Hello friends and fictional folk! I’m back with more Naga!
Still suffering computer issues but I’ll keep trucking on. Expect some possible typos from unresponsive keys that I might not have caught before posting. I’ll be sending out a query sometime this week to the agent who requested material from me at the writer’s conference. Wish me luck!
Anyway, without further ado, let’s get into the next issue of The Mythic Naga!
Time did not slow down for Natalie.
She had never gotten that phrase. For her those kind of moments felt more like someone had pressed skip on the remote and she only got a chance to process what happened afterward. Mess up a flip and need to recover fast? Jump cut to an awkward landing and a quick replay in her head of how she pulled it off.
This was a little something like that.
One moment, Skunk-bear was charging Thomas, rearing back his claw to decapitate her crush.
The next, she was landing a punch square in the hybrid’s jaw.
As Skunk-bear was sent tumbling away by the hit, her mind replayed what had just happened. Curling her tail, she had made a spring out of herself and used it to leap forward and cross the distance at blinding speed.
Natalie winced and flexed her hand. Even with the gloves, all that momentum getting transferred into a punch had hurt.
But she didn’t have time to focus on that. Skunk-bear was staggering to his feet and her blood was running hot. The world had gone to a higher resolution. Sounds were clearer, scents sharper, and colors more vibrant. Adrenaline was pumping hard through her system and she had to move.
Skunk-bear shook his head and turned to roar at her only to be met by a flurry of fists.
Natalie rained down blow after blow on her foe. Her punches became rapid-fire blurs of green. The impacts beat a machine-gun staccato.
Skunk-bear reeled back under the onslaught and Natalie followed.
He managed to throw a swipe with his claw, but she was ready.
Instead of ducking away, Natalie rushed forward to meet the blow. The instant before the strike would have landed she twisted and used her momentum to curl around his arm.
She slithered and coiled about his body, never stopping to settle or give him time to recover. Around his chest, over his shoulders, crisscrossing arms and legs, the tail was the only thing she avoided. As she moved, she pulled, swaying him this way and that until he was stumbling like a drunk.
Once she had Skunk-bear sufficiently off balance, Natalie slipped off mid-stagger, wrapped her tail around his tree-trunk of a leg, and yanked. Using his lack of balance, she was able to tear him off his feet and throw him into an unfinished brick wall. The collision nearly collapsed it and sent up a cloud of plaster dust.
Spring-leaping forward again, Natalie spun as she flew through the air and slammed her tail into Skunk-bear.
The wall crumbled into a pile of bricks and Skunk-bear went tumbling down with it, unmoving.
Luckily, Natalie’s infrared vision let her know that he was merely unconscious, not dead.
Taking in and releasing a deep breath, she let the tension of the fight drain away.
Another flash of light illuminated the construction site briefly.
Oh right! she remembered. Thomas is still here!
He had gotten closer, within ten feet of her, and was lowering the camera as she turned to face him.
That look on his face made her heart feel like it was clenching up. He seemed ready to run at any moment. Maybe he was afraid of her turning to fight him now that Skunk-bear was taken care of.
It was clear he didn’t recognize her. Considering the gauze over half of her face and the scales, that wasn’t surprising. Of course that did nothing to stop the ache in her chest. How could he be so close and not recognize her?
Maybe that was for the best.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, pitching her voice lower. Best not to give him any clues that might jog his memory.
He flinched. But when she didn’t move to attack him he seemed to relax.
“I live near here,” he replied, “and I heard the fighting from my apartment.”
“Ssso you ran toward the sssound of danger?”
He shrugged. “I wanted to see what was going on.”
Well at least he wasn’t one of those hot, buff guys who ran away at the first sign of danger. Granted running toward the danger wasn’t very smart, but it was certainly a lot braver than she was.
The blare of sirens and the beat of a chopper echoed to them from somewhere close by.
“You should go,” she said. “The policcce will think you’re crazy if you tell them what happened here.”
He nodded. “What about you?”
Her heart skipped a beat. He cared about her safety! Even though he had no idea who she was, he cared!
“I’ll be fine.” Hopefully her voice didn’t betray how fast her heart was beating. “I’ve got plenty of placcces to hide.”
She turned away, both to hide her blush and to grab Skunk-bear so she could drag him into the sewers until ISRD showed up.
“Wait!” Thomas called as she reached the unconscious hybrid. “What’s your name?”
She couldn’t give him her real name. Not for a good long time. But if he was going to tell people about her—and once more hybrids started popping up, he would—then she couldn’t have him walking around calling her “that snake girl” or something like that. Besides, if she was going to be a superhero, like Daniel seemed to believe she could be, she should have a superhero name.
Like a beast of legend rising from the depths, it came to her, the perfect name. Memories of her grandmother telling her all the myths and legends she knew from her years as a professor in China. Hindu or Buddhist, China to Indonesia and beyond, there was one creature that defined what she had become.
Natalie turned to Thomas and raised herself up on her tail until she towered over him.
Holding herself up straight and proud she spoke with the first real confidence she had felt since her transformation.
“Call me Naga.”
The chopper reached them first.
After Thomas had run off to hide from the police, Natalie had been stuck dragging Skunk-bear’s unconscious body into the shadows of the unfinished building herself. It hadn’t been the most dramatic exit after her self-rechristening as Naga—he was at least three hundred pounds of solid muscle—but they could not risk Thomas seeing Daniel or Mr. Ross.
Once they were hidden in the shadows, Mr. Ross had explained that the helicopter was from ISRD. Apparently the grunts of the organization would divert police from the scene until they were done talking to the lead agents assigned to the case.
It did not take long for them to arrive.
The as the helicopter descended into the narrow space open enough for it, Natalie saw that it was no regular chopper. For one, it was pure black, no symbols or insignia anywhere on it. That made sense. After all, a secret organization would want to keep themselves as hidden as possible.
The second thing that set it apart was that instead of one rotor on top, it had a set of wings with a rotor on each. It almost looked like someone had mashed together a helicopter with a plane and then given it a sci-fi sleekness.
A tingle of annoyance prickled at the back of her neck. Here she was sleeping in a sewer while they flew around in cool, futuristic comfort.
Her irritation grew when the chopper landed and the lead agents stepped out.
She could tell they were the lead agents because they were the only ones not dressed in all black combat gear. There were two of them, one man and one woman, both in well-fitted, black business suits.
The man was clean-shaven with black hair and piercing black eyes. He looked like what Natalie imagined grizzled war heroes were like before they got the grizzled adjective. Jaw square enough to measure a corner with and a hard as nails scowls, but with a face free of scars. Despite the wind kicked up by the chopper, he seemed completely unfazed and took the lead as they approached the shadows of the support beams.
His partner on the other hand stumbled and almost fell trying to catch up to him and got a face full of her own long, brown hair from the downdraft of the rotors. She was clearly the junior of the two, several years—maybe even a decade—younger than her partner with wide, hazel eyes and an easy smile.
Mr. Ross extended a hand as the man approached.
“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” he said. “You might know me by the codename Agent Orpheus. What designation have they given you?”
The man did not take Mr. Ross’s hand. Instead, he ran his gaze over them each in turn. Natalie felt her skin crawl under his gaze. He seemed to be trying to dissect her through sight alone.
“Agent Bellerophon,” he finally said. Good lord that voice was rough enough to scrape paint off a wall. “A shame.”
“What is?” Mr. Ross asked.
“That the ISRD is left relying on resources like these.”
Natalie bristled at the accusation.
“I’m sssorry,” she hissed. “I didn’t sssee you fighting for your life againssst Ssskunk-bear.”
“Oh! Is that what you’ve decided to name it?” the female agent asked.
“Yesss,” Natalie said, caught off guard by her friendly attitude in comparison to Agent Bellerophon. “And Ssskunk-bear is a him.”
“Ah, my bad. Name’s Agent Medea by the way.”
“And if we had been sent against the target,” Bellerophon interjected, “there would not have been a fight for our lives because we would have ended its.”
“Well now you don’t have a corpse to clean up,” Natalie snapped. “You’re welcome.”
“No, instead we have a monster to keep contained and several ark shards beyond our reach. Were it not for ISRD policy, I would dispose of it and you to decrease collateral.”
“Him,” she corrected. “And, in cassse you don’t know, all of uss hybridss are victimss of the ark shardss exploding into uss. Ssso unlesss you want to be ressponsssible for murdering teenagers and children, I ssuggessst you back off!”
Natalie had started rising up on her tail as she talked and was now a good inch taller than Agent Bellerophon.
Unfortunately, he did not “back off.”
“I will eliminate any targets that pose a threat to our mission.”
“And I’ll be here, taking them down non-lethally.”
“If you get in my way, I will eliminate you as well.”
She smirked. “Get here firsst next time and maybe I’ll lissten to you. Until then I’ll keep showing you how to do your job.”
“And when you fail,” he said, turning back toward the chopper, “I’ll be there to clean up the mess.”
Natalie made to reply, but his long strides had already carried him out of hearing. Shouting after him was an option, but yelling after someone just to get the last word in was basically forfeiting the argument.
“I’m very sorry about that,” Agent Medea said. “Agent Bellerophon has had a long day.”
Natalie scoffed. Try tackling bank robbers, having your whole world flipped on its head, and then fighting a massive, foul smelling beast and then she’d let him have the excuse of having a long day.
Agent Medea pulled out a notepad and pen from her suit. “If I could just have the names you’d like the ISRD to refer to you as please, we’ll transport the tar…uh, Skunk-bear to our closest facility.”
“You’ll make sure he’s treated well?” Mr. Ross asked.
“Of course. Scout’s honor.”
“Very well. You may use my former designation of Agent Orpheus, if it is still available.”
“Yep, still good. And you?” She turned to Daniel.
He jumped. “Oh, uh, I guess call me…Caeneus? I probably can’t be an agent, can I?”
“Well, not a full agent, but maybe an honorary agent. I’ll ask the higher ups. And as for—”
“Naga,” Natalie said. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so terse, but Bellerophon had left her riled up.
“Um…” Medea hesitated and looked up from her notepad. “Usually we use Ancient Greek or Roman names for our agents. What about Lamia? She’s sometimes shown as half snake.”
Natalie shook her head. “No. It’ss Naga or nothing.”
“Okay,” Medea said slowly, hopefully jotting the correct name down and closing the notepad. “I look forward to working with you all. We’d like to keep news of these hybrids hidden or as long as possible.”
A bead of sweat rolled down Natalie’s neck. “Gotcha. Right. Of course.”
Medea left to command the ISRD grunts, leaving the three of them alone.
“Naga, huh?” Daniel asked.
He smirked. “Sounds like a superhero name to me.”
She smiled back. “I’ve been thinking. If I’m gonna be sstuck this way for a while, then I better do something with these powers. Bessidesss, who wouldn’t want to be a superhero, Agent Caeneus?”
The smile he gave her lit a warm glow in her stomach.
“Right you are, Naga.”