Dissonance: 4.4

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Author’s Note: Hey guys, sorry about the late update again. There are reasons. I promise. As an apology, I am currently putting together playlists of some of the music that our main characters tend to enjoy, which some of you might hopefully get a kick out of. I’ll try and post the first of them with the next chapter. Next item on the list. The short story anthology that I’ve been linking to is concluding this week, with a couple more guest stories by TeowiMike Spivak, and Revfitz, who is the awesome fellow who got us all together for it. There is also this page, where, until monday, people can vote for the story they enjoyed the most out of the bunch, including my own submission: Rainy Days. I had hoped to continue uploading a single link with each chapter, but I kinda ran out of time. 

Anyways. On with the story!

Caleb:

Caleb followed the figures through the mall at a distance, keeping his eyes locked on the two adults of the group. Why were they so powerful? When he’d caught their scent the previous night, he’d thought that the scraps of power floating past his new familiar’s senses must have come from some dangerous mercenary commune, or perhaps a government garrison house. But no. It was a normal family, as far as he could tell. He watched, perplexed, as the little girl tugged on her father’s sleeve for attention. Just what the hell were these people?

The bird’s sense was limited; annoyingly so. He kept wishing that they could split up a little to allow him to get a sense of them separately, and perhaps determine where exactly all that power lay. As it stood, the four of them were keeping far too close to one another to allow him to get a decent read, their scents mingling so as to disguise the source of it all. All he knew was that they had power. It grated at him. He needed to get a better read if he wanted to be able to use this. Maybe if he could risk getting closer?

He followed behind them as they made their way into a game store, sticking close to the entrance and pretending to flick through a bargain bin while his bird took another sniff. The levels shifted slightly as the boy stepped away from the rest of his family to examine a rack of console games, a sizeable chunk of the power breaking away with him. Caleb’s eyes went wide. The kid? Really? He’d assumed that a power this vast would be divided among the two adults in some fashion, with the children possessing perhaps some small, underdeveloped fraction of that same potential, but no. The boy was a mountain. His familiar took another sniff, and he flinched.

There was another power now, passing close beside him, barely more than a foot away; big enough to dwarf him. He turned his head just enough to see the two teens moving past him into the store. The older of the two was a pretty boy, perhaps a year or so older than him, with his hand on the shoulder of a younger, freckled boy who looked way too tired. The younger boy was staring at him. He pretended to look away, watching them still in the corner of his eye.

Where was all this power coming from?

Caleb watched, hardly daring to move, as the older of the two newcomers leaned in to whisper something into the younger one’s ear, before letting go of his shoulder and pushing him gently forwards. As the two of them broke apart, Caleb noted the change with his newfound sense. The freckled one was normal, in a nominal sense, at least, with a power level around equal to his own, without encumbrance. That news didn’t calm him, though. It meant the older boy was another freak. Humans weren’t meant to be this powerful. It was the one thing he and his masters could agree on.

He watched as the sandy haired boy made his way towards the family, his face breaking into a tired smile as the other kids noticed his presence and rushed to meet him, their parents lingering a short way behind. The little girl threw her arms around the blond boy’s waist as they reached one another, giggling as he tussled at her hair. Caleb wasn’t even surprised now as he caught the girl’s scent. She was as strong as her brother. Maybe even stronger. The older newcomer made no such contact, moving off to the side, unnoticed.

He closed his eyes to listen as the two younger boys began to speak, murmuring quietly so as to force him to rely on his own enhanced hearing to make it out.

“Hey, Cas. You okay?”

“Yeah. I think so. Just tired.”

“You wanna talk about it later?”

“Later? Yeah. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.”

He frowned. Curious words, but nothing useful. The family was grouping up around the boy now, the girl clambering uninvited up onto his shoulders as they moved towards the exit. Caleb checked his watch with a sigh. His time was nearly up. He needed to check in with Twenty Three soon. He’d have to return to this later.

He felt a hand on his shoulder as he turned to take his leave. He glanced around. It was the pretty boy, power still flowing off of him like smoke.

“I don’t know who you are,” the stranger murmured, eyes fixed on his. “But if you do something to hurt my Casper, I want you to know, you’ll pay for it.”


James:

James set his eyes on the freshly repaired basketball and frowned, once more willing the air trapped inside the thing upwards. After a few moments, the ball complied, rising into the air a mite less jerkily this time than in his previous attempts, the first of which had almost destroyed his lightbulb. He grinned, extending his hands to it, and tried to will it ever so slowly towards him.

The ball jumped forwards at the order, streaking its way across his room and passing perfectly between his outstretched hands, before striking off of his face with a resounding snap, bowling him back against the mattress. He lay there for a moment, dazed, as the ball bounced its way happily across his bedroom floor. He brought a hand up to rub at the fresh red patch blossoming across his forehead.

“Oww,” he muttered, glaring at the ball. “Freaking ow.”

Then, he went back to practicing.

He’d rather be talking to Casper right now, figuring out what had been going on in the last half week or so of movement, or even just chilling with the guy over another bad anime box set. But no. Casper didn’t want to talk. The moment they’d gotten home, he’d just fallen down on the nearest couch and started snoring. Even after the guy had woken up, he’d been quiet. In the first brief moment James had managed to snag alone with him, he’d just asked for him to drop it.

“Look,” he’d said. “Can we not, right now? I don’t know about you, but I kinda just wanna forget the weird stuff for a while. Can you just, I dunno, gimme a few days?”

James scowled at the memory. He’d agreed, reluctantly; unable to think of a way to push the issue without acting like a jerk.

“Stupid doof,” he muttered. “Not like I might have stuff to say. I only got hit by lightning yesterday. It’s no big deal.” He gave his power another flick towards the basketball a mite more forcefully than he’d intended and winced as the shot sent it slamming off of his TV stand hard enough to make the device wobble dangerously on its perch, before he once more used his power to catch it.

“Hey,” Peter called from downstairs. “Are you okay up there? Did you break something?”

“No,” he called back, giving his best effort to force the frustration out of his tone. “Just fixing my basketball!”

“James,” came the aggrieved sounding reply. “Don’t throw that thing around in the house! You’ll break our stuff!”

“Sorry,” he grumbled.

He had to admit. This was a bad way to train. It was just unfortunate that it was also the least bad way he’d been able to think of. If there was one thing that his adventures over the last few days had taught him, it was that he needed to get better with his powers. He didn’t want to get sidelined by them again like he had last night.

He gazed at the ball, once more sitting motionless on his bedroom floor, and stewed.

It was perhaps half an hour later when his phone rang. His anger had just begun to fizzle out into boredom, and he was distracting himself by sending the air to rustle around the sides of the ball, trying to spin it like a top when the device at his bedside began to trill.

He glanced sideways at the screen, uncaring, and didn’t recognize the number. He shrugged, then picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, James. It’s Tasha. You okay?”

“Oh!” James breathed, relief for yet another nugget of pent up stress flooding through him. “Hey, Tasha! I’m fine. Are you fine? Please be fine. That guy was throwing lightning bolts!”

“Dude,” Tasha chuckled. “Chill out. I’m cool. I just had to punch the guy till he stopped being bullshit. Easy problem. Saw you got hit. You doing okay?”

“I think so,” he muttered. “Kinda made some weird stuff happen. I’m pretty sure I turned into a wind amoeba for a while. Better now, though.”

“… You what?”

“It’s a long story. You sure you’re okay? You got that food and stuff I left you, right?”

“Oh, shit, that was you? I thought I just stole it from some random camper. Yeah. I got it. That salami was good stuff, man.”

James leaned back against his headboard and let his body relax as he listened to his friend talk, feeling the tightness in his chest finally release. Casper was okay. Tasha was okay. Everything was good. He glanced in his dresser mirror, and saw that he was grinning. Tasha was still talking, but he wasn’t entirely sure what about.

“Casper’s safe,” he interrupted absently. “My Mom talked him into staying at our place until we can fix things up with his stuff.”

“You serious?” Tasha asked. “Oh, crap, man, that’s awesome! Hey. Tell him thanks for looking after my dog!”

“He looked after your dog?”

“Well, either that or someone broke into my place, stole most of my cash and fed Maxie a bunch of old cereal packs, and Casper’s the only guy I gave a key to my place, so, you know.”

“You mean you went back to your place?” James asked, nervous. “But aren’t those guys still looking for you?”

“Eh, probably,” she replied. “But nah. I sent some random old dude to pick my stuff up for me. I’m staying at his place for a while.”

“… Okay,” James mumbled, picking himself up off of the bed and beginning to pace as his brain tried to sort through all the snippets of new information. “But, I mean, what if they track the dog, or, like, figure out where you went or-”

“Dude,” Tasha cut him off. “Trust me. It’s fine. The guys I’m staying with know their stuff. You can chill.”

“… You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“… Okay.” He forced himself to stop, balancing on the balls of his feet, and took a breath. “Yeah. Okay. I’m calm.”

“Cool,” she chuckled. “Oh! Yeah. Also, new information. Magic’s a thing.”

James raised an eyebrow at that, gazing momentarily at the phone.

“… And?”

“What do you mean, ‘and’?” She asked, a touch annoyed. “I drop a bomb like magic and that’s all you give me?”

“Heh,” James chuckled. “Tasha, I’m a flying twelve year old who controls the wind, and yesterday, I got hit by lightning. Either magic’s real, or I’m supposed to unite all four elements and take on the Fire Lord.”

“… Man, now I just wish you were the Avatar.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, suddenly melancholy. “I know. I wanna be the Avatar.”

He moved across to the window, leaning on his elbows against the sill as he gazed out at the street below. In the early evening gloom, it took him a moment to notice the other boy gazing back at him.

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Dissonance: 4.2

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Author’s Note: Finally catching up on my chapter backlog. Yaaaaaay.

Okay, this week, I am once more linking to the story collab being hosted by Revfitz. This time around, we have Angel, by Megajoule. Now that all of that’s been said, on with the chapter!

James:

“Hey.”

James grumbled something, buried his face in his pillow, and let out a snore.

“Heeey.”

Something cold prodded the back of his skull, pushing his head a fraction of an inch to the side and forcing him just a little more awake. Then, his barely conscious mind registered the voice.

“Heeey! Get up. I want pancakes.”

“Noooo,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow still wedged against his face. “Go away, Bex. I wanna sleep.”

For a few seconds, the world was quiet, and for once, he thought it might have worked. Then he felt himself being prodded again.

“Hey. Paaancaaaakes.”

“Lemme sleep!” He groaned, irritated, finally turning his head towards his sister and forcing his eyes open. “I’m tired!”

“But I want pancakes!” Bex whined, frowning down at him in that way that told him a fight was imminent if he failed to comply. “If you don’t make em, then I’ll do it!”

He gazed up at her for a moment, then sighed.

“… Worst sister.”

He pushed himself upright, his arms aching slightly as he moved, then glanced down.

“… Can you at least go outside while I get dressed?”

At that, Bex grinned, hopped her way out of his room, and closed the door.

James yawned, then rubbed his eyes. How early was it? He checked his clock.

Five twenty five?

“Beeeeex,” he whined. “It’s not even six yet. TV time doesn’t start for an hour!”

“Pancakes.” The girl replied through the door. “Now!”

James rolled his eyes. Then, without really thinking about it, pulled himself into the air. It was easier than going to the effort of standing up on his own. Still rubbing his knuckles against his eyelids, he floated to his closet, taking a moment to orient himself so he was upright, and grabbed the first pair of pajama pants that caught his eye. He pulled them on and stretched, before checking himself briefly in the mirror.

His marks were showing.

James raised a finger to his cheek, curious. He hadn’t taken the skin patch off, had he? Then, he remembered last night, and the momentary loss of his body. He grabbed himself a fresh one, then regretfully lowered himself to his feet, before mooching over to the bedroom door and stepping out to greet his sister.

She was grinning. Of course she was grinning. She loved Saturday mornings. It was her favorite time of the week. It bugged him. He couldn’t wait for her to be his age, and actually need sleep like a real person. He reached out, placed a finger against the smaller girl’s head, and flicked her in the temple, ignoring the outraged squeak he got in response.

“No going in my room, remember?” He muttered by way of explanation before stomping past her towards the stairs.

“Says you!” She whispered after him, way too loud.

“Says Mom,” He replied, a touch quieter. “Now shush. You’re gonna wake the big people.”

“Too late,” Came a groan from the doorway across the landing. “James. Much coffee. Soon, please.”

“I hate Saturdays,” he grumbled, before calling back. “Yes, Dad.”

“Thank you,” The voice called back with a yawn. “And tell Bex no TV till she’s made her bed.”

James looked at his sister, one eyebrow raised. She scowled at him, turning on her heel and stalking off in the direction of her room. He snickered after her, before making his way down the stairs towards the kitchen.

He set some water boiling on the stove, before opening up the fridge and digging around inside it for a minute or so until he had all the ingredients he needed. Eggs, flour, milk, butter… whisk? He checked the baking drawer for the whisk. Then he checked the utensil drawer, just in case it had been put in the wrong place. Nope. No whisk. Upstairs, he heard a door slam, followed by the stomping of a tiny pair of feet down the stairs.

“I’m gonna check it’s done before you get any pancakes.” He called into the hallway. Bex didn’t dignify the words with a response as she stomped off towards the TV room. He shook his head with a sigh.

His continued search for a whisk was disrupted by the sound of the water boiling on the stove, so he put his mixing bowl down and made his parents their morning coffee. So much work. Being the older one sucked.

As the coffee brewed, he thought of Tasha. He hoped she was okay. She should be fine, he reasoned. After all, the last he’d seen of her, she’d already been launching that lightning guy into a tree. He doubted the fight could have lasted much longer after that. Still, though, who was that guy?

The coffee made, he stifled another yawn, before carefully making his way upstairs with the two cups held carefully aloft. He found himself spilling it from time to time.

“Mom, Dad,” he called through the crack in the doorway. “Coffee.”

“Thanks, kiddo,” came his father’s voice, sounding a little more awake now than it had been. “Come on in.”

James nudged the door open with his foot, then sidled his way inside, ready to avert his eyes at a moment’s notice lest he be faced with the terrible fate of catching one of his parents changing. His caution, however, turned out to be unneeded. Peter lay in the bed, a large shirt draped over his form and the covers pulled up around his waist, a book balanced on his lap. Sarah’s place in the bed was empty; a fact that probably had to do with the sounds of the shower running in the room’s en-suite.

“Can we get Bex to sleep longer on weekends?” he asked, moving forward to place one of the mugs on his mother’s side table, before moving the second across to his father. “I wanted to sleep in today.”

“Heh,” Peter chuckled. “I got used to it after a while.” He took the coffee gratefully and took a sip. “You were just the same at her age. All cuddles and story times and never turning off. You just have to muscle your way through it, I’m afraid. Sorry.” He gave his son a wink.

James scowled at that.

“Easy for you to say,” he grumbled, turning back towards the door. “You’re not the ones she asks for pancakes every time.”

That earned the boy a genuine laugh from his father.

“Then learn to say no.” Peter chuckled. He took another long slurp of his coffee, then his tone grew more serious. “So. I wanted to talk to you about that friend of yours. Casper.”

James stopped mid-stride, his hand on the door handle. Something in his father’s tone made it clear this was more than just asking about a new friend. Had they made an error somewhere? Slipped up on something?

“… What about him?” He asked, doing his best to keep his tone level.

“He ran away from home two nights ago.” Peter murmured. “His parents are terrified.”

“… Maybe they shouldn’t have been hurting him, then.” James muttered bitterly. He regretted the words even as he spoke them, trying to figure out whether that was something he’d been allowed to let slip or not. He couldn’t bring himself not to say them, though. They were the truth.

Behind him, he heard his father take another sip of his coffee.

“So you know about that, do you?”

“… Yeah. He told me.”

“… Did he tell you he was running away?”

James hesitated for a long time at that, then sighed.

“Only after he did it. He said he was gonna break his phone afterwards. Didn’t want to be followed.” He chanced a glance back to his dad. Peter was gazing at him over the rim of his cup; calm, unblinking.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” There was no accusation in the words, but still, James felt blamed. He had his answer ready, though. Again, he went with the truth.

“Why should I have?” He asked. “I mean, the school was probably gonna tell you anyway, so it’s not like I knew anything you didn’t.”

Peter nodded at that, conceding the point.

“Fair,” he murmured. “But sometimes, we have more information about things than we think we do. For example, now that we know he spoke to you last, we know he might try to speak to you again. That means we have a chance for an adult to talk to him and make sure he’s safe.” He took another slow sip of his coffee, then continued. “Give me your phone, James.”

“… I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“… I don’t want Casper to go back there.” James wanted to look away from his father then. He didn’t, though. This was too important. It mattered. Even so, it hurt to see the sorrow flash momentarily across the older man’s face.

“James,” Peter sighed, setting his coffee down on the side table and climbing to his feet. “You know me. I’m your father. I’ve been your father for twelve years. Less than one month ago, I saw someone hurt my son, and the sight of it nearly broke me. Do you really think I’d send your friend back to someone who hurts him against his will?” He took a step forward.

“… No.” James admitted. He wished he could think of a counter to that, but he couldn’t. The words made him feel small. Now, even more than before, he wanted to look away. He forced himself to hold the man’s gaze. He wasn’t sure why.

“And do you know how to make sure he has everything he needs?” Peter asked. “Clean clothes, somewhere to sleep, food that won’t make him sick?” He took another few steps forward, already halfway towards his son. James couldn’t look at him any more. He dropped his gaze to the floor.

“… No.”

“Then I’d like to borrow your phone, please.” In the periphery of his vision, he saw the older man’s pajama clad legs step into view. Peter extended a hand level with James’ chest; palm up, waiting.

In all his life, he couldn’t remember ever feeling smaller than when he dipped his hand into his hoodie pocket and pulled out his phone. His father plucked it from his hand, then, in a much quieter tone, murmured:

“Thank you.”

“… Are you angry at me?” He asked, still not looking at his father.

“No,” replied Peter in that same quiet, sad voice. “Honestly? I’m mostly proud. You were trying to keep your friend safe, even from me. That’s very brave.” James didn’t move as the older man pulled him into a hug. “I’m just sad because you thought you couldn’t trust me.”

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled, ashamed.

“Don’t be,” the arms around his shoulders gave him a squeeze. “Love you, buddy.”

“… Yeah,” James muttered, raising his arms to return the hug. “Love you too.”

“Good,” Peter let him go. “Now, go make your sister some pancakes before she starts complaining, kay?”

A part of him wanted to return his father’s teasing, but he honestly couldn’t find the words. He turned around, stepped back out onto the landing, and took a deep breath.

Then, he went downstairs and made his sister pancakes.

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Bonus chapter one, Bex.

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December first, seven years ago:

There is a creaking. Far from earth. Far from any realm humans have traversed, there is a creaking. A gate, built in ages long past by beings long since gone reverberates with the sound. Buried somewhere deep, the doorway flung into a void beyond the bounds of creation, it rattles. The thing on the other side is slow. Unused to dwelling in a realm where time has but one direction. It is angry, and the gate rattles again, ancient barriers quaking under the force of its blows. It is hungry, but that is alright. If it can hold on, it will soon have a chance to feast. It was their smell that awoke it. A populace grown beyond any conceivable measure. Each one small and weak on their own, not enough to sate it, but in these numbers? They could sustain it for an age. The gate rattles again, and a lock snaps. Good. Only four more to go.

The sound of the break is loud and violent, carrying up through the emptiness, and reaching the ears of a lone sentry. The noise awakens a fear in her, but she is strong. She carries out her duty, and sends warning along lines established millenia ago, readying her people. She is a watcher, assigned to guard the gates since time immemorial, a task performed so long that she no longer remembers what she was before. None of them do, really. Her people spread out, giving their signs, spreading the news to anyone and everyone they meet.

‘A beast awakens.’

It is primordial, powerful, one of the first things that lived upon the many worlds, when magic was young, but it has not moved in an age. Its muscles ache. Its body is slow to respond. It spent too long asleep. The gate shatters, and the barriers break with such force that it echoes through the minds of every magician in the adjacent worlds. Any whom the watchers did not inform, the societies that were born and grew in the time since their watch began, are soon alerted. Among them, the humans.

It takes time to break the gate. Longer still to squeeze its lumbering body through the gap. In the time required, an army is formed. Elves, for the most part, acting more on obligation than by altruism. Their mages are strong and numerous. The foe is strong, but together, they are stronger. The gate will be rebuilt, the key crushed and its shards thrown to the winds.

They mass themselves at the entrance to its cavern, over a hundred strong of the mightiest mages from the mightiest magical race, they watch as it slowly forces its way into their realm. They prepare their spells. It feels them there, feels its hunger, takes a breath. They smell strong, the power wafting off of them enough to make it ravenous; but it knows they are too many. It will not win. It will only be able to devour a few before it is forced back behind the gate. That is not enough to sate it. It opts for a different approach.

The gathered mages watch, stoic, as the creature finishes its journey, the end of its tail too wide to fit through the opening, smashing it wider. It glances up at them, and slips sideways from their view. It does not move sideways in a manner that those watching are built to comprehend, however. It slips not through a dimension, but out of it. The creature emerges into the void between the world spheres, and begins to swim. There is no air here, no magic to sustain itself on. It will be weakened when it reaches its destination. That is acceptable. There is much food awaiting it.

The mages are helpless to intervene as the creature passes them by, able, with effort, to sense the thing, but it is beyond their reach. They cannot stop it there. The elves decide they have done their part. They retreat to their home, almost all of their kin from across the many worlds following suit. It cannot breach their home when all of their power rests within it. Together, they are too strong.

Across the many realms, the sundry mages watch as the thing advances, its edges nudging gently at the world spheres as it slips between them. In the worlds it passes by too closely, things are born, springing forth from earth and rock, feral. Soon enough, its destination is determined. The creature heads for earth.

The humans are aware, and many panic. They are saved from chaos only by their secrecy. It is kept quiet. Most of them are not aware of magic. Even among those who are, it is kept quiet. Their communities converse, desperately at first, in fear of the thing. They seek aid from allies in other worlds, but there is little forthcoming.

The dwarves are of no real help against the beast. Their inclinations lie towards the technical, and they offer what help they can, but it is little. The gnomes are of little aid as well. They are spread too thin, their own mages divided between defense of their own homes, and the great cities of the dwarves, with whom they have been allies for far longer. The elves care for their own, and while they would mourn the loss of the human world, they reason that they can easily find different cattle to farm.

The only true aid comes in the form of the goblins, the humans’ newest, greatest ally. They go forth en masse, and their soldiers are there to stand with the race of man when the time comes. They share that world, after all, and it makes sense that they defend it as one.

Slowly, the governments of the human world come to calm. Efforts begin to mount, a cooperation is achieved. The hope is slim; the humans do not have power like the elves or the gnomes, and what few mages they possess are often of a poor calibre, their power largely drawn from interbreeding with other, stronger species. In spite of this, they gather together.

A plan is formed. The humans know their magic is weak, so they devise other means. Unlike the elves, they are learned in the ways that must be used to traverse the spaces between worlds. They, like the dwarves, have learned to craft miracles of metal and stone. The work is undergone with dwarvish aid, a vessel crafted to traverse the emptiness between stars, enchanted to slip outside of reality and face the creature. It is built to carry a weapon, an adaptation of a device used by the humans in decades past to tear whole cities asunder. It will be packed heavy with loose sand and metal, brought up close to the beast, and then the pilot will set the void aflame. The task bears no chance of survival, and of the scarce few with the skills to carry it out, none are forced to take the role. There is more than one volunteer.


November ninth, six years ago:

The vessel is complete. Only hours ago was it finally finished. When debate began over what it should be called, the chosen pilot made a request that no one present had the words to refuse. The ship is named Samantha, in memory of a daughter lost.

The beast approaches, and the ship is launched. The pilot speaks no words as she guides the craft towards it, but for a small gasp as she catches sight of her foe for the first time. Across a dozen worlds, seers watch the strange confrontation. The odd magic of dwarves and men is not well understood in the realms where true magic flows, and they wonder amongst themselves at what strange trickery the humans have in mind. Most agree that it bears no chance of working.

The beast smells a life within the craft, and alters its course. It has swum for a long time, and it is famished. It edges towards the craft, claws ready to tear open the casing and devour its occupant whole. It clamps its talons into the metal as worlds watch.

The pilot utters a last goodbye and presses a photograph of a loved one to her lips, before flicking a single switch. The many worlds gasp as one as the beast is engulfed in a storm of fire and rock. Several seers are rendered blind by a light that, for a single moment, outshines the stars themselves.

When the light clears, the beast is hurting. Its flesh is torn, scales ripped away, its fins ragged and ripped. It is angry, but the flame renewed its strength. It moves faster now.

They have months, at most.


December eighteenth, six years ago.

As the beast draws nearer, the human world falls slowly to chaos. The beast is a wellspring of primordial life, and on its approach, new horrors come to plague the world within its sight. Five of them. Across the earth, hunters gather to fight them, aided by the force of goblin armies, killing these new abominations as and when they are born. Every fight draws a toll. One charge is made against a serpent that tangles an island between its tails. The final blow is dealt by an odd pair: A man who brings forth flame from his hands, and a woman wielding a staff of carven wood.

The many nations scramble to hide the truth from their people, their agencies desperate to find a new, workable plan of attack. The effort is led by a man who speaks in many tongues, traveling the world and calling forth all he can find with a very specific gift. It is a plan inspired by the workings of the gnomes, who fight monsters by giving their champions power from among their people. In every country, those bearing the ability to empower others, regardless of the form, are gathered together, almost a thousand strong, but this is not the challenging part. The world scours itself for an individual with the capacity to bear their aid without both body and mind being torn asunder. It is in the few days prior to the beast’s arrival that one finally comes forth. Not the strongest among them, to be sure, but the strongest of those willing to try.

They wait until the last possible moment, unsure of how long, if at all, their champion will last under the weight of his enchantments. It is only when the beast flickers through into the realm of man that the task is begun. Many hundreds of hands lay themselves upon the champion, layering him with enchantments so numerous and esoteric as to defy rational reason. As the beast begins to breach the upper atmosphere, the man begins to scream.

It is unknown, in the aftermath, how the champion held on. It is known from the accounts of those around him that he ascended into the sky in a bolt of light. The last words the recording device placed on him was able to pick up, beyond the growls and the screaming, were him begging for his mother.

The creature is found in a crater on the Isle of Skye, most of its body burned away, unconscious. It is contained within a mound of molten steel that is then allowed to cool around it, before being layered with runes to seal it.

The champion is found four kilometers to the south, three days later. He is still screaming. His skin cannot be located. He is transferred to a medical facility in Norway, where he is visited once a day by a small girl with the power to induce a peaceful sleep.

The man who speaks in many tongues leads a mission to ferry the beast’s container back to the elves, where they may return it to the watchers for safekeeping. There, he barters concessions from them, and strikes their high lord in the face. One of the oldest among the elves watches this, amused, and, unknown to the human, places a small spell upon him. Then, he and his retinue return home. He returns to his family, holds his son close, and reaffirms his love to his wife, happy simply to be alive. Nine months later, a girl is born.


The present day.

Bex lay asleep in her bed, a small smile on her face as she explored the myriad wonderful and exciting adventures that her dreamscape held in store for her. She reoriented slightly against her pillows, and clutched her teddy a little tighter to her chest.

 

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