TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 5 — Questions and Questings

True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.

The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!

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The Tiefling carves swathes in the hedges on the outskirts of Bailebeagford, the gnarled curves of his demon-possessed saber slicing cleanly through the greenery. With each fell swing he proves his mastery over his domain, banning the plants to a momentary purgatory before their pixels trickle back onto the screen like a burst of magic powder. When the bushes return from that digital abyss, they appear to remain unscathed — until his sword sends them away once more.

xKansasGirlx: “Please don’t be mad?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Whenever someone starts a conversation like that, it usually means there’s a reason to be mad.”

The Tiefling continues his campaign of digital destruction waged upon the unkempt fields of animated brush, his back to the half-elf female paladin to whom he speaks. For he need not see the visage of her avatar in order to admire the analog beauty she possesses through the broadband lines. With his omniscient view from overhead, the Tiefling is both able to wreak chaos on the landscape and still keep one eye on his maiden fair.

xKansasGirlx: “Teddy, please. Can you put your sword away? I’m trying to have a conversation and I know you get distracted when you’re mashing buttons or messing with the NPCs.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “These glitchy shrubs have more personality than half the townsfolk anyway.”

The Tiefling sheathes his mighty blade in the hilt that hangs from one of his many-buckled belts, which he himself had forged from orc hides in a previous campaign. He turns to face the angelic Paladin with the Breton crest upon her armored breast who sweetly claims the ownership of his half-demonic heart.

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Okay? Better? Now what’s up. You wanna raid, or…?”

xKansasGirlx: “My flight got delayed.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Are you frakking kidding me? ’Til when?’

The Paladin’s waving arm freezes, then twitches unnaturally back-and-forth as the Tiefling awaits her response. With both hands up and palms facing outward, she falls still and silent once again, and her stance reminds the Tiefling of the great hero Han Solo in his carbonite prison. He pushes the thought away — it is, after all, an element of some other world, a different life than the one he now inhabits — and soon finds the Paladin rapidly jumping up-and-down.

xKansasGirlx: “Sorry. Lag. Ugh, I hate this town. Anyway, I’m supposed to land tomorrow around 12:30ish.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “What do you mean, ‘around’ 12:30 ‘ish’? Is that 12:30? Is that closer to 1? Are we factoring in runway taxiing or — “

xKansasGirlx: “I don’t know! I don’t know! You know I haven’t flown much. My ticket says 12:48pm, local time. Does that help?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “I wouldn’t say helps. The New Horizons Forum goes until 12:30 so there’s no way I could leave before that and — Frak!”

The Tiefling pulls the possessed saber Ry’lehfsh from its scabbard and swings it blindly at the air beyond him.

xKansasGirlx: “Ted’ums please stop, okay? It’s fine. Really. I’ll just get a cab or whatever.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “No way, Chloe. Absolutely not. You’ve never been to the city. It’s huge. I don’t want you getting lost or robbed or…worse.”

xKansasGirlx: “What, you don’t think a 12th Level Paladin can handle herself in the Big Apple?”

The Paladin spins around once, her chainmail skirt fluttering slightly in the artificial breeze as she displays her backside for her half-demon suitor. The stunted horns that crest above the Tiefling’s head curl slightly upwards in response, and the Tiefling puts his sword away once more to curb the animalistic instincts pulsing through his veins.

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Not even Magic Missile can stop a Times Square hobo begging you for change. Look, I’ll just have my assistant put in a call to get you booked on the red eye and we’ll be fine.”

xKansasGirlx: “No, don’t worry about it. I don’t sleep well on planes. Then I’d be all out of whack for the rest of the weekend. I don’t want to spend my time sleeping in the City That Never Sleeps. Especially when there’s a certain sexy Tiefling ranger who might want to keep me up at night…”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Well, when you put it that way…”

xKansasGirlx: “Mmm?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “I’ll make sure there’s a cab waiting outside right at 12:30 when the panel ends. I should make it to the airport a little after 1pm.”

xKansasGirlx: “And you’re not mad?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “I’m not mad. I swear.”

xKansasGirlx: “You’re sure?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Yes. I’m sure.”

xKansasGirlx: “Okay. I love you.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “I know.”

The Tiefling steps forward and walks directly into the beautiful half-elf Paladin. He raises his scaled right hand…and strikes her in the curve of her armored shoulderpad.

xKansasGirlx: “Hey!

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Sorry. I just…all I’ve wanted these last few months is just to touch you. That felt like a moment where I should reach out and connect. But it’s just a game, so that’s all I could do.”

xKansasGirlx: “Well we’ll see each other soon enough. In the flesh! Just a few hours later than we originally planned is all.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Heck, I’ve already gone this long without ever meeting you. What’s a few more hours, right?”

But the fair female Paladin is frozen once again.

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Hello? Are you there? Chloe? Are you lagging again, or — “

xKansasGirlx: “No, sorry. I was thinking.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Are you nervous about the flight?”

xKansasGirlx: “Yeah. About the flight. And everything. You know, like what if the plane crashes? Or what if — I don’t know — what if you and I — what if we meet after all this time and it doesn’t — God, it’s only been two months, what if I’m not — “

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Babe. You’re gorgeous. Don’t worry about that. Granted, those pictures didn’t hurt…if anything, I’m looking forward to this weekend even more after that.”

It is then that a female dwarf with a fiery red beard and plate-mail armor intricately sculpted to the contour of her ample breasts wanders into the isolated clearing, interrupting the private moment shared between the Tiefling and his half-elf Paladin lover.

Mikey6969696969: “Get a room, you fuckin’ n00bs!”

But before the Tiefling can draw his blade in response to this unruly insult, the dwarf is blasted through the bushes by the Paladin’s twelfth-level Magic Missile attack. Weapons and coins scatter through the air as the dwarf lands amongst the glitchy and otherwise unaffected bushes. She climbs to her feet, looks back at the Tiefling and his half-elf companion, then runs away from them as quickly as her stubby legs can carry her, never bothering to recover her lost inventory.

xKansasGirlx: “Don’t worry about him. There’s jerks like that in every game. So tomorrow? You’ll be there? And I’ll finally lay eyes on my sweet Tiefling ranger?”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “12:48. I’ll be there. You’re lucky I love you, you know that?

xKansasGirlx: “I know.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “No, no. Han Solo says, ‘I know.’ It’s a guy thing. You just say ‘I love you, too.’ You just have to go with it. And I don’t really want to do that now. The Han Solo thing.”

xKansasGirlx: “Okay. Whatever. I love you too, you big nerd. Good night.”

ReturnOfTheTEDi: “Sweet dreams, babe. And remember: you’re flying two-thousand miles for the best damn comic book convention on the planet. You and me? That’s just icing on the cake.”

The light inside the Javits Center seems to dim with the sunset, reminding Chad the day is winding down, and that he still hasn’t had his chance to get the lay of the land. Whenever there’s an opportunity to move through the carpeted red aisles without fighting like a fish upstream, Chad likes to take some time and create a mental inventory of the publishers and vendors that he needs to schmooze, the new video game demos he should try to try (line-permitting), and whatever other sights there are to soak in. Even if they’re already closed (or never opened) for Preview Day, he at least knows the things that he needs to see before the weekend’s done.

Of course, it shouldn’t be hard to fit it all in, given his painfully vacant schedule this year. But the illusion of important planning still gives him comfort.

Chad makes his way past the futuristic boxing ring arena setup for the new Street Fighter vs DDR augmented reality game, through the immaculate-but-overbranded life-size recreation of the Ninja Turtles’ sewer home from their new cartoon complete with bubbling neon ooze and the same moldy, discarded pizza boxes you could find on any New York street, hoping that maybe, somewhere, he’ll run into Ted, who still hasn’t answered his text. Chad’s rational mind totally knows that Ted’s probably busy — now that he’s a big shot at DC Comics, he’s practically on 24-hour duty for the weekend. But their friendship goes back years, to Ted’s time at Oni Press, when he helped Chad transform his Night Shift pitch into a critically acclaimed comic book series. Ever since then, they’ve stayed close as party friends, always eager to pick up at the Con and shoot the shit together as they bounced around the late night scene where the real magic happens.

Ted had developed a reputation over the years for cultivating up-and-comers. The New Horizons forum at the con was an annual event to highlight the hottest new talent on the comics scene, and Ted had been moderating it for eight years running, since well before he signed that sleek corporate contract. Technically, he wasn’t there in his capacity as a DC Comics editor — it was meant to be a more non-partisan affair, celebrating the soon-to-be-big-names in every corner of the industry.

And this year, Ted invited Chad to be a guest on the panel. It’s the only thing he has scheduled besides his two signings — one of which had already passed with, well, less than stellar results.

So of course, Chad couldn’t turn down the offer. Still, he couldn’t help but feel a little patronized. Why the hell is he still on the New Horizons panel, after a decade of experience in the industry?

But Chad knows the answer, even before that little voice in his head reminds him. It’s because Chad has nothing else going on — in his career, or in the rest of his life.

Chad completes his circuit back to that far corner past the twenty foot wall racks of novelty tees and hoodies and around the Elven Goth jewelry vendors and super-obscure BBC memorabilia that doesn’t even interest the most dedicated Whovians. He takes the path through the furthest aisle along the back wall — his go-to shortcut, as it’s always less crowded than the main aisles, even if it’s not necessary right now — and loops back around to the DC Comics booth, shining like a spandex beacon in the center of the room next to Marvel’s epic S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier installation. Marvel always outdoes themselves with their movie tie-in sets and multimedia promos, whereas DC tends to take the understated-if-still-oversized approach, focusing strictly on comics and special collectibles. It’s remarkable to think that neither of the Big Two is there for commerce, considering how much money they spend on these things every year. At least the nearby Dark Horse and Image booths both aim to make a profit.

But the Bat-symbol-shaped flatscreen TVs hanging from the ceiling go black as Chad approaches, telling him it’s already too late to find Ted. So he does what he should have done in the first place and checks Twitter again. While Ted himself hasn’t posted his location (which is probably smart, considering his status), it doesn’t take long for Chad to figure out that the Pig N’Whistle on West 36th is the afterparty destination of the night. Thanks, #NYCC.

<< Go Back to Chapter 4 | Read on for Chapter 6 >>

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Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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