Another (Rough!) Hero Factor Excerpt

Share time! This is mildly spoilery, but I don’t think it’s too revealing of the major plot points.

Just remember, this is very, very rough.


Michael suited up. Boots, shotgun—he’d sawed off the end earlier–and battle axe. He’d done this hundreds of times before, but usually with the help of a costume assistant, and never to actually go fight something. He felt strangely calm, like the reality that this WAS reality hadn’t sunk in yet.

He picked up the coat and started to put it on out of habit, then stopped and held it up in front of him. Magic feather, huh? He hadn’t gotten a chance to ask Thea about that, between getting his leg flayed and broken and all the passing out. Speaking of his leg, it felt fine. Scabby, and he walked with a slight limp, but otherwise functional. That Clurichan urine was disgusting, but it was also good stuff.

Enchanted or not, he needed the coat to conceal his weapons. He put it on. It still made him feel a little taller, a little tougher. A little like a superhero. But then, it always had. Maybe costumes were an enchantment in and of themselves. Or maybe Taggart was just full of shit. Guess he was about to find out.

The others were already in the lobby, or what was left of it. Taggart was filling a large duffel with weapons and giving instructions to his second in command. Thea was inspecting her crossbow. She was also smiling, happy, something Michael hadn’t seen as long as he’d known her. It seemed out of place, considering what they were gearing up for. She kept glancing over at Taggart, who also seemed to have a hard time keeping a grin off his face. Okay, that was different.

Thea looked up at him as he crossed the lobby. “You’re looking much better,” she said, a slight chirp in her voice he’d never heard before. “Are you feeling battle-ready?”

“Uh, yeah. About that—”

“He’s ready as ever,” said Taggart, lugging the duffel over to where they stood. “He’ll do fine. You should’ve seen how he handled himself last night. This kid’s got warrior blood in him.” He slapped Michael on the shoulder. “Besides, I’ll have his back.”

“Yes, well I hope you’ll do a better job of that than you did last night.” It was a mild admonishment, her tone light and teasing. Clearly, something had changed between these two, and whatever it was made Thea happy. It was nice, seeing her like this. It made her look younger, more feminine. A lot closer to Michael’s idea of a fairy princess. He hated to ruin her mood, but…”Can we talk?”

“Certainly,” she said. “We can talk in the car.”

He glanced at Taggart. “I was hoping to speak to you alone.”

“No time for a heart to heart right now,” said Taggart as he hefted the bag and walked between Michael and Thea. “I want to get there early and do some recon.” He took Thea by the hand, and she let him lead her toward the door. As they went he let go of her hand and placed his hand on the small of her back. Clearly, somebody had been busy making up while Michael was sleeping. No wonder Taggart kept interrupting him. Michael didn’t want to be the one to put him back in the doghouse, but he wasn’t going into a potential battle without knowing the truth. “My coat’s not really enchanted, is it?”

Thea stopped in her tracks. She looked at Taggart, her face stony once again, and asked, “Why would you ask that?” She looked at Michael.

“Is it?”

“We really haven’t got time for this right now,” said Taggart. He reached for Thea, but she pulled away beyond his reach.

“He’s right,” she said. “We’ll discuss this later.” She turned and headed out the door. Taggart watched her go, then looked back at Michael, who thanked his stars that looks really couldn’t kill. Shaking his head, Taggart followed Thea outside.

Michael stood there a moment, feeling like a heel. But Thea’s anger was all he needed to know the truth. HE was the one who was lied to, so why should he feel bad, damn it? He barged through the doors. “Why the lie?” he asked. “Why’d you pick me in the first place if all this Simon BS is… is BS?”

Taggart and Thea both stood on their respective sides of the car. Thea looked back at Michael. “I told you, we don’t have time for this.”

“Make time!”

She leveled a gaze at Michael, then turned it on Taggart. Michael got the feeling that if she still had magical abilities, they’d both be toast.”I was drunk,” said Taggart. “I don’t even remember half of what I said.” Without another word, she got in the car, slamming the door shut behind her. Taggart glared at Michael across the roof of the car. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.” He, too, got in the car.

Michael sighed. If he wanted answers, looked like he was going with them, whether he liked it or not. Story of his life, lately. He got in the back seat and waited for one of them to start explaining. After five minutes of intense, angry silence, he got tired of waiting. “So what else have you lied to me about?”

Thea sighed. “Michael, please. When this is over, I’ll explain everything. I need you to be patient.”

“I’ve been patient. I’ve let you turn my life inside out, I’ve put my life on the line and gotten my ass kicked again and again, and why? Because I decided to trust you! And you’ve been scamming me the entire time!”

“Not the entire time,” said Taggart.

“Keep out of this,” Thea snapped. She turned in her seat to face Michael. “All right. You want the truth? You want to know what makes you so special? You’re right. It has nothing to do with your status as an actor, or with your character. That lie seemed more believable than the truth.”

“Yeah, well, the truth — if that’s what it is — might be more believable if you didn’t lie to me first.”

“Michael, have you ever asked yourself why you’ve had such an easy life?”

He folded his arms in indignation. “I haven’t had an easy life. My parents fought, my dad had cancer–”

“Yes, yes, you’ve experienced mortal pain and suffering. That’s beside the point. But what of all your achievements? Your success in sports, your good grades, your scholarships–”

“How do you know about that stuff?”

“Even your acting career. It all came effortlessly, didn’t it? Your superstardom was practically handed to you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I worked for all those things–”

“But not as hard as most people. Be honest with yourself, Michael. You’re in the lead of a hit television series that you didn’t even have to audition for, and you had no prior acting experience!”

“I did plays in high school!” Thea shut her eyes and opened her mouth, presumably to espouse some other deep truth about his shamefully lucky existence, but he cut her off. “All right, so what are you saying? That I unwittingly sold my soul at some point? That I have a fairy godmother watching over me? That I was coated with pixie dust as an infant and good luck shall follow me all of my days?”

Thea opened her eyes. “Actually, you’re not far from the truth.”

“What?”

“We’re here.” Taggart pulled alongside the curb and killed the car. “And it looks like we’re too late for recon.”

“Damn,” said Thea, turning around.

“Can we go back to the fairy godmother thing for a second?”

“Afterwards.” Thea got out of the car, leaving no room for debate. Michael took a moment to process their conversation before deciding it was unprocessable. Thea was so full of shit that he needed a haz mat suit to wade through it. He was obvious he was being played, for some reason. Even so, Ceredwyn was unquestionably up to no good. Whatever else Thea and Taggart had lied about, that much was true. And he had to admit, he did have a tendency to land on his feet. On padded surfaces. With springs in his shoes. Okay, so maybe there really was something to this fairy godmother business. Either way, it would serve them both right if he stayed in the car and left them to fight their own battles.

Oh, who was he kidding? Michael got out of the car.

©2008 by J. M. Bauhaus

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