For a few moments, the room was still; all eyes on Charlie; his own eyes on Mr. Grey. Outside, there was a muted roar, then a crash like glass breaking all around them.
“… You won’t shoot me,” Charlie muttered, trying his damndest to ignore the thudding in his chest. “You need a portal, and that’s either me or my mom. Good luck getting her help with me gone.”
There was a gunshot from outside.
Sebastian reoriented his revolver to point at one of Charlie’s legs.
“No dice,” he said flatly. “You can survive without kneecaps. I told you before. How well you make it out of this depends on what you bring to the table. Drink the damn potion.”
Somewhere beyond the left-most wall, something crumpled as though struck by a speeding car.
No one moved.
Mr. Grey sighed.
“Force it down his throat.”
Two of the agents to Charlie’s right began to move.
The room flashed indigo as Charlie tore a portal open onto a random patch of arctic snow, then simply tossed the potion through it. That was all he had time for before the agents reached him, his body forced against the wall; arms locked uncomfortably in behind his back.
Five seconds, he told himself. Help’s coming. Just gotta make it five more seconds.
One of the agents not currently pinning him against the wall made a dash for the open portal.
Charlie snapped it closed with a thought, at the exact same moment that Sebastian vanished from the room.
Something hit him in the stomach. His vision went white and foggy, his muscles fighting against the men holding him down in their attempts to double him over.
His focus shifted to trying to breathe.
A daze; confusion; eight or nine voices talking urgently over one another. Charlie could have sworn he heard someone shout his name. He felt something small and metal press against his skull.
Then the roof gave out.
Charlie was too out of it to see, more’s the pity, when James Toranaga’s wind-formed hand gouged a ten foot chunk out of the building’s roof, tossing it behind him like a child digging in the sand.
He heard his name, though, bellowed in his friend’s voice as if from everywhere at once.
There was another faint pop, followed by a bellow, and the deafening noise of a dozen sidearms opening up at once.
Someone bellowed. He felt heat. Someone grabbed him by the shoulder. Another pop.
The world shifted.
They were back in the kitchens; himself and a half dozen or so of the guards, all of them looking just as surprised as he was, guns raised in defense against what was now just a perfectly normal ceiling.
The hand on Charlie’s shoulder shifted to his jaw, a thumb pressing against his cheek, forcing its way between his teeth. The scorched face of Mr. Grey swam into view, eyes wide and manic.
“Nice try,” he spat, raising his free hand into Charlie’s view, the glowing bottle clenched between his fingers. “But you need to be quicker on the draw.”
Once more, he heard the distant sound as someone screamed his name. He did his best to answer, only for the lip of the bottle to be jammed between his teeth.
It tasted foul. Charlie tried to gag or fight, but the agents gathered around him simply pushed him against the wall and made him swallow.
Gulp after gulp. Bitter. Nauseating.
He tried to yell. There was no air.
Then, whatever it was began to take effect.
It felt like someone was dumping lightning in his lungs.
Even then, though, there was still more of it to drink. He threw up. They made him swallow that down too.
His eyes ached.
His bones grew ice and barnacles.
He could feel insects clawing at his skin; trying to pry their way loose through the half-healed incision wounds dotted about his form.
The bottle clattered to the ground.
Charlie pulled in a pained gasp of air, then let it out in a choked sob. He squeezed his eyes shut, weakly pushing at the agents with his hands even as they began to step away.
It didn’t help. His eyes still hurt. He could still see, even with the lids closed. He saw himself, cowering against the wall, his clothes slowly soaking through with vomit and faintly glowing sweat. He saw the agents surrounding him.
He saw Sebastian standing over him.
He shook his head, the movement grinding beneath his skin as though his neck was made of chalk.
He wanted to go home.
The first portal opened up beside an agent’s waist. He reached for the man’s knife.
Sebastian’s foot connected with his jaw.
He swallowed a tooth. At least it helped clear away the taste.
He let out a dazed cry, and opened another portal. Then more. Then more. Why not? He had the energy.
That was the only thing he was sure of right now; he had energy to spare.
For one moment, the whole of the facility was lit by the indigo glow of over a hundred spatial holes, every single one of them connecting back to him. His perspective opened up high in the sky above. He glimpsed the shadow of a titan wreathed in fog.
Then his head was slammed against the wall and the connections all snapped shut.
The world went fluid.
He felt fingers tangling in his hair.
“–Not for you to use, boy,” a voice said coldly in his ear. “I’ll be the pilot now.”
Then he felt a spike being driven through his mind.
He screamed. In a thousand fragments of a voice, Charlie screamed.
There was someone else inside his brain. Bigger. Stronger. Hateful.
He tried to push them out, clawed at their throat, tried to drown them in the haze behind his eyes. He was ignored.
The hand clenched against his skull tugged him painfully to his feet. Someone whispered in his ear:
Time stopped. The planet opened up around him; that foreign thing inside his brain forcing him to see across the length and breadth of the world. A journey of five thousand miles slammed against his mind. Then it made him comprehend.
A piece of Charlie cracked right then. His body sagged.
The portal snapped open, bigger and brighter than any he’d ever made before; wide enough for a pair of men to pass abreast.
Sebastian shifted his grip on Charlie’s now unresisting form, holding him aloft by the scruff of the neck.
In his broken state, the boy managed a single quiet groan.
“Get out of my head.”
“Not yet. We’ve still got one more gateway left to build. It’s time to follow behind the Whale.”
What happened next was, quite simply, beyond description. What Charles felt as that thing pushed his powers out was a sense of distance that, to put it plainly, could not be held within a human brain.
It was infinite; simple as that. A chasm of such impossible breadth and scope that to encompass it would crush him.
He tried to fight, fevered and exhausted as he was. He tried to shy away. It didn’t help. The thing inside his mind wouldn’t let him.
Charlie no longer had the strength to scream.
Mr. Grey lowered the husk of Charles Vance to the ground, and shot the agents to either side of him a careful look.
More than one of them was still gazing at the boy, power still bleeding molten indigo from his eyes. He couldn’t blame them. It was never pretty, watching someone break. Least of all a child.
“Well, go on,” he muttered. “Get yourselves through before it closes.”
For a second, no one moved.
“… Sir,” muttered Bors. “Was that necessary?”
Something crashed through the floor a few rooms away. If he could have, he’d have simply teleported them all through. But no. Forcing this thing open had spent the last of his reserves. Sebastian sighed. There wasn’t time for this.
“I told you to move,” he answered coldly. “If you’d rather burn, then feel free to stay.”
He hefted Charlie’s limp form under one arm, and began to make his way towards the portal; pearl and alabaster sands glittering invitingly beyond it. He stopped a single step shy of the aperture.
“Last chance, you lot.”
One by one, his agents stepped past him into the new world. He waited for the last of them to pass him, then turned to give their ruined fortress one last look.
That was when the far wall caved in.
A torrent of wind. A shaking in the earth. A small glowing core amidst a fog shrouded torso. He smiled.
So the Toranagas have another elemental, do they?
He stepped backwards through the portal, and raised his revolver, the tip aimed squarely at the glowing mass, even as it barrelled down towards him.
No. There are enough monsters in the world already.
He pulled the trigger.
Sebastian Grey had half a second to wonder how exactly he could have missed, before James Toranaga slammed into him with a frenzied scream and all the force that he could muster.
The next thing Sebastian knew, he was on his back, sun dappled sand caked about his shoulders; the whole of his body filled with a low, aching sort of pain. He heard yelling, the crack of attack spells being launched into the open sky.
He forced his eyes open, swung his gaze to either side, and caught a flurry of disturbed sand and water as the young elemental fled towards the horizon, their only portal maker now clutched firmly in his grip.
With a sense of dawning horror, he turned back towards the portal, just in time to watch it snapping shut.
The new world was beautiful; there was no denying that. It felt… Tropical wasn’t quite the word for it. If it had been tropical, the thick-grouped trees running the length of the peninsula towards the greater archipelago would have been shorter, their branches and leaves all clustered at the tops like the palm trees of Hawaii or L.A., as opposed to the tall, red-boughed conifers that lined this place, looking more at home in a winter shrouded wood than on the shores of some dozy coastline.
A few dozen feet from the shore, the thick forest growth gave way to pristine, faintly salt encrusted sand, sparkling faintly under the wan light of three gently glowing moons, each hanging large and heavy in the sky.
It was this shore on which James sat, his feet just barely touching the point at which the sands gave way to sea; warm ocean ripples tickling at his toes. Beyond those waters, an uncountable mass of sea life swam and thrived in the space between this island and the next, some of them bringing forth their own brief bouts of luminescence, deep blues and reds and electrical greens dancing through the water like lanterns in ballet.
“It’s so pretty here,” he said quietly, gazing at a thousand fish that none before him had ever even thought to name. “The air’s so clean. It’s like I’m breathing life.” He made an aborted attempt to snicker at himself, took a breath, and turned his eyes towards the sky. He sniffed.
“… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once.” He tried to smile as he reached for Charlie’s hand beside him. The other boy didn’t resist as he tangled their fingers together.
Charlie didn’t move at all.
James gave his hand a squeeze.
“The sky’s so bright, you know?” he mumbled, half-failing to hide a sniffle, the first tears building in his eyes even as he tried to hold them back. “The sand’s so soft.”
That was as far as he got before the tears began to fall. His voice caught.
“I wish I could share it with you, dude.”
Charlie didn’t move.
The taller boy just lay at James’ side, gazing up at the starry sky with eyes that hadn’t blinked in hours; nought but the slight rise and fall of his chest giving any real sign of life.
“Please wake up.”
James gave the other boy a shake, the tears trickling slowly down his cheeks.
Charlie didn’t move.
James’ next attempt was less than a whisper.
“Please don’t leave me alone.”
The lunar trio shone its light upon the shore throughout the night, the sparkling sands touched by the lightest trace of a warming summer breeze.