Bonus chapter: Ray Sullivan.

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Author’s Note: Okay, here’s our first bonus chapter of the set. Hope you all enjoy it. Last time, I provided a link to a different story I wrote as a guest on Revfitz’s site, and I’m going to continue that by this time linking to the next story in the sequence. This one’s called scourge, and it’s written by Re’sheet Schultz.

Ray:

Ray rubbed his eyes wearily, trying to force out the ache that had been building up behind them for hours now. It didn’t help that the park around him was so dimly lit, forcing him to strain his eyes as he searched, following the thin trail of light thrown out by his torch. He shook his head, and told himself to focus. He didn’t have time to be tired right now. It barely helped.

He hadn’t slept the night before. Nor had Linda. It would have been odd if they had, after receiving those two soul destroying messages from their son.

‘I think I hate you.’

Ray pushed the memory from his mind. He’d lost count of how many times those words had floated up in his brain in the last twenty four hours. The first few dozen had engendered pain. By now, though, they were familiar enough to him that they only managed to induce a dull ache, like a bruise where his lungs should be.

They had, of course, done what they could to find him, calling the school, calling his phone, driving endlessly up and down along each of the routes they knew he walked well into the early hours of the morning. The search had netted them nothing. Casper hadn’t even read the texts they’d sent.

They had barely spoken a word to one another while they worked. Ray wasn’t sure how his wife felt, but for him, it hurt to even look at her right now.

Then, they’d received the alert from work. Elves were loose in the city. People with magic in their blood were being hunted in the streets, and their son was nowhere to be found. Ray’s knuckles still ached from the force with which he’d punched the wall in the aftermath of that news. He’d only stopped when he felt Linda’s hand on his shoulder, and turned to see the look in her eyes.

“Do that later,” she’d said, her tone cold. “For now, we focus on the problem.”

It had taken him a few minutes to force himself to focus; then they had gone to work. Ray called in, liasing with the other department heads about the present approaches to the issue. No one had made mention of his absence for the earlier parts of the morning. There were bigger concerns to deal with for now.

The goblins had been called in, and were reinforcing the government teams in tracking and retrieving the civilians, before escorting them to a secured facility. Ray had assigned himself to guard the safe house, quietly hoping that Casper might be among those escorted there. Linda, for her part, had been placed in the rapid response team, one of the few dozen people in new york with powerful enough magic to make a difference against the elves. Neither had had any luck. The day had wore on, and there had been no word of their son.

When word had come of the death of the Female, Ray been far from reassured. The news had been sent in by Father, after all, and the knowledge of New York now playing host to a nigh unstoppable pedophile was far from reassuring. Linda had abandoned the response team when the male went to ground, presumably searching the city in whatever manner her all too rational mind could conjure. He, on the other hand, had joined the search party in the dim hope that Casper might still be among those kidnapped by the elves. It was the strangest thing, he thought, to find himself actually hoping that his son had been captured, because at least then he could be saved.

He shifted his torch once more across the path and saw nothing, his tired eyes barely even managing to follow the beam through the dark. In the distance, however, he caught sight of another light coming towards him. He turned his light on the figure holding it, and had to strain his eyes for a moment before he recognized them. His search partner was his opposite number: Peter Toranaga, head of interspecies relations. They’d split up some time ago in the attempt to cover more ground, unconcerned by the weaker agents’ need for safety in numbers.

“Anything?” Peter asked as the two of them passed within earshot of one another.

“Nothing,” Ray replied, too tired to really be frustrated. “Can’t see a thing in this light.”

Toranaga grunted at that, then shifted his torch slightly, throwing the beam over Ray’s face, no doubt catching sight of the bags underneath his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, before the radio at his hip buzzed to life, an older man’s voice speaking through it.

“This is the specialist. I’ve found him. Looks like he’s trying to nab some civilian that got caught in the cordon. Going in now. Directors, close on the south-west block. Other units, hang clear.”

Without a word, the two men set off towards the south at a sprint, Peter giving his radio two short clicks in acknowledgement.

They weren’t far off from it, in the end, a three minute sprint at most, but it was still long since over by the time either one of them arrived. Ray focused on keeping the hope buried inside his chest. If he focused too much on the chance of finding his son, it could get in the way. He crushed it.

Eventually, they came upon a small clearing, catching sight as they approached of the three figures it held. A short, elderly man in a trenchcoat that was perhaps half a size too large for him, standing watch over another, younger looking man who lay prone, a bruised looking young woman sitting on the grass some way away, rummaging through a bag she held clenched between her knees.

The man waved as they approached, the girl simply eyeing them distrustfully.

“Directors,” The specialist called amicably. “Target subdued. Ready for interrogation if you are, Peter.”

Peter nodded, casting his eye momentarily towards the girl.

“The civilian okay?” He asked. “She looks a little beaten up.”

The specialist shrugged.

“A few aches and pains,” he murmured, allowing himself a chuckle. “Her own fault. She refused to stay out of the fight after I got there. Wound up doing most of the work herself.”

That earned the girl another glance from the two directors. She glared back stonily, fishing in the bag with her less damaged arm, pulling out what looked like a chunk of salami and pushing it awkwardly into her mouth with a palm.

“The girl did it?” Ray asked, surprised. “She’s a kid.”

“Yes,” the older man allowed, his tone amused. “A feisty kid, though. Super strength, at a guess. Broke her hand taking down his barriers, but just kept on punching him.”

“Dad,” Peter grumbled. “You’ve already got an apprentice. Stop being so pleased with this.”

That caught Ray’s attention, turning his gaze back towards the specialist for a moment. So this was Hideyoshi Toranaga, then. Huh. Shorter than expected. He pushed the thought from his mind, and turned his attention to the elf, only half aware of the other men as they began to bicker.

The elf wasn’t paying any attention either, gazing up at the clouds high above, his eyes glassy, tears occasionally trickling down his cheeks, lost. Ray looked away. Sympathy wasn’t what he needed to feel right now.

“Shall we get on with this?” He asked abruptly, breaking up whatever argument the other two were having. “The sooner we get the information we need, the sooner we can pull those people out of wherever they’re being kept and start putting all of this bullshit to rest.”

The two Toranagas glanced at him, and the younger one gave him a nod.

“Fair point,” he admitted. “Let’s get this over with. Ray, can you call in the capture? This shouldn’t take too long.”

Ray nodded, stepping away from the other two, and briefly pulling out his radio and conveying what he needed to, before clicking it back off with a sigh. He glanced back towards the girl, still glaring darkly towards his erstwhile companions as she chewed. She looked pretty bloodied. Probably best to make sure she was okay. He made a few tentative steps towards her, trying to work through what he was supposed to say after something like this. He opened his mouth as he approached, but she beat him to it.

“Fuck off, dude,” she grumbled. “Whatever you’re gonna say, I don’t wanna hear it. I’ve had a hell of a day.”

Ray chuckled at that. There was nothing else he could think to do.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Me too. Me too.”

With that, he turned away from her, and sat down, watching the interrogation for lack of anything else to do. After a few seconds, he found his eyes glazing it over, not really seeing it. God, he was tired.

He was brought out of his reverie briefly when something hit him in the shoulder with a thunk. He looked down. It was an apple. He glanced up at the girl, and saw that she had another just like it held in her good hand. She met his gaze, and gave him a shrug, before taking a bite.

He let out a breath, gave her a nod, and picked up the apple, biting down. It was something to do, at least.

He ate slowly, trying to ration what little distraction he had while he waited for the others to extract the information, but it didn’t work. He’d long since run out of bites when Peter turned around and gave him a nod.

“Got it,” he called. “You coming? I’ve already called for a retrieval crew. We can take it from here.”

“No.” Ray replied, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m accompanying. I want to assess the damage in person here.”

Peter nodded, waiting for Ray to reach him before setting turning back towards the trees and setting off at a walk. Behind them, he was dimly aware of Hideyoshi pulling the elf up over his shoulder and calling the girl to follow, saying something about teaching her to make a splint for her hand before leading her off towards the cordon.

It was a long walk, and they did it in silence, Ray trying with every step to keep himself detached. He couldn’t risk putting all his hopes on this, not if he wanted to keep on moving afterwards.

After a few minutes, Peter spoke into the quiet.

“So, what’s wrong, Ray? You look exhausted. Something wrong?”

Ray shook his head automatically.

“It’s fine. Just tired. Nothing you need to worry about.”

“… Huh,” the other director replied. “… Let me rephrase, then. You came on an elf hunt while barely even conscious, and you look like you’ve been told you have a week to live. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“… Family troubles.” Ray admitted, giving his head a little shake. He was too tired for this. “Don’t worry about it.”

Peter thought about that for a moment, then shrugged.

“Fine. I won’t pry.”

Ray grunted at that, and went back to staring at the path ahead of them, his mind settling back into its malaise. Then, for a moment, those words floated once more in front of his eyes.

‘I think I hate you.’

He chuckled angrily at himself, then, on impulse, said out loud the words he’d been thinking all day. For years, really.

“I’m a terrible father.”

He said it plainly, without emphasis. It was surprising how little the words stung, in the end.

“Huh,” Peter muttered after a moment. “… So it’s something about your kid, then? You’re Casper’s dad, right? He’s friends with my son.”

“Your son?” Ray asked without inflection. “I didn’t know.”

“They met at school a week or two ago,” Peter supplied. “He’s come over a few times.”

“Oh,” Ray murmured. “So that’s where he’s been going. He didn’t tell me. I figured he just didn’t want to talk to me.”

“… What’s wrong?” Peter asked, his tone changing now to what seemed like genuine concern. “Has something happened?”

Ray laughed at that, a single burst of humorless sound. “Something” was such an understatement.

“I tried to help him manifest,” he muttered, hating himself. “First few times, I thought I’d been soft; that I just hadn’t made him scared enough to make it happen. So I kept trying.” He paused there for a moment, the park ground in front of him momentarily giving way to the image of his son huddled against the wall, tears streaming down his face as he cradled his arm, the mark of pain steadily flowing into place across his cheek. He didn’t push this one away, instead forcing himself to look at it long and hard. Peter was silent beside him; either judging or waiting, he couldn’t tell. He forced himself to continue. “… He ran away from home last night.”

There was a long silence after that, before Peter swore quietly to himself.

“Christ, Ray. I thought you were better than that.”

Ray let out a huff, feeling a sudden touch of anger towards the other man.

“Don’t give me that,” he muttered. “I know it’s shit, but you know as well as I do that powers need stress to manifest. They’re always going to be traumatic. Surely it’s better to do it yourself, and give the kid as much help as they need in the aftermath. Yeah, I’m a crap dad, but I wasn’t wrong for trying to make it easier.” For a moment, he remembered his own father doing much the same. Afterwards, he’d been given ice cream.

“You say that,” the other man replied angrily. “But the way I see it, you just drove your kid out of his home. Powers aren’t worth that, Ray.”

Ray grunted.

“Wouldn’t have expected that, coming from you. You’re a Toranaga, after all. Are you really telling me Japan’s foremost wizarding line doesn’t help their children manifest? I waited until Casper was nine. How old were you, huh?”

The strike caught him in the cheek, sent him stumbling. There was less force to it than he might have thought. He righted himself, and met the other man’s glare.

“… That was the wrong road to take with me, Ray,” said Peter, his voice cold. “But fine. You want your answer? I was seven.” They stared at one another for a long moment. “Do you know what a faun is, Ray?”

Ray brought a finger to his lip, felt a trace of blood, and nodded.

“Yeah,” he replied evenly. “I know what a f-”

“Not the modern faun,” Peter cut him off. “Not C.S. Lewis. I’m talking about the old myths. The tricksters and the monsters. Pan and the Satyrs. Those myths come from somewhere, Ray; and one day, my parents went out and caught one.”

Ray cocked an eyebrow at that, confused, but Peter didn’t seem to notice.

“Turns out, they have a defense mechanism,” he continued bitterly. “And it’s a good one. They generate fear. That’s all. Just fear. So my parents caught one, chained it to a wall, and locked me in a room with it.”

It took a moment for the implications of Peter’s words to sink in.

“… Ah.” He said, for lack of anything better.

“They knew it had worked after three hours, when I started begging them to let me out. In turkish. Powers aren’t worth it, Ray. It’s just child abuse.”

“… I disagree,” Ray grumbled after a long quiet. “We need them. They keep us safe.”

Peter sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” he murmured. “But that doesn’t make it better.” He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “We’ll find your son, Ray, but I think we both know you’ll need to spend your whole life making this up to him.”

“Yeah. I know.”

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Escapism: 3.14

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Hey, guys. So, yeah. I’ve been a little late with the updates these last two weeks. I apologize for that. I had a little of my time devoted to a short story guest submission for a literary friend of mine called Revfitz. If you’d like to see the story I wrote for him, then here’s the link: https://revfitz.com/everybody-dies-rainy-days/ Also, while you’re there, you might wanna check out his book. It’s pretty cool. Anyways. I intend to upload another chapter before the end of this week to make up for my tardiness. So I hope it’s all good. Anyways. On with the story!

James:

James wasn’t sure exactly when he had begun to cry. Whether it had happened when the lightning bolt struck him, when the bird tore the gash in his leg, or at any of a dozen points in between. He didn’t much care. The problem was that the tears made it hard for him to see where he was going as he flew, his eyelids only barely staying open to begin with.

He would have raised an arm to wipe his eyes clear, but his body refused to obey, the limb hanging limp by his side, his fingers occasionally twitching as the remnants of the shock sent spasms wracking through his form.

He was blind; blind and immobile, flying aimlessly through the night, just waiting to be spotted. To this, he did the one thing he could think to do. He went up. He may not have been able to see well enough to find a landmark to guide him, but he could at least tell well enough which way was up. A part of him wandered what might happen if he fell from such a height, and the answer he came up with did nothing to help him calm.

Everything felt wrong; the lines in his body failing to match what he knew in his head that they should be. Everything felt too… big; like his skin had somehow been stretched to cover a body the size of a football field. Had his nerves been thrown off by the shock?

For what felt like the hundredth time, he tried to force himself to calm down, to focus. It barely helped. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see. He wanted to pace, to yell, to punch something, just for some way to vent his state out into the world around him. He tried to scream, and once more heard, from somewhere high above, as the winds took up the call, echoing his voice in a shrill, distorted burst, more stormwind than shout.

Then there was that. He’d barely noticed it in the panic of the attack, but now, it was getting clearer by the moment. His body might not be moving, but his powers were, the wind echoing his every attempt to move without him even giving it conscious thought. He hadn’t even known he could make the winds shout for him, but he wasn’t pleased by the discovery; it wasn’t a nice sound. Just to confirm that it was what he thought it was, he tried willing his hand up towards his face in a gentle slap.

The effect was immediate. The wind caught him hard enough to nearly knock him out of the sky, sent him reeling. In a few moments, however, he caught himself, the fear slowly starting to fade in the knowledge that at least he was able to figure stuff out.

Okay. So his powers were doing a thing. That wasn’t great, but at least it gave him an idea.

Tentatively, he began reaching out into the wind with his power, trying to extend it out consciously in the hope that if he could expand his control around it, then maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to pull it back inside himself again. Maybe that’d be enough to let him move his limbs again. Even if it didn’t, it still felt better to be trying something.

James extended further, the hands beyond his hands reaching out further and further by the second. It was the strangest feeling, trying to stretch his senses to fill a shape. As he expanded, he felt the wind brush against fingers that weren’t even there; fingers that he knew, rationally, had to be dozens of feet away from him by now. Yet he could still feel them.

He was almost there when he encountered the barrier, his powers extended until they felt nearly as big as his body did. Then, just as he was about to reach it, he felt something press against his perception, like a wall in the air; immobile. He tried to swear, and heard the skies above give some ghoulish reinterpretation of the sound. Had he not been in such a state, he doubted he would have tried what he did next. At the least, he doubted he’d have tried it while floating what had to be at least a mile above the ground. As it was, though, he didn’t have the capacity left to care.

He pulled his power back a little, closing them towards himself by what felt like a foot or so, before sending them out again and slamming them against the wall as hard as he could. He had honestly expected it to do nothing, the attempt had been more an act of raw frustration than an effort to be constructive; but then he felt the wall give.

It was slight, minute, even, but it was there. He pushed harder, and it fell back another inch. The wind around him let out a furious cry, and he pushed harder.

When the wall finally gave way, a lot of things changed at once.

It was the changes to his vision that he noticed first, the world around him shifting from a tear blurred darkness to a perfect, almost crystalline clarity. The dark surrounding him fell away. In its place, his world was flooded with a trillion tiny lines of pure, faintly glowing light, like stars given breadth. Everywhere he looked, there were more of them, flowing and shifting around one another, cascading across the sides of the buildings far below and dancing through the clouds that hovered over the distant bay.

For a few moments, he just stared, in awe. Then, he found his mind brought back to earth as his clothes began to fall away, his body no longer solid enough to hold them in place around him. It was the strangest feeling, some tiny part of him thought, having something fall through him like that. He felt his torso give way under the weight of his hoodie, the scarf wrapped around his face sliding free and drifting off, seeming to pull his head apart in the process. It made him want to shudder.

He looked down, noticed his clothes sloughing off around him, and ignored them. He was far more concerned for the moment with his own apparent loss of solidity. As his hoodie finally fell free of him, he stared down at the nothing where his chest should be. Then, slowly, something began to form, no longer disturbed by the passage of his clothes. They hung about where his ribs should have been, a few faint, bluish orbs surrounded by a shimmering membrane of what seemed like mist, pulsing slightly every time he tried to breathe. In that one stunned moment, he honestly thought he’d become an amoeba.

… What?

For a few seconds, he quite simply failed to take it in. His body was gone. He no longer seemed to be paralyzed, perhaps, but his body was gone. He stared down at the faint, amorphous blob that seemed now to make up his form, and tried the hardest he ever had not to panic. The weirdest thing was that he could still feel his hands, even though he could see quite clearly that they no longer existed. More out of shock than anything else, he tried to clap them.

A few dozen feet away, there was a loud crack as two huge gusts struck one another, the shockwave of it sending the light lines into momentary chaos. As they slowly began to settle again, he gaped.

He hadn’t noticed it before. He’d been too busy focusing on the dazzling lights and the absence of his limbs. Now, though, as the lines began to settle themselves around it, he could see.

So that was where his body had gone.

It was definitely his body, he thought. He could tell that much from the shapes it made as the light lines drew contours across its face. But that didn’t explain why it seemed to be a hundred feet tall and made of nothing but air. He looked down, and saw his legs, carving invisibly through the flow of light. He looked up, and saw his head high above. As he watched, the titan opened its mouth, and let out a high, hysterical sounding giggle, so much more like his own voice than it had been before. He’d been worried that he couldn’t see his chest, because he was inside his chest.

He kept laughing for a long while. Then, the shock began to fade, giving way to dread. He was too tired for panic now. Too drained. Instead, he just felt hopeless and sad. It was too big. He could feel it beginning to overload him, like an ache inside his brain. He could feel the wind against his skin, all hundred or so feet of it. He could see the lights stretching out to every corner of the horizon, and they blinded him; overwhelmed. Perhaps, if he wasn’t so tired, he’d have coped; but as it was, he just wanted it all to go away. It was too new, every sensation like ice on an exposed nerve.

He tried to close his eyes to block out the light, but nothing changed, for his new form had no eyes. He let out a whine, pulling the titan’s arms and legs in towards his chest, hoping, at the very least, to block out a little of the breeze. Absently, he noticed his hoodie fluttering below, caught by a gust inside his larger form’s foot. In another frame of mind, it might have made him laugh.

He wanted to be small. He wanted the world to go away for awhile; needed rest. He tried to pull it all back in, and watched as the body around him began to deform, bits of it shifting oddly as they shrunk. It helped, though. He no longer felt the vastness of the wind against him. He kept pulling, and his exhausted mind was almost happy when he met the wall. The same wall he’d found when he started this failed adventure. It gave him hope. He pulled harder.

James wasn’t sure how long it took to come back to himself. He just knew that after a time, he could no longer see the lights all around him. The world was dark. His eyes were finally closed. He took a moment to enjoy that, before opening them once more to make sure that he was back.

He had skin again; real skin. He uncurled himself from his ball, and felt something slip free of his foot, then glanced down, and saw his hoodie tumbling away below him.

In that moment, he realized two things. Firstly: he was naked. Secondly: his hoodie still had his phone in it.

He dove.

It wasn’t a hard chase, really. James was a fast flier, and the hoodie barely eluded him beyond the first second or so before he caught it. First, he checked desperately in the pocket for his phone, then he let out a loud sigh of relief, and put it on.

It took him nearly ten minutes to find his way home, floating in through his bedroom window and collapsing on his bed, stopping only to close the window on the way. He felt himself fading to sleep before his head even hit the pillow.

As his thoughts faded to grey, he found himself thinking of Tasha. He got as far as hoping she was okay before drowsiness took its hold and he slept.

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Escapism: 3.13

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Tasha:

The man let out a panicked shout as James took his leave, scrambling to his feet on the damp grass upon which he’d landed and chasing after the boy’s shrinking form at a dead sprint. Another charge of electricity began rapidly building around his arm, ready to shock the boy out of the sky, when Tasha’s shoulder caught him around the middle, her whole weight thrown behind the impact, wrapping her arms around his chest and sending the both of them sprawling. His shot went wide, cutting a broad arc of light through the night sky.

The man screamed, his attention still focused on James’ now barely visible form, one arm reaching desperately for him. Tasha punched him, her fist striking him in the jaw, only to glance off as it met not with skin, but with some hard, smooth barrier that sent arcs of pain jarring up her arm in its refusal to give. For a moment, she thought she saw something above his skin flicker, like a window catching the light. She ignored it.

“Nope!” She yelled. “You focus on me! Not on him, cuz it’s me who’s gonna kick your ass!” To drive the point home, she struck him again with her other fist, feeling the same pain radiating up her arm as he simply took the blow, unflinching. Again, his skin seemed to flicker with a momentary light.

Slowly, he turned his face to her, and she was surprised to see a single tear trickling down his cheek. He looked her in the eye, his face contorted with rage and grief, and spat at her. It caught her on the chin. She raised a fist to punch him again and drove it down towards his face, only for it to bury itself in the ground as he disappeared out from under her.

“The fuck?”

She pushed herself to her feet, head turning this way and that, scanning the treeline around her for him. For a moment, she thought she saw a ripple in the air to her left, but dismissed it, continuing to cast her eyes about the field. Then, there was a small pop, and she felt something strike against the back of her shoulder, barely even hard enough to notice, followed a moment later by something much, much harder. She felt something give inside her, and let out a low growl of pain as her shoulder pulled itself free of its socket. The force of the impact spun her, sent her staggering. She caught sight of the man again just before his second strike hit, throwing her out across the grass. She hit the ground in a roll, the soft earth pressing again and again against her damaged arm. She grit her teeth.

He was ranting now, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth as he raved in some odd, flowing language. He raised a hand to point at her as she pulled herself to her feet, her body turned slightly to shield her damaged arm, and she heard a screech from somewhere far above her. She ignored it, keeping her eyes fixed on him as he stepped forward towards her. Then the first of the birds plunged down from the sky, talons outstretched, raking them across the side of her face. She let out a gasp of surprise and pain, flinching back for just a moment; the same moment that he chose to step forwards, and slam his fist into her stomach.

This strike was stronger than the last ones, Tasha realized as she felt her whole body lifted into the air by the force of it, the air shoved once more from her lungs, this time accompanied by a small amount of blood, splashing across the faded blue denim of his jacket. She hit the floor again, this time on her rear, and slumped to the side, wheezing. That had hurt. That had hurt a lot. She tried to force herself to breathe, and achieved nothing but a harsh coughing fit as something dragged painfully inside her chest.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him step over to her, standing above her and pausing for a moment, before leaning down, a hand outstretched towards her undamaged shoulder. She felt him take hold and begin tugging her upright, and chose that moment to make her counter. The moment she felt his hand on her arm, she swung it outwards, her fingers clenched into a fist, slamming it into his face in the fiercest hammerblow she could manage. Again, for a moment, his skin seemed to crackle with some momentary light, and she let out a growl as something in her hand crunched agonizingly against his face. This time, though, something was different. This time, his skin seemed less like steel, and more like layers of plasterboard, a few of them crumbling away before, for the briefest moment, her fist finally connected with his skin. For the first time, he actually seemed to feel the blow, the impact sending his head snapping to the side in its passing and drawing forth a grunt of genuine pain. He turned his face back to her, a small amount of blood building around his teeth, and raised his free hand to strike, the air seeming to bend around it just a little. Before he had a chance to hit her, however, she brought one of her splayed legs forward and kicked him in the knee with all her might.

Again, his weird forcefield flickered for a moment as she struck it; but it was slower now, the traceries of light more jagged. Again, she felt it give a little beneath her leg, and, with the most satisfying crunch she’d ever heard, she felt his knee give way against her, his leg bending unnaturally inwards. He hit the ground hard, yelping for all the world as if he’d been dealt a mortal blow. Tasha grimaced. Pussy.

Tasha didn’t waste a moment. One of her arms was loose of the socket, and she was pretty sure she’d broken a few bones in the fist she could still use. She didn’t care. She’d discovered this asshole’s weakness: Punching. Time to use it.

With a pained grunt, she pushed herself up into a crouch, before shifting herself forwards on top of him, half sitting on his waist to cut short his useless attempts to crawl away. He stared up at her and, for the first time, she could see fear in his eyes. Good. She raised her broken fist and struck him with it, ignoring the pain and watching him flinch as his barrier barely managed to absorb the blow, the flickering no longer fading away a few moments later, covering his skin with a layer of constant, crackling light. Damn it. She’d gone soft; reduced the strength of the blow in fear of the pain in her hand. That wouldn’t do. She needed to hit harder. She pulled her hand back again, when the birds struck again. They did it en masse this time, a bunch of them hitting her all at once, all flapping, scratching and pecking at her head. She felt a set of talons rake painfully across her right eye, and slammed her eyes shut just in time to feel another collide with the lid of her left. Instinctively, she brought her forearm up to shield her face, batting blindly at the things in some effort to get them clear.

She felt him land a strike against her stomach, weaker than the others, but enough to make her retch, all the same. No good. He was making her play defence. She needed to keep attacking. She let out a furious cry at the man below her, squeezing her legs tight around his waist and again, feeling the barrier give a little further under the pressure, before lowering her head, crunching her stomach, and forcing herself down in a blind headbutt. She felt something crunch against her forehead, and the man let out another yelp. Good. She reared back, braced herself, and did it again.

She felt his body vanish from underneath her once more as her forehead slammed into the soft earth, and, for a moment, was confused. Had he done the teleport thing again? God, being blind sucked. She pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the continual assaults of the birds as best she could, and peaked her left eye open just a crack.

It was next to useless. Even beyond the constant blur of feathers and beaks around her, she could barely see like this. She turned this way and that, heard a faint pop, and pivoted towards it. For a single moment, she thought she could see something bright blue crackling through her eyelids, before her whole world was engulfed by a wall of light and heat.

It only lasted a moment, a bright flash of orange flame all around her, burning through her eyelids. For the first second, she thought she was dead. Then, oddly, the smell of charring meat hit her nose, and the heat around her began to fade. Cautiously, she opened her good eye.

The man was still there in front of her, standing crooked on his one good leg, another glove of that weird lightning attack gathered around his arm. He wasn’t looking at her, though; he was staring at something far to the side of her, eyes wide with terror.

Tasha turned, noticing as she did so that the meat smell was rising from the dozen or so flame-scarred bird carcasses littering the ground around her, and caught sight of what seemed for all the world to be a person made of living fire.

It stood some thirty feet away, under the cover of the tree line and was advancing towards them at a slow trot, burning orange from head to toe. Still with that panicked look in his eye, the man raised his arm, sending his lightning bolt streaking towards the flame wreathed figure with a choked sounding cry.

It was less than useless. The bolt struck the figure dead in the chest, sparked briefly around its shoulders, then faded, leaving the thing apparently unscathed. The figure all but ignored him.

“Excuse me, miss,” a male voice called, the flame-person raising a hand towards her in a polite wave. “Is this fellow giving you trouble? I can take him off your hands for now, if you like.” As he spoke, his waving hand shifted to the side, extending outwards and giving a little flick of its wrist. Immediately, the flames surrounding the limb extended, forming a long, thick cord of solid fire, one end held in his hand like a whip.

“Who the fuck are you!?” She replied, for want of a better turn of phrase, before turning back towards her foe and stomping towards him.

“That’s nothing to concern yourself with, miss,” the fire guy replied calmly. “If you don’t mind, please just stand back and let me take care of this.” Without another word, the flame man turned his attention back towards their apparently mutual foe, giving his whip a demonstrative flick that sent the cord slashing over the damp earth, leaving it scorched. He extended his other hand towards her, and she let out a furious shout as she felt some invisible force pushing her back out of the way, releasing her when she was some fifty feet back from either of them.

James’ erstwhile attacker tried to take a step back from the man, and staggered, his bad leg failing to take his weight and leaving him to fall awkwardly against the grass. He didn’t seem to notice, his eyes fixed on the flaming man as he began once more gathering lightning around himself; not just one arm, this time, but both.

The flame man raised his whip, the other still forcing more and more lightning into his arms by the moment, before the flaming cord lashed forwards, and yet again, the man disappeared.

“Damn,” the fire guy muttered, turning slowly from side to side to scan the field. “Teleporter. That’s irritating.”

Tasha, on the other hand, did not hesitate. She’d already been sprinting forwards the moment the fire guy had released her, and now, she changed directions slightly, bending down and grabbing hold of a shoe mid stride before tearing it off of her foot with her one debatably good hand. She spotted the ripples in the air at the same time flame guy did, and he raised his free hand towards it casually, ready to strike. He never got the chance.

Her enemy returned to the world with the same loud pop she’d heard twice before, landing precariously on his good leg, and had about a tenth of a second to be surprised to see the flame guy waiting for him. Then her flung shoe struck him in the side of the head and sent him sprawling, his shield giving only the barest of resistance to the blow, his lightning discharging uselessly into the ground as he fumbled to catch himself. The flame guy turned to look at her, presumably surprised, and watched as she threw herself down on top of the fallen man, sat astride him, and punched him in the shoulder hard enough to feel something crunch beneath her throbbing knuckles.

“I don’t need your help, asshole!” She yelled over the fallen man’s screams. “Now just stand there and let me finish this!” With that, she pressed the flat of her palm against the man’s remaining shoulder, ignoring his feeble attempts at resistance, and pushed until she felt it pop. Then, she let herself roll off of him, and lay against the ground, exhausted. She closed her good eye, and was faintly aware of the firelight dying out against her eyelids, before a hand took hold of her shoulder, another positioned against her back, and unceremoniously shoved her dislocated arm back into place with an agonising crack.

She let out a loud, angry scream at that, opening her eye and catching sight of an elderly man crouched above her. Reflexively, she launched her damaged fist towards his face, then immediately regretted it as the blow collided with another of those damn shields. This one didn’t even flicker.

“That was quite impressively done, miss,” the man murmured, his lips curling in an amused smile. “My name’s Hideyoshi. May I ask for yours?”

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Escapism: 3.12

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James:

James glanced at his blank phone screen for the fourth time in as many minutes, before once more trying to return his eyes to the television. His grandmother’s arrival had, as always, brought with it a new box of japanese media for him to consume, and he was trying as hard as he could to enjoy it. No matter how hard he tried, however, he couldn’t shake that last nagging bit of doubt out of his head.

It was irritating, really. The birds were no longer really much of a worry for him; he was pretty sure he’d been overreacting earlier, and, for whatever reason, he couldn’t really bring himself to be all that worried about the Family. He’d made his stand to them, and no matter how much he knew he should be scared, the fear just wouldn’t seem to come there. No. What had him on edge now, stupid as it felt, was his phone.

They had said they’d call him, they both had. He’d been expecting word hours ago. Nothing huge, just a quick note from Tasha and Cas to let him know they were okay. The problem was that every second his phone continued refusing to ring set him just a little more on edge.

He gazed out of his bedroom window at the rapidly darkening sky for a long moment, then let out an aggravated sigh.

“Screw it,” he muttered. “I’ll go look myself.”

With that, he pushed himself up off of his bed and stepped over to his closet, reaching up behind the oddly assorted mess of books, old action figures, and the basketball he’d punctured some two years previously until his hands found what he was looking for, a small camping bag. He tugged it down, then searched among his clothes for something big enough to fit the other two. There wasn’t much, really; most of his clothes were, well, him sized, and the others were both bigger than he was. After a while, he settled for the loosest sweater he could find, and stuffed it into the bag. Tasha could probably stretch it to fit if she had to. From there, he left his room and made his way across the landing towards the linen closet to grab a couple of towels he was pretty sure his mom wouldn’t miss. Finally, he went downstairs towards the kitchen, moving quietly so as to avoid drawing the attention of Granny and Bex in the nearby playroom. He snagged some apples from the fruit bowl, some bread from the counter, and a couple fistfulls of salami from the fridge, dumping it all in a lunch bag before returning to his room.

That done, he stuffed all of his assorted objects into the satchel, along with a torch from his dresser as a last second idea, and changed into his flying clothes, augmenting them this time with a scarf wrapped around his face.

He couldn’t really do anything for Casper for now; not without knowing where he even was, for a start; but he could at least make sure Tasha was doing okay.

He pulled open his window, slung the bag over his back, and for the third night in a row, vaulted himself out into the open air.

He made his way to the park at speed, keeping high in the air to better avoid watching eyes. At his full speed, it took him minutes at most to make it there. He began to descend, noting, as he did so, the odd spots of light scattered about among the trees. Torches? Maybe someone was doing a game night in the park? Whatever it was, best to stay unseen.

He found the clearing he’d deposited Tasha on the night before, and allowed himself to float down, hovering some ten feet or so above the ground. He looked around, hoping to catch some sight of the girl laying sprawled out somewhere along the grass. Nothing to be seen.

He swore quietly to himself, and once more dipped a hand into his pocket for his phone, checking the screen. Still nothing.


Male:

The male watched from the branches of his tree as the figures moved below him, the devices in their hands throwing two thin beams of illumination out across the half-forest floor, sweeping from side to side lazily as they searched the ground for his trail. He had to restrain himself as they passed beneath him, perfectly positioned for him to pounce upon. He wanted so much to strike something, to work his frustration and rage out upon some hapless human hunters. But no. He couldn’t spare the energy. He had work to do.

It had been some time since he’d heard the echo of his partner’s death ringing out through the swarm, long enough for the sun to dip below the horizon, plunging this human world into darkness. It had been a blow, for certain. She had been his companion for years; decades, even, and had saved his life on many a hunt, but he had a job to do, and there would be time to grieve later. He had focused simply on regaining his energy, finding a den in amongst what little woodland life the humans allowed to remain near their homes and hiding among the trees.

It was only when he had attempted to leave the half-forest that he had realized they were tracking him. Perhaps he hadn’t abandoned the scene of his battle against the hobgoblin fast enough. It could be that he had been spotted, or maybe they were using some other means to trace him. What mattered was that he was trapped. The half-forest had been closed off, its exits placed under guard, and the humans had begun to search for him within. Frustrating, but not insurmountable.

He needed to get to the centre of this place; to the burrow where the captive humans were placed, awaiting transit home. He reached out with one of his lesser used spells, gathered what little of his partner’s swarm he could with his limited mastery, and brought them closer, watching the searching duo cast their lights fruitlessly in the dark as they trod away below him.

It took a moment to connect the swarm’s mind to his own. They were flighty, unused to being outside without a master to hold them in sway. They resisted. It took time, but soon enough, he had a bare dozen of the creatures wrangled. He sent them skywards, flying low above the treetops all around him. With their senses, he could see the humans approaching with more than enough time to spare. He nodded to himself, the plan cementing in his mind. He would skirt between the hunters, retrieve his buried catch, and take them home.

He felt the regret dig deep into his heart at that. To come home like this would be irredeemable. No partner at his side, and only eight weak humans to show for the loss. He would never outlive the shame. He shook himself. Even worse to never come home at all.

He crouched, dropped down from his perch towards the earthen ground, and began to move, slipping between the search parties with an almost consummate ease. He made it nearly halfway to the burrow before he felt it.

The scent passed through his swarm without incident, merely catalogued and sent along towards their master, but it was enough to stop him dead. It was faint, fast moving, and utterly overwhelming. He looked through the eyes of his beasts to gaze upon the newcomer himself, flying the creature in close for a better smell. There it was again. Power. He could hardly believe it. Raw and untrained, but vast; a deep reservoir of strength that was greater by far than any human had a right to be. It came to a stop in the air some distance away, floating above the earth, far from the searching eyes of the trackers.

Perhaps he should have devoted more of his mind to how a human could possibly hold might so far in excess of the norm for their kind, or to what reason such a creature could have for being here. It was in hubris, however, that he did not. His mind was too focused on the potential that presence offered. If he could carry home a catch of that level, he knew, all could be forgiven. The failure of his mission would be the smallest of trifles when compared to such a boon. In that scent, the male saw a chance at redemption. He felt his tired, angry frustration give way for a moment to a simple kind of hope. This was his only chance, and he would take it.


James:

He knew, honestly, that it had been stupid to expect Tasha to be in the same place a whole day after he’d dropped her here. He’d known that before he came out here, but it still kinda stung to not see her hanging around. Did they have to leave him in the dark like this?

He sighed, and half heartedly shrugged the camping pack off of his back, dropping it down onto the ground below with a thud. Tasha’d probably find it at some point if she was hanging around, and if not, then no huge loss. At least he’d done something.

He took a deep breath as he slowly began to rise back into the air, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing himself to enjoy the feeling of the wind brushing against his face. At least the flight out had helped relax him some. Maybe he’d take his time on the journey home; try and cool off.

The first bolt struck him between the shoulder blades with what felt like all the force of a freight train, bending him double, his neck jerking sharply as his shoulders were forced forwards. For all that it should have hurt, his body didn’t really seem to register it, too busy dealing with the tingling shock of electricity coursing through every inch of his body, contracting muscles and skin against themselves. He felt the air pushed from his lungs, forcing his mouth open in a silent, breathless cry. The world swam, the edges of his vision crawling with something akin to static. It took nearly a second for him to realize that he was falling, and another one for him to catch himself, his fingertips twitching as his body began to acclimate to the shock. He turned in midair, searching desperately for whatever had struck him. He momentarily lost hold of his flight, and by that alone avoided being hit by the second blast, which parted the sky where he had been floating just a moment before.

His still crackling eyes followed the lightning to its source and found what looked to be a bedraggled man standing on the ground below. Some half stunned part of his brain told him he needed to run and, dimly, he tried to obey, pushing himself back with his power, trying to get away. He saw the ground shift slightly beneath him as his body began to move, when the first of the birds attacked.

He had thought, in his numbed state, that his nerves didn’t have the coherence yet for pain. It came as something of a surprise, then, when the creatures talons slammed against his leg, digging a deep gash into the skin of his thigh. He let out a quiet choking sound, his muscles utterly unresponsive, and saw the thing circle around for another strike, joined by another, and another, and another. On the ground below, he could see the man readying another bolt, and realized belatedly that something had to be done. His body felt loose, all of his limbs lining up wrong with the scale he held for them in his head. In the bleary panic in which he found himself, he attempted to raise a hand to swat the distant figure away. A stupid idea, and no less so for the fact that it worked. James’ slowly rebooting mind felt a glimmer of surprise as the bedraggled man staggered, his whole body buffeted by some unseen force. His hand hadn’t even moved.

There was still the squadron of birds to deal with, though, and again, James tried his best to move a limb in response, lifting a forearm to shield his face. Again, his body didn’t move. Instead, the creatures soared in for another strike, only to veer off at the last moment, thrown aside by a violent gust of wind.

In the seconds that followed, the haze around his mind began to clear, the pain bringing the world into focus once more within his mind. The stranger below had abandoned lightning now, and had a hand extended towards him. He felt something begin to tug around his waist, pulling him down. His body began to sink slowly towards the figure. Without needing to think, he pulled back reflexively against it, and felt his descent begin to slow. The force pulling at him redoubled. He tried to scream, and again, found that his body wouldn’t move. Instead, from somewhere high above him, there came a sound like the crashing of stormwinds through a flute; half gale, half speech, like being shouted at by a hurricane. It was loud enough to make the air around him quake. He tried once more to fly away, pushing what felt like every inch of himself into his power as he wrestled against the stranger’s unerring grasp.

The man yelled something that James didn’t understand, his face contorting with effort and frustration as he raised his other hand, sparks of cobalt light coalescing once more within his palm.

James tried to bring his hands up in some futile move to block the oncoming strike, and again, his arms refused.

The lightning built up more and more within the attacker’s grasp, the electric glow building to a sharp, blinding white, before a teenaged form collided with his midsection, wrapped its arms around him, and literally threw him at the nearest tree. The man let out a growl of rage as his body struck the solid surface, the lightning gathered around his arm dispersing through the air surrounding him in a thousand short, spasmodic arcs.

The newcomer turned towards James for a moment, meeting his gaze with her own.

“Fucking run!” Tasha bellowed hoarsely at him before turning back to her opponent. Numbly, unsure of what in god’s name was happening, James obeyed, turning his limp form away from the fight and shooting off into the night.

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Escapism: 3.11

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Casper:

In the back of his mind, hidden somewhere deep, Casper could have sworn he could hear a part of himself screaming as his new protector turned towards his former foe. He couldn’t think why, though. What possible reason could he have for panic when this new man was around? What could possibly be wrong when he was able to be this happy? Perhaps it was just the last traces of fear from before the man had come for him. Yes, that was probably it. After all, he could still feel the newcomer within his power, and he was still perfectly calm, so there couldn’t really be a reason to scream, now could there? He resolved simply to sit and bask in his newfound joy while he waited for the panic in his mind to fade and, sure enough, just as he felt the new man’s calm escape his senses, the tiny voice subsided, leaving only joy.

Casper smiled, propping himself against the wall on his no longer aching arms and watching his saviour curiously as the older man bent down to pick up the blade his former attacker had dropped. The man stepped towards the fallen woman, still quietly giggling to herself as the tears ran slowly down her face, and lowered himself down on his haunches to look her in the eye.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” he said in that quiet, soothing voice, raising his free hand to the side of her face and stroking her cheek with his palm, his thumb slowly wiping clean the thin trail of tears still curving its way down towards her jaw. “I am so sorry, but you have sinned. You attacked a little one, and as punishment, I cannot allow you to die in the warm. You just don’t deserve it, I’m afraid.”

The woman didn’t respond to that with words, simply nuzzling her cheek against his hand with another quiet, happy little laugh. She didn’t even flinch as he drove the knife into her gut with his other hand, still just giggling tearfully to herself as she basked, much as Casper was, in the glorious warmth of the newcomer’s light.

Casper saw the man readying the blade, and he was happy; saw him drive it into her stomach, and he was happy. Why shouldn’t he be? This was all for him. He was safe now.

The woman’s strength gave out soon enough, her body slumping sideways towards the ground as something inside of her fell apart. As the man returned to his standing height, her rapturous crying slowly began to subside, her sobs slowly becoming bitter and cold as she bled. Casper paid her no mind. His attention was back on his protector.

He noticed, with just the faintest hint of annoyance, as the yelling in the back of his mind returned upon the man coming back within his range, his calm now touched by the barest hint of remorse at what he had been forced to do. Casper didn’t blame the man. He had been right to do what he did, after all. How could he not be?

The beautiful man stood before his slumped form, and reached down, offering him a hand.

“Are you alright?” He asked gently, that soft voice sending warmth washing though Casper’s mind like a dip in a hot bath.

“Yeah,” the boy replied quietly as he took the proffered hand, honestly meaning it for the first time in who knew how long. “I-I am… thank you.” He gave the man a smile as he felt himself being pulled to his feet, and within the man’s mind, he felt a momentary trace of the same warmth he’d felt in a hundred minds before, the slight, tingling thrill of attraction. He let out a small laugh at that, completely ignoring it as the shouting in the back of his mind grew just the tiniest bit louder. He liked that the man felt that way; wondered if he could use it to repay him, somehow. “… What do I call you?”

“I’m Father,” the older man smiled. “Call me that. It’s the only name I need. What do I call you?”

“Casper,” he replied. “Casper Sullivan.”

“Well, Casper,” Father murmured. “Do you have a home? Somewhere I can drop you off to make sure you’re safe?”

Father wanted to leave him behind somewhere? That felt like something Casper should be sad about, and for a moment, he tried to be, but it didn’t take; he was just too warm inside. He thought the question over for a moment, his mind a little fuzzy, and shook his head.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “But not really. My apartment isn’t safe right now, and I don’t wanna go back to my parents yet.”

“Why not your parents?” Father asked, a note of curiosity playing in the back of his mind as he absently raised a hand to Casper’s head and began running his fingers through his hair.

“They hurt me,” he replied with a contented sort of sigh, almost taken aback by himself; that had been so much harder to say before, but now it didn’t hurt at all. Maybe it was Father’s fingers pressing at his scalp. “Wanted me to get my powers. Kept hurting me when I kept them hidden. I ran away.” He listened inside the older man’s mind as curiosity and faint arousal gave way to a protective sort of sorrow. “…Are you gonna take me back there?”

“No,” Father replied quickly, his tone sharp for just a fraction of a moment, then Casper felt him force himself to calm as he resumed stroking his young companion’s hair. “… No. I don’t want to see a boy like you hurt, especially not by your own family. Family isn’t meant to do that.”

“I know,” he agreed, the tiny voice in the back of his mind building to a shrill, faintly annoying scream. “… I really wanna hate them for it.”

“… You’re a good boy, Casper,” Father murmured, glancing momentarily back to the still sobbing form of the woman behind him. “… and you must be pretty powerful to have the elves going after you like that. Are you a mage?”

“Since this morning, yeah,” he grinned. “I learned how to make flowers grow.”

Father didn’t respond to that for a time, a quiet tide of emotions rising and falling inside his mind as he thought to himself. Eventually, he seemed to come to a decision, and gave Casper a smile, his deep, ocean green eyes twinkling slightly down at him.

“I have a family,” Father murmured. “It’s a very happy one, and I promise, we never hurt each other like your parents did to you. Would you like to be a part of my family, Casper?”

The older man was leaning in now, his face just an inch or so away from Casper’s, his breath tickling off the boy’s skin. Father was aroused now, he could feel it. Inside himself, he felt that little voice turn from panic to a disgusted sort of fear, but again, he couldn’t see why. Everything was fine.

“I think I would,” he smiled. “If you’ll have me.”

“That’s good, Casper,” Father breathed. “It makes me very happy to hear.” Then, he moved forwards, and Casper felt the older man’s lips press against his own.

It was… surprisingly warm; almost soft, really. That little voice inside his head was still screaming in horror, struggling pointlessly against something he couldn’t really see. Again, it annoyed him. Why wouldn’t it just go away and let him enjoy his time with his newfound warmth? When Father finally pulled back, he was smiling, that gentle twinkle still dancing away inside his eyes. He dropped his hand from Casper’s hair, and took his hand.

“Come on then, little one,” Father murmured. “Let’s go get a milkshake and talk about your training.”

Casper chuckled lightly at the smile on his father’s face, and nodded, allowing himself to be tugged gently along down the alleyway, back the way they came. It happened just as they were passing the fallen woman’s form; her prone body was shoved inside the range of his shrunken bubble for a moment, and a tide of frustration and sadness fell against his mind with the weight of a collapsing house. At his first instinct, he tried to pull back, but something stopped him; that little voice inside his head. It wasn’t so little now. It was growing, and it wouldn’t let him look away. He stopped walking, and felt the sadness rushing into his mind, beating the happiness back, enforcing an equilibrium. In the centre of it all, treading that delicate line between emotional absolutes, the little voice held sway inside his mind.

“Something wrong, little one?”

The first thing Casper did upon regaining some sense of himself was to push his power out, expanding it as wide around his body as it could go. Five metres, ten metres, further and further, scrabbling for every mind he could get within his reach, trying to force this horrifying happiness down, make it as small a fraction of himself as he could manage. It was a cacophony, like a dozen sirens playing loud inside his head, and he welcomed it. Better anything than that cheerful, mellowed kind of subservience.

“Hey,” Father spoke again, shaking his hand slightly this time, a note of concern playing soft and low inside his mind. “Are you alright?”

Casper looked back at the man, and was almost sickened. He was still attractive; still had that glint in his eyes. Even as Casper feverishly tried to muffle it, he could still feel that damnable thing inside his mind telling him everything was going to be okay. He wanted to be sick.

“I-I’m alright,” he mumbled, forcing himself to look down towards the silently sobbing woman still bleeding on the floor. Best to pretend he was still under sway. He hated himself for doing it, but he lacked another choice. He dug into the happiness still seeping through into his mind, and used it to make his voice sound light as he asked: “… Is she gonna die?”

He felt a momentary regret inside the older man’s mind, touched by a lingering confusion, before the fingers wrapped around his hand gave it a little squeeze.

“Yeah,” Father murmured sadly. “I wish she didn’t have to, but she tried to take one of my children away to die. I’m afraid I’m not kind enough to let that go.”

Casper nodded. He couldn’t really bring himself to feel bad about the crying woman; he had bigger issues to focus on now, anyway. For the moment, best to pretend he was still under this creep’s power, then find his chance to slip away. He gave the older man his most convincing smile.

“Did you say milkshake?”

He felt Father’s mind settle back to paternal warmth at that. The older man grinned.

“Yup. Whatever flavor you like.”

“Kay.”


Their journey to find a cafe together passed largely in silence, Casper focused largely on balancing the mad jumble of emotions continually shifting against one another inside his mind, Father apparently pleased simply by their silent companionship.

It was a difficult act to balance, and Casper was acutely aware of it all grating away at his mind, eating into what little remained of his mental endurance. He doubted he could hold on for long.

Eventually, Father led the two of them into a small roadside diner, asking the boy what flavor he wanted, before sending him to sit at an empty table to wait for him to make the order.

Casper went and sat, and took the opportunity to wipe the sweat from his brow. A few of the other customers were staring at him, and he couldn’t say he was really surprised. He expected he looked awful, his clothes torn to ribbons and more than a little stained with blood. There was a new problem here, though. Everyone was too calm, either kind of happy, which didn’t help to balance him against his opponent’s powers, or just relaxed, some mildly curious; not offering enough in the way of contrast. He felt the happiness digging slowly back into his mind; felt his thoughts growing fuzzy, and was only barely saved by his own perpetual fear.

Soon enough, Father turned, and made his way over to a seat opposite him, leaning his elbows lightly on the table and flashing a smile.

“So, my boy,” he said, his voice low. “What sort of powers do you have?”

Casper was struggling. He knew he needed to lie here, but he couldn’t think. Everything was too loud, too slow, and too fuzzy. After a few seconds, all he could manage in answer was a small shrug.

“It’s… kinda hard to describe,” he tried, fighting to keep a smile on his face. “I… don’t really know how it works myself.” His lip twitched and he was having to force himself to breathe. He swallowed. Was he sweating again?

Father cocked an eyebrow at him and leaned in, confused, slightly worried.

“Are you okay?” He asked. “Is there something I forgot to heal?” He reached out a hand across the table towards him. “Here, let me chec-”

“Please don’t touch me,” Casper blurted out, unthinking. He felt sick. “… I’m sorry. I don’t know what my powers do, so… Please?”

He felt the man’s concern deepen, a touch of pain edging at his mind.

“… You’re lying to me.” Father said quietly, his tone caught between astonishment and hurt. “Why? How? What’s wrong, little one?”

Casper had a moment to realize that he was done for, before he felt the happiness inside his mind begin to swell as the appalling man across the table attempted to calm him. It nearly made him gag.

“Don’t!” He yelped, panicked. “No more happy! Stop it!” The noises were pounding inside his head. He couldn’t breathe.

Father pulled away at that for a moment, recoiling his power from him as if bitten. In an instant, he felt the unnatural joy fade away inside of him, leaving him caught tangled in the noise of the people all around him. By instinct, he pulled his bubble tight once more around himself. Later, he realized that doing that had been a mistake, but now, in this moment, he needed to be alone inside his head. He needed to leave.

He pushed himself up from the table and stood on shaking legs, Father staring blankly at him, apparently stunned. He made it two slow, dizzied steps, before he fell to his knees, dropped forwards against his hands, and retched, sending the contents of his stomach out onto the greasy orange tiles of the floor.

All around him, people were turning now, staring, muttering amongst themselves about whether or not he was okay. He didn’t care. It was all wrong. He felt his empty stomach heave again, and let out a loud, strangled cry.

“Little one!” Father shouted from somewhere behind him. “Tell me what’s wrong. Let me help you!”

He felt Father’s power press against his mind once more as the man himself stepped falteringly inside his bubble, presumably in an attempt to aid him, his mind all confused fear and worry.

“Get out of my head!” He screamed, shoving himself back against the order counter, swinging his fist blindly at the older man. The happiness ceased building within him as Father flinched away. The last thing he felt from the man’s mind as he stepped back was a lost kind of hurt. He scrabbled at the surface of the counter, seized what handholds he could, and used them to pull himself to his feet. He leaned against it for a time, his breathing ragged as he desperately tried to pull his mind to calm. For the longest moment, no one moved.

When he finally had himself steady enough to think, if even a little, he turned his gaze back at his erstwhile rescuer, tears running gently down his cheeks, and spoke with all the venom his tired voice could bring to bear.

“If you ever do that to me again, I will find a way to make it hurt. Do you understand?”

With that, he ran, sprinting through the open door and out into the street. He had half expected the man to follow him, to try and stop him; but nothing did. He didn’t care anymore; he just ran.


Father:

The kind father stood there for a time, simply stunned as he stared after the departed boy. What the hell was that? Never, in all his years, had he seen a child react so badly to his light. Certainly, there were mages out in the world who were powerful enough to resist his warmth; but this wasn’t that. His newest child hadn’t been resisting him. He hadn’t forsaken the shelter he provided, so how had he reacted so poorly? What had gone wrong? What was different?

Still dazed, the father sank back into the faded leather of his seat, and tried to think. He was interrupted by a hand grasping at his shoulder; rough, angry.

“What the fuck did you do to that kid?” The stranger asked, his voice low, furious.

Father glanced around himself. The man wasn’t alone. The entirety of the eatery were staring at him now, most suspicious, some angry. They didn’t understand.

“Nothing you should worry about,” he murmured quietly, readying his power once more. “Best you all forget about it, really.” He pressed his light out into the room at large, and felt the man’s grip around his shoulder loosen, the rage and ignorance around him giving way to a calmer, gentler understanding. In the back of his mind, it was a relief. So his light wasn’t broken, then. “Don’t you worry about it, my friend,” he patted the now grinning man on the shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll soon sort him out.”

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