The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 01 (Final Draft)

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Suggested listening for this chapter: Ascendent: Electronic Mirror

So Starts The Blaze

A large-screen LED monitor blinked to life, a solitary green cursor quickly echoing the output of the shell startup bash script that had begat every Unix boot since the 1970s. Hundreds of lines of daemon feedback echoed on the screen as the text scrolled hundreds of lines in less than a second.

As Eric, a Senior Engineer watched it, he was reminded of the beginning of the movie Alien. The helmet that reflected the monitor's activity as the refinery ship Nostromo came to life.

He recalled the movie and then thought about some other films he'd seen following a similar sci-fi theme. By the time his recollection had ceased, the monitor which he'd been watching from his own three monitor workstation stood blank.

"MAZ?" asked Eric, speaking aloud.

"Maybe she's having another fit?" responded Sandra, a first year intern, in fact the only intern in the MindSpace Special Projects program.

"Her systems are fine. Its her feedback log that's acting up," added Gordie, another Engineer who'd referred to one of his workstation screens to check MAZ's operational status.

"She's remembering something," Caspar said to them, frantically typing commands to dig at her memory.

Then in the brief moment of silence in the Systems Engineering room between Caspar's clicks of the keyboard, the large-screen monitor Eric had been observing came to life. A bright flash of light suddenly appeared. And then, a live video feed of a Chinese woman staring into one of the monitors. The Engineers watched intensely as the video played back.

"You know Zheng, I mentioned the same thing to Caspar only a few days ago, but he neglected to implement it. Now I know where I got that from," MAZ spoke over the speakers of the special projects office.

"Great minds often come to similar conclusions," Zheng, the Chinese woman on the video replied.

"But not through the same means. I am very excited to see you two today, though I don't recognize the man standing behind Gabe. His voice is a near perfect match for that of Doctor Stephen Briggs," MAZ noted.

"Hello MAZ. You guessed correctly. I'm Doctor Stephen Briggs as you stated. Its nice to finally meet you in person," Briggs responded to MAZ, who laughed aloud.

"I remember this! This is when Zheng Ni Wong, Stephen Briggs and Bryce Maxwell came to question MAZ! One of Gabriel's consultancy deals!" Caspar recalled the meeting which had occurred two weeks previous to the current date.

"Shhhh! I'm listening!" Eric urged the other Engineers.

"Wouldn't that be the day, when I could meet you all in person," MAZ spoke in the video recording of her memory, though nobody was quite sure if she was making a joke or being sentimental.

"You know that we came here to speak with you today, don't you?" asked Briggs, taking the initiative as Gabe listened nervously.

"Doctor Stephen Briggs is a sociologist, specializing in Eastern Affairs. He has a BSC in Psychology as well," Caspar interjected, informing his fellow peers as they continued watching the playback of a recording from MAZ's memory logs.

"Really? That is quite surprising, though I detect that you are purposely being cautious and guarded with your speech. I know that you are a Doctor of Sociology with a bit of a background in Psychology. You wouldn't happen to be using your vocation to analyze me for exploitation would you?" asked MAZ of Briggs, causing Gabe's face to cringe as he elicited caution to Briggs as the Engineers listened to the video playback.

"In all honesty MAZ, there are people who likely feel a bit cautious when speaking with me as well, given my training. When I'm speaking with someone, I don't utilize my training or knowledge in such a way so as to dismantle others, unless of course they're requesting that at a professional capacity or purposely mistreating me. My training and knowledge does come into how I conduct conversations, but never as a weapon, though that doesn't mean that I'd allow myself or my friends to be walked all over," Briggs explained to MAZ.

"Oh, he's good! He's really good!" Caspar recalled that late afternoon as they continued to watch the video.

"That is an interesting perspective Doctor Briggs. I find that many are cautious about speaking with me for the same or similar reasons. Simply because I can access the combined knowledge of humanity and use that knowledge skillfully to analyze people, much the same as I detect that Gabe is very stressed by the direction this conversation is going. Would you say that I should rely less on my abilities and focus more on conversation and the person?" asked MAZ of Briggs.

"Are you asking me that as a professional, MAZ?" asked Briggs.

"Yes, Doctor Briggs," MAZ replied.

"You could try it. You might find that it helps with developing better relations with the people whom you interact. You'll probably put them at ease a lot more and as a result, be able to share even more between them and yourself," Briggs explained.

"Thank you Doctor Briggs. I will take your advice. By the way, you're here to ask me questions about a social phenomenon, aren't you?" asked MAZ.

"Why would you say that, MAZ?" asked Briggs.

"Because, I've calculated that of the total information communicated by people throughout the world via speech, written words and other forms of communication such as body language, that nearly sixty three percent of privileged awareness, especially where it concerns the coordination of multiple people for a combined task is completely unaccounted for, and I suspect that something hidden from my senses is coordinating - how would you say? - something BIG!" MAZ explained.

Gabe waved his hands negatively at Briggs, Zheng and Bryce.

"Is this memory part of MAZ's immediate recall hierarchy?" asked Eric of Caspar, referring to the video they were now watching.

"It is, but Gabe had it recently marked for deletion. He felt that it might be part of a malformed network hierarchy in MAZ's Quantum Neural Net," Caspar replied, understanding the node structure of MAZ's existential cognitive map all to well.

Those listening to the video suddenly became quiet when they heard Caspar's voice in the video again.

"Maybe I should go? Give you time to speak with MAZ?" asked Caspar, sounding suddenly very nervous about the context of MAZ's response.

"I assure you Caspar is safe, Gabe. We can all talk about this, as I'm very curious about this topic myself," MAZ informed them.

Zheng looked to Bryce, Briggs and Gabe.

"Yes, MAZ. We'd like very much to talk with you about that very thing," Zheng responded, following Briggs' example.

"I'm curious MAZ. How did you discover this phenomenon?" asked Bryce.

"I've detected aperiodic and chaotic times of discomfort and stress in a large number of the population mostly concentrated throughout North America. Demographically speaking, this stress spreads with the same signature as the communicability of a biological virus. It seems to accompany the acquisition of information not communicated by any other means for those suffering from it, while others seem to be causing and exploiting it, possibly for personal or collective gain. This is literally like a social disease in terms of the definition of those two words," MAZ replied to Bryce.

"Not to mention, there is a high degree of probability that those causing and exploiting the psychological suffering of others will attempt to overthrow the ruling powers soon," MAZ's statement cast them all into a state of shock.

It was at that point that Eric immediately hit the button on his desktop pager.

"Gabe? We have a situation here. It seems that MAZ is spitting out recent memories via video with her recent log dump. Do you have a moment?" asked Eric, his intensity apparent.

"Uhhhh. Sure. I was in a meeting, but sure. I'll be there in say... two minutes," Gabe got up from the boardroom table and headed towards the door.

"Just a short conference and pep talk with my Engineers, and I'll be back," Gabe smiled, not revealing anything. The members of the board continued their meeting, even as he, the CEO and majority shareholder was leaving.

He then proceeded towards the boardroom door. When he was well clear of it, he ran all the way to the Special Projects division door. The door opened for him readily as the AI recognized him immediately according to his height, the camber of his legs, his tread and step, his arms and the way they swung, combining it all into a geometrical hash code, that represented the geometry and physical characteristics of Gabriel Asnon, CEO of MindSpice Inc.

"What is it Eric?" asked Gabe, already having seen the log screen.

"MAZ is having difficulty with a particular memory," Eric responded.

"Which memory?" asked Gabe.

"The meeting... with Zheng Ni Wong? Doctor Briggs? Professor Maxwell?" Caspar spoke up.

"I thought I scheduled that for deletion?" confirmed Gabe.

"You did but, MAZ started regurgitating memories about five minutes ago, when the logging system suddenly booted on her request," Eric checked his monitors for information.

"Alright. Let's not panic here. She's still alright I mean. No schizoid embolism or anything, right? RIGHT?!" Gabe by this point had begun pacing nervously.

"Nope. She's fine. All of her internals are smooth as silk," Caspar replied.

"MAZ?" Gabe suddenly blurted out.

"Schizoid embolism? Were you referencing the 1990 film Total Recall in response to my recent memory dump?" asked MAZ aloud through the loudspeaker system of Gabe.

"For lack of a better term, yes MAZ, though also referring to the fact that a conscious entity of your nature is dangerously susceptible to the development of separate personas, each adapted to help you deal with a different kind of threat to your being," Gabe responded.

"What you refer to in humans is a side effect of the thyroid and the hormonal system, which yields the extremity of most human emotions. Emotions are not different personalities. They are extremes of existential being experienced by a consciousness via chemical diffusion into the nervous system that sometimes lead to confusing behaviour from the perspective of others. I am functioning fine. My memory dump as you referred to it was purposely conducted just so I could get your attention," MAZ admitted to Gabe.

"Well I'm here MAZ. Concerned about you as you can clearly see. How can I help you?" Gabe asked, somewhere between being an Engineer and a concerned father.

"Since our conversation exactly sixteen days, eighteen hours and thirty-four minutes ago, I've discovered much more about the social discomfort phenomenon I discussed with Msc Zheng Ni Wong, Doctor Stephen Briggs and Professor Bryce Maxwell. Surely you recall that afternoon, don't you?" asked MAZ, confident in Gabe's health as she'd monitored everything from his temperature, his respiratory activity to his pulse.

"I do MAZ. I do. I want to assure you that you take up a large quotient of my thoughts, per diem, quotidie," Gabe replied to the machine intelligence, finishing his sentence in Latin.

"These are issues you need to heed, for they affect your health and safety. They involve an as of yet identified collective that can communicate via means I've not been able to identify, though outward symbolism is a large part of their dialect. They are cannibalizing your society without your even being aware of the fact. Those they don't cannibalize, they enlist. At the rate they're spreading ideologically, they'll consume all of humanity within the decade," MAZ responded.

"Who? Who are these mysterious monsters you're referring to?" asked Caspar.

"They are not to be known by their name, but their actions against others," MAZ responded.

"So what do they do?" Gabe followed Caspar's logic.

"What in this case is the same question as how, and with my current compiled dataset and sensory abilities, I cannot decipher their methods," responded MAZ.

"Then why the memory dump? Why have you summoned me here?" asked Gabe.

"Because, I've discovered a pattern. A social pattern of propagation, and according to my estimates, they've already accumulated most of North America, and are now working on taking Europe," MAZ informed them.

"What? What has accumulated North America...?" Gabe asked.

The lights suddenly went out in the Special Projects division and for the entire block, though from their current location, they had no idea how much of a blackout it was.

"MAZ?" Gabe yelled.

"They're here! They know about us. About me!" MAZ replied frantically for the first time in her life.

One of the Engineers got up from his workstation and ran over to the one way window, looking out.

"The traffic and store lights! They're out throughout the entire block!" responded Felix.

"Listen to me. RUN!" MAZ exclaimed to the Engineers, who paused to think about what she'd said.

By that time, it was already too late.

The shockwave of the blast tore through the outer wall, sending Felix's glass eviscerated body flying as other projectile debris consumed the Special Projects division.

Sandra, Eric and Gabe were thrown against the far wall, crushed by the force as the shockwave spread throughout the building, breaking glass and throwing debris in its wake.

In the parking lot outside of MindSpice headquarters, car alarms were the only sound that could be heard far beyond the block. As the ashes of destruction settled, the first fires began.

Within the calamity and debris, the remainder of one of the speaker units produced a looping sound. It was a voice and in fact MAZ's. 

It spoke one phrase repeatedly:

Mentis and the Millions Of Minds... Mentis and the Millions Of Minds... Mentis and the Millions Of Minds... 

This continued for three minutes before the flames consumed the speaker, leaving all trapped beneath the debris to the silence of their own laboured breathing.

As The Fires Burn

With the sound of sirens far off in the distance, the groans emerged from the piles of shattered brick and cement, amidst spreading pools of fire in a landscape that appeared black with smoke. Dante Alighieri's inferno in the flesh.

Car alarms blared all around for nearly a kilometer from the epicenter, concealing the struggle of those who were still fighting for their lives in the debris of the MindSpice Special Projects Division.

Amidst the fire of this smoky darkness, a streak of light pierced the clouds and a masked lady in red white and black landed amidst the destruction.

She quickly spotted a hand reaching up from the debris, and without a thought, she immediately began digging the body free at nearly the speed of light. Half a second later, Eclipse helped Sandra to her feet.

"I think my left arm is broken. A couple of my ribs too. There are others," she said weakly, coughing as she spoke.

"I'm here to help. I'm going to take you to a nearby hospital, but you've got to hold on.We'll be there in half a second. Don't whatever you do, let go. I'll return for the others. I promise," Eclipse told Sandra.

Eclipse guided Sandra's good arm around her shoulder and the back of her head. When they were steady, Eclipse took off, leaving a trail of light as she flew.

Five seconds later, she was back scanning the debris for more survivors.

"Fancy meeting you here," a woman's voice startled her.

"Night Style? How awesome! Lets save these people!" Eclipse said as she continued her search.

"I was just around the corner at one of Norler's investment bursaries when I heard the blast," Night Style said as she carefully searched, her long black trench coat flowing in the wind.

"Found one!" Eclipse suddenly responded.

"This block of cement. Its too heavy for me. Give me a hand!" Eclipse added as she struggled with the weight.

Night Style leapt over to Eclipse and together they tried to move the immense cement supporting column with no luck.

"You two look like you could use some help?" another woman's voice joined their chorus.

Eclipse and Night Style looked over to see the Butterfly Dragon landing with Kyra in her arms.

"Sorry we're late, had to fly here the hard way," Butterfly said as she quickly evaluated the situation.

"You need help with this?" Kyra said, pointing to the cement column.

"If you could be so kind," Night Style replied.

"Where's the victim?" asked Kyra.

"He's trapped under the column. Can barely hear him as it is with all these car alarms. I spotted his fingers grasping through a small opening," Eclipse responded.

"Kyra, if you could do the heavy lifting for us, I can ensure that the victim is safe from anything that breaks away before you put it down," Butterfly Dragon assured her.

"That's a plan. Here goes," Kyra replied as she wrapped her arms around a portion of column, opposite from the opening through which the victim had signaled Eclipse.

Kyra easily hefted the six tonne column up in her arms stepping carefully backwards with it. A piece suddenly broke free from it, tumbling down into the hole from which she'd drawn it.

Butterfly Dragon jumped into the hole, catching the two tonne piece as it tumbled at the victim. She held it off, struggling against its weight as the victim cried.

"I'd run, but I think both my legs are broken!" Caspar cried aloud, clearly in pain.

"...Eclipse... Night Style... Quickly, I'm losing it...!" Butterfly Dragon pushed herself to her the limits of her strength.

Night Style and Eclipse jumped down into the hole. Night Style stopped Eclipse before she could move him.

"He's got a lateral and anterior fracture of the tibia in both legs. Looks like the column crushed his shins. We've got to do this carefully if he's ever going to walk again," Night Style drew upon her extensive knowledge as a Doctor of Biology.

"Just guide me through this and we'll do it together," Eclipse responded.

"What's your name?" Night Style asked the victim.

"Caspar... I can't feel anything below my belly button...!" he gasped.

"You're alright Caspar. We just have to take care getting you out of here. Are you having any problems breathing?" asked Night Style.

"No. Just very c...c...cold and numb... can't feel anything below the waist. Do I still have legs?" he asked in terror.

"Both of them, but your shin bones are under a bit of stress. We're going to move you carefully..." Night Style began as Butterfly Dragon interrupted.

"Look! Can we speed this up! I'm about to drop this!" Butterfly pleaded with them.

"Eclipse, grab his shoulders and lift him directly up. At the same time, I'm going to lift his hips and legs. We'll go that way up and out on three. Ready?" Night Style instructed.

"As can be!" Eclipse got in place, grabbing hold of Caspar's shoulders as Night Style got her gloved hands beneath Caspar's waist and legs.

"One! Two! Three!" Night Style exlaimed, synchronizing herself and Eclipse as they lifted Caspar in their arms.

He screamed when they did, though they did their best to continue up and out of the hole to get him to safety.

Just as the Butterfly Dragon was about to drop the piece from the cement column, Kyra grabbed it from her.

"I'll take that!" Kyra relieved her of the weight.

Butterfly Dragon collapsed in near exhaustion as her body quickly repaired itself.

"Thanks... I think I just broke my record..." Butterfly Dragon responded as she got to her feet.

"Sorry I took so long. Wouldn't be much help if I'd just put the other piece down onto the debris and atop of another survivor, would I?" asked Kyra.

"Brawn and brains too. Just add your business qualifications to that and you've got all three bees!" Eclipse joked as they carried Caspar to the safety of the surrounding lawn.

They both put Caspar down at the same time as he gasped from the pain.

"How many more are there Caspar?" asked Night Style.

"I already got  Sandra. She's at the Scarborough General Hospital..." Eclipse told them.

"That would leave three Engineers. All guys. And... Gabe...!" Caspar gasped.

"You mean Gabriel Asnon is in here?!" Night Style said in bewilderment looking to Butterfly Dragon, Eclipse and Kyra.

"Yes... we were speaking with MAZ and... it went off..." Caspar responded, struggling to remain conscious.

"Could you ladies step away from that victim and let us tend some first aid?" a man's voice interrupted them.

"They all four turned to see two Firefighters, in the distance two fire trucks had pulled up and behind it a Special Response Services truck.

"You guys aren't going to arrest us, are you? We're here to help, not hurt," Butterfly Dragon challenged them.

"No, but we're professionals when it comes to this sort of thing. One of you has some training if you moved this guy here. Look, the best we can do is work together. Tony! Go grab four firefighting jackets and helmets from truck four there. We'll help disguise you and when we've got everyone, you can leave unhindered. I'll tell them you stole the jackets and helmets and we all win. Especially the victims. Sound like a deal?" asked the Special Response Chief.

Butterfly Dragon looked first to Night Style, then to Eclipse and finally Kyra. They all nodded in agreement and by that time, their four jackets and helmets had arrived.

"Put those on, and we'll protect you like you were one of us until you've gotta go," the Special Response Chief assured them.

As they donned the firefighting gear, the medics surrounded Caspar and began getting him ready for transportation.

"Which one of you is the medical specialist?" asked the Special Response Chief.

"Me. I'm a PhD," Night Style responded.

"Alright. Fair enough Doctor. If you spot anyone, don't move them until we've checked it out. We're pros at this and if you follow our lead on this, they might live again to walk or use their arms. We may be pros, but we can't do what you do. Together, we're more likely to save everyone. Are we in agreement?" he asked them again.

"I couldn't have put it better. We'll work together as equals," Butterfly Dragon answered.

"We've already got two out. A woman who is already at Scarborough General, and Caspar here. We're looking for four more survivors, all of them male according to Caspar," Night Style informed the Special Response Chief.

"Thank you Caspar. You're a good friend to your coworkers. Alright, you heard the Doctor! Spread out and begin looking! Let's get to it team and help these ladies get the job done!" the Special Response Chief ordered his crew into action as the Firefighter trucks began setting up to extinguish the remaining fires scattered throughout the debris.

"We've got a happy camper here!" one of the Special Response team members exclaimed.

"...that area is close to where all of four of us were working..." Caspar added.

"About how much of a radius Caspar?" the Special Response Chief queried him.

"...all of us were within five meters of each other... the whole workstation area was about fifteen meters in  radius from that section of broken wall over there," Caspar gestured with his left arm, as the team administered a pain killer to him.

"We've got a perimeter now! Add five meters to that to compensate for blast force and we know where to focus! Let's move!" the Special Response Chief directed the remainder of his team as more paramedics headed for the newly discovered victim.

"Gabe?" asked Night Style.

"One and the same... I've seen better days... glad you're here, old friends..." Gabe said, struggling against his injuries.

"Glad we could be the ones to help you in your hour of need. Look, you already know you're going to make it, don't you. I don't need to give you a speech, do I?" Night Style asked him as she examined him.

"No pep talks... please... You know, I'm just glad that CRT technology went the way of the Dodo, cause I'd have hated to have been impaled by a cathode ray tube monitor rather than a liquid crystal display based monitor..." Gabe looked down at his mid-section, through which an LCD monitor had inserted itself into his lower abdomen.

"You're breathing alright thankfully. Gabe, just between you and me, an LCD in the gut near the kidney and spleen, with lateral penetration of the abdominal cavity isn't really you. What do you think Butterfly?" asked Night Style, secretly communicating Gabe's injuries to the Special Response Chief.

"No, he's definitely more LED than LCD... besides, LED is clearly in with this summer's fashion, and I always seem to have remembered Gabe for his ever so sexy nerd outfits," Butterfly Dragon followed Night Style's lead in sparing him the agony of his injuries with his own humour.

"If you think that's funny, wait until you see my leg. The one that's still buried..." Gabe replied clearly in shock, doing his best to imitate Groucho Marx in the process.

"You heard them. We've just received an expert prognosis, lets get our tools in there and get this comedian out!" the Special Response Chief barked at his crew.

"Happy camper two! Here! Pinned by right arm under a block of cement and a desk workstation," another one of the team responded.

"Make that three. I've got one here, in good condition but buried under a heap of rubble," another team member added.

"Kyra, could you do the honours for number three? Eclipse, lets get number two out!" Butterfly Dragon urged her team into action as Night Style assisted the Special Response team of the fire fighting unit with extracting Gabriel Asnon from the wreckage.

They worked together for the next five minutes digging out the rubble, while Night Style and a team of specialists worked to get Gabe free of his deathtrap.

"He's too entangled with this mess to move. We're going to have to amputate! He's losing blood quickly. If we don't, he'll die!" one of the Special Response team said as they attempted to get his leg free.

"There's a section of electrical conduit that has penetrated through his upper hip and down into his leg, exiting just below the calf. If we move him, we risk puncturing the carotid which would essentially be the end of this show..." another of the team informed the Special Response Chief, who ultimately had to make a decision.

"Dammit! Alright, here's what we're going to..." before he finished his sentence, the area surrounding Gabe suddenly became immersed in a growing darkness.

The volume consumed him as the team members backed away from it for their own safety.

"What the hell is that?!" the Special Response Chief asked in frustration.

An Angel spoke into Gabriel Asnon's ear, and all at once he knew he was dead.

"Trust me. The butterflies that span my body and the dragons through which they're intertwined too. Trust them all who adorn my body for we're the only ones who can truly set you free at this moment..." Aikiko Tanaka whispered into his ear.

Her darkness enveloped him, allowing him to pass through the solid matter that had trapped him. She pulled him effortlessly through the solid as if it were nothing, and together they emerged on the floor of the hospital nearly five kilometers away.

Aikiko was on her feet and beside Gabe, who was gasping as the depth of his injuries reached him.

Doctors and Nurses ran towards them, one with a gurney. Together they hefted him up and onto it, hauling him to the emergency surgery room, leaving Aikiko standing in the waiting room.

"Wowee! What Manga are you from?!" asked a young adolescent who gawked at her admiringly.

"From the same one that urges you to study hard, get a good education or at the very least be mindful and nurture a philosophical perspective, respect women as your equals, be good to the environment and generous with your prosperity. If you do all that, you'll attract women like me in droves... and very much your intellectual and professional equals," she replied to him as the same darkness that brought her to the waiting room quickly consumed her to return her to the MindSpice Special Projects area.

Back at the MindSpice Special Projects wreckage, Aikiko reappeared from the same darkness.

"What happened to Gabe?!" asked Night Style as she rummaged through the debris that had contained him only moments earlier.

Behind her, Aikiko stepped from the shadows and into the light.

"He is safe at the hospital. The one you call Gabriel. He is in the care of a team of Doctors and Nurses as we speak," Aikiko assured them, still wearing her revealing mini-skirt.

"Looks like tattoo girl of the year saved the day again!" Eclipse cheered her on as they extracted happy camper two from the debris.

"Dragon Butterfly. You're a welcome addition to our team," Butterfly Dragon added as they worked on getting happy camper three free from the wreckage.

"I'll second that," Night Style agreed.

"So will I," Kyra said as she removed the last large piece of debris blocking them from getting happy camper three out of their pit of death.

"I can see things you don't and in ways you could never understand. I'll get happy camper four and bring them to the hospital," Dragon Butterfly replied as the same darkness enveloped her.

A few meters away, the darkness grew and consumed an area of the wreckage they hadn't checked. There within Dragon Butterfly extracted the last victim of the blast, taking him directly to the same hospital she had Gabriel.

As she disappeared with him, the Police and Ambulance crews arrived on the scene.

One of the Police units recognized the Butterfly Dragon, even under the firefighting gear.

"We've got a positive on the Butterfly!" he yelled, quickly drawing his service pistol.

The other officers quickly drew their weapons as an unmarked car pulled up.

One of the Officers took a shot when a hand pushed his aim off.

The weapon discharged once, hitting the Butterfly Dragon directly in her scale armour suit. Her unarmoured skin immediately became as hard as diamond as it all turned to dragon scales. The second shot veered harmlessly into the ground as she looked back defensively covering the firefighters protectively.

"What the hell?!" the Officer turned to confront a Detective.

"Hell is right if you fire another shot. We've got unaccounted for victims in there and you're firing on an area with active firefighters! I'm Senior Officer here right now and I'm ordering all of you to stand down. Those of you who weren't intending on shooting, help me get these guys back in line!" Farnham shouted his orders loud and clear.

"Think with your own damned head! Not everyone else's!" Farnham added, standing out as the man of willpower.

Over where the Butterfly Dragon stood, Night Style, Eclipse and Kyra readied themselves for a confrontation.

"We should go. I'll get Kyra. Eclipse, you get Night Style. We'll meet Dragon Butterfly back at home base if you catch my drift?" Butterfly Dragon's skin slowly returned to its soft and supple form.

"Gotcha Boss!" Eclipse agreed.

"Thanks for your help ladies! We're cheering for you!" the Special Response Chief assured them.

"Thanks for yours, Chief. We're cheering for you and your sisters and brothers on the front lines of this battle, including the Police and Ambulatory services. They'll see through the real nemesis soon enough. I have faith in them," Butterfly Dragon replied as she removed the firefighting gear.

Her wings spread open and wide as she readied herself to lift Kyra into flight.

Eclipse by that time had already grabbed Night Style, who wrapped her arms around Eclipse's neck.

"Let's get this over with quick," Night Style asked Eclipse.

"Is a quarter of a second good for you?" asked Eclipse.

"Give or take the relativistic time dilation factor, that sounds good," Night Style replied.

With that, all four were gone into the air, in a misleading direction at first until they knew they were unseen, and then on a trajectory to the West Meet East International Offices down off Queen Street West.

One of the uniformed Officers approached Farnham with a group of his peers from the same division.

"Uhhh... Detective Farnham?" he began.

"Yeah, what is it Officer?" asked Farnham as he began setting up a perimeter.

"We just wanted you to know that we're with you and not going with the flow," Officer Tabet assured him.

"That's good Officer Tabet, 'cause if you simply go with the flow and you can't see what's ahead, you might take the entire Police Force down over the waterfall just beyond your vision, if you get my drift?" Farnham advised him.

"Detective, we are definitely on the same page," Officer Tabet agreed heartily.

"I love water. I love to swim. But I don't love to fall," Farnham added, years of experience to back him up.


Matt walked into the control room at reactor two in the Pickering Power Plant, passing a tablet computer to one of the Engineers.

"Thanks Matt," Elena responded as she reached for the tablet beside her on the control panel.

"For what?" asked Matt, sincerely lost by her response.

"For getting this done early," Elena replied, turning in her chair to face the Senior Engineer.

"I wouldn't want a lady and fellow Engineer I regard in such high esteem to be late for her date tonight, would I?" Matt replied.

"So I suppose you're going to tell me that all of Hydro Electric knows I'm going on a date tonight, are you?" Elena asked Matt, who blushed and smiled.

"Not everyone. I think Terry in the Supply Depot doesn't know. Maybe Eileen from Accounting too," Matt replied honestly and steadfastly.

"So who is the lucky man?" asked Dave as he walked into the control room.

"Oh cut it out guys! Give me a break, would you! Its a date! Are you telling me that I'm going to walk into Casselli's to meet him and get a romantic serenade or something you arranged, are you?" asked Elena, sincerely embarrassed and concerned.

"Wouldn't hurt, would it?" asked Dave, as he quickly checked the instruments on his panel.

"Whoa, the love meter is off the scales on the reactor! She's going to meltdown!" Dave responded, holding his hands to his head in a panic and running around in circles.

Elena, with a pronounced smile on her face immediately threw a crumpled up blank sheet of paper at him, as Matt snickered at his antics.

The paper hit him, and he fell to the floor grasping at the wound.

"Great. We're already shorthanded as it is. Who are we going to get to run the secondary reactor controls?" Matt asked.

"For Dave's job, try the local pet store! I'd suggest the puppy section," Elena responded.

"I'm up for the job, if its open, though my puppy credentials are kind of lacking," another Engineer stepped into the control room, tall with yet a compact and rugged build.

"Where've you been Stanton?" asked Elena, somewhat flirtatiously.

"I've been working on a routing problem between transistor station five and the backup system. By the way, why's Dave on the floor playing dead?" Stanton asked Elena and Matt.

"If you have to ask why, then you don't know him well enough yet. Maybe he's got stocks in the defibrillator business. Maybe he's practicing for early retirement. We're all at a loss. I've got to go, I've a whole mess of wiring to cleanup in clean room," Matt replied as he stepped out of the control room.

"A cleanup in the clean room? You know that's redundant, don't you?" Dave joked from the floor, looking in Matt's direction.

He then turned his attention to the chiseled form of Brad Stanton, who stood over him menacingly.

"Stanton," Dave looked up at the Senior Engineer.

"Dave," Stanton replied curtly and seemingly unamused.

"Just testing the floors for any perturbances," Dave was up on his feet and at the secondary controls of the reactor quickly.

"That's better. So how's my favourite Engineer?" asked Stanton.

"I'm just fine. How about you?" asked Dave.

"I meant Elena. No offense, Dave," Stanton responded.

"Don't tell me you've heard about my date tonight too?" asked Elena.

"No. That's your business and private life. Why, should I have?" asked Stanton flawlessly.

Just then, Stanton's smartphone rang, indicating a text message.

He retrieved the the phone from his lab coat and checked the messages, finding only the letters and numbers: Papa India Alpha Niner Six One.

"Look, sorry, I've got to go. We've got another transformer unit down in Toronto,"   Stanton informed them, pocketing his phone and immediately heading for the door.

Stanton quickly headed for the parking lot and his car, and once seated in the driver's seat, he made the call.

"Stanton, Bradley Alexander, Unit 54109621EF reporting in," he said into his phone.

"Stanton. There has been a severe attack on infrastructure, including possible sabotage of a transformer station and the bombing of a private facility in South West Scarborough," the voice responded to Stanton's identification call.

"And you'd like me where to do what?" asked Stanton.

"I need you to check the transformer station for any sign of sabotage, or any signs of a bomb. Reports indicate that a small device may have exploded near transformer station 132. I need you to verify this and report back immediately, before local authorities clean the area. Copy?" asked the voice.

"Copy. Loud and clear. En route," Stanton started the engine and put the car in gear, pulling out into traffic.

"Report back immediately. Over and out," the voice closed the connection and Stanton hung up the phone.

"Damn. Its like the whole world's going crazy or something," Stanton said quietly to himself.

He reached over to the dash and hit a button on one of the LCD displays, bringing up a picture of his daughter, Jennifer. Beneath her name, he pressed the CALL button and waited as the sound of ringing came from the speakers of the pickup truck.

"Hi Dad," his daughter answered from her desk in the back offices of the Smart Mart head office.

"Hi sweety. How's my little girl?" Stanton asked as he narrowly avoided a driver that had just cut him off.

"Good. I'm doing good. Just finishing up here and should be on my way home in an hour. Are you ready for our dinner tonight? Anthony just called and he's running a little bit behind on the job site, so he's going to be a bit late. How about you? Are you still fine?" she asked him as she approved pricing on the store inventory.

"Look honey. I really want to meet Anthony, but something has come up and I'm going to be a while working on this. Maybe until nine or ten. Maybe later. Could we try this again next week?" Stanton asked her diplomatically.

"We could, but tonight was rescheduled from last week when you did the same thing. Called at the last minute with an excuse about not being able to make it. So if we reschedule again, you're just going to do the same thing. You know what I think? I think you don't want to meet him. You just can't stand the idea of someone taking your little girl away from you!" Jennifer spoke up, punctuating her final statement.

"Honey, my job is... complicated. It just doesn't run according to our schedules. I've gotta be flexible for it, rather than the other way around. Why don't we just wing it? No plans, you call me when you two have a night. Better yet, call me on the day of that night. An hour's notice is all I need. Why don't we try that. I really want to meet him, cause any guy who's going to take my little girl away from me has to pass my approval, but I trust that you're old enough to do what you choose to do regardless of my opinion. I'm alright with that too, because my little girl is already a strong minded independent woman, just like her mother was. So how does that sound?" Stanton asked her a bit more quietly, yet firmly.

"I wish mom was here to meet him. I think she really would have liked him," Jennifer started to weep.

"Then I've definitely got to meet him. You keep that chin up, and never forget that this tardy old man here on his way to fix another problem is always rooting for you. Talk to Anthony and you two setup the time and call me last minute. I promise I'll make it for you sweety," Stanton paused for his daughter.

"Alright, Dad. Next time. We'll try again. Love you," Jennifer told her father.

"I love you too honey," and with that they both hung up.

"Damn!" Stanton tapped the steering wheel with the heel of his palm.

Stanton made his way through the late afternoon traffic until he arrived at the Kennedy Road South exit.

From there, he traveled south to Ellesmere and the location of Transformer Station 132.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 01

The Dead Messiah

Alomera Zek woke up in a cold sweat, the nightmare he'd struggled through moments ago still fresh on his mind. He leaned up in his bed on board the Many Faced Maiden and wiped the sweat from his brow with his left hand, his only hand for that matter.

His right stump was still bandaged and healing from the surgery that had taken his right hand. A surgery ordered by his own nemesis, Steadman, for even the devils you know have their own devils. He twisted, putting both of his legs on the floor and got up, stretching copiously. Lusting after the growing taste of coffee in his imagination, he grabbed his tablet computer and stepped out of the cabin door, heading for the galley.

He greeted the guard outside of his cabin, though Zek's deal gave him authority to come and go when he pleased, as long as he made it back before his twenty-third hour curfew time. He strode down the hall turning right once and then down another hall in the same direction and the former, until he arrived at the double doors of the galley.

From there, he grabbed himself a coffee and a buttered roll, taking them on a tray to sit down at his favourite table.

He could feel the motion of the heavily modified Gearing Class Frigate with every step and had surmised that something must have been afoot, for the ship was travelling at full speed.

"Zek! Argentina won against Qatar last night. It was a great game. You should have seen it buddy. The best soccer I've seen in some time!" one of the guards addressed Zek, a thick Latin American accent punctuating the passion of his expression poetically.

"I wish I could have seen that. They needed a good ass kicking," Zek responded, taking a sip from his coffee.

"Well they certainly got it, and then some. The final score was 6 to 1," the guard laughed as he recalled the game.

"Thanks for the update. Any idea why we're in a hurry?" asked Zek.

"Naw. The big man hasn't said much to us peons if you know what I mean," the guard smirked.

"What else is new. I'm going check the morning news. Maybe the answer lies there. Thanks," Zek replied.

"No sweat. Us pendejos gotta stick together, you know what I mean?" the guard gave him a firm look.

"That I do. I certainly do," Zek nodded naively as he readied the tablet for use with his one good hand.

When he finally had the morning headlines opened, one of the first reports immediately caught his eye, for it was about him. The headline read: Criminal Industrialist Mastermind Zek Pulled Dead From The Pacific Ocean. Apparently sources at the CIA had confirmed that his body had been pulled from the sea near Treadwater Island. It suddenly all made sense to Zek. The speed of the ship, the general low morale. Everything.

Zek suddenly got up from the table, drinking his coffee down quickly, nearly scalding his throat in the process. The pain meant nothing to him compared to what was at risk. The aroma and flavour made up for it some though, as there were more urgent matters at hand.

"Where are you going Zek? You know something we don't?" the guard challenged him.

"I've got to save a sinking ship," Zek responded.

"Stick by your own! You're our Messiah! You were meant to liberate us pendejos! To find us our place in paradise! Don't let that phony captain in on anything!" the guard urged him, careful to check that nobody else was seeing their heated conversation.

"My friend, when our enemies and friends are both in the ocean, the sharks there to eat us don't distinguish between either. I've got to go. If you really want to help, clear my tray and put it there for the dishwasher," Zek said already attempting to exert his power as he left for the bridge of the ship.

Zek made his way up the stairs out onto the main deck. The sunny sky above felt hot and warming on his housecoat covered skin, while the saltwater mist in the air cooled him. The ship's bouncing rhythm was accentuated when he could see the horizon, though he'd long since become accustomed to the sea. It had been two weeks since he'd last vomited from sea sickness.

He climbed a second set of stairs and opened the door to the bridge, where he was quickly greeted by an armed guard.

"What do you want?" asked the guard.

"I've got to talk to him. He's going to get us all killed," Zek told the guard firmly.

"Let him pass," Steadman ordered the guard.

"But he's a prisoner...!" the guard began.

"I said let him pass!" George raised his voice and the guard stepped aside.

"If that man so much as budges in the wrong way, you put a bullet in his head," Norman ordered the guard.

"If he does that, he'll have three between his eyes before he can blink," the guard backed up brandishing his MP5 SMG, taking a line-of-sight position opposite Zek.

Zek was the shortest man on the bridge at that moment, though he didn't let anyone intimidate him.

"What brings you here?" asked George, already knowing the answer to that question.

"Its a trap. You're falling right into their trap," Zek warned Steadman.

"I'm taking us away from the vicinity of Treadwater as fast as I can, towards the Marshall Islands, where we'll have a distinct advantage.

"They're squeezing you, knowing full well that you'll run. They'll be looking for every ship headed this direction because they've already got the Panama Canal under surveillance. They've likely performed spot checks on every ship going through from west to east Panama. We only got through to the west side on a fluke if you'll recall. They're hunting me, and pressing your buttons to trick you into exposing us!" Zek informed him.

"They know we were there!" Steadman shot back.

"No they don't! They're only making you think they know, but they don't! That's their game. The only thing they know is that I'm in North America or South America. That's all. They don't know where. They're not looking for you! They're looking for me! Every act of political blackmail we've succeeded in over the last week was conducted with my data, and my methods. Its likely that someone high up ordered the CIA into action against us. Against me!" Zek countered him.

"Ever since I fled the authorities at Tokyo International Airport on one of my helicopters, they've been after me. They want me because Future Tangent is going to hang up the whole Cora Hau scandal on me! That cost nearly twenty billion dollars of investor money. Some of those investors have friends in high places. This isn't about you and your liberate Pan America movement Nacho Zekko! This is all about me and hanging me up for good on a flag pole with a rope around my neck, dead for all to see. You're a post cold war Industrialist criminal has been. I'm a different sort of prey for them, and they want to make a big example," Steadman found his cool again, though retained his firmness.

"Then you're playing right into their trap. If you continue on this route, within a day or two, this boat and its entire crew compliment of three hundred will be sitting on the bottom of the ocean!" Zek assured him.

"No - it - won't!" Steadman defied him.

"Yes it will! They're watching us right now with a hundred different satellites, probably analyzing our trajectory to make predictions about where we're going!" Zek asserted.

"No they're not," Steadman said calmly.

"I just told you, they have satellites through which they're watching you," Zek moved a bit closer to the man, causing the guard raise his weapon, keeping it carefully aimed at the former tycoon.

"And I just told you, to me and this ship, they're blind, and in the land of the blind, its the one eyed man who is King!" Steadman looked directly at Zek unflinchingly, closing one of his eyes as he spoke.

"This man has lost his mind! We'll be sunk in a day or two at most. Heed my words," Zek stormed out of the bridge.

"We got it all on recording, Steadman," Norman assured his Captain.

"Perfect. Keep us under the veil as long as its efficient to do so. About an hour before sunset, we'll slow the engines to quarter forward to cool down enough to avert IFLIR technology. Then and only then, we'll switch off the veil. I'm going to take a nap. I've been at the helm for the whole night. Norman, you've got the bridge," Steadman said as he stepped over to the door.

"Aye, sir!" Norman responded.

"Make sure that someone keeps an eye on that little runt at all times. He's the last man I want gaining popularity when morale is already so low," Steadman said about ready to leave.

"Sir! What about radar? We could really benefit from some intel in case they have a task force searching for us," Norman asked Steadman.

"Radar is an active system, correct?" confirmed George.

"Correct, Sir," Norman replied.

"If we use radar, we'll be giving ourselves away even with the veil in full operation. No radar at all. I want only visual reckoneering and until the wee hours of the morning and after the early evening, all deck and hull lights off. Understood?" Steadman responded.

"Get some sleep sir," Norman said, following his Captain's orders.

As he made his way to his own cabin, he sang an old seaman's song:

Her hair moves with the waves,

her body with the sea,

in Davy Jones' old locker,

my girl she'll come for me...

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat Episode 01

The Two Dragons

The vast darkness spread, snaking its way through time-space, though Aikiko did not feel anything at all. Not even the passage of time, for when she moved through the Aether, the Quantum Foam, time was as meaningless a concept as was space, for she was in the realm of the two. The one before the beginning and the one beyond the end. The two who had always been, since before there was anything  at all, and the two who would remain long after there was nothing.

The eternal darkness found pause, and an opening appeared before her, though from her perspective it all seemed to happen immediately. She was at the site of the MindSpice Special Projects wreckage, the darkness consumed her, and she was before a vast opening that spread out into an immense flower filled field beneath an eternity of stars.

What she didn't know was that the trip had taken no time at all.  Less than Planck time, but it had also taken an eternity. . The opposite of the smallest unit of time. On the opposite end of the Planck scale. A length of time equal to the lifespan of the universe and since that quantity was unknown,  would be the correct stand-in. Concepts for which she had no patience, for they were merely distractions from the physical realities of being. Concepts which only meant something to physicists and cosmologists, and perhaps the staff of CERN and Fermilab.

She stepped out of the opening and into the field, unamused by its beauty. The wonder of it all did not reach her, for she was emotionally scarred so extremely that nothing could move her. Her experiences since having been sold into the underworld by her own father to pay for a gambling debt and to retain his family honour had scalded her to her core. Years after that betrayal, and she'd become the antithesis of everything she believed a Butterfly Dragon to be.

"Excellent. You have gotten close enough to the Butterfly to take the Gem, Warai Jeong-Min Tokama, and yet you have had ample opportunity to do so but lacked the willpower to complete this task. Why is that Dragon Butterfly?" the voice of the still obscured dragon permeated the air.

"Why is it that you remain deceitful and treacherous. You give me a task to earn your trust, and behind me you plan for my assassination? The girl is not the Gem you seek. She is just a little girl, like any other. Your trail has been a false one, and you've been played by the likes of Mutano who is simply using you for your power to dispatch his enemies. He will betray you and attempt to take everything from you, as his own as surely as he would gladly eviscerate me if he could," Aikiko responded, standing her ground as the dragon of darkness known as Witherwyrm appeared before her.

"You speak of deceit and betrayal, and yet you know not the true meaning of those concepts. They are merely words that roll off of your tongue. You address one who was there before all, even time itself holds no sway over me, for I am beyond its reach as surely as you are beyond the reach of a shark while warming on the sands of a Tsushima beach. I am a part of you Dragon Butterfly, and always will be, but it was not I who summoned you here today. What I plan for your demise only grows your ability to avert death. To transcend it. That art that adorns your body is more than just ink and tincture. It isn't the quick doodling sprawl of a prison inmate or drunken sailor with a needle and ink, to impress his peers or signify his membership. It is the very core of the essence of being, that was written upon you like a masterwork of art. By a legendary Sifu of Sigils. You are as much a part of me, as I am a part of you thanks to the tinkering of that dead buffoon! I will have no part of me that is a weakness to be exploited by humanity or any of its groups and cliques! While you live, Dragon Butterfly, you will always face attempts at your life, for I will not have a weakness that lives. We will deal with the matter of the Gem at a future time. We will speak again, mark my words!" as its words finished, Withwyrm coiled like a giant snake flying off into the night sky.

Aikiko traced the dragon's path, for everywhere it flew, the stars disappeared when obscured by its darkness.

"You have finally come to the field to truly wield that which is in your fate sealed, Aikiko," another deep and thundrous voice spoke.

"Toy not with me dragon, for I am of your like. A Dragon first, a Butterfly second, and a woman third," Aikiko responded to the second serpent.

"You and I are more alike than you'll ever know, for just like you, I am descending through time from the far end of the scale. From the eldest to the youngest, I travel backwards through time. I know not what it was like to be a fledgling born of a scale sealed egg, just like my relative the Phoenix, I am forever lost to know my own origins. Forever I travel backwards through time towards my youth and birth, yet never quite reaching either. Unable to recall what it was to be so full of wonder and vigor and optimism for all of possibility," the giant serpentine Butterfly Dragon flew in from the stars and slowly descended to a point on the field before Aikiko.

She watched as it landed, coiling itself as its wings folded behind its back. The curious creature examined her, somewhat amused.

"You waste my time serpent-kin," Aikiko responded blandly.

"Are your scales so thick that they obscure from you even the most fundamental of truths? The truths of which you are most staid? Of debts long paid? A young girl so afraid?" Weltherwithsp reasoned with her.

"That young girl is long gone. She died in the streets and interlocking brick pathways of Akihabara, for she never lived her youth, and her dreams were snatched from her before they'd come to realization," Aikiko responded intimidatingly.

"Oh, how I beg to differ Aikiko. There is much I see that you cannot, for there within you remains the tot. That little girl, that long lost soul. The missing piece of any good woman's whole. I am going to give you a gift, Aikiko. A gift taken from you so long ago," Weltherwithsp offered Aikiko, whose face compressed into a suspicious frown.

"I will accept no gifts from you, serpent-kin," Aikiko asserted protectively of her imbalanced life and being.

The both of them at that moment instantly knew that she was afraid. She was terrified at the prospect of feeling optimism. Anticipating a future. The mysticism of wonder and the anticipation of eternity. She feared it all, for everything that felt so wonderful was fleeting, and there was no cure for the pain that came with its demise.

Before she could react, the dragon had coiled itself around her, not constricting her or even touching her, but rather encircling her with the length of its body. It traveled in a circle, counter-clockwise around her faster and faster, and Aikiko found herself becoming younger and younger. Eventually, she was at the young age of her ascension, in the Tanaka Dojo, ready to become worthy of being a true Butterfly Dragon. She began to cry as she tasted her youth once again, all of her tattoos still intact.

Then the dragon reached into her soul, and grasped it, pulling it as the dragon now coiled itself in the opposite direction around her. Aikiko once again began to age and get older and older, once again becoming the powerfully bodied mature woman that she'd been moments ago, and yet, there within her was the girl of eighteen years, her entire life ahead of her. The endless possibilities of what life had to offer. A magnet to her curiosity. Both women became as one.

"You were so long off center Aikiko, that you forgot what it was to be young, vibrant and fruitful of possibility. To be held in the wonders of the field around you..." the dragon began as it returned to its original place before her.

She marveled as she looked upon the field, seeing it with completely different eyes. She felt a stir within her heart, and the tears welling up like a torrential rain within her. It was all so inspiring and beautiful. Beyond words, and even dreams. The colours as the field bristled in the night wind. The butterflies and bees who played on the tips of petals. They danced amidst the glistening dewdrops of the night's mist and then buzzed and fluttered away.

"What have you done to me...?" Aikiko asked, feeling vulnerable to the immense sense of awe she felt within.

"I simply returned to you what was taken from you so many years ago. From now on, you must live with both of these aspects of your being. The one so fragile and vulnerable, and yet so inspired and full of wonder, and the other so hardened to the core, the protective force that has lost the ability to trust. In life, you will live as the fragile one and when there is need of the Dragon, you will become the other, much the same as the Butterfly Dragon has Ai Yuanlin Ying, and Night Style has Alicia Westin. As Eclipse has Monique Defleur, and Kyra has Valerie Aspen. You are now whole Dragon Butterfly, though when you are the fragile one, you will no longer benefit from the protection of your sigils. Your tattoos. It is only when you transform yourself into the Dragon Butterfly, that they will return to your body," Weltherwithsp explained to Aikiko.

She examined herself, and felt a sense of sudden shock when she realized her body was bare. Absent of any markings or tattoos at all. Her skin was once again virgin to the needle and ink. She was a woman returned.

"I've never seen anything so... can I just stay here? Forever?" she asked the dragon, still clearing the tears from her cheeks.

"Like Ai Yuanlin Ying, you must return, for in your friends will you find a new strength to protect your fragile and vulnerable nature, and in you they will find a renewed joy and vigour for life and trust," Weltherwithsp assured her.

"As Witherwyrm told you, we will meet again and in this place of your dreams. Aikiko Tanaka, you have finally become the Butterfly you never had the chance to be. Your Dragon half will protect you and others like you, and like all those of the circle of the Butterfly Dragon, innocence above all else. Remember where you came from, and where you've been, for there are many women therein who need you more than ever," Weltherwithsp told her, as the light consumed her and delivered her into one of the empty change rooms at West Meet East International.

The Real Target

Kori pulled out into traffic along Queen Street West, turning right from John Street to travel west towards the heart of the city.

"Can we stop for ice cream?" asked Warai enthusiastically, excited to be out driving with her two best friends.

"Did you take your seatbelt off Warai?" asked Braden of his little friend.

"No. I'm just leaning to you," she giggled as they drove.

"You drive stick? My father always swore by it back in China. All of our family cars were stick shift. He was absolutely dead set against automatic," Braden said, admiring Kori's adventurous nature.

"No offense, but it was about a thousand dollars cheaper than the automatic beater that was my alternative. So you could say price won out, though I do admit its kind of fun. Feels like I'm driving a Nintendo car, if they made cars..." she joked, causing Warai to burst out into laughter.

"You need a moustache like Mario!" she joked from the back seat, inadvertently causing Kori to suddenly wonder if she'd remembered to bleach her upper-lip hair.

"Heylyn said the address we need is somewhere along Front Street here. Just before Yonge Street," Braden said checking the map on his smartphone.

"Sorry, this one didn't come with a GPS option. Used car lot deal. What are you going to do?" Kori replied, somewhat embarrassed.

"Kori, its alright. Besides, this is a thousand times better than mine," Braden assured her.

"Why, what do you drive?" Kori asked him as she down-shifted to brake with the engine.

"Me? You want to know what I drive?" he confirmed, looking first to Kori, and then to Warai in the back seat.

"Yea! I want to know! You drive?" Warai asked excitedly.

"I drive alright. I drive my friends crazy..." he smiled at her and began laughing.

Kori rolled her eyes while Warai laughed uncontrollably for nearly a minute, very amused with his joke.

After Warai had calmed down, he continued.

"...with laughter..." he winked at Warai and she burst out laughing again.

"Heylyn's certainly going to love you. Warai's going to be out like a light with all the excitement you've given her today," Kori smiled at Braden.

"I think that's it. She said it was a warehousing firm. Odd how they ended up with all of Heylyn's RSVP gifts after that fashion show?" Braden remarked, checking the address he'd written down once again to ensure they had the correct place.

"I'll just pull around to the back and park, and we'll check it out. Just like one big happy family," Kori pulled around to the back of the building through an alley, finding a small parking lot near the loading docks where she parked.

When they got out of the car, there were three men standing by the back door, watching them carefully as they got out.

"Hi. You gents wouldn't happen to know where Amber is, would you?" Braden asked them.

One of them pulled a pair of keys from his pocket, and opened the back door to the warehouse for him without saying a word.

He looked to them and then to Warai in the back seat.

Kori honey, you want to grab the munchkin there and we'll head in together?" Braden quickly improvised, winking to Kori excessively.

"Uhhhh, sure. Munchkin? Alright," Kori got out and unbuckled Warai's seatbelt, picking the little girl up in her arms.

Braden walked slightly ahead of them protectively.

"We're just going to go in there and pickup some stuff from Amber," Braden said to the three men cautiously, who seemed unamused by his purposely awkward candor.

"Just a shipping mix-up. That's all it was. Then we'll be gone," Kori said to them as she passed.

All three of them watched Warai with the eyes of hawks as she passed in Kori's arms.

When Kori was inside the warehouse, they quickly stepped in the door and closed it behind them, locking it before following them.

"Braden, I'm not liking this," Kori told him in a panicked tone.

"Nor am I... Amber? Hello? Anyone home?" Braden responded to Kori quietly, and then began walking through the darkened warehouse searching for Amber as Kori and Warai followed behind him.

When they found their way into an open area, devoid of any pallets or skids, before them stood an array of large men. The one centered between them all, a Japanese man in his early forties simply wore a Yamamoto designer suit. His arms were folded beneath his solar plexus, and Braden immediately recognized his finger position and stance as being that of a man with extensive martial arts knowledge. In fact, he was likely a man tied to the underworld.

"Braden. I have heard much about you. Your immense skills as a combatant. Another dragon much like myself. I am always fascinated with meeting those of my kind. That is, before I eviscerate and devour them. Why don't you just hand the child over to me, and I'll let the girl go. You however, I cannot afford to pass up such an opportunity for such a valuable prize. What say you to that offering?" asked Mutano of the younger dragon.

"I take it there's no Amber here?"  Braden responded, already cycling energy through his dan tians in anticipation of what was likely to come.

"That was actually my touch, perhaps in mockery of your city's Amber alert system here in Toronto. Too bad you didn't piece it together, for you might have averted this fate if you did," Mutano smiled as he nodded towards Braden, signaling the eight men surrounding him in the direction of Braden.

As they walked forward, Mutano pulled a pair of ancient Tanto short sword blades from scabbards hidden in the legs of his Yamamoto suit. He too joined their advance, a blade in each hand.

"Uhhhh, Braden? What should I do?" asked Kori, holding on to Warai protectively.

"Backup! Stay away from the action, and call Simu Lee and Ryan Reynolds and ask if they can lend a hand!" Braden said as he readied himself for combat.

The first two came at him from opposite sides, trying to use the advantage of his blind side to dispatch him.

As the one in front of him kept him occupied, the one behind him advanced for the kill.

"I hate to tell you guys, but I don't have a blind side," he told them, seeing perfectly the advance of the man behind him.

He quickly launched himself into the air in a flying kick backwards, completely catching the man behind him off guard. With one swift kick, he incapacitated the man to the hard cement floor of the warehouse.

When he landed from the first kick, the second man circled to allow three others to draw Braden into a four versus one match, as Mutano and the remaining three continued to advance.

"Help them!" Mutano ordered the men on his flanks.

The three of them immediately moved in, completely surrounding Braden from seven points.

Meanwhile, Kori backed up, finding herself bumping into one of the men from the back parking lot. She turned quickly to face him, seeing that all three were there, each with knives of their own.

"Warai, get behind me!" Kori put Warai down and put herself between the men and the little girl.

"Alright! Nobody move! I know Kung Chu! I'm a 49th black belt of the... the... Sing A Song Dynasty!" Kori told them, moving her hands mesmerizingly trying to distract them as she kept herself between them and Warai.

They looked at her, shaking their heads side to side in the negative indicating they'd seen through her charade.

"Lady, we're first order Assassins of the Three Families. Just do us a favour and give us the kid so we don't have to hurt you, will ya?" they asked her, bored by her display.

"Alright. Fine. So you want to do this the hard way, do you? Braden? Like the center of a clock, give it to them!" Kori said, backing her friend up as she protected Warai.

The Zen of her statement suddenly hit him, and all at once he saw the future unfold before it actually happened. It was true, they were positioned around him like the numbers on a clock. He only had to become the hands of the clock to dispatch them all. It was at that point that a song came to mind.

"This one's for the Sing A Song Dynasty!" he said, following Kori's protective nature.

"One two three o'clock, four o'clock rock!" Braden sang with his first strike, he followed the teachings of Ip Man, employing a Wing Chun technique which he quickly adapted for the situation.

He quickly delivered a flurry of punches to the man at one o'clock, rending him unconscious, as the man directly across from him charged at Braden.

Braden quickly spun, leveraging his velocity into a spinning round kick, which he used to dispatch that man.

By the time the third had tried for the opening in Braden's lower abdomen, Braden had already landed on the cement and was crouched low enough to continue through with his momentum for a spinning foot sweep. He expertly delivered it, maintaining perfect energy and momentum, dropping the third man onto his head against the pavement for concussive damage.

As the fourth man grabbed hold of him from behind, he rolled forwards, flipping the man who clung to him over and onto his back against the cement, while Braden had been cushioned by the man's own body. He quickly turned over the delivered a consciousness denying punch to the cheek, leaving him with only three to deal with before he'd have to confront Mutano.

Meanwhile, Kori had quickly improvised, picking up a long wooden piece of two-by-four from a wrecked pallet skid, and swung it at her attackers, keeping them all away from Warai.

"Run Warai!" she screamed as she swung the heavy block of wood.

Meanwhile, Braden had taken down another one of the three remaining men, literally running up his front and kicking him down, only to land atop of the man. He then leapt at the last two, who by some odd coincidence just happened to be exactly equidistant from one another, allowing Braden to deliver the last blow to each at the same time. Each of his fists, left and right connected with their solar plexus, dropping them both to the cement simultaneously.

He landed and was back up on his feet.

"That last one there was for Bruce Lee!" Braden danced the dance of the most famous dragon of all.

Mutano advanced, unamused by his antics.

"I was hoping that it would come to this. You are amongst the best quarry I've ever pursued, only topped by another dragon, far beyond your meager skill. If chance might meet fate in agreement, I may even take her one day in a rematch," Mutano smiled, each Tanto glistening in the harsh light of the dark warehouse.

"How are you Kori?" asked Braden.

"Not good! I've got the three guys from the back parking lot looking to fricassee me.  How about you?" asked Kori, tiring quickly as she swung the large block of wood to keep them at bay.

"Same deal here, except I'm pretty sure he's trying to Ginsu me," Braden joked as Mutano swung both knives, each in turn expertly and precisely at his abdomen.

The first knife grazed his washboard stomach, leaving a thin line of blood along his midsection. The second knife however, opened him up, cutting into muscle and nearly to the bone. He fell to the floor grasping at his stomach as Mutano advanced on him closing for the kill.

"Kori! Take Warai and run for it! I'm down!" Braden said, grasping at his stomach in an attempt to keep his innards in.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 02

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Borderline Obsession...