Author’s Note: Hey guys, sorry about the late update again. There are reasons. I promise. As an apology, I am currently putting together playlists of some of the music that our main characters tend to enjoy, which some of you might hopefully get a kick out of. I’ll try and post the first of them with the next chapter. Next item on the list. The short story anthology that I’ve been linking to is concluding this week, with a couple more guest stories by Teowi, Mike Spivak, and Revfitz, who is the awesome fellow who got us all together for it. There is also this page, where, until monday, people can vote for the story they enjoyed the most out of the bunch, including my own submission: Rainy Days. I had hoped to continue uploading a single link with each chapter, but I kinda ran out of time.
Anyways. On with the story!
Caleb followed the figures through the mall at a distance, keeping his eyes locked on the two adults of the group. Why were they so powerful? When he’d caught their scent the previous night, he’d thought that the scraps of power floating past his new familiar’s senses must have come from some dangerous mercenary commune, or perhaps a government garrison house. But no. It was a normal family, as far as he could tell. He watched, perplexed, as the little girl tugged on her father’s sleeve for attention. Just what the hell were these people?
The bird’s sense was limited; annoyingly so. He kept wishing that they could split up a little to allow him to get a sense of them separately, and perhaps determine where exactly all that power lay. As it stood, the four of them were keeping far too close to one another to allow him to get a decent read, their scents mingling so as to disguise the source of it all. All he knew was that they had power. It grated at him. He needed to get a better read if he wanted to be able to use this. Maybe if he could risk getting closer?
He followed behind them as they made their way into a game store, sticking close to the entrance and pretending to flick through a bargain bin while his bird took another sniff. The levels shifted slightly as the boy stepped away from the rest of his family to examine a rack of console games, a sizeable chunk of the power breaking away with him. Caleb’s eyes went wide. The kid? Really? He’d assumed that a power this vast would be divided among the two adults in some fashion, with the children possessing perhaps some small, underdeveloped fraction of that same potential, but no. The boy was a mountain. His familiar took another sniff, and he flinched.
There was another power now, passing close beside him, barely more than a foot away; big enough to dwarf him. He turned his head just enough to see the two teens moving past him into the store. The older of the two was a pretty boy, perhaps a year or so older than him, with his hand on the shoulder of a younger, freckled boy who looked way too tired. The younger boy was staring at him. He pretended to look away, watching them still in the corner of his eye.
Where was all this power coming from?
Caleb watched, hardly daring to move, as the older of the two newcomers leaned in to whisper something into the younger one’s ear, before letting go of his shoulder and pushing him gently forwards. As the two of them broke apart, Caleb noted the change with his newfound sense. The freckled one was normal, in a nominal sense, at least, with a power level around equal to his own, without encumbrance. That news didn’t calm him, though. It meant the older boy was another freak. Humans weren’t meant to be this powerful. It was the one thing he and his masters could agree on.
He watched as the sandy haired boy made his way towards the family, his face breaking into a tired smile as the other kids noticed his presence and rushed to meet him, their parents lingering a short way behind. The little girl threw her arms around the blond boy’s waist as they reached one another, giggling as he tussled at her hair. Caleb wasn’t even surprised now as he caught the girl’s scent. She was as strong as her brother. Maybe even stronger. The older newcomer made no such contact, moving off to the side, unnoticed.
He closed his eyes to listen as the two younger boys began to speak, murmuring quietly so as to force him to rely on his own enhanced hearing to make it out.
“Hey, Cas. You okay?”
“Yeah. I think so. Just tired.”
“You wanna talk about it later?”
“Later? Yeah. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.”
He frowned. Curious words, but nothing useful. The family was grouping up around the boy now, the girl clambering uninvited up onto his shoulders as they moved towards the exit. Caleb checked his watch with a sigh. His time was nearly up. He needed to check in with Twenty Three soon. He’d have to return to this later.
He felt a hand on his shoulder as he turned to take his leave. He glanced around. It was the pretty boy, power still flowing off of him like smoke.
“I don’t know who you are,” the stranger murmured, eyes fixed on his. “But if you do something to hurt my Casper, I want you to know, you’ll pay for it.”
James set his eyes on the freshly repaired basketball and frowned, once more willing the air trapped inside the thing upwards. After a few moments, the ball complied, rising into the air a mite less jerkily this time than in his previous attempts, the first of which had almost destroyed his lightbulb. He grinned, extending his hands to it, and tried to will it ever so slowly towards him.
The ball jumped forwards at the order, streaking its way across his room and passing perfectly between his outstretched hands, before striking off of his face with a resounding snap, bowling him back against the mattress. He lay there for a moment, dazed, as the ball bounced its way happily across his bedroom floor. He brought a hand up to rub at the fresh red patch blossoming across his forehead.
“Oww.” He muttered, glaring at the ball. “Freaking ow.”
Then, he went back to practicing.
He’d rather be talking to Casper right now, figuring out what had been going on in the last half week or so of movement, or even just chilling with the guy over another bad anime box set. But no. Casper didn’t want to talk. The moment they’d gotten home, he’d just fallen down on the nearest couch and started snoring. Even after the guy had woken up, he’d been quiet. In the first brief moment James had managed to snag alone with him, he’d just asked for him to drop it.
“Look,” he’d said. “Can we not, right now? I don’t know about you, but I kinda just wanna forget the weird stuff for a while. Can you just, I dunno, gimme a few days?”
James scowled at the memory. He’d agreed, reluctantly; unable to think of a way to push the issue without acting like a jerk.
“Stupid doof,” he muttered. “Not like I might have stuff to say. I only got hit by lightning yesterday. It’s no big deal.” He gave his power another flick towards the basketball a mite more forcefully than he’d intended and winced as the shot sent it slamming off of his TV stand hard enough to make the device wobble dangerously on its perch, before he once more used his power to catch it.
“Hey,” Peter called from downstairs. “Are you okay up there? Did you break something?”
“No,” he called back, giving his best effort to force the frustration out of his tone. “Just fixing my basketball!”
“James,” came the aggrieved sounding reply. “Don’t throw that thing around in the house! You’ll break our stuff!”
“Sorry.” He grumbled.
He had to admit. This was a bad way to train. It was just unfortunate that it was also the least bad way he’d been able to think of. If there was one thing that his adventures over the last few days had taught him, it was that he needed to get better with his powers. He didn’t want to get sidelined by them again like he had last night.
He gazed at the ball, once more sitting motionless on his bedroom floor, and stewed.
It was perhaps half an hour later when his phone rang. His anger had just begun to fizzle out into boredom, and he was distracting himself by sending the air to rustle around the sides of the ball, trying to spin it like a top when the device at his bedside began to trill.
He glanced sideways at the screen, uncaring, and didn’t recognize the number. He shrugged, then picked it up.
“Hey, James. It’s Tasha. You okay?”
“Oh!” James breathed, relief for yet another nugget of pent up stress flooding through him. “Hey, Tasha! I’m fine. Are you fine? Please be fine. That guy was throwing lightning bolts!”
“Dude,” Tasha chuckled. “Chill out. I’m cool. I just had to punch the guy till he stopped being bullshit. Easy problem. Saw you got hit. You doing okay?”
“I think so,” he muttered. “Kinda made some weird stuff happen. I’m pretty sure I turned into a wind amoeba for a while. Better now, though.”
“… You what?”
“It’s a long story. You sure you’re okay? You got that food and stuff I left you, right?”
“Oh, shit, that was you? I thought I just stole it from some random camper. Yeah. I got it. That salami was good stuff, man.”
James leaned back against his headboard and let his body relax as he listened to his friend talk, feeling the tightness in his chest finally release. Casper was okay. Tasha was okay. Everything was good. He glanced in his dresser mirror, and saw that he was grinning. Tasha was still talking, but he wasn’t entirely sure what about.
“Casper’s safe,” he interrupted absently. “My Mom talked him into staying at our place until we can fix things up with his stuff.”
“You serious?” Tasha asked. “Oh, crap, man, that’s awesome! Hey. Tell him thanks for looking after my dog!”
“He looked after your dog?”
“Well, either that or someone broke into my place, stole most of my cash and fed Maxie a bunch of old cereal packs, and Casper’s the only guy I gave a key to my place, so, you know.”
“You mean you went back to your place?” James asked, nervous. “But aren’t those guys still looking for you?”
“Eh, probably,” she replied. “But nah. I sent some random old dude to pick my stuff up for me. I’m staying at his place for a while.”
“… Okay,” James mumbled, picking himself up off of the bed and beginning to pace as his brain tried to sort through all the snippets of new information. “But, I mean, what if they track the dog, or, like, figure out where you went or-”
“Dude,” Tasha cut him off. “Trust me. It’s fine. The guys I’m staying with know their stuff. You can chill.”
“… You sure?”
“… Okay.” He forced himself to stop, balancing on the balls of his feet, and took a breath. “Yeah. Okay. I’m calm.”
“Cool,” she chuckled. “Oh! Yeah. Also, new information. Magic’s a thing.”
James raised an eyebrow at that, gazing momentarily at the phone.
“What do you mean, ‘and’?” She asked, a touch annoyed. “I drop a bomb like magic and that’s all you give me?”
“Heh,” James chuckled. “Tasha, I’m a flying twelve year old who controls the wind, and yesterday, I got hit by lightning. Either magic’s real, or I’m supposed to unite all four elements and take on the Fire Lord.”
“… Man, now I just wish you were the Avatar.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, suddenly melancholy. “I know. I wanna be the Avatar.”
He moved across to the window, leaning on his elbows against the sill as he gazed out at the street below. In the early evening gloom, it took him a moment to notice the other boy gazing back at him.