Authors: Carrie Harris
I’m not a total idiot, though. I averted my face and ducked my head behind my arm. Then I reached my fingers through the fence and carefully reopened the lid. As soon as it was in motion, I retreated to the opposite end of my cage, alert for stray globules of airborne acid.
For a moment just long enough for me to feel a little sheepish, nothing happened. Then I heard a high-pitched squeak and a little green creature about the size of my thumb launched itself into the air. It stopped about two feet from my face, and I pinched myself twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Because even I found it tough to believe that a miniature emerald dragon was hovering hummingbird-style in the middle of my cage.
But I hadn’t been sleeping, so I had to believe that this was really happening.
A huge grin split my face. The dragon was tiny, with perfect leathery wings, glistening green scales, and a little sharp-toothed mouth. It darted to and fro, trying to decide whether it should dissolve my nose off my face. Even though I knew it could easily spit-fire a hole through my head, I couldn’t help myself. “Awww,” I cooed.
Apparently, the mini dragon realized that predators never go “Awww,” so I guess it decided I wasn’t a threat. It whizzed around my head, then buzzed through one of the gaps in the chain link. I watched as it flew directly toward the big building, pausing long enough to aim a blast of acid at the wall and then darting in through the hole it had made. After a moment of heart-pounding silence, Tobias started shrieking.
“No! Stop! Those records are irreplaceable! Get back here, you idiotic lizard!”
For once, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t talking to his imaginary friends. Clearly, the dragon was a little pissed about having been locked up in that box, and I couldn’t blame him.
But then I realized that
was still locked up in a cage, and it was more important than ever to get out. The dragon had provided the best distraction of all time, and I couldn’t let that go to waste.
I took the shredded remains of my shirt and wiped the acid onto the lock, but there wasn’t enough left to eat through the metal. The most I managed was a hiss and a wisp of smoke. The bandolier wasn’t much better, so I took a look at the inside of the box. The mini dragon would have tried to burn his way out, right? I figured the box must be made of some kind of acid-resistant metal. Sure enough, the insides were nice and goopy. I scooped some of the goo onto my shirt, burning the pad of my right index finger in the process, and smeared the acid onto the
The metal hissed and smoked, weakening until I was able to pull it off. I couldn’t help it. I whooped out loud, and then clapped a hand over my mouth just in case Tobias had managed to catch the dragon and decided to come out and investigate the noise. When he didn’t show, I let myself out of the cage. It wasn’t like I’d been cramped in there, but it still felt so good to be able to walk more than four feet in any given direction. And I wasn’t half the size of the yeti either.
The she-yeti rattled the side of her cage, like she could hear my thoughts and was agreeing wholeheartedly. The thought of a psychic yeti was almost too much to take. My hands started shaking uncontrollably as I took out the lock on her door with another application of acid from my shirt. But when I stepped away from the opening, she just shook her head and pointed to her neck. I’d forgotten about the collar.
“Let me take a look,” I said.
She stooped obediently, and my heart sank. I’d been hoping for a snap or a button or something difficult to remove with claws. But this thing was literally welded onto her. No way was I going to get it off without dissolving it. I had enough acid, but it’s one thing to burn your way through a fence; it’s another thing entirely to pour acid on a yeti.
“I can try to take it off,” I said reluctantly, “but I don’t want to burn you.”
I meant it too. The tip of my finger was already starting to blister, and I’d only gotten a little smear of acid on it. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I screwed up and wiped the toxic stuff all over the side of the yeti’s neck. But she just tossed her head disdainfully and dropped into a crouch. And really, I had to concede that it would be better to live with a chemical burn than to be trapped in a cage for the rest of your life. Maybe her fur would protect her.
My hands wouldn’t stop shaking, even when I let out a nice long breath. (This is why I’ve never role-played a monk; my meditative skills suck.) But I managed to get the collar off, along with a nice handful of fur. Now she looked like a leper yeti. I wasn’t about to tell her that, though, because I always tried to keep my manners even during a crisis.
As soon as the metal was free of her skin, the she-yeti turned from a nice, mild-mannered creature into a very big, very hairy instrument of destruction. Not that I could blame her; I’d only spent about a half hour in the cage and already I’d started feeling a little twitchy. The yeti stood up. And up. And up. In fact, she stood so vigorously that she took the ceiling off her cage with a screech and rattle of abused metal. Then she barreled out and began tearing into all the other cages.
I followed her into the he-yeti’s cage and removed his collar. He still didn’t move, and I knew it wasn’t because of those pitiful cuffs. I ran my hands through his coarse fur but couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He lifted his tired eyes to mine, and then I’d had it. I was about to stage a mass jailbreak of mythological creatures, and I wasn’t going to let some depressed yeti screw that up.
“Listen here,” I muttered, leaning down to speak right in his pointed ear. “You will get up and lead the rest of your buddies out of these cages, or I’ll kick your butt myself. And I’m half your size. You’ll never be able to live it down.”
He lifted his head and looked at me uncertainly.
“Trust me.” I offered a hand. “You don’t want to look like a wuss in front of your girlfriend. Girls hate that. And if you can avoid getting your head shoved into a toilet, it’s highly recommended.”
He chuffed at me and got awkwardly to his feet, ignoring my offer of help. And then he snapped his cuffs apart. They still circled his wrists, but I had bigger things to deal with. The commotion from inside the building had quieted, and I wasn’t sure if that meant Tobias was out of commission or he was about to come outside and start shooting. I figured I’d better be prepared for either possibility.
“All right,” I said to the yeti. “You go stand next to the door, and if that jerk comes out, clonk him. Don’t wait. Don’t give him an opportunity to dork with your head. Just do it. We’ll get everyone else out.”
The yeti lumbered over to stand next to the door, and not a moment too soon. Tobias
came charging out, rifle first. You could take what I knew about firearms, write it on a postage stamp, and still have room, but even I knew you weren’t supposed to hold your rifle out in front of you like that. Someone could get hurt.
And someone did. That someone was Tobias, who took a yeti fist to the top of the head. I was about twenty feet away, but I could still see the whites of his eyes as they rolled back into his head.
“Awesome!” I gave the yeti two thumbs up, and he shuffled his feet like he didn’t know how to take a compliment. “Just keep an eye on him, okay, big guy?”
Then the she-yeti and I systematically released the liger, a unicorn with a glittery horn, a cockatrice about the size of a housecat, and an ill-tempered cerberus. The cerberus tried to bite off my right arm, my left foot, and my head all at the same time, until the she-yeti growled and it backed away.
“Is that everyone?” I asked. The she-yeti gestured toward the building where the dragon had disappeared. I nodded. Maybe I could train it not to spit fire and then my parents would let me keep it—how cool would that be? I’d name it Kate, because I had never missed an opportunity to mess with my sister, and I wasn’t about to start now.
I cautiously stepped over Tobias’s prone body and then realized that a nice guy would check to see if he was breathing. I was a nice guy, so I did, and he was. Then I stepped on his hand on my way inside because I may be nice, but I’m not a total pushover.
Inside was chaos. The building had probably been a lab at some point—I could see all kinds of machinery that would have made my future-doctor sister squeal with delight. Unfortunately, most of the machines were scattered all over the floor in bits and pieces. Tables were overturned and papers were flung all over the place. A can of Mountain Dew had spilled on the floor, and I practically got down on my hands and knees to lick up the sticky liquid. I was thirsty after all my adventuring.
About five feet from the spilled Mountain Dew was Kate the dragon. I didn’t have to get any closer to know that she was dead.
My poor dragon had been crushed under a paperweight shaped like a giant donut. I dropped to my knees and started to cry. Maybe that was a little wussy of me, but she didn’t have to die. She’d saved my life.
I was just wiping the snot off my face when the air exploded with howls and screeches. I scrambled to my feet, sprinted for the door, and promptly tripped over Tobias.
From my spot facedown in the dirt, I watched as the clearing erupted into chaos. A semi trailer blocked the driveway, and a phalanx of guys in mirrored shades, black jackets, and uncomfortably tight uniform pants were battling with the mythological creatures. (And if a LARPer says someone’s pants are tight, that’s pretty bad.)
Part of me was astounded that Tobias hadn’t hallucinated his buyer, but I wasn’t all that surprised. The money for this operation had to come from somewhere. Most of what my sister told me went in one ear and out the other, but I still had a pretty good idea of how much the average scientific study cost. Tobias had to have sponsors with a lot of bank to pull off genetic engineering. And now those sponsors were attacking my new friends with shock sticks.
But the creatures were holding their own. As I watched, the liger pounced on a bad guy from behind. (He had shock-sticked himself, the idiot.) Both yeti were picking up random villains and tossing them into the trees. It was working really well until the she-yeti got mobbed by four guys at once and went down. The he-yeti waded into the fray to save her.
The unicorn was dancing around just out of reach of a pair of evil twins. She was faster than both of them put together. I couldn’t see the cockatrice anywhere, but the cerberus was gnawing on two different guys at the same time while the third head kept a lookout.
One guy, however, was heading right toward me. Part of me wanted to lie there and play dead. It would be the smart thing to do, after all. Sir Tal always said that it was stupid to enter a battle you couldn’t win. Much better to retreat and live to fight the next one. But I was tired of trying to be like him. I was Jonah Grable, and I was pissed that these guys thought it was okay to cage all these fantastical creatures that the rest of us only got to dream about. I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.
So I swallowed the lump of fear in my throat and rushed him.
The guy hadn’t really expected that kind of reaction from a scrawny kid like me. He was
too busy watching over his shoulder for a random mythological creature attack. So I took him totally by surprise, knocking him to the ground. Then I wrenched the shock stick from his hand and whacked him with it. He went limp.
“Yeah!” I shouted, jumping to my feet and pumping my fist. “How you like them apples?”
The assorted creatures stopped and stared at me like I’d lost my mind, but I didn’t care. I just grinned at them proudly. We had won the battle.
It took about a half hour to put the bad guys in the semi and lock the doors behind them. I’d searched Tobias’s pockets for the cell I’d seen him use earlier with no luck, so I figured I’d head back to the camp. I was certain the girls had already contacted the cops; I just knew they’d come through.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to the menagerie of beasties. “We’ll make sure these guys never cage yeti again. Or … uh … the rest of you.”
I wanted to ride the liger, because when was I ever going to get a chance to do that again? But every time I took a step toward it, it shied away. So I ended up clambering onto the back of the sparkly unicorn. So emasculating.
The yeti led the way; they seemed to have an unerring sense of direction. So that’s how I found myself on the back of a unicorn, following a pair of hand-holding yeti and flanked by a liger and a cerberus. I still hadn’t seen the cockatrice, but when I’d asked the she-yeti about it, she’d pointed to a random bush, so I assumed it was just one of those super-stealthy cockatrices. Maybe in a cockatrice world, it would be like a ranger cockatrice or something. Which would be awesome. As if this hadn’t already been the most awesome day of my life.
We got back to the Scout camp way too fast; I wanted to stay in this parade forever. But I had to admit that I was chilly without my shirt, and it was way past lunchtime. I needed a Dew before the caffeine headache made it completely impossible for me to function. It was time to
return to the real world, if that was even possible when traveling in this company.
We stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched as the girls argued with one of the apathetic chaperones. Either the guy didn’t care that I was missing or he hadn’t caught that bit yet, because all three girls kept talking at the same time. The fact that they brought up monsters probably didn’t help; if I’d been him, I probably would have assumed this was some gaming thing too.
I eyed the liger again, and it returned an unblinking topaz gaze. I didn’t need the power of telepathy to get the message. No way was I riding it.
Well, fine. I’d make my shirtless entrance on the back of a unicorn, and what I’d lose in guy points, I’d make up with the rest of the entourage. I sat as straight as I could and tried to puff out my chest a little; my weightlifting regimen hadn’t started to take effect yet. But just as I got ready to order the animals forward, I stopped.
The herd was watching me intently. I knew they’d follow me wherever I went, because I’d promised them safety. It would be so awesome to charge into the camp with them, do all the news interviews, and be known as That Creature Guy. I wouldn’t be just another freshman gamer geek ever again. I had this great mental picture of me sweeping into the camp with a menagerie of mythical creatures. Everyone would be astounded, and I would sweep the nearest girl into a kiss. Except that there were three girls and I couldn’t kiss all three of them, so how was I going to handle that?