“Lockdown mode active.”
The computerized voice kept repeating that sentence over and over. After a minute of it, Daniel would have openly welcomed battling the dragon again if it meant not hearing it anymore. “Can you shut that thing off?” he groaned.
“It wouldn’t be much of an alarm if it was silent, now would it?”
He looked at the speaker, shook his head, and rolled his eyes. Daniel knew that raising her with his penchant for sarcasm would eventually come back to bite him in the ass and that day had arrived a long time ago. This was just a continuation of the many years of torment his daughter had inflicted upon him. Although, if she had been talking to anyone else, he probably would have chuckled a bit. Since she hadn’t been, it was just one more annoyance to pile on top of his heap of troubles.
“Besides,” Emmeline added, “this alarm is what’s signaling the others to come here. If we turned the alarm off, they’d assume that the situation was resolved.”
Great, Daniel thought as he watched the monitor showing the thermal image of the city. It was a jumble of reds, yellows, greens, and blues. Only one thing stood out. It was a spot of bright white, which indicated a very hot spot. That was what was coming right at them.
“Are you sure it’s the dragon?” Tatiana asked. “Couldn’t it be a missile or something too?”
“Oh yeah,” Daniel said before he could stop himself, “because a missile coming at us would be so much better.”
Inwardly, Daniel cringed. His daughter shot him the exact same look that he had likely given to her moments ago. Luckily, Emmeline interrupted the growing tension by answering her question. “No. It’s traveling far too slowly to be a missile.”
The hot spot on the screen came to an abrupt stop. It hovered in place for almost a minute. The three of them watched in silence until the spot started moving again. This time, however, it was heading south. “It changed direction,” he murmured to himself. “Where’s it going?”
His comment was loud enough for at least Emmeline to hear him because she replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t finished the training class on how to read dragons’ minds.”
“Huh,” he responded. “They were right. Silence truly is golden.” Before any more banter was flung about, he changed the subject. “Is my gear here?”
“It was beyond repair. I have new armor and weapons for you.”
“Where is it?”
“You can’t possibly be thinking about going after that thing,” Tatiana protested. “Did the blow to the head make you forget what happened the last time you fought it?”
“Last time I didn’t know what I’d be facing. Now I do. Last time I was by myself. Now I’m not.” He could see that his words weren’t making her feel better, so he continued. “I know you’re worried about me, but I have to do this. It’s my job to protect this city against anything that attacks it, dragons included. I’m not going to let an innocent person possibly be at risk just because of what might happen to me. I have to stop this thing.”
“I know. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Don’t worry,” Emmeline said. “When he screws this fight up, which you know he’s going to do, I’ll save his ass again.”
“Really, Emmeline? You want to do that now? Ok, then. Let’s look back on how many times I’ve saved you and compare it to the two times you’ve saved me.”
The color drained from Emmeline’s face. “Shutting up now.”
“Good. Let’s get ready.”
Daniel bid his daughter goodbye and put his gear on. By the time he was done, Calrian had arrived. Robbie, the Eastside Protector, and Nikki, the Westside Protector, were there too. The only one missing was Kennedy, the Northside Protector. “Where’s your Collectors?” Daniel asked the other three.
“Manuel is on patrol,” Robbie said. “Someone has to watch my section while I’m bailing you out.”
Why does everyone talk to me like that? Daniel wondered. Even Robbie, a normally silent man, did it. Then his thoughts slipped to what Robbie’s real name was. It wasn’t Robbie. He knew that much. Robbie was the only other Protector in their 30s besides him, coming in five years younger than Daniel at thirty-four. He had seen it once in all of their time together. It had appeared briefly on a computer screen a few years ago, but it didn’t do him any good since he couldn’t read Japanese. Daniel still wondered why Robbie rushed to change the information on the screen when he knew that Daniel had no clue about how to read it.
Emmeline and Nikki gave similar answers about their Collectors. Once that was settled, they momentarily debated on whether or not to wait for Kennedy to show up before leaving. It was quickly decided that they didn’t need to wait for her. If she showed up after they left, Calrian would direct her on where to go. His Collector would be staying behind and monitoring their progress on the computer and providing them with intel.
The Protectors piled into an armored vehicle and pushed its engine to the limit. Nikki sat calmly behind the wheel while she recklessly weaved in and out of traffic. As soon as they crossed the boundary into Southside, the vehicle’s radio came to life. “You’re not going to believe this,” Calrian said to them, “but it stopped at the same place as we fought it before.”
Daniel frowned. That didn’t make any sense. Why would it go back there? That parking garage held no strategic value that he could think of. The only reason to go back there would be…
“What?” Robbie questioned.
“The dragon knows we’re tracking it. Why else would it go back there other than to fight on familiar ground?”
“Maybe it dropped something when we fought it last and it went to retrieve it,” Emmeline reasoned.
“You said I was out of it for two days. That’s plenty of time to go back and get something, especially since it would probably want to grab whatever it is before we had a chance to find it.”
“Does it matter?” Nikki interrupted. When no reply came, she continued, “We’re going to fight it either way, right? Why would it matter why it chose that location?”
All of them nodded, conceding her point. “You’re right,” Daniel said. “We’ll be fighting it either way. And, even if it is a trap, we’re going in as prepared as someone can be when they’re about to fight a dragon.”
They dropped back into silence while Emmeline continued to weave through traffic. Most people did their best to get out of the way when they saw the Protector’s armored vehicle coming at them, but there were a few who thought they didn’t need to. One particular driver, in a fancy sports car, steadfastly refused to get out of the way until Emmeline used the armored vehicle’s bumper to let the driver know to move. The sports car finally complied, but its driver didn’t look happy about it.
A few minutes later, they arrived on-site. The dragon sat out in the open, on the edge of the top floor of the parking garage. It had its wings wrapped around its front, as if giving itself a hug with them. “Right back where we started,” it said after they stepped out of the vehicle. “It certainly brings back memories, does it not?”
“Yeah, I’m all warm and tingly from nostalgia,” Daniel deadpanned. “So, are you going to come down here so we can kick your ass or do we need to come up there to kick your ass?”
“Such vulgarities,” it scoffed. Looking down at its wings, it asked, “Is he always this way?”
“Unfortunately, he is,” a familiar voice answered. The dragon moved its wings to their normal position on its back to reveal the speaker. The Northside Protector, Kennedy, stood in front of the dragon with her hands on her hips. “Let’s teach him a lesson.”