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Author's note: This is something I wrote a while ago, for some class that I can't rightly remember. It's pretty decent, but there are a few bits I'd change here and there. Constructive criticism is definitely welcome. :) Enjoy! </author's note>
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
1. The Trail of Broken Hearts
STEPHEN sat in a park in Longford, Ireland, feeling the cool morning breeze pass through his hair, trying to coax away a stubborn cloud of fog that hung over the dew-soaked grass. This was what he loved about being an Irishman: getting to wake up at six A.M., walk outside, and enjoy the rustic feeling you got on days like this. Fooling yourself into thinking it was 1602 again was just as easy as taking a step. Especially where he was now, with trees as far as the eye could see. He allowed himself to crack a small smile as he continued on towards his destination. And then reality came crashing down on him in a flurry of scattered flashbacks. He remembered the time when he was rich; he didn’t have to beg for money, plead for clothes, or, for that matter, search around for a place to lay his head. He had even essentially saved the world. He could just be typical Stephen then: relaxed, happy, content, and, when the time called for it, stone-cold determined. Ah, those were the days. He pulled his magical guitar out from behind him. It was the only thing he had left from that time; that and a small lunchbox-sized amp that clung to his pants. Part of the guitar’s body was chrome, so that he could check that his golden hair stayed in order, that his grim, steely face remained clear, and that his eyes were captivating enough to bind you in his expression and make any opposition wish they were either dead or on his side. He plugged the small amp into his guitar and started to strum a slow rhythm. The rhythm was so like that of DragonForce’s Trail of Broken Hearts that he started singing it: “With the Trail of Broken Hearts flying free The last temptation will be all that’s left for me, yeah, When I see those tears you cry, When I hear those lies you lie, When I feel all of creation falling down on me, Is this the reason to be?” And thus he let his story grab him. He traveled back through time, all the way to half a year ago, on a stormy night in Waterford.
2. Temptation and Sorrow
Thunder clashed. Lightning struck. Wind howled. And Stephen sat hunched on a wooden chest in front of a cathedral-style window in his room, playing his fastest solo in the dark. To him, there wasn’t anything but him and the guitar, his only limit being his imagination. His fingers felt like they were controlling themselves, which was also what it looked like to anyone watching. He cast a glance around to try to look for his tuner; the sound on his magic guitar was beginning to sound strange as the strings got looser. That’s when he noticed the only note he couldn’t play on his guitar: the unmistakable note of silence. Muting his guitar, he walked out into the hallway, noting a faint pop as a surge protector was overwhelmed, and the subsequent fizzle of the lights blowing out. Using his guitar, he channeled some magic into lighting his path. The bright blue stream illuminated only a few feet in front of him, making the darkness beyond only more profound. He silently swore in an undertone and continued down the hallway.
The only sound was now his feet against the floor. Stephen cast a glance at his wings and tail, remembering that he was part-dragon. “Come now, mate, dragons don’t get afraid,” he whispered to himself as he carried on.
And suddenly his magic quit. He tried to resurrect it, but halted as soon as he heard another set of footsteps.
He spun slowly.
The footsteps were getting closer…
…and then they stopped.
Stephen stood there, looking around, trying to find the source of the noise. That’s when he spotted a faint blue light in the kitchen. He walked toward it.
To his right, a window blew out, exposing the interior to the full fury of a tornado that had formed outside of the house. Stephen folded his wings to his body, keeping his line dead straight as he ran towards the kitchen.
He sprinted in, the door slamming behind him. The storm outside was once again muffled.
His jaw slackened as he looked around. Everything was coated in blue. He touched the surface of a counter. It was coated in a blue metal powder.
Of course! That’s why it’s blue. This metal dust has been imbued with draconic magic! He then noticed a female form on the floor. Blood was seeping out of a wound on her thigh. He rolled her over to see the wound better, but fate had already played its hand. As he realized this, another cold fact barged into his consciousness…
The shock hit Stephen harder than anything else he had ever felt. Numbness clutched him as he scrambled to control his thoughts. He fell to his knees, a knot already forming in his throat. He was disoriented. Everything fell away with the exception of the sight of his mother. He didn’t do anything to keep his body from falling over hers.
He lay there for what seemed like eternity before he heard the footsteps again. His sadness and sorrow turned back to rage and fear as voices surrounded him.
His heart jumped.
He was now shaking. “H-how-d-do y-ou kno-w my-y n-a-nam-e?”
The voices ignored his utterance. “Have you ever looked into the dark?”
Stephen bolted for the door. He looked behind him, realizing that the magical powder was slowly sucking the life out of him. Even as he touched the doorknob, his knees gave out on him, causing him to slide around the door as he shut it behind him.
As he stirred, he had the luxury of finding the rest of his house wrecked. Three quarters of the mansion had been ripped away, leaving only a small fraction of the library, the living room, and the kitchen.
He felt the guitar on his back and the amp on his belt as well as a small box of guitar strings he had left in his pocket. Too tired to move much, he felt them to make sure they were okay. Recounting the events of the past few seconds was difficult as he felt his strength trickle away. He rolled onto his stomach and began crawling, not entirely sure where he was headed.
He caught himself a few yards beyond his house, in a debris-strewn field. The tornado’s rage had still not relented. He cast his eyes over the destruction. He determined to reel the tornado in, but was too exhausted and so very, very thirsty. Suddenly Stephen sensed a certain alarming calm settling over the place. It’s too calm, he decided.
A few yards away he saw a bottle of water. He let the liquid ice trickle down his throat, cooling, refreshing, energizing. Getting back to his feet, he remembered the eerie sense of quietness.
What happens now, pray tell? he thought.
3. Those Tears You Cry
His question was immediately and disturbingly answered as it was spoken inside his own head: This.
Something rushed by his head as he instinctively jumped out of the way. Whatever it was then crashed into the ground, throwing up a spectacular shower of sparks and dirt as Stephen whipped out his guitar. Even in the relative light that was outside, the figure that now loomed before him was cast in a canopy of shadows.
Stephen felt the villain poke and prod at his mind, something he had never experienced before. Several things were happening now, and all too fast. The flurry of events instilled in him a sense of overbearing suspicion that maybe something else was happening, something of greater scale than Stephen had originally believed. His fingers settled themselves into a rhythm on his guitar as he channeled some magic into the attack. The guitar strings’ conductivity of power proved useful against many a foe.
This one, however, seemed to be less privy to the strategy than others, because of his incredibly fast reaction time. Stephen quickly wove a defense around himself, so that the channeled energy divided around him.
Stephen quickly found out how to wager a mental attack after his enemy left traces of his mental instructions following his next psychological drive. Although it left him considerably weakened, Stephen managed to damage his opponent somewhat while piecing together the hints and clues. Finally, he prepared his own mental attack, stopping the next attack even as it was on its way. This gave him ample opportunity to use a shredding solo to his foe’s strong disadvantage. Wounded, the figure in black struggled with a verbal spell as Stephen contemplated his next set of notes. Unfortunately, Stephen stalled too long and before he knew what had happened, an invisible force slammed him through a concrete wall. However, with the lightening reaction times of a dragon, Stephen flipped into the air just in time to avoid the next onslaught. Surprising Stephen, his foe also took to the air, formulating another swift attack.
Stephen was getting tired of this. More than anything, he wanted this…this goon running back to his mommy with his tail between his legs. So Stephen put together a beastly bridge loaded with magic in an attempt to bring him down.
He laughed as his foe tried desperately to parry, then fell to his knees as the tornado began to pick up the trash scattered on the ground, Stephen now in full control of this tornado. As Stephen took a step toward him, the villain ran off into the horizon.
It was only then that Stephen began to feel the lead weight that had clung to his chest. Tears began to seep out of his eyes as he remembered all the fun he and his mum had had together. When he was younger, she took him to the theme park on weekends and she would buy him ice cream and collectable swords and all sorts of other fun stuff. Usually they’d pay a stop to the horse races on the way back and watch. A couple of times a year they’d even round up tickets to Croke Park to watch a soccer game. When he became Dragon/Man, though, that all had to stop in order for him to conceal his secret identity. He came to resent these wings and this tail of his because of the time it cost him with his family.
But now his chance to be with his mother was gone permanently, and his draconic body parts had nothing to do with it.
At his command, the tornado halted and turned to rain as he tried to conceal his tears. All these strange emotions had overcome him-fear, loneliness, sadness, exasperation.
Stephen picked himself up and kept walking, though he was still unsure where he was going.
4. Those Lies You Lie
It’s okay, he lied to himself a few hours later. Nothing else bad can happen, right?
He was now in a city block. People swarmed around him, eager to do whatever they needed to do. The sun had just crested the magnificent towers ahead of him, lighting the sky afire with an epic array of colors.
Stephen looked across at another homeless man, throwing a match into a cylinder full of wasted trash, giddy at the resultant warmth. Stephen realized then that his situation was excellent compared to that man’s. After all, the person sitting in front of the fire had possibly never known the comfort and happiness that Stephen was just a few hours removed from. As it stood, the man was simply overjoyed to have a fire, and was now leaning over it, basking in its warmth.
It was a humbling experience to watch as the homeless man skipped over to a pile of sticks he had amassed, picked one up, strode contentedly back, and watched as the twig hissed and spat and popped. Stephen was happy for the man, that he had found joy in such a grim situation. It led Stephen to know that his situation could get far worse than it was. He cast his mind back to his former life of riches and comfort, counting all the luxuries he had had compared to this poor soul across the street.
Night came and with it the tiredness Stephen had come to expect. The homeless man strolled over to a wet box lying on the corner of the street. Crawling inside, he shut the “door” with a worn-out piece of tape. Stephen himself rested on a park bench, trying to fool his mind into thinking it was his now-destroyed bed back in Waterford.
Stephen awoke as soon as the moon assumed its dominant position in the sky. A nearby church sounded its midnight bell and Stephen instinctively reached out to turn off his alarm clock. Instead he rolled himself off the park bench and landed with a nasty thud.
He had done such a good job of censoring reality that it took him a few seconds to remember that he no longer even had a bed. He resumed his flight northeast and soon lost himself in the rhythm of his beating feet. It was only then that he knew where he was going.
I’m going to get revenge on that villain who killed me mum!
5. The Reason To Be
Images of the man continued to flash through Stephen’s mind as he carried on. He had been running at roughly around fifty miles an hour for well over six and a half hours, rage fueling every step. He had never felt so alive before, nor so unstable or emotional. The synchronicity, the very core of his life had been frigidly disrupted by someone who had no mentionable care for anyone else’s life but his own. Stephen hoped with all his being that this person burned in the deepest, hottest pit of Hell forevermore.
Finally he came to a slow stride again as he happened upon a mountainous range just east-southeast of Craigavon. It was as cold as dry ice, and raining as well.
Stephen waded through the ankle-high wetness. It was just 6:30 AM as he neared the peak. Thoughts of suicide and treachery raced through his head. Finally, he approached the peak, the snow blazing with power and magic as he listened to the quiet.
It took a few hours of contemplation to remind himself that this life was worth living, but why? Was the only reason to exist so that you could have all of creation falling down on your head like so many lead weights falling from a plane? Maybe this rough patch was a test. Was it to pass the test? No, it couldn’t be, he reasoned. Otherwise I’d only have to pass one test to secure a place in Heaven.
Thirty minutes later, he walked over to a tree branch. Worker bees slaved furiously to pollinate the tree’s flowers before each other. Like the homeless man back in Dublin, they were so careless in their amusement that they didn’t care that their situation was thankless. They were just doing their work and…
…then it hit him. By doing their work, Stephen discovered, they’re fulfilling themselves! And by fulfilling themselves, they’re letting their queen fulfill herself! They’re being happy so their queen can be happy!
It was a moment of true magic for him, both as Stephen Crawford, Teenage Boy and as Stephen Crawford, Dragon/Man. He smiled at himself; he had learned several important lessons in the past day. Where he had been insufferable, he was now humble; where he had been afraid to really live, he was now encouraged. He decided that he liked the new Stephen: still rock-hard determined, afraid of nothing, and newly humble. Still, though, he had not forgotten the itch to avenge his mother’s death.
Now it was time to unleash something that had lain dormant for seventeen years: the dragon within.
6. The Dragon Within
He sprinted out of the mountain at top speed, blazing toward Craigavon with legs of fury. This was the hour that Dragon/Man would shine. This was the hour in which Stephen would leave his mark on the world. This was HIS hour.
People ran. Crowds split. Children oohed and ahhed as Ireland’s hero rose above the clouds and broke the sound barrier. The world itself seemed to stop as Ireland’s people beheld this teenager overcoming his doubts and fears as he proved that he belonged. He felt proud then; proud of himself, proud of his people, proud of his country, proud of his world.
And his enemy was sure to be quaking in his boots as this Dragon/Man of power halted just behind him on a skyscraper, the full wrath of the sun blazing into their faces.
“Stephen, welcome; a beautiful day, isn’t it?” said the black human-shaped patch.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I tell you what it’s got to do with this, Stephen. It’s a little thing called irony.”
“What, the irony where you die and I don’t? That’s not irony.”
“Oh, isn’t it?” the blotch of dark responded.
Stephen didn’t like to talk much during fights, so he pulled his guitar out from behind him. An aerial attack screamed his way, blinding him with its bright colors. Stephen dodged it, but only barely, as he used his own power to turn it back around. He then worked his way behind the elevator shaft, tuning his instrument. Before he could get finished, the box behind him blew into a thousand bits. He covered his head and took off.
The enemy fired at him several times in lightening quick blasts. It was an incontrovertible attack which cost Stephen greatly in terms of energy, casting him over one side of the building. He pulled his nemesis with him, which caused both parties to bounce off of the side of the building several times before Stephen cut through the building with the villain in hot pursuit. On the way through the building, his pursuer caught one wing on a crucial support, breaking it. Stephen barely got through before the building nearly toppled over, causing him to grab one side of the massive structure with magic and use centrifugal force to keep it balanced. Stephen cursed as he knew that this effectively took one hand out of the fight. Still, he was too busy to take the time to repair the support.
The other one took advantage of this and attempted to attack Stephen again.
Stephen wasn’t stupid. He had located a loophole in the Law of Vertical Center of Gravity and exercised it to launch his own attack. He missed by a fraction of an inch and sent a nearby building up in flames.
Snap! I’ve got to be more careful. I’m lucky that building was abandoned and no one was near it. People could get hurt!
While Stephen was busy looking the other way, a fireball came rushing towards him. Stephen was knocked out for several seconds as he fell toward he ground. He then recovered only feet above the crowds’ heads and inhaled as he tore into a solo through the air. Just then, the enemy shot at him a wave of pure magic, which battered-up Dragon/Man had to summon all his might to dodge.
He never broke his momentum as he flew up to attack his enemy. He stunned him with a physical blow to the chin and landed beside him back on top of the skyscraper, standing on the edge as the building leaned.
He was just about to deliver a death blow when his own consciousness stopped him.
Should I kill him? He wondered as he pushed into his foe’s mind. The repository of memories he found within made Stephen nearly tear up.
He’s got an existence, too. A life. He’s got a story.
He then walked to the edge, peering down at the crowd gathered below.
And so have they.
He swallowed and turned back to the single person, trying to get a good look at his face.
Stephen was so confused now. If I kill him, think about how many people I’ll affect.
But then he remembered the crowd below.
It’s their future at risk. If they die, so does Ireland.
And he recalled the bees. I’m shrinking, he thought. I’m shrinking so that this villain’s family will not feel threatened. If I flourish then so do others.
He breathed to calm his nerves, then walked over to the slumped figure and, with a single magical guitar note, killed him.
And now, half a year later, Stephen returns to the tree in Longford. It is still dew soaked, but several people have gathered around him. He ponders. Had he done the right thing? Did avenging his mum’s death, while at the same time averting future threats to his people make him the better person, the true savior of his people? Maybe. Maybe not. His heart still aches every day for the Mum he will only see again in heaven. But God is good, and the pain in his heart more bearable day by day.
He smiles to himself and finishes his song, tips his head to the crowd, then walks away, back to Waterford where it all began.