Thursday, August 6, 2009

Episode 17: Ring of Secrecy

In the brief seconds Dragon had taken on Lara's naked form, Blackout had an epiphany. None should be surprised that in assuming the shape of a North American straight male's desire, the manifestation was a naked woman. The likelihood Dragon would have transformed into anything else is only slightly better than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field. Despite it not having been the first time he had seen Lara in the nude, Blackout had found himself staring, but not in the way one might assume. His exclamation of "whoops" was not so much an expression of apology as it was a hastily uttered prayer, hoping desperately that Lara was looking anywhere but where his own eyes had fallen, upon her left hand, ring finger, adorned by a gold diamond ring.

It was, incidentally, also why Andrew had stated, "That was unexpected," with utter calm. In an attempt to look anywhere but where twenty some years of male instinct were screaming at him to look, Andrew's eyes had traveled in the sign of the cross, finally settling upon Lara's left hand.

Which is how it came to be that Blackout, Andrew, and Dragon (in the shape of a Dwarven brewmaster, a response to Lara's desire to begin serving quality micro-brewed beer which meant that Dragon looked like a short version of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top in a green apron), were sitting in Magik Beans the next morning, discussing the appearance of the ring in conspiratorial tones, despite the fact that Lara wasn't scheduled to work until after noon.

"I mean, I've been thinking about it for a while, but I...hadn't gone shopping for a ring or anything. I wanted to have the right moment, you know?" Blackout bobbed his head up and down, drumming nervously on the table.

"Sure," Andrew said. He was completely out of his element, having only just come to an awareness of being interested in Silke. "I'd do the exact same thing man."

"Dragons don't marry," Dragon said. "We can reproduce without sex, so there's no need for a single mate."

"So I take it you're not terribly impressed by virgin births?" Andrew said.

"What?" Dragon looked at him blankly.

"I'm not really helping much, am I?" Andrew said, looking at Blackout.

"I just wanted to make sure you both understood that this must remain an absolute secret for the time being," Blackout whispered. "If she finds out, it just won't be the same. Ever since the idea came into my head, I knew I wanted to pick out the ring myself, to do the whole going-down-on-one-knee thing...maybe even have some cool suit for the occasion."

"Like a suit of armor?" Dragon asked.

"I was thinking more along the lines of a tuxedo," Blackout said, "But I suppose a suit of armor would be pretty cool."

"She'd definitely dig it," Andrew said. "That whole medieval metal thing she's into and all."

Blackout nodded. "So we're clear? Tell no one."

"My lips are sealed," Andrew said.

"I swear that if I tell, you may run me through with a magic dragonslaying sword which I will provide you with, then eat my heart, becoming omnipotent for a brief period so that you could turn back time far enough to stop me from blurting out your secret." Dragon smiled.

"Okay, that was excessive, but very cool," Blackout said. "Is that really possible? If I ate your heart, I'd be omnipotent for a brief period of time?"

"Absolutely," Dragon said.

"Well, if you could do that, why wouldn't you just have a guy with this Dragonslaying sword around to cut out your heart everytime you did something stupid so that you could go back in time and change things?" Blackout asked.

"Because it's an abuse of the immutable laws of time and space, right?" Andrew said.

Dragon nodded. "How did you know?"

"I'm taking a class on it right now," Andrew said, looking at his watch. "Speaking of which, I'm going to be late if I don't get going right now." He picked up his coffee. "Your secret is safe with me...and for whatever it's worth, I'm really, really happy for you two. She's a lot happier than when I first met her, and I think you're responsible for a lot of that happiness." He nodded at Blackout and Dragon and headed out the door.

"So as I understand your customs," Dragon said, "You need a ring."

"That's right," Blackout said. "Something really special."

"I think I can help you with that," Dragon said. "Meet me back here when my shift ends. We have some traveling to do."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Episode 16: Under a Spell

"Dragon's little performance certainly put you in the mood," Lara whispered into Blackout's ear. She pressed up against him. "Can you pull the sheets up?"

"You want the sheets on?" Blackout shook his head a little and smiled, but pulled the covers up over their bodies. "My temperature is way up."

"It certainly is," Laura said with a purr. She paused a moment, looking into his eyes. "Thank you," she said finally.

"For what?" Blackout asked, turning onto his side.

"For loving me," she said.

"That's easy," Blackout said, smiling.

"I'm not sure that's true," Lara said, "but thank you for saying so."

"No, it's always been easy," Blackout said. "Ever since I met you."

"Love at first sight?"

"Sure. You put me under a spell, or something like that."

Lara stopped, her brow slightly furrowed. "I used to want love to be like a spell. Like a potion. I wanted to be swept away. I wanted to have Cupid's arrow hit me and I'd be lost. But I've been lost...not in love, but in..." She stopped, and tears formed around the edges of her eyes.

"I didn't mean anything by it," Blackout began. "I was just trying to be fun."

"I know," Lara said, her voice slightly broken, wiping away the first tear as it trailed down her cheek, forcing the next back along the side of her eye where they flowed onto her the back of her hand. "Shit. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm the one who should be saying sorry," Blackout said, running his hand along the side of her face, catching a teardrop which seemed to have waited to fall, seeking to connect them in a way their conversation could not.

"How could you have known?" Lara said. She hadn't even known until he'd said it. Something about the confluence of potion along with lost, and the hazy memories of drinking to drown remembrance flowed in, washing over her and through her to become tears. "I don't ever want to feel lost like that again," she said. "I want to choose what I do. I want to be aware, to make every decision deliberately."

They sat in silence for a moment.

"I choose to love you," she said to him. "And I never want you to feel like you are under a spell, under some influence compelling you to love me. I need to know you make those decisions too. That you love me in spite of, or perhaps because, of how fucked up I am."

Blackout nodded. "Is that why you've never read our cards?"

Lara shook her head. "I don't believe in Fate," Lara said. "Not in the sense most people understand it. The Fates themselves don't believe in that sort of manifest destiny. If the existence of the Tree has taught me anything, it's that there are too many possibilities, too many worlds, for there to be one perfect person, chosen for me by the gods or Fate or the cards...whatever. We ultimately choose to love someone, hunker down into a relationship, and fight to make it work, every fucking day, to make it work. To make it work." She said those last words in a fierce whisper, her eyes blazing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Episode 15: Dragon Blend

"As in, the Greek god Apollo, or the guy off Battlestar Galactica?" Blackout asked.

Andrew shot him a look, seemingly pleading Blackout to take matters seriously. "The guy off Battlestar Galactica? A completely fictional character?"

"The Dragon worked on Bespin," Blackout retorted. "As in Cloud frakking City. From. Star. Wars. Fictional enough for you?"

Andrew looked over at the red dragon working behind the coffee bar, then looked at Lara for confirmation. She shrugged and nodded apologetically. "That's what it says on her resume," she said. "And it's just Dragon. That's what she goes by."

"Doesn't that get confusing?" Blackout asked.

"Apparently Draconian is a telepathic language, and humans generally suck at telepathy, so she thought Dragon would be simpler than her proper name, which translates into a word which means 'the light which pushes through the vale of tears'."

"Sounds like the title of an emo song," Andrew said.

"But happier," Blackout added, Andrew nodding assent.

"Telepathy? So can they read human thoughts?" Andrew asked.

Laura smiled and nodded, "Sort of. They read our desires. And because they're shapeshifters, they can respond to that in the shape of said desire."

"So she could turn into a cappucino?" Andrew said.

"No, she'd turn into a woman holding a cappucino. Or a man. Or whatever you were desiring," Lara said.

"How very disturbing," Andrew said. "I can't say I'm exactly thrilled to have a shape-shifter working for us, given my experiences know. Is this transformation going to happen arbitrarily, or is it controllable?"

"Controllable," Lara said.

"What's controllable?" asked Dragon, coming over with coffee for the three humans seated at the table.

"Your ability to shape-shift," Lara replied.

While she was small for her race, Dragon was easily ten feet tall, sitting back on her haunches, to say nothing of the length of her long tail, or the span of her wings, currently folded behind her. Her red scales gleamed beneath the glow of the halogen lights. Andrew looked back at the tables and chairs Dragon had absently shoved aside making her way to serve them.

"Is it an illusion," Andrew asked, "Or do you actually change shape?"

"I actually change shape," Dragon replied.

"And you can become anything?"

"Anyone," Dragon said. "We can't become a plant, or a rock, or a television set. And our transformations are based upon a person's desires. We can't imagine someone and become them. We have to draw upon a person's desire, and become that."

"Seems rather limiting," Andrew observed.

"It's actually rather handy," Dragon replied. "Especially when you're at the mercy of some sword-wielding hero. Nothing better than being able to run behind a tree and become the maiden he thinks he's rescuing."

"Until he discovers the actual maiden, I suppose," Lara suggested.

"She's usually quite eaten by the time the hero shows up," Dragon said in a matter-of-fact way. "Not to my tastes--I'm strictly a domestic diner--none of that haute cuisine for me. I prefer my food to not approach my level of intelligence."

"Well," said Lara, in a flushed voice, "that's a relief to know."

"I want a demonstration," Andrew said. "Read one of us and change shape."

"Who should I read?" Dragon asked.

"Read Blackout," Andrew suggested.

"Where's the fun in that?" Blackout said. "I guarantee, you're going to get a copy of Lara. No surprise there."

"I'm not interested in surprises," Andrew said. "I just want to see it happen. If Dragon's going to work here, it would help if she weren't so big--bull in a china shop, that sort of thing."

"Very well," Dragon said, then fixed her gaze firmly upon Blackout. One moment, she was a huge, red-scaled creature of myth. The next, she was a perfect replica of Lara.


"That was unexpected," said Andrew.

"Ohmigod!" Lara squealed.

"Whoops," was all Blackout could say.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Episode 14: Elements of Eden

The longing for Eden burns within the heart of all sentient beings. Haunted by perfection, we seek the greener grass, the ultimate experience, the perfect love. Occasionally, a place retains Elysian elements, and becomes a shrine, a temple, or in more recent years, the location of an all-inclusive resort. Our relationships also occasion such glimpses, and become our dearest friends. We miss them when they are away, but are able to effortlessly resume wherever we left off without awkward small talk or social crutches. When an experience retains elements of Eden, we find ourselves laughing for no reason, grinning like idiots, crying uncontrollably, passionately aroused to social justice or the heights of ecstasy. We savor the food we eat, langourously tasting the wine in our mouth, we notice small details on the object of our affection which only increase our attraction, and we pray to the powers to slow time. If we are wise, we take a moment to breathe in such moments, and focus all our attention on creating a mental snapshot, vainly hoping that the phosphorous we carry in our brain today will pass the moment clearly along to the phosphorous which will be in our brain tomorrow. Like wine, the memory will age well, and we will remember it when we catch a certain scent or see a vista that evokes the original moment.

The banquet held all these elements of Eden. The Hotel MacDonald, overlooking the Edmonton river valley, was pristinely predisposed towards perspectives of paradise. It was why the original builders had chosen its location, though they would not have known that. When Andrew and Silke went to grab a breath of air on the stone balcony, they sensed the absence of the Garden in the presence of the tableau before them, the sun's setting colors reflecting off the waters of the North Saskatchewan River, playing fiery highlights off the dark greens of the trees with their Spring growth filling in the spaces between their branches. They experienced it in each other, having found another to delight in, not to simply reflect back adoration, but someone who could help the other cease to be simply individual, and start becoming a unity. It began, as it always did, with the surface of things; it was too soon for deep to call to deep, and so the way her hair caught the light of the sunset, or how her eyes sparkled when she laughed. The supple tone of her arms. The thrill of brushing up against her.

But the night itself would have held an element of Eden even if they had not been lost in each other. The conversations held between beings from other spaces, and other times. The surreality of standing with Borges, the elder treating the younger not as student but colleague, questions and answers traded equally, and Andrew suddenly finding himself taking issue with something Borges had put forward. An eyebrow arching above the blind eye, and the old man smiling wryly. Andrew graciously thanking him for such animated debate, and stepping away with Silke. Spotting Jack across the room, and realizing again who the older man was.

"I can't believe it took me so long to realize who you three were," Andrew said.

Jack chuckled. "You actually mentioned something I wrote from The Magician's Nephew when we were having a teaching time, and I really had to bite my tongue to keep from saying something."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because it would have changed everything too soon," Jack replied. "If you'd thought of me as 'C.S. Lewis' the great writer, you couldn't have thought of me as Jack, a friend who had done what you are doing once upon a time."

Andrew nodded. "I have an odd question to ask then."

"On the balcony outside," Jack said. "If you're going to be asking odd questions, I'd like to have a cigarette in hand: in the eventuality I have any hard thinking to do."

As they turned to head towards the balcony, there was an explosion of light and sound which invaded their senses. Andrew felt overwhelmed by it, like being at a concert in front of the speakers and being blinded by the glare of lights all at once. And as his mind processed the experience, he was aware of a certain musical quality to the explosion, underneath the riot of color and noise.

Spots still in his eyes, Andrew tried to look about the room to determine the source of the commotion. As his gaze fell upon a figure dressed all in white, standing at the entrance to the hall, he heard Jack swear, and whisper a name under his breath.