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From The Stream, A Dragon Rises
The rain continued; she could see her faint reflection in the concrete. From outside, she could hear the loud music and commotion from nearby clubs. The patrons loitering outside the building stared at her, some curiously, some not so much. Chae-Yeong kept her head down and continued on her way. Up ahead, she could see more people loitering, this time a group of three or so men. Oh, no. She couldn’t go around them; they’d notice her immediately. She’d just have to jaywalk, then. Silently praying she wouldn’t attract any attention, she quickly walked to the other side of the street. She heard the men say something, and moved faster. They called after her, and began to follow close behind. Chae-Yeong managed to lose them for a moment, weaving in and out of various alleyways.
She thought she was safe until one of the men knocked her against the wall. Laughing amongst themselves, they tried to take her bag from her; she gripped it tightly. One of the men kicked her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. Her face buried in the ground, she could hear the men laughing at her. Her eyes welled up with tears, and a deep rage began to fester inside her. As a yell escaped her lips, a tremendous force of colorful energy emanated from her body; the power was enough to knock her off her feet. The men fell to the ground. She reclaimed her bag and began to run, not immediately aware of the damage she’d caused. The clubgoers and members of the neighborhood had come out to see the commotion; light poles were broken or bent, glass from the windows had shattered, and even the sidewalk and buildings had minor damage. Chae-Yeong ran through the commotion, avoiding the increasing size of the crowd. Looking behind her, she ran directly into someone. She fell and looked up, meeting the gaze of another man. He looked agitated, but his expression quickly dissolved into one of confusion.
“What’re you doing here, kid?” He squatted on the ground below her, putting his hand on her shoulder.
“I-I don’t know. I’m not sure where I’m going--”
“Are you lost?” He looked around, trying to find someone. “Where are your parents?” The man dug around for his cell phone in his pocket.
“No, no,” she grabbed his arm to prevent him from finding the phone. “I just got a little turned around, is all.”
The man closely scrutinized her; he thought it was strange that she was not only out this late, but was by herself.
He helped Chae-Yeong from the ground. She noticed dust on her and began to brush herself off.
“What happened to you?” He gestured to the tiny scrapes and bruises on her. “You look like you got into a fight.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Come on. I’m taking you to the police or a shelter or something; you can’t be out here by yourself. You can tell me on the way.”
Chae-Yeong shot him a disapproving glance. The man gestured impatiently for her to follow him.
“How do I know that you’re not going to wear my skin or something? You could be Buffalo Bill for all I know.”
The man shrugged. “You’re just gonna have to trust me on this one.”
Chae-Yeong hesitated to follow him; her gut instinct told her this guy might be bad news. But, she was tired, and the temptation of a place to sleep was enticing.
“Look, I know it’s not easy to trust a stranger’s word. I promise, I’m gonna get you somewhere where you’ll be safe.”
She sighed, knowing that she was about to make a stupid choice. Beating herself up about it would have to wait until the afterlife. Chae-Yeong tossed her bag into the backseat, cursing herself for being so foolish.
“So, tell me, what are you doing here?” He asked once they got on the road. The rain had finally subsided for a little while.
“I,” she thought for a moment. The man stared at her, expecting a response. “I’ll just go ahead and spill it: I’m looking for my sister. She’s been missing for a few months, and there’s been no sign of her since. No posters or anything…” A fleeting memory of their last moments together passed through her mind. It was raining, just like tonight.
“Of all the places to look, why here? It isn’t really the most kid-friendly place y’know.”
“I got here by accident. Took a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood.” He gave her a puzzled look.
“I figured. You don’t exactly look like the ‘street’ type,” he chuckled to himself. “What’s with the uniform?”
Chae-Yeong’s eyes widened. She quickly thought of something to say, some sort of general statement that would not arouse any sort of suspicion.
“I go to a private school,” she quickly blurted out, “In the far corner of the city. It’s really far away, so don’t even bother trying to look for it.” Chae-Yeong slunk down in the passenger seat, trying to become as small as possible. This isn’t going to work. She thought to herself.
The man saw right through her. He knew she was hiding something, and he was determined to find out what.
“Did you feel that explosion? Felt like the whole block was going to implode.” She began to grow red in the face.
“Hm.” He looked over at her, seeing that she’d already preoccupied herself with the window.
“Looked like there was a lot of damage. Did you see anything?”
“What do you mean?” The window had suddenly become less interesting.
“I meant anything unusual. I’m assuming you were outside when it happened?”
Chae-Yeong looked ahead, refusing to make eye contact with the man.
“I didn’t see anything.” The energy in the car was electric, literally. He began to feel nauseous from the increase of tension. Something was off with this kid.
“Let me ask you something, and I know this’ll sound obviously stupid, but did you do it?” She shot him an ugly glare and crossed her arms. The tension increased.
“Of course not, don’t be silly.”
The man began to chuckle softly. “You’re a terrible liar. When I was your age, I was almost exactly the same. I could level a whole block just because of a speeding ticket.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Puh-lease. You and I, we’re the same. You’re lucky you found me; otherwise, you might’ve not been as well off.” He began to grill her for answers, specifically relating to the explosion. Chae-Yeong managed to tune him out, if only for a few seconds.
“Actually, I’m gonna make a slight detour. Knowing what you’re capable of, I would think the police wouldn’t roll out the red carpet.” His voice became angry for a moment, then quickly subsided.
“I’m Robert by the way. We never got properly introduced. And you are…?”
“...Chae-Yeong. But everyone calls me Chae.”
Robert turned in the opposite direction and headed north. They arrived at a small, but dingy apartment complex. An older, overweight man sat outside of the main floor apartment; cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he gave Robert a wave as they ventured inside.
“That’s Don.” He whispered, waving back with a sense of falseness. “He’s a little odd. Honestly, I wouldn’t go too far by myself if I were you; there’s a lot of ‘odd’ people here. I’m just one of them.”
Robert’s apartment was ill-suited for more than one person; dishes were stacked in the sink, clothes were strewn all over the place, and some questionable magazines sat in a pile in the corner.
“Home sweet home,” he said, removing his coat and venturing to the fridge nearby. “You can stay here for the night. Tomorrow, well… we’ll see what happens.” She grunted in agreement.
Robert dug in the refrigerator, looking for something of great importance. Chae-Yeong examined it closely: crude magnets of women in suggestive positions, some business cards, and a small picture framed in the upper corner. He emerged victoriously with a can of beer and went to his spot in the living room. She looked at the picture again. A line-up of what looked like officers in uniform; Robert was dead center, flashing a genuine smile. Guy’s handsome. She chided herself for the inappropriate thought; he was presumably old enough to be her father. Moving past Robert, she looked at the others in the photo. Chae-Yeong could hear the sound of a television in the background.
“Hey, Robert,” She made her way into the living room. He was watching an old Western movie. The sounds of gunfire and profanities were temporarily muted as he looked over to her.
“I didn’t bring any clothes with me.”
“So?” He gestured behind him, pausing to take another sip of his drink. “Just find something back there. Something in there’s clean, for sure.”
Eventually, Chae-Yeong found an oversized (and dirty) t-shirt. She admired herself in the dusty bathroom mirror, examining her mousy hair.
“Hey, uh, you can sleep in the bed tonight,” she heard him yell from the front of the apartment, “My chair’s more comfortable anyway.” With it being late enough already, Chae-Yeong didn’t object to the idea of sleeping in a warm bed again. Exhaustion overcame her from her ordeal, and she quickly fell asleep.
The next morning, she awoke fairly early. Robert was still asleep in the chair, the beer can mere centimeters from falling to the floor. Chae-Yeong looked out the window, taking in the early morning sunrise. She savored this peaceful moment; If only there could be more like this, she thought to herself.
The clatter of the can made her jump. Robert’s figure became visible in the doorway.
“Up already?” He scratched his head sleepily.
“Do you know if there’s a library around here? Or somewhere at least?” Chae-Yeong looked back at him. She’d asked the question quite abruptly, but she hoped he didn’t notice.
“Yeah, there’s one a few blocks from here. Did you want to go there today?” She nodded.
The two discussed the previous night’s events on the way. Chae-Yeong, with some prodding, had finally opened up about her abilities. Robert, pleased with himself, smiled as he continued to drive.
“I saw a picture, on your fridge,” she said, “You were with a bunch of uniformed guys.” Robert looked ahead; his expression turned neutral “Hmph.” He sternly replied.
“Were you an officer?”
The mood became tense. After what seemed like minutes of silence, Robert spoke.
“I was. Look, I’m nursing a killer hangover right now and I really don’t want to talk about it.” She was a little hurt by his words, but maybe now wasn’t the right time to ask.
The library was mainly empty when they arrived; the two found a spot in the far back of the building.
“Alright, what’re you looking for? You’re the one who wanted to come here.”
Chae-Yeong led him to one of the computers. Pulling up the browser, she searched for the city’s correctional facility.
“I had an idea. My sister wasn’t exactly the ‘clean-cut’ type, so I figured she might at least have a record here of some kind.”
On the criminal offender database, she entered her sister’s name. The result gave her at least one of the answers she’d been looking for.
Her sister’s mugshot stared at her with unusually hateful eyes. Reading further, she saw that her sister had an extensive criminal background. Chae-Yeong was disappointed, but not surprised. Ji-Yeon had mainly minor offenses, mostly for theft and substance abuse.
Under the alias tab, she noticed the name “DIAMONDBACK”. Chae-Yeong gave a puzzled look at the computer screen.
“I have a theory,” Chae-Yeong looked over Robert, who was “I’ve seen this kind of stuff before; she must’ve been involved with a gang or something. They usually give one another specific names to go by.”
“Have you seen these types of names before?”
“No, they don’t sound familiar to me.”
Both left the library, feeling more puzzled than before. Walking to the car, they noticed a small commotion up ahead.
“A rally?” Chae-Yeong asked, squinting to look in the distance.
“Get in the car.” Robert said, slamming the door behind her. The crowd turned their attention to the two of them and began to heckle them. She could see the signs they were holding, and the ugly words they contained. She heard the faint, but hurtful words as Robert drove off.
“Who were those guys?” she asked once they had returned.
“Just your usual protesters,” Robert replied.
She noticed he was nervous.
“Why were you so scared, then? They didn’t seem to like us.”
They entered the apartment, and Robert sat down in his chair. Chae-Yeong followed, and laid on the dirty couch next to him. She began to question him again.
“Look,” he said, rubbing his temples to soothe the hangover. “A few months before I left the force, we’d been undergoing a massive investigation on this anti-whatever group. At first, they seemed to be just a harmless political party that protested anything and everything related to...us..., but we found out they had some connections with local crime syndicates.”
“Whatever. Anyways, the more control they got over these groups, the more powerful they became. I don’t actually know this, but I theorize that they’re probably a super-cartel by now. What you saw today? Supporters of the movement. They’re slowly indoctrinating the whole city.”
“There’s still something you’re not telling me.”
“What? I’ve told all there is to tell.”
“How did you know that my sister would have been involved with them?”
Robert sighed. “I knew some of the people that booked her. They thought at the time that she might have been affiliated with them but couldn’t prove it.”
“Let’s go pay them a visit, then.” Robert shook his head, pointing to his headache. Chae-Yeong huffed and then flopped back down on the couch, twirling her hair.
“Do you at least have their phone number?”
A few minutes and some aspirin later, Robert was on the phone with one of his contacts. Chae-Yeong sat in the other room, listening in on what he wanted to be a private conversation.
“Hi, Jim. It’s me, Robert. I know I’m--ahem--retired, but I was wondering if you might have some information for me.” She could hear the impatience in his voice.
“Yeah, I know it’s classified or whatever, just tell me anything you know. Listen, I got a girl here who’s desperate to find out something about her sister; I don’t know the exact date but she’s been gone for at least three or more months. I can give you a name, you can tell me contacts, secret tunnels, etcetera, just give me something…”
Hours passed, and Chae-Yeong had slept through most of the conversation. Robert entered the room.
“Did you find anything?” she asked through a yawn.
“Oh yeah, after some persuasion. Nothing new about your sister, but a little birdy told me that they might have found the location of one the gangs.” She shot up, ready to go. Robert sat her back down on the bed.
“This isn’t the time for you to go all gung-ho. Me and some...buddies of mine...were planning on taking care of it.”
“Please. I need to see her again, even if she’s not here anymore.”
“I know you want closure, but the time isn’t right, yet. You could be hurt, or worse. These gangs don’t screw around; they will kill you.”
“You’ve already seen what I can do.” He sighed, resting back on the pillow. “No, I haven’t. That was one time, and you almost destroyed the neighborhood. You’re not ready for something like that.”
“Take me with you, please. I can wait in the car or something---”
“For the last time, no. I’m leaving tonight, and you’re staying here.” Robert got up and slammed the door. Chae-Yeong sat there, as still as stone, and stared at the door, hoping he would come back.
It was midnight. and Robert was already gathering his things, though quietly as to not wake Chae-Yeong.
He didn’t mean to yell at her. He really didn’t. In that moment, he wished he could hug her and tell her he was sorry for what he’d said. But he told the truth; she was far too young to be involved with that.
Robert took one last look at her before leaving the apartment.
Chae-Yeong kept slipping in and out of consciousness, and finally awoke around 2:30. Getting up to get a glass of water, she noticed Robert had already left. She sat in his chair, looking over the notes he’d taken from the phone conversation. The genius had marked the spot on a small map nearby; Chae-Yeong ran and changed back into her uniform. Before leaving, she took the map with her.
Outside the apartment, Chae-Yeong examined the map, trying to determine a quick route to take. She noticed the series of tall buildings before her, and began to form an idea. Running at full speed, she could feel tension increasing inside her.
Landing on the roof, she managed to balance herself. After some practice, she felt a little more comfortable attempting to make the jump across the street. She’d have to time it right; a fall from that height could easily kill her. Chae-Yeong ran again, and barely made it onto the other building. Her muscles began to ache from using this ability, but she knew she had to force herself to keep going.
Robert and some of the men had found their way into the hideout; it hadn’t been easy, though. Members of the gang had staked out the entrance, leading the men to find another way in. He’d busted the door down, and they’d quickly subdued the men who were present.
“These guys are unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Robert had said to the other men. “They’ve been taught well, more so than your average Templar or Crip.”
“Let’s keep going. There’s got to be some place they’re holding dissenters.” One of the men replied. Continuing on, Robert saw a lone man up ahead; he grabbed him, slamming him against the wall.
“Where do you keep them?” The man was too frightened to speak. Robert slammed him again, this time leaving an impact in the wall.
The man pointed to a corridor on the right. Robert and the other men made their way down, spotting a massive room up ahead. It was completely void of prisoners, save for the one pen for Ji-Yeon.
That too, was empty.
“She’s gone,” Robert said, and held his head in his hands.
“Hey, Rob,” one of the men said, pointing down the hall. “There’s something I think you should take a look at.”
A small trail of blood and muddy boot prints led away from the holding pen. Robert saw that the shoes weren’t those of one of the gang members; they were smaller. He recognized the brand.
“Damn it.” he said aloud, and followed the trail.
The thrill of breaking into the compound hadn’t left Chae-Yeong yet. Not when she took out her first armed group of men, not when she’d rescued Ji-Yeon, not even when she knew she was being followed by hundreds more.
What bothered her, however, was her sister. She’d been completely unresponsive, and could barely walk on her own. She was bleeding, but Chae-Yeong couldn’t find the origin. Still, she was relieved to find her at last.
“I’m getting you out of here. Then, we’ll find our own place somewhere where we can’t be bothered anymore.” Her sister remained catatonic, staring straight ahead.
Up ahead, she heard shouting; Chae-Yeong quickly darted down an opposite hallway, draping her sister’s arm over her shoulder. Two more members emerged from the corner, carrying assault rifles. Chae-Yeong pushed her sister out of the way, and stared straight at the men as they opened fire. She began to dodge them, moving from place to place in the corridor. The constant barrage of bullets began to fatigue her; stopping for a moment, she was hit in the arm. Chae-Yeong used the last of her strength to emit another colorful shock wave, knocking the men into the wall. She heard another commotion, and ran to Ji-Yeon. A cloud of dust drifted around the corner, and the sound of what seemed like rocks being thrown was heard. Emerging from the ruckus was Robert and his comrades. He walked towards her, his expression angry.
“I can explain.” she said. Instead of lecturing her, however, he hugged her and Ji-Yeon tightly.
“All I’m thankful for is that you’re alive,” he said, letting go of the hug. Robert examined her arm, looking concerned.
“It doesn’t hurt that much,” she smiled weakly.
A small explosion behind them grabbed their attention. Robert’s associates immediately went on the offensive, shooting all kinds of projectiles at the men. One ran to them, handing Robert a package.
“You need to go,” he said, pushing him away. “We didn’t want to mention this to you at first, but it’s worse than we thought. The conspiracy goes farther than just this group. None of you are safe anymore.” The man returned to the fight, ushering for them to leave. The trio made their way through the labyrinth of tunnels, narrowly avoiding a shootout. They finally made their way to the exit; Robert flagged down a taxi.
“Take us anywhere but here,” he said, flashing a small stack of dollar bills. The tires squealed, and the taxi sped off. Robert ripped a part of his coat, using it to stop the bleeding on Chae-Yeong’s arm.
“Once we get out of here, I’ll try to find a hospital. It’s too dangerous right now; they know who we are, and they’ll be waiting.” He finished dressing the wound, then turned to the box. He opened it, examining the contents.
“What is it?” Chae-Yeong said, trying to look over at the carton. She winced at the slight pain in her arm.
He closed it. Robert leaned back into the seat and closed his eyes.
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow. We have a lot to go over.”
The taxi continued into the night, its destination unknown.