The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 11 (Updated April 19, 2024 7:00 AM EST)


Chapters

  • To Be - In The Balance Of Six Lines (Finished March 28, 2024 6 PM EST)
  • Our Fingers Spread (Finished March 28, 2024 6 PM EST)

  • Our Neighbours Answer (Finished March 28, 2024 6 PM EST)
  • Education (Renamed from "The Gathering" and finished March 29, 2024 6 PM EST)

  • Legacy And The Future (Finished March 6, 2024 5:00 PM EST)

  • New Car - New Challenges (Finished April 8, 2024 3:33 PM EST)

  • Hot On The Trail (Finished April 18, 2024 6:00 PM EST)

  • West Meet East Meet Lunch (Finished April 18, 2024 8:00 PM EST)

  • Deal Of The Two Dragons (Finished April 18, 2024 10:00 PM EST)

  • The Eclipse (Finished April 19, 2024 7:00 AM EST)

Remember, both The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies, The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard, The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat and Tales Of The Sanctum: A Lady's Prerogative are all works written by Brian Joseph Johns. 

Within those distinct works, credit is always given where credit is due. Even credit for abuse and theft by attempting to create contradictions between the behaviour and reactions of a content creator, and their body of work. As if in doing so, others create a justification for stealing the work of others by the fact that if  the actual creator contradicts it somehow, they weren't the ones who created it. 

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Brian Joseph Johns



The Three Modern Contemplations Of  A Dragon


To Be - In The Balance Of Six Lines

I am the Itsupiki no shin no doragon [one true dragon]. I am the Jidai o koeta senshi [the warrior of ages].

I am the Yoroi [armor]. 

I am the katana [sharpened spirit].

I am all of my ancestors, their worst and best all at once. 

A blade forged entirely of their presence upon Honshu [the largest island that makes up Japan].

I am that which sculpted the people, with reverie and ferocity. I am.


Our Fingers Spread

Our hands upon a map. Lines spread in their pursuit.

Our will was our path. We rose to triumph, yet fell to war.

And somehow, in this cause, we elevated all we opposed.

We made not only ourselves better, but the ranks of our enemies too.

 Therefore, we are the makers of true warriors.

It is crime to stray from one's own destiny, and yet fewer they are on our watch.


 Our Neighbours Answer

We are amongst many like us. They are our neighbours.

However, their ways are as different as the stars in the sky.

Our first neighbours, they wield the Book Of Changes and the Art Of War, yet their Monks recycle the same circular energy that we use otherwise - in the form of straight lines.

And on the shores of Gojoseon, we arrive with the two ways, and yet we are met by a people who simply add a third wind. They expand and evolve, learning from their enemies yet presenting new chapters to the age old  words of what it is to be warriors.

We retreat and yet learn from their perseverance.

However, they become what they were destined to be. Like our neighbours with the Art Of War, they are potent adversaries, beyond our reach. Tell me, who educates who when in pursuit of victory? The pursuer or the pursued?


Education

Three evenings after the events of Episode 10, Warai is in the care of Kori Jonglyu who has come to visit at Heylyn's condominium while the rest of the group train with Jinn Hua, Hanshi, and Hoon Kwang. Alicia, Norler and Gregory meanwhile have continued preparing for the release of Medi-Friend.


Hanshi stood at the northern most point of the dojo, drawing in breath after breath as he stood readying himself for a parlay with one of his most potent foes.

"This is... the necessity of exercise... of application. This is the life of what the way of the Butterfly Dragon is about!" Hanshi announced as he focused his body energy, readying himself for what was to come.

"I agree. This is what the way of the Butterfly Dragon is all about, and yet there is so much more to it than the pursuit of the brutal physicality, isn't there?" Jinn Hua circled him, readying herself for their demonstration.

"The way of a warrior is physical, and therefore we must pursue that mode of training to better ourselves," Hanshi found his stance, facing Jinn Hua, who appeared very casual in her step.

An illusion to all but Hanshi, who recognized her purposeful foot posture as being that of her own regimen, drawn from a mixture of Chen Style Tai Chi and the more esoteric and uncommon footwork of Wing Tsun.

The two circled each other, carefully. Cautiously. Knowing each other fully, yet trying to find that line where the absence of knowledge and intuition reigned supreme.

"I don't see how this is helping us! I mean come on! I could dance around these two a thousand times in the blink of an eye!" Monique challenged their technique verbally, into the ears of her employer Heylyn Yates.

"Technique, Monique. Technique," Aikiko responded to her best friend.

"We're here to learn, Monique," Braden agreed with Aikiko.

"Personally, I prefer it if my own students challenge me. However, they must learn that in doing so that there are challenges beyond what they originally anticipated," Heylyn added as they sat on the mat watching the demonstration in Hoon Kwang's Dojang.

Hanshi suddenly struck at Jinn Hua, who casually side-stepped his blow, catching his arm, twisting it until he  gave, onto the mat. However, he did not yield nor did he "tap out".

He tugged and twisted with his own arm, releasing it from her grip, launching himself upward onto his own feet to face her once again.

"I've seen that one many times," Jinn Hua held her calm, as Hanshi circled her once again in pursuit of another opening.

"Is there a purpose to this, or are you two just showing off again?" asked Monique, once again impatiently as they sat  around the edges on the mat of the dojo.

Jinn Hua and Hanshi ignored Monique's comment, instead focusing on their demonstration, knowing fully well that it would not be overlooked by most of the students present.

They knew Monique's overconfidence was founded in her unique abilities, for she was the only one of them who could move nearly as quickly as the light emitted from the fixtures in the ceiling. 

In the time that it would take any one of them to attack such an opponenent, Monique could literally have changed position to anywhere in the neighbourhood a hundred thousand times within that same span. 

To her, everyone was unimaginably slow.

And yet, the wisdom of her teachers somehow found a way to enlighten her further.

Hanshi had never been able to breach Jinn Hua's defenses. Her form in martial arts was developed from decades (even centuries) of practice and direct application. She was alive when Tai Chi was still considered a martial art rather than a meditative practice. She was alive centuries earlier as Shaolin evolved into its modern form, bridging the gap between nature, the spirit and the human body. More so, she was witness to the spread of her favourite method of all, Wing Tsun, and how it had come as close to extinction as its philosophical distant relative in the Tao. She was drawing upon centuries of knowledge and experience, beyond which most people alive could even begin to fathom.

And yet, as if to make a point in response to Monique's limited perspective, Hanshi progressed just enough to achieve his first milestone against her.

It all happened as they peered into one another's eyes, both Jinn Hua and Hanshi, despite the fact that a sacred text exemplified in a lesson in the form of a combat that occurred by its author, Miyamoto Musashi, that one should never focus upon the eyes of their opponent unless they are fully enlightened. To lock eyes was to the spirit as it was to the body to lock arms with one's opponent. Kakutō suru as it was so called.

For the first time, instead of thrusting into Jinn Hua's space with his arms or legs in an attack form, he decided to bring his entire body center to within her circle, an imaginary sphere centered at the opponent's foci of body mass extending out as far as its furthest capable reach via arms or legs in defense.

The epiphany came to him all at once and it was as if time had ceased in that moment. He simply decided to step into her space, though perhaps she had in some way allowed it to occur.

In other similar demonstrations, she would have simply countered by bringing her more agile center of mass closer to his own clumsy center by comparison, and yet, instead she side stepped him, giving him an opening for what came next.

Most of Goju-Ryu was focused around the idea of the hard-soft warrior. To be simultaneously impenetrable without the sacrifice of malleability and flow. The dichotomy of Sanchin (the body's own muscular armour achieved through the focus of tension) versus Tencho (the last stage of kata, and one of the few posing the soft form of the open hand, hence malleability and flow).

Hanshi had married these two forms, while introducing a very strategic employment of a third: the Seppai. To move into the center of one's opponent. Two cannot balance in the same space unless they work together, which went against the very nature of their impromptu kumite and demonstration. Two forces in opposition cannot occupy the same space.

When Jinn Hua suddenly responded to Hanshi's surprising improvisation, it was already too late. With Hanshi's body as the hard, he softly pinned her to the mat and for the first time in such a demonstration, she tapped out gracefully, while at that moment Hanshi knew that he had progressed significantly in kyu.

More importantly, a student such as Monique was there to witness this and right after she'd remarked about the futility of their methods versus her own unique abilities.

Monique, like most of the students there had never witnessed Jinn Hua falling to the adaptive skills of either Hanshi Morgan Hind or Sebomnim Hoon Kwang. Jinn Hua had been the proof of a foundation of skill that was impenetrable, and yet that idea had transformed to become illusion, and the student's understanding of the solidity of ideas was drastically altered. The impossible had happened before their eyes, and their sense of security in their old knowledge was all but lost. They had in that moment entered into a very different and unfamiliar world.

A world in which they were not as assured their place as they were before.

Hanshi assisted Jinn Hua in getting to her feet, which she accepted gracefully from her opponent. Despite the apparent defeat, an amourous smile held its place on her face.

"I am humbled by your skill today, Hanshi," Jinn Hua bowed in the traditional Chinese form of her own.

"That was a truly remarkable open form demonstration. One that I never anticipated I'd overcome so soon," Hanshi bowed to Jinn Hua respectfully as he had to his own Okinawan Senseis decades earlier.

"It seems that even the insurpassable have passages through which one can progress..." Jinn Hua looked over to Monique, speaking directly to her while addressing the group.

"I am very grateful that I was able to be a part of this," Jinn Hua continued, knowing that every one of the students had been utterly changed in their world view.

The solid had become supple and that which was concrete had become compliant. The things that their students counted upon, were no longer guaranteed.

Yet, it was Monique who seemed to have the biggest problem with this challenge to the ground beneath her feet, for everything she had come to trust was suddenly in that moment uprooted.

"That says nothing of how this would transpire in the real world!" she challenged Jinn Hua, as if offended that she'd let Hanshi overtake her.

"The last I checked, this is reality from my perspective," Jinn Hua responded.

"I mean out on the street, where some of us do our best to make a difference!" Monique looked over to Heylyn, and then to Aikiko for support.

Heylyn was still contemplating the importance of what she'd just seen, and therefore missed Monique's plea for support, while Aikiko being the loyal friend that she was to Monique, nodded affirmatively, perhaps even finding difficulty herself in the idea that one of the cornerstones of her beliefs of the way of things had so suddenly been shattered.

And yet support for Monique came from the most unlikely of students.

"Sifu. Hanshi, Monique has a point. How does this come into play in an environment that isn't so protective as the temple, the dojo, or the dojang," Braden asked from his position on the mat.

"A place that despite what we foster in the training of warriors, does not harbour violence as much as we seem to prepare for. These are not the days of the feudal era or the dark ages I remind you," Ms. Huệ Vân added, speaking from a seat at the corner outside of the mat that a lady of her age had been respectfully afforded.

Braden nodded in agreement with Ms. Huệ Vân.

"Thank you Sifu..." Hanshi addressed his guest in the dojo.

"My pleasure," Jinn Hua found a seat on the mat amongst her own students.

"We're warriors in training during a time of peace, and history has demonstrated that in doing so, some of the longest lasting peace has been forged in the preparations for war," Hanshi responded to Monique's and Braden's observations.

"Are you saying that what we're learning might never have application outside of this dojo?" continued Braden.

"Who is it that you're trying to conquer Braden? Everyone out there, or yourself?" asked Hanshi rhetorically.

"Pardon?" asked Braden, being of a less metaphorical mind, not quite getting Hanshi's allusion.

"I mean, you go out there in the streets every day. Get your coffee for work on Monday. Maybe do your banking. Your shopping. You live safely in your home and never experience any threat to those surroundings. Does that mean that we should dismantle the Police force because there's little crime?" asked Hanshi of Braden.

"No more so than we should dismantle the military because there's no war...?" Braden affirmed with Hanshi, reaching for his metaphor.

"Precisely, but we're not conquering the world. We're conquering ourselves," Hanshi looked to each of his students.

"But we're studying the martial arts. Training that was developed with the sole intent to be able to effectively vanquish foes with our hands or weapons. By the very implication of our practice, we are learning to vanquish," Braden continued along the same line of reasoning he suspected Monique was implying.

"Are you saying that Jinn Hua is my foe?" asked Hanshi of Braden.

"No. Not directly, but she was symbolic of being an opponent. A stand-in for what the martial artists of history would have faced. Are you saying that you defeated her, or yourself?" asked Braden, turning his mentor's rhetoric around and wielding it constructively against him.

Hanshi respected his student's ambition, but immediately recognized that Braden was striking out at something in someone else that he equated with the concept of his own self and ego. From that expression, Hanshi immediately knew the values and focus of that particular student and where he was in the structure of what Jinn Hua, Ms. Huệ Vân, Sebomnim Hoon Kwang and he were teaching.

Jinn Hua had not taken Hanshi's epiphany as a defeat, but as an important sign of their progress as mentors, while Braden had immediately equated it with his own two-sided paradigm which was built on top of his ego. A world where his friends and fellow students were merely a projection of himself.

Hence, Hanshi did what any good mentor would do and replied honestly and with the truth.

"I defeated myself and my old notions about what was possible, so much so that those old ideas were no longer an obstruction preventing me from progressing. Something I hope that each of you has learned from, however, I can't learn for you. As Jinn Hua would likely state, that's something that each of you have to do on your own. Don't let your old self get in the way of the new," Hanshi continued.

"How does this play into defeating our new enemies? Those whose realm of warfare seems to be that of the mind, more so than the physical world?" asked Heylyn, suddenly speaking up.

"Not to mention the fact that they can affect people's emotions and moods by the same mumbo jumbo that Bryce and Doctor Briggs always talks about..." Monique found traction once again in questioning their education.

Hanshi looked to Jinn Hua, and then to Ms. Huệ Vân, who returned his glance with some authority.

"That is an ongoing battle that has many fronts. Each of which will likely require a unique solution, like Heylyn's Tin Foil Hat clothing line," Jinn Hua responded.

"That's one front, and assuming that a small percentage of the population buy into this solution, what about the other fronts?" asked Braden challenged his teachers.

"Homeostasis is a quality of the body, and a strong and stable homeostasis is a quality of a healthy body, like healthy Chi. By taking part in these exercises within the temple, the dojo and the dojang, we're solidifying our own defenses, and creating an example for those who are seeking a solution to their own challenges in that regard," Ms. Huệ Vân interjected.

"That's only two fronts. What about the others? What about us transferring these techniques we've studied to the realm of mind? Why are we so focused on the physical when we clearly need something that overcomes the intellectual and mental challenges? These two solutions are clearly not enough," Heylyn added, she too seeing some merit in carefully stirring the foundation.

Jinn Hua smiled as she looked to her students from her place on the mat.

"Ms. Huệ Vân. Hanshi. Sebomnim. It seems that our students are progressing faster than we have the ability to give them a path," Jinn Hua looked to her peers in Ms. Huệ Vân,  Hanshi and Sebomnim Hoon Kwang.

"If we're supposed to be this... vanguard against Mentis... Why are we so lost in our direction?" Monique added, finding new footing in her skepticism of her mentors.

The dojo remained silent for a few moments, before Hanshi decided that action was better than conjecture. He continued the night's class with more exercise and physical training, though the questions their students had asked had largely remained unanswered.

For the first time in a long time, the mentors themselves did not know where to go or what to do despite the night's gains in terms of Hanshi's epiphany and realization.

They were guides who were doing their best to keep their students on course in a map that nobody knew the breadth from depth. In that subtle moment, the students were plunged into a world where they realized that even their own mentors did not have all of the answers.

From that moment, they were all, each of them, suddenly afraid of the future.

Legacy And The Future


The condominium was luxurious and large, having two floors of its own and for only the wealthiest of residents. 

It was as few had seen in their lifetimes, for there were more in the world that had no idea how these fewer lived.

These abodes, equating to fortresses of solitude in the legends of some, were what had been afforded women and men who'd significantly become a source for the world and the people around them. Most such persons residing in such luxury were the foci of vast extensions of prosperity and wealth, giving many the opportunity to ply their skill and trade and earn their keep.

The weight upon those who were the centerpiece to such empires was immense, and hence they were rewarded aptly, for what fool would carry such weight without the reward of a day's peaceful end?

Despite their being the fewer, they were in fact many and to be found all over the world, however not every person who inhabited the towers built for such purposes were as deserving of the comfort of such abodes.

There were those who'd created it by their propensity for prosperity, and there were those who simply preyed upon all, taking what they wanted and when they wanted it. 

These people who were the mirror's reflection of plentitude.

"I'm lost as to how all of this plays into your idea of victory. I mean, you come from a culture who practically invented the idea of perfection through better warfare and all that Samurai stuff. Where'd you put all of that history? In your back pocket or something?" Dan addressed those in the marble tiled living area of the condominium, shortly after quenching his thirst with a sip of his drink.

Dan was the former name of the vessel that Jack Warren's mind now inhabited. Dan had been a fifty something year old former sales associate whose life had ended with the structual collapse of one of the arteries in his left leg, thanks to the accumulation of cholesterol and hardening of his arteries. This had in turn counter-balanced the effort of his own heart, in turn leading eventually to cardio-pulminary failure.

At the moment that Dan Gurdy had died, Jack Warren was born into that same body, for Jack's former body had been crushed under the mechanisms of a massive vehicle. As gods might have granted those who'd died prematurely the opportunity of a continued life, so had the demons visited upon those whose malicious purpose was not yet complete. 

And so, Jack Warren was now the mind occupant of Dan Gurdy's body, with all of the same independence and ignorance of the former assassin for hire.

Jack had abhorred Dan's body, which its former host had neglected to the point of eventual death, however when Jack had command of this person's vessel, he'd sculpted it to perfection over the course of months.

To any who'd known Dan Gurdy, they'd have not recognized their former associate for his body was now a bundle of packed muscle and monstrosity, shaped to perfection by its new occupant.

One of the six at the bar in the massive condominium looked to the back of Dan's head as he leaned against the counter. That man could see the back of Dan's neck as he grasped the hilt of his concealed Wakizashi, ready at any moment to separate Dan's head from the rest of his body.

"Koro. Why don't you mix Mr. Gurdy another drink?" Mutano spoke calmly and rationally in response to Dan's remark.

Koro, had in fact been an inch away from ending Dan's life at that moment, his grip tightening around the hilt of his Wakizashi.

"Katsu, why don't you coax Koro in the right direction?" continued Mutano.

At the behest of the man seated before the audio visual center of the room, Katsu, one of the three women leaned over and whispered something into the ear of the Japanese man named Koro. He then responded to Mutano's request, and only then.

"What shall I make for him, oh dragon of the flesh? A Bloody Ceasar maybe?" Koro's grip only tightened on the hilt of his blade.

"I'll take a bourbon on the rocks, Koro," Dan addressed the man by name, who cringed upon the utterance of the word he'd so come to despise.

Dan then turned to face the woman.

"Katsu is it? At least I won't be sleeping alone tonight," he spoke directly to her, menacingly so.

The woman in question revealed nothing by way of her expression, though she understood him completely.

 "So I take it that our approach to dealing with the Wytches, even after that failed attempt in Alivale is making its way here, to the big city?" asked Dan of Mutano, sliding his empty glass to Koro, who reluctantly caught it, filling it with ice and then pouring a fresh frosting of whiskey within.

Koro then spat at the floor.

"Mr. Gurdy... ahem... Mr. Warren. Like you, we are entirely about action, much the same as the ancestors you so brazingly elevated by your verbal observations. This is a fact we have in common with many, especially those who've been living the idea that what they prepare for is what they do. What they are. That in practicing to be warriors, they become warriors. However, I, much like the legacy of my own ancestors, appreciate the power of action more so than the subtly of practice and contemplation. We are entirely defined not by what we practice or contemplate, but by what we do. The world around us is evidence of this very fact, and so we are going to take what is ours not by waiting or contemplating, like our enemies, but by doing," Mutano did not look over to Dan as he spoke, instead keeping his vision focused on the empty television screen before him.

"Finally! So we're going to West Meet East and kicking their asses?" Dan said, getting into a boxing stance as if he were ready for action himself.

"Not quite. We're going to bring them and ourselves somewhere that we can determine who the real warriors are. Our enemies of contemplation and practice, or us, those who believe that we become what we do," Mutano smiled, though none of his guests could see it from their current angle.

Katsu leaned over to Koro and whispered into his ear.

"I take it that you are going to use us for this prospective venture?" Koro asked Mutano, Dan raising his glass to the man as Katsu watched.

"Katsu and yourself will be the vanguard of this operation, while you will follow the lead of Mr. Gurdy... Jack Warren that is. Our enemies will be brought to the battlefield, and we'll be there to meet them," Mutano addressed Koro.

Katsu leaned over to Koro's ear and spoke quietly enough not to be heard by others.

"And in what form will this take place?" asked Koro of Mutano.

"This world of technology seems very focused on such ideas. Why not take such ideas for ourselves and make them into reality? Let's just call it a Battle Royale between us and our adversaries..." Mutano once again smiled, grabbing the glass of six hundred dollar whiskey beside him and drinking it until none was left.

"Wouldn't that ruin all the headway I've made into earning their trust at West Meet East?" asked Dan, after which he took a quick glimpse at Katsu over the rim of his glass.

"You'll continue to earn their trust as you've been doing already, but you'll not ever attack them so that we'll always have you as an insider. You might even defend them when we do," Mutano assured Dan.

"Who do we have besides me that's skilled enough to take them on?" asked Dan of Mutano.

"Some friends of Koro from ages ago. Men of history who'd jump at the opportunity to regain their honour, status... and heads..." Mutano pondered how it all might play out.


New Car - New Challenges

Heylyn kept her hand firmly upon the shifter, though in all honesty there was no reason for her to do so. Her new car, a Tesla Model S, handled everything for her. Yet, somehow after driving with her employee and friend, Kori Jonglyu, she'd been converted to the idea that a manual shift model might appeal more so to a woman that ran her own fortune five hundred fashion company.

And so, Heylyn purchased a Tesla Model S with software and a stick-shift input system specially modified to suit her needs, though she could optionally return the car to automatic-variable transmission mode, which essentially did not require shifting at all. Handy for when she was nursing her morning Chai Latté.

"So, what did you all think?" asked Heylyn as she upshifted before their entry onto the 401 Eastbound highway ramp.

"I thought Hanshi was especially knowledgeable this session," Aikiko responded to Heylyn's question.

"I felt lost. He was speaking about a lot of stuff I didn't understand... katas and stuff, and so I just kind of did my own thing..." Monique added.

"Well, you did pretty well.. and your technique was good... despite the fact that a student two kyu beneath your level of training ably defeated you three times," Heylyn pointed out to Monique.

"Well... that jam was like having your hands tied behind your back! I mean I couldn't even use my... real talents... you know?" Monique responded, clearly frustrated by her lack of progress in Kumite.

"That's what the tennis is about," Heylyn reminded Monique.

"We haven't played in ages! The only thing we've done recently is spar a little in the calethenics gym!" Monique quickly responded.

"...And how many times have I urged you to knock on Heylyn's door so we could, all three of us... spar? Back in my family dojo, Kumite was a crucial part of our daily regimen," asked Aikiko of her room mate in their shared condominium unit.

 "We've been... busy... having a life!" Monique responded, cautiously.

 "Speaking of, we're still going to have a serious meeting about that matter you know," Heylyn reminded Monique.

"I honestly don't know what there'd be to discuss. Don't forget that you're addressing a twenty-nine year old woman, and not a fifteen year old girl. You may be my employer, but you're not my mother," Monique challenged Heylyn.

"It wouldn't hurt to discuss the matter..." Aikiko interjected.

"Don't you encourage her! We're adults Aikiko and we don't need to justify our lives...!" Monique began as Heylyn cut her off.

"This isn't a daytime soap opera. This is real life and a real situation with serious implications. If you'd have come with me to South Korea when I adopted Warai, then you'd understand how serious this is..." Heylyn asserted her point of view once again.

"Well who's fault was that? I was waiting for you to ask me to go with you, but you took Kori instead and left Valerie and I to look after the fort, and all during the height of the Chameleon's murder spree! You abandoned us in our moment of need!" Monique challenged her employer and friend.

"I trusted you two to protect the city...!" Heylyn shot back defensively.

"And did we?!!!" Monique responded to Heylyn, unsure if she even remembered what had happened on that very night that Heylyn and Kori had departed.

"...yes. You did. With a little help from our Dragon Man friend, but the Chameleon case is still open..." Heylyn reminded Monique.

"But he hasn't struck again in months. We're not like little girls that need a baby sitter every time you go out, Heylyn. We're adults. We have our own lives, and we don't have to answer to you or anyone!" Monique defied her employer for the first time.

"Monique, when you became the Eclipse, the nature of your responsibilities changed from that moment forward. Our responsibilities go above and beyond those of most people in this world," Heylyn calmed herself for her reply.

"But that doesn't mean that we can't have a life! I've given up the last six years of my life patrolling the skies with you almost every night, watching protectively over other people as they live out their lives. Go to dinner. A movie. Snuggle up in bed at home and make babies. Raise a family, and all we're doing is flying around watching over them like guardian angels. Life is passing us by, and I want a life, Heylyn, and this is the first time since Treadwater Island that I've been able to have one," Monique explained to her friend.

Heylyn was a friend she thought knew her better than anyone else alive. As it turns out, she didn't know Monique as well as she'd hoped, and Monique suddenly felt a deep sense of loneliness and despair. Beytrayal even.

"You've got Warai. You're practically in mother mode from hereon in for the next fourteen years, at least until she starts college. In all of that time, what am I going to build? What's going to be the legacy of my life? I honestly don't know, but I can tell you what it isn't going to be. Fourteen years of patrolling the city skies and watching everyone else feast on the buffet of life, while I get old and become a spinster living in a smelly apartment with twenty cats, eating oatmeal for breakfast and pea soup for dinner every night," Monique looked down at her womb as she finished her sentence.

A gesture which Heylyn caught out of the corner of her eye.

"You're not...?" asked Heylyn, suddenly startled by the possibility.

"No. I'm not, but that doesn't mean that's always going to be the case," Monique replied, running her left hand from just beneath her breasts down her womb and to her belly button along her jump suit.

"Can I say...?" Aikiko attempted to interject once again.

"Let us finish this!" Heylyn and Monique both responded firmly to Aikiko at the exact same time as Heylyn pulled up to a stop light.

The three of them sat silently in the car for a moment, as the awkwardness of the moment finally reached them.

It was Monique who started laughing first. A short moment later, Heylyn followed suit.

"Next time, I'm going to drive and it will be me lecturing the two of you," Aikiko responded calmly, causing both Monique and Heylyn to furtheer burst out in hysterics.

Aikiko joined them in laughter as well until they each of them ran out of breath. Then the silence returned and they realized they'd run out of things to laugh about.

"I'm going to meet Habus next week, and you're going to arrange it," Heylyn said to Monique firmly.

"Fine. If that's the way you want it, but you're not going to sabotage my private life," Monique reminded her.

"Or mine," Aikiko added, backing her roommate up, Eclipse and Dragon against the Butterfly.

"Fair enough," the light turned green and Heylyn pulled the car out into the intersection and down York Street towards the Queen's Quay West.

The rest of the drive home was quiet, with the relaxing clicking of the turn indicator being the only sound that broke the silence.

When Heylyn had parked the car, she once again addressed them as they got out together.

"We have a busy week ahead, so get some rest. Tomorrow, we've got to get our Tin-Foil Hat brand clothing prototypes prepped for the manufacturer, and you remember what's happening on Monday right?" asked Heylyn of the two of them.

"The Eclipse...?" asked Aikiko.

"Oh my gosh! I almost forgot! We have that appearance at Niagara Falls in the afternoon..." Monique sounded startled, suddenly remembering their plans.

"I hope you have a clean set of hero spandex ready for the occasion," Heylyn opened the trunk and they each grabbed their gym bags from within.

"What about me?" asked Aikiko.

"You'll be backing up Valerie, who with Kori and Fiona will be running the show at West Meet East while we're gone," Heylyn gently closed the trunk.

"I never get to have any fun with you two!" Aikiko said in a most humourously frustrated manner.

"There will be plenty of time for costumed fun in the future, if we don't get this Mentis mystery solved," Heylyn reminded them.

Monique and Aikiko's eyes met, and they suddenly recalled Habus and Sterling's connection to it all and somehow they knew that conflict would soon find their romantic relationships with Habus and Sterling.

"I'll call you in the morning. You two can come over and have breakfast with Warai and I before we leave to do the prototype clothing," Heylyn suggested as they walked towards the parking garage foyer and into the  waiting elevators from there.

The elevator ascended the tower, and before long they were situated in their respective units. Heylyn greeted Warai and Kori happily as she stepped in the door, while Monique and Aikiko, so worn out turned in to their respective bedrooms.

Their four hour Sunday the next day at West Meet East went quickly, and by the time they'd left, the second batch of prototype clothing was ready and in the company vault in the basement, ready for delivery on Monday to those who'd begin the process of mass producing it. 

Ironically, this production would coincide with the epoch event of the century, for it was the day of the eclipse.

Hot On The Trail

Two men sat in at a café along Cumberland Street, a crowded one-way road in the northern most part of Toronto's downtown and part of the star studded district of Yorkville. Alongside Queen Street and the Distillery, it was the favourite playground of both domestic and foreign stars and celebrities. 

Though some would contend that there were other notable areas of the city, such as the food and culture rich Roncesvalles community, which included a wide assortment of Euro-culture from Polish, Baltic, Spanish and French to Porteguese and Italian. There was Danforth East, from Broadview to Coxwell, that hosted some of the best Mediterranean cuisine on the planet. The East Asian Spadina and College to Queen Street community, one of the few places in the city where you could get a traditional six course Chinese meal at 4 AM in the morning, or the Gerrard to Queen East South Asian community, where most every meal included Naan and Curry seasoning.

There was a lot to experience in the city, however, much like its sister cities throughout the world, the who's who visiting Toronto tended to stick to a few districts. Yorkville as it had been in the city's history, was one of the most popular. It was at a popular café that two men sat, an older man with stylish short cropped spiky hair for his age, with a large coffee (a plain triple-triple with sweetener rather than suger as his wife had suggested), and a much younger Asian man, who had a monstrous Caramel and Mocha Machiato beside his laptop, which he currently was eyeball deep into.

"You in yet?" asked Farnham of the younger man, taking a sip of his coffee and forcing himself to enjoy the artificial sweetner.

"Of course. Its a bank. They're on our side. Its not like I had to hack it or something..." Somboon responded to the older man.

"Just asking. What you do is alot different than what we used to do when I was your age and a Constable on the force," Farnham responded, keeping his eyes about him and focused on the Cumberland sidewalk itself.

"Are you trying to distract me or something, old man?" asked Somboon, a playful smirk on his face.

"No. You tell me, especially if you want to make Detective one day..." Farnham reminded the younger man.

"I'm a Specialist in Digital Forensics, why in the hell would I ever want to be a Detective? For a cut in pay?" Somboon reponded sarcastically as he typed something on the keyboard with a speed that could be matched by few.

"Great. Not only is my new partner an asshole, but he also makes twice my salary at half my age..." Farnham smirked at the younger man.

"You wish! Try three times old man!" Somboon responded, causing Farnham to laugh out loud.

They'd chosen a part of the patio closest to the exhaust vent for the fan inside of the café, which whirred quite loudly, and enough so to cover their conversation to others on the same patio and passersby on the sidewalk.

"If you put it that way, then you're buying the coffees next time, smart ass!" Farnham replied to Somboon.

As he finished his sentence, he observed one of the men on his surveillance short list leaving the lobby of a nearby building and heading in the direction of 175 Cumberland Street.

"There's our target, and he's headed directly into the deposit zone," Farnham said to Somboon, who looked up momentarily enough to get a good look at the man's face and shape, without looking long enough to cause alarm.

"Got your headset on?" asked Farnham of Somboon.

"Yep. Ready to go, when you get up off of your old time ass," Somboon exclaimed to Farnham.

Farnham did just that, leaving his chair and a cash tip for the woman cleaning the tables.

"Don't take that money, unless you're going to triple it, smart ass," Farnham said as he left.

"Are you sure you're going to be able to keep up with him without your walker?" asked Somboon through his headset.

"Just keep your ass pinned to that seat of yours and your eyes focused on that screen like everyone else in your generation. I'll worry about the real work here," Farnham replied through his headset as he left the café.

Across from the café, on the other side of Cumberland Street, a Japanese man in a stylish suit sat near the window of a restaurant, peering out from within. A cup of coffee with a white tuft of curdled cream swirling within sat in fronnt of him. A MindSpice tablet sat beside it with the headlines he'd been reading earlier still there on the screen in front of him:

MindSpice Selects New CEO - But They're Tight Lipped For The Time Being
Arson In The Toronto Studio District Linked To Insurance Fraud Coverup
Another Bank Robbery Foiled - But The Police And The Butterfly Were Nowhere To Be Seen

The man's attention was not on the headlines, but through the window and on the café across the street as Farnham, in a casual jacket and slacks got up from a table, where Somboon sat with a laptop in front of him, busily typing away.

The Japanese man pulled a phone from the inner pocket of his jacket. He pushed the speed dial for the contact he'd previously selected and held the phone to his ear:

[He just left in pursuit of our man,]
"彼は私たちの男を追って立ち去ったところです、" the man stated in his native tongue.

"Excellent. You may proceed to the next stage Totsuzen No Unmei," Mutano responded to him.

Across from Totsuzen sat an intensely mysterious Japanese woman, with darkly contrasting red makeup and a porcelain complexion. Totsuzen pocketed the phone and then addressed the woman across from him in Japanese. She nodded back to him, acknowledging that their plan was about to unfold.

The waiter in the meantime had arrived, and reached out for the coffee cup to collect it from Totsuzen. His hand quickly shot out from his side and caught the waiter's hand by the wrist, revealing a Totsuzen's tattoo of a black dragon encircling his wrist.

"What...?" the waiter responded in fright, attempting to withdraw his hand, though Totsuzen held on tightly.

The woman then spoke, addressing Totsuzen in a language that few human beings had ever heard first hand, and about which even fewer had lived to tell. It was harsh and full of hard sounds, and phonemes most humans could never hope to pronounce in a thousand years. Totsuzen listened to her carefully as she spoke. When she was done, he simply turned to the waiter, releasing his hand as he addressed him:

"I am not finished yet. Sorry for the confusion," Totsuzen addressed the waiter, who quickly withdrew his hand.

"...I'll just bring you your bill... and a refill?" the waiter asked cautiously.

Neither Totsuzen nor the Japanese woman across from him answered the waiter.

He simply backed away and when he was far enough, he turned and fled for the register and quickly printed their bill.

...

Mutano pressed the END CALL button on the screen of his phone, and then navigated through the interface to find a contact he'd received recently on the orders of Mentis. He then hit the DIAL button and a moment later he was connected to another milestone on the way to achieving their plan.

"Mail Tech Global. Technical Administration. Matt speaking," Matt, a slightly heavy set man in his early thirties  answered the call, his workstation computer in front of him.

"Hi Matt, so nice to speak with you. I am calling in regard to our mutual friend, Isene Undu. Perhaps you know this person?" asked Mutano of Matt.

"I certainly do. One of our customers here at Mail Tech Global. They run a small network provider that uses our network infrastructure. How may I assist you?" asked Matt, quickly standing to his full height of five foot nine to peer over the cubicle adjacent to his and ensure that the desk was unoccupied.

He then sat down back at his seat, and began typing a memo to that workstation, requesting the operators presence in the Corporate Office, which happened to be located in the neighbouring building. As he sent the memo, Mutano replied.

"I'm the director of customer service and I need to ensure that one of our mutual customers is receiving timely service on their mail messaging. You see, I received a report on my desk that some of our customers were not receiving  messages on time. That such messages and notification were delayed by as much as two hours. Do you think that you could see to fix this problem for us?" asked Mutano of Matt.

"I certainly could. Perhaps you could give me the customer names involved?" asked Matt in a professional and friendly voice.

"Their names are Monique Defleur and Heylyn Yates..." Mutano explained to Matt as he pulled up their email service customer files.

"Would you look at this! You know, I have to thank you for bringing this to my attention. They're both paying for VIP service, and yet somebody had their accounts set to Premium. I'll just make the corrections here and they should be good to go. Two hours did you say? We'll have that fixed in no time," Matt said with a smugly friendly tone just as Elia returned to her desk across from his.

As Matt quickly inserted a function into the mail relay protocol filters for Monique's and Heylyn's email accounts, Elia read the message on her screen, even commenting to Matt who continued to make his modification to their accounts.

"Would you look at that. Corporate wants to speak with me directly!" Elia said proudly, bragging just a little bit.

"Must be important then. I wouldn't keep them waiting..." Matt said as he finished the filter that would alter any references to time or day on every single text or voice mail message routed for Monique Defleur's and Heylyn Yates' email accounts by adding two hours to it.

"Bye for now..." Elia said as she turned to leave, on her way to the Corporate building next door.

"You can give me all the juicy details when you get back..." Matt said in a friendly tone.

"Har har har. Its Corporate, not a peep from me..." Elia responded as she left on her way to the elevator foyer.

When she was gone, Matt addressed Mutano.

"All done. Your customers should have top notch service now," Matt assured Mutano.

"I'm sure they will. I'll be sure to let Isene Undu know about your good service. Have a wonderful day and do be sure you get a chance to enjoy the eclipse..." Mutano said his goodbyes to Matt.

"I sure will..." Matt smiled, not fully knowing or understanding the innuendo that Mutano had implied.


West Meet East Meet Lunch


"Treats are up everyone!" yelled Kori as she returned to the offices of West Meet East, a box of pastries in one hand and a tray of elaborate coffees in the other.

"They'll be in the design room on the closest table! Ahem! That means you too Lisa and Dylan!" Kori once again signalled everyone in the cubicles just beyond the reception desk and the showroom.

Fiona stepped out from her office upon hearing Kori's return and followed behind her on the way to Heylyn's design office.

"How was lunch?" asked Fiona asked Kori.

"It was a late lunch, I mean its like almost 3 PM now and I'm only getting back. But it was good! I had lunch with an old friend from college. She just got a gig around the corner as a Gaff on the set of Street Duty. Said she'll be popping in to visit us from time to time. How was your lunch?" asked Kori as she turned the corner and just barely missed bumping into the material samples table.

"Glad to hear. Lunch was fine. They're serving Chicken and Swiss on a Kaiser as the meat dish, and Tofu and Quinoa Salad for the vegetarians. I had a bit of both and it was pretty darn tasty," Fiona explained to Kori as they arrived at the first design table in Heylyn's design office.

"I guess I'll just have to try it next time... Monique, is Heylyn here?" asked Kori as Monique turned to greet them.

"She certainly is champ! She's in her..." Monique began as Heylyn opened the door to her office, stepping out into the design room.

"Did somebody call a meeting? Mmmmm. Something smells delicious," Heylyn remarked, greeting her employees.

"I decided because its eclipse day, to get a little treat, on behalf of the Human Resources Department..." Kori explained to them.

"A department of one. How thoughtful!" Heylyn responded to Kori, helping her and Fiona get everything laid out on the design table.

"I thought you two had an appointment today?" asked Fiona of Monique and Heylyn.

"We do, but I just received a notification that we won't have to be there until five this evening. So we've got a bit of free time..." Heylyn said, looking briefly to Monique.

"At least we got that order taken care of. When will we be able to go see our Tinfoil Hat line in the stores?" asked Monique.

"About three weeks. We'll go out shopping on the weekend after they release to check it out," Heylyn said as Trey arrived, Aikiko behind him.

"In the middle of a photoshoot. Can't talk. Thanks Kori! Valerie will kill me if I spill this..." Trey quickly grabbed the coffees that Kori had marked for them.

"Not a problem superstar!" Kori responded as Trey left them, on his way first to Valerie's office and then to Studio A.

"Where's Warai?" asked Aikiko as she grabbed her coffee and one of the pastries.

"My parents are picking her up from school again today. We've been doing it that way for the last week and its working out pretty good," Heylyn told them, picking up her cup from the table.

"She must be liking that?" Kori asked Heylyn.

"Oh she loves it, and it puts a little excitement in their lives too, while it gives me a chance to finish the day in a timely manner and the best part is that by the time I pick her up, she's already had an awesome dinner. Grandparents live for that kind of stuff," Heylyn explained to her friends after which she took a sip of her Chai Latté.

"How's Fiona's day been?" asked Monique.

"Its been steady, but I did manage to get a lot of streamlining done and onto Valerie's desk for approval, which is probably why she didn't come to pickup her own coffee today..." Fiona smiled.

"And exactly the reason why I'll have a pile of budget approvals from her by the morning..." Heylyn sighed at the thought of dealing with more administrative work, when all she wanted was to get back to her work on the summer line.

"Budget...? Ooops! I forgot, I've got to get that on Valerie's desk by the end of the day!" Kori grabbed her coffee and a pastry and ran out of the design office on her way back to her desk.

"Thanks for the chit chat, but I've got to go and get back on things in my office..." Fiona smiled, and left with her coffee, leaving Aikiko, Monique and Heylyn.

"So, you two are leaving much later then I assume?" asked Aikiko, as she nibbled on her pastry, covering her mouth with her hand as she spoke.

"I figure we can sneak out at about four thirty. I'm pretty sure that Monique can get the two of us there with time to spare..." Heylyn answered Aikiko's question.

"What? Oh, Niagara Falls? Yeah... that's about a tenth of a second, maybe a bit less,"  Monique thought it about it carefully, though in all honesty she had no idea of the science or math of flight speed.

She only knew anything of that from what Zheng and Bryce had explained to her during one of the flights on their trip to Asia.

"Look... Aikiko. I'm sorry we're not bringing you, but I promise you that you'll be a part of the fanfare in the near future. I need you here to take care of things, after all we're still in this up to our necks with Mentis and all..." Heylyn explained to Aikiko.

"Its alright. I understand. I'm coming into this fold late in the procession. I appreciate the opportunities you've already afforded me, and I look forward to what the future holds in store," Aikiko smiled and even bowed for them, which they both returned reflexively.

"So why don't we get into costume then before its too late...?" suggested Heylyn.

"I was thinking that we could change down there? I know a quiet little restaurant with a quiet little washroom..." Monique suggested.

"Sounds good. Could you two help me bring some of the summer 2020 outfits up from the archive?" asked Heylyn of her friends and employees.

Monique and Aikiko agreed, and the three of them made their way through the office and to the back of the building where they found the stairs leading into Heylyn's vault.

Deal Of The Two Dragons 

In the field under the night sky of a million stars, the moon hovered overhead, a halo glowing around it as it floated over the tree canopy which extended into in the distance. Somewhere beneath the trees and a good distance from their breadth, a vast field of lushious grass and foliage covered the earth beneath it. Flowers of a thousand colours bloomed, and crickets chirped their longing song for all to hear.

On this night, there was only one who could, and that one sat coiled on the grass, its enormous wings folded as it meditated amidst the glory around it. Its scales glistened in the night sky as its head sat stories above the grass and flowers, held there in place by its enormously long neck. It looked off into the distance, perhaps even able to see infinity, for both its eyes and its mind were not of the time and space that currently contained it.

It pondered its trip through time and space thus far, from a point in time roughly twenty billion of our years into the future. A time which physics under its current models could not comprehend, for it was missing information  in order to achieve such forecasts, though that did not matter. Especially if humanity could not make it beyond the most severe of obstacles still facing it now and they were numerous, however they all paled in comparison to what humanity was up against, and the vast majority of the nine billion people on the planet had no idea about this challenge whatsoever. 

Make it or break it, that's all it essentially came down to, though such a simple concept failed to fully expound the seriousness of this situation. Perhaps if most knew, they'd simply give up and perhaps many already had, and this effect was gaining momentum society wide until upheaval and possibly revolution might once again attempt to quicken our thumos, enough to wake up and overcome this great hurdle, but from the perspective of the current lay of the land, the end seemed imminent and all would be lost.

The universe would reset, and all of humanity, every living thing, every single last living cell. Every atomic and sub-atomic particle would be gone. Destroyed. Folded into itself as time and space collapsed, igniting what would become a new beginning, essentially what our universe was twenty billion years earlier. And in the blink of an eye and in the absence of all consciousness less a few primordial black holes and other proto-celestial objects that could naturally collapse the wave function, eventually the first organism would once again arise on a planet eerily similar to our own and the whole process would start again. 

Four and a half billion years later, we would rise again and civilization would once again climb the heights to face the same challenge with an entirely different cast of players and once again, we would either make it or break it, but none of us who had been in any of the previous incarnations of time and space would be there to try. It was either do it there and then, or be done and gone and never again.

The old serpent, an ancient dragon beyond time and space could not count how many times the cycle had taken place before, for this dragon grew backwards in time, from the end of the universe towards the beginning of time and it had to learn of this fate every single time, for though it could remember its own name and wisdom beyond the ages, it could never remember what it had learned from its previous incarnations. Its knowledge intact but its memory entirely gone.

As it contemplated this very fact, the ground around it began to rumble and shake, and the great dragon was roused from its meditation. It quickly uncoiled itself and extended its wings and took to the sky where it witnessed the birth of a celestial object adjacent to the Moon.

The sky opened up and an impossibly enormous object of such dimensions that it spanned the entire sky emerged. A black and orange vortex distorted the sky around it like the edges of a looking glass. The great dragon's eyes narrowed as it realized what was coming.

From behind the vortex, a supermassive black hole emerged another dragon, this one almost as black as the night sky itself, the vortex seemingly having no effect upon it as its serpentine body not unlike that of the first dragon, snaked through the sky and encircled the vortex itself.

At that moment, the space around the first dragon folded and then multiplied a billion times in the course of a second, and it too was enormous as the sky itself, encircling the moon which had equally grown to match the size of the vortex. The two dragons stared at one another from opposite sides of the sky before the newly arrived guest spoke.

"Weltherwithsp, it has been a great deal of time since we last spoke, has it not?" asked the black dragon of Weltherwithsp.

"Witherwyrm, you know as well as do I that the only bearing time plays in our lives is its direction, not its span or breadth," the first dragon responded.

"Well what have you surmised in your contemplation since we last spoke. Have you learned anything new that could avert their fate?" asked Witherwyrm.

"Nothing of the sort, but there is the question of your never ending treachery, Witherwyrm," Weltherwithsp confronted the black dragon who seemed amused by the accusation.

"Treachery? A sharp accusation coming from such a righteous dragon who implored its dark opposite to cause an aircraft of the humans to land early during a flight over a place you refer to as Ho Chi Minh City," Witherwyrm reminded Weltherwithsp of its role in direct interference with human progression.

"And yet it was you who forced the aircraft down if I recall!" Weltherwithsp reminded Witherwrym.

"As part of a deal you made with me. Don't you recall? It was you who came to me for the services of treachery, offering a deal in the form of a debt should I accept. I did, and now here I am to collect..." Witherwyrm's smile grew to become a black rictus of sharp spoke-like teeth.

"You know as well as I that even destiny needs guidance..." Weltherwithsp responded, wary of where the conversation was going.

"Maybe so, but blatant interference in their matters? We agreed that this would never be the case, that either of us would directly be involved in altering any condition of their being or cause and effect towards any of our own ends, don't you recall?" Withwyrm reminded the great dragon.

"We were young and on opposide sides of time from one another. I was a fool to propose such a thing at such an early point in our mutual understanding," Weltherwithsp admitted, its eyes narrowing as it looked upon its own diametrical opposite.

"You actually care for those things? And yet their lives are but the blink of an eye to us. Not one of them has seen the grand picture of this chaotic dance, for if they did, they'd be more than amply prepared for what you and I both know is coming..." Withwyrm reminded Weltherwithsp once again.

"Fetter not about matters you hold as being trifle, dragon of darkness. What is your deal, and how do I relieve myself of this debt?" asked Weltherwithsp of Witherwyrm, now cautiously skeptical of the other dragon.

"The deal is quite simple. As you know, a convergence is about to occur. A convergence that will open a doorway between this universe and an alternate one. One composed entirely of dark matter as the human scientists call it. When that convergence happens, it will give us a unique opportunity to utilize our abilities to their fullest for a wager," Witherwyrm explained to Weltherwithsp, whose brows furrowed after the black dragon had spoken.

"What sort of wager?" asked Weltherwithsp.

"A wager to determine which of our two sides have progressed the most. My side of the eternal coil, in the form of Mutano and his collection of miscreants and denizens. Mentis and his followers, and finally yours, that is: the Butterfly Dragon and her friends..." Witherwyrm laid out the deal to Weltherwithsp.

"And what of everyone else on the planet?" asked Weltherwithsp.

"Oh, not those pesky humans again. Well, them too. All of them. Every single one. A fight to the death," Witherwyrm smiled as he reached the end of his sentence.

"That is out of the question!" Weltherwithsp quickly responded.

"Is it? Is that to say that you believe they'll fail when the time comes to face the dire threat which none have surpassed? Then why not put some trust in them and let us see where they currently stand?" asked Witherwyrm as Weltherwithsp pondered the question.

"It is nothing more than barbarism! Something for your amusement treacherous one! Death and destruction for nothing but itself!" Weltherwithsp responded.

"Then the only alternative is that you will surrender one of yours, their life in exchange for freedom from your debt to me, so called dragon," Witherwyrm countered.

"The children and the elderly will not take part in this and we will make provisions to ensure this. If my side can overcome yours, we will reset the world back to its state before the eclipse and our wager.  That is the only deal I'll make..." Weltherwithsp returned a counteroffer.

"You are ever so surprising sometimes. You'd not risk one to save all, but you'd risk all to save your few?" Witherwyrm's logic seemed sound, but it was anything but.

"You yourself suggested that I don't trust them to overcome what's in store if I pass on your wager. I believe that humanity has a great chance, and I'm willing to wager it. What fool dragon who's lived the future already would turn down a bet they already know the outcome of?" Weltherwithsp smiled deviously.

"Ahhhh but the convergence and our interference will create a completely new universe, branching out from the one you know and very obviously feel protective over. The original universe will remain in stasis until the outcome of our wager in the newly spawned universe has been decided. If your friends win... then we merely allow time to continue its slow advance to their eventual death. If they lose however... then both universes will be lost, and the great reset will occur once again. You and I will be reborn from the opposite ends of time and wait billions of years before they arrive once again. How suits you that wager?" asked Witherwyrm.

 "And I will be freed from my debt, will I?" asked Weltherwithsp.

"Of course you will. A deal broken between two dragons as us would undo all of reality. I will honour the terms of this wager as I'm certain will you," Witherwyrm agreed.

"Neither of us will interfere by hook or crook in this wager then, correct?" Weltherwithsp asked.

"As certainly as our scales will never tarnish," Witherwyrm seemed fit for the wager.

"Then we have a deal," Weltherwithsp agreed and the two dragons sealed their deal by entwining amongst one another in a spiral, and folding their arms together, holding them in place for what seemed an eternity, and then each releasing a breath of their dragon spirit, which floated glowing in front of them, flowing in a circle. 

One a beacon of light, the other a herald of darkness.

An instant later, and they were floating in space on the other side of the Sun, just as the eclipse began.

The two dragons encircled the sun, flying around it as fast as needed for what was required to spawn a branching universe from this point in time.

The Eclipse

As the two dragons encircled the Sun, the Moon moved between it and the Earth as crowds had gathered the world over to watch the mysterious event at its peak.

The shadow of the Moon moved across the face of the Earth, until it reached a convergence point, very close to complete alignment. At that point, the field generated by the two dragons flight around the Sun, and the magnetic field of the Earth and Moon coincided with the world's consciousness, unifying it for one brief instant, enough to collapse reality into another distinct universe. One whose time zero began at the moment of convergence, an exact copy of the universe from which it was spawned.

The wave-like particles encompassing the original universe, began to oscillate out of phase with the new universe and hence where the two overlapped, the original one became invisible and intangible, while the new universe remained. Yet, throughout the entirety of the world, not one conscious being felt it as it occurred. One moment simply passed into the next as if nothing had happened at all, except the magnificent spectacle of the eclipse itself.

...

Heylyn, Monique and Aikiko had been in the basement of West Meet East, where they went through the locked steel cabinets, retrieving various designs from their 2020 summer collection.

"I think this is the last one... I remember this one. Strutting on the catwalk upstairs..." Monique recalled that evening and the party they had afterwards.

Heylyn began to laugh when she recalled the situation to which Monique was referring.

"What? What's so funny?" Aikiko asked, smiling and looking to each of them in anticipation of an explanation.

"Monique was on the stage for her strut, wearing that very dress. She was backstage at that point, and apparently two of the models had setup a prank to play on Monique. They were in line behind her, and had prepared a sign to which they affixed tape and stuck to her back without her noticing it..." Heylyn smiled, trying to contain herself.

"What happened then?" asked Aikiko, on the brink of the giggles herself.

"They stuck the sign to her and she started her pace out onto the stage and by the time she was out there, I noticed the sign on her back but by that time it was too late. I remember gasping thinking that someone's going to kick Monique and the show turning into a flop from that point..." Heylyn explained to Aikiko, Monique smiling as she heard the story from another perspective.

"So what happened then?" asked Aikiko impatiently.

"Well... Why don't you continue Monique?" Heylyn asked her friend.

"...alright. So I was on stage, walking along and one of the girls who passed me walking towards backstage, turned as planted a kiss on my cheek..." Monique burst out laughing and blushing at the same time.

Aikiko began to laugh too, though she didn't quite get what was so funny about it. Perhaps something she'd missed she thought to herself as Monique and Heylyn laughed.

"So I continued along the stage, the audience by this point were also laughing, but not in a cruel way. It was more in a fun way. So I pass another girl and she does the same thing. Giving me peck right on the same cheek..." Monique explained as she burst out laughing once again.

Aikiko and Heylyn by this point were both laughing as well.

"I continue along the stage and the audience is now fully out of breath from laughter, and I've got like three or four patches of lipstick on my cheek from the kisses the other models had given me..." Monique laughed some more.

"So why didn't they kick you, isn't that what those jokes usually are about?" asked Aikiko.

"Well... that's exactly what it was supposed to say on the sign on my back. But unbeknownst to the pranksters, Kori had found the sign, and saw that the words Kick Me were written boldly across it in black and white..." Monique laughed some more.

"So Kori finds a marker and changes it to Kiss Me, without either of the pranksters noticing the changes..." Heylyn explains to Aikiko, who just bursts out in uncontrollable laughter.

They all three of them laughed for a minute or two before Heylyn finally stopped and started speaking again.

"As it turns out, the show was a hit. It was a sensation. Maybe that's why I'm digging up these outfits. I'm trying to recapture that energy and style from that show..." Heylyn pondered out loud for a moment, before the three of them gathered up the outfits and began up the stairs.

"Lets get these situated in the design area in one of the wardrobes and that should do for us today. Aikiko, you can look out for the place, getting ready for that day that you'll be doing more of that kind of thing... Managing and what not?" Heylyn laid their plans out.

"Thank you for the opportunity..." Aikiko said gratefully.

"Get in line... You're behind me, remember?" Monique insisted.

Aikiko wasted no time and gave Monique a quick kiss on the cheek, causing Heylyn and Monique to both return to their former laughter.
 
"Next time, I'll make sure its going to say Kick Me!" Aikiko joked with them both.

At that moment, they heard what sounded like gunfire coming from the front, just outside of West Meet East.

 Braden burst through the sewing room doors and out into the open office area, passing Heylyn, Monique and Aikiko along the way.

"Everybody get down!" he yelled as he ran by and out to the reception area.

"Monique!" Heylyn ordered her friend.

Monique looked to Heylyn, nodding once and then she disappeared at nearly the speed of light. In a period of on one millionth of a second, Monique had managed to fly to her backpack, remove her clothing, get changed into her Eclipse costume, seal the bag again, fly out of the design room and past Heylyn and Aikiko and then past Braden, who by that point as just arriving in the reception area.

She phased herself, becoming a streak of light so she could pass through the glass front doors of the building without shattering them. On the other side of the doors, she immediately spotted a man wielding a large automatic rifle. He'd begun firing at a specific target down the road from him when Monique flew over and returned to her solid form again, quickly disarming him, and dismantling the weapon and leaving it in pieces on the street before him.

"You shouldn't play with guns!" Monique said to the man from behind her mask.

"Look lady! My beef isn't with you! Outta my way!" the man said to Monique, pushing her aside as he ran forward towards his same target.

She quickly flew behind him and tripped him, by inserting her leg between his while he ran. He fell forward onto the street, catching himself on his hands carefully to brace his fall.

Monique then took a look around her, and saw that everyone, absolutely everybody on the street was fighting one another. They weren't simply standing like pugilists, throwing timed punches at one another in turn. They were viciously trying to tear each other to shreds, using any form of weapons they could find within grasp.

Monique immediately took to flight, and one at a time for the entire city, she separated the people fighting one by one, placing them each at a distance so as not to encourage their continued violence. The reason they'd not been ripped to pieces by her incredible speed had something to do with the field her body generated as a result of the SY-349 formula she'd used six years earlier. 

When she was close enough to be incontact with them, their bodies were also affected by the same field, which bonded their molecular structure in place, as their reference frame became one with hers. Bryce would have explained it in terms of General Relativity more so than Quantum Physics, for her reference frame was defined by her entire body mass rather than distinct particles at the Quantum scale. Actually, her entire body was behaving much like a Quantum particle by that point. Both a particle and a wave in terms of probability. Hence, the people she rescued from each other, didn't simply fly off into pieces when she grabbed hold of them.

When she arrived back out front of West Meet East, several seconds had passed and the streets were mostly empty thanks to her quick work. She fell to the street, out of breath as Braden, Heylyn and Aikiko came running out onto the street.

"What happened?" asked Heylyn, still in her day suit.

"...they were all... fighting... so I moved separated them..." Monique said as she caught her breath.

"Who?" asked Aikiko.

"...everyone... I think..." Monique replied modestly.

"You mean out here?" confirmed Heylyn.

"No... the entire city..." Monique explained to Heylyn, Braden and Aikiko as she got to her feet.

"Heylyn! You should have a look at this!" Jennifer opened the front door of West Meet East, leaning outside and yelling over to them.

"Get to the roof. I'll meet you up there..." Heylyn urged her friend.

Monique immediately took off into the air, seeming to disappear into the distance, though she'd actually turned around and landed on the roof of West Meet East, waiting outside of the skylight in Heylyn's design room.

Heylyn and Braden ran back to the building, as sirens blared all around the city.

On the widescreen television in reception area, a news brief played:

"...Eclipse pandemonium hits the world as violence breaks out in cities everywhere..." the announcer spoke, aerial shots of violence around the world played on the screen, obviously taken from drones and helicopters.

"...Seems to be some kind of... madness... something that's affecting everyone..." the sound of the announcer struggling with someone could be heard through the speakers on the television.

As they watched, a perpetual wall of fire trucks sped by, their sirens blaring in the late afternoon darkness of the eclipse.

"How did it hit early? You said the eclipse wasn't until after five?" asked Aikiko of Heylyn.

"They must have been wrong...?" Heylyn looked puzzled momentarily but then pushed the confusion aside.

"Jennifer, lock the doors and turn out the reception area lights. Get everyone into the auditorium and lock the doors. Have the caterers bring some of the leftovers to keep you tight until we can find out what's going on," Heylyn ordered Jennifer as she and Braden returned to the design office to get changed.

Jennifer's voice came on over the intercom system speakers:

"Everyone! Heylyn just advised me that we have an emergency and that we all need to get into the auditorium and lock the doors. The caterers are to bring extra food and drinks for everyone, enough to keep us for the evening until we know what's going on. Get there right away please and thank you," Jennifer announced to the rest of the West Meet East employees.

By that time Heylyn and Braden had arrived at the design room.

"Why did you follow me?" asked Heylyn of Braden.

"I'm going to get changed..." Braden reminded her.

"No your not. You're going to stay here and and protect these people. You're the only one who can," Heylyn ordered Braden.

"What about Aikiko!" Braden looked to Aikiko beside him.

"She's coming with Monique and I," Heylyn assured Braden.

"What about me?!!!" Braden shot back.

"Grow some wings! When you do, you can come with us! Its more important for you to keep these people safe! Ahem....?" Heylyn said to Braden impatiently as she waited for him to leave so she could change.

"Alright. Fine. I'll protect them, but you keep me in the loop. You can't just keep on running off like this. You know I'm capable..." Braden resisted as he opened the door.

"That's why you're here with Valerie to protect them! I can't think of two more capable people for the job. But try to keep your abilities hidden, though protecting them comes first," Heylyn advised him.

"Fair enough," he nodded in approval, finally understanding why she'd made that choice.

When the door was closed, Heylyn quickly stripped while Aikiko stood on the other side of the design room, concentrating. A black cloud suddenly enveloped her, consuming her entirely before disappearing. A moment later, another cloud opened up in the same space and Dragon Butterfly stepped out.

"What's taking you!" Aikiko demanded of Heylyn.

"Putting this thing on isn't easy you know..." Heylyn said as she hopped on one leg, trying to get her other leg into her armoured spandex.

As she hopped, she quickly lost balance, falling forward onto the floor, still struggling to get her leg into the suit.

"Amateur!" Aikiko shook her head in disgust.

"Easy for you to say. You're practically wearing nothing but tattoos..." Heylyn responded, remaining on the floor as she pulled her tights on around her body.

Before another ten seconds she was up on her feet and in her boots.

She pressed a button on the wall and then flew up to the skylight, which had opened by that time. A renovation she'd recently had installed for the sake of convenience.

Aikiko disappeared into the dark cloud and reappeared on the roof of West Meet East beside Monique.

"What took you two so long?!!!" Monique asked impatiently.

"Not a word!" Heylyn turned to Aikiko, zipping her lips shut.

"The eclipse had some kind of effect upon the population... everyone's fighting... everywhere... around the world..." Heylyn explained to Monique.

"The world? I'm still outta breath from doing just one city, and its the entire world?!!!" Monique panicked.

"Remember what I said after we saved the bank?" asked Heylyn of Monique.

"I think so... refresh my memory," Monique pressed her.

"One a time. We save them one at a time and we do our best, because we can't do better than that, and if we can't save everyone, we'll at least save some. So don't stress about it. We've got to find a way that isn't about our abilities that we can use to stop everyone from fighting," Heylyn explained to both Monique and Aikiko.

"Listen to the sirens... are they fighting too?" asked Aikiko of Heylyn.

"No... it sounds like they've got their wits about them... so if its that way here... we can assume that its that way everywhere. Police, medics and fire fighters are probably up to their teeth in this by now, helping to stop the fighting. That's a start," Heylyn reasoned as she thought carefully about the stituation.

"Where's the dragon from the field when we need it?!!! Preening its whiskers?" Aikiko asked Heylyn skeptically.

"Monique, begin doing exactly what you were doing to save this city, but expand the area that you're doing it, taking breaks every few minutes. If you did a city of four million in a few seconds, that's a good start. That means we can have all of Canada done in about half an hour with your breaks. From there you'll expand into the United States and Mexico, helping them..." Heylyn ordered Monique.

"What about you two? Are you just going to...?" Monique began.

"I'll do the same thing, but much slower, using my cloud to put some distance between the people. I suggest you do the same with your wings, Butterfly," Aikiko offered, giving Heylyn a suggestion of her own.

"That's a great plan, lets start there and use our phone headsets to keep in contact, assuming there's still phone service..." Heylyn said as they prepared their headsets and readied themselves for the task at hand.

"Good luck!" Monique waved before she disappeared, flying off towards the outskirts of the city.

A dark cloud enveloped Aikiko and she too was gone a moment later, but by that time the Butterfly Dragon had taken off into the air, flying as fast as she could to assist in the surrounding area.


To be continued...

Credits and attribution:

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

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Stable Diffusion (Easy Diffusion distribution), InstantIDSadtalkerGoogle ColaboratoryMicrosoft Copilot (Windows 11), Hitfilm, Borderline Obsession...

InstantID by: Wang, Qixun and Bai, Xu and Wang, Haofan and Qin, Zekui and Chen, Anthony. Research Paper Title: InstantID - Zero-shot Identity-Preserving Generation in Seconds.

Sadtalker by: Zhang, Wenxuan and Cun, Xiaodong and Wang, Xuan and Zhang, Yong and Shen, Xi and Guo, Yu and Shan, Ying and Wang, Fei.
Research Paper Title: SadTalker: Learning Realistic 3D Motion Coefficients for Stylized Audio-Driven Single Image Talking Face Animation.

Gratitude: Our Mentors, Senseis, Sifus, Sebomnims, lifetime inspirations, family, friends, the Nomads (ask Stanton about that one), the Music, the Movies, the Theatre, the Arts, ASMR, (both YouTube and Bilibili and the many other creators on those platforms), the Gaming and Developer communities and of course, the audience.

Martial Arts (in the words of real experts and at least one comedian): https://brucelee.com (home of the real Dragon and an entire family of inspirations), http://iwco.online International Wing Chun Organization (International presence of a very scalable intensity martial art, protected and developed by Shaolin Nun Ng Mui) and the alma mater of Jinn Hua's own specialized variation thereof, https://iogkf.com International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karatedo Federation (even Hanshi had his teachers), https://itftkd.sport International Taekwondo Federation (Here there be Taegers), https://tangsoodoworld.com Tang Soo Do World (the path of Grandmaster Chuck Norris), https://www.aikido-international.org International Aikido Federation (how else would Navy Chef Steven Seagal liberate a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier from a team of hijackers?), https://www.stqitoronto.com Shaolin Temple Quanfa Institute (The City Of Toronto's own Shaolin Temple), https://www.enterthedojoshow.com Master Ken's Ameri-Te-Do presence (If we can't laugh at ourselves, then we can at least laugh the loudest at others, and other Zen).

Special thanks to AitrepreneurHugging Face and the YouTube educational content producers, including those catering to the AI content production pipeline and of course AlphaSignal.

Something to give you perspective: The very first teacher had no formal education, didn't graduate and was self taught, but only because they had no other choice. We do.

This content is entirely produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at 200 Sherbourne Street Suite 701 under the Shhhh! Digital Media banner.