4:30 PM, New York:
Peter rose from his desk with a sigh, clasping his hands together behind his head and pulling them backwards in an effort to stretch his cramped muscles. God damn he hated his job sometimes. He glanced back down at the mound of paperwork littering his work-space, each page marked with colored tabs, noting particular key words. He really would have preferred to do more of his work by computer, but the vast majority of his contacts refused to communicate via anything more electronically complicated than the early telegram. He let out a small collection of mumbled aggravations, picked up his coffee mug, drained it to the dregs, and exited his office, flicking off the light and throwing his jacket over himself as he went.
“Heading home early, Mr Toranaga?” His assistant asked, smiling at him from her own, slightly smaller desk.
“Yeah,” he replied, returning the smile. “Hoping to spend some time with the kids tonight. Could you wash my mug for me before you leave, Maya?”
“Sure,” The girl shrugged. “Just leave it on my desk and I’ll get to it. Would you like me to refill the cookie stash in your second drawer? I noticed it was running a little low.”
Peter chuckled. “Maya, what in god’s name would I do without you?”
“Crash and burn, sir.” She grinned. “Crash and burn.”
Peter shook his head wryly, set his mug down on Maya’s desk, and made his way down the hall towards the elevators. His phone buzzed in his pocket, a snatch of queen’s ‘Don’t stop me now’ emanating from it. He let out an instinctual groan as he reached into his pocket. That was his father’s text alert. His father never texted when he could speak, and that meant that he was deliberately trying to stay quiet. Peter checked the screen, and the sinking feeling in his stomach deepened.
‘Paris, Rue du Bac, could use a hand, if you’re free.’
Well, there went the next two hours of his life. Peter turned on his heel, walking away from the elevators and back towards his partner’s office, sliding his phone back into his pocket as he went. He opened the antechamber door and walked straight through, giving the assistant a perfunctory nod on the way through before knocking once or twice on the office door.
“Come in,” said a tired sounding female voice from the other side. Peter pushed it open and stepped inside. “If it’s about the budget statements, you’ll have them in an hou- Oh. Hey Peter, need something?” A middle aged woman sat at her desk, the glow of her computer screen casting unhealthy looking shadows across the wrinkles just beginning to edge their way out from her eyes and cheeks.
“Hey, Jackie,” Peter murmured, sliding the door closed. “Sorry. I’m afraid I need a favor. Can you open me a gate to Paris?” He pulled out his phone, showing her the message. “Family thing. Do you mind?”
Jackie groaned, pulling herself up from her seat and stepping towards a section of floor space kept clear specifically for making the gates to and from the office.
“You know, if your father needs your help as often as he seems to, maybe he should retire. No shame in being too old to hunt anymore.” As she spoke, she raised a hand into the air before her. A few dots began to emerge on a flat plane around her hand, glowing a faint blue in the empty air. She began drawing small lines between them with her fingers, leaving behind faint traceries of light behind her that slowly started to fill into a solid pattern of glyphs and signs.
“Heh,” Peter chuckled. “Don’t let it fool you. He doesn’t ask for help because he can’t handle things. He only does this when he wants to talk about something and doesn’t want me hanging up on him.”
“Well, can you get him to stop?” Jackie asked, her fingers tracing out patterns connecting the last of the little dots together. “I mean, not for nothing, but having a heart to heart with your father isn’t really big enough to justify building a planar gate between two completely separate continents. Do you have any idea how draining these are?” As she spoke the last few words, the glowing pattern shifted, the glyphs forming into a set of rings around one another as they began to rotate, each layer in a different direction to the ones on either side.
The rotations grew faster and faster, the glow intensifying as the rings began to condense, shrinking rapidly towards a central point. The disc shrank from perhaps two feet wide, to one foot, then an inch, then, for a single moment, condensed into a single point, smaller than a pinhead. Then, in less than a second, the point expanded, widening into a brightly glowing circle encompassing perhaps two meters of space. Within that ring, Peter saw the image of a darkened alleyway, tall buildings to either side. The image was so complete that it obscured his partner behind it.
“You’d better bring me back some decent coffee,” Jackie’s voice called out from behind the portal, oddly quiet, given the only two steps or so that divided them. “Real french stuff, none of that granulated swill.”
Peter snorted. “Of course not, Jacqueline, would I ever do that to you?”
He stepped through, the sound of his his friend grumbling “Don’t call me Jacqueline,” following him out into the cool parisian air. The portal winked out of existence behind him.
10:35 PM, Paris, Rue du Bac:
Peter stepped out of the alleyway and glanced around. The street was largely empty, but for a few late night wanderers, most of them clearly too young to be his father. He turned left, and set off along the sidewalk at a jog, eyes scanning his surroundings constantly. It would have been nice if his father had at least told him what they were hunting so that he could know what he should look out for. He found the man leaned against what looked to be a hotel wall, his slight form draped in a heavy trench coat despite the warmth of the nighttime air.
Hideyoshi Toranaga was not a large man, nor was he what anyone who didn’t know him may call even slightly physically imposing. Even draped in the heavy coat, his form was slight and small, even a little hunched. His hair was balding, covered for the moment by a brown fedora, and his face was almost uniformly unremarkable. He looked, in almost every way, the very definition of an unremarkable old man. Those who knew him better, however, knew this to be intentional.
“What took you so long, Akira?” The older man asked in quiet japanese. his fingers tearing the plastic free of a fresh packet of cigarettes and depositing it in a nearby trash bin, his other hand fishing in a pocket for his lighter. “I sent you that message nearly ten minutes ago.”
Peter rolled his eyes at his father’s use of his birth name, a habit the older man only tended to dip into when he was delivering reprimands.
“Might’ve gotten here quicker if you’d given me more info,” he grumbled back. “An address might have helped, or maybe a hint on what you were hunting.”
Hideyoshi flicked at his lighter a few times, swore quietly when nothing emerged from it, and snapped his thumb and forefinger together. A candle sized flame flickered to momentary life between his digits and he lit his cigarette, waving his hand a few times to extinguish the flame. He took a deep puff of the smoke, held it in his lungs for a moment, and exhaled.
“You really shouldn’t rely on supplied information so much.” He answered eventually. “Sets you up for situations where you have to make do without it.”
Peter considered this for a moment, weighed the idea in his mind, and eventually replied. “The hat makes you look stupid.”
The old man snorted. “Your mother likes it. Says it makes me look like a detective.”
“My mother is an angel and a liar,” Peter replied with a grin. “Now, where are we headed? I’d rather get home quickly, I did have plans for the evening.”
Hideyoshi nodded, pointing with the tip of his cigarette towards the river at the terminus of the road.
“Reports of shadow figures skulking about around an apartment block near the Pont Royal at night time.” He murmured. “A few random assaults in alleyways leaving people with perplexing injuries. A Swedish boy severely wounded at a local youth hostel, the girl who was traveling with him, one Tuva Bergqvist, hasn’t been seen since. I’m thinking someone developed some summoning powers.”
Peter glanced at his father, irritated. “Bogeymen, really? You needed my help dealing with some novice summoner who, by the sounds of it, can’t even keep a few bogeymen in command?”
“If I wanted to hunt them,” Hideyoshi replied. “Then yes, I could have done this myself, but this newbie has shown a little bit of talent. One of these bogeymen, if the report is right, remained corporeal even after being hit by a car. Besides, I’m fairly sure most of the harm done was accidental. I think the kid might be worth training. There might be one or two control issues, but there’s power there. Figured I might give them a shot.”
“Alright, fine,” Peter answered evenly. “But the fact remains, it’s not like you need any help to restrain some entry level summoner, even if they do have some skill.”
“I don’t speak french nearly as well as you,” said his father. “Let alone swedish. Figured you wouldn’t mind helping your old man talk the kid down and make the offer.” He turned a stony look across at Peter. “Seems like the least you could do, seeing as you keep refusing to let me train my grand kids.”
Peter took in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on maintaining his calm. “That was a low blow, dad.”
Hideyoshi shrugged, offering the cigarette packet to his son. “I’ll stop bringing it up when you let me train them. Simple as that.”
“Is it really too much to ask that you just let your grand kids live normal, happy lives?” Peter asked, raising a hand in refusal of the offer.
“A little,” his father replied mildly. “At this point, I just wish you’d tell me what it is you’re so scared of. They’re your kids and my grand kids. There’s no doubt they’d be powerful, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem, dad,” Peter replied as they began walking together in the direction of the bridge, trying to pretend he wasn’t just repeating the same argument for the hundredth time. “Is the mortality rate. Spin it any way you like, but those two have a better chance of living long, healthy lives if they don’t know a damn thing about any of this.”
“And how are you going to stop them figuring out something’s amiss when they’re still around at a hundred and forty, hmm?” Hideyoshi asked. “Longevity is well established in our family, Peter, and your kids are included in that, even with their mother being as powerless as she is. Or what if one of them breaks an arm or something and manifests their powers?” He gave his son a pointed look. “I heard James just got out of hospital.”
“Dad,” Peter sighed. “I know. I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since the injury, and he hasn’t shown any signs. I even set him up for a psych eval to see if he had any mental powers hidden away. Nothing, not for a week and a half. Looks like James is just a little too tough for a broken leg to do it.”
Hideyoshi grunted. “Well, he is my grandson. Of course he’d be hard to crack. You could at least teach the kid a martial art or something, you know. Who the hell is clumsy enough to break a leg on playground equipment?”
“Eh, the bars were slippery.” Peter muttered. The lie flowed surprisingly easily off his tongue. James had asked that no one know why he had been placed in the hospital, so a broken leg and playground equipment it was. “But hey, if it’d make you feel better to start teaching him martial arts, you are more than welcome to offer.”
Hideyoshi finished his cigarette in silence as they made their way towards the bridge, tossing the nub into the gutter.
“In any case,” he grunted eventually. “We’re nearly there.” He pointed towards a building on the opposite side of the road to them. “Most of the shadows seem to be originating from this apartment block. Given where most of the stories take place, I’d hazard that our summoner is holed up near the top somewhere. Feel like giving your old man a hand?”
Peter shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
The two wordlessly stepped inside, stepping shoulder to shoulder so as to fill the narrow hallways of the building as they made their way up to the upper floors. Peter had half expected to encounter a bogeyman before they even reached their destination, but the place was surprisingly quiet. He did notice, however, the way the shadows seemed to flicker and shift in the corners of his eyes, the dim light of the corridor lamps not quite penetrating the dark as far as it should, both classic signs of the entities, to be sure, but it was surprising to see them so non-aggressive. It took a lot to restrain their naturally violent tendencies. Bogeymen were, after all, usually formed of nightmares and negativity, and thus tended to be fairly… impulsive.
“Any ideas on narrowing down where this girl’s hiding?” Peter asked as they made their way up a flight of stairs to the highest floor.
“Not really,” Hideyoshi replied. “Thought we could scare her out, see how she handles the pressure.”
“Nice to see you still have your mean streak,” Peter snorted. “Sounds workable. Give me a few minutes to set something up.” He dug his phone out of a pocket, opening up a web browser, and finding an appropriate sound file. “If her shadows have hurt people in front of her, then she’s bound to be on edge. This should do the trick. You wait by the stairs to intercept. I’ll do the rest.”
Hideyoshi nodded, leaning casually against the stairway wall. Peter made his way along to the end of the top floor hallway, before pressing a few buttons on his phone. It began to emanate the sound of a french police siren, relatively quiet. He turned the speaker to its highest setting, before he began to speak, relatively loudly, transitioning easily from japanese to french.
The vast majority of powers that people tended to manifest had very noticeable effects; his father’s pyrokinetics, this Tuva girl’s monster summoning and Jackie’s intercontinental teleportation, to name a few. In his early career, his childhood especially, he had envied such powers to a degree. When his own power had been diagnosed to him as ‘intuitive linguistics,’ both he, and his parents, to a lesser degree, had been distinctly disappointed. Their family traditionally tended towards combat readiness in all things, and a power that helped one avoid conflict had seemed, at the time, counterintuitive at best. It was times like this one, however, when he couldn’t help but relish it a little.
“Tuva Bergqvist!” He bellowed over the sound of his phone’s klaxon wail, his Parisian accent nigh on perfect. “We have you surrounded! Please do not be alarmed! Please come out quietly with your hands over your head!”
The response was not long in coming. One or two confused looking heads poked out from behind apartment doors, gazing at the strange, shouty man apprehensively. One door, however, burst open with such force that the hinges were almost pried from the wall, causing the startled onlookers to rapidly return into the safety of their homes. A young woman emerged from within, surrounded on all sides by at least four separate and distinct shadow men. The girl sent one terrified glance towards Peter, before positively bolting down the hallway, all but one of her shadows running in stride with her. The remaining shadow turned towards Peter and spread its arms wide, not moving, but clearly intent on barring his path. He almost laughed, stepping forwards towards the thing. His right hand dipped into a pocket, his fingers threading through the grips of his knuckle dusters.
The creature, if that was even the correct word, opened what passed for its mouth, a gaping maw of glistening, oily looking teeth embedded in a featureless plane of a face, and let out a screeching wail that was half animal, half washing machine. It raised an arm high into the air, a massive, clawed hand poised to strike. Peter decked it in the face.
The creature briefly recoiled from the blow, only to rear up and let out another unnatural sounding wail. It made a break for the window at the end of the hallway.
Peter grimaced. It was not unexpected that the creature would run, bogeymen were surprisingly cowardly things. But broken windows tended to attract attention. He whirled around as it passed him, and slammed his fist once more into its odd, almost gaseous head. As with most apparitions, bogeymen tended to break if one applied too much damage to a given spot, so he aimed once again for the face. There was a sound like a glass cracking, and something similar to smoke began to billow from the creature’s head. Whatever physical presence the thing had, it began to lose it. He struck it again, and the shadow lost cohesion, its body exploding into a cloud of faintly foul smelling black smoke.
Peter stood, brushed himself off, and made his way after the girl at a brisk jog. He made it to the stairwell just in time to watch the last of the bogeymen disintegrate, immolated by his father’s flames. The old man hadn’t even moved from his position, leaning against the wall.
The girl, Tuva, was backing away from him, not looking behind herself and, as a result, she bumped into Peter in the attempt. She whirled on him with a little yelp, a look of undisguised terror in her eyes. Apparently by sheer instinct, the girl attempted to strike him. Peter caught her hand in his own with little effort, and said, not unkindly:
“Miss Tuva, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”