Hideyoshi Toranaga had never been a particularly subtle man. It wasn’t something that had ever truly been expected, nor, indeed, desired of him. Not even in his youth. He had been taught the opposite, in fact.
He was fire. What use did fire have for restraint?
It had taken centuries for the boy that he had been to address the severity of that mistake; instilling, over time, a passable head for tactics within himself.
Even now, however, subtlety didn’t come naturally to him.
The portal led the trio out into a snowfield, a half-mile or so from their target, and a few feet deep in the lightly falling snow. Laying eyes on the facility took time, half buried by the snowfall as it was; the search aided only somewhat by the slowly building glow emanating from the compound’s upper floors.
When the Egyptian set his gaze upon it, one arm rising to point it out, Hideyoshi simply sniffed. He extended a tendril of his power towards the place, and felt a flicker.
“Shielded,” he murmured. “I’ll deal with it.”
His companions took a few steps back towards the portal at that, their forms cutting waist-deep trenches in the powder, faint trails of lightning-light dancing around them as they first strengthened, then doubled down on their shields.
For his part, Hideyoshi’s feet left no imprint on the ground. Why walk when he had yet to recover most of the feeling in his legs? The man set his gaze upon the place. Then, he began to drift slowly upward.
Below him, his wife quietly winced. He smiled.
Hideyoshi Toranaga had never gotten the hang of subtlety.
For the few men assigned to remain on guard of the facility’s outer wall as the ritual entered its final stages, the first wave was difficult to parse as an attack.
It was closer to the birth of a star.
For the man at the gate-house, there was just enough time to catch sight of a distant speck of color in the sky. Then some buried primate instinct slammed his eyes closed before the light could finish scorching through his retinas.
The attack wasn’t something to be measured in seconds. More like frames; each one a photo in a sequence.
For the first microsecond, Hideyoshi simply hung there in the sky, the lie of that ancient form shucked from his skin. His flaming figure was lithe now; slender, and small. Not quite a child, yet eternally touched by youth.
Had they been able to look on him without being rendered blind, the defenders might have taken him for an angel.
Then came the heat.
It wasn’t flame yet. Fire takes time to catch, and all of this was over in an instant. The heat pressed out from the elemental like a wave, washing the cold from the winter air with the ease of a passing thought.
The heat permeated.
In the next frame, the air around the compound seemed to ripple, catching the light of Hideyoshi’s flame and the distant sun as though the entire building was held within a snowglobe. For its part, the surrounding snowfield had become a lake, sitting like a miracle on flat land as the powder was heated from below freezing to well above boiling.
In the frame after that came pressure; a few hundred thousand tonnes of water abruptly realizing that it needed to be a gas.
To call it an explosion would have been to undersell it. The shockwave was such that, for perhaps a tenth of a second, the landscape was held in vacuum; the weight of the sky itself not quite heavy enough to pierce it.
For the defenders in their fort, however, the results were a mite less cataclysmic. The air about the building cracked, the thunderclap of the explosion rolling over it and sending fissures radiating through the air like lightning caught in glass. Behind that injured barrier, the walls stood firm, even if the very shaking of the ground was enough to shatter every window on the compound’s upper floor.
It almost surprised him when a door burst open on the building’s roof, a single figure darting out towards the building’s edge. Strange. Hideyoshi hadn’t felt any particular heat behind that door, or from anywhere else within the building’s walls, for that matter. Perhaps it was the barrier, partially shrouding the place from his new form’s senses. He uttered a charm to reassert his human eyesight, and the image came through clearer.
The figure had a rifle in hand, eyes covered by dark, heavy lidded goggles.
Hideyoshi chuckled. At least the enemy adapted fast.
The sniper readied the weapon, took aim, and made the shot.
Their aim was perfect. Hideyoshi didn’t move, simply intensifying the wall of heat radiating from his unencumbered form. The bullet was reduced to vapor before it even reached him.
Almost lazily, Hideyoshi raised an arm.
It felt so strange, being in this body again. He’d grown used to the feigned stoop of his older self. The slight croak of his voice, the inevitable stiffness in his joints.
The pretense of infirmity necessitated such things.
He’d forgotten what it was like to be this small: the slender god; the dancing sprite at the heart of the inferno.
His movements felt so fluid now.
He flicked a wrist, and a tongue of flame leapt across the gap between himself and the fortification, lashing at the barrier with such might that the air itself thrummed with the force of the blow. The cracks grew; his flame tearing through their wall like claws through an eggshell.
The barrier flickered. He readied another blow.
A faint crack, then a new figure popped into existence on the rooftop; suit-clad, straight-backed, and elderly. The figure was looking right at him, his eyes unprotected.
The light didn’t even make him flinch.
Hideyoshi struck again, the half-mile cord of flame splitting into a hundred smaller skeins to dance in spark and ember on the enemy’s defences.
It was at that point that the steam made by Hideyoshi’s first assault began to return itself to earth; the superheated vapor having risen up, then rapidly cooled itself in the still arctic air beyond the upper bounds of his domain. It sank back down upon them now as fog, light, at first, but building; soon to cover all below in a densely clouded haze.
The man spoke then, and Hideyoshi knew that he was meant to hear, for the words carried, despite the breadth of the gap between them.
“This is your real face, elemental,” he said coldly, the words quiet, despite their clarity. “Not some old wise man, but a monster out of books and children’s tales. The kind of demon that heroes used to hunt; capable of nothing more than holding our species back.” If his eyes had still been physical things at that moment, Hideyoshi would have rolled them. He didn’t care. He drew his tendrils back for yet another strike. Then, the man continued: “That’s why things like you deserve to die.”
There was another quiet crack, then a much louder one as, for the briefest moment, the man hung in the air just a few feet to Hideyoshi’s right, his shield already peeling away layer by layer from just the ambient heat of being so close to the elemental’s form.
The man had a revolver aimed at Hideyoshi’s head.
He pulled the trigger.
What followed bore about the same relation to a gunshot as lightning does to a spark. Instead of the usual flash of light and harmless spray of lead, his form was sent hurtling through the sky by a bolt of raw force that left a trail of silver light hanging in the air behind it. His shield split, his firelight thrown into disarray by the refraction all around him.
Enchanted bullets. Powerful ones.
Hideyoshi responded quicker than a thought, spinning in the air like a top, his hundred skeins dancing towards his foe like a latticework of death.
The gunman was already gone.
His expanded senses were enough to tell him of the change in heat on the ground below that marked the gunner’s relocation. That, in turn, was enough to allow him the very narrowest of dodges as the second round cleaved the sky in two like a lance of solid starlight.
He brought his force to bear on the ground below, just in time for his enemy to vanish once again. He let out a growl, the sound strangely musical now that it lacked the imperfections of age, and bore the gunner’s third shot directly on his shield. He didn’t try to dodge. His focus was on other matters. He prepped a spell.
He swung to face his foe again, and once again, the man was gone.
No room for error here. Another hit would be the death of him.
At the edge of the forest, the gunner reappeared, weapon already raised, thumb to the hammer.
No sooner had the fourth shot left his opponent’s gun than the elemental re-emerged. He was at ground level now, his enemy less than a foot away.
The air parched.
The gunner flinched; his seemingly indomitable focus cracking for but a second as his shield faded to a shred and his skin slowly but surely began to burn.
Hideyoshi reached a slender arm towards the revolver, one finger stretching out, ready to simply melt the barrel down the middle.
The gunner vanished.
This time, Hideyoshi didn’t feel him reappear; his exit point either well beyond the elemental’s range, or obscured by whatever enchantments lined the compound’s walls. He huffed.
Off to lick his wounds. Weak.
“So your grandad’s the fire dude?” Charlie asked, trying simultaneously to both peer out of his cell’s small window and stay as far away from it as the boundaries of the room would allow. “He’s freaking terrifying.”
On the other end of the line, James snickered.
“He’s not that bad,” he admonished. “He’s my grandpa. He just gets kind of intense when he’s doing good guy stuff.”
“Dude. He made the floor explode.”
Whatever James’ answer was, the loud crack as the charred form of Sebastian Grey materialized in the middle of the room was enough to drown it out.
Charlie flinched, moving reflexively to stow his borrowed phone. Not fast enough.
“… So you’re the reason they found us,” the older man muttered, his voice cold. “You’ll pay for that.”
“Wait,” crackled James’ voice, his tone alarmed. “Who-”
The sounds died as Sebastian’s fingers wrenched the phone from Charlie’s grip, his gun hand closing like a vice on the boy’s shoulder.
Sebastian’s skin was burned.
He raised the phone to his mouth, and uttered one sharp phrase into the mouthpiece:
“You can have him back when I’m done with him. Not before.”
With that, he tossed the phone aside, and the world popped out of place before Charlie’s eyes.
In the next second, the two were standing in a medical bay; dozens of people, both vertical and horizontal, spaced around it. Most of the conscious ones were positioned by the doors, weapons at the ready.
There was something glowing on the floor.
“Um,” was all Charlie had time to say before Sebastian shoved him back against the wall, and strode towards the glowing mass in the centre of the room.
“You threw the wrench into this plan, Charles,” he said, quiet fury etched into every word as he picked whatever it was up off the floor. “And I will make sure that you’re the one to fix it.”
He tossed the thing to Charlie. Charlie caught it.
It was a water bottle, filled to the brim with a glowing, oddly pearlescent fluid.
Sebastian leveled his revolver at Charlie’s chest.
A glance towards the forest, and the fires stilled as quick as they had started. The light and heat around him dimmed to that of a campfire; barely visible in the fog. No point in leaving the landscape scarred. No doubt it was his light that had allowed the gunner such an easy target.
“Interesting enemy you’ve got there,” murmured Tsuru’s voice. He didn’t bother looking up. He could feel her presence drifting toward him through the mist; still a few dozen feet away, Binyamin not far behind her. “Precision teleporter. It’s an admirable skill, to achieve so many in succession like that.”
Hideyoshi grunted, absentmindedly pumping fresh energy into his wards.
“Weak shields, though,” he muttered. “I didn’t even have to hit him to burn them out. I doubt he’ll be capable of much once he’s out of ammunition.”
His wife chuckled.
“Ah, Yoshi,” she murmured, her voice shifting to archaic Japanese to hide the words from their companion. “I’d forgotten your voice could sound so young.”
Hideyoshi gave her a smile.
“You should do the same from time to time. The mind forgets how much more easily the body moved in youth. I find it helps to be reminded.”
“I will, dear,” she replied, crossing the last of the distance between them and resting her hand on his head. “Just as soon as Bex learns the truth. No use pretending to be mortal after that.” She tussled the flames that presently constituted his hair, her shield flickering almost imperceptibly. “I think I’ll wait it out until then.”
Hideyoshi shook his head.
“Twelve years in the body of a crone,” he muttered. “Your patience astounds me, love.”
With that, the moment broke. His words returned to english.
“The two of you finish breaking down that barrier. Get the hostages out while I deal with the gu-”
That was as far as Hideyoshi got before, with a roar of pure, panicked rage, James Toranaga slammed his titan form into the compound’s shield with all the force that he could muster.
The barrier shattered.