to return the stocks, contact us and we'll set things up.”

She stood up straight; her anger and rough look making the sweet woman seem, well, badass. Both Henry and Janus thought as much, even as the latter wilted just a little under Amy's angry gaze.

“I understand that there is something else going on between you and Mr. Kerr,” she continued with a voice that was a fraction softer. “But that's between you and him. I'm just hired to fix the problem with the stocks. Apparently they were a gift from his grandmother.”

She turned to walk away but hesitated a moment. Maybe it was stupid to push this even further, but she couldn't help it. “If I might make a suggestion. Next time, talk instead of just stealing what you want like a spoiled and jealous little child.” She threw a final glare at Janus and inclined her head in Henry's direction. “Mr. Bennet,” she said as goodbye.

She walked away from the table and out of the bar, stopping only to pay the bartender for the drink and giving the half shocked, half amused man a compliment for a well done White Russian.

The sun was still shining when she came out, the light stabbing her eyes slightly. It was still hot, and like earlier, no real wind was blowing. But when she reached the top of the stairs she couldn't help but to do a vigorous little dance of happiness and squeal with joy.

True, she had seen a dragon. But it hadn't actually been a dragon, dragon. Just her mind playing trick on her. Somehow, this made everything seem better in her jumbled and aching head, even though it probably wasn't. After that little adventure, things just seemed a little brighter. Especially her mental future. Even the headache seemed to have lessened as she got out of the bar. Maybe she just had too much on her mind lately. With another tiny little squeal that made some passerby's look at her in surprise, she started to walk to her car, practically skipping along the way. It was a good day.


Chapter 6


Back in the bar, Janus Varanius Hellianor, son of Helandar, stared into space. Ten minutes had gone by since it happened.

He had been the first to hatch from Helandar's first clutch. He had clawed his way to the top of his brood and had stayed there by being stronger than his siblings. Stronger, faster and smarter than anyone going against him. He was a dragon, something that went beyond a mere word. Powerful enough to level whole city blocks if he wished it and actually had once. He was the heir apparent to his father's domain and he had been smacked on the proverbial nose by a human.

As he sat there, staring into nothingness, he could feel his rage stirring as he went over what had transpired in his mind again and again, the whole encounter playing like a movie.

“What,” he growled, feeling a cloud of energy starting to gather above and around him.

“The,” it was almost a living thing, the force that swirling around him. It wasn't a conscious act that had spawned it. Like a newly hatched whelp, he had lost his tight control over his essence. The patrons of the bar, so curious earlier, now did the prudent thing and hid.

“FUCK!?” He finished with a scream, the built up energy finding release alongside his yell. People groaned as it pressed on their senses, wood creaked, windows and glass shattered as the magical energy of a pure dragon slammed into them. It was unfocused and, despite everything, fairly weak, so the protection woven into the building didn't react beyond grounding the energy.

It didn't take long for the torrent of power to die down, the only real sign of its passing being glass shards spread all over the room and alcohol drenching the floor, the powerful smell starting to permeate everything. He heard a small cough and turned to his right, focusing on his friend.

“You done?” Henry asked as he took off and examined his glasses while a glowing blue sigil that hovered in the air in front of him slowly started to fade. Even with the protection spell that he had cast at the last minute, a crack had formed on his glass lenses, running right through them as if they had been cut. “Because I think you need to talk.”




It was dark by the time Henry managed to slip out and start his walk home. The slightly cooler night air rustled his hair and he enjoyed the sensation. It was a nice feeling, especially after spending hours helping poor Janus to process what had happened earlier The look on his face after the woman left had been indescribable and he still chuckled at the image it invoked.

Standing up to a dragon like that took balls, or in this case ovaries, of steel, and in silent he applauded what she had done.

He liked Janus, he really did. But he could be a brat at times, not having anyone standing up to him. His father did, but his father was about the only one in the city that could give him a fair fight, in pure power anyway.

And yet…

And yet this woman had lit into him, without a care in the world it seemed. Either she was crazy powerful, or just plain crazy. But some of the things she had said made him wonder.

He rubbed his fingertips with his thumb as he walked, trying to get his brain working again after one too many drinks.

He hadn't really felt anything from her, he knew that. Anything from their side of reality should have shown up as he searched her with his magic, a hint at the very least. He was a bit miffed at that, having always been proud of his ability to see things. He should have spotted a Mage right away, and any other magical being with an extra look, but nothing had revealed itself.

Or almost nothing, he amended as he bit his lower lip. He recalled what had happened as she turned to leave. There had been a… Pulse of some sort as she walked away. Faint, yes. But there all the same.

After a little while he heard the flapping of hawk wings above him. He looked up and saw the beady eyes of his Familiar stare back at him, forcing him to sigh.

“So what are you planning to do?” The hawk asked as it danced around on the top of a metal sign, claws that weren't really claws making a rattling noise.

Henry looked at the business card he had procured from Janus after some coaxing, reading the name again. Amy Quinn, consultant.

It didn't take him long to mull it over, realizing that he didn't really have much of a choice. Professionally he should check it out, and personally he was curious what the deal was with that blonde woman.

Finally he pulled out a cellphone from a pocket and flicked through his contacts to finally choose a number near the end, even though he really did know it by heart. Nimble fingers put on the discreet Bluetooth earpiece as he stood at the corner of a dark street and waited. The signal sounded in his ear again and again, making him wonder if work really was the place to contact her on a Saturday nigh-


He smiled as he heard the warm voice that sounded a little tired. She needed to stop working so much.

“Hey Samantha? It's Henry. I need you to run a name for me.”


To be continued in part 2

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