Chapter 1:

Wake Up Call

Zero2One


Samantha blinked slowly, her vision blurry and bright. Even her ears were ringing after the loud explosive pop, which had flashed with blinding light. Samantha could feel the cold concrete sidewalk under her stomach and realized her hands were covering her head. She had hit the ground hard after the explosion.Bookmark here


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A voice still echoed in her mindBookmark here

"Systems Merge, Initialized." The voice had said, before everything went white.Bookmark here

As the cold, feminine echos ceased, Samantha's vision returned in full color.Around her was absolute chaos. The brick and concrete buildings of the downtown area were cracked, crumbling, and many of them on fire. There was a car crashed into one of the blooming trees that lined the once pristine sidewalks, the driver still slumped in the seat. Its blaring car alarm was the first sound to break through her silent daze.


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Then came the screaming and shouting, just as Samantha realized that people were running about frantically. They dodged burning cars, fallen trees, and other misshapen debris. Some of the people were covered in blood. Others lay on the ground, covered with signs of disaster and otherwise unmoving.Bookmark here

[What's happened? It looks like a bomb went off.]


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Samantha squinted her eyes, protecting them against a thick smoke that had begun cloaking the scene. The stench of burning materials hurt her nose. Her senses were becoming so overwhelmed that it was hard to think straight. She closed her eyes to block everything out and focused on recalling her memories.Bookmark here

It was DnD day, so she was walking to her friend's house... She remembered the weather being clear and the street seemed so peaceful. Then, suddenly, there was a blinding light and ear-splitting pop. She didn't even remember hitting the ground.
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[Then I woke up like this… Wait. I wasn't alone!]
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Her friends had been walking with her! Where were they?!
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As she pushed herself to her elbows, Samantha realized something heavy was resting on her back. She turned her head towards the weight and saw a boy her age, with long black hair tied into a messy ponytail. One of his arms was folded in front of his face, indicating he had the time to guard his head before he was thrown to the ground. The other was covering her shoulders.
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[His arm was over me… Mikale protected me.]
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She was about to feel relieved when she remembered her other friend. Fortunately, it wasn't hard to find him. He lay conveniently to her right, looking relatively uninjured. He hadn't protected his face, but was lucky to have fallen into the grass that lined that sidewalk. His blond hair was littered with dirt and debris. Nothing dangerous.
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Samantha quickly jumped to her knees and leaned over him. "Shoes… Shugo, wake up!"Her voice was hoarse, held in her throat by fear. With a cough, Samantha realized fear wasn't the only thing muting her yells. The smoke was becoming thicker and felt uncomfortably hot. Something was obviously on fire, even if she couldn't make out what was burning.
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Samantha lifted her focus from the two boys and back towards the streets, which were blanketed by the smoke. Through the smoke, she could still see other people were running around in a frenzy. Adults. Surely one of them could help a trio of teenagers, who were barely sixteen. She covered her mouth with her pink cardigan sleeves, to at least keep smoke out of her lungs, and prepared to yell for help. Her whole body was shaking with fear as she opened her mouth, but someone else called out first.
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"DRAGON!"
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Samantha went stiff with shock. No, she must have heard wrong. Something must be wrong with her head. Maybe she hit it too hard? And yet, a chorus of screams resounded through the panicking crowd:
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"There's a dragon!"Bookmark here

"LOOK OUT!"Bookmark here

"Run!"
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She blinked her eyes now. That wasn't right. Dragons did not exist in the 21st century… Actually, they had never existed. They were fantasy and you could only find them through stretches of the imagination.
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[I've clearly hit my head too hard… Or I'm dreaming. Having a nightmare. And when I wake up, Shoes and Mikky and I will go to Dungeons and Dragons. Dragons are allowed to exist in DnD.]And yet, like a flash of lightning, a body of red scales zipped through the street right in front of her. The huge form crashed into the side of a blue car. The colour of red hot fantasy and cool blue reality contrasted each other sharply. There was indeed a dragon. It was maybe half the size of a bus, with huge wings that extended over twice its body length. Huge talons dug into the car with the ease of a can opener. With the same effortless motion, the giant creature peeled the car's roof off.
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Samantha heard the screaming before she saw the dragon remove a body from inside the vehicle. She didn't need to see anymore, nor did she want to, so ducked her head downward. The dying screams and cries explained what the dragon wanted from the people in the car. Fear flooded her gut and threatened to paralyze her. The firey smoke was hot, but Samantha felt ice cold.
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[This can't be happening! Dragons aren't real! And normal girls like me don't get caught up in this kind of thing…!]
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Between the smoke and her fear, Samantha found it hard to breath. Just as her panic was becoming overwhelming, she heard one of the boys next to her moan. The sound of her friend's life snapped her back to her senses.
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[Dream or not… I'm not letting this become a nightmare for us!]
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Samantha grabbed Shugo first and rolled him over in the grass roughly. Then turned and did the same, with less cruelty, to Mikale. Both boys groaned softly in response, but weren't fully awake.
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"Wake up! Both of you, get up!" She pleaded. Her screams intermingled with those of the people being ripped out of the blue car. "We have to get out of here! Right! NOW!"
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When Mikale came to, he was much more awake than Samantha. His vision and hearing were both sharp and alert. Years of light sleeping and paranoia kept him constantly on edge. Even brief unconsciousness was not enough to calm his anxiety upon waking.


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Around him, the noise of screaming humans and cars was more stimulating than hot coffee. Pushing himself off the ground, he saw the crumbled buildings, the scattered fires, and the mangled bodies. His steel blue eyes shot wide open at the sight, his mouth hanging in shock. The scene was unbelievable and horrific. When he heard Samantha calling again, he turned his head to face her. Even though she looked terrified, the fact she looked alive gave him a source of stability.
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"Shugo! Shugo, you too. Get up!" She cried frantically, "We have to move! Mikale!"
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Mikale took one last look at the dragon. A real life dragon. With vibrant red scales, powerful leathery wings, and crazed yellow eyes. It was digging through a line of parked cars like a hungry raccoon looked through trashcans.
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In his daily life, Mikale was often criticized for being clueless. His father and mother had been sure to remind him that he was an idiot. Whether the reminder was verbal or not, Mikale had that fact beaten undeniably into his bruises. When he did not understand something, Mikale would button his lips and not call attention to his dangerous stupidity. As a result, he was very good at going with the flow and accepting things are they were. Without question. Even now, with his situation improving, there were some terrible lessons he couldn't unlearn.
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Today, in the case of the dragon, Mikale reasoned this tactic was to his advantage.
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He did not question the events unraveling around him. There was no time to ask Samantha 'how' or 'why,' or to even elaborate on 'what.' Instead, Mikale hoisted himself to his feet. Seeing that Samantha was terrified for their friend, Mikale moved to solve her problems one at a time. With a firm grip on Shugo's unconscious body, he lifted the skinny nerd into his arms. There was only one question on his mind, and he directed it squarely to Samantha."Where to?"
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To Mikale, this was an obvious first question. No matter what kind of abuse he was weathering, a safe place to wait out the storm was his solution. There was a dragon behind them, ripping apart parked cars in search of more human bodies. It was only a matter of time before it noticed the three teenagers, who stood only meters away. All that was between them was some fire and thick smoke, which likely did not actually hinder a dragon. Putting some actual obstacles between them was an obvious priority.
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But to Samantha, the question was not so obvious. Mikale never knew what went on in her mischievous brain, but 'where to hide' had apparently not been in there. She pressed her lips firmly together, accepting without protest that Mikale's 'where' was more important than her 'how will I beat that dragon.' That part of her logic, Mikale had guessed. When it came to problem solving, he was the one to run away from danger while Samantha was the one to strike it with a bat.
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He watched as she narrowed her eyes and covered her mouth with her sleeve. She twisted her body in quick motions, searching their surroundings. The street they were on was lined with shops, but there was both a barrier of fire and live dragon between them and the stores. Even if they could reach the safety of the stone buildings, the they were badly damaged and burning from the inside-out. The damage looked more like the aftermath of a bomb than the result of one hungry dragon zipping about.
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Mikale vaguely noticed that there was something else off-putting about their surroundings, but he couldn't quite place what it was. Something about the trees, which were not native to their hometown.
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But he shook the thought off, literally shaking his head to expel it. After all… He was an idiot. Too stupid to know native trees from foreign ones, even if gardening was one of his favorite hobbies. His theory was probably incorrect.
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"The school!" Suddenly, Samantha spoke up. She pointed down the cracked sidewalk, towards the black iron fences that surrounded their high school. The smoke was not as thick there, suggesting it might not be on fire. "Dragons can't like school, right? It'll probably avoid it, right?"
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Mikale normally didn't like to question people, but he almost spoke against her strange logic. Samantha was, after all, the only person he felt safe contradicting. And her logic was almost stupid.
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Then he remembered that their high school was one of the newest buildings in this shopping district. It had been reinforced with earthquake resistant technology and was built with frequent fire seasons in mind. If any structure in this area would be dragon proof, it was the new school. Her reasoning for the suggestion might have been… "Charming." But it was valid.
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"Right." He flashed her a weak smile and nodded his head, "Lead the way."
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"Okay!" She returned the smile, which soothed any panic he had been neglecting. Their smiles were a promise that they would be okay.
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The brief calm was abruptly cut. There was a horrible screeching sound behind them, like the noise of a chalkboard being scratched. When curiosity got the best of him, Mikale turned around to see the dragon had finished peeling a car apart. It would be looking for new prey any second now—-
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"Ughh… What the hell is that noise…?" Whined a certain nerdy best friend.Mikale looked down and remembered that he was carrying Shugo, bridal style, through this entire ordeal. It seemed like his friend was waking up, but this was not the time to set him down. Heck… Mikale was probably faster carrying Shugo than Shugo would be running on his own. He was about to tell his friend to at least be quiet, and to not attract dragon attention, when Shugo ruined everything.
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"A DRAGON!" He yelled.
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The dragon swung its long neck and head full of fangs, yellow eyes pointed in their direction. For a few seconds, the chaos seemed to fall still. Mikale and Samantha held their breaths, watching the dragon with the same tension as rabbits in a nature documentary.
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Then it lunged across the road and towards the three teenagers.Bookmark here

There was no time to pause for explanation, or even to rethink their plan. Or explain said plan to poor Shugo, who was stuck in a bridal carry.


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[It's confusing enough to be carried by Mikale, but to be chased by a DRAGON?] Shugo lamented internally.
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What confused him the most was whether to be horrified about the dragon, or excited that it existed. When the creature opened its large maw and unleashed a bellowing roar, sending droplets of blood from its long teeth and raining onto Mikale's shoulder, Shugo made his decision: He was horrified.
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The sound of the roar acted as a signal to run. Shugo gripped his friend's arm as Mikale took off down the sidewalk. Looking behind them, Shugo saw that dark smoke swallowed the shopping centers.
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On a normal day, the three friends would wander the store fronts and window shop after school. They would sip coffee and eat treats, oblivious to the horrors of adult life. Shugo had been raised in blissful ignorance. Even the specks of blood that dripped off Mikale's jacket made up more blood than Shugo had ever seen in his entire seventeen years.
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He had to force himself to look away, as the sight of blood was making him anxious. Worse still was the second roar of the dragon, then the way it sped passed the two boys like a bullet train. Shugo had no time to be relieved at the dragon's passing them: Leading the way was Samantha, and he had front row seats as the dragon aimed its body at her head.
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"SAM!"
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Both boys shouted in warning. Samantha heard the rush of air behind her and instinctively dropped to her knees, allowing the dragon to miraculously fly over her. The creature quickly realized that it had missed and beat its great wings to create a forward flow of air, halting its terrifying speed. Samantha was still on her hands and knees when she looked over her shoulder and yelled at her friends. "Go to the school! I'll distract it!"
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"No!" With no other warning, Mikale unceremoniously dropped Shugo on the ground. He was lucky to have sensed this might happen, and managed to scramble to his feet next to Mikale. "I'm not leaving you!"
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"Then let's run TOGETHER!" Shugo finished their argument before it could begin. He took the necessary steps forward to reach Samantha and grab her elbow, lifting her to her feet. There was no time to argue, which was a big deal coming from Shugo: Arguing was the only way he knew how to fight.
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The dragon's huge weight create a trimmer landed, its scales hissing as they brushed roughly across the sidewalk. The three friends found the opening in the school gate and rushed through, with Mikale slamming the door behind them. It only acted as a temporary obstacle, which briefly rattled the dragon who crashed into it. Then its great weight caused the iron to bend and the door fell under it.
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But it was time. Even mere seconds made a difference when you were fleeing a dragon. In those few seconds, Samantha and Shugo had reached the school doors. The school building loamed over them, a two-story structure made of smooth red stone with a solid, iron skeleton underneath. It would withstand some dragon abuse. The two shoved their weight against the pair of doors, which were solid enough to withstand fire, but they did not swing open.
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"Locked!" Samantha called out in dismay, "Dammit, and I already returned the key this morning..!"
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"Got it!" Shugo pulled a key out of his jeans pocket and wrestled it into the door lock. Samantha gasped. "I thought you told me stealing janitor keys was bad!"
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With a grunt, Shugo shoved the thick school doors open. "Well… A lot has changed since this morning."Bookmark here

Joe Gold
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