Ahir ran down the sidewalk, Bar’bou perched on his shoulder. “Is she still following us?”
“Yes, Ms. Ameliason is still within visual range of our persons.” Bar’bou said, gripping tightly to Ahir’s shoulder.
“What is it going to take to lose her? I’ll duck down this alley up here, maybe if we go to the roof tops…”
“I must advise against performing numerous additional maneuvers, our target is yet distant and the longer we delay the more probable that our enemy will draw attention to himself and cause untold destruction.”
Ahir sighed, “Bar’bou, when are you going to learn that no one on this side of the portals understands you when you talk that way? You don’t need to try and impress anyone, you are a talking monkey, that’s already impressive enough.”
“You are a buffoon sir, but very well. ‘We don’t have much time to waste, our enemy is still far away, and the longer we take to get there, the longer he has to be seen and cause some destruction.’ That clear enough for you?”
Ahir frowned and started running faster. “Yeah, I understand well enough. Maybe we can catch a bus downtown or something?”
“I think that it would end up taking longer to get there that way, and Ms. Ameliason would definitely catch up with us.”
“You have a point, buddy. Running, it is!”
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Thaddeus walked down the crowded street, oblivious to the people walking past him on either side, engrossed in reading this month’s issue of the “Captain Ember” comic. He had twenty minutes left in his lunch break, just enough time to either make it back to Mr. Grover’s antique shop or to read his new comic book, and he had decided to do both. He was also oblivious to the people following him.
Two youths in gray hooded sweatshirts had followed Thaddeus from the comic book store after they had gotten a glimpse of what was inside his wallet.
Thaddeus traveled a couple more blocks before the two youths came up behind him, grabbed him by the arms, and guided him into an alley. Thaddeus struggled to get away from the two of them and said, “Hey, what’s going on? You two had better let me go!”
One of them smiled before saying, “Don’t worry, we will let you go, as soon as you give us your wallet!”
Thaddeus stopped struggling. “M-m-m-my wallet? Why would you want that? I don’t have much money, only a couple of dollars.”
The other mugger laughed and threw Thaddeus to the ground, sending his comic book flying.. “We know you are lying, we saw what you got for that old ‘The Cleaner’ comic. Now hand it over.” He reached out his hand to take Thaddeus’ wallet.
Thaddeus looked from the muggers hand to his issue of “Captain Ember”, laying open on the floor of the dirty alleyway, the cover facing up. It seemed to him that Captain Ember’s confident smile was encouraging him to stand up for himself. If I appear confident, maybe that will scare these guys away and make them think twice about messing with me. Thaddeus knocked the muggers extended hand away and rose to his feet. “I will not give you my wallet, scum. If you know what is good for you, you will leave now before I decide to teach you a lesson.”
One of the muggers formed a fist and snickered. “No, I’m afraid that you are the one that is going to learn a lesson. You aren’t some comic book superhero, and you should do what your betters tell you to do!” The mugger punched Thaddeus in the face and sent him sprawling back onto the ground, hitting his head on a garbage can and knocking it over. The two muggers started kicking Thaddeus in the head and in his ribs, all the while Thaddeus moaning and screaming in pain. People kept walking past the mouth of the alley, ignoring Thaddeus’ cries for help and screams of pain as if nothing were happening.
Finally the muggers stopped kicking him, one of them reaching into Thaddeus’ pocket and taking out his wallet and opening it up. “Score! He has over fifteen hundred dollars in here! Who would have thought that nerds like this guy would be worth targeting? Maybe we should go back to the comic book shop and see who else we can find!”
“Good idea, but before we go, I wanna give our friend here one last message.” The mugger bent over and picked up Thaddeus’ fallen comic book. “Maybe if you spent more time in a gym and less time daydreaming about superheroes you could have stopped us. I’m about to do you a favor.” The mugger ripped the comic book in half and threw the two pieces at Thaddeus’ head. They started laughing and heading out of the alley. Thaddeus, one eye swollen shut, slowly and painfully reached out his hand toward the two retreating thugs, a tear sliding down his cheek. A spark danced away from his outstretched hand, joined by another, and another, until a gout of flame shot away from his hand and consumed the two muggers.
The muggers screamed out for a second, then they dropped to the ground, burned to ash. The heat of the fire cracked the bricks of the buildings on either side of the alley, and just as suddenly as the fire had appeared, it was gone. Thaddeus stared at his hand in amazement as tiny flames danced between his fingertips. The fire surged again, this time forming into a flame cyclone around Thaddeus’ body. Thaddeus cried out in terror, and realized that he wasn’t being burned. In fact, wherever the flames touched his body, his bruises disappeared, and he even felt his cracked ribs heal up.
Thaddeus stood up in the middle of the cyclone and held his hands out. Flames descended onto his outstretched arms and spread until it was covering him from head to toe, the flame changing from fire into fabric wherever it landed, changing between red and orange, depending on how the light caught it, to make it appear he was wearing an outfit created from flames, an orange mask covering him from the forehead down to his neck formed on his head, with a hole cut for his eyes, his nose, and his mouth. His hair was replaced with living flames, and a cape of fire burst to life behind him.
Thaddeus looked down at himself in wonder, and the flames surrounding him disappeared. I…I…I look just like Captain Ember! He must have seen me take a stand for justice, and decided to make me into his avatar in this world! A smile crossed Thaddeus’ face and he held his hand up, forming a fireball in it. “Time to clean these streets up and make sure punks like that don’t bother any innocents ever again.” Thaddeus walked out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. People started screaming and running away, and several cars ran into each other, and one or two actually swerved into buildings.
“Do not fear, citizens, for it is I, Captain Ember, and I am here to protect this city and you from evil! Now where should I start?” Thaddeus’ eyes glowed with an inner fire.
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Ahir’s feet pounded down the sidewalk, and he gasped for breath. “Please tell me we are getting close Bar’bou.”
Bar’bou glanced behind him and and frowned. “We are getting closer, as makes obvious logical sense, but it is still somewhat distant. More importantly I am impressed by Ms. Ameliason’s endurance. She is actually catching up with you Ahir. You really need to work out more.”
“I do acrobatics for a living, forgive me for not regularly practicing sprinting across the city. All things considered, I’m in pretty good shape. I bet you wouldn’t still be running if it was you doing all this work.”
“An Aureus’Aevum can run all day without getting tired. You humans are so weak and fragile compared to us. The fact that beings such as ourselves need to ask a being as fragile as you for help is so embarrassing:” Bar’bou frowned. “The portal has closed.”
Ahir stopped running. “What? Are you sure? What does that mean?”
“Yes, I am certain. I have a ward cast on my person that alerts me to the location of all portals opened in whatever dimension I am in. I do not sense the existence of any portals here. I can only assume that Lang’Kahn pulled whoever he sent back through and closed the portal. I can’t imagine what that reason would be, but it’s the only explanation that makes any sense.”
Ahir started running down the sidewalk again. “Just to be safe, I still want to check it out. Not that I don’t trust your senses, but this could just be a new way for them to try and trick us.” Someone reached out and grabbed Ahir’s arm. Ahir turned to see who had grabbed him and groaned.
Trixie let go of Ahir’s arm, frowned and crossed her arms beneath her breasts. “I caught you, Ahir. You promised to let me help you with these monsters. Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“Forgive me, miss, but my people are not monsters,” Bar’bou said peaking around from behind Ahir’s head.
“The only other one of you that I have seen sure looked like a monster to me. That’s not what is important right now. Why didn’t you wait for me?” Trixie asked, a hurt look crossing her face.
“I am the only one that can hurt the monsters.” Ahir raised his hand to stop Bar’bou, who was about to start talking again. “Not the time, Bar’bou. The sword that I carry is the only thing that can kill these things, and I am the only who can wield it. In anyone else’s hand it’s not even sharp. All you could do is be a distraction for me, or get hurt.”
Trixie frowned again. “That’s not your decision to make, it’s mine. I could help to distract them for you, or make sure that no one else sees you. There are all kinds of things I can do to help you. You don’t have do this alone Ahir.”
“I don’t do this alone. Bar’bou is my partner, and at least I don’t have to worry about him getting hurt.”
“The way I see it, you have two choices. You can honor your promise to me and let me help you, or I can go and tell the police what you are involved in. The choice is yours.”
“Why do you want to help so much?” Ahir asked.
Trixie blushed before answering. “This is my home too. I want help protect it.”
Ahir sighed. “Fine, you can help. I will do everything in my power to make sure you don’t get hurt, but I can’t make any promises. The portal that Bar’bou sensed appears to have closed. We are on our way to check it out to make sure that nothing is up. You are welcome to join us if you want.” Ahir turned and started jogging down the sidewalk once again, and Trixie joined him.
They jogged for another fifteen minutes and finally Bar’bou told them that they had reached the spot. Ahir doubled over breathing deeply, and Trixie was breathing hard as well. “You wouldn’t happen to have a car, would you Trixie? That would really help out our cause.”
Trixie giggled. “Sorry Ahir, but I usually just take the bus. Doesn’t look like the monster is here anymore though.”
Ahir turned and surveyed the scene, and it did appear that it was just an empty parking lot between two buildings “You are right Trixie, but you should stay here with Bar’bou while I go and check it out a little bit more. It wouldn’t be the first time they tried to ambush me.” Ahir put his pack down on the ground and pulled out his sword. Bar’bou jumped off of his shoulder and onto Ahir’s pack.
Ahir slowly walked across the parking lot, looking left and right, watching for any movement. Suddenly a thud sounded from behind him and Ahir turned quickly to see what it was. He looked left and right and saw a concrete parking stop sitting on top of a dumpster, and looked to the top of the brick building the dumpster was up against, and saw that the rooftops were empty. “Did either of you see who threw that?” Ahir asked.
Bar’bou crossed the lot and jumped up onto the dumpster. “I was carefully monitoring the surrounding area and failed to witness any persons other than ourselves.” Ahir opened his mouth and Bar’bou raised his hand to stop him. “No, I didn’t see anyone else and I was watching for them. What could have possibly happened here?”
“I don’t know, but we have a long trip back home. Maybe we can catch a bus this time. Let’s go.”