To Austin Collins, who submitted his story starter via the website.
As she looked down, her dilemma became obvious: the acid was eating through her outfit very quickly, but if she ripped it off in front of everyone attending the seminar, they would see her tattoo and immediately know whose side she was really on.
She had told Mark that the tattoo was a dumb idea. If any one of them was captured, it was a dead giveaway that they were part of the resistance.
“Haven’t you heard of plausible deniability?” she had asked. But Mark had just stared at her, blank faced. The man was a genius when it came to disrupting the smoothly oiled machine that was the Federation, but when it came to the little things, he often fell short.
Hence the reason why Mara was now standing in the middle of what had been a large conference room staring down an acid spewing dragon. Apparently, the resistance wasn’t the only group to hear that the prince would be attending the seminar. Someone else was trying to assassinate him too. Of course, that was Mara’s mission here (though the part about trusting in the abilities of others was something she really thought that Mark should spend some time thinking about): to kill the crown prince, wreaking some more havoc in the daily running of the government, causing just enough trouble to make the ordinary people uncomfortable. Mark’s theory was that if they had one too many disruptions in their daily feed–and killing the crown prince was sure to soak up every information line available for the next few days–that they would rise up, join the resistance, destroy the Federation, and get back to their normal lives soaking up gossip and looking at cat videos. Mark assumed he would be the one in charge then. Mara wondered how long he would last.
It didn’t matter, though. She was in this for the fun of it. Planting bombs, blowing up buildings, that was child’s play. But to be chosen to actually kill someone–now that was the big time. She had finally made it, finally was trusted enough to be given a real mission–and instead of waltzing in and claiming her rightful honor, some idiots had conjured a dragon into the conference.
Talk about overkill, she thought angrily. That thing would likely kill half the people in here, crown prince or not, and the news feeds would have a field day for a week at least. Mark’s mission would be accomplished.
And she would be sent back down to blowing up water pipes and blocking traffic.
No. I will not.
She would just have to kill the crown prince herself. Looking around the debris-filled room, she scanned the wreckage of seats and tables where the prince had been. He shouldn’t be too hard to spot. He was tall, and big, and blonde. Standing, he would tower over most of the people here. Of course, he might be dead already.
Her shirt was starting to smoke, the acid eating its way through the denim coveralls easily. Mara hunkered on a knee, using her knife to cut the shirt and dumping the acid soaked patch on the ground. She tucked the remainder around her upper arm, covering the incriminating tattoo as best she could.
That taken care of, she scooted as close as possible to the edge of the room. There had been a dais over there. She may be able to see into the crowd. People were screaming, the dragon was roaring, but as Mara slid around discarded chairs and smashed tables, she caught sight of a guy wearing the blue coveralls of the workforce. He was standing right in front of the dragon, his hand on the edge of his vid glasses, clearly filming the event for the net. As she watched, the dragon noticed the lone survivor who wasn’t scurrying about, reached out with a lazy paw, snatched the guy up, and stuffed him into its mouth.
Well, she thought. That will certainly get some views. How often do people see the inside of a dragon?
The beast spewed another jet of acid, soaking a few people who were trying to get away but were trapped by the debris spread across the room. Their screams were overtaken by the dragon’s roar as it leaped happily across the room to chase them. In the melee, she caught a glimpse of a tall blonde figure wearing the royal purple. He was standing in front of a smaller person in blue, probably a damsel in distress given the way the smaller figure huddled behind the prince.
Damn hero. First, she would have to save him from the dragon. Then she could kill him.
She watched as the dragon let loose another jet of acid, and marveled at the prince’s deft motion as he spun out of the way, taking the damsel with him. Of course, her body smashed against the side of a table as they jumped, an impact that would definitely leave a mark, but probably less than the acid would have.
Ok, think, Mara told herself. It’s a dragon. You just have to kill it.
Hmm. She racked her brain, recalling everything she could think about dragon death. Old age. Yes, some of them died of old age. Or from the gold sickness that made them forget to eat. They wasted away to bones lying on top of their vast treasures.
Kill it before it kills him.
So, time was a factor, then. Didn’t dragons have a missing scale near their hearts or something? It didn’t matter. She didn’t have a bow or anything. Not that she could use the bow even if she tried. Her skills were with the knife, close and personal.
Maybe she could crush it to death. Or just pin it in here.
She looked up. The conference room was rigged to do all sorts of things, projections and light shows and rigging for elaborate stage shows. There was enough equipment hanging from the ceiling to crush just about anything. She just had to get up there.
She spied the ladder rungs tucked away into a nook and ran for them. She climbed quickly, her small frame trained well for such things. When she reached the catwalk above, she quickly made her way across the room so that she stood roughly above the dragon.
This shouldn’t be too hard, she thought, just drop things on the dragon without hitting the prince.
Praying to all of the gods she could think of, Mara grabbed the first light, pulled the pin that held it in place, and let it fly. The heavy piece of machinery landed with a satisfying smash and a roar from the dragon told her she had made her mark. She let the other two lights fly, then turned her attention to the big projector. That would do nicely. She started working on the pins to release it.
When it let go, there was a horrific shriek and some mewling amid the tremendous sound of heavy machinery shattering apart. Mara looked down.
The dragon was still twitching, but didn’t seem likely to get up and spew more acid any time soon.
Miraculously, the prince was standing a few feet in front of it, unharmed.
Mara reached out from the catwalk, grabbed one of the dangling cables, and slid down it, landing on top of the dragon’s head with a style that she only hoped someone had caught on video.
The prince stared at her as she hopped off the head, landing deftly in front of him. Her right foot squelched in something wet, and she looked down to see the edges of blue coveralls.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, wiping her foot off on the ground. “I didn’t mean to hit your friend.”
“You killed it,” he said, staring from her to the dragon, which if it wasn’t dead, was quickly approaching it.
“Thanks?” He seemed uncertain what to do, and Mara decided that this would be a good time to kill him too. He was completely defenseless.
“You’re welcome, highness,” she said, walking towards him with her hand outstretched, the universal sign of greeting. He would take her hand, and she would gut him with the knife in her other hand.
But as he reached out his hand, she saw that his sleeve was tattered, shredded from some piece of machinery, no doubt, and underneath, she caught the familiar lines of a tattoo.
“You’re…” she paused, then spoke again, “You’re one of us.”
He looked down at his arm, and then to hers, where the bottom of the mark showed beneath the ragged edges of her sleeve, and then met her gaze.
Maybe Mark was right about the whole tattoo thing after all.