The house was nearly empty when Hideyoshi saw his grandson home. There were no words spoken. James hadn’t talked since their return to this dimension. Hideyoshi found a pain in his stomach every time he looked at the boy. Three hours since watching Charlie flee, and still, he shook like a leaf.
Upon being allowed inside, James made a b-line for his room, and shut the door quietly behind him, not even stopping to give his mother a hug on passing the TV room.
Hideyoshi did his best to pretend he couldn’t hear the sobs.
For his part, the evening held another heavy task. He returned to the TV room, grasped one of the loose-backed chairs that accompanied the couch, and hobbled across the floor with it until it sat opposite his daughter in law. Then, he set his walking cane down.
He sat. Neither of them spoke.
Sarah looked about as drained as Hideyoshi felt. He sighed.
“… It was the most terrifying moment of my life,” he murmured, putting his hands together and resting his chin on his knuckles. “The first time my son got himself in over his head. I think it honestly made my heart stop beating.”
It took a moment for Sarah to respond to that, still just gazing into the distance, barely aware.
“I’m still waiting for it to start again,” she said eventually, her tone surprisingly calm. “…How’d you handle it?”
“Poorly,” he admitted. “Roped Peter into five hours combat training a day. Planted a tracking spell on his wallet. Usual parenting.” He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his cigarettes. “I’d ask if I’m allowed to smoke in here, but I’d have to ignore you if you said no.” He flicked the pack open, and pulled one out.
“I could use one of those, if you have a spare,” Sarah murmured.
He raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Stopped when I met Peter. Didn’t want my breath smelling like pot-ash.”
Hideyoshi grunted, then tossed her the cigarette, and pulled another for himself. A flick of his finger, and the tips of both lit up.
He brought it to his lips, held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, then let it out in a slow exhalation.
“So,” he murmured. “I came here as a newborn.” Sarah glanced across at him, mid-drag, one eyebrow raised in tired curiosity. He shrugged. “The story I was told was that the lord of my household met a stranded forge-spirit in the woods, and in exchange for the aid needed to return it home, was given the spirit’s newborn child as a prize.”
He took another drag, the statement hanging in the air between them for a moment. Sarah’s gaze returned to the wall.
“I can never know for sure if that’s true, of course. They could have told me any story to keep me happy while I grew, but it’s the truth I choose to believe.”
Sarah grunted. Hideyoshi huffed. Neither spoke again until the cigarettes were done. He supplied them each a fresh one. Lit. Inhaled. Exhaled.
“… So what’s your story then?” he asked. “How’d you get here?”
For what it was worth, Sarah didn’t bother feigning ignorance. Perhaps she was just too tired. She took another pull, her fingers slightly shaky, then let out a sigh.
“I was born here,” she muttered. He raised an eyebrow, but she continued. “My parents weren’t. Of course they weren’t. I think they were hunters or itinerants or some other damned important thing. They always left the room to talk about it. All I really know is we moved around a lot. Spent most of my time alone, eating mac-n-cheese in crappy old motels for weeks at a time. Then, they’d come back all bloodied and we’d be off to find the next motel.” She shrugged. “That was life for a while.”
“There weren’t any others like you?”
Sarah shook her head. “Of course there were. My parents didn’t live here. My parents didn’t come from here. I went home with them once or twice. It never lasted long.”
“Because I couldn’t survive there,” she replied. “Born on Earth, after all. My powers were blocked off by all that Elvish spellcraft shit.” She let out a dry laugh. “I was the only child who couldn’t fly in a village built without the concept of restrictive gravity. The door to my house was a good two hundred feet above the ground.”
“So they took you with them?” Hideyoshi asked. “Left you half abandoned while they went to fight with monsters? Why?”
“I don’t think they had any other idea of what to do with me.” She finished off her smoke and gestured to her companion for another. “But, the trips got longer and longer, and I got bigger, and louder, and one day, there was a knock on the door from someone at social services.” She caught the new cigarette, waited for it to light, and took a puff. “I was about six, as far as the examiners could tell. It wasn’t like I spoke coherent English.”
“What did you speak?”
“As far as I can tell, a mix of my people’s language and whatever I’d managed to pick up off TV.” she chuckled. “I used to watch a lot of Jerry Springer.”
Another long quiet.
“So. What are you?”
“I figured you’d be able to answer that one day. So much for that, I guess.” She took another puff, then raised an arm to her face, rubbing at her cheek with the base of her palm. “How’d you find out? I haven’t told anyone about it in decades.”
Hideyoshi gazed at the wall to Sarah’s left for a time, thinking on the strangeness of his life, then gave his answer.
“It’s James,” he admitted. “He’s powerful. Too powerful. Stronger than his dad. Stronger than his grandmother. That shouldn’t be possible with a baseline human for a mother.”
“Is he stronger than you?”
“I couldn’t tell you. I hope so.” For a moment, the two of them shared a smile. Then, Hideyoshi sighed. “That boy is a loss to the gene pool.”
“He’s gay,” he muttered. “Line ends with him, unless his sister has something to say about it.”
Of all the responses, Sarah simply chuckled there.
Sarah stared at the glowing bud of her smoke for a bit, then sniffed.
“Foster care was good to me,” she said. “It feels so rare that you get to hear those words, but it was. You’ve met my family. You know how kind they are.”
“Good people,” Hideyoshi agreed.
Sarah smiled, still gazing at her hands, the cigarette threaded between her fingers.
“They were so patient with me. Taught me English. Taught me maths. Homeschooled, right up till I was ten, just so I could get into classes without having to miss a beat. And every time I told them about what it was like before, they’d just smile and nod, and tell me I should write a story.” She shook her head. “Talked to a therapist about it once or twice. Gave me some bullshit about invented memory. I almost believed it.”
“Does Peter know?”
“Most of it. He knows my parents had powers, knows I got put in foster care. Never told him where I was from. Didn’t seem important anymore.”
“Hard to say,” Sarah admitted, taking another drag as she thought it over. “I used to think it was everything. Spent my whole childhood thinking about where I was from. Wanted to find it. Wanted to walk up to my parents and rip them both a new one. I had a whole speech prepared. Spent ages learning about redwood reserves and old forests. Looking for a place with trees tall enough,” she shrugged. “Couldn’t find it, obviously. Not like it was anywhere on Earth.”
She paused for a moment, waiting for Hideyoshi to pass comment. He did not, so she continued.
“I stopped trying after a while. It was making my newer, better parents worry about me. So I put it on hold. Waited until highschool was done. Saved some money, took a gap year.”
“That’s when you met Peter.” Hideyoshi nodded.
“That’s when I found Peter,” she corrected. “I told my folks I wanted to explore. But really, I was looking. I’d given up on finding where I came from. Now, I wanted to know about magic. I wanted to know why they could fly, if I couldn’t.” She snickered. “Magic’s a badly kept secret. We both know that. I started just doing internet searches. Forums. Message boards. Whole bunch of stuff. Looking for people who said they’d seen things, or survived encounters or whatever. Went out to meet them, if I could.”
She caught the look he was giving her at that, and shrugged. “I had pepper spray. Most of it was nothing. People telling each other stories or old guys looking for Bigfoot. But a couple names kept turning up. People saying they got rescued, talking about conspiracies and area 51: Toranaga.”
“When I finally tracked Peter down, I thought he was part of M-K-Ultra.”
Hideyoshi remembered that. His son had been staying at a youth hostel on a solo hunt.
“What did you say?”
“We were young. I got him drunk. I wanted to learn about my magic. He wanted to bone. We compromised.”
Hideyoshi snorted in spite of himself.
“Christ,” he murmured, raising a hand to his forehead. “I taught the kid so much better than that.”
“No you didn’t,” Sarah smiled. “I was a pretty girl, and he was happy to show off. I knew everything I wanted in the first week or two. Told me he was a hunter. Told me what he could do.”
She took a drag of her dying cigarette, then continued.
“And he told me about his parents. That’s when I figured out I had to let it go.”
“Oh?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.
“It was the same story,” she said. “His parents were mages. They loved the work. They ran their kid through hell and back because hunting had to come first.” She looked him in the eye, then, her expression cold. “Magic damages people, Hideyoshi. Always has. I decided I’d have no part of it. I’d rather be a good person than figure out how to fly.”
Hideyoshi sighed. She thought he was a bad person. He wished he could be offended.
“Peter’s good,” he said eventually. “Tsuru and myself, I’ll grant you. But my son’s a good man.”
Sarah inclined her head.
“Call him an edge case. You didn’t screw him up as badly as you could have done. But we’ve both seen Casper. We know the kind of shit that parents like you can pull.” Hideyoshi winced, but she wasn’t done. “And now you have your sights on my son.”
“… The boy’s important, Sarah. You know he is.”
“We can agree on that.” Sarah nodded. “And if you ever manage to hurt him the way you’ve hurt the rest of your family, I’ll-” she cut herself off with a huff. “Ugh. I don’t know how to end that sentence.”
“I never knew you hated us,” he murmured.
“I don’t,” she answered. “But you are broken. You always have been.” The two of them sat in silence for a moment while she finished off her cigarette. She dropped the stub in an empty coffee cup and sighed. “Get out of my house.”
Hideyoshi stood, took his stick, and calmly walked away. He climbed the stairs to the door of James’ room before he left.
Again, he tried to ignore the sobs.
“If you don’t want to lose people like that again,” he murmured. “You’ll need to be stronger. Training starts tomorrow.”
James cried. Huddled under the covers of his bed. He cried.
Tomorrow, he would train. He would grow. He wouldn’t let this happen again.
For now, though, he cried.
Sometimes, that is all we have.
And finally, we reach the end of book one. Woot! *Toots a small horn.*
This has been a big project and I’m kinda super proud of how far I’ve managed to get. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get this far. Book two will begin soon, although there may be a short hiatus (a week or two, maybe.) to allow me to go over some of the prior chapters and make some edits.
All that said. It’s the end of an arc, so BONUS CHAPTER VOTES!