It took a minute or two for someone to answer the door. No surprise, really, given how late it was. Hideyoshi didn’t let it bother him, simply enjoying the low heat building beneath the surface of his skin, smiling lightly at the growing glow inside his chest.
There had been a time when he lived for this. A new enemy. New challenges. Another chance to grow.
He took a moment to turn a spell towards the house. Something simple, an easy scan. Two people inside, one male and young, the other older; female. Charles Vance was still upstairs, asleep in his room. Still alone. Hideyoshi nodded to himself. Good. He’d gotten here in time.
The woman, for her part, was moving, her pace directing her steadily towards the door. He took a moment to hide his smile. When the door finally cracked ajar, the woman behind it did not look happy, gazing balefully out at him, eyes half-lidded from sleep.
“It’s one in the morning. Who are you?”
“Jacqueline Vance?” he asked, giving her a nod. “Pleasure to meet you. My name’s Hideyoshi Toranaga. I believe you work with my son.”
The words earned him a cautious nod and a yawn.
“I’ll need to see some ID.”
Hideyoshi shrugged, then proffered a card from his wallet.
Jacqueline took it, gazed at it for a moment, then nodded.
“Alright,” she grunted, passing the card back, before closing the door. Hideyoshi waited a moment while she undid the chain latch, then opened it up again. “So what can I do for you in the middle of the night?”
“Long story short, I’ve received intelligence that your son has been targeted by a group of paranormal slavers. Their leader is en-route. I’m here to intercept.”
To her credit, what traces of residual exhaustion had been lingering on Jacqueline’s face vanished at that, replaced by maternal fear, covered only a moment later by a quiet kind of discipline. She stood a little straighter.
“Come in,” she murmured, pulling the door wide. Hideyoshi stepped inside and politely averted his eyes as she pulled her sleeping gown a little tighter around her form. “What’s your play, here?” she asked. “Capture and interrogate? Run protection until reinforcements arrive?”
“Capture,” Hideyoshi replied simply. “I’ll wait here to intercept. As for your boy; I assume he hasn’t manifested yet. Best to get him away before the fireworks start. Do you mind me leaving that to you?”
At that, Jackie simply nodded.
“I’ll take him to a pizza place,” she said, turning towards the stairs. “Tell him you’re here to fix a sewer pipe or something.”
“Gas leak,” Hideyoshi advised. “Gives you an explanation in case the place explodes.”
It may perhaps have said something that those words didn’t even give Jackie pause as she climbed the stairs, before heading down a hall towards her child’s bedroom.
“Please don’t set my house on fire.”
“I only promise to try.”
He waited until she was out of sight, before stepping back towards the door, swinging it closed, and leaning himself against the wall, his body settling back into that anticipatory thrill as he expanded that simple scan to cover the surrounding block. He hoped this one was strong.
His opponent didn’t keep him waiting long.
Teleporting wasn’t even close to Leanne’s favored form of travel. It had too many costs; the inefficient use of energy, the inevitable sound, the difficulty of aiming. Worst of all, for jumps between countries, at least, were the four or five seconds spent in limbo, hanging between one frame of the world and the next, shot through by a twisting web of light. Ley-lines, her instructors had called them, trailing little lines of fire between every point on Earth. It was hard to put a planet into words, too large to perceive from the comfort of a single brain.
She emerged into a sitting room in the dark, passing into reality in mid-air, and seeming to hang there for a moment, before gravity lurched her out of her equilibrium towards the ground. She was too out of it to catch herself in time, colliding against the edge of something hard, before proceeding to the ground. She would have liked to say that she dissipated the energy of her jump discreetly, but she did not.
The hole she’d jumped through snapped shut behind her, then disgorged its energy into the room in a thunderclap of sound and force. As she let the waves of it wash around her, thanking whoever might be listening that she’d thought to make a shield before she jumped, she became aware of the sound of breaking glass, followed shortly after by a surprised shout from somewhere above. Leanne didn’t pay it much heed. She was too busy vomiting, chunks of chocolate lodging themselves in a richly colored rug.
The slamming of a door upstairs, followed by the thudding of feet against a stairway. She pulled herself to her feet with a groan, and lurched disorientedly towards the first doorway she could find. Before she quite made it there, however, a man barged through in front of her, holding a length of something in front of him like a shield. Before she had time to stop him, he’d pressed the whatever it was against her shoulders, and used it to force her back, stumbling over legs just starting to remember what they were.
“What the fuck’s going on down here?!” he bellowed, one hand fumbling against a wall and flicking something that filled the room with a painful amount of light. She shook herself.
‘It’s a lamp, Leanne. Focus. No time to be all dizzy.’ She grumbled something irritable to herself, then looked around the room.
‘Ah. Baseball bat. Such an American thing to defend a house with. At least I know I’m on the right continent. Oof. He won’t be happy when he sees what the shockwave did to his TV.’
She tried to feel bad about that for a moment, but failed. He’d damn near shoved her to the floor, and she was a little too out of it for sympathy.
The man was bellowing again, gesturing to the vomit on the rug, then the glass littering the floor. He was probably annoyed. She’d try and be sorry about that later, if she remembered.
Leanne’s eyes lit upon a window, and she moved towards it, her body regaining a sense of itself with every passing second. The man let out some indignant sounding shout, and moved to intercept her.
A small spell, designed to replicate a taser. He hit the floor in a heap. She confiscated the baseball bat.
Leanne pulled her phone from her pocket, and checked the map. Only a block or two from her destination. Good. She should be right on time. She continued her path towards the window, then, as an afterthought, flicked her wrist towards the mess she’d made of the rug, and watched as the vomit began to cleanse.
No need to be rude, after all.
She left the house without a further thought, and took a moment to regain herself. No need to make a cover for her entry. The government would do it, if they really cared so much. Once she had her feet under herself again, she set off towards her target, all concessions waived for speed.
By the time she’d rounded the final corner to the place, she’d forgotten precisely why she took the baseball bat. Disorientation did that, sometimes. Had she wanted a weapon?
‘Why would I take this? I have a gun. I don’t need it.’
Leanne suspected she might have just been acting petty.
She spent a few seconds awkwardly jamming the thing in a trash can, before setting her gaze on Charlie Vance’s home.
‘Decent chance there’s a Toranaga in there,’ she thought. ‘It’s what I’d do if Caleb gave the address. Wonder which one I’ll have to fight?’
She dug around in her pockets for a moment, fumbling for the infra-red gear, then gave up as she noticed the man gazing out at her from the window. Elderly. Brownish skin. Thinning grey hair with a hat covering a bald spot. It was the elemental.
For a moment, she simply gazed at him. Then he waved a hand, and she felt something smash against her form like the hand of God himself. She felt her body slam against a wall, saw her shields flicker away around her, and shunted the energy away from her with a scowl, watching the floor around her buckle at the weight. Good grief. That one attack had nearly drained her.
Her retaliatory blast sent him through a wall, his shields barely even flaring as he crashed into the room behind him.
‘Good,’ she thought, making no real effort to pretend the violence wasn’t satisfying. ‘If it were the witch, I might have wanted to be gentle.’
She watched the man pull himself to his feet, a disgruntled scowl clearly visible on his face as he dusted himself off. This was bad. She’d known the elemental would be tough. He was built that way, after all; but she’d hoped she could at least stand alone against his wrath. She might have underestimated.
Across the street, Hideyoshi Toranaga raised a hand, spoke a sentence or two she couldn’t hear, and beckoned for her to come.
‘Nothing for it, then,’ she thought. ‘I guess it’s time to use the dogs.’
As the next wave of force rushed inescapably toward her, she dug into her skein; that near invisible network of lines inside her mind, each connected to a different dog. It made her angrier than expected, seeing what remained of Thirteen’s leash hanging broken in its place. The others were connected, though. She closed her eyes.
As the elemental’s second blow crushed what little remained of her shields, she took careful stock, unhurried.
Twenty Three was on a mission. Thirteen could not be accessed. The others, though, were fine, some asleep; over twenty vessels, each of them ripe for draining. She opened her eyes again. When the third wave struck, she stepped through it.
Hideyoshi was disappointed. How could he not be? He wasn’t sure what else there was to feel, when the promise of an interesting fight was replaced with something frail. That woman’s shields barely lasted the first few blows. He hadn’t even been trying very hard. He shook a few more bits of wall dust from atop his coat, and let out a sigh.
‘And she ruined Jackie’s house. Kids these days.’
Speaking of Jacqueline, he could hear a door opening upstairs.
“What the heck was that!?” asked a young voice that Hideyoshi swore he recognized from somewhere. One of James’ friends?
“Back in your room!” said Jacqueline’s voice, her tone stern, before calling down to him. “He’s right, though, what the hell was that?”
“Found the problem a little quicker than I thought I would,” he called back, casually raising a hand to line up his third shot on the woman outside. “I may have broken a shelving unit. Just keep the kid up there for a bit. I’ll fix it before I leave.”
He let off his final shot, and turned his head back towards the stairs, ready to speak, before something caught his eye.
His last strike didn’t seem to hit quite in the way the others had. In the last moment, the woman had pushed back to her feet, and he thought he’d caught her body seem to flicker, before the final wave obscured her for a moment in a cloud of loosened dust.
In the second or two it took the dust to settle, the woman had disappeared.
He turned his eyes back to the road, dipping into something of a fighting stance, more by instinct than necessity, and tapped back into that scanning spell to see where the woman had go-
Hideyoshi threw himself downwards as the woman’s leg swung wide through the air towards his head, a hundred sparking lines of light dancing static in the air behind her. He felt the energy of it play across his shield as it passed above his scalp, making it flicker.
He had his counter ready before he hit the floor, his body twisting in the fall to send a tongue of fire darting from his hand towards her, hot enough to blacken ceramic. The woman swung out of the way, the lightning that had wreathed her leg crawling up to encase her form, growing brighter as it went. The flames missed her chest by inches, and she moved in for the kill.
Hideyoshi didn’t have time to think. He hit the ground and rolled. He didn’t use his legs to push himself upright. Human limbs. Too slow in a fight like this. He shoved himself off the ground by telekinetic force. Before he’d even found his feet, he saw her eyes glaring into his, and felt a lightning wreathed fist strike hard against his chest, tearing through his shields like so much cotton thread.
The blow lifted him into the air, sent him up against the ceiling, chunks of plaster suddenly tangling in his hair. Then, gravity found him again, and he hit the floor.
“I was almost hoping for better,” remarked an unfamiliar voice above him, the tone angry. “I thought the witch’s pet would be impressive.”
Hideyoshi tasted blood. He’d bitten his tongue at some point in the fall. Or maybe it had more to do with the burning pain seared into the flesh atop his ribs. He knew for a fact he’d lost a tooth.
On the floor above, a young boy’s voice shouted something about a shelving unit, his mother demanding an answer.
For his part, Hideyoshi simply pushed himself to his feet.
There was no room left for keeping Charlie unaware of this any more. Either the boy would see what happened next, or he would not. Hideyoshi didn’t have the leeway to hold back.
“Go back to your mistress,” his adversary said. “Tell her that I beat you.”
Hideyoshi turned his head towards the stairs.
“Just do what you can to keep the kid away,” he called, letting the flames begin to burn across his skin. “She’s stronger than I thought.”
If he was honest with himself, Hideyoshi thought, a part of him was happy.