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V.x – Here Be Dragons

Volume V. Instar

Issue x. Here Be Dragons

Florian Reyes Honeywell
Written by Roach

In between classes, the group chat pinged:

Amber: Did you guys check insta?

Camilo: no?

Amber: Look at our photo

As I walked through the hallways on my way to biology, I scrolled through Instagram to find our post. I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to look for—the picture hadn’t exactly changed. Me, Spindle, and Stagehand remained in our costumes, trapped in the same pose. I scrolled through the comments instead.

In the last week, there didn’t seem to have been a whole lot of new activity following the hype of the first upload. With the exception of one new comment, from last night. It only included a single emoji: the dragon emoji, commented by the user @p0ntiacwr3ck.

The account was empty—a throwaway. Still, I didn’t have to think hard to conclude that it had to be from Bōsō. Sending us a reminder that he hadn’t forgotten about us. Or, that we shouldn’t forget about his warning about Dragon’s Teeth.

Or both.

When I entered the biology classroom, I tried to catch Amber’s eyes. She had already arrived to class, sitting between Jazmine and Raegan. For a moment, Amber’s gaze flickered to me, then back to her phone. When I tried to read her expression, she gave away nothing—instead, she giggled at something Jazmine had said.

Then, the group chat pinged again:

Amber: Aesops after school

I put away my phone, and scanned the room for an empty seat. I spotted an opening, next to Hannah. She flipped idly through the textbook. I sat down next to her.

“Hey,” I tried, figuring that I should at least attempt small talk while we waited for Mrs. Porter. “Umh… How was your weekend?”

Hannah looked up from her book. “What?” she said, turning to me with a slightly puzzled expression.

“Never mind… Sorry,” I mumbled, suddenly feeling embarrassed. I opened my notebook, avoiding her gaze.

My mind buzzed with the events of the weekend, and continued to do so throughout the school day. I thought about how Amber had surprised me with her resourcefulness; her research skills, her quick thinking on the road… Still, I couldn’t get around the fact that she used me as her personal punching bag. On the one hand, it was what saved us from Bōsō, but even so… How far could my power stretch, and how much was I supposed to put up with?

Camilo had also surprised me, but in a different way. Something I couldn’t entirely place seemed different about him. His approach to the Yakuza had been unlike our previous fights… But why? Was it to protect the theater kids? To help Jay? To make up for their argument?

And now we were on the Yakuza’s radar. Maybe we had come out on top this time, but what if there was a next time? I hoped that Bōsō would keep up his end of the bargain and stay clear of Chapel… but I wasn’t about to blindly trust a villain, either.

And despite it all, we had won. I felt the swarm’s hum through me. There was a certain thrill to it, knowing that someone like Bōsō could attack me—and I could get back up.

After school, I headed to Aesop’s. When I entered, the familiar sound of the doorbell chimed overhead. Aromas of coffee and pastries wafted through the air. The little café-shop hybrid was moderately busy, with a couple of customers browsing the comics while an intense game of Uno played out at one of the tables. Amber and Camilo had already found a booth in one of the corners. 

I sat down at the table. Camilo sipped from a coffee cup, while Amber studied her phone with a bored look. As she scrolled, I could hear her long nails scratching against the screen.

“So, I guess we wanted to do more than just play board games?” I said.

“Right,” Amber said, looking up from her phone. “So, team… I guess we should start thinking about a proper name, huh? Team sounds kinda lame.”

Camilo set his coffee down. “Maybe it wouldn’t if we actually acted like one.” He sounded more tired than anything else.

“What’s with you?” Amber raised an eyebrow.

“There’s nothing with me.” His voice came off as strained, and he drummed his fingertips against the side of his cup.

“Yeah, right. You’re acting like Aesop put needles in your coffee.”

“No, it’s just…” He sighed. “I think we’ve been rash.”

“But we won,” Amber pointed out. “Honestly, I don’t think we could have asked for a better outcome.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “And none of those Yakuza guys came to school today. Look, I know Bōsō left that comment… but as far as I can tell, he’s sticking to his promise. We scared them out of here. We did that.”

I sensed Camilo relax slightly where he sat next to me. “And good fucking riddance, I say to that. But…” He took a deep breath. “I keep thinking it over. We put ourselves in a really dangerous situation. I don’t know how Florian does it, but anyone else would have died in his shoes. And I don’t…” He trailed off for a moment, pausing as he took another sip from his coffee. “I don’t want to think about that.” He glanced at me, his eyebrows furrowing.

“But no one did,” Amber countered.

Camilo continued, “Still, we can’t recklessly dive into these situations. Not again. Especially with Dragon’s Teeth around… And I know it’s partially on me for pushing it, but Amber… It’s on you, too. You whacked Florian. With a baseball bat. In no world is that okay, and it’s certainly not teamwork.”

We were all quiet as Camilo’s words sunk in. Amber sat back, and for a moment, looked out the window—seemingly at nothing in particular, save the steady flow of people walking down the street or leaving the school.

After a long pause, she broke the silence. “Look, I… I know. I got caught up in the moment, and I saw a solution. And it wasn’t a good one, and I should have thought it through.” I almost expected her to add something snarky—some sort of punchline. But instead, she looked at me.  There was a drawn out silence, and her eyebrows knotted together in worry. “Florian, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” Then, she turned to Camilo. “And maybe you disagree with me, but I really think we make a good team. Without your…” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “…illusions, we wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Bōsō. And even though I could see the connections, we found out about the Yakuza’s whereabouts so much faster thanks to Florian’s bees. Maybe I’m not always the best team player, but I think what you guys did was amazing. We did amazing.”

I mulled it all over. Maybe I didn’t always agree with her methods, but I still couldn’t help but think she had a point about how our powers worked together. My bees, Camilo’s illusions, her bonds… When we investigated the drug deals and confronted Bōsō, it all just sort of clicked together.

I realized that both of them were looking at me, waiting for me to say something. “Well…” I paused. Yes, we should have thought it through more, made a better plan, communicated better. I had asked for that, but caved in when they wanted to jump in headfirst. But no matter how many should haves or what ifs I thought through, one thing remained the same. There was something messed up happening at Chapel High. Something that went deeper than just Mr. Howells. I continued, “It wasn’t perfect, but we’re in it now. We can’t exactly go back, so… Maybe we should focus on whatever is going on with Dragon’s Teeth. Get ahead while we can, and make a better plan this time.”

Amber nodded. “I haven’t really seen any bonds out of the ordinary, but maybe we could…”

A booming voice interrupted her. “Sorry to barge in, but do you have a moment?”

A stout man in an apron had appeared by our table. It was Aesop. Both Camilo and Amber raised their eyebrows in alarm. How much of our conversation had he overheard? The swarm bristled with unease.

“Suure…” Amber replied, hesitantly.

“Great! So, I didn’t mean to listen in, but I couldn’t help but overhear you guys talk about Dungeons & Dragons. Is that right?” He chuckled.

I froze. Dungeons? Dragons? Had he heard us talk about Dragon’s Teeth?  What was he on about?

“Uhh… Yeah, we love the… Dungeons & Dragons. It’s totally, like, my favorite,” Amber said.

“Uh-huh. We were actually just brainstorming some… character ideas,” Camilo added.

Not sure what to say, I nodded along and forced a smile.

“That’s perfect,” Aesop said. “I’m looking for some players for our new Adventurer’s League.” Laughlines crept into the corners of his eyes as he looked expectantly at us.

Amber turned to Camilo and I, nodding slowly. Both of us nodded back, just as uncertainly. I had no clue what league he was talking about, and it didn’t seem like they did either. But at least he didn’t appear to have connected the dots to Dragon’s Teeth.

“Yeah… That sounds great,” Amber said.

“Great. Come with me.” Aesop offered a warm smile. “There are a couple of players getting ready.”

We followed him across the shop. He halted by one of the tables, cluttered by sheets of paper and weirdly shaped dice. Two others were already seated there.

As we approached, I heard one of them muttering to the other: “I can’t believe you dragged me into this.”

I glanced to the speaker. The first thing I noticed about her was her striking, gray hair—presumably dyed, as she looked too young for her hair to be naturally graying. At the same time, it was difficult to pinpoint her actual age. Her baggy clothes made her look even smaller than she actually was, but—at the same time—her expression seemed more… worn, or maybe tired. She stared intently down at a sheet of paper, scribbling down numbers into little boxes. She was pale, with a steely look in her eyes. I thought she could be anywhere from our age or into her twenties.

Simultaneously, another woman waved to us, a bright smile emerging on her light brown face. She had gathered her jet black hair in a ponytail, and wore a black blouse with blue jeans. While she didn’t look old, she seemed older than her friend—maybe in her late 20s or early 30s?

“I’ll let you guys introduce yourselves,” Aesop said.

Amber went first. “I’m Amber.” She inspected her red-painted nails as she said it, seemingly over the entire ordeal.

“I’m Camilo,” Camilo said, his tone cautious but somewhat friendlier.

“Florian,” I muttered.

“Nice to meet you! I’m Linda,” the older woman said. She turned to her gray-haired friend, who slowly looked up.

“I’m Jannette,” she said quietly, before turning her gray gaze back to the paper again.

“So, you guys ready to make some characters?” Linda grinned.

The three of us looked at each other. Part of me hoped that someone would bring up an excuse—homework, volleyball, or theater practice, anything. But we were already too deep in the lie to back out now.

And judging by Camilo and Amber’s strained smiles, they knew it too.

“Dibs on the pink dice,” Amber said, and reached for a set of translucent pink dice.

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