The Iron Circle- an industrial roundabout near one of Indigo City’s crash sites from The Great Impact:
“Tell me again why we’re here, Special Agent Heironymous,” said Crystal Salt.
Looking at the work going on in the foundry, Heironymous answered, “We’re nothere, Special Agent Salt.”
Looking up at her new partner, Crystal raised an eyebrow and asked, “We weresent here by our commanding officers, weren’t we?”
Still looking at the foundry, Heironymous cocked his head to one side and replied, “Of course...but that doesn’t mean that we’re here.” He turned his head slightly, looked at Crystal from the corner of his eye, and winked.
“Ha. I see. So a dragon smelting iron, and trolls working the metal have what to do with the U.S. Treasury, or protecting the President?”
Heironymous looked down at her fully this time. The question not being entirely unexpected, he replied dryly, “I’m sorry?”
“Trolls and a dragon,” she said, pointing at the foundry. “This must have something to do with POTUS or the Treasury. Otherwise, why send in the Secret Service?”
The bald agent looked back out toward the dragon, and sighed like he was tired. “Damn whoever came up with ‘need to know.’ Is thatall you think we do, Agent Salt?”
“It’s all I was trained for,” she said. “It’s all that’s on the agency’s website,” she added.
Heironymous sounded only slightly annoyed when he said, “Great. A greenhorn.”
“Excuse me?” Salt challenged, plainly offended.
“What does it say?” he asked, watching the copper-scaled dragon breathe fire into the great smelting pot of metal ore.
“The website,” he said, turning his attention to the young agent. “What does it say?”
Salt ticked off the items on her fingers as she listed, “We safeguard the integrity of the economy, protect national leaders, visiting dignitaries, certain sites and events.”
“It says all that, does it?” asked Heironymous, his handlebar mustache twitching as he talked.
“Yeah,” said Crystal.
“I see,” he said, pursing his lips. “And who has access to this website?”
“Everyone,” she answered, plainly bothered by the obviousness of the question. “It’s the World Wide Web.”
“Uh-huh.” Leaning towards her slightly, he asked, “And what part of that saysSecret Service to you?”
Crystal considered for a moment, and said, “So we handle other things that aren’t made known to the public.” Heironymous nodded. “So back to my original question: why are we here, watchdogging trolls and a dragon, for weeks on end?” The great smelting pot tipped into the molds at that point, and the trolls began working the molten metal.
Heironymous looked at her curiously. “That’s it? No shock and disbelief? No umbrage over disinformation? No surprise that those are real trolls and a real dragon down there?”
“Special Agent Heironymous, my father was lost in some sort of portal accident, my sister is part of an elite military unit that I gatherencounters weird and unexplained on a regular basis, and during my time in the Navy, I’ve seen things at sea that defy conventional explanation,” she lectured, again ticking her list off on her fingers. “Trolls and a dragon are just more of the same,” she added.
They looked at each other for a long few moments. Heironymous broke the silence with, “Hmph. Not a greenhorn after all then.” Crystal nodded her appreciation before he added, “Just ignorant.”
“Hey--!” she started, before he put a hand up to stop her.
“We- that is the Secret Service- are here,” offered Heironymous, “because our government has a vested interest in Indigo City recovering from the trials brought on by The Great Impact. The foundry hasn’t returned to fully operational status yet, so their smelting equipment isn’t working. So we asked a dragon--”
“--That we just happen to know--” interjected Crystal.
“--to smelt the metals needed to aid in rebuilding, in exchange for a favor that’s beyond your paygrade.”
“But not yours,” she stated.
“We asked the trolls to work the metal, because there are no better metalworkers on Earth--”
“--Or beneath it,” she pointed out.
“--and ordinary citizens can’t be allowed to know that such creatures of lore still exist.”
“Because…” she shrugged.
“Will you please quit doing that?” Heironymous said gruffly. Crystal gestured with both hands for him to continue, then clasped her hands in front of her. “We, specifically, are here, because dragons are my purview. If this goes sideways, we are to protect the dragon, and see that he gets out of here safely.”
“And if it’s the dragon that sends us sideways?” she asked. There was an audible hiss as the metal castings were cooled in the foundry.
Heironymous looked at her quizzically, almost offended. “Dragons arehonorable, above all else. Once they agree to do something, they will not waver from it.”
“And if the dragon has an ulterior motive for being here?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Gritting his teeth slightly, Heironymous said, “Then it was probably covered in the deal he made for his services. Or he decided that doing this service wouldn’t conflict with his own agenda.”
Salt gave a knowing look as she turned back toward the foundry. She clasped her hands behind her, rocked back-and-forth on her heels a couple of times, and said, “Uhh-huh.” The trolls removed the iron girders from the molds, and began resetting the equipment to repeat the process.
Heironymous scowled and said, “Do you have something to say, Agent Salt?”
Crystal looked at him like she had been waiting for this moment all day, and said, “What’s your motive for being here, Agent Heironymous?” He just looked at her. “What deal did you make for your services?” Still nothing. “What favorare you getting in return?”
“That’s definitely above your paygrade,” Heironymous said flatly. Crystal did not look amused. “You read my file.”
“I read your file,” she confirmed with a nod. “You’re a dragon too.”
“And? It’s in my file, because it’s not a secret.”
“Nooo,” she said, still working her way up to her point, “but some people think you’re making that up. There’s plenty of people in the world who are super strong, invulnerable, and breathe fire. Still others don’t believe you because they don’t believe in creatures of lore.”
“I don’t give a damn what people believe,” Heironymous said calmly, “but as you can see, we do exist. Which is why,” he said pointedly, “we have hidden thiscreature of lore in a foundry, and only have other creatures of lore working with him. Less to explain.”
“Then why am I here?” asked Salt. “I’m just human.”
“If you keep it up? To be a snack,” groused Heironymous.
“Ha!” Crystal put one hand to her chest in mock offense, and said, “Why, Agent Heironymous! Are you saying you want to eat me?” Heironymous looked uncomfortable with the implication she gave his words, and she laughed heartily.
Heironymous’ mustache twitched a few times as he regarded the woman before him. Finally, he said, “Young lady, you have quite a mouth on you.”
Crystal smiled wryly and said, “You have no idea. I was a sailor y--”
An explosion rocked the foundry, and a wall fell away at the entrance. It was followed by the screams of several trolls as they turned to stone, having been caught in the sunlight flooding in through the hole. The other trolls scattered to dark corners of the foundry. The dragon swiveled its head toward the hole and roared.
What appeared to be a blue-clad samurai in high tech armor stepped through the damaged wall, sword in hand. Heironymous was already headed towards the hole, followed by Crystal. Gun drawn and aimed at the intruder, Salt fell in step next to her partner, and asked, “Carrier?”
Still walking, Heironymous snarled, “He’s not a carrier.”
“How do you know?” asked Salt. “Friend of yours?”
A faint hint of smoke came from Heironymous’ nostrils as he answered, “No, but it is someone I know.” Crystal looked at him questioningly, but he only said, “Follow protocol. Protect the dragon.”
“Invulnerable and breathes flame?” she said sarcastically.
“Not to everything! Protect the dragon!” he barked. “At all costs!”
Crystal nodded, but he was already moving faster toward the samurai, who was moving toward the dragon. “Halt! Secret Service!” she yelled, and punctuated it with a shot at the feet of the intruder.
As the bullet ricocheted off the floor, the samurai turned his attention toward Crystal, and threw three shuriken at once, moving incredibly fast. She shot one out of the air, one knicked the top of her left ear, and the other lodged in the armor plating of her vest, biting into her chest. She doubled over from the hit, and tried to pull the shuriken from the wound.
The samurai was still running towards Salt when he let another three shuriken fly towards Heironymous. The tip of one bent a little against his chest, but snagged in his coat. The agent smacked one out of the air, caught the other between two fingers, and wasted no time hurling it back at the samurai.
The samurai reached Crystal’s position, knocked her out with an upkick to the face, then deflected the shuriken with his sword. Turning to face his attacker, he froze. “You!...The Escort!...Heironymous!”
Heironymous was walking towards him, and said, “And you…you can hide your face behind that mask, but you can’t hide your smell, boy. Since when do ninjas disguise themselves as samurai?”
“Since I’m sick of ninjas!” he spat. “They pride themselves on adapting to any situation, but they never adapt to the times. I decided I needed an edge, if I was to have vengeance for my family. So I found one,” he said, sweeping a hand from head-to-toe to indicate he meant the armor.
“We’ll see about that!” Heironymous growled as he closed the distance between them. He swung a fist towards the ninja-samurai, but was blocked by an armored arm. The agent immediately swept a leg around, kicking his opponent’s feet out from under him, but the ninja caught himself and did a couple of back handsprings before landing upright.
“You will have to do better than that!” declared the ninja, springing forward and swinging the sword.
Heironymous threw up an arm to block the sword, only to have it cut deeply into his forearm, and slice across his chest. “Yaarrggh!” he cried out, not expecting to be wounded by a manmade weapon. He looked at his arm and chest in shock for a moment.
The ninja looked equally as shocked that it had worked. He gave a breathy laugh as he realized new value in his weapon. Looking at the now angry agent, he said, “The old fool was telling the truth!” He only had a couple of seconds to marvel further before Heironymous attacked again.
They traded punches, kicks, and chops in rapid succession, and Heironymous took more cuts from the sword. The agent started to realize that the armor didgive the ninja an edge; it increased his speed, so his reflexes and reaction time were faster. It also made him stronger- he was feeling some of the ninja’s punches. He needed to end this soon, or the kid might get lucky with the sword. Finally, the right combination of feint and punch allowed Heironymous to get the ninja in a hold from behind- left hand under the left arm and around the back of his neck, and the right hand locked onto his wrist, holding him from swinging the sword. For a few seconds, all that could be heard was the sound of both of them breathing hard. Heironymous was ticked, but the ninja was still smiling.
The ninja finally broke the silence to say, “It’s true! It can kill a dragon!” The thought made him laugh breathlessly.
Heironymous tightened his grip a little and said, “Your sword isn’t Japanese, so it’s not the Kusanagi. I’m guessing it didn’t come with the armor. Where’d you get it?”
The ninja laughed again, his breath finally settling. “What does it matter? I will use it to avenge my family!”
Heironymous squeezed tighter, and leaning to the ninja’s ear, said through gritted teeth, “Son, on this entire planet, there are only a handful of weapons that can hurt a dragon, and it’s best that most of them stay where they are.” Giving a stiff shake of the ninja’s sword arm, he demanded, “Where did you getthis?”
The ninja fumed, but relented. “In my search for something that could aid me in avenging my family, I met a man in Libya who claimed to know of a sword that could kill a dragon.”
Heironymous scowled at the mention of Libya. He said nothing.
The ninja continued, “This man had a very interesting take on historical and mythical accounts, but his story eventually pointed me to a village in Essex, called Wormingford--”
“--No.” said Heironymous, a hint of fear actually in his voice.
“There, I found the home of a real collector of dragon and dragon-fighting memorabilia. Really amazing place. Best of all was this sword, though,” said the ninja, admiring the blade.
“You fool,” Heironymous said with real dread.
“I took my name from this sword--”
“You stupid boy,” said Heironymous, the strength leaving him.
The ninja took that moment to break free from Heironymous’ grip, and spun to face him, sword extended in front of him. “Now, the dragon who killed my family will know--”
“You didn’t--” the agent said angrily.
“--the wrath of Ascalon!” shouted the ninja.
“No! Noo! Nooo!” shouted Heironymous. “You stupid fool! Tell me you didn’t steal the sword of Saint George!” He roared angrily, and spewed fire at the ninja, driving Ascalon backwards towards the foundry.
When his breath was expended, Ascalon lifted his sword to strike, but a thunderous crash just behind him caused him to spin and find himself staring in the face of the copper-scaled dragon. The dragon roared in his face, and the ninja swung his sword.
Heironymous bellowed, “NO!” which caused the dragon to rear its head back in surprise; just enough for only the tip of the sword to catch its neck. The dragon instinctively drew back several paces, but Ascalon moved forward with him. Drawing the sword back for another swing, he suddenly found his wrist in the vice-like grip of Heironymous again, and he was jerked backwards before he could react.
Heironymous stepped between them as the dragon drew its head back to strike, and shouted, “No!”
The dragon stopped, but Ascalon took the opportunity to strike while Heironymous was distracted. Thrusting forward, he stabbed the agent through his left shoulder. Roaring in pain, Heironymous wrenched backwards, pulling the sword out of Ascalon’s hand, throwing the ninja off balance. With the sword still through his shoulder, and with a savage growl, he broke the ninja’s arm and elbowed him in the face, shattering the mask and knocking him flat on his back. With great pain, he pulled the sword from his body, as Ascalon looked at him in disbelief.
“You should be dead! It should have killed you! Why aren’t you dead?” he shouted hysterically.
“Because I’m bald, not Balder, and this isn’t mistletoe!” Heironymous shouted back, shaking the sword at him. Ascalon looked at him blankly. Heironymous realized the ninja didn’t understand, and his shoulders slumped a little. Tiredly he said, “Ascalon can pierce a dragon, son, but you still have to hit something vital for it to kill.” The ninja suddenly looked defeated. Heironymous scowled. “You don’t even know what you’ve done, do you?”
“I have failed once again to avenge my family,” Ascalon said quietly.
“This goes much deeper than your personal vengeance,” said Heironymous. “You damned near started a war. This sword is bound by treaty, between Saint George and the Dragons, to never be used to kill a dragon again. Had you killed the Prince of Dragons with thissword, you’d have unleashed hell in retribution against humanity. As it is, if the Saint thinks we stole the sword from him, there may yet be war anyway. He will want this BARRGHHHH!”
Heironymous went down from an armored foot to his groin, and then was kicked in the face, throwing him on his back. Ascalon jumped to his feet, grabbed the sword with his good hand, and ran for an exit, with his bad arm folded close to his body. As Heironymous concentrated on his pain, he heard, “Humanity can rot with my family! I will have my vengeance!”
The foundry was quiet again for a minute. Then the trolls began to come out of hiding, and the Prince of Dragons walked up and nudged Heironymous with his nose. The agent rolled painfully to his side, and winced. “I suppose the universe owed me that,” he said weakly. As he picked himself up off of the floor, he told the dragon, “I’ve got to catch him. Saint George is going to want his sword back, and his first stop in his search is going to be us.”
The dragon breathed smoke and growled. Heironymous looked at him sternly and said, “Our time here is up. Scorched earth. Nobodycan know we were here. Nobody survives. Except her,” he said, pointing at Crystal. “Deal’s off- I’ll make it up to you. You protect her with your life, or you will answer to your father.” The dragon lowered his head in submission, and Heironymous ran for the door.
As he got to his car, he heard the dragon roar, followed by a troll screaming, “Treacherrryyyyyyyy!” followed by only screams. He knew the Prince would walk away from the site in human form when he was done. They didn’t complete what they came to do, but they gave Indigo a head start. Now though, recovering Ascalon was the priority.