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Storybook Hero

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Charity flipped on the light switch. The light in the entry way flickered a bit and died. Michael looked up at it, shifting the box in his hands as he did. "I can fix that before I leave. I've got a ladder in my truck."

Most of the people Michael saved didn't really want to see him again. They wanted to live in a world where the supernatural lurked in the past, and the shadows and in the stories. It was as if they closed the door on the world of demons and dragons and monsters, and part of that included closing the door on knights and heroes.

Some, on the other hand, were quite happy to have the knight show up to help them, to not let him fade away with the monsters, like a bad dream. Charity, for instance -- he had seen her after church last Sunday, and she had walked right up to him and inquired how he was doing. Even made a joke about if he had slain any dragons recently. From that conversation he had learned that she had gotten her GED and a clerical job and was moving to her own apartment that Saturday. He had offered to help her. So, now he was carrying the small number of boxes Charity had up two flights of stairs to a slightly run-down apartment built out of an old townhouse.

"Thank you," Charity said. "For everything."

"It's not a problem," Michael replied. He had managed to swing an evening off from his first job, and he wasn't feeling any call for his other job at the moment. Never the less, Amoracchius was in the trunk, in case something came up. 'Knight' was the type job where the hours were irregular and couldn't be scheduled in advance. The forces of Hell -- not to mention the various dragons and vampires and other dark creatures that resided in the country -- didn't schedule things with Michael's convenience in mind.

Charity took a couple of photo frames from the boxes, and started putting them on the bare shelves. "Can I ask you something?" she asked.

"Go ahead," Michael said. He looked around for something he could help with, but most of the heavy things had already been carted up the stairs by the both of them, and put into place. What remained was only the set of boxes containing Charity's clothing, some new kitchen supplies and groceries, and the mementos she was arranging now. He wouldn't fell comfortable unpacking a female acquaintance's clothing, and whatever he did in the kitchen, Charity would probably just end up rearranging. She had already put the cold items in the fridge.

"Can you teach me how to defend myself?"

Michael looked at her. "Aren't there self-defense courses at the Y? I heard the Chicago Police Department also offers one."

"That might help against a mugger," Charity said, staring at one of her photos. "Not so much against a dragon."

"There's very little most people can do against a dragon," Michael said. The first piece of advice Shiro had given him about dragons was to avoid fighting them whenever possible. Not only were many of them not especially interested in dealing with a human knight, they were also very difficult creatures when in a full out rage. Unfortunately, Siriothrax had pushed the issue when he and his human crony had taken to rounding up runaways for human sacrifice. A phone conversation with Shiro afterward had lead Michael to think that the reason he had won had less to do with his own skill and more to do with God's blessing and a good dose of old-fashioned luck.

"Oh," Charity said. "I just hated feeling so... so helpless when it comes to things. It's stupid, I know." She set the photo down, hard. "You'll probably just say I'm being a stupid kid about this."

"I'm not that much older than you are," Michael said. "You're what, eighteen?"

"Nineteen, as of last month."

"I'm only twenty-three. That's not old enough to be calling anyone a stupid kid. I'm still a stupid kid, as far as some people are concerned." He was still the most junior of the three knights, after all, barely able to work on his own. He paused, remembering how she had easily lifted the furniture up the stairs. "Do you like horses, Charity?"

"Yes. I used to ride. Why?"

"I have a friend who is a farrier, and he's been looking for someone to help him. He'd probably pay for your classes in exchange."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Charity asked, narrowing her eyes.

"He also is a weaponsmith and armorsmith," Michael said. "Shoeing horses is just his he pays his bills. Neither of us would be alive today if he wasn't as good as he is, but he's getting on in years." Michael brushed his hand over his heart, where Siriothrax's claws had nearly torn off his armor. He had had bruises over most of his chest for weeks, and thought he had broken his collarbone, but he had lived. And so had she.

"So, you want me to play Q to your James Bond?" Charity said.

"There's no openings for Knights," Michael replied. "Not unless one of us dies. It's not a job you retire from. Blacksmith is the best I can do. Besides -- John would be happy to teach you how to use some of the weapons he makes."

"Oh," Charity said, suddenly looking" interested.

"I can take you out to see him next weekend, if you like." Michael added.

"All right. Would you like to meet for lunch before that?" Charity asked. On seeing his frown, she added, "I know what you're going to say. Your job is too dangerous for you to date."

Michael gave her a slight smile. "Exactly. Do you ask knights out often, milady?"

Charity grinned. "Just you. And I'm telling you now, that I don't particularly care. You've shown me that life is dangerous. And, if you think I'm going to be a target because of whatever wants to strike at you, know that whatever that is, it'll have to get through two things to do that -- you and me."

"Those are bold words for someone you don't know that well," Michael said.

"I know you're a good person, Michael Carpenter, and that makes you worth defending. There aren't enough good people in this world. Fewer good people that can also face down monsters."

"In that case," Michael said, giving her a smile, "I think I've met another one of those."