Escapism: 3.11

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Casper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something wrong, little one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you say milkshake?”

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

“Yup. Whatever flavor you like.”

“Kay.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Father:

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

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

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

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

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

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Escapism: 3.10

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Male:

The hobgoblin was a powerful one. Dangerous, even if he weren’t in the depleted state he found himself in. He had to be quick. The foe launched a strike towards his shoulder, and he evaded, dropping the last of his wards so as to better focus his energies on building towards his next attack. It wasn’t as if they would have been strong enough to parry the strike in their current state. It should have thrilled him. The moments were rare when one of his kind was ever placed in genuine danger, and it had been centuries since he’d last faced a genuine hunt. But here, deprived of his wards, with a malformed aberrant going for his blood, he felt only frustration. He dodged one blow, then another, the creature’s fist carving a short trench into the angular stonework of the building alongside them. He let out a single, angry chuckle. Strong as the hobgoblin may have been, it was not the fastest of its kin, and the added force of its transformation did nothing to aid in the landing of its blows. He built up what remained of his power, pushed it into a single point at the tip of an index finger, and made his strike.

The goblin was overextended, the bulk of its less familiar form and the restrictions of its garments hindering it as much as they helped. Every punch left an opening, and he exploited it. He ducked under the next blow, stepping forwards, and jabbed his charged finger in towards the joint of the creatures arm, where the shoulder and chest connected. He let out his power as a pulse, a shockwave of sorts, dampened slightly by the properties of the hobgoblin’s hide, but powerful enough to do the trick. The force of it echoed through the animal’s form, forcing bones and muscle apart from one another. He heard the pop as the goblin’s shoulder was forced free of its socket, and grinned, a moment too late to realize his mistake.

The hobgoblin’s other arm struck him in the side, hard, carried by the force of a movement made before his own attack had landed. There was no magic to it, no charge, only the force of a strong beast, and he had no shields to stop it. He was sent reeling as the goblin fell, the force wave crashing through its body and sending organs, bone and fiber into disarray. For his part, his body struck one of the human carts, the glass pane across the side of it cracking against his ribs. He felt his head collide with something hard, and everything went hazy. He wasn’t sure how long he lay crumpled against the vehicle. In the aftermath, he presumed it to be only a few seconds, but in the moment, he really couldn’t tell.

It was his partner’s voice that brought him back to himself, echoing inside his mind as she reached to him through what little of her swarm remained nearby.

‘The humans are coming. Get out of there. Run.’

Dimly, he realized that he was far too spent for another encounter. He needed to get away, to recharge. He swore, and in a strange way, the act gave him energy. He pulled himself up off of the cart, and swore again, louder, forcing his mind into focus. He glanced about himself, ignoring the crumpled form of his latest foe, and found somewhere shadowy. An alcove between two buildings. He began to run, hobbling at first as his senses slowly returned to him, but regaining his coherence fast enough. His partner could take care of things from here. He needed to hide. For now, that was all that mattered.


Casper:

The car moved in silence for a time as the swarm continued to slowly grow itself around them. The birds were sneakier now; whatever it was that was holding them together had them hanging back from the car, only crossing from rooftop to rooftop in places just beyond their line of sight. Without his power, Casper doubted he’d have even glimpsed them. Unfortunately, that put him in a bit of a conundrum. Did he warn his companion, and potentially reveal the workings of his power, or did he stay silent, and allow them both to be led into a trap… Actually, putting it that way made the answer fairly clear.

“Uhh,” he started, more than a little nervous. “Agent government person?”

“Theo,” the driver offered, eyes still fixed on the road. “My name’s Theo.”

“Right. Theo, if I tell you something, do you promise not to ask how I know?”

His companion looked at him, one eyebrow raised quizzically as he guided the car up towards a river bridge, the vehicle slowing significantly in the traffic.

“I’m… really not sure what you mean, kid.”

Casper shook his head with a sigh.

Whatever.

“Look,” he muttered glumly. “Those birds that attacked us earlier? There’s more of them now. They’re staying out of sight, but they’re following the car. They’re kind of everywhere.”

Theo gazed across at him for a few moments at that, then returned his eyes to the road. While his expression remained neutral, Casper could feel the dread sinking into his skull at the new information.

“Great,” he murmured, his tone heavy with frustration. “And of course we can’t call for backup, because my partner had the only radio.” He glanced across at Casper again. “You don’t have a phone on you, by any chance?”

Casper thought back to last night, and the feeling of slamming his foot down against the back of his phone, smashing it against the iron grill of a street gutter. He swore.

Theo grunted at that, his mood darkening yet again.

“Yeah. This is gonna suck.” He thought for a moment, then spoke. “Okay, change of plans. The safe house is too far away to get you there in time, but there should be another rescue team about half a mile that way.” He pointed a finger towards the buildings at the far end of the bridge. “If we can get to them, then we should have enough manpower to keep you safe the rest of the way. If we don’t, then I am going to keep it off you while you run the hell aw-”

Before Theo had a chance to finish the thought, something ahead of the car exploded, and the birds gathered on the rooftops behind them took flight.

Theo swore loudly as the car in front of them came to a sudden halt, slamming his foot on the brakes with enough force to send them both jolting forwards harshly in their seats. Before Casper had the time for a thought, his companion was already moving. He felt a hand grasp him roughly around the collar, yanking him against the harness of his seatbelt. Then, there was a flash of something sharp and shiny, and he felt the straps come loose around him. In mere seconds, Theo had him out of the car and on his back, clinging on for dear life as he vaulted them over the roof of their stalled out car and sprinted towards the near side of the road with a truly ungodly degree of speed. Casper had half a second to realize that they had already been halfway up the ramp connecting the road to the bridge, before his companion jumped, and they were falling.

The drop was a solid twenty feet, and Casper let out a pained wheeze as the air was forced out of his lungs, the impact driving his rescuer’s shoulder up into his ribs. Theo hardly even seemed to notice. Above them, Casper could feel the birds gathering, searching, until one caught sight of them again, and the swarm dove. There was another mind up there now, larger than the birds and distinct from the drivers on the road because, unlike them, her mind was filled not with confusion or fear, but with rage. He heard a crash as something else above them exploded, and a few of the minds around it winked out.

“New plan!” Theo yelled, pivoting on the spot to dart in underneath the bridge, sprinting along the bank of the river, a pair of short knives in his hands that Casper could have sworn had not been there a moment ago. “Grenades in my jacket pocket! Rough means smoke bomb, smooth means flashbang! Smoke when they catch us!”

Numbly, still coughing, Casper reached down with one of the arms still clinging to his companion’s torso, and fumbled at the pockets lining the inside of the older man’s coat. The birds were nearly upon them now, moving near twice as fast as Theo’s already prodigious level of speed. He felt his fingers connect with a pair of solid, oblong shapes, and scrambled briefly for the lip of the pocket containing it.

Then, the birds were upon them, beaks and claws prying at everything within reach, digging and tearing madly. Casper yelped in pain as strike after strike rained down upon his back, tearing through his shirt and cutting his skin to ribbons.

“Now!” Theo yelled, staggering under the weight of a hundred tiny impacts, the force of it almost knocking him off his feet as the omnipresent claws continued to tear and cut, his knives swiping uselessly at each of them in turn, only striking a few.

Casper’s fingers finally found what he was looking for, pulling the rougher of the two objects free of the agent’s pocket, feeling a catch, and flicking it open. Underneath, he felt the imprint of a button. He pressed the button, then dropped the device as though it was, well, a bomb, squeezing his eyes shut and holding his breath.

The effect was immediate. Casper had been expecting the stuff to take a while to build up, but either the movies had that particular idea wrong, or this wasn’t a normal smoke bomb, because the black cloud that it created was pumped out so fast that it bordered on the uncanny. Even with his breath held, Casper could smell the stuff pressing inside his nose. It wasn’t the same acrid scent of the gas, however. This was different, like wood smoke.

Around them, the birds began to disperse, confused; their senses thrown off by the smoke billowing all around them. A few stuck to them, managing to stay close enough in the confusion to keep attacking despite the sudden dark, but he felt the agent move subtly beneath him, and the lights of their minds went out.

“Good job, kid,” Theo panted. “Now, if we can just wait down here long enough for the smoke to spread, we can make a run for it. Hopefully, someone’s seen what’s going on and we’ll have reinforcements coming before too long.”

Casper wasn’t listening. He was too busy focusing on what was going on above them. Their pursuer wasn’t giving up; they were striding towards the point where Theo had jumped from amid a rising tide of panicked voices shouting in confusion, each one trying to be heard over the rest. They were furious. Frustration and anger boiling up inside them to such a degree that Casper was amazed they even had room for it all. He felt a brush of air across his cheek, a touch of wind that slowly began to grow. Around them, the smoke ever so slowly began to clear.

“No,” Theo moaned, utterly crestfallen. “Don’t have wind spells, you cheating bitch.”

Again, Casper wasn’t listening. He felt the mind above them step up on top of the edge of the ramp, their pursuer readying to jump down after them, and he had an idea.

He acted before he had really had time to think, and, when it came down to it, that was probably a good thing, because he doubted he’d ever have had the nerve to try this if he’d had time to consider it. He reached his hand back down into Theo’s jacket, and plucked the remaining grenade from the Agent’s pocket. Theo apparently noticed the movement, and he heard an objection ring out in the older man’s mind, but before the agent had time to voice it, he had already flicked off the safety catch. He thumbed the button underneath, and tossed the flashbang down on the ground, almost exactly beneath where their pursuer was about to land.

He thought he heard the agent shouting at him, his mind touched by a momentary rage as he brought his hands up to block his ears, but he couldn’t be sure.

In the moment before he squeezed his eyes shut, he saw a thin, hipster looking woman drop down from above them amidst the last of the clearing smoke. She scanned her surroundings, caught sight of them, and turned, a hand raising towards them as a bluish green sort of energy began crackling across her palm. Theo shifted around under him, turning to position himself between the boy and the attack. He had a moment to think that she wasn’t what he had expected, before the grenade detonated beneath her feet with the loudest bang Casper had ever heard.

Even with his ears blocked, it was enough to almost deafen him, accompanied by a flash of light that was like staring into the sun even with his eyes closed. He felt in their attacker’s mind as fury rapidly shifted to confusion and shock. He felt it in Theo’s mind as anger and fear gave way to a surprised kind of elation, supplanted almost immediately by a powerful determination. He felt himself being lowered to the ground, and opened his eyes blearily. Theo was grinning down at him, shouting something that he couldn’t quite make out through the continual ringing in his ears as the woman staggered blindly behind him. What the agent meant when he turned the boy back towards the city and gave him a shove, however, was very clear. With a nod, Casper began to run back towards the cityscape as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving the agent behind him to do battle with their dazed pursuer.


Casper wasn’t sure how long he was running for, the steady thudding of his feet against the pavement just slightly out of synch with the continual rapid pounding of his heart against his ribs. He crossed the road connecting the bridge to the rest of the city, slipping himself between the stalled traffic lines leading towards the chaos that had been put there in the past few minutes. Then, he hit an alleyway, and bolted down it. He kept running, changing direction at random, trying to make his path as winding and unintuitive as possible.

After a time, however, he felt the adrenaline begin to fade from his limbs, leaving his every limb aching and sore. He allowed himself a few minutes to rest, leaning against a wall and panting heavily as he tried to muster the energy to send himself a little bit further. He coughed, dry and painful. His lungs had felt awful even before his dead sprint out of there. Now that exertion had combined itself with the aftereffects of that gas, he felt like his insides had been rubbed with sandpaper. He shook his head. No. He was done. At the next street, he’d flag down a taxi, and get himself delivered somewhere safe. Maybe Lewis? He chuckled, then groaned as the movement drew another sharp spike of pain from his lungs. No. Lewis wasn’t safe. Not with the Family still looking for Tasha. Freja and Mel, maybe? Freja had seemed to like him well enough, and Mel seemed to have genuinely enjoyed his company. It was better than nothing, surely. He nodded. It was a plan. He pushed himself upright, and began to walk again.

That was when he felt it. A brushing against his mind from somewhere high above. It was tiny. It was hungry. With a desperate whine, Casper began to run again, all thought of going easy on himself forgotten as he made for the open street. He felt another tiny mind above him, diving this time, headed straight for him. He pushed his aching body to the side as the bird shot past, its talons skittering against the grimy concrete, missing him by inches. He turned another corner, and saw the open street ahead of him, only forty feet away. He told himself he’d make it; that he’d know what to do once he was out in the open. As long as he could get to the street, he had a chance. He felt another pair of birds dive down from the swarm slowly gathering together above him. Again, he pushed off of the alleyway wall, and managed to avoid the first of them. The second, however, struck his thigh, its sharp claws tearing at his jeans. He stumbled. Then, they were done playing with him, and the rest of the swarm descended as one. He tried to avoid them, but he didn’t stand a chance.

He kept his feet under him for the first few blows, but the third saw him down to his knees. He felt the pain of their beaks, but by now, that was almost secondary to him. Feeling more hopeless and exhausted than he could remember being in his life, he tried to continue crawling his way forwards, foot by slow foot.

Every second, there were more of them upon him; pecking, biting, clawing at his skin. He gave up crawling on his hands, and instead simply focused his efforts on protecting his eyes from the onslaught. He screamed.

He could feel her approaching now. She was angry. Not the same kind of angry as before, however. It was colder now, calmer. The frustration had boiled away, replaced by simple, direct focus. He could hear her footsteps drawing closer as he squirmed and writhed under the continued attacks of the swarm, until they too stopped. The swarm broke away, returning to the sky, and he opened his eyes, pushing himself upright on bloodied arms to look back down the alleyway at her. He had to pause for a moment to wipe his eyes. When had he started crying?

His pursuer was not at her best. Her formerly straight hair was bedraggled. Her clothes were torn and nicked, and she had a long, deep looking cut running all the way down from her left shoulder towards her wrist. It wasn’t bleeding as much as it should have been. In the hand beneath the cut, she was holding a knife. It was one of Theo’s.

For lack of any other real course to take, Casper turned his back to the woman, and began to run again. He didn’t even make it a foot before he felt something strike the back of his leg, and the limb went numb. He fell to the floor once more, catching himself on the palms of his hands, and felt the pavement dig raggedly into his skin. He let out a long, pained moan as he tried to crawl, and felt another bolt strike one of his arms. He lost his balance then, fully half of his body numb and unresponsive, the other half almost too heavy with exhaustion to move.

He cried bitterly into the ground as he felt her take another few steps towards him, and then stopped, confused, as something cracked through the air with a sound like thunder, and she staggered, the confident, slow rage in her mind giving way to a sudden, almost painful panic.

Casper pushed himself towards a wall with his one remaining good arm and, with what felt like a gargantuan effort, pulled himself up into something resembling a sitting position. This time, he was able to watch as the second strike struck home, the woman glancing madly this way and that in search of her attacker. Casper didn’t follow her gaze. He already knew where to look. He could feel them approaching around the bend in the alleyway, their mind calm, collected, and just a tiny bit angry. The air around her head distorted, seeming almost to flex, like a reflection in a bending mirror. Then, with another loud crack, she was thrown against the wall. The knife clattering to the floor, abandoned as she tried to catch herself against the impact. Then, she began to run, her swarm descending once more around her, trying to block her from this new, unseen attacker. This time, it wasn’t just the air around her that distorted; it was the whole alleyway. The walls, floor, and sky as one seemed to bend inwards around them. As it all snapped back into place, the birds that had filled the space seemed to be shunted outwards, some thrown up into the air, others ejected against the walls and floor. Casper noted, somewhat bemusedly, that none of them even seemed to have been harmed by it. At the final crack, the woman had stopped running, and Casper could see why.

She was… happy. That was the only word Casper had for it, and yet, it didn’t do the experience justice. Happiness wasn’t enough to describe it. In that moment, in her mind, he felt a greater concentration of joy than he had ever thought any single person was capable of. It was all he could do to pull his power away from her; he doubted he could have even done that were it not for the minds of the birds and their perpetual hunger helping to shield him from her all-consuming joy.

Glancing down the alleyway, Casper watched as a young man crossed the corner at a walk, his face serene, calm, and utterly without flaw.

“I won’t have you running away from me, now,” the stranger called softly. “Not when you’ve been hurting little ones.”

Casper watched, dumbfounded, as the woman sank to her knees and began to weep; half giggling, half crying as her body simply failed to come to terms with the sheer, boundless euphoria she was no doubt still experiencing.

The man turned his gaze to Casper, and began to walk easily towards him as the birds around the alleyway began to disperse. He tried to push himself to his feet, to run, but before he’d even managed to heft himself off the ground, he felt something press against his mind, and in a single moment, he was happy. He sagged, felt his aching body relax against the wall as his muscles finally allowed themselves to go limp. Everything was fine now. He was safe. All was well. The man crossed the last of the distance between them, stepping casually around the still weeping form of his erstwhile attacker. He felt the man’s mind press against the boundaries of his power, and saw that he was calm. It made him happy. The figure knelt down in front of him and, for a moment, Casper thought it was funny. Somehow, this man was even more beautiful up close. The figure reached up a hand and gently pressed a finger to his forehead. He giggled, noticing, as if from very far away, how the pain in his limbs was slowly starting to fade.

“It’s alright now, little one,” the man murmured in that soft, kind voice, before turning his attention towards the woman. “Father is here, and Father protects.”

Author’s Note: And you guys thought Father was creepy before! XD Sorry this chapter’s like, a day late, but I’m making up for it by having it be nearly twice as long as normal, so, cool? Cool. Till next time, guys!

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Escapism: 3.3

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Father:

“I’m sorry, Father. She got away from us.” Marcus stared at the ground as he spoke, apparently unable to bring himself to look upon his father’s face.

“I see,” he replied, his voice even, deciding to let the boy stew in his remorse for the time being. “Can you tell me how she got away?”

Marcus nodded, his body slumping slightly in his seat as he began to recite the events of the night passed.

“She had a friend,” He mumbled. “We never saw them, but they were blasting the building with something. Lara says it was like some kind of air cannon. She’s not doing too well. It popped one of her ear drums. Samson took the girl hostage, but she got the drop on him, punched his ribs in, damn near killed him. Lara blasted her out the window and she ran. She was off the street before I caught up. The hunter says her scent just disappears up into the air. Nothing he can do.” His recitation over, the boy slumped back in his chair, ashamed. A younger sister stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder, reassuring.

Father sat in thought for a moment, his fingers tented together against his lips. The rest of his children were there as well, the boys and girls of the New York branch, all staring towards either him or Marcus. Some of the newer ones were apprehensive. The older ones seemed merely ashamed. He suppressed a smile. His children didn’t like disappointing him.

On the whole, however, Father was not disappointed. His children had lost the girl, that was true. But by the sound of it, they had found him a much more intriguing possibility than a lone teenager with super strength. An outsider who could make blasts of air like Lara’s; someone who could whisk a wounded girl off the face of the earth and up into the sky. Either power had potential, and if it was the same person, then all the better. If it was a child, then that meant a new potential member of his family, and if it was an adult, then it was good that they had brought him in. Better to deal with dangerous people himself.

He made his decision after a time, and raised his head towards his shamed son.

“I am not angry, Marcus,” he said, his voice gentle. “I know you did what you could.”

There was a collective sigh around the room from his assembled children, some relieved, some grateful. Marcus nodded, still refusing to look towards his father. A drop of liquid trailed down from the boy’s eye, traveling along his downturned nose, before falling to the floor. Father sighed. He didn’t like his children crying for him. There was no helping it. He used his power, shaping it into a bubble around himself, and pressing it out into the room at large.

The effect was immediate. His children began to smile, the residual fear fading slowly from their faces, the harsh lines fading from their cheeks as the tension drained away. Marcus shuddered in his seat, drawing in a sharp breath as his mind was wrenched off its tracks. He raised his tear stained face towards his father, and let out a small laugh, quiet, joyous.

“T-thank you, Father.” Marcus murmured, absent the shame of his prior moments, his tone drawn back to the calm lightness of his euphoria. “I-I don’t deserve it.”

Father shook his head in a single, small movement, and allowed himself a smile. He stood from his seat and crossed the distance to his wayward son. The boy gazed up at him, his expression one of purest wonderment. He placed a hand on either of Marcus’ cheeks, and gently brought the boy’s head forwards, resting his forehead against his stomach. Marcus giggled.

“No crying, little one.” He murmured, one hand rising to stroke the boy’s hair. “You know your father hates it when you cry.” Marcus nodded, taking another sharp breath through his nose as his body slowly reoriented away from his earlier remorse.

Father chuckled lightly to himself at that.

“That’s my boy.” They all stood like that for a long time, the father simply letting his children bask in the warmth of his light, none of them daring to move, lest their wondrous moment be broken. As an added gift, he reached his touch out into Marcus’ form, and began to slowly mend the fractured bones of the boy’s hand.

The magnanimous father allowed his children to warm themselves for a time, before withdrawing his light back into himself. His family gazed at him from every corner of the room, still basking in the slowly receding joy of his presence.

“Now,” he murmured, glancing around his assembled young until he found a face that caught his fancy, and gesturing her forwards. “Can you take me to your big brother and sister so that I can heal them?”

The girl nodded, her face splitting into a wide grin as she stepped forward. He held out a hand, and she took it with her own, leading him from the room.

He healed his two broken children first, before retiring with the girl that he had chosen. He remembered her face from the day that he had shaped it. Elise. The name that he had given her made him smile as he recalled it. He let her bask in him for a time after, before setting out on his new mission, refreshed.

Family was such a beautiful thing.


Casper:

The boy sat cross legged on the floor, his hands held together in his lap, trying to bring his thoughts to a calm. Even with his eyes closed, his power told him that the old witch was there, just a few feet away, her mind just a touch amused. That did not help. He didn’t like being laughed at, even in other people’s minds. Even without her input, calm would have been a tall order. He had too many thoughts surging together in the back of his mind, most of them too large and too recent to be so easily put aside. He sat like that in silence for what felt like an hour, before he sighed.

“Are you sure there isn’t another way?” He asked, trying to keep his tone from a whine.

“Not if you keep refusing to tell me your power.” Freja answered, her tone neutral, despite her growing amusement. Not for the first time, he tried to shrink his bubble tight enough around himself to exclude her. Nothing. It was wrapped as close in as it would go. “If you wanna find out if you have magic, you need to access your spells, and that means meditating.” She allowed herself a chuckle at that. “It’s okay to take as long as you like. I charge by the hour, after all.”

Casper groaned.

“Calm is haaaard, though,” he grumbled. “I don’t even know what I’m aiming for!”

“You’ll know it when you find it,” she replied after only a moment’s hesitation. “Trust me. It just takes a little time to make it click in your head. Gets easier after the first time, when you know what you’re looking for.” She paused for a moment, then shrugged. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Casper opened his eyes, watching as the older woman set herself creakily down on the mat, mirroring his pose, and closed her eyes.

“First thing you do is clear your mind,” she murmured, repeating her earlier explanation almost verbatim. “And not in that hollywood bullshit way. Really clear it. You take your problems, you look at each of them, you let yourself feel them, and you accept them so that you can stop focusing on them. They’re still there, and they’re gonna be there to piss you off later, but for now, you just accept them and move on.”

As she spoke, Casper began to feel the older woman’s emotions shift. The humor died away, and something else rose in its place. Casper had often felt emotions lurking in the background of people’s minds. Annoyances they held suppressed, feelings of sadness they were refusing to let themselves feel. As Casper watched, Freja began to unpack them within herself. For a moment, she was angry, almost dangerously so; some powerful force of repressed emotion rising in her mind, it was a slow process, the calm coming gradually as the anger burned itself out and she once more took on that semblance of calm. It wasn’t the same as before. She was still a little angered, but that feeling slowly began to fade. Her face twitched.

“It feels like shit, to be honest,” she muttered. “It’s usually easier to just force our bad feelings down. But if you’re a mage, then they clog you up, stop you being clear. To get past them, you have to let yourself feel them. You have to look at them, you have to accept them, and you have to let them run their course.”

Casper felt something else arise from the background of his teacher’s mind. It was sadness, this time. It felt… fainter, faded in a way that was hard for Casper to put into words. Like a scar from an old wound. It too swelled within her mind, before, just as had done with the anger, it began to slowly fade as she let it fall beside her. She took a deep breath.

“If it helps,” she murmured. “I try to imagine it like a ball. All that shit in your brain messes with the ball, gives it sharp edges and pointy spikes. That’s all the crap that’s left over once you’ve let yourself feel it all. So, once I’ve done what I can to let my feelings go by, I try to massage the ball-”

In spite of himself, Casper snickered.

“Shut the fuck up or I’ll set you on fire.” Freja grumbled, her face setting momentarily back into a scowl. “You take your time with it. You imagine that silver orb inside your mind, and you slowly shape it back into a perfect sphere, and if you don’t lie to yourself, and you don’t go too fast with it, then once you’re done, you’ll be calm.”

It took time, Casper noted, Freja slowly working through whatever problems she held inside her mind, before slowly bringing what remained back to calm. After about five minutes, however, Casper was entranced. Freja was calm. Not just calm in the everyday sense, as his previous understanding of the word had allowed. She was almost empty. If he’d had to put a word to it, he’d have called it tired.

“Ah,” she murmured, more to herself than to him at this point. “There it is. When you get to the end, you’ll be able to sort of see it, like a light inside your brain. It’s… hard to describe, really, but you’ll know it when you feel it.”

Casper hesitated, uncertain, then spoke, his voice quiet.

“C-can you stay like that for a while?” He asked. “I… I think it might help me look for it.”

He had expected refusal, or at least some confusion from her. Instead, she merely grunted at the request.

“Sure. Whatever. Just give it another go, okay?”

He nodded, then closed his eyes.

The process was… difficult, to say the least. None of what the old witch had said was in any way soothing to him. But it had helped him know what to do, at least. He thought of his parents, and grimaced. It made him angry. It made him very, very angry. The big problem with letting go as Freja had instructed him was that it really wasn’t something he wanted to do. He wanted to be angry with them, and he wanted to stay angry with them. It felt right to hate. He felt his breathing begin to hasten, his heart beating faster in his chest.

“It’s okay,” he heard the old woman say quietly. He opened his eyes, and saw that she was looking at him, her expression calm. “You can hold onto this feeling forever, if you have to. But you need to let it go for now. It’ll still be there when you get back. I promise.”

He took a few long, deep breaths, his chest shaking slightly in his hate, and nodded.

He doubted he could have done it on his own. Set his feelings down like that. In the end, he used the old woman as an anchor, distancing himself with her calm, before gradually allowing the betrayal to slip between his fingers. He put it down, and tried to let the feelings run their course.

A little part of him felt like he’d failed himself in that moment. Like he was letting them both off easy. He did his best not to dwell. Under his teacher’s guidance, he carried on.

Author’s Note: Okay, so, I’ll be interested to see what you guys make of this one. It’s probably one of my stranger chapters done thus far. As always, input is appreciated. 

Just a lil disclaimer. Freja’s lesson isn’t a real meditation technique, as far as I’m aware. It might not even be healthy, like, at all. It’s just a thing I do sometimes when I need to clear my head. I’d be interested to see what you make of it. 

EDIT: Having looked at it, what they’re doing is actually very similar to mindfulness meditation. Being aware of one’s own feelings and their causes and attempting to avoid dwelling on them.

Kay. That’s all I had to say. Bai!

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Mistakes: 1.8

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Author note:

Hey guys, this is just a little note from me to let you know about a few changes I am making to the site. My resolution for the new year is to maintain a more consistent weekly update schedule so that you guys don’t have to wait so long for content, so from now on, the site will be updating on or around the Monday/Tuesday of every week (It will be either Monday or Tuesday for some of you because of time zones.)

Additionally, I have decided to add a bonus chapter every month focused on the perspective of a character that you guys choose. These may be origin stories, background info, battle scenes, or even just slice of life stuff. To assist with this, I have set up a page in the site menu where people can vote for any character I have tagged in one of my chapters. I had been intending to limit these votes to my followers as a way of keeping track of the novel’s popularity through time while still rewarding you guys rather than taking stuff away. I have since changed my mind on that because it felt a little alienating, so now anyone can vote regardless of whether they have followed.


James:

The two boys walked together in an awkward silence, neither one entirely sure of what they were supposed to say. James didn’t like the idea that the other boy could tell what he was feeling. It made him nervous, and the fact that he knew Casper could probably feel that nervousness wasn’t helping. A small part of him cursed the thin width of the sidewalk that prevented him from standing a little further out from the other boy without it being obvious. A larger part of him wished he’d played it a little cooler back in the alleyway.

“… So-” James began eventually, before Casper cut him off.

“You’re probably wondering if I’ve figured out what happened to you,” he said bluntly. “Just gonna let you know, I haven’t, and I’m not really planning on trying very hard to find out. I have a hunch, but I’m not gonna follow it. It’s your thing to deal with, okay?”

“Uhh, okay.” James replied, unsure what else to say.

“Okay, good.” The other boy nodded. The two walked in silence for a few seconds, until Casper spoke again, sounding annoyed. “Can you stop that?”

“Stop what?” James asked, a little helplessly.

“Stop feeling so weird and awkward,” Casper groaned. “It makes talking to you super hard!”

“I’m sorry,” said James, raising his hands in aimless placation. “But it’s kinda hard when you…” He tried to figure out how best to put it for a few moments, then groaned, putting a hand over his eyes. “Okay look. You find out that your new friend can tell what you’re feeling every second, right at a time when you’re kinda going through some stuff, and obviously, that makes you feel kinda awkward around him, and you know he can tell that you feel awkward, so you start feeling awkward about feeling awkward and after a few loops of that, you can’t really stop anymore!”

“What?” Casper asked, an eyebrow raised. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You make it sound like I’m judging you for feeling things.”

“Well you kind of are, aren’t you?” James retorted, a little irritated. “I mean, you were judging me for feeling awkward about you just a few seconds ago.”

“Well, yeah,” Casper muttered. “But that was only cuz there’s no reason to feel awkward about me.”

“Well I kinda think there is,” James snapped, fast approaching something akin to anger. “I had a really bad thing happen and I didn’t want anyone to know about it and then you come along and I can’t even hide it from you when something makes me feel bad!”

Casper stopped walking and gazed at James, a stricken look on his face.

“Does… does this mean we can’t really be friends anymore?” The boy asked, his voice trembling just a little. “I… I’d really like to keep being friends… if it’s okay… I d-don’t really have many and it’s nice having someone to talk to and…” He trailed off into silence.

It was painfully obvious that Casper was holding back tears. James gazed at him stonily for a few moments, his arms folded, then let out a long sigh.

“Yes, we’re still friends, Casper,” he grumbled eventually. “But you can’t pretend this doesn’t change stuff a little. I mean, for starters, why the heck did you only start talking to me after I came back to school, huh? If you’ve been able to feel how I felt every day, then why did you only start talking to me after I started feeling worse, huh? How am I supposed to feel, when by the looks of things, I’m pretty sure you only started trying to be my friend out of pity!”

“Pity?” Casper asked quietly, eyes glistening. “James, I got my powers after my dad got angry one night and broke my arm. I spent three whole months after that trying not to drown in other people’s feelings and thinking I was going crazy. I don’t do pity, James, cuz no matter what happened to you, I’m pretty sure that I have it worse.” That made James stop, he opened his mouth, unsure of what to say, but Casper wasn’t done, he continued, his voice rising steadily in pitch. “And yeah, I came to find you cuz you felt sadder than you used to, and yeah, maybe I did want to help you to feel better. You can feel whatever you want to feel about that, but I’m not gonna apologise for trying to make someone feel better when they’re sad!”

Casper was genuinely crying now, angry tears sliding slowly down his face. On one side, James noticed, the tears ran clear. On the other, however, the moisture picked something up off of the boy’s face, turning a pale, pinkish brown, the same color as Casper’s skin. James suddenly felt very small. He stared at the ground, cheeks red, hands clenched at his sides.

“… Sorry.” He muttered eventually, trying his best to mean it. “I… I was being a doof. Sorry.”

Casper wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

“If you start feeling bad for me, I swear-”

“I don’t,” James forestalled him, holding a hand up placatingly. “I feel bad cuz I said stupid stuff, not cuz of anything happening with-” he gave up with a groan. “Look, do you wanna go to my place and watch bad anime for a couple hours? This is way too heavy and I wanna just zone out for a while, you know?”

Casper nodded, just a little shakily.

“Y-yeah, that’d be good. Do you have any that aren’t in japanese?”

“I have some with subtitles.”

“God,” Casper groaned as they began walking again. “Being friends with you is gonna suck.”


Tasha:

The girl ran for what felt like miles. One advantage her power offered her, she had found, was endurance. Perhaps her super strength extended to her lungs and heart as well, perhaps it was something else. Whatever the cause, it did not matter. For now, she was running.

After what felt like an age, Tasha began to tire, and her flat sprint slowly petered down to a stop. She came to rest in an alleyway, clutching her knees and panting slightly with an exertion she rarely felt any more.

“It’s okay, Tasha,” she muttered to herself between gasps, trying to settle her racing mind. “It was just a gun. Just a gunholyshitthatguyhadagun!”

She straightened, jogging on the spot and waving her hands by her side in an attempt at dispersing the nervous energy.

“It’s okay! Calm down, Tash, you got this,” she took a deep breath. “Okay. So they had a gun. And that dude didn’t even flinch when I broke his hand, and they were all staring at me like creepy psycho vampire people. It’s okay, I can deal.” She nodded to herself, and took another deep breath.

It wasn’t working. Tasha started pacing the length of the alleyway, hands clenching and unclenching by the moment against the tension.

“Everything is juuuuuust fine! You’re safe, and strong, and nobody can stand up to you. You got this.” Tasha took another long deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to force herself to be calm through sheer force of will.

It didn’t work, so she punched a dumpster, letting out a bark of anger and frustration. The dumpster rocked back momentarily and she felt the impact ring through her arm, only a little painful. The violence helped, just a little, so she punched again, harder this time. The resulting clang rustled a few birds from their perches on a nearby rooftop. She punched it again, driving her fist into the thing with all the force she could muster and was rewarded with the satisfying feeling of the metal giving way under her knuckles. When she pulled her fist back, she noticed the dumpster now bore a slight dent in the rough shape of her fist.

Looking at the dent, Tasha felt something ping in the back of her mind, an idea. She stared at it for a while, letting her anxiety slowly drain away, to be replaced with excitement. She chuckled, and the chuckle became a deep belly laugh. She raised her face to the sky and cackled for all she was worth, then she set off at a run, trying to figure out where she was before reorienting and setting off towards her new destination.


Samson:

Samson stayed with Marcus for a few hours until the pain began to fade, the younger man eventually laying back against the medical bed and falling into a fitful sleep. Samson wasn’t surprised. The boy had been working himself to the bone in the last few weeks in his attempts to acclimatize to his new position. He suppressed a chuckle that it had taken a severe injury just to get the kid to take a nap.

Samson struggled to think of Marcus as his sibling, much as he struggled to think of any of their new members as such. He was grateful to Father, and the family as a whole for saving the child that he had been and giving him this new life that he cherished, but he had always had difficulty thinking of them as his ‘family’ in the way that Marcus did. The life he had led prior to his membership here had not been exactly conducive to his idea of families as particularly loving things. Samson suspected that Father knew this about him, thought that was probably why he had been asked to select someone to replace him as the leader here. Ah well, if Father only wanted to have true believers in charge, Samson couldn’t really bring himself to blame the man for it. Despite the fact that he did not really consider him ‘family,’ he did still love the man, in his way.

Samson left Marcus to his rest, and left the room, sliding the door open and closing it behind him as quietly as he could. He took out his phone, unlocked it, and dialed in a number. He pressed the call button, raised the phone to his ear, and waited. The man on the other end of the line picked up before the third ring.

“Hello, Samson, good to hear from you,” the voice spoke in that same gentle tone that he remembered. Even hearing it over the phone, Samson found it very calming. He smiled. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your call? Is your new leader struggling to acclimatize to the role?”

“No, nothing like that,” Samson replied, his tone unconsciously shifting to match the other man’s natural gentleness. “Marcus is doing just fine. Some growing pains, but that’s to be expected for a kid his age in a role like this.”

“Ah, well, I am glad to hear that,” the voice replied, and Samson could almost hear the smile behind the words. “What is it that I can do for you then, my son?”

“I wanted to report an incident that I thought would interest you,” Samson answered. “A girl was poking around today, fourteen or fifteen, if I had to guess. We scared her off.”

“I see,” the voice was curious now, its tone elevated ever so slightly. “What makes her worth commenting on?”

“She broke Marcus’ hand,” Samson said simply. “With her fingers. No tools or anything, just grip strength.”

“Ah,” the voice said, understanding. “You think she might be special, then.”

“I thought you might want to know about it, yes.”

“You said she was around fifteen, correct?” The voice asked. Before he could respond, it continued. “That’s a little older than I normally accept in a new family member, but I suppose an exception could be made. Would you have said she was attractive?”

“Hard to say,” Samson shrugged. “Under all the bruises and sun damage, I would struggle to even say what race she was, and her teeth looked a little damaged.”

“I see,” the voice sounded disappointed. “It would be better if she was naturally pretty, my touch can only fix so much, you know. Still, I had best take a look. Thank you for telling me this, my son.”

“You’re welcome, Father.” Samson replied.

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