Book One Epilogue: Elementals.

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Hideyoshi:

The house was nearly empty when Hideyoshi saw his grandson home. There were no words spoken. James hadn’t talked since their return to this dimension. Hideyoshi found a pain in his stomach every time he looked at the boy. Three hours since watching Charlie flee, and still, he shook like a leaf.

Upon being allowed inside, James made a b-line for his room, and shut the door quietly behind him, not even stopping to give his mother a hug on passing the TV room.

Hideyoshi did his best to pretend he couldn’t hear the sobs.

For his part, the evening held another heavy task. He returned to the TV room, grasped one of the loose-backed chairs that accompanied the couch, and hobbled across the floor with it until it sat opposite his daughter in law. Then, he set his walking cane down.

He sat. Neither of them spoke.

Sarah looked about as drained as Hideyoshi felt. He sighed.

“… It was the most terrifying moment of my life,” he murmured, putting his hands together and resting his chin on his knuckles. “The first time my son got himself in over his head. I think it honestly made my heart stop beating.”

It took a moment for Sarah to respond to that, still just gazing into the distance, barely aware.

“I’m still waiting for it to start again,” she said eventually, her tone surprisingly calm. “…How’d you handle it?”

Hideyoshi chuckled.

“Poorly,” he admitted. “Roped Peter into five hours combat training a day. Planted a tracking spell on his wallet. Usual parenting.” He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his cigarettes. “I’d ask if I’m allowed to smoke in here, but I’d have to ignore you if you said no.” He flicked the pack open, and pulled one out.

“I could use one of those, if you have a spare,” Sarah murmured.

He raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

She shrugged.

“Stopped when I met Peter. Didn’t want my breath smelling like pot-ash.”

Hideyoshi grunted, then tossed her the cigarette, and pulled another for himself. A flick of his finger, and the tips of both lit up.

He brought it to his lips, held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, then let it out in a slow exhalation.

“So,” he murmured. “I came here as a newborn.” Sarah glanced across at him, mid-drag, one eyebrow raised in tired curiosity. He shrugged. “The story I was told was that the lord of my household met a stranded forge-spirit in the woods, and in exchange for the aid needed to return it home, was given the spirit’s newborn child as a prize.”

He took another drag, the statement hanging in the air between them for a moment. Sarah’s gaze returned to the wall.

He sniffed.

“I can never know for sure if that’s true, of course. They could have told me any story to keep me happy while I grew, but it’s the truth I choose to believe.”

Sarah grunted. Hideyoshi huffed. Neither spoke again until the cigarettes were done. He supplied them each a fresh one. Lit. Inhaled. Exhaled.

“… So what’s your story then?” he asked. “How’d you get here?”

For what it was worth, Sarah didn’t bother feigning ignorance. Perhaps she was just too tired. She took another pull, her fingers slightly shaky, then let out a sigh.

“I was born here,” she muttered. He raised an eyebrow, but she continued. “My parents weren’t. Of course they weren’t. I think they were hunters or itinerants or some other damned important thing. They always left the room to talk about it. All I really know is we moved around a lot. Spent most of my time alone, eating mac-n-cheese in crappy old motels for weeks at a time. Then, they’d come back all bloodied and we’d be off to find the next motel.” She shrugged. “That was life for a while.”

Hideyoshi nodded.

“There weren’t any others like you?”

Sarah shook her head. “Of course there were. My parents didn’t live here. My parents didn’t come from here. I went home with them once or twice. It never lasted long.”

“Why not?”

Another shrug.

“Because I couldn’t survive there,” she replied. “Born on Earth, after all. My powers were blocked off by all that Elvish spellcraft shit.” She let out a dry laugh. “I was the only child who couldn’t fly in a village built without the concept of restrictive gravity. The door to my house was a good two hundred feet above the ground.”

“So they took you with them?” Hideyoshi asked. “Left you half abandoned while they went to fight with monsters? Why?”

Sarah snorted.

“I don’t think they had any other idea of what to do with me.” She finished off her smoke and gestured to her companion for another. “But, the trips got longer and longer, and I got bigger, and louder, and one day, there was a knock on the door from someone at social services.” She caught the new cigarette, waited for it to light, and took a puff. “I was about six, as far as the examiners could tell. It wasn’t like I spoke coherent English.”

“What did you speak?”

She shrugged.

“As far as I can tell, a mix of my people’s language and whatever I’d managed to pick up off TV.” she chuckled. “I used to watch a lot of Jerry Springer.”

Another long quiet.

“So. What are you?”

She laughed.

“I figured you’d be able to answer that one day. So much for that, I guess.” She took another puff, then raised an arm to her face, rubbing at her cheek with the base of her palm. “How’d you find out? I haven’t told anyone about it in decades.”

Hideyoshi gazed at the wall to Sarah’s left for a time, thinking on the strangeness of his life, then gave his answer.

“It’s James,” he admitted. “He’s powerful. Too powerful. Stronger than his dad. Stronger than his grandmother. That shouldn’t be possible with a baseline human for a mother.”

Sarah nodded.

“Is he stronger than you?”

He shrugged.

“I couldn’t tell you. I hope so.” For a moment, the two of them shared a smile. Then, Hideyoshi sighed. “That boy is a loss to the gene pool.”

“What?”

Another shrug.

“He’s gay,” he muttered. “Line ends with him, unless his sister has something to say about it.”

Of all the responses, Sarah simply chuckled there.

“Called it.”

Hideyoshi snickered.

Sarah stared at the glowing bud of her smoke for a bit, then sniffed.

“Foster care was good to me,” she said. “It feels so rare that you get to hear those words, but it was. You’ve met my family. You know how kind they are.”

“Good people,” Hideyoshi agreed.

Sarah smiled, still gazing at her hands, the cigarette threaded between her fingers.

“They were so patient with me. Taught me English. Taught me maths. Homeschooled, right up till I was ten, just so I could get into classes without having to miss a beat. And every time I told them about what it was like before, they’d just smile and nod, and tell me I should write a story.” She shook her head. “Talked to a therapist about it once or twice. Gave me some bullshit about invented memory. I almost believed it.”

“Does Peter know?”

Sarah shrugged.

“Most of it. He knows my parents had powers, knows I got put in foster care. Never told him where I was from. Didn’t seem important anymore.”

“How so?”

“Hard to say,” Sarah admitted, taking another drag as she thought it over. “I used to think it was everything. Spent my whole childhood thinking about where I was from. Wanted to find it. Wanted to walk up to my parents and rip them both a new one. I had a whole speech prepared. Spent ages learning about redwood reserves and old forests. Looking for a place with trees tall enough,” she shrugged. “Couldn’t find it, obviously. Not like it was anywhere on Earth.”

She paused for a moment, waiting for Hideyoshi to pass comment. He did not, so she continued.

“I stopped trying after a while. It was making my newer, better parents worry about me. So I put it on hold. Waited until highschool was done. Saved some money, took a gap year.”

“That’s when you met Peter.” Hideyoshi nodded.

“That’s when I found Peter,” she corrected. “I told my folks I wanted to explore. But really, I was looking. I’d given up on finding where I came from. Now, I wanted to know about magic. I wanted to know why they could fly, if I couldn’t.” She snickered. “Magic’s a badly kept secret. We both know that. I started just doing internet searches. Forums. Message boards. Whole bunch of stuff. Looking for people who said they’d seen things, or survived encounters or whatever. Went out to meet them, if I could.”

She caught the look he was giving her at that, and shrugged. “I had pepper spray. Most of it was nothing. People telling each other stories or old guys looking for Bigfoot. But a couple names kept turning up. People saying they got rescued, talking about conspiracies and area 51: Toranaga.”

She chuckled.

“When I finally tracked Peter down, I thought he was part of M-K-Ultra.”

Hideyoshi remembered that. His son had been staying at a youth hostel on a solo hunt.

“What did you say?”

Sarah shrugged.

“We were young. I got him drunk. I wanted to learn about my magic. He wanted to bone. We compromised.”

Hideyoshi snorted in spite of himself.

“Christ,” he murmured, raising a hand to his forehead. “I taught the kid so much better than that.”

“No you didn’t,” Sarah smiled. “I was a pretty girl, and he was happy to show off. I knew everything I wanted in the first week or two. Told me he was a hunter. Told me what he could do.”

She took a drag of her dying cigarette, then continued.

“And he told me about his parents. That’s when I figured out I had to let it go.”

“Oh?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

“It was the same story,” she said. “His parents were mages. They loved the work. They ran their kid through hell and back because hunting had to come first.” She looked him in the eye, then, her expression cold. “Magic damages people, Hideyoshi. Always has. I decided I’d have no part of it. I’d rather be a good person than figure out how to fly.”

Hideyoshi sighed. She thought he was a bad person. He wished he could be offended.

“Peter’s good,” he said eventually. “Tsuru and myself, I’ll grant you. But my son’s a good man.”

Sarah inclined her head.

“Call him an edge case. You didn’t screw him up as badly as you could have done. But we’ve both seen Casper. We know the kind of shit that parents like you can pull.” Hideyoshi winced, but she wasn’t done. “And now you have your sights on my son.”

“… The boy’s important, Sarah. You know he is.”

“We can agree on that.” Sarah nodded. “And if you ever manage to hurt him the way you’ve hurt the rest of your family, I’ll-” she cut herself off with a huff. “Ugh. I don’t know how to end that sentence.”

Hideyoshi hesitated.

“I never knew you hated us,” he murmured.

“I don’t,” she answered. “But you are broken. You always have been.” The two of them sat in silence for a moment while she finished off her cigarette. She dropped the stub in an empty coffee cup and sighed. “Get out of my house.”

Hideyoshi stood, took his stick, and calmly walked away. He climbed the stairs to the door of James’ room before he left.

Again, he tried to ignore the sobs.

“If you don’t want to lose people like that again,” he murmured. “You’ll need to be stronger. Training starts tomorrow.”


James:

James cried. Huddled under the covers of his bed. He cried.

Tomorrow, he would train. He would grow. He wouldn’t let this happen again.

For now, though, he cried.

Sometimes, that is all we have.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

And finally, we reach the end of book one. Woot! *Toots a small horn.*

This has been a big project and I’m kinda super proud of how far I’ve managed to get. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get this far. Book two will begin soon, although there may be a short hiatus (a week or two, maybe.) to allow me to go over some of the prior chapters and make some edits.

All that said. It’s the end of an arc, so BONUS CHAPTER VOTES!

Ok. Later!

Tide: 7.6

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Charlie:

There’s a kind of primal panic in suffocation. A kind of shock. Limbs act of their own accord. Lungs wrestle against themselves. The conscious mind is put on hold, supplanted by instincts and an ice-white fear.

‘I can’t breathe.’

The boy had never experienced it before.

There was water in his throat. He flailed, his legs kicking for the far distant surface, his hands rising to his neck, trying to do something about the pressure in his chest. He tried to scream, water passing painfully across his vocal chords.

He was going to die.

The lava man reached for him, then recoiled as the boy sent another amber bolt spinning through the water, a bare fraction as powerful as the last. Above them, his companion screamed, the stress of it seeming to almost bend the water around them out of shape.

He had to hold on.

A portal. If he could just make a portal. He tried to focus. His lungs seized. His legs curled themselves in against his chest, even as he tried to paddle his way up. He was sinking.

The lava man stepped towards him, a glow of buried light shining up from underneath them.

His body hit the seafloor with a muffled thump. Whatever barriers had been placed over him were fading. He felt his skin grow hot.

He didn’t want to die like this.

The edges of his vision began to fade as the lava man stood over him, a single burning hand reaching down towards his chest. He felt his skin cooking even as he tried to pull away.

His companion reached them with a soundless roar, bearing down with desperate speed. Forty feet. Twenty. The lava man jerked towards it, one burning hand clamping down on Charlie’s wrist, his free arm raising as the ground below them split, another spire of molten glass spewing forth from underneath. His companion neither countered, nor dodged, instead slamming itself against the lava man’s counter at ramming speed.

The ocean roared. The earth shook. The boy had a moment to register the sea of molten glass beneath the oily floor, before his companion’s body struck them, and all three were plunged down into it.

Pain. Glass. Fire.

He felt it pulsing across his being, writhing as if every inch of him was on fire. The shock was such that it took a moment to realize the agony wasn’t his.

He’d stopped choking. His throat still ached and his lungs still heaved with the strain of trying to breathe; but he wasn’t dying. His barrier was back as well, flaring gently around him as tonne after tonne of melted silt flowed on about his form. For a moment, he was confused. Then he understood.

His companion was suffering. He could feel it nearby, half-buried in the molten silt and boiling sea, its barriers thrown aside in the need to keep him safe. He tried to offer it some comfort, but his voice was too quiet.

He started swimming through the glass, already searching frantically through the spells buried inside the creature’s mind. Attacks. Transmission of energies. Summoned allies. No. No. He needed healing. He had to help. A spell for cold? Cold would do. He latched on to his companion’s power, and began to shape it in his mind.

He made it less than halfway towards his friend before the lava man re-emerged, darting up before him as he made his approach; barely visible amidst the glow, even from a foot or so away. The man looked to the boy, then to his companion, his expression angry, puzzled. The boy had no time for him.

The lava man reached forwards, something sparking power about his arms. The boy was too quick for him.

The cold-snap left his body in a pulse, omni-directional and quick. The ambient glow faded just as fast as it had filled his sight, his world now solid; his movement hindered. His friend’s pain died down a tad at that. He wondered if he’d managed to freeze the ocean overhead.

The boy wasn’t the only one stuck, it seemed. The lava man went still as the world around them turned to crystal, the light of his own form fading to a barely present glow.

That wasn’t to last for long, it seemed. Even as the boy watched, the man once more began to move, the heat flowing out around him as his inner light returned. The glass softened. The man inched forward.

The boy had neither the time nor the inclination to be gentle. He plunged into his companion’s mind, and pulled out the most violent power he could find. He gritted his teeth as the glass around him split, then pushed his body forwards.

Pure kinetic force. Unfocused. Angry.

His punch was such that the world around them broke, the newly contiguous plateau of frozen silt fracturing into a hundred thousand shards as the lava man passed through it. The boy spared no thought for how far the man had gone. He was focused on his friend.

The creature was struggling, its tendrils writhing against the bedrock in an effort to pull it free, even as every motion tore new wounds in its fire-blackened skin.

Its voice was plaintive in his mind. Fearful. Small.

He moved to its side and gave what help he could. A spell to dig at the shell of rock around it, another one to push it free.

When they found the water again, the lava man was gone. So too was the creature that had tried to wrestle with his friend. Looking up, though, the boy still saw the star man up above. He could have sworn he saw the light of it glowing brighter.

For the first time, his companion wanted them to run. The boy shook his head. The star man would only follow them if they fled. The boy had no intent to let him.

His companion’s energy was weakening; five spells’ worth of borrowed force, each cast with a mountain-weight of strength, and each made wasteful by his total lack of skill. Their power waned. He had to think this through.


Hideyoshi:

Hideyoshi watched his wife retreat, and gave a nod. Good. That should be far enough.

It was going well, all things considered. Whatever Peter had done before Charlie sent his body flying from the water had clearly caused the Whale harm. It moved slower now, each tendril jerking spasmodically as it tried and failed to swim without causing its body further harm. Something had broken down its shield. Perhaps it was weakened by whatever powers Charlie was digging into.

It didn’t matter. Tsuru and Peter were clear. This would all be over soon. He put his hands together, and readied his attack.

He would use everything he had for this. Every drop of power, compressed first into an orb between his hands. Then he would cast it into the depths. A harpoon of solid sunlight, built to skewer him a Whale. He charged it up.

The portal opened some twenty feet above him, a two foot hole in spacetime, letting forth a torrent of water. He let it sizzle off him with a laugh.

‘Nice try, Charlie. Water might dampen fire, but you’ll need more of it than tha-’

The boy’s body heat vanished from below him, only to re-emerge above his head.

Hideyoshi put all his strength into his shield. Then Charlie punted him into the sea.


Charlie:

Another portal saw him back at his companion’s side just as the sea above began to burn. He couldn’t help but spare a glance at it as he pulled himself into place on his companion’s back.

It was quite a sight, the star-man’s body flaring sporadically amidst an ever expanding plume of subaquatic steam, the heat of his body doing its utmost to hold back the rushing tide around him.

It wasn’t enough. The boy watched as the star man began his climb towards the surface. Slow, fighting for every inch of distance, yet making headway all the same. The boy shrugged. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would do. He placed a hand on one of his companion’s fins.

It was time for them to run.

The creature moved slowly, at first; limping, injured. He told it to go faster and, scarred skin creaking and cracking at the stress, his friend complied. He did his best to share the pain. They could not afford to slow.

Already, he could feel the enemy gaining ground, even if every glance behind them showed him nought but empty water. He knew their third pursuer wasn’t giving up.

Sure enough, after less than a minute, there it was, the elongated shape of that silvered water-dragon winding ever onward in their slipstream, so vast that the depths obscured it well before he had a chance to spy the tail. The boy doubted his friend could make it through another bout with the thing. He silently begged for greater speed.

Already close to breaking with the pain, his friend complied.

The following minutes were tense. That final burst of effort had been enough. They were pulling ahead once more. Their progress was slow, painfully slow, every second of it a strain. Inch by inch, the boy and his beast regained their ground.

The dragon’s head was barely more than a distant shadow in the water when the final disaster struck. When it did, it was something of a surprise.

A faint pop.

A spark of light below them.

He cast his gaze around. Nothing.

One second. Two. Three.

A female figure suspended above them in the water, sparking green light dancing about her form.

The sight connected to something in his brain. A forest full of long dead trees and fog.

‘Aw, crap. It’s James’ grandma.’

What unfolded from the woman then was like sewing thread, a thousand or more strands of it, floating loose of her and extending through the water; the closest thing to a jellyfish this ocean had ever seen.

They tried to swim beneath it. Tsuru Toranaga drifted down to meet them. The strands began to catch, and where they caught, they stuck, anchoring on his companion’s flesh like steel cords and superglue.

His companion thrashed, trying to pull away. That only caused more of them to catch, tangling on tendrils and fins. Binding. Slowing.

Behind them, the dragon started gaining ground.

The beast roared. The boy did the same.

This wasn’t fair. They had almost nothing left. He glared at the woman up above them, then launched himself towards her.

To his credit, this action caught the woman by surprise. Partly because it was dumb. Within the first few feet, he was entangled. By the time he reached her, he could barely move.

But he did reach her.

He dug into what remained of his companion’s might. As the dragon bore down upon them, the boy twisted a palm towards Tsuru Toranaga, a bolt of amber aimed towards her gut, too close for her to dodge.

The woman vanished with a quiet pop.

So did the threads.

They were free. The dragon was right behind them.

He re-connected with his companion. The two began to flee once mo-

The ocean split.

That was when James Toranaga plunged his wind-bound hand through the sea, wrapped his fingers around the creature’s form, and began to drag it up.

That was all it took for the dragon to catch up, its snakelike body coiling and wrapping about his friend, its claws scratching. Teeth ripping. His friend barely had the strength left to fight. All the while, James yelled, dragging them ever closer to the surface.

He knew that voice. He knew the face that it connected to. He knew James, whether in part or in full, he wasn’t sure. He knew that yell. James cared too much about things, sometimes. God, he could be loud. The boy was his friend. That was why this was going to suck.

James’ arm had punched a hole, a pillar of stable air between his companion and the surface. Charlie stepped into it.

“James?”

Nothing changed. Charlie took a breath.

“If you don’t back off, I’m gonna die.”

The yelling stopped.

“… What?” his friend asked. “How?”

Charlie shrugged.

“I dunno. I guess I’ll find a way.”

When James spoke again, his voice was angry.

“Dude,” he muttered. “I swear, if you give me any more of your stupid crap. I’m gonna-”

Charlie raised a finger to his throat, the tip of it slightly glowing. James stopped.

This felt shitty. He wished he knew how to explain.

“Look,” he tried. “I’m… broken. It’s-” he gestured to the beast beneath his feet. “My friend. It’s fixing me. I don’t want it to stop.”

“… You’re not gonna kill yourself, Charlie.”

At that, all the boy could do was shrug.

“Maybe,” he said honestly. “I dunno. I just-” he swept a loose gesture with his free arm about himself. “I don’t like this. At all. Don’t make me figure out how it has to end.”

For a long time, the two were quiet; beneath them, even the beasts had fallen still. Tsuru emerged overhead. She didn’t speak. She was frowning.

“Charlie,” James tried, his voice almost pleading. “This is wrong.”

“Yeah.” Charlie muttered. “Sorry.”

“Don’t follow me.”

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Tide: 7.5

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James:

James had, as it happened, been correct. His instincts had led him true. His splitting of the ocean had found just the right spot to pinpoint both his targets; Charlie and the beast now both floundering on the seabed.

He had found them, even if his titan’s arms were already shaking from the weight of the water pressing against his form. Even if Charlie spared him little more than a glare as he clambered to his feet, before returning his attention to his captor. He’d still found them.

He could still hope. 

It was huge. Swollen. Inches of ichorous oil sitting thick over skin that could have been either leather or foetid scale. Fins the width of football posts flared wide along a trio of tendrils, each themselves like elongated train cars, flailing in its efforts to swim through the empty air. 

He felt a moment’s satisfaction there, marred when Charlie clambered up beside it and pressed his shoulder to its centre mass, heaving with all his might to push it back towards the surf.

The thing was big.

He was bigger.

He could do this. Maybe even fight it; drag it up onto the shoreline and hold it there until the sun, the air, or its own crushing weight brought it to its end.

He could win.

“Give. Him. Back.”

Charlie wasn’t listening. The boy didn’t even bother to turn around.

The Whale did, though. Its two side tendrils heaved against the silt to twist its centre skywards. A single bloodshot eye glared up at him.

James forced himself to smile at it.

Then it drove a spike into his brain.

It was the strangest feeling, having his coherence stripped away; like pain, but carried by sight and sound and smell. The world grew dark and clammy; not that he any longer cared to note the difference.

If he’d remembered how, he would have screamed.

His arms went limp. The water walls began to give, a billion tonnes of surf breaking into first geysers, then floods, ready to sink his quarry to the depths.

His titan form failed.

He lacked the capacity to care. 

He was in the abyss now; nothing to see or hear in all the world.

Except it’s jaws upon his soul.

His life was saved by a flash of light that burned a line of fire through the sky, before coming to a halt a yard or two away from him. In some distant recess of himself, he thought it might be Jeremy the firebird.

It hung there briefly; a point of flame, smaller than a candle.

First, it swelled.

Then it warped.

Something white-hot streaked from it towards the creature’s centre mass, the bolt striking just as the water rose back up to coat the beast. For a moment, the water fizzed where it had struck, the bolt reduced to a pale glow beneath the surf. Then it exploded. 

The monster screamed.

The world lost its thorns.

Clarity returned itself with surprising haste. James shuddered.

‘Okay. That sucked.’

James turned his gaze toward the fire, half expecting to now owe his life to a random bird. Instead, he found a finely featured boy hanging in the air before him, built of solid flame.

“Get back, James,” said the fire boy, not looking at him. “Right now.”

“Who-” James tried.

The world snapped out. 

For one moment, he hung suspended in the void, his mind trying to acclimate to the sensation of being everywhere at once.

Then the world snapped back.

He was on a beach.

He spluttered.

“What?!”

A hand clamped down on his scalp. He yelped, turned to strike-

-His grandmother pulled him into a hug.

“You are in so much trouble,” she said, her voice catching. 

He hugged her back. It was a reflex. Why was he shaking?

“Baba! Charlie’s-” he gagged. “Charlie-”

“I know,” she said, gently prying him off of her and standing upright. “We’re dealing with it. You stay here, okay?”

James began to protest. His head snapped to the side. His cheek stung.

That took a second for him to process.

Tsuru lowered her hand, her expression stony.

“I’m not losing you to that thing, James. Don’t make me knock you out.”

With that, she stepped off towards the shoreline, beyond which could still be seen the flaming figure floating above the water, now disgorging a gout of flame on the water’s surface. 

As James’ brain slowly came back online, Tsuru’s outline began to flow. It was like mist or pipe-smoke, a trio of pale shapes rising from her skin and hanging in the air behind her, each of them slowly gaining solidity.

Soldiers. At least, that was what it looked like to James. Two with swords at waist, one in modern flak gear; colorless, like thickened smoke.

“Shield his mind,” she ordered in Japanese. “Keep him safe. Do not let him follow me.” She was gone before her men had time to nod.

The one in flak gear turned to James.

“You heard that, right, kid?” a male voice echoed. “You did good, but this is above your pay grade.”

Behind the first figure, one of the others raised an arm. James watched something flicker across his vision. The residual itching in his mind began to fade.

He turned his gaze toward the horizon, the flaming figure he now suspected to be his grandfather dodging and weaving through the air as the sea raised itself in columns to try and douse him.

“Kid,” the soldier asked. “You listening?”

James raised a hand to massage his still stinging cheek. He remembered the loosened pain of that thing gnawing on his soul. He remembered Charlie glaring at him.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I promise I won’t try anything.” 

“Unless they start losing.”


Charlie:

There was something about all this that the boy found unsettling. An unrest that went beyond the faint discomfort he had felt as he’d watched his companion devour his once-friend’s mind. It nagged him more with every passing second as he watched the dancing of the lights above the water. Something buried in his head. Flashes of a half-connected memory. 

A star above a snowfield.

That fire in the sky was a threat.

They should leave. They ought to run.

His companion didn’t listen. It was angry. It had never been burned before. He could feel it bleeding through every facet of their connection.

Its rage was so much more than him.

It was a struggle not to drown in it.

Far above, the star-man loosed a bolt of piercing heat, plunging it down into the depths, highlighting all around it in a momentary orange glow. His companion dodged; far more agile, now that it was in the water, fins and tendrils flexing to spin it to the side, the boy clinging to its centre mass by force of mutual will.

The flame-spark hung there for a moment in the water, far more stable than it should have been. The boy understood the threat and sent his friend a warning a mere moment before the spark dispersed, the water all around it flashing into steam.

His companion laboured to shield the vastness of its form, but it did not have the time.

He didn’t need a link to hear it scream.

It fought back, its powers reaching through the water, twisting waves and torrents towards the star-man in the hope of quenching him.

The star-man dodged them easily.

Frustration.

His companion was not built for this. How was it to fight something that didn’t touch the water? He felt it searching through itself for something that could help. Words from languages it never spoke. Skills that it lacked the hands to use. A thousand spells, only a fraction of which it understood. Unable to even determine what could be of use.

As the light and heat began to fade, the boy caught sight of something new. A point on the ocean floor had begun to glow.

The spread of it was hard to tell, the silt covered over with a few years of his companion’s slime. All he could tell was that it was growing. A spot of heat an inch or so wide. Then a foot, then more.

He had a sinking feeling that he knew what would come next. 

That feeling was proven right as a glowing hand pushed itself free of the molten silt, a man of flowing lava pulling himself into view. 

For a moment, the two monsters just gazed at one another. 

Then the lava man raised his arms, and a spire of molten substrate rose from the seafloor like some wretched sort of spear, impure glass forming and cracking on its surface as internal heat battled against the cooling forces of the water. 

His companion pulled away before it struck. The lava man shifted pose. The spire exploded, ripping through the ocean in a thousand jagged spikes.

His companion’s fury echoed through the sea, and they were sand again.

This wasn’t good. Two adversaries now, both too strong to be ignored. His friend had barely been able to hold against the first. 

He had to do something. He couldn’t just sit waiting on the sidelines. There had to be something he could do.

He had an idea.

The boy gave his companion a gentle pat, a thousand tiny ridges of cartilage and scale brushing beneath his fingers.

‘I can help,’ he said. ‘You have to let me go.’ 

He wasn’t prepared for the force of his companion’s denial. It was angry. It was scared. It didn’t want to be away from him.

He leaned forward, his forehead resting against its back.

‘You have to trust me.’

A moment of agonized deliberation, then whatever force had held him shackled to the creature’s back eased off.

He pushed away from it, trying to resist being buffeted as its gigantic form sent eddies through the water. He swam down towards the lava man, his focus split between navigating the depths and searching for something he’d glimpsed being tossed aside in his companion’s mind.

It didn’t take long for the lava man to spot him. A moment of surprise flickered across what passed for the being’s face, followed by determination. As the boy continued for the depths, the man waded forth to meet him, each step slowed by a cold and pressure that the boy no longer felt.

Above them, his companion and the star-man warred, each bout sending heat and fury rippling through the sea. The boy ignored it all, even when a third combattant came upon them, this one carried by a long, snake-like drake of a size with his companion.

He could worry about that later. He had to stay on task.

He had nearly reached the lava man. He thought he saw compassion in what now passed for the figure’s eyes. It was hard to tell, so distant from the sun.

The boy reached out a hand.

His enemy did the same.

He found what he’d been looking for in his companion’s mind:

A thousand spells it didn’t know how to use.


Peter:

It was all Peter Toranaga could do to keep from being torn apart as the boy he had come to save reached into a well of power far larger than himself, and loosed a bolt of amber from his palm.

He let it catch him by surprise. He should have been prepared.

What struck his shield then was, to Peter’s estimation, the most powerful attack that he had ever witnessed. It didn’t so much strike into him as break around him, the light blooming out across his chest, then out into the water like the flow of an aurora.

His shields were reinforced by more than a month’s collected energy. The spell carved through them like a butter knife.

He felt pain in the places it had flowed, a half-dozen trenches simply burrowed through him by an ocean-weight of force. He would bleed when he returned to human form.

To his credit, he reacted fast. 

‘Shield his mind. Get him out of its control.’

Charlie was already paddling backwards in the water; but he was hardly the strongest swimmer.

Peter loosed his spell, watching in grim satisfaction as the faintly glowing barrier pulsed into being around the boy’s form.

He hadn’t expected for the Whale to panic, nor for Charlie to do the same. Panic they did, though, the Whale jerking around in the water above them, breaking loose its grapple with his mother’s dragon, before thrashing its way towards them like a raging bull.

Bad as that was, Charlie’s response was even worse.

Charlie started drowning.

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Tide: 7.4

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Bermuda, Peter:

Peter would be first upon the breach. There had been no argument on that; though he could tell his father had wanted to. The topic had not been broached. 

His parents had failed. There was no judgement to that. No recrimination. They knew it just as well as he did. They had failed to protect his son. This was his job now.

When the portal opened, he would be the one to storm the gap, however fortified the enemy had made it. He would pass through, he would destroy, and he would find his son. It was that simple. There was nothing to fear.

That didn’t mean there was no tension in the air as the assembled team waited for the gate to open. They were all quiet. Peter struggled to look at Jackie as she worked, kneeling in the ground as she searched for the tear her son had left in their reality. Was that how he looked to the rest of them? That ironclad look of calm? That stiffness in her shoulders? Those eyes that still radiated fear?

No. Of course not. Why would he look like that? There was nothing to be scared of. He was going to fix this.

He should say something to her. Something reassuring. She was his friend, after all. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it again. No. It would be over soon enough anyway. Better to let the woman do her work. 

He sighed.

Minutes passed. A whistling of the wind. The lapping of waves against the shore.

“Found it,” Jackie murmured, the lights already starting to spark blue around her as she spoke. “Bridging the gap in one minute.”

Peter unclipped his belt-flask and weighed it in his palm. Almost full. Several months of stockpiled power. Enough to fill out his reserves a dozen or so times over. He shook his head. Endurance would be pointless on the other side. His enemy would be flooded with magical energy. He would have to be as well.

He glanced at Jackie’s work, waited until she was only twenty seconds or so from the completion of her spell, then unscrewed the cap. 

The fluid was just as foul as always. He swallowed every drop.

His skin began to glow.

It had perhaps been inevitable that Peter Toranaga would one day find an elemental form, his father being what he was. Such was the way with half-breeds, after all; to draw from the nature of their parents in some or other manner. For Peter, though, it had taken time. He had been well into his adolescence by the time he was powerful enough to make the shift, and even then, it was nowhere near as pure.

When his father touched the flame, it was to become something else entirely; devoid of substance or weight; of anything, save the heat. 

For Peter, the transformation wasn’t quite so clean. He was fire, true enough; yet his body still possessed solidity. He didn’t grow, or fly, or feel a shift in his perception. Instead, he flowed, the heat gathering at his fingertips and falling in droplets to the earth. The sand fused into glass about his feet. 

He would save his son.

The worlds connected. He felt the scratching in his mind. His calm broke at that.

Whatever it was, scrabbling at his soul, James had been stuck here with it for almost a day. He felt his son’s odds of survival plummet.

Behind him, his father had begun to speak. He stepped forward through the aperture.

‘Don’t panic,’ he told himself. ‘He’s a smart kid. He probably ran the moment he felt that thing nearby.’

The reassurance didn’t help. 

It was almost a relief when the first attack came. At least it gave him something else to focus on. He didn’t have to wait long. The moment his feet touched the surface of the new world, there was a snap, something green and slender tearing free of the ground around him, sending sand plumes high into the air, lunging from everywhere at once. A good opening move; too quick for him to dodge. 

He didn’t have time for this. He reached into his gathered energy well and used it to press his shield out. The barrier swelled around him like a bubble, crackling for a moment as the emerald cord slammed itself around it, a loop of lightning trying to constrict. He pushed his shield out further.

It wasn’t exactly surprising that they’d set up a trap. It was the only logical choice if his quarry ever expected to leave this world again. They had to have known his team would pursue them when they fled, and they had to know that his family would be unbeatable if allowed to absorb the power of this planet. Better to fight his people here, with the bottleneck of the portal and the time to prepare an ambush. This had been expected, but he’d thought they’d make a greater effort.

The lightning coil hissed with unspent energy as it tried yet harder to crush itself upon him, its one directive to cut his form to shreds. He pushed his shield out further, forcing the coil out with a sound like grinding rust. He glanced around. Crystal sands, red-boughed trees, and a gentle tide. 

Still no sign of an ambush. Had they thought the lightning coil would be enough? Had they fled the psychic noise? It made no sen-

There was a faint pop a few dozen feet to Peter’s right. He glanced over, and met the eyes of an old, sallow looking man, a series of faint burns still healing on his face. 

The man swore. Peter continued pushing his shield out. The lighting cord began to flicker. The enemy aimed his gun at Peter’s chest. 

The first shot struck his shield with a force to split the sky, the sound of it piercing the relative quiet with an almost whiplike crack. His barrier sang with the weight of it. 

‘Stop wasting my time.’

The lightning cord was there to waste his time. Hold him down while the gunman poured out shot after shot against him. It had to go. He dug into his power. A brief incantation, then his shield pulsed. The binding tore apart with a sound like crunching gravel.

Another empowered bullet set his shield thrumming like a base drum. Then another. He looked his attacker in the eye, shrunk his barrier down, and simply let the bastard shoot him, all the while pressing his power into the ground about his feet. He waited for the man to empty out his gun before he spoke, the sand glowing rose-pink with the heat of his abilities.

“Tell me where the children are,” he said plainly. “And I will try as hard as I can to let you live.”

Something rippled from the ocean then, a distortion in the air. The scratching in Peter’s head grew stronger. There was no time for this.

At his words, the enemy simply clicked open his revolver, and started to reload.

‘Well, I tried.’

He raised a hand towards his foe. The man popped out of existence a mere fraction of a second before a spire of molten glass rose to fill the space where he had been.

He cocked his head towards the portal.

“Kill him.”

When Sebastian Grey re-emerged, it was to find the full might of the Toranaga family arrayed against him. To his credit, he did not buckle. There was no pleading. No attempt to flee. Neither action would have saved him.

Once the fight was done, the three gathered. The traps were disposed of. They had their foothold. Now to begin the search.

Peter raised his arm toward the sea, the sunset glow of his transformation pushing through the fresh-made markings on his forearm to create an odd, faintly purple light. Hopefully this new familiar could find them.

Caleb had resisted at first, when told to hand it over, gratitude for his partner’s safe return warring with deeply coded paranoia. It was only when told the use to which it would be put that he relented. It had taken more patience than Peter was proud of not to take it from the boy by force.

“Well?” Hideyoshi asked. “Anything?”

Peter raised a hand for quiet. He had to focus. The bird’s senses were foggy; weakened by weeks of starvation on a planet that lacked the energy to sustain it and clouded by the newfound weight of magic in the air. It took time. There was something at the bottom of the sea. Something leaking its power into the water. It had a scent that seemed to terrify the hunting bird. He shifted his arm, searching for new trails on the wind. 

Eventually, the bird caught a trace of something more familiar; the same scent that it had found scattered about his house. The smell of his son, along with something that could have been Charlie, were it not so tainted by the scent of burning plastic. He pointed.

“There,” he said, his eyes alighting on one of the distant islands. “Smells like Charlie’s with him. No doubt the other kidnappers are still out hunting fo-”

That was when the ocean split, the surface shearing apart a mile or so from the shore to send a plume of spray hundreds of feet into the air. When it cleared, all that was left behind was a long, wide trench, caving into itself in a set of hard right angles, as if someone had cut the water like a birthday cake.

Peter stopped talking, he and his parents turning as one to stare.

At that distance, it took a second or so for the sound of it to reach them, an echoing boom, followed by a low, rumbling roar, like the crashing of a distant storm. Then came the words, clear as a bell, even at such a distance.

“Give him back,” said his son.

‘James.’

As one, the three of them began to move, leaving Sebastian’s body to cool beneath a mound of faintly glowing glass.

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Tide: 7.3

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James:

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.

Charlie shrugged.

“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.

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