Here it is friends and fictional folk! The final chapter of the first volume/book of The Mythic Naga. Hope you enjoy!
Thomas rushed into his room as quietly as he could. He tossed his phone onto his bed and draped his jacket over the chair at his desk, which he sat down in. Booting up his computer, he began uploading the pictures and video from his camera’s SD card into his password protected files. He did not like keeping things secret. Secrets were almost as bad as lies. But some things, particularly his things needed to be protected.
This was going to be the scoop of the century. He had tracked the flight path of the creature who called herself Naga to Levi Park. From there it had been a simple matter to find signs of a disturbance. The next day, when he went to check the place again, a whole division of government agents had set up base on the banks of the lake.
He had not even needed to lie to his parents about what he was doing. He just had to omit a few facts. They knew how serious he was about pursuing journalism. After all, football was only a hobby. A hobby he excelled at, but not one he wanted to pursue as a career. His parents supported his dreams and thus it had been easy to ask for supplies for a stakeout.
All the rest of the day he had been there, watching as the strange men in suits and lab coats set up an enormous net over the entire lake. Watching as something huge and misshapen struggled against that net. Watching as the thing broke through.
He had taken hundreds of pictures and at least half that many videos of everything. From people dying, to the fight against the monster, and even the fact that Denise and Mr. Ross had been there. But better than all that was when Naga arrived. He had captured everything. Even when the shockwaves from her punches nearly knocked him over, he kept his hand as steady as he could and the camera pointed toward the action.
This was sure to get him noticed by a real news company. The school paper had never been all that popular. Few people read newspapers anymore and even fewer students ever bothered to go to the school’s website. But he had kept track of the site’s analytics like a guard dog. Ever since he captured that first fight between Naga and that skunk monster, readership had slowly gone up. Each article brought a few more views.
Some called the pictures fake. Some said the school newspaper had gone the way of the tabloids. The thought of such accusations made him snarl.
He was not some sensationalist. He was not some two-bit sellout for celebrity gossip rags or conspiracy pieces. He was not a liar. There was nothing fake about his news and he would make them see with this. Nobody was going to stop him.
He felt a little guilty at having blackmailed Denise to keep her from hacking the school news site. But only a little. The truth mattered more, and Denise was nothing but a living deception. He could only feel a sliver of sympathy for someone who lied about their own name and gender. Mostly, such acts sickened him.
But he had been forced to keep her lies a secret. It had been the only way to ensure a much greater truth would be revealed to the world. A small price to pay.
Thomas logged onto the school’s news site as soon as the article was done. He had never written anything so fast in his life. It felt as if his fingers were nothing but blurs across the keyboard. It was time to make history.
His heart missed a beat.
He stared at the previous articles he had written. The pictures he had taken.
No. No it couldn’t be.
They were all indecipherable junk. Each letter surgically replaced to make every word as unreadable as possible. The pixels of his pictures, photographs he had painstakingly applied his craft to, were nothing but a scrambled mess. It all looked like the ravings of a madman. It made him look like a madman.
He copy-pasted the article he had just written into the news site and hit publish. For a split second, it seemed unaffected. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was destroyed. Twisted into worthlessness just like the others.
A white-hot rage built within him. Denise had done this. No doubt about it. But why? He had been so certain that the threat of Carson and Paul would keep her in check. Where had this sudden bout of courage come from.
It didn’t matter. No one tampered with the truth he published; it was time to make good on his promise.
He turned, throwing on his jacket and reaching for his phone. Where was his phone? He knew he had left it on his bed, but it wasn’t there now.
The hairs on the back of his neck rose. He glanced about the room. Everything seemed in order: dresser, closet, TV, game consoles, music tower, open window, coatrack.
Wait. He didn’t have a coatrack. And he never left his window open at night. Not even in summer.
Yellow eyes peered from the shadows in the corner of his room.
She was there before he could scream, clamping her scaly hand over his mouth. Her grip was like a vice. That nervous energy she had during their earlier meetings was gone. In its place, a calm fury blazed in her eyes.
He grabbed at the arm holding him in place, but it was pointless. Her muscles were as tough as corded steel. They would not bend, not even to his athletic strength.
“Shhh,” she hissed quietly. “Sssettle down. I’m not going to hurt you. Ssso long as you ssstay away from Daniel.”
His eyes widened. He had been hoping to keep that from her to stay on her good side. Denise’s fear should have kept her quiet. Just how close was she to Naga?
“That’sss right. I heard about what you did to him. What you threatened him with. I jusst thought I should warn you. I don’t like it when people threaten my friendsss. And know that if you ever follow through on your threat, you’ll have to deal with me. I know you were at the lake tonight. You’ve ssseen what I can do. You don’t want to messs with me. Ssso don’t messs with my friendsss. Got it?”
She slackened her grip just enough for him to nod.
“Good,” she said. “I’m going to let go now and leave. Don’t ssscream. I won’t hurt you, but they’ll never find me. I know you want to uncover what’sss going on right now, but trussst me. It’sss better for the sssafety of everyone if we hybridsss remain a sssecret for now. With any luck, we won’t be a problem for too long and no one will ever know we exisssted. Goodbye, Thomas.”
With that, she let go of his face and slipped out his bedroom window quick as a flash.
For a full minute, Thomas stood there, thinking. There was more to this whole thing than he had anticipated. He was going to have to make his next move very carefully.
With shaking hands, he closed the window, sat down at his computer, and began typing an email. It was time to work his network of contacts. It was time to bring truth to light.
Daniel was glad to be back home. He hadn’t realized it until that night, but this apartment that he shared with Monica and Drew really had become home over the past couple of years. After facing down Kraken tonight, he finally appreciated what that meant to him.
He snuck inside through the fire escape with Natalie’s help, washed off the worst of the grime of battle with a washcloth, and slipped into his pajamas. The last twenty-four hours had been some of the most draining of his entire life, but he couldn’t sleep just yet. There was one last thing to do. It was a small thing, but an important one.
The TV was on in the living room and that meant they were still awake. He padded in on bare feet, his steps silent as he approached from behind the couch.
Monica and Drew were there, sitting close, heads resting against each other in the dim glow of the screen. Again, he wondered how anyone could think of them as emotionless. They loved each other so much. Sure, it was in their own way, but that didn’t make it any less real. They were even watching anime for crying out loud. That was a sign of true love in Daniel’s book.
Maybe that was why he found himself afraid to step closer. This was their apartment, their home, their family. Did he deserve to be there? Did he belong on that couch with them?
They were so perfect there together. How could he think to ruin that by putting himself in such a beautiful picture?
He almost turned back. Almost ran away to his room to hide from having to take that next step. But the battle at Lake Levi was still fresh in his mind. He remembered the regret at having forgotten his foster parents, at having not said goodbye.
So he stepped forward and lightly cleared his throat.
The anime paused and they both turned around on the couch to look at him. In contrast to their carefully precise business looks, both Monica and Drew were a little laxer with their appearance at home. Drew looked much like his wife, usually dressed in glasses and a business suit, but his hair was much shorter than hers and a few shades lighter. He and Monica had traded their suits for a matching set of light gray pajamas. Drew’s normally clean-shaven face had the beginnings of a 5 o’clock shadow and Monica had removed her makeup. Both of them had let their normally perfect hair get a bit tousled.
“Daniel?” Drew asked, his monotone voice tinged with concern. “Are you alright?”
Daniel was silent for a long moment. He fidgeted with the hem of his shirt as he tried to force the words out.
“C-can I stay and w-watch anime with you guys for a bit?” he finally stammered.
A hint of a smile touched their lips.
“Of course,” Monica said. “School is out for the summer, so there is no problem if you want to stay up late.”
They shuffled apart, making room for him to sit between them. Relief washed over him. he padded over and sank into the couch. Monica and Drew both hesitantly wrapped an arm around his shoulders. He let them.
Their touch was not fire as his biological parents had been, nor was it ice as it had been in previous foster families. Daniel settled between them as easily as a puzzle piece falling into place. He was home.
Natalie slithered through the sewer tunnels on a tired tail. She was ready to get back to her lair and collapse. Now that the adrenaline of rushing to the park, fighting Patrick, and confronting Thomas had finally run out, she was left utterly drained.
Perhaps that was why she nearly tripped over the unconscious form trussed up in front of her lair’s sewer side door.
She flinched back, ready for a fight, but saw no one except the athletic teenage boy out cold on the stones before her. He was wrapped in what looked like spiderwebs to which a note had been attached. He seemed familiar for some reason, though she wasn’t sure if she had ever seen his face.
Reaching down with careful fingers, she pulled the note free and held it up to read. The writing had a strange shape to its letters, as if made by someone who knew how to write but either hadn’t in a very long time.
We thank you for ridding us of the nuisance that was the Kraken. We had been forced to make unsavory deals with him in order to keep our territory. One of these deals was the kidnapping of this boy, Kaden Swift. Though we are not opposed to serving justice to men who deserve it, Kaden had done nothing that would deserve abduction. We only held him because one of Kraken’s minions, Damian, wished some vengeance upon him. As a show of thanks and goodwill between us, we present him to you. He is unharmed and merely sleeping. The toxins should wear off by morning.
Besides this, we also offer a warning. There are others besides us who hold territory in this city. We are young in this conflict. Be wary of them. They are craftier than the Kraken. Do not get in their way or in ours.
Natalie sighed. It looked like things were far from over.
But that was ok. She drew herself up to her full height with the last of her strength, willing determination into her mind. She spoke her next words as much to herself as to the world.
“Bring it on. I can take anything you throw at me. I am Naga!”