Chapter Seventeen

Brie kept her promise that she and Aisha would refuse to sit with them at lunch, and in fact, were absent from the cafeteria completely. Dominic stayed true, however, and was waiting at their regular table when they arrived. Zabrina came down shortly after, and although she wanted to discuss what Brie had said earlier, Zoey tried her best to shift the topic of conversation back to Blythe, and then tried desperately to shift it to something that seemed ‘normal’.

            “Have you read any good books lately? Maybe Doug could pass one along to Blythe to read while she recovers?” Zoey asked, knowing her best friend loved books, but her voice wavered, so she hoped it sounded convincing.

            They must have taken how she sounded as sadness towards Blythe, because Dominic just shot her a sympathetic look, and Zabrina reached across the table to pat her hand.

            “I promise to bring in a few books tomorrow, that way she has some options to choose from.” Zabrina told them sincerely, retracting her hand.

            “Thank you so much,” Zoey replied earnestly, “You’re so thoughtful, Zabrina, I really do appreciate that.” She gave her friend a warm smile. For a moment, she hated keeping these secrets from her, and wished she could blurt it out right now. The thought that anyone at their school could be in danger, possibly, made Zoey sick. But the thought of Zabrina being in danger made her want to scoop her up and run out of there so fast.

            Rebecca, who had been sullen, mostly silent the whole day, suddenly spoke. “I think I need to go home. This is just… too hard today.” She admitted eyes unfocused. She stood up, just as jarringly, and Ferris followed suit, concern flashing in his eyes. Her hands were shaking a little, and when she reached for her book bag, she fumbled for the straps for a moment, before Ferris just quietly took the bag, and, with his elbow, gently pushed her forward.

            “See you guys later.” He told them, monotone.

            Zoey glanced over at Dominic, who was drumming his hands on the table, a puzzled look on his face. When he saw Zoey look at him, he shot her a smile.

            “Just worried about them both now. Rebecca seems to be taking this awfully hard, but I know she’s a gentle soul, so that’s probably why.” He said, voice sounding a little strained.

            Zoey had to remind herself, that even if her friends didn’t know the severity of what was going on, this was probably pretty scary in itself. She kept thinking of it as what it actually was, but someone getting mugged and beaten up was a scary thought as well. She almost shook her head to clear it. Doug seemed a little antsy now that Ferris and Rebecca had left, the table looking almost barren with only four people sitting at it. He was probably extremely worried about Rebecca, who was blaming herself, but also remembering her own time captured, not long ago. This lunch was so tense; he must have been secretly hoping he could have skipped out of it like Brie did. The Bell rang and he jumped, visibly.

            Zoey decided to act, before he left. “Do you want to go on a date tonight? We could go for a walk in the park, it doesn’t have to be super complicated or anything. Just something to clear our heads.” She offered, and he seemed to relax instantly, replying,

            “That sounds wonderful, sure.”

            “That’s so cute. I should paint or something tonight. This has been quite a day, my homework can wait.” Zabrina remarked, getting ready to leave.

            Dominic nodded, giving them a quick wave before racing off towards his class. He had been at their school long enough to know where all of his classes were held, but still liked to arrive early to most of them, so he always dashed off before most of them had even stood up.

            That evening, Zoey and Doug strolled through the park. It was nearly dark out, but it was just more magical that way, as there were a few fireflies left before fall hit, and they were twinkling softly. There was nobody around, so he paused every few steps, helping flowers that had been trod upon earlier that day, even though, again, fall was fast approaching. The moon was full and bright, so even though darkness was starting to fall, they weren’t worried about trying to see.

            He offered her a water bottle but she politely declined, saying that maybe she would be thirsty in a little bit. He smiled at her warmly, and then leaned down, kissing her gently. When he pulled away, he looked embarrassed, and made some remark about having to look at a flower over on the other side of the path.

            She laughed lightly, and kneeled down next to the flower as well, even though it looked perfectly fine. She gave him a light peck on the cheek before standing up.

            He waited another moment before standing up himself and joining her as they continued their stroll. It was a few more minutes before they saw headlights arriving at the entrance of the park.

            “That’s odd, I didn’t think many people walked here at night. Oh well, I guess the other flowers will have to wait.” Doug remarked, turning his head to one side. He looked sympathetically at a flower that she knew he wished he could help, stem bent and leaf crumpled.

            It was Zoey’s turn to be concerned when the headlights started bobbing their way through the park entrance, and up over a hill, trying to stick to a path but not really doing that great due to the fact that it was a large van coming towards them.

            “Should we move out of the way? I don’t think anyone is allowed to drive on the grass, but maybe they’re here to do yard work or something.” Zoey remarked, taking a few steps back.

            “Who does yard work at night?” Doug asked, following her lead and stumbling back a few steps.

            “Well you just were, to be honest.” Zoey told him in a joking tone. The van continued to approach, and she quickened her pace. “Doug… we’ve established this is already strange but I think it’s a bad kind of strange and that we should run maybe.” She yelled, fear creeping in to her voice, starting to take off away from the van. It picked up speed as Doug charged off with her.

            “Yes, definitely bad.” He yelled over the engine, which seemed to be extra loud on the formerly calm night.

            The van was quickly catching up to them, and Zoey shouted, “Is it JARGON?” already telling herself that it must be.

            “Actually I don’t think so. They usually use company cars and this van is unmarked.” Doug shouted back, words getting clipped off as someone in a helmet and armored clothes hopped out of the van, rolling, and then shot a U-shaped ring attached to a chain out of a strange cross-bow type machine, clamping it around Doug’s neck.

            Zoey stopped running, and started charging in the opposite direction, pulling out her phone just as another person stepped out from behind some trees, grabbing it and holding it out of her reach.

            “What are you doing?!” She screamed, giving them a hard shove. They seemed to expect that, and gave a step back so the push only grazed them, and she stumbled forward. She avoided being grabbed herself by continuing the stumble and then scrambling across the ground for a moment before standing back up to run. “Doug!” She screeched, not sure why he wasn’t changing or using his powers in any way. This was the perfect opportunity, even if he was wearing a weird collar now. He could probably snap it if he changes.

            Doug was thrashing around, however, trying to dig his shoes into the dirt and get a grip on anything. He also seemed to be in a bit of pain, however, but he was putting up a good fight until two other people jumped out of the van, after pulling the van around so that the back was facing them and open. They were all clad in the same gear, making it impossible to tell them apart, and obscuring their identities. The one with the crossbow told the others in serious affirmation,

            “I have successfully neutralized the dragon.”

            This caused Doug to jerk back even harder, actual fear in his eyes as he was slowly dragged back. Zoey had reached him and was trying to get the collar off of him, but it was clasped tight, and fit together so perfectly that she wasn’t even able to get a fingernail in between where the opening was. On closer inspection, it was highly mechanical, and she was sure that it required a controller to release it.

            “Take my phone and call for help, right pocket.” Doug managed to say, the pain only seeming to be mounting, his hands clawing at the metal uselessly. “Call ‘Dad’.” He added weakly. She scrambled to grab his phone, dancing away from the person who grabbed her phone. He had a password on his phone, and although she understood the importance of having one, she couldn’t imagine what his password would be.

            “What is your phone password!?” She called, still dodging the one person trying to capture the phone. Doug was occupied, trying to prevent them from closing the gap between him and the van, but he shouted out, “5550!”

            She jabbed it into the phone, giving the person a quick kick in the ribs before scrolling through the phone contacts. When she saw ‘Dad’ she hit the call button faster than she ever had before. While it rang, she gave the mystery person another kick to the ribs, but they were wearing armor so it didn’t do much, and they grabbed her foot in the process, sending her tumbling down. Before they could grab the phone, she kneed them in the chin, forgetting about the helmet they were wearing, and cursing as she bruised her knee. The person seemed to pull back, and she guessed that since Doug was their target, they weren’t actually trying to hurt her. However, when they made another grab for the phone, she rolled out of the way.

            “Hello?” Skyler answered on the other end of the phone, sounding concerned, hearing the struggling on their end.

            “Skyler! It’s Zoey, Doug is being kidnapped, like, currently, at the park, I don’t think its JARGON.” She yelled, and then, directed to the person she was fighting, “Would you stop? I’m on the phone this is very rude.” She couldn’t hear anyone on the phone anymore, and guessed he was already on his way, so she shoved the phone into her jacket pocket, dodging once more before finding a nice large stick on the ground and breaking one end off against the persons’ ankle. This did slow them down, and she raced over to the others, nailing one in the side before the one she had been fighting grabbed her around the waist, pinning her arms to her sides. She let out a few more curse words, kicking her legs out, hoping to catch a more delicate area, but finding any collisions her feet made were against the armor.

            “I hate you.” She hissed, still kicking. She felt the grip slacken, but not enough for her to escape it. She wondered for a moment if she continued to insult whoever this was, would they eventually let her go. She didn’t have enough time to wonder, however, as there was a crackle of lightning and a flash of light, and Skyler, full dragon form, was snarling viciously at the three characters dragging Doug back. One pulled out another cross-bow contraption, but then they noticed Oscar who had landed on top of their van. They took aim, and landed one around Oscar’s neck. He grinned down at them with his sharp dragon-y grin, and laughed in the most terrifying way. Reaching up, he placed a foreclaw against the side of the collar, and it shattered into pieces.

            “That won’t work with me.” He sang, launching himself down.

            They scattered a bit, but he ignored them and went straight down to Doug, shattering the one around his neck as well. Skyler was charging after the one who had originally shot Doug, as if he could sense who that was. He knocked that one down and peered over him, nearly frothing at the mouth with anger.

            “Who are you?” He growled, placing one clawed foot on the person’s chest, not letting them up. The others dashed forward to help their friend, and the one holding Zoey placed her down rather gently on the ground before taking off.

            She grabbed what was left of her stick and charged forward, landing another blow to the one who had been holding her, right across their back. They did fall forward with that, and she danced a few steps back, eyes widening as Oscar shot past her. He blew whoever had been standing in front of her over, but mostly ignored them, heading to help Skyler. She shook her stick in a way that she hoped looked threatening, and then ran over to where Doug lay on the ground, struggling to sit up.

            “Careful, careful!” She called out to him, throwing her stick to one side before kneeling down to help him sit up.

            “I-I’m sorry.” He told her, voice cracking, and she gave him a confused look.

            “Hey, everyone seems to get kidnapped at some point so let’s just be glad yours was cut short.” She admonished gently, pressing her cheek to his and sighing, nerves relaxing a little.

            He chuckled quietly, but grew serious suddenly, looking past her. That one person she had been fighting with this whole time was making their way over to them. Their fists were clenched at their sides and they strode with determination. The others obviously had their hands full with Oscar and Skyler.

            Zoey stood up, placing herself in front of Doug and trying to look more fierce than she felt. She glanced at the stick she had thrown to the side and cursed herself mentally.

            “Leave us alone! What’s your problem anyway?” She snapped, getting fed up with this character.

            To her surprise, they shifted their weight from foot to foot, as if they weren’t sure what they wanted to do. They seemed-visibly, at least- to sigh, and were glancing back at the fight happening behind them. When they turned back to Zoey, they tried stepping to one side, and she mimicked them, not letting them approach any closer. They had daggers and other dangerous weapons attached to their belt, which also had at least two pouches with unknown items in them attached. She was confident they wouldn’t use the weapons against her, or at least this one wouldn’t. Maybe they were still stinging from her snarly comment before. They seemed to grab the sides of their helmet in frustration, and let their gloved hands slide down. It was almost humorous if not for the scenario. Other than the sounds of fighting in the distance, everything was silent, and she could hear whoever it was breathing in an artificial way, so she guessed the mask acted as a gas mask as well. She tried not to let that distract her. They jumped to one side, and she countered, not having any weapon but hoping that standing in front of Doug would keep them at bay long enough. There was another pause, and their shoulders slumped.

            Dominic pulled off his helmet, obviously aggravated. “Zoey, we are trying to help you, so could you please just cooperate?!” He exclaimed.

            Zoey tried to force herself to not be surprised, but still screamed, “Dominic?!” suddenly feeling more angry. “Why are you here, and what are you doing!?”

            “Well, trying to get rid of dragons, which are dangerous creatures that you seem to be ignoring, because I am with a group that hunts magical creatures, keeping everyone else safe.” Dominic replied snarkily, waving his helmet in one hand towards Doug.

            She glared at him a moment. “So this was to help me?” She asked, voice sharp as razors.

            “To help everyone in this area. Zoey, he can turn into a dragon. Not sure how, or who else can, but him and Ferris we figured out were a little off, after I started hanging out with you. Apparently this ‘Skyler’ person, and Oscar as well, but, yes, in short, to help protect everyone.” He explained, looking as if he thought this was a personally reasonable answer. Doug looked down in shame, still shaking from the earlier struggle.

            Zoey paused again, as if mulling over what Dominic had said, but then zipping forward and grabbing his helmet, dashing him over the head with it.

            “Ow! Zoey! Stop it!” Dominic yelled, raising his arms to cover his head, but she continued to beat them with the helmet.

            “DO YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW HE’S A DRAGON? HE IS ALSO A HUMAN WHICH IS THE PART YOU SEEM TO BE IGNORING!” she shrieked, hitting him harder.

             Skyler and Oscar had rounded up the other ‘hunters’ and had them racing back to their van, scrambling over the uneven ground.

            “Dominic, return to the van!” Ordered one, who then paused, watching Dominic get hit a few more times by Zoey.

            “THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT A HELMET IS FOR ZOEY!” Dominic shouted, and the others paused, including Skyler and Oscar.

            “Dominic, please return to the van. This is just embarrassing.” One of the others requested, and at that, Zoey chucked his helmet back at him, where he was sitting on the ground.

            “You had better give me back my cell phone.” She warned him darkly.

            He shot her a glare, grabbed his helmet, and chucked her phone at her feet. “I better not do poorly on my math test because of this head trauma.” He snapped back, trudging away.

            “Wait, you’re still going to our school?” asked Doug in a weak voice behind her. She was just as surprised, but Dominic didn’t reply, just continued walking away.

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