Dissonance: 4.3

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Author’s Note: Alrighty, guys. Once more, I am linking to the ongoing one shot anthology thing being run by Revfitz. This week, the story I’m linking to is called Curse of The Magi and it’s written by Walter. Now that that’s been said, ON WITH THE STORY!!

Casper:

Casper held the toothbrush under the tap for a second, then lifted it to his mouth. It was the third time he’d brushed his teeth that morning. The first two had been to get rid of the lingering taste of vomit. This one was in hopes of chasing away the memory of Father’s lips. He ran the brush over his tongue, forcing the minty foam in between his taste buds in an attempt to force everything else out. It didn’t work. He brushed harder.

He heard a knock on the bathroom door behind him, then heard Mel’s voice speaking through it.

“Casper? Freja went out and picked up some clean clothes for you. I’m leaving them by the door.”

“Thank you.” He replied, his words muffled by the foam coating the inside of his mouth as he stepped towards the door.

For a brief moment, he felt Mel’s mind inside his bubble before she stepped away. The woman was practically radiating concern. He felt a pang of guilt at that. He must have been quite the sight when he’d turned up on her doorstep the night before, his ragged clothes covered in a mixture of bile, dirt and his own blood. She’d ushered him up to the apartment above the shop and sat him down on her couch before setting off to get Freja. He’d been asleep by the time either of them got back.

Casper sighed. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this to them.

He opened the door a crack, saw the neatly folded shirt and pants sitting just outside, and grabbed them. He got halfway through taking off his current shirt before deciding he needed a shower. He hoped Mel wouldn’t mind.

He stepped out of the bathroom twenty minutes later cleaner than he had been in days, the soiled remnants of his old clothes held in a loose bundle under one arm.

Mel and Freja were waiting for him outside, sitting at Mel’s small breakfast table, a pot of tea between them. Both women turned to look at him as he stepped through the door.

“… Thanks for the clothes,” he mumbled. “… And for letting me sleep here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Freja murmured. “Are you gonna tell us what happened?”

“I…” He paused, trying to think through the events of the last day enough to even make sense of them for himself, let alone anyone else. “Honestly, I don’t know.” Freja raised an eyebrow at that. Mel opened her mouth to speak, but he clarified before she got a word out. “I mean. I sorta know what happened; it just doesn’t make any sense, you know?”

Neither Mel nor Freja said anything at that; they simply gazed at him, waiting for him to continue. After a moment’s awkward silence, he sighed, stepping over to the couch on which he’d spent the night asleep and planting himself on the arm of it so that he was facing them. He spent a moment looking for an appropriate place to deposit his old clothes that wouldn’t seem rude, before Mel flicked a finger and the entire foul smelling bundle pulled itself from his hands, wrapped itself into a tight ball, and launched itself into the kitchen, where it landed in a bin with a clang. On any other day, Casper would have been impressed. Today, however, he barely even noticed.

Instead, he took a long breath, and began to speak. He told his teachers about the birds, about the strangers he’d found following him, and their mutual flight from the swarm. He told them about the attack on the bridge; he tried to play off his trick with the grenade as more of a lucky shot than anything related to his power. Through all of it, the two women just listened; Mel occasionally nodding, Freja impassive. He left out his encounter with Father, however. It was too… embarrassing? No. That wasn’t quite the word. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something he wanted to share with a pair of near-strangers. Instead, he simply said that the agent had healed him before he ran. Neither of them questioned it.

“So, yeah,” he murmured as his tale drew to a close. “I came here cuz… well, it was the only place I could think of that might be safe to spend the night with all the stuff going on. Sorry.”

Freja nodded at that.

“Fair call,” she murmured. “So, you got caught up in that mess with the elves, huh? We heard about that. You’re lucky you got away. Far as I can tell, most of the other victims were found unconscious in a cavern below central park.”

“Elves?” Casper asked. He dimly recalled Father making some mention of them the day before. But couldn’t remember any explanation. “What does them being elves have to do with it?”

“Because that’s what elves do,” Freja grunted. “Hop across the border to our world every couple months to kidnap people with magical potential. It’s rare that they target cities, though. Too many people who can fight back.”

“You should be safe now, though.” Mel added. “Word is that the last of them was captured last night. The birds have been rounded up, too.”

Casper spent a few moments trying to absorb that new piece of information. He didn’t succeed. Superpowered interdimensional kidnappers was too much to take in when he was still so tired. Instead, he set the idea aside for later.

“… Is there a phone I can borrow?” He asked. “I need to call some people. Kinda promised a friend I’d let him know I’m okay.” Mel nodded, pulling a battered looking flip phone from her pocket and tossing it across to him. “Thanks.”

He dialed the number by memory, watching Freja take her leave as the line connected. The person on the other end didn’t speak.

“Hey, James,” he murmured, trying to push some of the tiredness out of his voice. “It’s Cas. Are you there? I… I could really use someone to talk to right now.”

“James isn’t here right now, Casper,” Replied a man’s voice. “This is his father.”

“Oh.” He mumbled. “Uh, hi, Mr Toranaga. Can uhh… Can you tell me when he’s gonna be back?”

“Oh, he’s home,” the older man replied. “He’s downstairs. I’ll take you to him in a minute. I just wanted to ask you a few things first, okay?”

“… Is this about me running away?”

“Yes.”

“… Did James tell you?”

“No, your dad did. He’s very worried about y-”

“I don’t care if he’s worried.” Casper grumbled. “He deserves to be.” He didn’t have the energy to be truly angry. He settled for disappointed. Couldn’t the universe just let him talk to his friend for a bit without making things all complicated?

“… Yeah, I can understand that,” there was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “Doesn’t stop it being true, though.” The reaction caught Casper off guard. He’d been expecting judgement.

“… How much did he tell you?” He asked.

“That he hurt you,” came the reply. “That it’s his fault you ran away.”

“… Well,” Casper muttered. “He’s not wrong.”

“Are you still in New York?”

“… Yeah.”

“Good. In that case, I’m going to give you a phone number for a place that will make sure you’re housed and fed while all of this is sorted out, okay?”

Casper was silent for a few seconds at that, trying to force his exhausted brain to think through the implications of the idea.

“… Is there a nice way of saying I don’t trust you?” He asked.

It was a long while before the older man answered.

“That stings, Casper,” he said quietly. “I haven’t done anything to earn that from you.”

“Sorry,” Casper lied. “But it’s true. How do I know I won’t go there and find my parents waiting for me? I’d rather just handle it myself.”

“Oh come on,” Mr Toranaga replied, annoyed. “That’s just dumb. You’re a thirteen year old boy. You know you can’t do it all on your own.”

“I’m not on my own,” he snapped back, irritated. He could feel Mel’s eyes watching him from across the room. He didn’t look at her. This was his business. “I’m staying at a friend’s place. I’m handling it fine!”

He heard the other man begin to retort, before being cut off by another voice, too quiet for him to make out the words. The two seemed to argue back and forth for a few moments, before there was a rustling noise, and a woman’s voice spoke into the line. It was one he recognized; James’ mom.

“Hey, Casper,” she started, sounding almost as tired as he felt. “I’m sorry about Peter. He gets stupid about stuff he cares about.”

Casper forced himself not to groan. Great. Another adult to deal with. All he wanted was to speak to his friend. Was that so hard?

“Look,” he pleaded, raising his fingers to pinch the bridge of his nose. “If I let you give me the number, will you just let me talk to James?”

The older woman sighed at that.

“Okay,” she said, her tone calm. “That was sort of rude, but I’m gonna let it slide because we both know you’re not having the best time right now. I get it. You probably feel really ganged up on and you’re worried we want to send you back to your parents and maybe a hundred other things I haven’t thought of. But this is a conversation you need to have with someone, because running away just isn’t enough of an answer on its own. Would it help if I brought James up here to join us? Give you someone you know for sure is on your side?”

“… Yeah,” he muttered. “Yeah. Do that, please.”

There was another quiet exchange on the other end of the line, before Sarah’s voice came back.

“Right. Peter’s just getting him. I’m gonna put you on speakerphone, okay? It’ll be just you, me and James. Peter will be here too, but he’s going to be being quiet just in case he starts being dumb again.”

“… Okay.”

Once again, the phone line rustled, then he heard a thump, and what sounded like the distant blaring of a television.

“Hey, Casper,” murmured James’ voice into the following quiet. “You doing okay?” It was a surprising relief, hearing that. Casper felt himself sag slightly in his seat, muscles that he hadn’t even realized were clenched suddenly going loose once more.

“Heh,” he chuckled. “God. I hope I am. It’s good to hear from you, bud.”

“Good to hear from you too,” the other boy replied. “I was worried, you know?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” Casper leaned back in his seat, letting himself fall back off of the arm of the couch and into the cushions. “I’ve had a long couple of days.”

Before James had a chance to respond, Sarah cleared her throat.

“Anyway,” she murmured. “Back to the big issue here, alright? Casper. I know you don’t trust us, but I want to ask you something about that, okay?”

“… Yeah?”

“Is there any reason I’d be on your parents’ side here?” She asked. “I like you, Casper. You’re a nice kid, you’re kind to Bex, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve been helping James deal with some of the things that happened to him that he doesn’t feel comfortable bringing to us. Your parents, on the other hand, are two people I’ve never met, who apparently abuse their son. So, again, why in God’s name do you think either one of us would not be on your side?”

Casper opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. He could think of no real counter there.

“… Sorry.”

“Okay,” Sarah murmured. “Moving on. I’ve been thinking it over, and I have an idea that I’d like you to think about, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Right,” she continued. “So, you don’t really trust the number we were going to give you. That’s okay. But the fact remains, we need to get you to a place where everyone can be sure that you’re getting all of the things you need, and where you’re around people you can trust. So hear me out. What if Peter and I called your parents, and told them that you were going to be staying at our house until we can get everything sorted out that needs to be sorted out? That way, we can be sure that you’re safe and secure and are even able to go to the same school as normal.”

“That’s a thing we can do?” James asked excitedly. “You promise?”

“Depends if Linda and Ray are willing to agree to it,” Peter spoke up. “But if they’re given a choice between him staying with us and living on the streets, I’m pretty sure they’ll agree to it.”

“Well, Casper?” Sarah asked. “What do you think?”

Casper didn’t answer. He was busy thinking. It sounded like a good plan; a really good plan. Almost too good to be true, if he was honest, but he wanted to be sure.

“Cas?” James asked. “You okay?”

“Do you promise my parents won’t be allowed to come near me till I say so?” He asked, his voice quiet.

“… No,” Sarah replied. “Only your parents can promise that.”

“We can promise they won’t be allowed inside our house until you say so, though.” Peter interjected. “If they do, I’ll have to punch your dad in the face again.”

“You punched my dad?” Casper asked, surprised.

“He’d just told me he was beating his kid. What was I supposed to do?”

“… I like you now.”

“Peter,” Sarah chided. “Shush. You’re being quiet now, remember? Well, Casper? Is that everything? Now’s the time to ask.”

“If my parents agree to it all,” Casper muttered. “Then sure… But only if they promise to stay away from me.”

“I’ll make the call.” Said Peter.

From their end of the line, Casper thought he heard a door swing closed, the distant sounds of the tv shutting off in its wake. For the next few minutes, no one spoke, all three of them simply waiting for the verdict, breath bated. Then, the door opened again, and Peter spoke.

“Well, they agreed to it,” he murmured. “Not sure if Ray wants to hug me or kill me right now, but they agreed.”

Casper let out that stored up breath in a long, low sigh.

“So,” he mumbled, somehow even more exhausted than he had been a moment ago. “If I’m at the GameStop near your house in an hour, can we meet up there?”

“We’ll be there,” Sarah murmured. “James, too.”

“Yup!” James agreed brightly. “Holy heck, it feels so much better knowing you’re okay!”

“Heh,” Casper chuckled. He really needed to teach James some real swear words. “Yeah. It does. See you there.” With that, he hung up, leaned his head back against the couch cushions, and closed his eyes. Why did everything feel so much lighter now?

“So,” Mel’s voice asked. “You have a place to go now?”

“Yeah,” he replied exhaustedly. “I do. Thanks for all your help, Mel. How much do I owe you guys for the clothes? Cuz I’m pretty sure there’s, like, three thousand dollars in those pants you threw in the garbage.”

Mel snorted. Casper grinned.

Fifteen minutes later, he bid his teacher goodbye and made his way down the narrow steps that led from her apartment to the Rose Bouquet. The store was almost empty when he stepped inside, in spite of the veritable crowds of people making their way along the pavement outside. He gave Freja a wave on his way by and received a curt nod in return. Apart from the two of them, there was only one other person in the place, a well dressed boy who looked perhaps a year or two older than Casper himself, perusing what looked like a collection of birthstones on one of the shelves. Casper glanced casually at them as he passed, wondering what had the older boy’s interest. That was when he felt it.

He had his bubble wrapped in close around himself, too tired to willingly take on too much of the emotions of those around him. Because of this, he only felt the other boy’s mind touch his own when they came within a few feet of one another. Casper didn’t recognize the boy’s face at all; but he recognized the feel of his mind immediately. Calm, collected, and just a little bit kind.

Father.

He began to run.

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Escapism: 3.4

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Casper:

It took nearly two hours, all said, for Casper to find what he was looking for. Even with a calm achieved, itself a task that he doubted he would have managed without his teacher’s mind as a reference, it took him a while to find the right part of himself. It wasn’t, as Freja had described, like a light inside his mind. He had tried envisioning it that way at first, and it had felt stilted, out of shape. When he finally found it, the idea it brought to mind was, for him, something a good deal more quiet. A single head of dandelion seeds in an empty field of grass, swaying gently in the breeze. The picture was oddly detailed for a mental image, vivid and consistent enough that he could count the individual seeds branching off of it. When he relayed the image to her, his teacher let out a dry chuckle.

“That so, huh?” She asked. “Well, try using your power. See if your flower changes at all.”

“Well, uh…” Casper started. “Thing about that is… My power’s always on… I’m never not using it.”

Freja grunted.

“I see.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “Well, can you change it somehow? Put more energy into it or something?”

The boy nodded, closing his eyes and focusing for a moment on his power. He began to swell his boundary out, from just large enough to encompass him and Freja, to large enough to fill the whole room, then even bigger. He pushed it out far enough that he could feel the minds of those passing in the street outside, the happy woman still selling her flowers. In his mind’s eye, the dandelion shifted, grew larger, the individual bristles of it opening up a touch wider. It was a strange feeling, watching what felt like an imaginary picture change without any conscious input from himself.

“It’s doing stuff,” he said aloud. “Changing shape the more I use it. Getting bigger.”

“Yup,” Freja murmured, nodding. “Good job, kid. You’re a mage. That flower you’re seeing is your spell. You’ll probably start seeing more of them turn up as you start learning new spells.”

New spells.

Casper took a moment to absorb that idea, the image of the flower nearly slipping from his mind as a wave of excitement threatened to push him from his present calm. He thought for a moment, before asking a question that had been lingering in the back of his mind for what felt like weeks.

“Is… is there some way I can turn it off?” He asked, earning himself a look of confusion from his teacher. “M-my spell, I mean. It… gets in the way of life, sometimes. I’d like to not have to deal with it all the time.”

“Ah,” she nodded, understanding. “Sure. There’s a couple ways you could turn it off for a while, I think. You could probably play around with it for a while and see if you can find an off switch-”

“No,” he cut her off. “I tried that. Three months. Couldn’t figure it out.”

Freja gave him another nod.

“Fair enough. Thought you might say that. Well, I could probably put together an amulet or something to keep your spell suppressed,” she raised a hand to forestall the boy as he opened his mouth to speak, excited. “Don’t get all yappy yet. It’d take a few weeks, I’d have to take a very close look at what your spell does, and it’d cost you about twenty grand.” She chuckled slightly as his face fell once more. “Easiest answer? Just keep yourself exhausted, I guess. A spell won’t work if you don’t have enough energy in you to fuel it. Start learning some other spells and just work all your energy out on them so your power goes away for a while.”

Casper sat for a moment, mulling it all over in his mind, then nodded with a sigh. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it was something he could do. Better than just holding his bubble close and hoping.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Okay. So, how do I learn new spells?”

“Simple,” Freja shrugged. “You get someone to teach you.” She pulled herself to her feet. “For that, gimme a sec.” With that, she walked out of the room, leaving him alone.

Curious, and lacking anything better to do, Casper followed the older woman with his power, tracing her mind back through the narrow hallway and into the shop, then out onto the street, where she came to a stop beside the cheerful flower woman. He felt their emotions fluctuate briefly, flickering slightly in minute response to concepts introduced and discussed. He felt the flower woman become a touch excited, Freja a little amused, before the two apparently swapped places, his teacher remaining out by the flowers while the second woman made her way inside, passing through the cluttered shop and into the hallway behind him.

“So,” she called out cheerfully as she caught sight of him. “You’re the new kid, huh?”

“Guess so,” he answered, glancing behind himself towards the same, slightly portly woman who’d been selling flowers when he’d arrived. She was carrying, to his momentary confusion, a pair of small, cheap, plastic flower pots, each apparently filled with plain garden soil. “My name’s Cas. Hi.”

“Nice to meet you, Cas,” she replied, stepping forwards into the room and bending at the waist to place one of the pots beside the boy. “I’m Mel. Now then. Let’s not waste time. Freja said you’d earned yourself a particular spell, and I’m better at teaching this one than she is, so watch closely.”

Casper nodded and Mel lowered herself down into a sitting position off to his side with just a touch more ease than Freja had before. She lifted the second flower pot in her hand, holding it just below eye level between them. Casper gazed at it, waiting. He didn’t have to wait long.

It started out relatively small, a slight disturbance in the soil filling the container, before a tiny nub of green poked its way out from underneath; a seedling. The tiny plant grew a little faster now, extending into a stem like a video in time lapse. The stem sprouted leaves, grew higher, and formed a bud, which quickly colored itself into a light, orangish pink, before dividing out into petals that then spread apart into a flower bulb. The whole process had taken perhaps eleven seconds. Mel placed the newborn flower on the floor between them, and turned her eyes towards the boy.

“Thoughts?” She asked, her tone suddenly very serious, matched by what he felt in her mind.

Casper hesitated. It felt to him like his teacher was waiting for him to judge her. He could feel a note of something that almost felt like anticipation in her mind. Like she was waiting for him to miss the point somehow; to say the wrong thing. In the end, he opted for honesty.

“Well,” he began. “I gotta admit, a little bit of me’s disappointed that nothing caught fire and exploded.”

Mel rolled her eyes, a momentary amusement touching inside her mind.

“Kids,” she snorted. “They never change. We don’t teach combat magic to children we’ve only just met, Cas.”

“Yeah, I figured,” He admitted, returning his eyes to the plant between them. “… What sort of flower is it?”

“This?” She asked, gesturing down at it absently. “It’s a tulip.”

Casper nodded.

“It’s pretty,” he said eventually. He meant it, too. He liked flowers. Growing up in the city, they were a little bit of a rarity. “The petals make me think of sunsets.”

Mel gazed at him as he spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly as she considered him. Then, she smiled, a surprisingly powerful note of pride settling down in her thoughts as his words hit home.

“Aww,” she chuckled. “Such a nice boy.” With that, she leaned forwards a little, her hands coming to rest on her knees. “Yup, that’s good enough for me. You’re learning this one.”

Casper cocked an eyebrow at that. Had he just passed a wizard test by complimenting a flower?

“This one?” He asked. “You mean there’s other ones I could learn instead?”

“Yup,” Mel nodded, gesturing a hand absently towards the tulip, which slowly began to swell once more. “There’s a bunch of other ones. Freja could teach you any number of flashy spells, and you’ll probably learn some of them too, in time, but this one’s a little special. I only teach it to the kids I like. Not every youngster gets to be a nature mage, you know.”

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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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Escapism: 3.2

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Casper:

Casper awoke early on the first morning of his new life. The first rays of morning sunlight filtering in through the windows hit his eyelids, and he mumbled something unintelligible, turning over slightly as he dozed to better shield his eyes from the light. There was something unbelievably comfortable about sleeping on Tasha’s couch, her dog curled up against him, head resting against his chest.

It had been a bit of a surprise when the animal had bounded through the trashed apartment to greet him the night before. He’d had his power locked down, closed in around himself, too focused on his own disjointed thoughts to be aware of much beyond his immediate surroundings anyway. Then he’d heard a thumping sound, felt an impact against his chest, and a force of sheer, pure excitement had crashed against his unhappy consciousness. The dog had bowled him over to the floor and started licking him, and he’d giggled without even thinking. It had been a reprieve, an excuse to just stop thinking for a while, leave his parents and Tasha and everything else behind. He had taken it, playing with his excitable four legged friend for who knew how long, before eventually falling asleep on Tasha’s couch.

Laying against him now, Casper felt something new coming from his friend. Relaxation. Simple and pure. Maxie liked the feeling of the warm sun against his fur. He liked the cushion of Casper’s belly as his makeshift pillow, and he liked dozing there without a care in the world. It was hard not to bask in it. Casper liked dogs, he decided; he liked them very much. He raised a hand to stroke the creature’s head, and smiled tiredly as the fresh wave of satisfaction washed over him.

Without thinking, Casper opened up his power, not so much pushing it further as relaxing his restraints on it, too comfortable to really care. His radius expanded outwards, and he felt the minds of those in the apartments around and below him brush against his mind. They were a far less pleasant feeling to be party to. Most grumpy, slightly tired, some probably preparing for a day’s work. One man two floors down was doing something uncomfortable to himself. Casper huffed in irritation. These other people were ruining his perfect morning. They did serve one purpose, though. They brought Casper back to himself enough to make him think. He opened his eyes, grimaced, and sat upright on the couch. He reached into his pocket for his phone, intent on checking the time, before remembering that it was gone. He’d smashed it on his way across town. He rolled his eyes. Better get a new one today. That thought brought a realization to mind. No money. Right. That was a thing. He shrugged. Tasha probably wouldn’t mind if he borrowed some of hers for the time being.

Casper cast his eyes around the apartment, and for the first time, it struck him just how much of a state the whole place was in, old food wrappers and junk littering every square inch of the floor around him. He’d been in too much of a state the night before to pay it any mind. He scrunched his nose up in disgust, some part of his mind suddenly connecting his surroundings with the stale, slightly moldy smell of the place. He thought for a moment of Tasha, and compared what he knew of her to the idea of living in this place, then shrugged. Yeah. He could see her living here.

His stomach grumbled, and he grunted, pushing himself up off the couch and making his way towards Tasha’s fridge. Step one: breakfast. Step two:… He’d get to that later.

The dog pushed itself upright and stretched languidly, before following Casper to the kitchen, his tail wagging gently behind him. Better feed the dog, too.

It took a few minutes to find something edible for them both. Stale cereal on long-life milk for him, the same for Maxie. As he ate, he reached once more into his pocket for his phone, more out of instinct than anything else. He remembered that it was gone with a sigh, then felt his fingertip brush against a slip of paper. He pulled it out and gazed down at it. A handwritten phone number on a slip of paper nervously toyed with so much that it was practically fraying.

The magic teacher.

In the events of the previous night, he’d completely forgotten about it. The revelation of his parents’ actions taking the forefront in his mind. He grinned. No plans for the day, why not learn some cool stuff?

It took Casper almost an hour and a half to find Tasha’s cache of money. He’d been expecting something underhanded, like stashing it in a crack behind a mirror or something, hidden in the walls. As it turned out, however, Tasha had apparently gone for something simpler and, in the end, a lot more effective. She’d stuffed the money into one of the hundred or so abandoned pizza boxes littering the floor. He took a moment to count it out, and whistled. Four thousand bucks, near enough. That would do him well enough for the moment. He stashed it in his school bag, and went into the bathroom to swish some toothpaste around on his teeth, before stepping back out into the world, giving Maxie an affectionate pat on the head before he took his leave.

Down at the street level, he bought himself an ice cream at a convenience store to make some change, before tracking down a telephone booth. He closed the door behind him, slipped a few coins into the slot, and tapped out the number from the slip. The phone rang out five times before it was answered, a gruff, elderly sounding woman picking up on the other end.

“Hello. You’ve reached The Rose Bouquet. Are you looking to place an order?”

“Uhh, hi,” Casper replied, not particularly surprised. “I’m… Cas. I wanted to get some lessons?”

There was a grunt on the other end of the line, before the woman responded.

“Flower arranging or Gardening?” She asked, her tone businesslike.

“I uhh…” Casper started, before shrugging. “I don’t really know what that means. Whichever one isn’t actually flower arranging or gardening, I guess.”

The line was silent for a moment, before the woman responded, her tone suspicious.

“You a cop?”

“Uhh… No… I’m thirteen.”

“You sound thirteen, sure,” the woman’s voice allowed. “But that doesn’t really mean much depending on who you are. Anyways, I don’t teach anything besides gardening and flowers, so if you’re looking for something else, you’ve got the wrong number.”

Casper rolled his eyes, frustrated.

“Look,” he whined. “I’m not a cop, okay?” He hesitated, then decided to just go for it. At the very worst, he had a bad number and the woman would just think he was a crazy person. “All I know is my dad hurt me real bad one time and now I can do things that should be impossible. I don’t know if I want flowers or gardening, but another kid gave me this number and told me you could help, so can you?”

There was another, longer silence, before the woman sighed.

“Sounds like you want gardening lessons,” she muttered, her tone exasperated. “Who was it that gave you my number?”

“Umm,” Casper replied awkwardly. “I… kinda don’t know his name-” He was cut off by a snort of laughter.

“Kid,” she chuckled. “You really suck at this.”

“It’s not my fault!” He said defensively. “Lewis said we weren’t allowed to swap names!”

“Ah,” the woman murmured, as if in sudden realization. “One of Lewis’ kids, eh? That explains a lot.” She stopped for a moment, apparently to think, before continuing. “Tell you what. Head over to the shop so we can talk in person. I’ll take a look at you, and we can go from there.”

Casper let out a relieved sigh.

“Yeah, will do. Thank you.”

The woman made no indication that she had heard him, reciting the address in a bored tone before hanging up with a click.

Casper let out a long breath, before placing the phone back in the holder. The shop was only a short way from Tasha’s apartment, as luck would have it. He pushed his nerves aside, before stepping out of the booth, and walking the short distance to the shop.

He spotted the place almost immediately upon rounding the corner onto its street. The Rose Bouquet was a fairly hokey looking place to Casper’s eye, the shop front covered by an apparently ancient fabric canopy in a faded mishmash of greens and yellows, throwing a swathe of shade over the stands of arranged flowers that spilled out into the street. The flowers themselves were overseen by a plump, middle aged looking woman with an almost disturbingly wholesome smile, busily flagging down any passerby who’s attention she could draw for more than a few seconds at a time. He wondered, briefly, how people doing jobs like that managed to smile so much without it looking fake, then made his way over to the shopfront, his power kept wrapped tight around him. He waited for her to be distracted, flagging down another prospective customer, before slipping past her into the store, brushing aside a thin bead curtain that hung from a doorway and setting a bell jangling lightly as he passed.

Almost immediately upon entering the place, his nostrils were assaulted by the aromas of incense and candle wax, utterly overpowering the lingering smells of car exhaust and morning moisture that clung to the street outside, drowning out even the fresher fragrances of the flower stall. He wrinkled his nose slightly in distaste, and glanced around. It looked like a souvenir shop, the interior of the place lined with row after row of cluttered shelves holding polished pebbles and salt infused soaps and a hundred other things besides, most of them labeled with price tags that almost made Casper laugh.

“Hello?” Asked a curt voice from somewhere to his left. “That you, Mel? We’re out of those weird candles that smell of grapes. Can you order some more before another tourist wants some?”

Casper recognized the voice immediately. The woman who’d answered the phone. He stepped around the shelf, bringing the chintzy sales counter into view, behind which stood an elderly woman with a scowl set implacably into a face more lined than any he had ever seen, a pair of cheap, bead encrusted spectacles perched on a hawk-like nose a good two or three times too large for her head. She squinted down at him, and made a face like she’d just bitten into a fresh lemon.

“Uh, hi,” Casper said, a little awkwardly. “I’m Cas. You, uh, told me to head ove-”

“So you ARE a kid, then.” She cut him off. “Come on. We’ll have more privacy in the back.” She raised a hand, pausing a moment to tug the edge of her sequin encrusted shawl back over her wrist, and gestured to a side door, stepping out from behind the counter towards it. Casper followed behind her, slightly deflated.

The two of them moved through the door and into a narrow hallway that branched off into an equally narrow staircase to the right side. As they walked, Casper extended his power out, allowing his little bubble to expand around his newfound companion. A part of him was disappointed when she didn’t react to it. Her mind was focused, her attention turned towards the business of the day, emotions muted. Nothing new to glean. The woman led him past the staircase, and through into a small, enclosed room that, to Casper, looked a lot like a classical dojo, the floor covered by a padded beige mat, the windowless walls lined with a number of short, wood carved drawers the contents of which he could only guess at.

After a moment or two, she stepped back to him, and placed a small, slightly oblong stone in his hand.

“Right,” she grunted, her tone businesslike. “Now then, tell me you’re a purple dinosaur.”

“… What?” Casper asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“You heard me,” She replied, utterly serious.

“… I’m a purple dinosaur?” The moment the last syllable left his mouth, the stone buzzed in his hand, vibrating a little against his skin and letting out a rattling noise not unlike a set of maracas. The surprise of it made him jump more than he would have liked to admit.

“It does that every time you tell a lie,” she murmured, looking him dead in the eye. “Now, are you with the cops?”

“Oh,” Casper nodded, understanding. “No. I’m not working with the police.”

“Good,” she reached out and plucked the stone from his hand, before returning it to its drawer and turning to face him. “Now then. My name is Freja, and it sounds like you need a magic teacher.”

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