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The Storyteller's Daughter

Nobody's quite sure how long our world has been “Infected.” That of course is just the common term. It's not exactly an infection, but it's not... Natural.

Well, at this point in time, it's hard to say what's natural and what isn't. They've all blended together so well that nobody can even tell what is, what used to be, and what shouldn't be anymore.

Or at least nobody can agree on it.

Imagine your world, as it is today, but if all the fairy tales were real. What if princesses really did wait atop towers, while knights and princes were a dime a dozen? What if wolves really did wait in the forest to eat little girls, and wishes upon stars never went unnoticed?

Imagine your world, as it is today, when the author's hand begins to smudge the line between fiction and reality. With each passing day, a little more magic seeps through the realm of imagination into the realm of being. What would you do if you could help change things? Would you help push back the agents of change, or would you welcome them with open arms?

In America today, magic espouses the day-to-day routine. Fairies and nymphs peddle goods alongside humans, witches and wizards offer their services for a price. Dragon sightings are not unheard of, and the same goes for unicorns and other fantastic creatures. Children know not to play in the woods, because that is where werewolves and other cruel beasts hide. The rivers are to be avoided for fear of kappas and kelpies.

Nobody knows from whence the magic came. All of the grand old storytellers are dead; all the ones who had a little bit of the magic within themselves. Now all that's left are their thoughts, or perhaps they're their memories.

Despite the relative ease with which the two paradigms of existence were blended, there are still many who, for whatever reasons, hate the mysticism that has become commonplace, and seek to banish it. These anti-mages, who have adopted the somewhat provocative name “The Redeemers” are a sect who work to determine the source of the world's change, and to revert it, no matter the cost.

Tensions have escalated as the Redeemer's actions become more and more violent, and more frequent. The United States government has officially endorsed the Redeemers, sanctioning their actions causing an international uproar. Though claimed to be simply for the sake of investigative purposes, the true purpose is well-known, and the more mystical citizens of the world seek justice...

To bolster their numbers, the Redeemers have implemented a lottery-draft system. All whose names are drawn are required by law to assist the Redemption process for a given time span, ranging from two-weeks to half a year. Those who have an aptitude for the job are encouraged to stay on.

Apparently, I have just such an aptitude.

I'd managed to go a year, which means twelve lotteries, since my 16th birthday without being drawn. Then, the month of my 17th birthday, just a year after I became eligible, I was called upon to join the Redeemers. It wasn't really that big a deal; just a minor annoyance. After all, I had no natural talent for anything required of the Redeemers. It would be short; in and out, probably only two weeks.

You're hardly going to be surprised if I tell you otherwise, right? I mean, what point would there be to writing this? At the beginning of this story, though, I had few expectations for myself.

When an agent arrived in a sleek, black sports car just to pick me up, I immediately decided things could be worse. I loaded my things into the backseat, hugged my mom and brother goodbye, and then hopped in while the agent introduced himself.

“Name's Rook,” he said, flashing a toothy grin. I buckled my seatbelt and reached over to shake his hand.

“Melanie Hale,” I introduced myself. Rook grinned again.

“Oh, I already know that. Got all your info right here!” He held up a stereotypical manilla folder with my name at the top. Eying the thickness of the packet of paper, I wondered just how much info they had on me.

As we pulled away down the street, I pulled my cellphone out of my sweater pocket. Rook didn't try to make small talk, and I was glad for that. He noticed my motion, though, and glanced over.

“What's that?” he asked, even though it was dreadfully obvious.

“Cellphone,” I answered, holding it up for him to see. Rook once again flashed what I assumed to be his trademark grin.

“Technically, I'm not supposed to let you use that for as long as you're with us. In this case, though, we can make an exception 'til we get back to HQ.” He poked his elbow at me, like he was making a special favor. I guess maybe he was.

“Thanks,” I replied noncommittally. “Where exactly is HQ?”

“Well, technically it's in D.C. Bit too far of a drive for that though, eh?” he joked. That was no understatement. We were coming from the heart of Michigan. “Nah, we're just going to the airport. You'll hop on one of our private planes and it'll be off to the capital for you!” He made it sound as if I was in for a real treat, and not two weeks of forced service.

I didn't respond, and instead just stared out the window. Rook easily weaved in between cars on the busy freeway, seeming to pay no heed to any of the laws of driving. He quietly hummed some song I recognized from the radio, fingers tapping on the steering wheel.

“Mind if I turn on some music?” he asked. I shook my head that I didn't, and he flicked on the radio. The same song he had been humming was on, in the exact same part. I shot him a confused look, but he didn't return it. He just smiled slightly, staring at the road ahead. I went back to texting.

Without warning, just a few minutes later, Rook suddenly tensed up. He pulled to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes, earning a number of angry honks as cars sped past us.

“What the hell?” I asked, but he just shook his head, eyes closed.

“Hold on tight,” was all he said. I looked at his hands, where he seemed to be counting down on his fingers. Seven... Six... Five... I leaned forward and looked out his window. We were on an overpass, with cars going by in all directions below and beside us. I didn't see anything odd.

Two...

One...

As Rook curled in his last finger, there was an incredible boom! and the whole car shook. Cars honked and there was the faint sound of screaming as the overpass caved in, the destruction ending just a few yards away from where we were parked. From beneath where the overhang had been swooped a massive dragon, as if it had appeared out of nowhere. It flew up and turned around, seeming to fill the sky with its presence. Cars honked wildly, unable to go anywhere due to the rubble of what had once been the road.

The giant beast, all red scales and spikes, turned its beady gaze toward our car, and I could see malice in its eyes. I swear it grinned as it roared loudly, and the windows were sprayed with dragon spittle despite the distance. It swooped again, magnificent body hurtling straight for us. I barely had time to scream before Rook shoved a small capsule into my mouth, slamming my jaw shut and forcing me to swallow. I didn't even have time to look at him before I shuddered, my vision blurred, and everything went black as the windows were filled with scales.




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