James Toranaga had never, in all his life, felt such a quantity of nope.
He could… feel it inside of him. Inside his mind. Inside his thoughts; slender fingers flicking through his memories like they were records in a vinyl store. When he tried to face it; to rid himself of that scratching in his brain, he found himself staring at a void. A featureless darkness that could not be moved without being fallen into.
There was no fighting this. There couldn’t be a shield against nothing.
The great eye bored into him, unblinking.
He could almost see it now, inside himself. Tall. Shrouded. Its pale arms ending in long, many-jointed fingers. It had no face. It had no eyes; leastways, not in this form. There were just more holes.
It reached for him. He flinched.
“Get out,” he mumbled. “Get out. Pleasepleaseplease get out.”
In the real world, Charlie grinned.
“I want you to meet my friend,” he murmured. He glanced back in what he seemed to assume was James’ general direction. “We’re friends, right?” He held a hand towards his portal. Something slick slid from the dark to grasp it.
The thing in James’ head began to drink.
James shut down. There is a depth of wrongness beyond which the human mind fails at comprehension. James had reached it now. Lost in that space; faced with something so vast and hungry as to leave no trace of him behind, much of him simply broke.
This did not mean that he gave up. Far from it. What broke in that boy was fear, was consciousness, was even the attempt to understand. All that was left, right at the core of him, was desperation; the simple instinct to survive.
That was the state in which he found himself as he raised a titan arm high, and jabbed two wind-formed fingers into that ghastly eye with all the strength he had.
“Get out of my head!”
The Whale screamed. It had no mouth, but it screamed.
What followed then wasn’t quite a shockwave, although it did kill an awful lot of fish. The pulse of it traveled first across the surface of the portal, then outward from the ocean floor to rip across the archipelago, seeming to almost bend the air around it in its passing.
To James, it was as if his eardrums had just blown out. He doubled over, his voice choking; trying not to scream. It was his own fault when he reverted back to human form. It was instinct, really; an attempt to shut out some of the noise. He clutched his skull and retched.
At least that thing was no longer in his head.
He turned his gaze to Charlie.
If he’d seen it in a calmer moment, he’d have done a double-take.
The portal was still open. His friend was still half-crouching down beside it; the eye still fully visible on the other side. It was foggy now, dark clouds spreading across the half-foot or so of space between the creature and the opening. Blood. He must have hurt it.
What really shocked him, though, was Charlie.
The guy was comforting it.
“Hey, hey,” the boy cooed. “It’s okay! You’re okay. You’re okay-”
The older boy leaned himself against the portal, pushing a little harder than ought to have been needed to pass through water. He sank his hand in towards the Whale. Then his wrist, all the way up to his shoulder, stopping only when his fingers found the monster’s skin. James watched, appalled, as his friend began to pet it, mumbling gentle nothings all the while.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Whale leaned into it, the eye turning itself on Charlie as the monster’s body drifted closer in the water.
Oh, hell no.
James stumbled forwards, but before he’d even made it a few steps, the older boy turned to look at him, a look of betrayal on his face.
“I thought you were cool,” he said quietly.
James did not care. He straight up did not care. He lacked both the coherence, and the energy. Charlie was angry. Sure. He was also cuddling a sea-monster. There were bigger things to deal with.
James raised an arm, the wind gathering around him as it readied itself to simply rip the other boy away.
“Nope. We’re leaving. Right now.”
He reached forward.
Charlie’s skin flickered as James’ power gathered around him, as though, for a few seconds, he was only half there. He pulled. Charlie didn’t move.
James saw it then, if only for a moment. It caught the sun as his power pulled against it. A dozen layered planes of light twisting themselves over Charlie’s form like a cocoon or the bud of a rose, the ends of it winding down along Charlie’s arm towards the Whale. He tugged again, harder. The skein glowed brighter.
Charlie shook his head.
“No,” he said flatly. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You hurt my friend.”
That comment was, frankly, the last thing James needed. He had already been scared, angry, and desperate. Now he was offended.
“Your friend!?” he asked, utterly appalled. Then he shook himself. No. That was it. That was the last straw. He was done negotiating. He would get Charlie back, then he would slap the guy sensible himself. “It was eating my brain, you dumbass!”
He didn’t mean to shout.
“You’re a liar,” he said.
James didn’t answer. He was too busy doing everything in his power to bust through Charlie’s shield. He started with sheer brutality; resuming his titan form in under a second and bringing his hands upon it with all his might. The skein barely even flickered. Charlie stood, his eyes glowing a faint purple as he weathered James’ blows. He pulled his arm free of the water, and placed his hands against the surface of the portal.
The aperture began to grow.
No. James thought. No. No. No. Not happening.
He cast his eyes about the clearing in a panic, looking for something, anything to help him. Nothing but sand and a bunch of trees.
That would do.
The monster drifted backwards in the water as the portal opened wider, the light dancing off of oil slickened skin; the faintest outline in the deep. The thing was vast.
No time to ponder that. James reached for the largest tree that he could see, wrapped a fist around the trunk, and yanked it from the ground. Then, he pulled it back, and swung it into Charlie’s form like a fucking baseball bat.
Charlie didn’t even flinch. There was a thunderous crunching sound as the tree shattered, the trunk splitting into pieces as it made contact with his shield, the severed end of it carving a trench in the ground as it rolled. He let his hands drop. The portal was taller than he was now. He stepped forwards, pressing himself bodily into the slime.
To James, it was as though his very soul had turned to ice.
Charlie paddled a foot or so from his portal, then spun himself around to face his friend.
His eyes were cold.
“Charlie,” James begged. “Please. Don’t do th-”
The portal snapped shut.
For a second, James just hung there, gazing at the space that Charlie had so recently occupied. Then he shook himself.
“No.” He sniffed. “Nope. That’s not how it ends. Not even.”
He turned his gaze towards the water. He could feel the monster’s presence inside his skull, whatever reprieve he’d bought by wounding it slowly dying away as its aura flowed out once more across the archipelago.
Big mistake. That just meant he could find it.
He turned his shoulders towards the sea, his titan’s hands balling into fists.
There was an instinct in him that told him this was dumb; screamed it, really. It was the same voice that had told him to stay clear of the greater ocean; the part of him that feared the clawing in his skull. That was what he looked for now; the piece of the deep that made him want to run away the most. It wasn’t hard to find. What was more challenging was stepping towards it.
It was easier if he didn’t think about it.
Within the first few strides, he’d reached the shore. But how to get down there? He was air. Air sucked at being underwater.
Air didn’t normally try that hard.
He reached outward with his power, his tendrils extending as far as he could make them go. For one moment, James Toranaga cupped the sky between his hands. Then, with childish impetuosity, he drove it into the surface of the sea.
The ocean split.