Artificial

 

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01 | Boring Beginnings

Weird things are good things.

However they’re examined, it’s true. Well, maybe not entirely true, but at the very least, they vary from the expected. And what could be gathered from those sentences?

The expected is boring, of course.

Boring things are horrible, and that was exactly how I felt about my life only two short hours ago before everything became so incredibly interesting… and not so horrible.

It was a regular Saturday evening near the end of summer. The air still felt humid during midday, but the nights were cool enough to need a jacket. As nightfall approached, more customers came into the store wearing their jackets, complaining about the change in season. Nodding and agreeing to avoid further conversation with them, I rang out their items, bagged them up, and sent them on their way.

21:50… Only ten minutes left, and I could go home! I could be away from all the annoying people who talked about nothing of importance and made horrible jokes and caused my brain to rot. Nothing particularly interesting was at home either, but I wouldn’t have to socialize at the very least, which soothed my nerves to a certain extent.

Joan walked out of the office and came around the register, twirling her key ring on her bony finger. “What’re you plans for tonight, Jarvis?”

I shrugged and leaned against the counter. “I’ve been meaning to catch up on a few articles on cognitive performance under stress and various other factors.”

She nodded and walked outside, not saying another word. Her plans involved some movie with her boyfriend or something equally horrible. I tuned her out a quarter of the way through her story for my own sanity’s sake, but based on every other conversation I heard, I hadn’t missed anything important.

No one ever said anything important.

I finished ringing out the last few customers, all of them buying cigarettes or snacks. All of the real shopping had been done earlier in the day, so none of the last transactions totaled to anything more than $15.

Two minutes before 22:00, Joan shut and locked the door. We headed into the office, counted everything down for the night, and left the store. We told one another goodnight in the parking lot, and she was gone before I’d even pulled my seatbelt on. People were always in such a hurry, and they were never going anywhere interesting.

I started the car and plugged up my phone to start the music. Notes began thrumming through my speakers, and I glanced up to start backing out of the parking spot when a shadow on my windshield caught my eye. Using the flashlight on my phone, I leaned up, squinting at the spot. It was a note left on the back of a receipt.

Well, it wasn’t a fucking parking ticket, I knew that. I climbed out of the car and snatched the slip from between the windshield and wipers.

27629402943

Only call this number after the impossible happens.

Snorting at someone’s shitty attempt at humor, I crumpled up the note, tossed it into my floorboard, and got back into the car. As I pulled out of the lot, thinking of home, I remembered that I’d ran out of just about everything. If I wanted food for that evening or tomorrow, it’d be a good time to stop by the grocery store.

Turning the opposite way from home, I drove out to the store. While it wasn’t particularly late, there was hardly any traffic. A few town cops passed by, a street light went out on the corner of Euclid and Commonwealth, the playlist played in the exact same order it did two weeks before despite the fact that I’d shuffled it.

It was all so boring.

I wanted to just pack up and run away, go somewhere, do something that wasn’t so pointless. Because what was the point when all I did was ring out groceries, study three different subjects because I was about to be a junior in undergrad and still hadn’t declared a major, and sustained myself just enough to exist? Even then, what was the point of existence if one hardly felt as though they existed at all?

I pulled into a spot at the grocery and climbed out of the car, taking my phone, wallet, and keys with me. A few people trickled out of the doors as I strolled in, head down, avoiding eye contact and possible conversation with anyone that passed. In a small town, it was all too likely I’d bump into someone I knew, and I really didn’t feel up to the dreaded small talk that would ensue the second an acquaintance spotted me.

The store was quiet, winding down for the evening with only another hour and a half before closing time. I went to the food section and picked up a few things, adding them to the small red basket. Milk, tea, a few cans of soup…

Rounding the corner to pick up a jar of peanut butter before I left, I smacked into someone. Instead of actually hitting them, however, I passed straight through them. Dropping the basket, I whipped around to figure out what the hell had happened. When I looked behind me, there was a black shadow figure hovering at the end of the aisle.

I scrambled back as my pulse kicked into overdrive, blood rushed through my ears—what on earth was that thing?

Before my body could hit the flight portion of the stress reaction, the creature advanced on me. I threw up my hand—like that’d be able to stop a creature I walked through. But, the action caused the creature to fly backwards. Several shelves and their contents went hurtled through the air alongside it.

“What the hell…?” I breathed, still frozen in place as I stared at the mess I’d made.

Surely that hadn’t been me. There was no way. I’d just moved my hands.

I looked down at them. They were pale, like the rest of me, and shaking, also like the rest of me at that moment. As thoughts and theories raced through my mind, an absolutely absurd one came crashing through the loudest: magic.

Magic wasn’t a thing… That creature shouldn’t have been either though. All I could think was that I’d been drugged at work or I’d gotten into a car accident on the way to the supermarket and my brain had started making up crazy shit to keep me entertained while I teetered on the brink of death. There was no way anything happening in front of me right then was possible.

Possible.

The note!

Either my life was about to get incredibly interesting, or someone had really put effort behind an elaborate prank. But, I knew my next step, and I wasn’t about to find out whether the creature was real or not. I spun on my heel and darted through the supermarket. I almost smacked into the automatic doors when they slid back too slowly.

A car honked at me when I bolted out in front of it in an attempt to get to my own vehicle. Tearing the keys from my pocket, I unlocked the car, dove in, and grabbed a handful of the wads of paper from my floorboard to find the number.

After searching about thirty papers, I finally found the one I needed. I jerked my phone from my back pocket, punched in the number, and forced myself to suck in deep breaths while the phone rang.

“What’d you see, Mr. Bloom?” a feminine voice drawled by way of greeting.

“I have no idea,” I said. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“There are several possibilities. Based on the location from your phone right now and cross referencing that with the supernatural databases, you’re in a pretty active spot.”

“Active spot?” I repeated, the word ‘supernatural’ still ringing in my ears. “Active for what?”

“All the things that go bump in the night, of course. Look, are you in immediate danger?”

I sat up straight and glanced in each of my mirrors. Nothing or no one was around my car. No one was inside of it, and the doors were locked. “No, I… I’m fine.”

“Right, then I’ll stop by your apartment later and we can talk about everything in detail. You need to get out of the hotspot.”

“How do you even know I live in an apartment?”

“I have your address. There’s nothing setting off our systems, so the house should be safe. Get there, get settled, I’ll be by in a bit. I’m going to have to clean up the mess you made at the supermarket first.”

“But I—” Silence. She’d hung up on me.

She didn’t even have my address! What the hell was going on? Why was she going on about supernatural creatures and databases and… Gods, who on earth was about to show up at my apartment an hour before midnight?

Raking my fingers through my hair, I took another few deep breaths to pull myself together, and then backed out of my parking spot. Whatever the situation was, it had to be a prank. I didn’t know who would be pranking me, I only had a few friends, and all of them lived at least an hour away. They also wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble it would take to create a ruse that elaborate.

It wasn’t real though. There was no fucking way.

Right?

I shook my head at myself for even entertaining the thought. Religion was even too much for me to consider, let alone the existence of supernatural creatures and magic. No, there had to be something else happening, but what could it have been?

The entire ride home, I debated with myself and theorized about different possibilities. By the time I arrived at my apartment, I hadn’t come any closer to understanding the situation. So, I trudged up the stairs on the side of the building, unlocked my door, and flopped onto the couch. Toeing my shoes off, I realized that I’d just dropped my things at the supermarket. I didn’t even have any food.

“God, if this is just some fucking prank…”

Well, really, it’d been a bit of an inconvenience, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t become a sudden bright spot in my evening. It’d gained my interest and kept me distracted for a little over an hour by that time. I was hungry, but at least I wasn’t bored. I’d been bored enough over the last few months.

A knock on the door drew me out of my head. I walked over and peered through the peephole. Standing outside was a petite woman with tight black curls and sepia-colored skin. Tight, dark-wash blue jeans hugged her legs, while a loose, black tank top showed off the muscles in her biceps.

She knocked again and folded her arms over her chest as she glared into the peephole, as if she could see me standing there, scrutinizing her.

I opened the door a crack, just enough to speak to her. “Who are you?”

“I’m your impossible consult for the poltergeist you saw at the supermarket, Mr. Bloom.” It was the same woman who had spoken to me on the phone. “If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you would let me in.”

She wasn’t armed, her outfit didn’t allow for any holsters or anything, but by her build, I figured she didn’t need much protection. Still, I wanted answers, and I could think of worse things than getting beaten up. It’d be an interesting story to tell anyway.

I opened my door a little wider and stepped back. “Come on in.”

Thanking me, she stepped inside, and I closed the door behind her. I motioned for her to follow me farther into the living room. I sat on the sofa and motioned for her to sit in the adjacent chair.

“So, who put you up to this?”

She shook her head. “You’re more intelligent than this, Mr. Bloom. You don’t have many friends, certainly none that feel close enough to stage something this elaborate.”

Not incorrect about that one.

“Strangers don’t tend to do this sort of thing either, which leaves only a small handful of other options, one of which being that this is all very real.”

I snorted as I folded my arms over my chest. “You better have come with proof if you expect me to so much as entertain the idea that there is even a chance of this being real. If you wanted me to jump on this bandwagon without as many questions, you should’ve hit me up when I was seven.”

The woman sighed as she propped her head up on her fist. “You moved your hands and sent several shelves flying earlier. Do it again.”

“That was a coincidence.”

“You don’t believe in coincidences.”

I leaned forward, studying her features more closely. Maybe I’d recognize her or something. “How do you know that?”

“Because I’ve had a file on you since you were born, and we’ve had people observing you to gather more data.” She smiled sweetly at me. “Don’t get that look. We watch over all human hybrids to ensure nothing goes awry during the transformative years.”

“Hybrids? What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’ll answer your questions after I’ve seen you move something again.”

I sighed and glanced around the room, looking for something I wouldn’t be able to completely destroy. A throw pillow sat next to me on the sofa. I looked at it and waved my hand, willing it to move across the room. I figured nothing would happen, and I’d be stuck there waving my hand around like a moron, but no. Instead, I got more than I bargained for and ended up watching all the cushions on the other half of the sofa go flying across the room, smack into the wall, and hit the floor.

“Okay, answer this,” I said, looking back at the woman. “How was that not happening two hours ago?”

Her smile turned a bit more excited. “Now you’re asking the right questions. Human hybrids don’t work like other creatures. They come into their abilities irregularly, especially depending on the secondary species. As far as we can tell, you’re half witch, so you didn’t get the most volatile genes out there. However, witch genes are far more difficult to predict. Some magic comes out when you’re under severe stress, some appear during puberty, others just wake up one day and have the ability to do things they couldn’t before. In your case, it looks like extreme boredom activated your magical genes, which has allowed you to suddenly be able to tap into telekinesis.”

I blinked. “I’m telekinetic? And half-witch? And there are other people who have this problem?”

“Yes,” she said. “In the human realm, supernatural creatures comprise a little less than one-seventh of the population.”

“So almost a billion people on this planet aren’t even human?”

“Now you’re gettin’ it. There are more creatures out there in other realms, but for one reason or another, some end up here. In time, you’re welcome to jump between the realms, but until you learn more about that world and your abilities, you will be confined to the human realm. It’s safer for all involved—this tends to be the less erratic realm. Of course, you also have the option of putting all of this off, waiting a while, and perhaps never leaving this realm. Some creatures decide to stay here and live as normal of a life as they can. What with the immortality and increased healing factor, that isn’t always easy, but many have had success in finding peace in their human side. If that seems more appealing to you, I can arrange to—”

“Fuck that.”

The woman blinked owlishly. “Excuse me?”

“I’ve been bored as shit, and you really think I’m going to ignore the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to me?” I chuckled and chewed at my lower lip, trying to bite back a grin. “Oh no, if this is actually real and I have magic powers and there are weird creatures all around the earth and different fucking realms of existence, you can bet your ass the wrong human just got inducted into this whole world.”

I couldn’t even stop the grin from stretching across my face. “Oh, I’m gonna fuck shit up.”

“Mr. Bloom, I’m sorry, but I do have to ask that you try to lay low for a while until you’re more educated about this. We can’t risk exposure to the humans—as harmless as they are, they’re overly curious, and for the sake of universal balance, it’s in everyone’s best interest that they do not get curious about this.”

“So keep my mouth shut around humans, no problem.” I stood from the sofa and walked over to the window. “You never did tell me your name.”

“Channing Miller—Director of the Human Hybrid Overwatch Division. My job is to run the division that’s responsible for locating, tracking, educating, and promoting human hybrids successes in their nonhuman lives. So, now that we’ve met, our next step is to start educating you. The timetable for this—”

“I’m free most nights between 22:30 and 2:30. Classes are starting up again, so I won’t have as much free time, but I’ll still be around. So, shoot me a letter or creepy ass note again when you’ve got a class schedule for me, and I’ll be there.” I turned around and focused on the door… No better way to test the telekinetic thing than to do it unprovoked.

I twitched my finger, watching in amusement as it swung open gently, like a breeze had pushed it open. Channing’s face scrunched into a frown as I smirked at her.

“Fine, I’ll leave you be for now, Mr. Bloom—”

“Jarvis.”

“Jarvis,” she said, correcting herself tightly. “I’m leaving you for now, but based on your prior records, as well as your current behavior, I believe you to be a potential threat to supernatural security. Sometimes this happens, and I want you to thrive, so I will be assigning you a guardian.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sorry I didn’t react like someone in one of those shitty fantasy movies where they get all humbled and swear to abide by the rules. This is cool as shit! Of course I want to explore a little bit. There are whole other worlds out there. Who wouldn’t want to tap into that?”

Channing sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose for a long moment. “Your guardian will come by to meet you sometime tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping a watch on you. I mean it, Jarvis, one word to the humans and you’ll be locked up before you can so much as lift a finger. Understood?”

I twitched my finger again, opening the door a little wider. “I hear you.”

With another deep breath, she walked out of my apartment. I shut the door behind her with a flick of my fingers and grinned. While I still wasn’t entirely sure that I wasn’t dreaming or dying, I knew that I was sure as hell going to make the most of things.

So, I grabbed my laptop, sat on the sofa, and started writing about the experience I just had two hours ago. If all of this was real, and I had magical powers, and I was a fucking supernatural hybrid…

This is a documentation of my experiences as an apparent human hybrid. I don’t know what’ll follow with the guardian and the education and all that, but I’ll probably write about it. I want to remember this.

And hey, maybe it’ll cure your boredom too, dear reader.

Oh, and yes, I realize I probably shouldn’t be writing this on a public platform, but you can’t prove shit. Therefore, if you’re reading this Channing, I’m technically doing nothing wrong. For all these humans know, I’m about to drag them through the most gripping fantasy adventure story of their generation.

 

Jxx

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02 | Dragon In A Supermarket

Apparently, I’m still a hybrid and still have telekinesis, which means my life is still interesting. So, that’s good. Also good, I think I might have made a friend…

More on that later, though. I may need a second opinion anyway.

After I finished writing up the meeting with Channing Miller, the Director of the Human Hybrid Overwatch Division, I played around for a little longer with my new found abilities before passing out into a dreamless sleep. I was off work the next day and didn’t have classes for another two weeks, so I didn’t bother setting an alarm.

I almost wish I had, though. The blaring noise on my phone was an infinitely nicer wakeup call than the earthquake inducing knock at my door I received. With a groan, I forced myself to open my eyes. Early rays of dawn spilled in from the window, illuminating my living room. The knock came again, and I gritted my teeth and rolled off the sofa. Trudging across the room, I ran through the list of people that could possibly be at my door that early.

As I wrapped my hand around the doorknob, I realized that there was no one that would ever be at my apartment that early. If there was an emergency, my parents would’ve called. My friends, wherever they might’ve been, would have called. Work would have called as well, but I didn’t expect any of them to show up at my door at any time day.

Crime rates weren’t exactly high in my area—well, except for drugs. But, it was southwest Virginia, it was dirt poor and dull. Drugs were pretty high up on the entertainment list.

But still no, probably not getting robbed or murdered.

So, unless one of the supernatural creatures or Channing Miller herself had graced my apartment—or my guardian at such a godforsaken hour—I had no idea who I was about to open my door for.

As another knock shattered the silence of the room, I jerked the door open. Standing in the threshold was Channing. At her side stood a guy a couple inches taller than me with ashy blond hair, tired brown eyes with thin white lines of paint on the sides of them, and a tray of coffees in his hands.

“If one of those coffees aren’t for me, you’ve wasted a trip,” I said.

The guy held out the tray, silently offering me one.

I smirked and took it, taking a small sip. “How’d you know the way I take my coffee?”

“Like I told you last night, you’ve been observed since birth. There are very few things we don’t know about you, Jarvis.”

I nodded, conceding her point as I stepped back to let her and the guy into the house. “Well, you’ve fed the beast, so you at least deserve to sit down a minute.”

“Oh, I’m just here to introduce the two of you,” Channing said as I twitched my fingers, closing the door behind them. Damn, I was getting good at the whole door thing. “I couldn’t find a guardian that’d willingly agree to you, so I found another hybrid that’s been studying for two years now. He’s quiet, he’s responsible, and he used to volunteer at a daycare, which means he used to unruly toddlers.”

I rolled my eyes, taking a sip of my coffee as I plopped back down on the sofa.

Channing put an arm around Coffee Boy’s shoulders. “This is Gaige Martin. Gaige, this is Jarvis Bloom. The two of you are in charge of supporting one another and making sure no one gets into trouble. If one of you gets on my list, that means both of you are on it. From this point forward, I’ve tied you together until one of you clears your hybrid and supernatural training. No complaining, no bitching, and no disrupting the universe. Do I make myself clear?”

“Eh.” I shrugged.

“Gaige?”

“Perfectly clear, Channing.”

“Oh, and Coffee Boy is British too.” I cocked my head at him. “How’d you end up here?”

“Long story.”

“Bad feeling that we’re gonna have a long day, so we’ll both have the time.” I looked back at Channing. “Did you have to drop him off this early? I’m a real bitch at this time of day.”

“I have the feeling that’s just who you are.” Without another word, Channing turned back to Gaige. “I’ve got to get back to HQ. Spend the day with Jarvis, both of you should get to know each other, just try to make sure he doesn’t get into anything ridiculous. Jarvis, I want you to keep Gaige distracted, and maybe try to cheer him up a bit.” She dropped a wink at me and left the apartment, leaving Gaige and I alone to stare at one another.

“It’d be rude if I just went back to sleep, wouldn’t it?”

Gaige nodded. “Just a bit, yeah. I’d leave, of course, but Channing has upgraded our surveillance level for the next few days—until your first day of training—and I don’t think she’ll take too kindly to me just walking out.”

I hummed and pulled my legs under me as I leaned against the arm of the sofa. “So, this whole thing really is real? Right? I’m not dying or hallucinating?”

Snorting quietly, his lips quirked for a fraction of a second as he shook his head. “I thought the same thing for a bit, but no, this is all incredibly real. Almost scarily so.”

“Cool. That means my life isn’t about to go back to boring anytime soon.” I took another sip of my coffee. “Now tell me why Channing picked you. Despite what she says, I haven’t been particularly erratic or unruly over my time as a human. I don’t believe that a guardian wouldn’t take me, which means she must have a reason for sending me a guy that’s my age and barely has a foothold in the supernatural world.”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I really don’t.”

That was a lie. I knew it was. He wouldn’t meet my eyes when he said it, unlike every other time he’d spoken, and it was too forced, especially on the last bit.

“What’s with the paint?” I asked, gesturing to his eyes. Two thin lines ran back from the outer corners of his eyes to his hairline and ears, sort of like the arms on a pair of glasses. Another white line ran perpendicular to them and went down the side of his cheek, close to his jaw.

“It’s not paint. It’s a fae marking. All fairies have some sort of identifying mark, and this is mine.” He shifted his weight to his right leg, still awkwardly holding the coffee tray with only one coffee left in it. “Helpful hint, you probably shouldn’t ask other people, other fairies, like that though. Some, especially those that aren’t settled with it yet, find it a bit off putting.”

“Hmm, okay.” I shrugged and gestured to the chair opposite the sofa. “You can sit down, you know.”

“Oh, um, thanks.” Gaige glanced around for somewhere to sit the tray.

“Table.”

“Huh?”

“Put the tray on the table in there.”

“Oh, right. Thanks.” He sat the tray down in the kitchen and came back to the living room, where he perched on the chair, like he was ready to bolt up at any second. “If you have plans or work or anything like that, don’t feel obligated to sit with me. I can shadow you, it’s no big deal.” He shrugged. “Oh, I can also turn invisible, so you don’t have some random guy following you all day. That’s fine too.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his inner arm, tugging at the navy sleeve of his jacket.

Keep Gaige distracted. Cheer him up.

That was what Channing had said. Gaige was there to make sure I didn’t do anything too stupid or reckless and expose the supernatural community or whatever the fuck, but Gaige wasn’t a guardian. Channing had assigned me to Gaige too. There was something wrong there, but talking… Yeah, I wasn’t about to make him sit there and talk. No, that wouldn’t be good for either of us.

But going out and start digging around to learn more about the creature that attacked me the night before… That could be fun—and distracting. Two birds. One stone.

“Go get yourself some breakfast. There’s a little coffee shop right down the road, doesn’t even take five minutes to walk there. They have really good croissants. After that, we’ll run an errand.”

“Okay.” Gaige stood up and pulled his jacket a little tighter around him. He ducked out of the apartment without another word.

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Sleep could wait. There was a depressed fairy that I’d been asked to distract, and a poltergeist that I wanted to get a better look at—or at least some answers about.

It was looking up to be an interesting day…

After showering and dressing in a pair of ripped jeans, a t-shirt, and a flannel thrown over it, I stepped back into the living room just as Gaige entered. He had a croissant wrapped in a napkin that he passed over to me.

“You haven’t eaten either, so here you go.”

“Thanks.” I took a bite of it as I went over to the table to grab my sneakers. “I owe you one.”

“Don’t mention it.” Gaige leaned against the table. “So, you want me to go invisible for this or—?”

“Not unless you really want to, but I was thinking we could have some fun.”

“Uh, sure, I guess. Fun is nice.”

I chuckled and finished up the croissant. “So, you’ve been supernatural training for two years, yes?”

He nodded, slipping his hands into his jacket pockets.

“I’m assuming they’ve taught you how to know whether other supernatural creatures are around, or that someone isn’t human or something?”

“Well, yes. It’s difficult to keep things hidden otherwise.”

I pulled my sneakers on and bent down to tie them. “How would you feel about identifying something for me then?”

“It’s possible, but I might not be able to be super specific. I didn’t do so hot in the species identification portion of intro.”

Folding the cuffs of my jeans back down, I stood straight. “Want to go figure out what attacked me and provoked my magic powers to come out last night?”

“Channing won’t like it.”

“No, but I think you will.”

A small smile touched his eyes as his lips jumped. “I’m not a troublemaker, Jarvis.”

“I’m not either. I’m just a guy that really hates being bored.” I grinned.

Gaige laughed and shook his head, but didn’t protest a single bit as he followed me out the door of the apartment. We got into my car and drove back out to the supermarket.

“So, how was last night handled?” I asked, shifting the car into park.

“What do you mean?”

“Okay, so I was doing some shopping last night. I saw some weird thing, ran through it, and then used my telekinesis to throw it across the store. I might have pushed a few shelves over too. How would that be explained without letting everyone know that the supernatural exists?”

“There are a team of people in the Overwatch Division that are dispatched to erase the memory of the event of any witnesses and fix anything that might have been destroyed. If the things can’t be fixed, they’ll orchestrate cover stories, rewrite witnesses’ memories, and leak the new story to the press. It’s a whole process.”

“So I won’t go in here and get arrested for trashing the store?”

Gaige snorted and patted my shoulder. “If someone tries to whisk you away, I’ll back you up.”

“I’m holding you to that.” I slid the keys from the ignition and got out of the car. Gaige and I walked into the supermarket and walked straight back to the last few food aisles I’d been in when the attack happened.

“What’d you come across last night? A ghost?”

I shrugged. “Channing said it was a poltergeist. It was just a big, black, shadowy figure.”

“Well, I’m picking up some sort of ghost vibe right now.”

I cocked a brow. “How can you tell?”

Gaige rolled up his right sleeve. “The hair on my arms stands up. It feels colder over here than some of the other spots—and it’s not just from the freezers,” he added, cutting me off as I opened my mouth to remind him of that. “My chest feels heavy, and I feel like someone is watching me, even though I know you’re the only person on this aisle that would be paying attention to me.”

Sucking in a deep breath, I tried to feel more aware of the things around me. Did I feel nervous? Was someone watching me? They were odd little sensations that could be explained away, but in a new world with all new things, maybe sensations like those weren’t things that could be dismissed so thoughtlessly. As I stood there, trying to pick up on little things like Gaige mentioned, I shivered, my stomach dropping as I felt a presence right behind me.

I whipped around, forcing myself to pull my hands back to my sides when I saw the figure in front of me. The shadow figure from the night before was not what I found. No, instead, I ended up with so much more than what I bargained for.

A translucent, scaly beast hovered over us. It was as wide as the aisle and even taller than the ceiling, which caused it to curl its neck and forced us into its line of sight. I reached back and grabbed Gaige’s arm, just reassuring myself he was still there.

“Is that—?”

“It seems that way,” Gaige said breathlessly.

“A ghost dragon?”

“Yep.”

When I tried to swallow, I ended up desperately attempting to stifle a cough from the dryness in my mouth. “You still backing me up?” I croaked.

“Fuck yes.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

The little voice of doubt was still there as I stared up at the snarling beast that looked only seconds away from singing us with some sort of ghostly fire breath—or whatever it was that ghost dragons would do to things they wanted to devour. “Cross your heart?”

“And hope to die.”

I glanced back at him, finding him grinning at me. He slowly brought up his hand in a fist. Snorting at the absolute absurdity, I bumped my fist against his and turned back to focus on the dragon. “Okay, well, we picked a fight with the ghost dragon. What now?”

“Common sense says to back away and call Channing.”

“So you want to fight the dragon too?”

“God yes.”

I flung out my hands and watched as the beast slid a mere inch backward. Snarling, it reared back. A swath of flames billowed from it’s mouth as it roared loud enough to shake the ground beneath my feet. I stumbled back, catching myself on a shelf. Gaige darted past me. He placed his hands on the dragon’s leg and his skin light up a ethereal shade of silver.

The dragon screeched and stepped back, aiming another stream of fire toward him. Stepping up, I waved a hand, redirecting the fire away from Gaige. Fortunately, Gaige went unharmed. Unfortunately, the supermarket’s ceiling didn’t.

Gaige sent another burst of magic up through the dragon. “Jarvis! Assist!”

“What do I do?”

“Just push him back. I started a portal inside of him to send him back through to his own realm. Push and he’ll go back!”

I flung my hands out, shooting him straight back. Like Gaige said, he vanished the second I did it. Wide eyed, I looked over at Gaige, finding him a little sweaty. Noticing my gaze, he glanced back at me and grinned.

I laughed. “I’m really shit at errands.”

“No kidding.” Gaige chuckled, leaning back against the shelf as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Oh my god, remind me that I like doing errands with you.”

“Don’t say that yet.” I glanced up at the burning spot in the ceiling and the cracks and scorch marks on the floor. “We might still get arrested.”

“Oh, arrested isn’t even on the list of things you need to be worried about, Jarvis Bloom.”

“Fuck,” I mouthed at Gaige as I turned back to see Channing standing at the end of the aisle.

Arms folded over her chest and mouth set in a tight line, Channing stalked over to me. The heels of her boots clacked menacingly against the floor. “I explicitly asked you to stay out of trouble.”

“No, you told me to not tell humans anything and not to disrupt the universe. I have done neither.”

“You provoked a dragon ghost in the middle of a crowded supermarket. Do you have any idea what would have happened if there had been people on this aisle when you provoked it?”

“I—”

“Actually, Channing,” Gaige said, coming over to us, “if Jarvis and I hadn’t found the dragon and stopped it, the store probably would’ve ended up burning down—maybe with several humans inside.”

Channing eyes looked like they would pop out of her head at any second as she looked between the two of us. It was as though she wasn’t quite sure what to say, think, or do with us.

“Just realizing you fucked up, huh?”

Her eyes locked on me—and fucking hell, they really could get bigger. That wasn’t healthy. “I swear to the gods,” she spat, shaking her head as she stepped back, turning away from me. “Oh my—I could just—” A sharp hiss of frustration tore out of her as she whipped back around to look at us. “Fine, you did a good thing, you probably saved a lot of damage and a few human lives. But the next time you find a fucking dragon in a supermarket, call me. Don’t stop it, don’t use your magic, don’t do anything. Walk away, pick up the phone, and call me. Understand that Jarvis?”

“I understand what you’re saying.” Didn’t mean I’d do it. While nerve wracking, I’d gladly fight another ghost dragon. It was the most fun I’d had in years.

“Gaige?”

“Yes, ma’am. I understand.”

She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I honestly expected better from you, Gaige. What got into you?”

He smiled a bit sadly and shrugged. “I guess you guys just didn’t observe me close enough before the accident.” Glancing back at me, Gaige smirked. “Thanks for today, Jarvis.”

“Want to come back to the house for a celebratory nap?”

“Well.” Gaige looked back at Channing. “We are supposed to use today to get to know one another, so yes. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Looks like we’re done here, then. See ya around, Channing!” I dropped her a coy wink and turned to go with Gaige jogging a bit to keep up with me.

“You two are on my list!” she called. “And your first training sessions start Sunday night at 22:30 sharp! I mean it, Jarvis, do not be late!”

Gaige and I went back to my apartment. I headed into my bedroom to nap, while he took the spare room next to mine. We napped for a few hours, woke up around sunset and went out for dinner. He told me he would come by almost every day since we were supposed to be watching out for one another. After that he left.

And so, here I sit, alone and bored and working on a list of questions to ask my trainer about ghost dragons, where they live, and why one would end up in the human world in a supermarket of all places.

But Gaige… He’s really interesting and even though he seems kinda depressed, he’s really wild. And, even though we got into something completely insane, he covered me. I’m definitely not an expert, but I think I made a friend today.

At the very least, there’s someone else that likes adventure and chaos, which means when I get in over my head, there’ll be someone around to back me up.

So yeah… if that’s not a friend, will someone give me the definition for one?

 

Jxx

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