Chapter 4:

Brave or Foolish


The scream echoed through school building, highlighting just how empty it was. It was a girl’s scream. The sound seemed to last forever, shaking the teens’ courage. After a note held uncomfortably long, shorter yelps and shouts followed. Crashing sounds could be heard over this heads. Samantha lifted her gaze, trying to locate the spot on the ceiling where the noise was coming from.

[Is it the person screaming?] She wondered, [Are they okay?]

The thought had only just formed in her mind when Samantha saw another hit points bar. It was halfway empty and yellow, with the bar getting shorter every time they heard another ‘thud’ against the ceiling. She did not know who was up there or what was happening, but Samantha could tell that the stranger was in trouble.

“Help!” The voice called distantly, barely audible and muffled by the distance between them. Something big crashed against the ground above, so big that it caused the ground to rattle.

“Hold on! We’re coming!” Samantha yelled back.

Mikale and Shugo jumped in surprise.

“What?! Why- Why would you say that, Sam?! We can’t—” But before Shugo could formulate a full argument, Samantha was running down the hallway. He might have lost track of her, being too weak bodied to catch Samantha when she was in a full sprint, if not for Mikale’s fast thinking. Mikale caught up with Samantha and grabbed her around her waist, tugging her to a halt.

“Ah- Mikale! Let me go!” Samantha yelled, “You heard the scream, right? Someone’s in trouble!”

“Yeah, that’s the problem!” Mikale hissed back, “We don’t even know what the problem is!”

“Dragon!!” The stranger’s voice called out.

Mikale amended his statement, “Okay, we know what it is. Even more reason not to go!”

“Even more reason TO go! You saw what happened to those people in the car!” Samantha snapped back, “It ate them!”

“And it could eat you too!” Shugo joined the pair, grabbing Samantha’s wrist in a weak attempt to stop her, “Both of you, stop making so much noise. We need to find somewhere to hide… The doors to the gym are thick, right? Let’s hide there.”

“Shugo’s right. We need to hide or we’ll be killed too.” Mikale whispered.

The boys made a good point. They were no match for a dragon. Turning her head upward again, Samantha wondered what kind of state the dragon was in.

[Just like I thought.] As soon as she thought about the hit points bar of a specific entity, Samantha could see it. She saw that the stranger’s bar (which had a “???” above it,) was in a corner. The owner of that life must have been hiding in one of the classrooms. By combining her knowledge of the school layout with the location of the much larger, much more full hit points bar (helpfully labeled “dragon,”) she could guess that the dragon was in the second floor hallway. It seemed to duck into the classroom opposite of the girl.

[Probably searching for her… and when it finds her…] Samantha felt her stomach twist, “Will I have to watch it drain to zero?”

“Samantha…” Shugo questioned quietly, “I know it’s hard, but we can’t save anyone. We have to look after ourselves first.”

[I know that.] She really did. And yet every time she looked at the ceiling, Samantha felt it more and more. Not a cold feeling of dread like before. This wasn’t the feeling that led them to stumble into the school building and lock the front door shut. [No, this feeling is hot… I’m so angry… I’m being forced to watch someone die! I got a stupid fantasy game power and it only lets me watch people die!]

She had accepted the hit point bars as part of her reality. And with that acceptance, Samantha slapped Shugo’s hand from her wrist. She shoved Mikale away, took a few steps back from the boys, and glared at the bars that hovered by their ears. They both looked stunned. Probably because they thought she was glaring at them and could not comprehend the absurd power she’d picked up.

“I’m NOT hiding!” Samantha shouted.

She knew that the dragon might attack her. It might even kill her or eat her. Maybe even her two friends, if they got involved. And yet, the sound of the unknown girl’s screaming was too much for her to handle. Even if they hid or blocked out the noise, it was going to rattle in her skull forever. She wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about this stranger’s life and would be forced to watch it slowly drain. Samantha did not want to find out what happened to those bars when they hit ‘zero.’

“You two go hide! I’ll bring her back to the gym with me!” She decided, “Wait here!”

“But- Sam!” This time, Mikale wasn’t able to catch up with her as she ran away. He and Shugo moved at the same time and clumsily collided into one another. All the while, Samantha sprinted down the hallway at top speed.

“Someone, help me!” The girl’s voice called distantly.

“I’m on my way! Hang on!” Samantha called, her voice being faint as she put distance between herself and her friends, “I’ll save you!”

Then she turned a corner and was gone from sight.

Mikale was the first to pick himself off of the ground. Shaking already, cold with dread and yet heated by fear. He pressed a hand to the wall in order to support himself. With every second that he spent on the verge of a panic, Samantha was getting further away. She would be confronting that dragon soon. The one that ate people. The dragon that had peeled a car back like a tuna can and then greedily ripped the contents out. His mind threatened to go blank as his thoughts became darker and more bloodstained. He couldn’t bear to imagine it. It would be better to shut down and hide.

“Mikale? Where are you going?”

So it was a surprise when Shugo yelled out to him. Mikale froze, then looked down at his legs. He had started walking down the corridor without even realizing it. With a shaky breath, he realized what was driving him. It was painfully obvious, actually. Especially to Shugo, who suffered from the same ailment.

“I’m going after her. I can’t leave her alone to face a dragon.”

“Samantha said to hide and wait, right?” Shugo countered softly, “We’ll only slow her down-”

“I said that I’m going after her!” Mikale snapped. It was rare for him to raise his voice. So much so that even Mikale was stunned into silence after the abrupt sound. He had forgotten that his voice could even reach such a volume.

Relaxing his shoulders, Mikale turned around to look at Shugo, “I don’t care what kind of stupid, reckless thing she’s up to. If she says she’s going to make something happen, I’ll see to it that she’s right. Even if it means fighting a dragon.”

It was almost disgustingly cheesy. Like the words of the romantic lead in a girl’s manga. Shugo wasn’t sure if the feeling in his stomach was disgust at such gross, gushy wording, or jealousy that Mikale could say that at all. In comparison, Shugo wanted to hide. He adored Samantha just as much as Mikale, but he couldn’t be so bold as to chase after her.

[That’s fine, isn’t it? I’m just a normal teenager. I shouldn’t be expected to fight a dragon for the girl I like.] Shugo reasoned bitterly, [This is insane! I’m just making the realistic choice! It’s not my fault that I’m not a lovestruck idiot.]

There had been an awkward silence. Even the screaming had stopped. Such silence would have been comforting before, but now it indicated more trouble than the noisy screams had. The dragon’s heavy movements weren’t even shaking the floor. Above them, everything was eerily quiet and still.

Mikale took two steps forward, about to break into a run, before he stopped and looked to Shugo again.

“Aren’t you coming too? You can’t just expect her to fight a dragon alone, can you?” He asked.

Shugo’s mouth felt dry. He tried to voice a reply, but couldn’t find the proper words. When his lips moved silently, Mikale scowled in silent reply. Without another word to Shugo, he began running down the corridor and after Samantha.

“Sam! Say something! I’m on my way!”

And so, Shugo was left alone. His friend’s footsteps gradually faded away. Shugo, who had always thought himself to be a voice of reason, was left full of doubt.

“Going after them would be crazy…” He whispered to himself, “I would be crazy to chase after them… Right?” 

Taylor Victoria