Tide: 7.1

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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.


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?”


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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Care: 6.11

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For a few moments, the room was still; all eyes on Charlie; his own eyes on Mr. Grey. Outside, there was a muted roar, then a crash like glass breaking all around them.

“… You won’t shoot me,” Charlie muttered, trying his damndest to ignore the thudding in his chest. “You need a portal, and that’s either me or my mom. Good luck getting her help with me gone.”

There was a gunshot from outside.

Sebastian reoriented his revolver to point at one of Charlie’s legs.

“No dice,” he said flatly. “You can survive without kneecaps. I told you before. How well you make it out of this depends on what you bring to the table. Drink the damn potion.”

Somewhere beyond the left-most wall, something crumpled as though struck by a speeding car.

No one moved.

Mr. Grey sighed.

“Force it down his throat.”

Two of the agents to Charlie’s right began to move.

The room flashed indigo as Charlie tore a portal open onto a random patch of arctic snow, then simply tossed the potion through it. That was all he had time for before the agents reached him, his body forced against the wall; arms locked uncomfortably in behind his back.

Five seconds, he told himself. Help’s coming. Just gotta make it five more seconds.

One of the agents not currently pinning him against the wall made a dash for the open portal.

Charlie snapped it closed with a thought, at the exact same moment that Sebastian vanished from the room.

Something hit him in the stomach. His vision went white and foggy, his muscles fighting against the men holding him down in their attempts to double him over.

His focus shifted to trying to breathe.

A daze; confusion; eight or nine voices talking urgently over one another. Charlie could have sworn he heard someone shout his name. He felt something small and metal press against his skull.

Then the roof gave out.

Charlie was too out of it to see, more’s the pity, when James Toranaga’s wind-formed hand gouged a ten foot chunk out of the building’s roof, tossing it behind him like a child digging in the sand.

He heard his name, though, bellowed in his friend’s voice as if from everywhere at once.

There was another faint pop, followed by a bellow, and the deafening noise of a dozen sidearms opening up at once.

Someone bellowed. He felt heat. Someone grabbed him by the shoulder. Another pop.

The world shifted.

They were back in the kitchens; himself and a half dozen or so of the guards, all of them looking just as surprised as he was, guns raised in defense against what was now just a perfectly normal ceiling.

The hand on Charlie’s shoulder shifted to his jaw, a thumb pressing against his cheek, forcing its way between his teeth. The scorched face of Mr. Grey swam into view, eyes wide and manic.

“Nice try,” he spat, raising his free hand into Charlie’s view, the glowing bottle clenched between his fingers. “But you need to be quicker on the draw.”

Once more, he heard the distant sound as someone screamed his name. He did his best to answer, only for the lip of the bottle to be jammed between his teeth.

It tasted foul. Charlie tried to gag or fight, but the agents gathered around him simply pushed him against the wall and made him swallow.

Gulp after gulp. Bitter. Nauseating.

He tried to yell. There was no air.

Then, whatever it was began to take effect.

It felt like someone was dumping lightning in his lungs.

Even then, though, there was still more of it to drink. He threw up. They made him swallow that down too.

His eyes ached.

Another gulp.

His bones grew ice and barnacles.

Another gulp.

He could feel insects clawing at his skin; trying to pry their way loose through the half-healed incision wounds dotted about his form.

The bottle clattered to the ground.

Charlie pulled in a pained gasp of air, then let it out in a choked sob. He squeezed his eyes shut, weakly pushing at the agents with his hands even as they began to step away.

It didn’t help. His eyes still hurt. He could still see, even with the lids closed. He saw himself, cowering against the wall, his clothes slowly soaking through with vomit and faintly glowing sweat. He saw the agents surrounding him.

He saw Sebastian standing over him.

He shook his head, the movement grinding beneath his skin as though his neck was made of chalk.

He wanted to go home.

The first portal opened up beside an agent’s waist. He reached for the man’s knife.

Sebastian’s foot connected with his jaw.

He swallowed a tooth. At least it helped clear away the taste.

He let out a dazed cry, and opened another portal. Then more. Then more. Why not? He had the energy.

That was the only thing he was sure of right now; he had energy to spare.

For one moment, the whole of the facility was lit by the indigo glow of over a hundred spatial holes, every single one of them connecting back to him. His perspective opened up high in the sky above. He glimpsed the shadow of a titan wreathed in fog.

Then his head was slammed against the wall and the connections all snapped shut.

The world went fluid.

He felt fingers tangling in his hair.

“–Not for you to use, boy,” a voice said coldly in his ear. “I’ll be the pilot now.”

Then he felt a spike being driven through his mind.

He screamed. In a thousand fragments of a voice, Charlie screamed.

There was someone else inside his brain. Bigger. Stronger. Hateful.

He tried to push them out, clawed at their throat, tried to drown them in the haze behind his eyes. He was ignored.

The hand clenched against his skull tugged him painfully to his feet. Someone whispered in his ear:

“First Bermuda-”

Time stopped. The planet opened up around him; that foreign thing inside his brain forcing him to see across the length and breadth of the world. A journey of five thousand miles slammed against his mind. Then it made him comprehend.

A piece of Charlie cracked right then. His body sagged.

The portal snapped open, bigger and brighter than any he’d ever made before; wide enough for a pair of men to pass abreast.

Sebastian shifted his grip on Charlie’s now unresisting form, holding him aloft by the scruff of the neck.

In his broken state, the boy managed a single quiet groan.

“Get out of my head.”

Sebastian chuckled.

“Not yet. We’ve still got one more gateway left to build. It’s time to follow behind the Whale.”

What happened next was, quite simply, beyond description. What Charles felt as that thing pushed his powers out was a sense of distance that, to put it plainly, could not be held within a human brain.

It was infinite; simple as that. A chasm of such impossible breadth and scope that to encompass it would crush him.

He tried to fight, fevered and exhausted as he was. He tried to shy away. It didn’t help. The thing inside his mind wouldn’t let him.

Charlie no longer had the strength to scream.


Mr. Grey lowered the husk of Charles Vance to the ground, and shot the agents to either side of him a careful look.

More than one of them was still gazing at the boy, power still bleeding molten indigo from his eyes. He couldn’t blame them. It was never pretty, watching someone break. Least of all a child.

“Well, go on,” he muttered. “Get yourselves through before it closes.”

For a second, no one moved.

“… Sir,” muttered Bors. “Was that necessary?”

Something crashed through the floor a few rooms away. If he could have, he’d have simply teleported them all through. But no. Forcing this thing open had spent the last of his reserves. Sebastian sighed. There wasn’t time for this.

“I told you to move,” he answered coldly. “If you’d rather burn, then feel free to stay.”

He hefted Charlie’s limp form under one arm, and began to make his way towards the portal; pearl and alabaster sands glittering invitingly beyond it. He stopped a single step shy of the aperture.

“Last chance, you lot.”

One by one, his agents stepped past him into the new world. He waited for the last of them to pass him, then turned to give their ruined fortress one last look.

That was when the far wall caved in.

A torrent of wind. A shaking in the earth. A small glowing core amidst a fog shrouded torso. He smiled.

So the Toranagas have another elemental, do they?

He stepped backwards through the portal, and raised his revolver, the tip aimed squarely at the glowing mass, even as it barrelled down towards him.

No. There are enough monsters in the world already.

He pulled the trigger.

Space bent.

Sebastian Grey had half a second to wonder how exactly he could have missed, before James Toranaga slammed into him with a frenzied scream and all the force that he could muster.

The next thing Sebastian knew, he was on his back, sun dappled sand caked about his shoulders; the whole of his body filled with a low, aching sort of pain. He heard yelling, the crack of attack spells being launched into the open sky.

He forced his eyes open, swung his gaze to either side, and caught a flurry of disturbed sand and water as the young elemental fled towards the horizon, their only portal maker now clutched firmly in his grip.

With a sense of dawning horror, he turned back towards the portal, just in time to watch it snapping shut.

… Right.


The new world was beautiful; there was no denying that. It felt… Tropical wasn’t quite the word for it. If it had been tropical, the thick-grouped trees running the length of the peninsula towards the greater archipelago would have been shorter, their branches and leaves all clustered at the tops like the palm trees of Hawaii or L.A., as opposed to the tall, red-boughed conifers that lined this place, looking more at home in a winter shrouded wood than on the shores of some dozy coastline.

A few dozen feet from the shore, the thick forest growth gave way to pristine, faintly salt encrusted sand, sparkling faintly under the wan light of three gently glowing moons, each hanging large and heavy in the sky.

It was this shore on which James sat, his feet just barely touching the point at which the sands gave way to sea; warm ocean ripples tickling at his toes. Beyond those waters, an uncountable mass of sea life swam and thrived in the space between this island and the next, some of them bringing forth their own brief bouts of luminescence, deep blues and reds and electrical greens dancing through the water like lanterns in ballet.

“It’s so pretty here,” he said quietly, gazing at a thousand fish that none before him had ever even thought to name. “The air’s so clean. It’s like I’m breathing life.” He made an aborted attempt to snicker at himself, took a breath, and turned his eyes towards the sky. He sniffed.

“… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once.” He tried to smile as he reached for Charlie’s hand beside him. The other boy didn’t resist as he tangled their fingers together.

Charlie didn’t move at all.

James gave his hand a squeeze.

“The sky’s so bright, you know?” he mumbled, half-failing to hide a sniffle, the first tears building in his eyes even as he tried to hold them back. “The sand’s so soft.”

That was as far as he got before the tears began to fall. His voice caught.

“I wish I could share it with you, dude.”

Charlie didn’t move.

The taller boy just lay at James’ side, gazing up at the starry sky with eyes that hadn’t blinked in hours; nought but the slight rise and fall of his chest giving any real sign of life.

“Please wake up.”

James gave the other boy a shake, the tears trickling slowly down his cheeks.

Charlie didn’t move.

James’ next attempt was less than a whisper.


No response.

“Please don’t leave me alone.”

The lunar trio shone its light upon the shore throughout the night, the sparkling sands touched by the lightest trace of a warming summer breeze.

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Care: 6.5

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Charles Vance gazed out into the slow snowfall beyond his cell’s window, and once more tried to convince himself that staying at the compound had been a good idea. It was harder than it should have been. Everything Twenty Three had told him had been true. It was just annoying how little that actually helped.

Charlie let his eyes scan slowly back and forth across the snow-clad mountainscape, searching once again for evidence of a ski-slope. It was hard to make out anything from this distance, even without the snow.

Behind him, he heard the latch of his cell door click open. He turned. The person at the door was familiar. Bors; a blond man in what were either his late teens or early twenties, with slate grey eyes and a tendency towards unsolicited smiles. The man was carrying a metal tray, a bowl of some thick, meat-filled soup steaming faintly atop it. Charlie scowled.

Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. Please don-

“Hello, Charles,” said Bors, his voice accented with something Charlie stood no chance of identifying.  “How are we doing today?” As he spoke, the man stepped properly into the room, depositing the food on the table beside his bed.

Charlie didn’t answer. Instead, he just turned his head back towards the window, and continued searching for a ski-slope. One week, he’d decided. He’d give Twenty Three one week to make contact with him, then he’d make his best guess at an inhabited mountain, and portal his way out.

“Still don’t feel like talking, huh?” Bors said, masking his disappointment with a chuckle. “It’d be better for all of us if you did, you know. I can’t imagine how many questions you must have bottled away in there. I’d be happy to explain some things.”

Charlie shook his head. This was one of the most frustrating things about this place. Everyone was too damn polite.

“Kid down the hall was crying again last night,” he muttered. “When are we going home?”

Bors’ smile dropped a fraction.

“I don’t have an answer there,” he replied, mimicking yesterday’s response verbatim. “We can’t know how long we’ll need to keep you, or anyone, until we know what you can do.”

“You keep saying that like you’re expecting something big,” Charlie muttered, turning so as to look Bors in the eye. “Whatever it is, I don’t have it. So just let me go.”

“That is bullshit, Charles,” Bors replied. Then he sighed. “My apologies. I shouldn’t swear in front of a boy.” He took a step back towards the door, and gestured to Charlie’s meal. “Eat your soup. You might feel better with something warm in your belly.”

Charlie glanced at his soup, then looked back at Bors. The man smiled again, almost encouraging. That made the decision for him. In four steps, he traversed the space to his bed, sat himself down, and picked up the bowl.

It hit Bors in the chest, hot soup exploding out across a formerly pristine grey uniform and scalding at his skin. He let out a yell, first in pain, then in rage, crossing the distance between them in two steps. Charlie didn’t flinch, even when Bors’ retaliatory strike caught him in the cheek, snapping his head to the side.

To say it didn’t hurt would have been a lie. Charlie could taste the blood in his mouth, his tongue suddenly a little too big for his teeth. Unsurprising. Bors was twice his size, after all. Given his last few days, however, it was next to nothing.

Charlie looked up at the older man, wiped the blood from his mouth with a sleeve, and grinned.

See that? You’re a kidnapping asshole. Stop pretending.

It took Bors a few moments to reclaim his composure. Eventually, however, his stance relaxed, his hand slowly unclenching from a fist. He wasn’t smiling anymore; not even trying. There was a touch of regret behind his eyes.

“Boy,” he murmured, wiping a measure of the soup from his face. “If you were a year older, I’d have made you lose a tooth for that.” Charlie laughed with as much derision as he could at that. Bors ignored him. “Come on.” He gestured to the door. “You still need to eat something.”

Charlie would have refused. He was still feeling petty; but he could smell the soup now coating a good portion of the room. His stomach growled. He felt a momentary regret for the aching in his jaw.

“… Fine.”

It was perhaps twenty steps out into the hallway before Bors spoke up again.

“You need to stop treating us like the enemy,” he muttered. “I know it’s hard to see right now, but I promise you; we’re on the same side.”

Charlie snickered.

“Your boss set my house on fire,” he replied. “Knocked out my mom and left her in the street. I’m not on your side. Your side sucks.”

“Leanne gave her life to see you here safely,” Bors snapped. “Have some respect or I’ll show you the back of my hand again.”

“You’re really bad at this whole ‘not my enemy’ thing, you know that?”

The rest of their trip was made in blessed silence, Bors still scowling, Charlie trying to commit the layout of the place to memory. He wasn’t able to glean much. Just a bunch of narrow hallways and a depressing amount of security cameras. 

Their arrival at the kitchen almost came as a relief. It was the biggest room Charlie had seen in days, four rows of sturdy wooden tables and orthopedic seats. Only one of those seats was currently in use, a dull, suit-clad man who Charlie would have guessed to be in his early seventies, eating a bowl of the same soup that coated Bors. The man glanced up as they entered, and nodded. Charlie nodded back, half-hearted, then began to look for food.

Bors had made a B-line for a set of stoves, at the top of which simmered a vat of yet more soup. He looked to Charlie, then gestured meaningfully at the soup. He was ignored.

Charlie had been on this world for almost thirteen years. He had a loving mother and he knew exactly what she would let him get away with. 

Charlie knew how to raid a kitchen.

Bors didn’t try to stop him as he moved from shelf to shelf, filling his pockets with every sugar encrusted object he could find. A glance at his expression told Charlie all he needed to know. He had decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Good. Charlie would make use of that.

Eventually, however, his pockets ran out of space. So did his hands. Judging his task completed, Charlie sat himself down on a tabletop, pulled open the foil on a packet of some unrecognizable european candy, and tipped it into his mouth. 

Bors scowled. Charlie grinned at him as he chewed, pointedly ignoring the pain in his jaw. At this point, annoying Bors was the only entertainment he had available.

“So,” he said, not bothering to swallow his food. “You said you’d explain stuff. What are you planning here?”

“Can’t tell you that.” Bors huffed.

“That figures.” Charlie swallowed his food. “Okay. Can you tell me where we are?”


“Can you tell me who you guys are?”

An angry groan.


“Are we in Germany? You sound kinda German. Is this some kind of Nazi thin-”

“I’m from Luxembourg!” Bors snapped. “And no. We are not Nazis.”

Charlie shrugged.

“What part of Luxembourg?”

Bors put a palm against his face, and didn’t answer.

Charlie scowled.

“You promised you’d tell me stuff.”

“Then give me something I can answer!”

Charlie snorted.

“Like what?”

The chuckling behind Charlie’s back almost him jump. He turned around, and caught sight of the elderly man in the suit, currently on the last few spoonfuls of his soup. The man waved.

“He can’t tell you anything important,” he said, his voice almost boringly English. “He doesn’t have the required clearance, and doesn’t know how much he’s allowed to say.”

Bors glared.

“Who the hell are you, old man?”

The man shrugged, pulled an ID card from his pocket, and tossed it to Bors.

“Sebastian Grey. I’m the new CEO. Or the old one, I suppose. Leanne had me removed when she took over.” He ate another mouthful of soup. “She’s dead now. I’m here to clean up her mess.” Bors bristled. He was ignored. “Check my ID if you don’t believe me. For now, though, I need you to leave. I’ll be speaking with Mr. Vance alone.”

Bors didn’t move. His fists were clenched.

“Leanne was a good woman,” he growled, his teeth bared. “Do not-”

Mr Grey flicked two fingers in Bors’ direction. There was a loud snap, and Bors disappeared. 

“I swear. Leanne let everything important slip while I was gone.”

Charlie watched the whole confrontation, at first confused, then alarmed. 

“The heck did you just do?”

“Just a teleport,” the man shrugged. “I don’t like having my time wasted.”

Sebastian finished the last of his soup, and turned to look at him.

“Did your mother ever tell you anything about elves, son?”

“Uh, what?” Charlie asked, one eyebrow crawling slowly up his scalp.

“I’ll take that as a no then,” Mr Grey nodded, pushed his soup bowl to one side, and began picking at the lid of his yogurt carton, his fingers a little clumsy. He grunted. “Damned arthritis. I’m sorry, would you mind?” He proffered the carton to Charlie, who moved forward to pull the tab free without thinking; too busy being perplexed. “Thank you. Now then. As you have recently discovered, Charles, magic is real. People who have it are able to use what you could think of as specialized superpowers. Your mother has powers, I have powers, and as we both know, you have powers.”

“I don’t-” Charlie started, but Mr. Grey cut him off.

“No use denying it. We could tell your powers had manifested the moment you set foot inside this building.”

Charlie crossed his arms and let out a huff.

Mr. Grey cracked a dry smile.

“That was a lie, but your response was quite informative.” 

Charlie scowled even harder at that. It was a dumb trick, even when it worked.

Mr. Grey produced a clean spoon from his jacket pocket and gave his yogurt a stir.

“The situation is fairly complex, but all you really need to know is that our species is at war. There are some people who accept this fact, and there are some who don’t. Your mother is one of the people who do not. She, along with most of the rest of the world, would rather ignore the elves building portals to our world and hunting us like dogs. They do this because it is easier. That is their choice.” He gave Charlie a cold look. “They’re cowards.”

“Screw you,” Charlie replied on general principle. “My Mom’s not a coward.”

Mr. Grey continued on as if Charlie hadn’t spoken.

“Historically, of course, there hasn’t really been anything our species could do about these attacks. We have powerful people, but our planet doesn’t have the energy to keep us at full strength. Even our best mages are working with maybe a fifth of their actual power. The elves don’t have that problem. They put us on this planet to keep us low. They cheated us out of our power because they want to stay on top. One day, we will grow strong enough to make them fear our potential. Either by our numbers, or by our technology. They have already seen what nuclear arms can do. They are already wary of us. One day, the war will start in full. Do you understand me, Charles?” 

Charlie reluctantly nodded. He was listening now, in spite of himself, arms folded and cross-legged atop his table.

“… So what are you doing?”

Sebastian took another mouthful of his yogurt, and reclined a little in his chair. “My organisation-” he gestured vaguely at the space around them. “Has spent the last four decades doing everything we could. We have gathered materials, made weapons, and trained soldiers. All this time, we have been preparing for a war that we couldn’t find a way to win. Then, six years ago, circumstances changed.”

The man paused there, gazing calmly across at him over the dregs of his dessert. Was he awaiting a response?

“Uh,” Charlie muttered. “Okay. What happened six years ago?”

“We were attacked,” Mr. Grey answered, finishing the last full bite of his yogurt and scraping his spoon around the inside of the container for the dregs. “It turns out that not only are the elves willing to exploit us to remain on top; they are also negligent towards the responsibilities that come with that position. A creature they were supposed to be guarding got out. It made its way to Earth, and when it got close enough, it started creating monsters. It made five of them before a man named Ethan Gale sacrificed himself to contain it. Of those five, this planet’s defenders only managed to deal with four of them.”

The man put his spoon down and started ticking off names on his fingers.

“There was the Minotaur: a brute of a thing that almost made its way to Cairo before a space warper trapped it in an endless spiral. Then there was the Hydra: a regenerating sea-snake that flattened an entire coastal town before Tsuru Toranaga and her pet elemental burned out the inside of its skull.”

“Wait. James’ grandma?” Charlie asked. Mr. Grey ignored him.

“Then there was the Crow. We think it was some kind of psychically attuned teleporter, because it assassinated a total of seventy four politicians and celebrities before a pedophile shattered its wings.” He took the last bite of his yogurt. “All evidence suggests that the Behemoth would have been disastrous, but it emerged in Norway, so the twins took care of it before it became an issue. The one that has value here, though, was called the Whale.” He caught sight of the unimpressed look on Charlie’s face, and gave a humorless laugh.

“I know. Not an impressive name. Not very apt, either. Whales are peaceful creatures.” He sighed. “We don’t know how the fight played out. We just know that the team that was sent to fight it broke radio contact a minute or so before the thing was supposed to arrive. A search party found their bodies on the beach a few hours later, all of them brain-dead, aside from the ones fortunate enough to have drowned.”

Charlie just gazed at the older man then. He had no response to that. Was he supposed to be sad? Scared? Should he want to know more? It felt too much like something out of a cartoon.

Sebastian sniffed, picked up his yogurt cup, and crumpled it, before pushing out of his chair towards the trash can. 

“No one wanted to go near the creature after that,” he murmured. “Understandable, I suppose. The Americans tracked its movements via satellite and aerial patrols. The Japanese sent submarines. Their torpedoes didn’t even make it past its shield. When it started moving in towards Bermuda, the Americans and the British started scrambling everything they could.” He smiled. “Wasted effort, in the end. It was still a few dozen miles out when it tore a jagged hole in space-time and moved into another world.”

“Wait, what?” Charlie asked, confused. “It just left?”

“It just left.” Sebastian agreed, depositing his yogurt cup in the trash and stepping back towards his companion, leaning himself against a table. “We were surprised too. You see, the world that this creature traveled into used to be inaccessible. We didn’t even know it was there until we watched the Whale flee. And as it turns out, the hole that it left behind has never truly healed over. The fabric is weaker there. My organisation was able to send some probes through. Do you know what we found?”

Charlie mutely shook his head. The old man grinned.

“We found the perfect planet. It’s empty over there. We couldn’t find anything for miles. Just tropical islands, calm seas, and an atmosphere so untouched that it practically vibrates with ambient magic.” That grin grew wider. “Do you see it yet, Charles? We could use that place to build an army. A real army, on a planet with only one way in and one way out. No ambushes from other worlds. No spying from elven seers. We could be powerful, defensible, and invisible. We could win the war.”

“Um. Okay… But what about the magic death whale?”

Mr. Grey shrugged.

“It’s a sea creature. We can stick to landmasses easily enough. But first, we need to get there.” He reached a hand inside his jacket. For a moment, Charlie was confused as to why the older man had lost his grin. Then he felt the tip of the revolver press against his head.

Charlie squeaked.

“Your mother,” Sebastian said calmly. “Is one of the finest transportation mages on the face of the Earth. She can move a squad of men from London to Jakarta in less than a minute, with pinpoint accuracy. She is one of the few people in the world who could make the kind of bridge we need. If you have those same abilities, you have value to me. If not,” he sighed. “Then I’ll have to rely on the less pedigreed assets Leanne acquired. Don’t look at the gun, Charles. Look at me.”

With what felt like the greatest struggle of will he had ever undergone, Charlie pulled his gaze from the weapon still pressed against his skull, and looked his captor in the eye. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. He could feel the touch of the metal radiating like ice cubes through every inch of him.

“Please don’t kill me.”

Sebastian sniffed.

“That really depends on what you can bring to the table,” he said, his voice cold. “Now, I’m going to ask you nicely.” He pulled back the gun’s hammer with his thumb. “Would you mind showing me your powers?”

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