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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Tide: 7.2

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Charlie:

The boy couldn’t have been asleep for very long when a set of light thumps in the surrounding earth saw him roused. He hadn’t been dreaming; not quite, at least. There had been something there when the world around him went away, but it hadn’t been anything quite as solid as a dream. More like an ache; a few sparking wires of his imagination throwing up images of a dodge-ball rolling in smooth, slow circles in a patch of sand. It had been soothing, in a way. 

He wondered where he’d gotten the image of a dodge-ball from. He couldn’t remember ever having seen one.

A shuffling beside him. He lolled his head in the direction of the noise, and forced open one of his eyes.

Oh. It was just the creature back to check on him; gazing at his face with a pair of overlarge blue eyes. The boy liked this creature. He was pretty sure he did, at least. It had brought him food; although he did wish it wouldn’t chatter quite so much. It made sleeping difficult.

True to form, the moment it saw that he was awake, the creature opened up its jaws to resume its noise. To the boy’s distinct surprise, he found he could understand it now.

“Charlie!” it squeaked. “I won! I freaking won! Plus, look!-” It waved its forelegs in the air. “I got clothes!”

The boy turned his eyes briefly to the creature’s form. For some reason, it appeared to have encased itself in a layer of darkened leather.

Weird. 

The creature seemed pleased though, so it was fine. It started jabbering again; something about trees and fights and Batman; each concept barely comprehensible in isolation, let alone in combination. He struggled to parse a meaning from any of it. 

Well, besides Batman. That concept was easier to understand, for some reason.

Something sparked inside his brain. A faint flash of memory. Words a boy had once used to irritate a friend.

“Superman’s better,” he echoed.

The creature fell silent. The boy began to wonder if he’d said it wrong. He wouldn’t be surprised. He wasn’t completely sure he’d been able to speak in the first place, let alone now, in his fractured state. At least it seemed to have quieted the creature dow-

The boy blinked as the creature wrapped its forelimbs tight around his ribs, its forehead buried against his chest. 

“You take that back,” it sniffled.

Ah. Clearly, he had done it wrong. This was worse. Perhaps he didn’t know how to speak after all. He shrugged. Oh well. It wasn’t as if he was currently tired enough to sleep. Besides, the creature was small enough to be easily dislodged should its contact become a problem for him. He resolved to let it have its way, awkwardly raising a hand to pat it on the head. He was fairly sure animals were supposed to like that.The creature cocked its head to the side.

“A-are you petting me?”

The boy shushed it.

His focus turned inward. The thing in the water was still at work within his brain; the slow eddies of its presence gradually shifting more and more pieces of him into place. It was almost unpleasant, the comforting numbness of its presence breaking sporadically as fragments of a past he was unfamiliar with slammed into his skull. New faculties, new notions, every one of them surprising. Every time, he found himself forced to readjust; to take stock; to come to grips with this new thing that he apparently always was. He found it exhausting.

The boy was fairly sure he liked the presence in the water, although, much as with the creature now nestled against his chest, he wasn’t completely sure. The process was uncomfortable, to be sure, but he had to admit, he much preferred the stillness it gave his mind over the screaming that had filled his head before. Much as with the smaller creature, though, he wished it would shut up.

To call it speech would have been inaccurate. The presence wasn’t using words of any kind; at least not in any form the boy could recognize. It was still talking, though; communication parsed by color and intent. It brought to mind the smell of apples, then the sting of loss, then the shock of reconnected memory. He shook his head. It wasn’t the first attempt that had been made, and he still couldn’t fathom what was meant by it. The presence was undeterred. It would try again. 

The not-quite-sound died away for a time as the thing drifted off along his thoughts, passing over fragments and playing back memories, cataloging the pieces of his mind in a way he probably should have found invasive.

When it had learned some more, he knew it would return, and, just as before, the next attempt would be made with greater nuance. He waited patiently for it to return, and when it finally did, the scent of apples bore a new inflection: the memory of an older woman’s face; the echoed recollection of a voice.

For the first time, he was able to parse an emotion. Melancholy. He gave the presence a slow nod, trying, in whatever way he could, to be encouraging.

The presence tried again. Hours passed that way, and, as he and the entity learned more of him in lockstep, it managed to send him its intent.

It was making a request. He considered it. It didn’t sound unreasonable, but as with many things, the boy struggled to be sure. He was, however, aware that he owed the entity something of a debt. After a minute or two of thought, he agreed to try.

He would be sleeping deeply after this.


James:

James stretched his arms out into the sleeves, hoping that, somehow, his hands might make it all the way to the ends this time.

They did not. He sighed.

He shouldn’t really have been surprised. Bors was a large man; a solid six foot two, with broad shoulders to match, whereas James, much to his own chagrin, was undersized, even for a twelve year old. What had, to Bors, been a mid-sized jacket was, for him, closer to a trench coat, the hem falling a short way past his knees.

Well, the important thing was no longer being naked. As for the rest, he’d make it work.

Right. Okay. Just a little bit of cutting.

James focused. 

His powers had been a little weird, since coming to this place. They were more reactive than he was used to, less effort required to achieve the same result; a wind blast produced with what amounted to a flick instead of a punch. It made precision work a bit more complicated.

Take it slow, he told himself. That’s all you gotta do.

He reached into the wind, collecting a few loose strands of air and compressing them into a single line. Then, he held out an arm, and guided that line slowly down into the material around his elbow. The leather shifted to the side against his arm, not severed so much as simply pushed aside.

He sighed.

Screw it. Careful’s for wimps.

He took a fistful of air and clamped it down on the end of his sleeve, then gave the thing a tug.

There was an awful tearing noise as the material ripped open about the shoulder seam. James briefly remembered Bors asking if he’d ever get it back, then did the same with the other sleeve. 

Good. Success. He once more had access to his hands. As an added bonus, he was pretty sure he looked like Rambo now. He considered that a win.

He glanced up through the thin canopy of the clearing. The sun was nearing the midpoint of its journey along the sky. Almost noon – or whatever time approximated noon on an alien magic world. He should get going soon if he wanted to catch another search team off guard before they had a chance to notice that anyone was gone. He shook his head. They probably already had. If everyone had radios like the last guys had, then they probably checked in with each other every now and again. He folded his arms. Batman would plan for the worst in a situation like this and so should he.

Right. One more attack before they all regroup. Use the color of the sky to make yourself invisible, and hit ‘em as hard and fast as you can. If someone manages to hold you back, then run away like you’re Casper playing Dark Souls. Nothing to it.

He nodded. It sounded like a good plan, and he was proud of it. He could do this.

“Hey, Charlie,” he called, glancing across the clearing to where his companion still sat, his back to him. “I’m gonna go for another run. I need you to stay here till I- The heck?”

Something had sparked briefly along the outline of Charlie’s form. James set his other thoughts aside for a moment, and put his focus on his friend.

“Charlie?” he asked. “You doing okay, man?”

Once again, something sparked around his friend; his cheeks and shoulders lighting up with a momentary flash of indigo. There was a sound like a balloon being popped.

James stood up.

“Hey,” he called as he edged slowly towards the other boy. “Come on, dude. Talk to me. What’s going on?”

James had grown so accustomed to his friend’s quiet that he was a little surprised by the older boy’s response.

“Help,” Charlie murmured. 

James shook his head.

“Uh. What?”

“It keeps saying ‘Help’.” Charlie turned around to look James in the eye, his expression oddly distant. “Hey. Did we used to be friends a while back?”

James took a few more careful steps forward.

“We’re still friends,” he replied, doing the best he could to keep his voice calm. “We never stopped being… Who’s saying ‘hel-’”

This time, James was close enough to watch as the next spark made its presence known in Charlie’s lap, a disc of purple light flexing and warping between his hands like pressurized sheet-metal. For a moment, the entire clearing glowed a vibrant purple. Then, something in its structure broke, and it vanished with a faint crack. James gaped. 

Charlie sighed.

“This is harder than it should be,” he muttered. “Can’t figure out how I’m s’posed to make it work.”

James shook himself.

Right. Yes. Charlie had powers. He’d been told about that. This wasn’t the time. He put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder.

“Hey,” he said. “Dude. I need you to stop. Okay? Whatever you’re doing, just make it stop.”

Charlie gave him a confused look at that.

“Why?” he asked. “It wants me to connect us up.”

James shook his head, the concern mounting rapidly inside his brain.

“I don’t care,” he said. “Just trust me. Whatever it is. Whatever it’s saying. Don’t.”

Charlie frowned.

“Why?” he asked. “It’s helping me. Shouldn’t I try and help it back?”

“What the heck are you even talking about?” James snapped, only barely keeping his voice below a yell. “What is it!?

Charlie raised an eyebrow.

“You mean you can’t hear it?” he asked. “The thing in the water?”

Something leaden fell through James’ stomach.

“Oh, crap, no. Don’t you even think abo-”

Charlie wasn’t listening. Even as the other boy’s words grew loud and shrill in his ear, he returned his attention to the task at hand.

The light came again. It was even brighter this time, the entirety of the clearing momentarily picked out in vibrant neon. The disc in Charlie’s hands was bigger now, flaring almost white as he turned his full attention towards it.

James tried to give the boy a shove. Charlie simply shrugged him off. The disc grew brighter still. James readied his wind.

There was a quiet ‘pop’ in the space behind them.

Someone sniffed.

“So this is where you’ve been hiding him,” said Mr. Grey. “Well, you had a good run, while it-”

That was as far as he got before James’ wind-blast caught him in the face, sending his shield sparking up around him and his body stumbling back. James turned to face his foe just as, with a quiet pop, the man vanished into thin air.

Not good.

James turned, wrapped his arms around his friend, and prayed for dear life that he could hold on long enough to fly the two of them out of there. The light was almost blinding now.

“Hold on, Charlie!” he yelled. “I’m gonna get us-”

Another pop. James felt the tip of something cold press against his head. He froze. Then let out a pained cry as a hand yanked roughly at his hair, pulling him from his friend.

“Bad move,” Mr. Grey’s voice hissed in his ear. “Charles, if you want your friend to live, you’re going to do exactly as I say. Understood?”

James tried to protest, then let out another cry as the man wrenched once more at his hair.

Charlie didn’t even look at them. He simply kept on gazing at his disc, letting the light grow ever brighter.

The light.

As the gun-barrel pressed even harder against his skull, James had a single, desperate thought.

Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me-

Sebastian was flung across the clearing as James’ form exploded. He hit the ground, caught himself, and raised his revolver, now having to squint to see in the omnipresent glare, trying to find a spot of light in a place that held very little else.

Then James punched him. His shield flickered. James punched him harder.

The man teleported again, taking aim this time for Charlie, and made it halfway through a threat before another blow brought him to his knees.

“Stop! Being! EVIL!” James bellowed, raining blow after furious blow down against his foe; Grey’s shield splintering more and more around him by the moment.

That was when the light died down.

The two of them might have kept on fighting, were it not for the presence that encroached upon their minds right then. Like talons latching on the soul.

As one, they turned their gazes first to Charlie, and then to the portal he had just created.

Through that hole, however, all that could be seen was inky blackness, discernible from pure void only by the faint glisten as something a dozen or so feet from the aperture caught the light. For a few moments, they all simply watched as whatever hid below the water drifted closer. James thought it might have been scales. Or leather. Somewhere between the two.

Then, the surface parted, and they found themselves gazing into a milky-pale eye. An eye that was easily two feet wide.

The thing in the water turned its gaze to James.

“No,” Grey said flatly. Then, with a final ‘pop’, he vanished.

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Tide: 7.1

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James:

The bird was odd looking; six broad wings spaced unevenly across a body that had to be three or four feet long. Four were spaced around the creature’s upper mass, a pair at both the top and bottom of a slender set of ribs, with the third positioned at the end of a long, snake-like tail. It cut an unusual figure as it moved, not so much flying as… almost swimming through the sky. Like an eel given flight, its head crested with what, for all the world, looked like armored plates the same off-bronze color as its beak.

It was also on fire.

It seemed to be fine with this. 

James hovered in the air some twenty feet distant from the firebird, watching carefully as it flitted between the branches of the trees that lined their small peninsula. Some of the trees bore fruits, of a sort: large, hazelnut-like things about the size of a mango. James had tried splitting one open, but had been too put off by the way the contents sparkled in the light to risk actually consuming it. 

Instead, he watched the firebird, its wings barely moving beyond occasional flicks as it inspected the contents of the branches. 

The creature approached one of the nuts, its head moving some two inches from the surface, inspecting it by eye. He drifted closer. 

For a moment, the bird looked back at him. He pretended to be doing something else, casting his gaze to the side, and feigning interest in the distant shoreline.

“Don’t mind me,” he muttered. “Do your thing, dude.”

The bird gazed balefully at him for a moment, then went back to perusing its nut. James stopped pretending to care about the shoreline.

After a time, the firebird appeared to decide the fruit was suitable, and brought its long tail around to wrap across the surface of it, the wings flattening into its sides as it coiled around the object like a snake. As James watched, it began tapping at the nut’s surface with its arrow-like beak. The nut made a deep nut-noise. The bird pressed its head against it at that, listening.

James was perhaps half a minute from losing interest when, quick as a flash, the bird struck, a foot or so of its body slithering free of the surface and arching back, before snapping itself towards the nut like a viper striking home.

There was a wet cracking sound as the bird plunged into the nut’s core, then a strange slurping noise as it devoured whatever part of the thing was apparently safe to eat.

The process took perhaps half a minute in totality, the firebird eventually peeling itself free of the fruit, its head and neck now glistening with the same sparkling fluid that had filled the inside of the nut. It hung in the air for a moment, then shot a glance at James. 

He waved. 

The firebird let out a caw, the flames around its form growing brighter and brighter by the moment, before it swivelled in the air, and shot towards the horizon like a bullet, leaving a trail of slowly fading fire in its wake. About a mile distant, James could have sworn it broke the sound barrier.

… I shall name you Jeremy.

He inspected the remains of the nut. It was charred, the hole in its surface faintly blackened at the edges. Inside, however, the thing seemed drained; absent the majority of the fluid that ought to fill its core; the flesh of its interior slightly nibbled.

Right. That should work. He had found his breakfast. He snagged a pair of the fruits, and headed back towards the beach.

Charlie hadn’t moved in the time since James had left him; his body slumped awkwardly against the bough of a beachside tree in the vague hope of keeping him out of sight. 

“Hey, man. Feeling any better?” 

Charlie didn’t answer. He did blink, though. James took that as a good sign.

“Cool.”

He set one of the fruits down and, with a careful bit of wind, sliced the second one neatly down the middle. 

He set one of the halves down too, then, very carefully, dipped the half he was still holding until a few drops of the fluid within trickled from the cavity and onto the sandy ground. 

He waited a few moments. The ground failed to catch fire. He drank the fluid.

It tasted surprisingly good. Halfway between coconut water and orange juice.

He placed the other half on Charlie’s lap and gave him an awkward pat on the knee.

“Try and eat something, okay? I don’t wanna have to figure out how to feed you.”

Charlie didn’t respond. 

James didn’t want to start crying again, so he returned his attention to his food. He peeled a strip of the flesh from its interior and stuck it in his mouth. 

Huh. Juicy.

James turned his gaze towards the ocean, one of the planet’s moons still stubbornly hanging over the horizon, bathing in the early morning light.

The water was intimidating here. There was something else beneath the surface. Something beyond the thousands of sparkling, many-colored fish. Something that lurked.

He could feel it occasionally brushing at his mind, the edges of it grazing at his being like a fingertip sliding along his skin.

He didn’t dare spend too long out there. That was the only reason he and Charlie had remained within the bounds of the archipelago. Better this than whatever had scraped against his mind when he’d tried to truly flee.

It was about a minute later, still munching on his fruit, when a motion to the right made him jump.

It was Charlie.

He had moved one hand from where it rested by his side towards the fruit portion sitting in his lap. As James watched, hardly daring to breathe, the other hand began to move as well.

It was all James could do to keep his joy at the level of a wide grin instead of something vocal.

Come on, Charlie. You can do it! Come on!

Slowly; painfully slowly, Charlie lifted the fruit to his lips and tipped it back, a faint line of fluid dribbling down his chin as he clumsily gulped it down. 

It took everything in James’ power not to whoop at that.

It wasn’t much. But Charlie was alive. More than that, though; at least on some level, he was conscious.

It was hope.

Charlie drained his piece of fruit and lowered it back down. James hurried to open up the second one. This was good. This was very, very good.

Now he could focus on other things. 

Things like the massive amount of danger they were both in.

James passed his friend another piece of fruit, and cast his eyes in the direction of the shoreline, across the wide span of water that stretched between the islands of the archipelago. 

This place was small, the islands all clumped together in a mass no bigger than a couple miles in any given direction. Not enough space to hide long-term. They were probably already combing the archipelago for him. What was worse, though, these guys weren’t like Father or the Family. These guys wanted him dead. 

That was terrifying.

He shook himself. That wasn’t important. What mattered right now was just staying alive and keeping Charlie safe. He took a deep breath.

Don’t flip out. Be smart. You can do this. Just figure out the problem one bit at a time.

Right. Okay.

Problem one: He was outnumbered. Badly.

That was big.

Problem two: There wasn’t enough space to hide for long and they’d probably get the jump on him if he tried.

That was also big.

Problem three: He had to keep Charlie safe.

That one felt more do-able, but he had no idea where to start.

Also clothes. Clothes would be good. He’d left his last set behind him when he went to rescue Charlie.

He needed to think tactically. This was a superhero problem. He had to find a superhero answer.

“Okay,” he muttered, tossing the thought back and forth inside his head. “So… What would Batman do?”


Bors:

Overall, Bors thought, there were worse places in the world to end up stranded. The sun was warm, the food was plentiful, and the view from the shoreline was breathtaking. He could practically feel the ambient energy of this place soaking through his skin, setting his nerves and thoughts on fire as it passed. It was a unique feeling, even stranger when coupled with the idea that all of it was him. His once average shield now felt strong enough to weather a tank shell. For the first time in his life, he was powerful.

It almost made what they’d been through worth it. Almost.

Bors shot a glance towards Liza in the tree-line. She shook her head. No sightings on her end either. He nodded, then returned his eyes to the beach. They were on the side facing away from the greater archipelago now. They’d need to be extra careful. They’d agreed to search the islands in groups of two, at the least, just in case the baby elemental got the drop on them. The plan was fairly simple. Find Charles, or find his captor, and radio back to Sebastian on the double. Under no circumstances were they to try and engage a Toranaga on their own, even an adolescent one. Bors struggled to disagree with that. If his own abilities had been so magnified by this place, he could only shudder to think of what power that half-breed held.

Better to let Sebastian deal with it. Either he’d buy them all a victory on his own, or he’d finally get his comeuppance for being such a prick; Bors would take it as a win either way. Charles’ fate had left a bitter taste in his mouth. Worse still was the vindictive glee Sebastian had seemed to take in it. Bors didn’t think he’d mind too much watching that man die.

The attack came without much in the way of warning. Bors was looking behind himself, checking the tide-line to be sure that the waves were still managing to scrub away his footprints, when an entire tree trunk slammed against his side with the force of- well, a tree trunk.

He hadn’t been wrong. His shield definitely was tougher now. Had he been struck by such a blow back on Earth, it likely would have ended him. Even on this world, though, it was enough to make his shields crack. Lines of light danced jagged across the surface of his skin as his body was sent crashing into the water without even the time to yelp. 

His first half-second beneath the surface was disorienting, his sight obscured by bubbles and the sparking of his shield. He flailed briefly beneath the waves, then found his vision captured by the myriad points of light that filled the water. An odd thing to catch his focus, really; the ambient light of fish.

Then he felt something scrape against his mind.

It was looking at him.

Oh, God, no.

He had to get out of the water. He had to get out right now.

He spun about, then kicked madly for the surface. 

The first thing to catch Bors’ eye when his eyes found air was Liza being thrown against the sand. She rolled shoulder over shoulder for a moment, before stumbling to her feet and sending a bolt of violet light into the treeline. Her shield was in tatters. That was a problem for later. He had to get out of the water first. He would not be food for the creature in the depths. He made for the shore as fast as he could go.

Liza was struggling now; screaming obscenities for all the world to hear as the elemental first scooped her legs from under her, then pinned her to the floor, the shape of a single giant hand imprinting in the sand about her torso while something else tugged the stun-gun from her belt.

Bors was almost to the shore. He fumbled for his radio. He unclipped it from his waist and brought it to his ear, before something carved a gash out of the shields around his cheek, and his radio sliced itself in half. 

“Don’t even,” growled the elemental. “Don’t. You. Dare.”

“Fuck,” muttered Bors by reflex.

It took James Toranaga a few tries to figure out Liza’s taser; a moment spent figuring out its function and a few more trying fruitlessly to penetrate her shields. Bors stumbled to the shore, and, for lack of anything better to do, began scanning the sky for the monster’s core.

A few moments of desperate searching later, he found it; a hint of silver-blue against a far more vibrant sky. He readied a spell; took his aim.

“I said don’t!” the voice yelled, filling the whole of the space around them, before a wall of solid air slammed the agent off his feet. His shot went wide. He tried to stand, but the moment his shoulders began to rise, a vast weight pressed them right back down, his shield flaring dangerously at the strain.

It felt like a foot; the outline of giant toes against his ribs. The elemental was standing on him. 

He was offended. 

The elemental turned its attention back to Bors’ partner.

“Turn off your shield so I can taze you,” it said.

Liza simply swore.

The creature groaned.

“Okay, pretty please let me taze you?”

Liza spat at it, a trail of saliva briefly hovering against the windbound hand above her chest.

“… Fine.” 

Some distance away, the abandoned tree-trunk wrenched itself out of the sand.

“Wait,” said Bors, watching as dreadful understanding dawned in Liza’s eyes, followed soon thereafter by cold acceptance. “Don’t. You can’t-”

“Can’t what?” the elemental snapped, the tree trunk positioning itself over Liza’s form like a pestle above a mortar. “I can’t taze her with her shields up, so now I have to knock ‘em down! You’re the ones making me do it this way!”

Liza didn’t answer. Her shield simply flared amber as she pumped all of her energy into it.

Bors swore.

“I’ll do it,” he growled. “Let me up and I’ll break her shield for you.” 

Liza glared at him. He ignored her.

The monster hesitated.

“You promise you won’t try shooting me again?”

Bors gritted his teeth.

“I promise.”

“… Okay.” The tree lowered itself back down against the sand. Bors felt the weight lifting from his chest. “But if I even think you’re gonna try something, I’ll dump you in the water as far out as I can.”

Bors didn’t respond to that. There was no point. He wasn’t about to take another shot. He shifted across the sand toward his partner, then pressed a hand against her shoulder, a field of glowing sparks laying themselves above her skin as he broke her shield down one layer at a time. Liza glared coldly at him as he worked. He glared back. He wasn’t in the mood.

“Traitor,” she told him.

“We lost, Liza,” he said flatly. “I’m just saving you some broken bones.”

She swore at him. He tuned her out.

He wound up knocking her out himself; he had a spell more suited to it than the taser. It was almost a relief when it was done.

Then it was just him and the elemental. It made for an especially awkward type of quiet.

“How’s Charles?” he asked eventually. “The portal-maker. Is he doing any better?”

“… Why do you care?” the monster asked. “You’re the ones who hurt him in the first place.”

Bors shook his head at that.

“Grey never told us that would happen. Charles was an arrogant little shit, but I didn’t want to see him break.”

The elemental didn’t answer. Bors turned his eyes towards the sea. For a few moments, all was still.

“I don’t have any spells for knocking people out,” the elemental muttered. “That means I’ll have to hurt them really badly if I wanna stop them coming after me.”

There wasn’t any need to finish off the thought. Bors already understood. 

“You want me to keep them unconscious for you,” he muttered. “Save you the trouble of dirtying your hands.” Part of him wanted to reject it, but he was too busy being bitter. Here he was, more powerful than he’d ever been before, and it didn’t change a thing. “Fine. Just tell me how the kid’s doing first.”

“… Better,” the creature admitted. “He’s moving around and eating on his own.” The voice hesitated for a moment there, before adding: “He’s gonna be okay. He’s tougher than you guys are.”

Bors nodded. The news was a relief, if only a small one.

“That’s good to hear, at least,” he muttered. “… Careful with Grey. The man teleports like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Thanks,” came the reply. “I’ll check in on you in a couple hours. Just-… Don’t be lying to me, okay? I don’t wanna have to hurt you.”

Bors nodded. 

There was silence again, then. He was fairly certain the monster had simply drifted off, before a final statement made him jump.

“Also, I want your jacket.”

“… What?” 

“Your jacket,” James Toranaga repeated. “Gimme.”

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Interlude: Waves.

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Sarah:

Sarah Toranaga sat quietly on the couch beside her husband, letting the words and actions flow all around her. A part of her couldn’t think. Another part refused to stop. She was pleading; a low, desperate chant playing over and over inside a mother’s brain.

Not again, she begged. Please, God. Please don’t hurt my son again.

“How did it happen?” Peter asked quietly beside her, his tone less one of rage and more a cold, tired kind of dread. “How did you lose him? He’s my son, Dad. How do you lose a twelve year old boy?”

Hideyoshi’s head was in his hands, the words coming out a little muffled.

“It was a dynamic situation, Peter,” said the older man, his voice a dull monotone. “We told him to stay out of it, but he threw himself in anyway. We didn’t have time to pull him back.” He shook his head. “Binyamin was the only one who had eyes on him when it happened.”

“And he lost him?” Peter asked, incredulous. “Who the hell would even let him out of sigh-”

“James tried to go after the teleporter I was fighting before he could make off with Charlie,” Hideyoshi droned. “The man had an enchanted gun. Binyamin was too busy bending the bullet away from the kid to stop him going through the portal.” He sighed.

“By the time we got there, the thing was already closed. Jacqueline traced it back to an island in Bermuda. Apparently there’s a bridge-scar there leading off-world. She’s already gathering the energy to open it back up. Then we’ll follow them through.”

“Bermuda,” Peter whispered. “They’re with the Whale?”

Sarah’s heart went dead inside her chest. Peter gave her hand a squeeze.

Hideyoshi nodded.

“Looks like it,” he murmured. “…I’m sorry, Peter.”

There was a hollow sounding thud as Peter struck him.

“Don’t you dare,” he snapped. “Don’t you dare be sorry. Being sorry right now means you’ve given up on my son. You can be sorry when we’ve got him back. Until then, we’ve got a job to do.”

After less than a second’s hesitation. Hideyoshi nodded. The pair began to plan.

Sarah wasn’t listening. There was nothing she could add to this. No power, no skills, no history of tactical acumen. She was a sideliner; a supporting role, the one who stayed at home and cared while someone else went out to do the fighting.

And now James was lost. And there was nothing she could do. She hated it.

Peter gave her hand another squeeze. She pulled it from his grip.

The men glanced across at her as she stood. She didn’t look at them.

As she walked towards the hall, she spoke the one thought that she could truly put to words:

“You will not be part of this family until I see my son again,” she said quietly. “However long that takes.”

A momentary quiet, then Hideyoshi inclined his head.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “I know.”

The words didn’t help. She left.

She needed to be somewhere quiet. A place where she could rage or yell or throw things. A place where she wasn’t useless.

A place like that didn’t exist right now.

She moved downstairs into the basement. A part of her, a big part, had wanted to go and find her daughter; hold Rebeccah in her arms and remind herself that something, anything she cared about was truly safe. But no. Bex was in her room. She didn’t know about this. She didn’t need to know about this. To see her mother in such pain would only serve to frighten her. Sarah wasn’t about to put that weight on her.

There was a mattress in the basement; a broad futon resting over the frame of a fold-out couch. She made her way to it without bothering to turn on the lights. She tripped on something in the dark. It gave her an excuse to punch the floor.

She found the futon and sat herself upon it.

It was dark here; open and empty; a void with only the distant thrumming of the boiler to remind her she had weight.

She could yell here, just like she wanted. Peter knew better than to bother her. She could shout, rage, tear things and scream until it somehow made James safe again.

Sarah put her head in her hands, and began to cry.

“Just let him be alive,” she begged of no one. “That’s all I need, okay? Just let him be alive so I can hold him again.”

The darkness didn’t answer.

There was an image that had hovered in the back of Sarah’s mind for months, waiting to torment her when everything was calm; the memory of James in his hospital bed, his eyes full of fear and hurt.

The image that came for her now was so much worse. The image of her boy with nothing in his eyes at all. Cold.

Please no.

She clutched her head.

Don’t show me that.

The image came through again, clearer now. The warmth of her child’s skin cooled to coagulated wax. She screwed her eyes shut.

“Stop it.”

The pinkish brown of his cheeks becoming a chalky not-quite-white.

She gagged.

The air felt heavy on her shoulders. A room full. A house full. The vastness of the atmosphere above.

It felt like it was crushing her.

She needed it to move.

She pushed.

Something in the frame beneath her snapped, sturdy pine giving way like a toothpick under stress.

Not enough. She pushed again.

Something rippled out of her through the shadows. She could hear a distant cabinet tearing itself apart.

“Not this,” she moaned. “Not now.”

Somewhere on the landing above, the door clicked closed. There was someone in here with her.

“Leave me alone,” she mumbled.

“Manifesting, huh?” Casper’s voice murmured back. “It’s pretty intense, right?”

Sarah shook her head.

“Just get out. Please?”

A moment’s quiet. Then the sound of something coming to rest against the staircase.

“He’s gonna be okay,” Casper murmured quietly. “You know that, right?”

Sarah took a long, shaky breath, and pulled her hands from her head, resting her chin against her fists.

“What makes you so sure about that?” she asked. “How do you know he’s even still alive?”

Casper chuckled.

“Cuz I hang out with one of the most dangerous dudes on the planet. A guy so dangerous and crazy that he can molest little kids in the middle of New York without anyone trying to stop him.” Casper hesitated there for just for a moment before continuing:

“But a couple days ago, James punched him through a concrete wall. Just for being a creep. That’s how powerful your son is. Trust me. When Peter or Hideyoshi or whoever else you send gets through there, all they’re gonna find is James and Charlie sitting on a beach somewhere, along with a bunch of beat up bad guys.”

Sarah snorted in spite of herself at that.

“Oh, Casper,” she murmured. “I wish that helped.”


Charlie:

The boy was broken. Shattered was the better word, really; his mind fractured into a thousand smaller segments, each of them firing stress neurons and pulses of randomly selected memory across the surface of his brain, none of it really managing to connect.

His eyes were open; currently beyond the reaches of his faculties, or even his own comprehension of muscle control. Some disconnected part of him vaguely registered a star-scape up above, but there wasn’t an emotion to attach it to, so it held as little meaning as the memories.

Whatever small, infantile fragment of the boy there was that was still trying vainly to collect himself, clawing half-heartedly at the forgotten remnants of a being he could only guess at, was aware that the thing which broke him had been vast. So much so that even the faint memory of it sent tingles of something not-quite-pain shooting down his side.

He was tired. So very tired. But he had forgotten how to sleep.

That was when the thing beneath the water found him.

Its presence was subtle, at first, like the tide; a gentle ebb and flow of water slowly building around the splintered fragments of his mind. A broken window in a puddle. He wouldn’t have noticed it at all, but for how it eased the screaming in his soul. It grew quiet. He could hear himself think again.

Who am I?

The presence had no answer for him. Rather, if it had an answer, it wasn’t something he could presently understand. The response it gave was low and deep, like a thrumming just beyond his hearing.

The boy who had once been Charlie did his best to shrug. The answer didn’t matter anyway. At least the world was quiet now.

Around the many pieces of himself, the water began to flow, like a trickling at the bottom of a bathtub; a single shard of glass drifting lightly in the current. He watched it move inside himself; idly curious. Was that shard the price he had to pay for the absence of the pain? He accepted that. It wasn’t as if the piece had any value.

The trickle bore his fragment on, winding through the wreckage of his psyche, before apparently reaching its destination. His shard slid up alongside another; this one bigger; its edges jagged and wrong. The fragment found a place where its edges aligned with the other, and without a sound, it slotted into place.

It was like a lightning strike had smacked into his brain.

His eyes were open. Right. Of course. How had he not noticed that before? There were stars above him; thousands of them.

He didn’t have much of an opinion on that yet. For all that this newfound shard had given him perception, he still had no idea where lay any of his thoughts. What was he supposed to think of stars?

The water moved again, the trickle shifting to another tiny portion of himself, and slowly pushing it into place within his mind. The boy wasn’t bothered. The water could do what it wanted so long as it stilled the pain.

There was a certain comfort to be found in being numb.

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