Speaking With Your Demons
19: Unwanted Assistance
Prosperity tries the fortunate, adversity the great.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it,
that in the process, he does not become a monster.
“This is an emergency news broadcast, interrupting your normal programming.
As strange as this sounds; there’s an otherworldly ‘aerial conflict’ unfolding along Seattle’s streets. After repeated attacks on Phil Walker—the man championing the idea that invisible demons cause mental illnesses—he’s apparently declared all-out war. Give me a second to read this, as it’s quite a doozy: there are now several dragons and an ... allied Viking Berserker ... searching the city for a renegade band of Berserkers. They are supposedly stopping random people with mental disorders, demanding either fealty or clues for where they might find these rebellious creatures. Multiple skirmishes have unfolded with—let me get this straight—five dead dragons, nine dead berserkers and numerous wounded ... beings.
The Seattle Police are now tracking this unfolding series of incidents across the city. If you suffer from PTSD or depression, and live between the UW campus and downtown Seattle, you’re asked to walk outside so your ‘creatures’ can provide Intel. If anyone ‘hears’ an unknown phone number, they’re instructed to call it immediately, leaving their names and street address. Members of the Police will call them back to collect specific details.
If you suspect this is some elaborate prank, I can assure you, it’s not. The message comes directly from the Police Department’s Emergency Response Team. Mayor Crandall and Commissioner Malcolm plan a live press conference for six o’clock, when they’ll offer an update on this bizarre situation.”
“Are you sure you’re ready to travel?” Abe asked again.
“The doctor gave me the all-clear, and he’s well-aware of the conflicts I’m likely to face once I leave the premises.”
“Still, we can never be too sure.” Abe turned to those surrounding them. “All right, everyone have their whistles and bug spray?”
The rag-tag mixture of seasoned professionals and random people from the street lifted the items to demonstrate they were prepared. “Remember, before you spray anyone, shout ‘clear!’, as there are unseen lives at stake. Luckily, they know how to respond. Also, no spraying Phil or anyone else full in the face.”
“We got it, grandpa,” someone in the back yelled. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
“Does everyone’s creatures understand how they’re expected to respond?” he asked, just to be clear.
“Yeah, they’re as eager to hit the streets as we are,” Ethan shouted.
“Good, let’s move out.”
Phil put his facemask on—purchased in the gift shop—as they streamed out. Once outside, Phil glanced skyward as they hurried onto the street. Many of the hospital staff followed them out to ensure they wouldn’t return and cheered when they didn’t pause. They jogged to several waiting cars—provided free of charge by Uber—and jumped in.
“Police Headquarters,” Abe instructed.
“Already on it,” Paul acknowledged, pulling out. “All the drivers were warned what to expect. They know all the security precautions.”
Abe held his new blue-tooth earpiece, his contact to Tracy, who was tracking the latest creature movements from the other car.
“It sounds like they finally have a destination. Meg and her crew have already joined them. They are approaching slowly with plans to surround and then rush the establishment. It’s a private residence. There are two patrolmen on site to ensure they have permission to enter, as the police are worried about any gunmen inside. Meg, as you might expect, is ready to go—despite the very real risk of injury.”
“Tell them to take their time and listen to the cops,” Phil cautioned.
Abe tapped his earpiece, relaying the information directly to his niece. “It’s a go,” he announced. “They’re moving out.”
“You’re sure Lutin and the others are up for this?” Emma asked.
“Apparently, none of them are injured. They’re like Phil, once they’re sure of what they’re doing, they thoroughly intimidate and overwhelm the opposition. They have scratches and bruises, but nothing to slow them down, and they’ve had time to regain their strength. What’s more, many of the recent recruits they’ve found circled back and rejoined them. This is truly a full-on military, multi-jurisdictional mission now.” He got a wistful look in his eyes. “I hate to miss this one.”
“It may just be one of many,” Phil warned, his voiced muffled by his facemask.
“I’ll tell you,” Ethan announced, “I like Abe’s military structure rather than your old ‘hit or miss’ style.”
“Hey, don’t credit me,” Abe said. “He’s fought me every step of the way. Instead blame that last attack. He’s now even more paranoid than I was.”
“Yeah, it was a definite eye-opener.”
“Don’t worry,” Tristan whispered in his ear. “Despite our fears, I think we’ve gained more recruits—preventing more corruptions—than we’ve lost to fights. The only ones we’ve fought were actively rebelling against you.”
“Me ready, whatever comes,” Dezpik declared, sounding eager for the chance to prove himself, and possibly return a conquering hero to the devil’s home world.
“I hate waiting for news,” Ethan complained several minutes later. “Surely Tracy’s got some updates.”
Abe tapped his earpiece, listening in. “They’re still tallying information. They’re mostly catching up on the earlier calls, filling in the details they missed before. Since our creatures aren’t searching for leads, any more, Tracy isn’t as busy. She’s still taking calls triggered by the newer recruits in areas further away, but nothing from Meg’s group.” He held his earpiece for several moments, listening intently. “The Seattle police are requesting updates too, even though the on-site cops report to them directly. They’re as nervous as we are.”
“They’re afraid of the berserkers triggering confrontations, which would involve an armed response,” Emma said. “They don’t want to be caught unprepared if something goes south.”
“None of us do,” Abe said.
The rest of the trip was spent in edgy silence. Phil kept watch out the front windshield, waving to the various mentally ill waiting outside to convey any messages Phil’s creatures might uncover. No one attempted to stop them, which was both encouraging and discouraging. While pleased no one outside had been confronted, it reinforced how little territory they could cover with only a limited force.
They finally pulled up before the Seattle Police Headquarters when Abe touched his ear. “The attack’s begun. They were securing the site, clearing away civilians and checking for any nearby creatures.”
“They certainly took their time!” Ethan complained.
“It takes time to do things properly,” Emma said. “I prefer they do things correctly, rather than being caught with their pants down.”
“We may as well head in,” Phil suggested, still scanning the sky outside. “We’ll learn the details quicker there than we will hiding here.”
“I agree, but let’s make this fast.” Abe tapped his ear. “Prepare to rush inside,” he warned. “Check your watches, we go in five seconds.” He counted aloud and on his fingers, as everyone clutched their door handles. “Five!” he announced, and they all opened their doors at once—hopefully confusing any creatures waiting—and rushed out.
Phil had no more than stepped out, not even shutting his door, when two dragons appeared beside him. He only caught them in his peripheral vision.
Spinning rapidly, he hoisted his cane. Abe, seeing his actions, yelled “CLEAR!” and lifted his can of Raid.
“Weez no foes!” they cried, before fluttering back, closing their snouts and squeezing their eyes tight.
“Hold on!” Phil cautioned, holding his hand palm out, but not lowering his cane. “They claim they’re innocent.”
“Then where’d they come from,” Abe demanded, his hand paused in mid-air, waving it around Phil’s head. “What are they doing sneaking up like that, hiding on the roof for the last ten miles?”
“We just arrived,” one said, cautiously opening one eye to assess the danger he faced. “I Sweizzr, he Zchezzlr.”
“Wait,” Phil asked, turning his head from one to the other to alert Abe and the others where they were. He also waved his cane under them, indicating they were within striking distance—less than a cane’s length from him. “If you’re replacements, who are you replacing, and why didn’t you appear gradually?”
“Creators selected and prepared us. That’s why we knew what you try,” Zchezzlr said.
“Hold on,” Phil said, lowering his cane partially and stepping forward to confront her. “The Creators sent you?”
“Yes,” she answered. She was the smaller of the two dragons. Sweizzr, a male, was a couple inches taller, with a broader wingspan.
“The Tzoxhols? Phil asked, just to be clear, as well as to measure their responses.
“Yez, the ‘TZz...” Sweizzr tried unsuccessfully to say. “The Creators. Word hard enough to say, impossible for Dragons.”
“Why send messengers? Why not speak directly to me? It’s not like I need additional assistants, we already have more volunteers than we can use.”
“Uh,” Abe said, “could we take this inside, before some berserkers show up?”
“Yeah,” Emma reminded them. “You’ve also got your own platoon here twiddling their thumbs.”
“I don’t think they’re associated with the renegades.” Phil started towards the entrance, backing up while facing the two new dragons. Several policemen watched, the rest of Phil’s impromptu team surrounding them. The dragons followed, maintaining the same distance, being cautious not to make any sudden movements.
“Why are you here?” Phil repeated.
“We here as aides, not assistance.” Zchezzlr said, as if that explained everything.
“You mean, you’re not here to help, you’re here to torment?” Phil asked, raising his cane again, understanding the distinction perfectly.
“No,” Sweizzr insisted. “We assist. We agree with you, why the creators selected us. We also speak almoss perfect English, looked down on because of our ... sympathetic attitudes.”
Phil stopped dead in his tracks. “You’re here to aid, but not torment me?”
“What the hell’s the difference?” Abe demanded.
“It means Phil’s not the boss, this time,” Emma explained. “Apparently the creators think he screwed up.”
Phil glanced at her, acknowledging he agreed with her summary, but continued facing Sweizzr.
Phil lowered his cane, no longer retreating, and leaned on it. “And why do I need aides? I’m not depressed.”
“Not yet,” Zchezzlr corrected him.
“Fine. What, precisely, am I supposed to feel bad about?”
“We no here to upset, but guide you in correcting your behavior.”
“What behavior?” Phil demanded, raising both hands, though he leaned on one leg. “I don’t feel guilty about anything I’ve done?”
“Creators no think so,” Sweizzr said.
“You don’t either,” Zchezzlr added. “You leave wife, through no fault of hers. You abandon daughter and loyal friends as you ran away. You no admit faults to anyone, including family. You slaughtered hundreds of creatures, of all types, who didn’t know better.”
“I didn’t know any better myself,” Phil argued, leaning on his cane again, but not moving. “I only learned my new technique recently.”
“I don’t think he’s winning the argument,” Emma whispered to her brother and Abe.
“No kidding,” Tracy added, grasping Abe’s hand. He resisted, but sighed and gave in. All their new human assistants stood in stunned silence, watching one side of an unusual exchange.
“Only because you knew you fail, no only by being caught, but by making everyone angry. Yet, despite knowing better, you kills more.”
“It was necessary.” Phil’s voice broke, his pitch falling, his arguments sounding like pleas. “The study required it. Even so, I discovered a way to work around the limitation.”
“Too late for many. You gave them no choice. How would you feel if Meg’s aides did the same, or Betty’s devils?”
Phil raised a brow. “Did they tell you everything about me?”
“Enough, we see rest written across features,” Zchezzlr continued. “You carry heavy burden, made more difficult by failure to balance the load properly.”
“Best distributed among many,” Sweizzr advised. “Stead you shoulder all on own, hide essential detail from those helping you. This,” he spread his wing and rotating in place to indicate everyone gathered around them, “proves point. You react, not out of care or concern, but from anger and frustration.”
Phil’s voice rose, his annoyance renewed as he clutched his cane. “Desttr and the others tried to kill me. I had no choice. If I’d continued, I’d either be dead or someone else would be injured.”
“Yet Meg never questioned her role, despite being threatened. Nor your creatures, who risk injury or death to aid you. They did as you say, trusting you.”
“You return trust by throwing everything you argue away, weakening your message, making Desttr’s case for him.” The two dragons had an annoying habit of speaking in turn, completing or building on the other’s points.
“They never gave me time to explain,” Phil argued, still belligerent. “Desttr knew better, but ignored my suggestions and spread lies about me to those powerful enough to do his bidding. Most of the dragons we confronted relented, accepting my message despite his bile!”
“Desttr suspicious, but you threatened to rip his arms off if he no agree. Yet you ignore his fears and never reassure him. Instead you assume seeing the others return washes your hands of your guilt.”
“I really wish the Tzoxhols hadn’t kept such detailed records of my actions. There’s no way you’d know those details otherwise.”
Both dragons raised their heads, grinning slyly—an unnerving sight. “They chose well. Like you, we pick what works, ignore what no.”
“You’re making it difficult to disparage you.”
“Good, we admire you and your work. We no mean to diminish, just correct your ... attitude. You no listen to own council.”
“Uh, I hate to break up this little tea party,” Abe interjected, “but not only are we exposed, but we can’t learn what’s happening to Meg and the others. Can we move this indoors, please?”
Phil turned, throwing one hand up, careful not to lift it too high. “Come on,” he waved to the two new dragons behind him. “I guess you’re part of the team now.” He paused, allowing them to catch up. “You will protect me if I’m attacked, won’t you?”
“We defend,” Sweizzr promised.
“But no smite for thee,” Zchezzir clarified.
Phil threw his hand up, wincing as he did, heading into the building. “Great, my tormentors have a sense of humor, too!’
“Is our campaign still on?” Tracy whispered to Abe and Emma.
“It ain’t over yet,” Abe argued.
“But our illustrious leader just got spanked, hard!” Emma countered. “Touché, dragons. Well played! Toni would be tickled pink witnessing this.”
After they were authorized and directed to the tactical response unit, the conversations continued.
“My name is Tristan. I’d like to welcome you to our little mission. Phil doesn’t always take advice well, but he considers each suggestion.”
“We’ll well aware of you, Tristan. Your queen supposedly speaks highly of you. We no about to question the veracity of the creators.”
“No, having heard them speak directly to Phil, I can appreciate that. The fact they’d send you at all, simply because Phil’s become so successful, speaks volumes.”
“It not only his success, but his inability to see his own limitations,” Zchezzlr explained. “With no understanding how your actions impact others, you’re bound to make mistakes. Our job is to fix those mistakes—while no cripple individual in the process—they need realize where they’ve fallen short, so they consider those they ignore.”
“You hear ‘bout me, too?” Despik asked, puffing out his chest and switching his tail.
“We know of you, but the creators didn’t single you out,” Sweizzr said.
“Oh,” was all he said as he dropped back, frowning.
“If the introductions are over, could you explain how the protest movement on the dragon home world operates?” Phil asked. “Knowing more details would help me address their concerns, and teach those I convince how to respond once they return.”
Zchezzler glanced at Sweizzr before responding. “Our parents saw failures of elders’ approach. Instead of accepting their advice, they research our history and learn much. When their turn to serve, they try do right—though hard knowing how to implement. When they return, discover others similar.”
Phil paused mid-hallway, turning to face them. “Wait, are you siblings?”
“No, although we finish each other’s sentence, our families knew each other. The dragon ‘protest movement’, as you describe it, is no large, but not difficult to find others relatively easily.”