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1. The Caged Tiger

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I don’t know how it happened, it just kind of…did. You ever wake up one day, and go out into the world, and you look around and you end up somewhere else? And you look around and you wonder how the fuck you got there. Ever have that happen to you? Maybe. Anyways, how the hell did I get involved in what happened? I don’t know, but somehow I ended up with a psycho cursing me off for hours on end in my room. How the hell did she get there, you ask? Well now, that’s a good question…

            Her name was Dev. She was the leader of the local gang, or so I imagine. How she ended up in my bed, well, see…I’m not sure. Well, I might be. I should go back and think about it. There was a fight, I remember that much. I’m not in any gangs, I don’t care much for them, and I’ve outgrown the time where I’d care about youth. Wait – once you get out of the teens, life will become real. My father told me that childhood ends when you come to accept and understand the one true fact that is inescapable – you’re going to die. So anyways…the fight, there was a fight, naturally. There are always fights outside the shop, always. The Black Dragon’s been standing for years; it has stood pain and grief, anger and hate. It’s changed hands a few times, but nothing severe. It was constant, one of the few things to remain. The legends and stories still survive, they live with it, and the gangs are proof of that. When the great leaders fell, new ones would step up and take their place. The latest was led by a girl, a girl to take the place of generations of males. Isn’t that grand? Now, where was I? Her, bed, yeah, let me explain.

            Fight. There was a fight. And she got the life beaten out of her. Now, I was sauntering along minding my own business when I saw the remains of the scene. The rest of her group had left her there; I think there was a betrayal at work here. She was trying to get up and, failing miserably, she collapsed on the ground. Now, I was ready to just keep going when someone came out of absolutely nowhere and took a hold of my shoulder. It was a figure, decked in black from head to toe, no distinguishable facial traits, nothing. And they pointed to the figure in the alley. And I kind of…assumed what they wanted me to do. I helped her up and took her home. Home, that’s funny. I’m moving too fast I imagine. Maybe, slightly.

So the phantom came from nowhere and pointed out the fallen soldier, and I picked her up and took her home. Home is where I live, it’s a big open place, I live with a roommate who comes and goes, but we’ll get into him later. So I carried her; she was all kinds of difficult, punched me a bunch of times the entire way home. She was a pain in the ass. Yelling and screaming, how I managed to get her back without being arrested, I’m not sure. Come on, it does look suspicious, me, carrying a screaming teenager home who’s bleeding and broken…wouldn’t you ask questions? Maybe. I had her wrapped in my coat, it was kind of cute, it you stood back, tilted your head…maybe. So I took her home like I was supposed to, laid her down, and left her alone. I locked her in my room – she tore the place apart. Bull in a china shop…

So anyways, that’s how we ended up with the kid in the bedroom. My roommate came home, heard the racket in my room, shook his head, and went back outside. I was having a slight breakdown of my own. The kid hasn’t slept yet, she won’t sit still, she’s been in there breaking things for what feels like days, it’s only been hours. Hours. She’s tearing my life apart in hours. What the hell did I get myself involved in? You know how sometimes something in your mind tells you to do something when common sense tells you not to? It’s…illogical, but you do it anyway? That’s how things worked. It was raining too. I sat at the window and listened, watched, and time faded away, everything went away. My life four feet away wasn’t being torn apart by a violent teenager. She wasn’t bleeding and broken. I hadn’t forcibly taken her in on a whim. What the hell happened to my life?

One of those fly by moments…life is, you know? It’s a series of fly by moments. One right after another, arranged randomly. Maybe…I sulked around the apartment until I found my roommate’s pack of cigarettes and lit one up. After a moment of coughing, things shifted into perspective. I never bought my own packs, I’d kind of…well…mooch off of my roommate. The fellow has a name and everything, but we’ll talk about him when he comes back. Granted that he does come back…

Time passed, as it tends to, and the noises stopped. I waited awhile longer to be sure, to be positive as fools usually are. When the quiet lasted continuously, I opened the door slowly. She was curled up on the floor, against the wall, near the door. She’d been trying to break it down or get it open…for hours. The room was a mess; I didn’t have time to childproof it before she showed up. Oops. Anyways. So I picked her up and put her in the bed and made sure she was really asleep. Then I started to check her over, count the bleeding slits, the holes, punctures, everything. Took an estimate as to how many bones were broken, cracked, shattered. I wasn’t a doctor, but I was educated enough to know that she needed one. My roommate knew a thing or two about fixing people up, but of course, he was missing. He was an old gang mate; we both were involved in the scene ages ago. In another time, another place, another once upon a time. Shit happens, times change, you grow up and out and move along. We didn’t move far.

I was in the midst of checking her over when she woke up. And she was on me faster then I could process the thought that she was functional. Isn’t that ironic? She grabbed hold of my throat and held with a grip that scared the hell out of me. I just sat there, gasping, fighting. She looked around, back at me, and let go of my throat, not really let go, but loosened her grip.

“Where the hell am I?”

“My apartment…”

“You live here?”

“Yeah, my roommate and me.”

“And who the fuck are you?”

“I’m Dean. My roommate’s Galat.”

She kind of slowed down, let go, looked around more cautiously. The room was unfamiliar to her, as currently, it seemed unfamiliar to me as well. Nevertheless, she was calmer now. Pain will do that to you. So she sat still and kept her eyes darting from me to the room and back again. You could hear the stress in her chest as she tried to breathe; the function wasn’t as it once was. I needed Galat to fix her. I was still piecing things together.

“Why am I here?”

“Someone told me to take you.”

“Told you?”

“Well, they didn’t talk much…or at all…”

She jumped up from out of the bed and moved for the door; I caught her before she could get through. A door slammed elsewhere – Galat was home. I held her kicking and screaming for a while, calling for Galat. After half of forever, he came in and looked at me, looked at her and shook his head.

“What the hell are you doing?” he screamed over her.

“Don’t ask, just fucking help me, will you?”

Between the two of us, we got her pinned to the ground. Galat was able to run off and find something to sedate her. Like I said, he was the doctor, not me. We got her to lie down again and we left her locked in the room. And back to the living room. What the hell have I gotten involved in? My mind is still reeling.

“Where the hell did she come from?”

“The world of the waking, where the hell did you think I got her?”

“Who is she and why is she here?”

“I got bored,” I went to smile a fake grin, but he grabbed me and threw me against a wall.

“We swore to be neutral, remember?”

“This’ different.”

“WHY?”

“Elysium told me to take her.”

He stopped in his movements; he let go of me and started pacing. Everyone knew the stories, the legends. There were two names that sent chills down your spine when you heard them. Entropy. Elysium. The pair, the indivisible set. For all eternity; like the shop, they were constant. Can you imagine? To be given orders by one of them was beyond all contestations, you did as you were instructed and asked no questions. They were always and forever.

“She needs a proper doctor you know.”

“I know…should we get Toryn?”

“Probably.”

So out the door we went, upstairs, downstairs, whatever, and we knocked on a door that was logged in our memories but had been locked away since our gang days. We still had old connections, but we only paid visits for very big favors. Knocked on the door, and there she was. She didn’t seem to have changed much, same gestures, same expressions, she aged a little I imagine. But still the same old Toryn that she always was. She leaned against the doorframe and looked the two of us over, back and forth. We looked a tad foolish I imagine.

“So where’s the fire?”

And we took her back with us and showed her. We didn’t have to explain, all you say is “Elysium,” and it’s as good as done. Toryn was the old crew’s doctor, she and Galat, she taught him most of what he knew now. But he wasn’t half as gifted with it as she was; she truly was a marvel to watch. She was just that good. Hours passed, maybe it was minutes, and she re-emerged, looking more tired.

“She’ll be sleeping awhile.”

“She’s okay?”

“Well that’s debatable…she fucking bit me…they better have good reason, that one’s more trouble than she’s worth.”

We laughed a bit, even Toryn laughed. She sat down with the two of us awhile and we just talked about old times I guess. It was fun while it lasted. She was great in all types of ways.

“What would you two boys do without me?”

“Hey now, we’re not completely useless!”

She raised an eyebrow, “Oh, you’re not?” And we all laughed and she put on her most desperate expression and mocked how we’d gone running to her for help. She was a scream, why we didn’t hang out with her more, I don’t know.

So there we were, sitting around and wasting time, as we were prone to do, we were pretty good at it too. Years of practice pays off you know. So Toryn stayed awhile and then left us with the sleeping tiger, angry about her new cage. She left us some sedatives and things to keep her…”manageable”. And there we were. How she got a hold of said drugs…well we won’t be discussing that. We had connections; it comes with the territory, usually. Galat wasn’t too thrilled with the new predicament; he got up and went out for another walk. And me? Well, I went to sleep, naturally.

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