Dissonance: 4.10

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James:

“I don’t know who did it,” he muttered, still glaring at the floor. “Just some guy in a bathroom.”

James hesitated for a moment, then began to raise his head towards his grandfather, before Hideyoshi stopped him short.

“Don’t,” the old man grunted. “Please don’t look at me right now.”

James considered that for a moment, before that sense of betrayal won over, and he looked the man in the eye.

For what it was worth, Hideyoshi didn’t flinch. His face was set and red, every muscle standing out in contrast beneath his skin. His eyes were wide. He looked back at his grandson, and James wasn’t even sure if he was seeing him.

Huh, he thought. So that’s what hatred looks like.

Hideyoshi held his gaze for a moment, then looked away.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, just the tiniest touch of shame cutting through his voice. James watched as the man stepped away, rolling his head a little on his shoulders, his hands slowly unclenching once more from fists. It didn’t work.

“Fuck!” Hideyoshi bellowed, swinging an arm towards the nearest of the couches lining the training mat. James thought he saw a flash of something red dash forth from his grandfather’s hand, before the couch exploded, erupting with a whumpf in a plume of light and heat.

James stepped forwards towards the counter-top, and rested on his elbows against it, watching. How was this supposed to make him feel? What was any of this supposed to do? He watched as his grandfather raised his hands to his face and let out a loud, muffled scream against his palms.

The fire alarm went off.

Neither of them reacted much as the water began spraying from the ceiling, covering everything below in a layer of damp, faintly musty smelling fluid. It didn’t even manage to put out the fire.

From off to the side, James heard footsteps. Someone running. He glanced across, just in time to see Tasha emerge from the hallway, her expression panicked. She looked to Hideyoshi, still caught in whatever battle was raging on inside himself, then looked to James, and saw his face.

“Ah,” she grunted, her face going from adrenaline to scowl in an instant. “So I’m guessing he’s your granddad, then.”

“Yeah,” he muttered back as she began picking her way over to him, utterly ignoring the water beginning to soak its way through her clothes. “He didn’t take it well.”

In the corner of his eye, James watched as something else exploded. Another couch? No. That one looked like a table.

After a moment or two, Tasha reached him, leaning down on her elbows beside him on the counter.

They watched together in silence for a minute as Hideyoshi raged. Then, the old man slumped himself down in the smoldering remains of a chair, and held his head in his hands.

James felt a hand settle gently on his back, and glanced across. Tasha was gazing at him, that scowl still fixed quite firmly to her face. She jerked her head silently to Hideyoshi.

He took a breath, pushed himself back up from his place against the kitchen counter, and nodded.

However out of it Hideyoshi was, it seemed there was still a place somewhere inside him that was annoyed by the blaring of the fire alarm. Around the time that James made it halfway to him, he jerked a wrist in the direction of the ceiling, and the noise went quiet with a crack of snapping plastic.

The couch was still on fire as James moved towards the spot beside his grandpa, but he threw an absent gust of wind, and the flames died away a tad. Hideyoshi saw the boy approach, and the fire died down a deal further.

It should have felt awkward, James thought as he wrapped his arms around the older man’s chest, pressing a cheek against his ribs. It wasn’t, though. His grandfather was very warm in the present damp. The man was still for a moment, then James felt a hand come to rest atop his head, the fingers tussling at his hair.

“I hoped you’d never see me like that,” Hideyoshi muttered, mournful.

“I never wanted you to see this thing, either,” he replied, raising a finger to give his mark a flick. “Didn’t want you looking at me different.”

“… Sorry.”

James shook his head.

“Don’t,” he muttered, pulling back for a moment, before bringing his head forwards against his grandfather’s ribs in a gentle headbutt. “What matters is we’re family, right? We love each other.”

“… You promise you won’t be scared of me?” The hand atop his head gave his hair another ruffle.

“Only if you promise not to feel sorry for me.”

Hideyoshi let out a quiet chuckle.

“Guess we have a deal there.” He shot a glance around the room as the last of the water ran out, and laughed again. “Your grandma’s gonna be pissed. I kinda broke the living room.”

James smiled.

“Dibs not telling.”

“Little brat.” Hideyoshi leaned back a little in his seat, and let out a sigh. “Now then. Let’s have a talk about what to tell your Dad.”


“Are you sure this is okay?” James asked, climbing out of the car to rejoin his grandfather. “Like, one hundred percent?”

“Yes, James,” Hideyoshi sighed. “I’m sure. Peter’s already a high level mage, and your mother knows most of the important bits. As long as we keep the crime fighting to ourselves, there shouldn’t be a problem. Now come on. Let’s get it done.” The older man jerked a thumb behind his back towards James’ house across the street, and began to walk, fiddling momentarily with the electric lock on his car key as he went. James, after a moment’s hesitation, followed along in his wake. They passed the gate, and Hideyoshi tapped firmly on the door with his knuckles.

It took a few moments for anyone to answer. James shuffled his feet; his grandfather put his hands in his pockets. Then, with a series of small clicks, the door opened.

“Hi, Dad,” Peter murmured as his eyes fell on Hideyoshi. Then he saw his son. “James? I thought you went to the movies?”

“Yeah,” Hideyoshi nodded. “We met up. Some things happened. I found the flying kid you were looking for.”

Peter shot his son a glance at that, before giving Hideyoshi a glare.

“Flying kid?” he asked. “Not sure what you m-”

“Dad,” James muttered, his cheeks growing rather warm. “It’s me. I’m the flying kid.”

“… You’re what?”

At that, Hideyoshi chuckled.

“Just show him, James. It’s easier to explain it that way.”

James hesitated a moment, glancing around the empty street to make sure no one was watching, before lifting himself an inch or two above the ground. He stayed like that, hovering awkwardly above the porch, for a few seconds, before once more lowering himself to the ground.

“… I heard someone caught my picture when that lightning guy attacked?”

For a moment. Peter only stared, gazing down at his son, his expression utterly blank.

“… What.”


A few hours later, James lay on Casper’s bed, listening to the sounds emanating from the other boy’s game.

It hadn’t taken the older Toranagas long to banish James from the conversation, retiring to Peter’s study to hash out some kind of schedule, and leaving him once more to his own devices. Lacking anything else to do, he’d gravitated to Casper’s room, hearing the muted sound of his television through the crack beneath the door.

It was fun, at first, if a little quiet. Neither boy was much in the mood for talking.

“How’d the thing with Doctor Sharpe go?” James asked, staring absently at the ceiling above the bedspread. “She help you think about some stuff?”

“Kinda,” Casper agreed, his eyes on the television screen as he piloted his character across a field. James quietly regretted that they only had the one controller. “It was weird. Think it helped me sort some things, though. Like how weird it is when you all go Japanese on me.”

James chuckled.

“Hey. If you wanted me to teach you, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Not the point,” Casper murmured, rolling his eyes. They were silent for a time after that, before the older boy spoke again. “… Have you been avoiding me?”

“Just a little,” James replied, after only a moment’s hesitation. “You said you wanted some time so you could deal with stuff.”

The other boy didn’t reply to that at first. James glanced sideways at him, and saw his eyes still focused on the screen. Boss fight. James looked away again. A moment or two later, there was a sound of swiping metal, and the familiar trill of the game over music. Casper sighed.

“Is that why you didn’t tell me you keep sneaking out at night?” he asked, leaning back on his hands as he turned his gaze to James. “I have a radar brain, James. I notice sometimes when you start climbing out your window.”

James frowned at that. Not annoyed, really. He wasn’t entirely sure what this feeling was. The window exits had happened a few times early on; Caleb calling him out at night time, before they started organizing better excuses.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “It’s why I didn’t tell you. I had Tasha backing me up, and I was giving you a break.”

“… So you gonna tell me now?” Casper asked, his voice just a fraction too casual as he started back up his game.

James frowned a little harder at that. Why did it feel like he was being made a bad guy, here? It wasn’t like Casper hadn’t been acting funny too, the last few weeks.

“Depends,” he muttered. “You gonna tell me what happened after you ran away?” In the corner of his eye, Casper gave the tiniest of flinches. He hesitated for half a second, before adding: “You gonna tell me where you got that second phone?”

“… You mean the one your parents got me?” Casper asked, his tone wavering almost unnoticeably.

“No,” he murmured back. “The other one.”

He’d noticed it first about a week ago, how one or two times out of three, Casper’s phone would buzz instead of chime when he got a text, or how it would switch pockets when he wasn’t looking. At first, he’d just dismissed it. A mild inconsistency; not even enough to stick in the mind.

But then something obvious had happened.

They’d been making castles in the hall with Bex, when Casper’s phone had chimed; a message from James’ mom about what snacks he liked in his lunchbox. That hadn’t been the unusual part. That had come when James went upstairs to use the bathroom, only to hear a buzzing as he passed by Casper’s room. When he’d peeked in through the slightly open door, there’d been another phone charging on Casper’s bedside, identical to the first. When he’d gone to look, there’d been a single message on the screen:

‘Have a good day at school?’ from a sender by the name of ‘F’.

James waited a while for Casper to answer, and when no reply was forthcoming, he tried again.

“… You gonna tell me who F is?”

What followed felt like the longest silence of James’ life, before Casper simply sighed.

“No,” he muttered. “I guess I’m not.” He lowered the controller down between his knees, and once more turned his gaze to James. “Guess we’re keeping secrets now, huh?”

James returned his friend’s gaze and gave him a smile, a little sad.

“Yeah. I guess we are.” He pushed himself upright. “… Promise you’ll tell me if it gets you into trouble?”

Casper nodded.

“Only if you promise that, too.” He returned James that same saddened smile, but it had a crack in it. “We’re still friends, right?”

“… Yeah. We’re still friends.” James climbed to his feet and made his way towards the door, then stopped. “I told my dad about my magic,” he said quietly. “He’s cool with it. Just thought I should let you know.”

“… Thanks.”

With that, James exited the room, and closed the door behind him.

If he wanted time to breathe. He didn’t get it. Only a minute after he’d made it to his room, sitting himself down pensively on his bed, there was a creak from the door as his father edged his way inside. The silence this time was just awkward as the two of them gazed across at one another. Then, finally, Peter spoke.

“So I guess you’re a mage now, huh?”

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Dissonance: 4.9

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James:

“Explain to me why I have to piggy-back you there, again?” Tasha grumbled, her tone more one of amusement than annoyance.

“That’s what you get for slapping that mud-pie in my face,” James replied, forcing himself to sound relaxed as he once more tried to scratch some of the pasted on grit off of his cheek. “That was just rude. I mean, where did you even find mud round here? It’s freaking Summer.”

“Used a water bottle to make some,” the older girl replied with a chuckle, swinging a left around a corner at a jog. “You needed to ease up, you know? Nothing beats some mud in the face for stopping people being dumb.”

James scowled at that.

“… Not dumb.”

Again, Tasha only chuckled.

“So, why’d you want to go see this guy, anyways? And why’d you hang up on him? He say something creepy?”

“No,” James muttered. “Nothing creepy. I…” He sighed. “I think I might know the guy.”

“Oh yeah?” Tasha asked, surprised. “Know him how? Some old school teacher or something?”

“… My grandad.”

“… Huh.”

“Something up?”

“Nah,” Tasha murmured, glancing from side to side, before making a dash across the street from the old industrial complex towards the city proper. “Just kinda makes sense, you know? He’s a powerful dude. You’re a powerful kid. Makes sense you’d have a badass in your family.”

“… Guess so,” James hunched a little lower over Tasha’s shoulders, thoughtful.

“Dude,” she grunted after a moment. “Lighten up. This is a good thing, right? You were worried about your family freaking out about magic, and now it looks like they already know. That’s good, isn’t it?”

James didn’t answer at that. His thoughts were still too muddled inside his head.

“… You think Caleb’s gonna stay angry at me?” he asked instead, his mind turning back to the older boy. Caleb hadn’t taken it well when James had asked Tasha to introduce him to her teacher. He’d stopped short of shouting, at least; instead resorting to a number of muffled curses and punching the table he was sitting on hard enough to dent the metal. In the end, he’d made James swear not to mention him to anyone besides Tasha, before storming off. Of all things, James could have sworn he sounded betrayed.

“He’s a dick if he does,” Tasha replied with a shrug, sending James an inch or two higher on her shoulders for a moment as she ran. “It’s your life. Just cuz you’ve got a better thing going on than him doesn’t mean he gets to be a bitch about it. We’ve all got our shit do deal with.”

“… Thanks.”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “Don’t take my word for it, though. I can be pretty dumb sometimes, you know?”

“Yeah.” He grinned. “But you’re wise.” He raised a hand from the older girl’s shoulder for a moment, and rapped his knuckles against her skull. “Stupid wise.”

Tasha snorted.

“You keep going like that and I’m gonna make you walk.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“I totally would.”

The remainder of the journey passed this way, the pair of them bickering lightly as Tasha jogged along the street, James perched comfortably atop her back. It was nice. Tasha was good at taking his mind off things.

When they reached the apartment block in question, though, James went quiet. Tasha guided him in through a foyer and into an elevator in silence, before pushing the button marked for the top floor.

“… You ready for this?” she asked, shooting him a glance over her shoulder. “You’ve been getting kinda tense back there.”

“Just nerves,” he muttered, not looking at her. “Either it’s him, or I’m just gonna get some advice from a guy, right?”

“Right,” she nodded. “… You sure you believe that?”

“I want to.”

At that, Tasha only laughed.

“Don’t worry about it, bud. If it helps, I can do the talking. Kay?”

The elevator chimed at that, and the doors slid open, revealing a single, dimly lit room roughly of a size with the inside of the elevator, at the end of which was another door, this one with a keyhole.

“… No,” he shook himself as his friend stepped towards the door, pulling a set of keys from her bag. “A-actually… Do you mind if I do this on my own? It… I kinda wanna talk to him alone.”

“Sure. I’ll be waiting here if you need me.” With that, Tasha unlocked the door with a click, and pulled it open, showing a blank, wood panelled wall beyond. “He, uh. He’s probably down the hall to the left.” She jerked a thumb out into the hallway. “Just follow the wall thataways, kay?”

“Right… thanks.”

James didn’t bother climbing down off the girl’s back. Instead, he let himself float upwards off of her, before drifting in through the door.

“Hey, Teach,” Tasha called from behind him, loud enough to make him jump. “I brought that kid who needed some advice. He said he kinda wanted to see you.”

Glancing around, James caught sight of the hall Tasha had pointed him to, down the end of which, a familiar voice let out a sigh.

“Fine, fine. Bring him in. It’s a little rude to hang up on people like that, you know.”

James followed the voice down to the end of the hallway, where it opened out into a room caught somewhere between a library and a dojo, all shelves and books and chairs, gathered in a circle around a broad tatami mat. On the far side of the mat, clear as day, sat James’ grandfather, a book balanced on his knee, not looking at him.

James stopped moving for a moment when he saw the man, simply hanging in the air, hardly daring to breathe.

Wow. Okay. This is real. It’s Jiji. Right. You can do this, James. You got this.

“U-um,” he tried, his voice barely audible through the nerves. “H-hi there, G-Gran-”

“There you are,” Hideyoshi cut him off, sparing him an irritable glance before returning his gaze to his book. “So you’re the flying kid, huh? Well, first thing’s first, you’re gonna get yourself in a boatload of trouble if you keep doing that all over the place.”

“Uh… Grandad? It’s me…” he tried again, his voice even smaller than before.

Again, Hideyoshi either ignored him, or simply didn’t hear, because his grandfather just kept on going.

“Second of all,” he grunted. “While I appreciate the things you did to help out my apprentice, I’m not a man who likes to be disrespected. You showed me disrespect when you hung up that phone and bullied your way into my house. If you want my help, you’re off to a rocky start.”

James stared at the older man, still just floating there at the edge of the hallway. Why was THIS the hard part?

Okay. He’s not listening. That’s okay. You just need to be louder. You can do that, right, James? What would Batman do?

“Hey, Grandad,” he tried again, forcing his voice out louder. “It’s me, Ja-”

“And furthermore,” Hideyoshi cut him off yet again, his voice growing louder now, his tone angry. “If you don’t stop interrupting me, kid, I will kick you out of this house, Tasha’s friend or not. Now. If you want my help. You’re going to apolo-” He stopped short as a gust of wind blasted the book from his hands, turning a furious gaze towards the boy, before his eyes went wide, and he stared.

“Jiisan!” James bellowed, this time in Japanese, more frustrated than he could remember being in his life. “It’s me! It’s James! I’ve had a hell of a day! I’ve had a hell of a MONTH! I got hit by LIGHTNING two weeks ago! I’ve been fighting child molesters, and evil wizards, and birds following me home from school, and if you don’t start listening to me, I WILL FLIP. MY. LID!”

James was shaking now, his hands balled into fists by his sides as he yelled. His lip was quivering. He could feel moisture gathering at the corners of his eyes. He wouldn’t cry. He promised himself that. He would not cry.

“James…” Hideyoshi breathed, still gazing across at him in shock. “Why are you flying?”

“I don’t know!” he shouted. “I don’t know a thing about any of this! One day I’m flying, the next I’m under attack! One day I’ve got wind powers, next I’m having to rescue Tasha from people with GUNS! I don’t know what’s going on!”

He was ranting. He knew he was ranting. He was spilling way too much; letting it out far too soon. He didn’t care anymore.

“I couldn’t tell Dad. I couldn’t tell Mom. I couldn’t tell you! I was scared, and alone, and now it turns out you knew all the time and you just didn’t tell me!”

He’d stopped looking at the older man at some point, and the feeling of his arms around him came as a surprise. It didn’t help. He was too angry, and too sad, and the last thing he wanted was that feeling of constriction. He was trapped. He couldn’t move. What happened next wasn’t a decision he could consciously remember making.

“Let. Me. GO!”


Hideyoshi:

He felt the boy’s form give way beneath his arms just half a second or so before the wind blast hit him. It was by pure instinct, and instinct alone, that he threw up a barrier in time to save himself.

When it struck, it was with the force of a storm, the brunt of it sweeping him bodily off his feet, before sending him hurtling back through the air. A normal man might have cried out, lifted a hand; at least given some autonomic response to the blow. Hideyoshi was too busy being shocked.

He saw the world crackle white around him as his body struck a wall, and instead of simply bouncing off towards the floor, was carried through it.

He landed in a heap in a bedroom. Tuva’s, he realized absently. The girl was going to be angry when she got back.

He didn’t move. The floor was as good a place as any for coping with surprise.

My grandson just punched me through a wall.

My Grandson. Just punched me. Through a WALL.

For a moment, he felt the strangest surge of pride.


James:

“… Jiji…” James asked tentatively. “… Are you okay? Please be okay. I didn’t mean t-”

“I’m fine, kiddo,” Hideyoshi’s voice grunted. “Where the hell’d you pull a blast like that from?”

Oh, thank heck. Okay. Time to be human again.

James glanced around, and through the eddies and waves in the air all around him, he caught sight of an open kitchen off near the the corner wall across from the corridor. He pulled his form back in around himself, then scooped up his clothes, and scooted in behind the counter in a dash, hoping beyond hope that his grandfather wouldn’t see.

“Sorry about your wall,” he called lamely as he began pulling on his pants.

“S’okay,” Hideyoshi called back amid the sounds of faintly cracking plaster. “I promise I’m not mad… Where’d you go?”

“Over here,” he replied, holding one arm over the top of the counter and waving it around as he tried to do his fly one handed. “Getting dressed!”

“… Why do you need to get dressed?”

“Using that much power kinda makes my body go weird.”

“Hah,” Hideyoshi chuckled, his voice closer now. “So your powers do that as well, huh? My fire does that, when I go all out.”

“… You have fire powers?”

“Yep.”

“… I have the coolest grandad.”

A chuckle.

“Little bit. Same goes for my grandson. Takes a lot to crack one of my shields. Way to go, slugger. So. When’d all of this come about?”

James tugged his shirt on over his head, and for a moment, wondered if he should bother dealing with his socks. He felt weirdly light. Almost giddy. This was good. He was moving. Finally. He was moving.

“I had a nightmare about a month ago,” he replied, quickly combing his hair back into place with his fingers, before standing up, turning to face his grandfather. “Kinda woke up floating above my bed.”

“Must have been a hell of a nightmare,” Hideyoshi murmured. “Most people need way worse than th-” The man caught sight of his grandson’s face and stopped, mid-sentence; his face going suddenly blank.

“… What?” James asked, an eyebrow raised. “There something on my face?” Then something cold dropped through his stomach with the weight of a bowling ball.

“… Jiji,” he said quietly, trying to force himself to stay calm. “T-that thing you think you’re seeing… Y-you’re not seeing it, okay?”

For a few moments, Hideyoshi didn’t move, besides the slow undulations of the muscles beneath his face, along with the clenching and unclenching of his fists. Then, he took a step forwards, reached over the kitchen counter-top, and brushed James’ bangs away from his eyes with a fingertip, leaving nothing at all to hide the marks on his grandson’s face from view.

James glared down at the floor as the older man took in the sight, then stepped back, folding his arms above his chest.

“… I said I had a nightmare,” he muttered. “Just… just leave it there, okay?”

Even if James had been willing to look his grandfather in the eye right then, it would have been next to impossible for him to track the emotions racing along across the older man’s face. For the longest time, both of them were quiet. Then, in a voice of calm so complete that James almost believed it was true, Hideyoshi spoke.

“James. I’d like you to tell me who did this to you, please.”

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Dissonance: 4.8

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AN: I know this one’s a little late, but it’s also significantly longer than normal, so, you know. That.

Tasha:

Tasha felt a note of surprise as Caleb’s palm slammed into her jaw, the force of it sending a nasty crack echoing through her skull. He’d sidestepped her opening lunge far faster than she’d expected him to, lining up his counter before her fist had even finished its arc. It sent her stumbling.

His follow up came in the form of a kick to the stomach. Somehow, the guy managed to kick her hard enough to launch her whole body into the air. Tasha felt something inside her stomach churn painfully at the blow. Before she had time to come to terms with that, however, her body fell back once more to the ground, and she was distracted by the feeling of her back slamming against the surface of a factory workstation, before her momentum carried her off of it in a roll and she hit the floor, something jagged digging into her shoulder.

Okay. This hurts.

She shook herself. What the fuck was that? Three seconds in and she already was on her ass? No. This wasn’t happeni-

Before she could finish the thought, she heard the thump as Caleb landed lightly on his feet alongside her.

“Now, are you done calling me a cree-”

Caleb didn’t quite manage to finish the sentence before Tasha kicked at him, bringing her leg forwards as hard as she could towards his shins. The blow didn’t even come close.

Her enemy was in the air before her leg made it halfway to him, hopping over the attack as casually as if it were a skipping rope. She growled, then shoved herself up off the floor with her hands, before another blow caught her about the cheek like a sack of bricks. It hurt. But she was less surprised by it now. She didn’t flinch. Her opponent launched another, this time right for her face. She didn’t bother trying to dodge it. Instead, she crunched her stomach and slammed her head against his fist. She felt it as the impact sent ripples of pain echoing through her skull. She grit her teeth. Then, she heard something crack, and Caleb swore.

She watched, her vision a little blurred, as the boy backed off, his fist cradled in his other hand. He was glaring at her.

She grinned, trying to ignore the taste of blood on her tongue.

In the back of her mind, she was aware that James was shouting something. For the life of her, though, she couldn’t bring herself to care.

Across from her, the enemy was tending to his finger, his face scrunching up in pain as he shoved the dislocated digit back into its socket. Then he muttered something under his breath, and Tasha watched as an all too familiar light began to flicker momentarily over his skin. She swore.

So the fucker knows how to make force fields, huh?

Caleb took a breath, then stepped forward, more cautious now.

Tasha backed off a ways, and forced herself to think, trying to ignore the harsh pounding still echoing inside her head. This guy was too quick and too strong even before the shield. But if she couldn’t land a hit with her fists, then she’d need to use something better.

She glanced around, and after a moment, her eyes landed on the abandoned workstation against which she’d fallen. It was a sturdy thing, about six feet long by two wide; made from some kind of polished metal. She reached out to grab one corner of it, and tugged. It didn’t move. Looking down, she realized it was affixed to a base plate on the floor with a set of thick, rust covered bolts. She rolled her neck around on her shoulders. Time to put those new muscles to work.

Caleb realized what Tasha was planning just a second too late to stop her. He charged, only for her to give a single massive heave against the metal surface. There was a snap as the metal holding the thing to the floor broke away. Then, she planted her feet against the base plate of the thing, and swung the countertop around like an oversized baseball bat.

The countertop caught her foe mid-lunge with the most satisfying smack Tasha had ever heard. Caleb was sent arcing across the factory floor, his shield crackling frantically around him as it adjusted to the shock, before his body struck the far wall, and he fell to the floor with a thud.

“Batter up!” she yelled, feeling more energy coursing through her than she had in her entire life. “PLAY BALL!”

For the first few seconds, Caleb didn’t move, simply laying there on the ground, his face pressed against the floor. Then, just as she was beginning to wonder if she’d taken it too far, he began to rise.

Tasha noted with some satisfaction that her enemy wasn’t looking very good. His hair was matted to hell and back, and a fresh trail of blood flowed gently down from his nose. Neither of those compared to the look he was giving her, though. This wasn’t his previous scowl any more. This look was sullen; angry. She laughed.

Caleb gave no spoken response. Instead, the shield around him simply ceased its flickering, the last of its energy dying away as a glove of emerald fire blossomed into existence around his uninjured hand.

Tasha stopped laughing at that. Instead, she pulled her makeshift weapon back for another swing and waited as her adversary charged.

He made it five steps before whatever it was stopped him, some unseen force that seemed to strike everywhere at once, scattering loose detritus everywhere and knocking her foe off his feet. He landed awkwardly on his hands, the flame glove dissipating around his arm as fast as it had come, and looked around, angry.

“James,” he growled. “No interfe-”

He let out a little yelp as that same force scooped him up off the floor, and left him dangling by an ankle in the air.

Tasha almost laughed, before she felt something wrench the table from her hands, something dense and powerful pressing against her midsection as the metal was pulled free of her grip, before being launched across the room and striking the railing of the stairwell hard enough to bend it out of shape.

She glanced around, eyes wide. Was this James? No. Since when was he this powerful? Her eyes fell on the space where James had stood at the beginning of the fight, and saw that it was empty. She had time to be perplexed by the small pile of clothing that sat a few feet away from the spot, before she felt the force wrap itself around her middle, and she was hoisted into the air.

“The fuck!?” she shouted. “Who are you? What’s g-”

“JUST SHUSH!” James’ voice screeched, sounding for all the world like it was coming from the entire room at once. “What the heck was that!? Are you guys crazy?” Whatever force it was that held Tasha up gave her a shake, rocking her wildly from side to side.

“W-wha-?” she began, only to be cut off as the omnipresent voice continued its ranting.

“You hit my friend with a table,” James shouted. “A TABLE, Tasha! What the heck!? You could have killed him!”

Tasha opened her mouth to make some bewildered sort of defense, but again, James wasn’t done. The voice turned its attention to Caleb, still dangling helplessly by his foot.

“And don’t even get me started on YOU!” the voice growled. “You were gonna use fire on her? Really? That’s not cool!” The invisible pressure gave Caleb’s foot a shake, his whole body swinging limply from side to side as he hung there. In another circumstance, Tasha might have found it funny. “Fire burns people, Caleb!” Caleb didn’t bother to reply. He was too busy staring at something off to Tasha’s side, his jaw slack.

Confused, Tasha followed the boy’s gaze.

It took a moment or two for Tasha to catch sight of what had caught her former adversary’s gaze; a few more for her to figure out quite what it was she was seeing.

It was hovering, perhaps two or three feet above one of the factory work stations, its glow dim enough to allow the eye to easily wander past it. It looked like… some kind of blob. A collection of small, glowing blue spheres in a veil of shimmering mist. As James’ voice paused for breath, the shimmer seemed to grow brighter for a moment.

“… James?” Tasha asked, one eyebrow raised. “That you?”

The voice seemed to hesitate for a moment, the ranting coming to a halt as the blob shifted down, the topmost sphere lowering itself towards the rest.

“Uhh… kinda,” James’ voice replied, a touch quieter now. “Remember how I said I turned into a wind amoeba for a while? Well, uhh. It was this thing. I think my body kinda goes away if I push my powers far enough?”

“… Weird.”

“… Yeah.”

“So,” she asked, “Can you uhh, put me down?” As she spoke, she reached down by her sides with her hands, trying to pinpoint the spot where she was being held and pry herself away. Nothing. The air just felt heavier there.

“… You promise to stop beating each other up?”

Tasha hesitated, then glanced at Caleb, and frowned.

“Only if he promises to tell us who the fuck he is.”

Caleb, for his part, was still staring, even as James lowered the pair of them to the ground, depositing Caleb on a table, and dropping Tasha on her butt with a thump. Upon touching the table top, he pulled himself slowly up into a sitting position.

“… And you’ve been this strong the whole time?” he asked, voice oddly hurt. “Why? Why didn’t you use this thing to beat me if you were able to? Why did you lie?”

“I wasn’t lying!” James protested, the faint shape of his form flaring brightly for a moment, before once more going dim. “It’s just-” he hesitated a second or two, before finishing with a sigh, his tone defensive. “It… It makes my clothes fall off, okay?”

For the first time in her life, Tasha had to actively resist the urge to grin.

“…Huh.”

“Shut up,” the blob muttered. “I didn’t ask you here to make fun of me… I didn’t ask you here to beat each other up for me, either.”

Tasha thought about that for a second, then shrugged.

“I do whatever I think’s right, dude,” she murmured. “Your friend’s a creep. I’m not sorry.”

The air around her made a ‘humph’ sound at that. Tasha got the sense that James was scowling.

“I’m not a creep,” Caleb grumbled, his tone bitter as he pulled a sleeve up to wipe the blood from his nose. “Look, you want the truth? Fine. If you’ve been this strong all along, then I might as well.” He let out a long sigh, then turned his gaze to the floor. “I’m a monster hunter, okay?”

“… Really?” Tasha asked, one eyebrow raised. “That’s the lie you’re going with?”

“Would you shut up?” Caleb asked, raising his hands to his face in frustration. “You asked for the truth, and I’m telling you. Can you stop being such a bitch about it?”

“You looking to get punched again?” she replied, one hand balling into a fist.

Caleb began to make a retort, but stopped short when another gust of wind hit him in the face, buffeting him a ways to the side. Tasha grinned, before one struck her as well.

“No fighting,” James repeated. “Monster hunter?”

Caleb glared at him for a moment, then let out a huff.

“Yeah. I move around a lot. Learned about my powers when I was a kid, started travelling, picked up a spell or two from some mages I met along the way.”

“What’s your power?” Tasha asked, a note of curiosity undercutting her annoyance. “You’re stronger than a normal kid should be. Faster, too. What gives?”

“Bit of everything,” Caleb grunted. “Little bit of super strength, little bit of speed, boosted reflexes, better senses. Nothing I’m really bad at, but I can’t rip steel tables off the floor.” He shot her a look, before returning his gaze to his hands. “Anyway. I moved around a bit. Got a gig helping an older guy track down a Hidebehind in Tennessee and figured I could do it as a job. It’s not like I had anything else going on. Turns out there’s some people around the place who’ll pay you to help them deal with whatever stuff they’re hunting. Like an apprentice for hire, I guess.”

As Caleb spoke, Tasha watched the little blob of James’ form begin to move, shifting away from atop its table and down into the cover of the stairwell. She watched, intrigued, as the glow surrounding him grew brighter, building from almost invisible, to about as intense as a lightbulb, before suddenly dying away. She caught a glimpse of scruffy black hair over a set of narrow shoulders, before the boy ducked a little further below the lip of the stairway. Without a word, she crossed to the pile of clothes on the floor, bundled them up, and tossed them in his direction. She allowed herself a chuckle when he peeked up, and the pants hit him in the face.

They were all silent for a minute or so as James got dressed. As the boy made his way back up the stairs, Caleb resumed.

“So I kinda caught you flying home one night and figured I’d say hi,” he murmured, gazing across at the boy as he crested the top of the stairwell. “Flight’s a pretty high level power, and I figured I-” he stopped mid word, his sentence catching oddly in his throat as he caught sight of James’ face. Following his gaze, Tasha could see why. She winced.

Whatever coverings James had been using to hide his purity marks, they must have fallen away when the boy transformed, because there they sat, plain as day on his cheek, right below the marks of pain across his eye. It surprised her just how angry seeing them on him made her. What must it be like, to have ‘rape victim’ written on his face like that? She pushed the thought aside.

For his part, James didn’t seem to have noticed a thing. He raised an eyebrow at Caleb.

“You okay, man? Kinda stopped at the good bit there.”

To his credit, Caleb rallied fast.

“Right,” he replied quickly. “Sorry. Just a weird thought. So, yeah. Flight’s a pretty high level power, and I thought I might as well come and introduce myself. Figured if I trained you a bit, you might be able to help me if you wanted. Be nice to have some company, you know?” He shot a glance at Tasha, his expression troubled. She felt her aggravation towards the guy lessen a fraction at that.

“Still doesn’t explain why you didn’t just tell him this up front,” she pointed out.

At that, Caleb only sighed.

“Look,” he muttered. “Would you believe I was just trying to look cool? You know, come off as this mysterious wizard guy who’s just really good in fights?” He looked away, presumably in an effort to hide the red now dusting his cheeks.

There was silence for a few moments at that, before James chuckled.

“Well, you sure screwed that one up.”

“I know. Sorry.”

“… Can we get onto why I actually asked Tasha here, now?”

Tasha raised an eyebrow at that.

“Sparring, right?” she murmured. “Kinda hard if we can’t go all out, you know.”

“No,” James replied, shaking his head. “I uhh. I really just wanted to ask you guys something.”

“Ask what?” said Caleb, leaning back a little on his hands; far more relaxed now that the focus was off of him.

“Advice,” James shrugged. “I was uh… Kinda thinking of… I want to tell my parents about my powers.”

Huh, Tasha thought. Interesting. She opened her mouth to speak, but Caleb beat her to it.

“Don’t,” he said flatly. “Bad idea. Trust me.”

Tasha snickered.

“You’re on some pretty thin ice with the whole ‘trust’ thing, Caleb.”

Caleb ignored her.

“Seriously,” he continued. “Don’t do it. Nothing good will come of it. You’ll just get hurt.”

James frowned at that.

“Really?” he asked. “I mean, I get that they might freak out and stuff, but it’s not like they won’t get over it. They’re my parents. They love me.”

“Love’s delicate,” Caleb replied, a note of bitterness edging into his voice. “It goes away if you push it too hard. They’ll think you’re a freak.”

James didn’t answer that. He seemed stung.

For her part, Tasha grunted.

“Some parents, sure,” she agreed. “But I’ve heard some stuff about James’ folks. They sound pretty cool.”

“‘Pretty cool’ doesn’t cut it,” Caleb shot back. “Sure. There’s a chance he could tell em, and it’ll all be fine because they just love him that much. But there’s a way bigger chance that they’ll either kick him out, or call the guys from the government with the padded vans.”

Tasha snorted at that, and glanced at James. Now the kid just looked scared.

“Dude,” she replied. “That’s not how that works. The government doesn’t even get involved unless you’re dangerous.”

“He is dangerous!” Caleb shouted back. “He’s a fucking wind mage!”

At that, Tasha only growled, her frustration pushing back once more against her limited self-control.

“And that’s not big enough to get you taken in!” she retorted. “Trust me! I live with a dude who does this shit! The worst that happens is you get your name put on a list, and they pay someone to help you deal with your powers!”

“And how do we know that guy’s not a liar, huh?” he spat. “Some huge hypocrite who puts kids away in cells!”

“And how do I know you’re not just full of shit?” she shot back.

“Because I’m-”

“Quiet!” James shouted, cutting the pair of them off. He was seated now, his arms wrapped around his knees. “Please. Quiet.”

“… Sorry.” Tasha muttered. Caleb said nothing.

“… I know it’s risky,” James mumbled. “A-and I know things could go wrong; but I hate lying to them, and now that things have calmed down, I’m kinda running out of reasons why I should.” He sniffed. “I came to you for advice, so would you please stop fighting?”

Tasha hesitated at that, then glanced at Caleb. He was still scowling down at the floor. She forced herself to take a breath.

“Why didn’t you go to Casper with this?”

“He doesn’t wanna talk about it,” James muttered. “I tried talking to him a few weeks back, about all the stuff that happened after he ran away. He just asked me to wait. Said he needed time. I tried again last week, but he just shut me down again. I think he kinda wants to forget about it all.”

Tasha chuckled humorlessly at that.

“Makes sense. Magic’s BS, anyways.”

“”Well I say don’t do it,” said Caleb quietly. “You don’t wanna see that look when your family stops loving you.”

James shifted his eyes to the ground, seeming almost ashamed.

Tasha considered her answer for a long few minutes. Family. What was family like, again? It was getting harder to remember every year. She groaned. It was hard enough to judge things when she had experience to go on. It was harder, giving advice in the dark like this. Then a thought occurred.

“… Fuck it.” Both James and Caleb glanced over at her as she pushed herself upright and trudged over to her bag.

“… What are you doing?” James asked, one eyebrow slightly raised.

“Getting advice from someone way better at this shit than me,” she replied as she pulled out her phone. Neither of the others spoke as she pulled up the contact and brought the phone to her ear; James simply gazing at her as Caleb continued to glower. Neither tried to stop her, though.

The phone rang into the quiet for a second or two, before the old man finally picked up on the other end of the line.

“Tasha,” he murmured. “Something wrong?”

“Hey,” she replied. “Nah. Nothing bad. I’ve got a friend here who kinda needs advice. I thought I’d hook him up with you since I kinda owe him a favor.”

On his end of the line, Hideyoshi grunted.

“Huh. How big of a favor, and what kind of advice?”

“He’s the kid who saved my ass with the Family before,” Tasha shrugged. “Wants some help on whether telling his folks about his powers will work out okay or not.”

“The kid who saved you, huh?” Hideyoshi murmured. “Interesting. How old and what kind of powers?”

Tasha glanced at James, still staring at her, and gave another shrug.

“Twelve, I think. Maybe eleven? He’s kinda small.” James scowled at her. She stuck out her tongue. “As for powers. You got flight, some wind magic, and some kinda third bullshit I can’t really describe. He’s pretty strong.”

For a few seconds, Hideyoshi didn’t answer. Tasha checked to make sure the call was still connected, before he finally responded.

“… Flight. Was this kid near Central Park around the time you fought the elf?”

Tasha raised an eyebrow at that, surprised.

“Uh, yeah,” she muttered. “Only reason I was fighting the dude was cuz he kept trying to shoot him out of the sky. How’d you know about that?”

James cocked his head to the side at that, his expression turning nervous.

“Oh, just a minor assignment that slipped my way. Supposed to track down a flying kid and tell him to keep his head down. Got himself noticed with all that lightning about.”

“Ah.” Tasha winced.

“Yeah. It’s nothing big. Can you hand me over to him? It sounds like we need a word.”

“Yeah. Sure.”


James:

James watched, confused, as Tasha let the phone drop from her ear and stepped towards him.

“Well,” she grinned. “Good news is, I got you some advice. Bad news, you might wanna stop flying in public.” She finished making her way across to him, and held out the phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

James hesitated at that, uncertain. This felt dangerous, somehow, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why. He trusted Tasha, didn’t he? He shook himself, then, tremulously, he took the phone.

“Hello?” he asked, his voice small, even a touch squeaky.

“Ah,” replied a male voice on the other end of the line. “There you are. Right. Young man, my name is Hideyoshi Toranaga. I’m a contractor currently working with the Department of Metaphysical Affairs. I heard you wanted some help dealing with your family?”

For the longest time. James didn’t move. His thoughts, previously caught in a swirling mess inside his head, had suddenly been jammed.

… What?

“… Hello?” His grandfather spoke again, a note of irritation playing in his tone. “Kid, you still there? I’m waiting.”

Without really thinking, James hung up the phone, before letting it fall to his lap, and staring at the screen.

“… Ojiisan?”

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Interlude 3

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Author’s note: 

Hey guys. I know this one’s kinda late. My aplogies for that. I was planning out the next arc. But, that said. I intend to have the next chapter up by Tuesday, so, yay for that. Now, just like last time, and the time before, I’m putting a link in this chapter to the short story display that I, along with some other writers have contributed to. This one is called Cybercelestial, and it’s written by Shaeor.

Alrighty. Hope you all enjoy the chapter.

Tasha:

Tasha tugged at the binding around her knuckles with her free hand. It felt weird, having everything bound up so tightly, but at least the hand wasn’t throbbing with every shift of her weight anymore. She was glad of that. She had enough aches to deal with already, the bruises of the previous night still far from healed.

She turned her attention back to Hideyoshi a few dozen feet away, handing off their captive to the guards that now lined the edges of the park. Couldn’t he hurry up?

Her leg was sore, the spot where the bullet had struck bone ached like all hell. She grit her teeth and stomped over to a tree, looking to take some weight off of the damn thing. When she got close enough, she pivoted on her heel, throwing her shoulder against the trunk of it in an attempt to lean on it. The moment the freshly relocated joint hit the surface, she regretted it, lines of pain darting out into her torso. She swore, pushed herself away, and slumped down onto the ground on her backside, trying to ignore the myriad complaints in every bruised joint and tendon in her body.

She just wanted to be comfortable for five god damned seconds. She lay down on her back, hoping against hope that the soft grass would provide just a moment of relief. No luck. Now her back hurt. She shifted. Now it was her ribs. She took a deep breath, closed her good eye, and tried to wait it out. It didn’t help. She just became more aware of the itching, uncomfortable soreness under her other eyelid.

She only became aware of Hideyoshi’s return when she heard his voice above her.

“Ready to go?” He said, his tone businesslike.

“… Fuck off.” She muttered, shifting once more on the ground, and again, regretting it. “Just leave me alone and let me sleep.”

“You’re sleeping here?” He asked. “Isn’t that a little too uncomfortable?”

“No shit, asshat.” She replied, her tone bitter.

He chuckled at that. If she thought she could have hurt the man right then, she’d have punched him.

“Wouldn’t you rather use a bed for that?” He asked. “I’m sure you’d find it easier.”

That was a little too much to take. She opened her eyes, felt the scratching in the swollen one redouble, and glared at him.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?” She shot at him. “Yeah, a bed would be better. Thanks for the tip, genius. I wish I had one, but since I don’t, then grass it is!”

To his credit, the old man’s smile dropped a fraction at that.

“… Homeless?”

“Fuck off.”

They stared at one another for a long few seconds, before the old man brought a tired hand to his face, rubbing momentarily at his eyes.

“Look,” he muttered. “It’s late. I’m tired. You’re beat to hell… You want some pie? I could use some pie right now.”

Tasha glared at him for another second in silence, before a quiet grumble from her stomach forced her hand.

“… Yeah. Pie’s good.”

Hideyoshi nodded, then extended a hand. For a moment, she thought he was offering to help her up, but then she felt herself begin to lift away from the ground beneath her, weightless. She opened her mouth to object, but the man preempted her, his tone gruff.

“I’ll put you down if you want, kid. But honestly, I can’t imagine walking’s very comfortable right now, seeing how stiffly you’ve been moving.”

“… I’ll walk.”

Hideyoshi shrugged, and she felt her weight return to her, dropping down onto her feet with a grunt. With that, the old man turned away and began to walk, Tasha grudgingly falling into step behind him. They were outside the bounds of the park before either of them spoke again.

“So,” Hideyoshi started, not looking back at her. “How’d you get hurt that badly anyway? Those bruises can’t all be from tonight. They’re too old.”

“Eh,” Tasha grunted. “I get into fights sometimes. That a problem?”

“No,” the older man allowed. “But you have super strength. I’m just trying to figure out who you could have been fighting to get hurt that badly. Can’t imagine a homeless girl having that many enem-”

“I’m not homeless,” she replied irritably. “Not anymore, anyways. I just… It’s not safe to go home right now.”

“Family trouble?” Hideyoshi asked.

Tasha let out a short laugh at that.

“No. I wish it was that. Then I could just beat them up and be done with it. I tried to save some kids from a prostitution thing… Kinda got myself tied to a chair. Think I broke a guy’s ribs when I escaped.”

The old man actually turned to look at her at that, an appraising look in his eye.

“These kids,” he asked. “I’m guessing disturbingly beautiful and far too happy about what’s happening to them?”

“… Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Because that’s the only child prostitution ring that currently operates in New York,” he shrugged. “They ran all the others out of town. Surprised you got away from them. They’re dangerous people.”

“I got lucky,” Tasha sighed. “God. It feels weird having a gun in your face, you know?”

“Yeah,” Hideyoshi chuckled. “I know the feeling. Nothing as small as a gun, but the same principle. Looking death in the face is an odd sensation.”

They stopped at a set of streetlights, the old man leaning against the metal post while they waited for the traffic to clear.

“So,” Tasha asked, doing her best to keep her tone free of judgement for now. “If you know about those assholes. I gotta ask, why are they still there? I don’t know what the hell you are, but you’re tough. Why haven’t you done anything?”

“Fair question,” he murmured. “To be honest, I’d like to. I have grandchildren in this city and that place disgusts me, but the honest fact is that fighting a group like the Family is complicated. My main reason, frankly, is that the man in charge of that place is one of maybe seven people on this earth that I doubt I’m powerful enough to kill.”

“Only seven?” Tasha asked drily. “Sorry, dude. I’m not buying that. You’re tough, sure, but I’m not buying you’re that tough.”

Hideyoshi shot her a grin.

“Choose to believe it or choose not to, your decision. Regardless, that’s my reason. They’re complicated, and you’re in over your head.”

Tasha grunted.

“Okay, fine. What about those government guys you were with, then? Why aren’t they doing something? Pretty sure what they’re doing is super illegal, so why is it still happening?”

“… Honest answer?” Hideyoshi sighed. “He’s too valuable.” He glanced sidelong at her, then gave his eyes another rub. “Alright, so, six years ago, a giant fucking space dragon tried to attack the planet. Don’t laugh. That’s what happened. It was very old, very dangerous, and we literally had to kill it with nuclear weapons and human sacrifices. That’s not the important part. The important part is that when it got close enough to Earth, other monsters started coming out of the woodwork. Monsters so big and violent that we had to raise full sized armies to take them down. My wife and I led the goblins against the Hydra, a friend of mine from Egypt trapped the Minotaur, the twins of Norway slew the Behemoth, and Father killed the Crow. You see? He’s too useful. He’s tough enough to kill demigods, and that earns him amnesty, no matter how many kids he fucks. I hate it, but it’s true. They won’t touch him.”

“… Well that’s bull,” Tasha grumbled eventually. “Bunch of cowards.”

“Well,” Hideyoshi chuckled. “I can’t disagree there. But I hope you at least catch my point. This is a task far too great in scope for you to take on. You’re not strong enough. You’d just wind up getting yourself killed.

“So I’m too weak.” Tasha didn’t put any emphasis on the words. She was too tired to really care. “Fine. So how do I get stronger, then?”

Hideyoshi snorted.

“Wow. And here I was thinking I’d need to convince you to let me train you. You want to get stronger? Easy enough. I can do that, if you like. We can start tomorrow, if you’re tough enough for it.”

Tasha gazed at the man for a few moments, then shrugged.

“Yeah, sure. Better than doing nothing and waiting all day. Pie first, though.”

With another tired chuckle, Hideyoshi nodded.

“Yeah. Pie first.”

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Bonus chapter: Ray Sullivan.

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Author’s Note: Okay, here’s our first bonus chapter of the set. Hope you all enjoy it. Last time, I provided a link to a different story I wrote as a guest on Revfitz’s site, and I’m going to continue that by this time linking to the next story in the sequence. This one’s called scourge, and it’s written by Re’sheet Schultz.

Ray:

Ray rubbed his eyes wearily, trying to force out the ache that had been building up behind them for hours now. It didn’t help that the park around him was so dimly lit, forcing him to strain his eyes as he searched, following the thin trail of light thrown out by his torch. He shook his head, and told himself to focus. He didn’t have time to be tired right now. It barely helped.

He hadn’t slept the night before. Nor had Linda. It would have been odd if they had, after receiving those two soul destroying messages from their son.

‘I think I hate you.’

Ray pushed the memory from his mind. He’d lost count of how many times those words had floated up in his brain in the last twenty four hours. The first few dozen had engendered pain. By now, though, they were familiar enough to him that they only managed to induce a dull ache, like a bruise where his lungs should be.

They had, of course, done what they could to find him, calling the school, calling his phone, driving endlessly up and down along each of the routes they knew he walked well into the early hours of the morning. The search had netted them nothing. Casper hadn’t even read the texts they’d sent.

They had barely spoken a word to one another while they worked. Ray wasn’t sure how his wife felt, but for him, it hurt to even look at her right now.

Then, they’d received the alert from work. Elves were loose in the city. People with magic in their blood were being hunted in the streets, and their son was nowhere to be found. Ray’s knuckles still ached from the force with which he’d punched the wall in the aftermath of that news. He’d only stopped when he felt Linda’s hand on his shoulder, and turned to see the look in her eyes.

“Do that later,” she’d said, her tone cold. “For now, we focus on the problem.”

It had taken him a few minutes to force himself to focus; then they had gone to work. Ray called in, liasing with the other department heads about the present approaches to the issue. No one had made mention of his absence for the earlier parts of the morning. There were bigger concerns to deal with for now.

The goblins had been called in, and were reinforcing the government teams in tracking and retrieving the civilians, before escorting them to a secured facility. Ray had assigned himself to guard the safe house, quietly hoping that Casper might be among those escorted there. Linda, for her part, had been placed in the rapid response team, one of the few dozen people in new york with powerful enough magic to make a difference against the elves. Neither had had any luck. The day had wore on, and there had been no word of their son.

When word had come of the death of the Female, Ray been far from reassured. The news had been sent in by Father, after all, and the knowledge of New York now playing host to a nigh unstoppable pedophile was far from reassuring. Linda had abandoned the response team when the male went to ground, presumably searching the city in whatever manner her all too rational mind could conjure. He, on the other hand, had joined the search party in the dim hope that Casper might still be among those kidnapped by the elves. It was the strangest thing, he thought, to find himself actually hoping that his son had been captured, because at least then he could be saved.

He shifted his torch once more across the path and saw nothing, his tired eyes barely even managing to follow the beam through the dark. In the distance, however, he caught sight of another light coming towards him. He turned his light on the figure holding it, and had to strain his eyes for a moment before he recognized them. His search partner was his opposite number: Peter Toranaga, head of interspecies relations. They’d split up some time ago in the attempt to cover more ground, unconcerned by the weaker agents’ need for safety in numbers.

“Anything?” Peter asked as the two of them passed within earshot of one another.

“Nothing,” Ray replied, too tired to really be frustrated. “Can’t see a thing in this light.”

Toranaga grunted at that, then shifted his torch slightly, throwing the beam over Ray’s face, no doubt catching sight of the bags underneath his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, before the radio at his hip buzzed to life, an older man’s voice speaking through it.

“This is the specialist. I’ve found him. Looks like he’s trying to nab some civilian that got caught in the cordon. Going in now. Directors, close on the south-west block. Other units, hang clear.”

Without a word, the two men set off towards the south at a sprint, Peter giving his radio two short clicks in acknowledgement.

They weren’t far off from it, in the end, a three minute sprint at most, but it was still long since over by the time either one of them arrived. Ray focused on keeping the hope buried inside his chest. If he focused too much on the chance of finding his son, it could get in the way. He crushed it.

Eventually, they came upon a small clearing, catching sight as they approached of the three figures it held. A short, elderly man in a trenchcoat that was perhaps half a size too large for him, standing watch over another, younger looking man who lay prone, a bruised looking young woman sitting on the grass some way away, rummaging through a bag she held clenched between her knees.

The man waved as they approached, the girl simply eyeing them distrustfully.

“Directors,” The specialist called amicably. “Target subdued. Ready for interrogation if you are, Peter.”

Peter nodded, casting his eye momentarily towards the girl.

“The civilian okay?” He asked. “She looks a little beaten up.”

The specialist shrugged.

“A few aches and pains,” he murmured, allowing himself a chuckle. “Her own fault. She refused to stay out of the fight after I got there. Wound up doing most of the work herself.”

That earned the girl another glance from the two directors. She glared back stonily, fishing in the bag with her less damaged arm, pulling out what looked like a chunk of salami and pushing it awkwardly into her mouth with a palm.

“The girl did it?” Ray asked, surprised. “She’s a kid.”

“Yes,” the older man allowed, his tone amused. “A feisty kid, though. Super strength, at a guess. Broke her hand taking down his barriers, but just kept on punching him.”

“Dad,” Peter grumbled. “You’ve already got an apprentice. Stop being so pleased with this.”

That caught Ray’s attention, turning his gaze back towards the specialist for a moment. So this was Hideyoshi Toranaga, then. Huh. Shorter than expected. He pushed the thought from his mind, and turned his attention to the elf, only half aware of the other men as they began to bicker.

The elf wasn’t paying any attention either, gazing up at the clouds high above, his eyes glassy, tears occasionally trickling down his cheeks, lost. Ray looked away. Sympathy wasn’t what he needed to feel right now.

“Shall we get on with this?” He asked abruptly, breaking up whatever argument the other two were having. “The sooner we get the information we need, the sooner we can pull those people out of wherever they’re being kept and start putting all of this bullshit to rest.”

The two Toranagas glanced at him, and the younger one gave him a nod.

“Fair point,” he admitted. “Let’s get this over with. Ray, can you call in the capture? This shouldn’t take too long.”

Ray nodded, stepping away from the other two, and briefly pulling out his radio and conveying what he needed to, before clicking it back off with a sigh. He glanced back towards the girl, still glaring darkly towards his erstwhile companions as she chewed. She looked pretty bloodied. Probably best to make sure she was okay. He made a few tentative steps towards her, trying to work through what he was supposed to say after something like this. He opened his mouth as he approached, but she beat him to it.

“Fuck off, dude,” she grumbled. “Whatever you’re gonna say, I don’t wanna hear it. I’ve had a hell of a day.”

Ray chuckled at that. There was nothing else he could think to do.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Me too. Me too.”

With that, he turned away from her, and sat down, watching the interrogation for lack of anything else to do. After a few seconds, he found his eyes glazing it over, not really seeing it. God, he was tired.

He was brought out of his reverie briefly when something hit him in the shoulder with a thunk. He looked down. It was an apple. He glanced up at the girl, and saw that she had another just like it held in her good hand. She met his gaze, and gave him a shrug, before taking a bite.

He let out a breath, gave her a nod, and picked up the apple, biting down. It was something to do, at least.

He ate slowly, trying to ration what little distraction he had while he waited for the others to extract the information, but it didn’t work. He’d long since run out of bites when Peter turned around and gave him a nod.

“Got it,” he called. “You coming? I’ve already called for a retrieval crew. We can take it from here.”

“No.” Ray replied, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m accompanying. I want to assess the damage in person here.”

Peter nodded, waiting for Ray to reach him before setting turning back towards the trees and setting off at a walk. Behind them, he was dimly aware of Hideyoshi pulling the elf up over his shoulder and calling the girl to follow, saying something about teaching her to make a splint for her hand before leading her off towards the cordon.

It was a long walk, and they did it in silence, Ray trying with every step to keep himself detached. He couldn’t risk putting all his hopes on this, not if he wanted to keep on moving afterwards.

After a few minutes, Peter spoke into the quiet.

“So, what’s wrong, Ray? You look exhausted. Something wrong?”

Ray shook his head automatically.

“It’s fine. Just tired. Nothing you need to worry about.”

“… Huh,” the other director replied. “… Let me rephrase, then. You came on an elf hunt while barely even conscious, and you look like you’ve been told you have a week to live. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“… Family troubles.” Ray admitted, giving his head a little shake. He was too tired for this. “Don’t worry about it.”

Peter thought about that for a moment, then shrugged.

“Fine. I won’t pry.”

Ray grunted at that, and went back to staring at the path ahead of them, his mind settling back into its malaise. Then, for a moment, those words floated once more in front of his eyes.

‘I think I hate you.’

He chuckled angrily at himself, then, on impulse, said out loud the words he’d been thinking all day. For years, really.

“I’m a terrible father.”

He said it plainly, without emphasis. It was surprising how little the words stung, in the end.

“Huh,” Peter muttered after a moment. “… So it’s something about your kid, then? You’re Casper’s dad, right? He’s friends with my son.”

“Your son?” Ray asked without inflection. “I didn’t know.”

“They met at school a week or two ago,” Peter supplied. “He’s come over a few times.”

“Oh,” Ray murmured. “So that’s where he’s been going. He didn’t tell me. I figured he just didn’t want to talk to me.”

“… What’s wrong?” Peter asked, his tone changing now to what seemed like genuine concern. “Has something happened?”

Ray laughed at that, a single burst of humorless sound. “Something” was such an understatement.

“I tried to help him manifest,” he muttered, hating himself. “First few times, I thought I’d been soft; that I just hadn’t made him scared enough to make it happen. So I kept trying.” He paused there for a moment, the park ground in front of him momentarily giving way to the image of his son huddled against the wall, tears streaming down his face as he cradled his arm, the mark of pain steadily flowing into place across his cheek. He didn’t push this one away, instead forcing himself to look at it long and hard. Peter was silent beside him; either judging or waiting, he couldn’t tell. He forced himself to continue. “… He ran away from home last night.”

There was a long silence after that, before Peter swore quietly to himself.

“Christ, Ray. I thought you were better than that.”

Ray let out a huff, feeling a sudden touch of anger towards the other man.

“Don’t give me that,” he muttered. “I know it’s shit, but you know as well as I do that powers need stress to manifest. They’re always going to be traumatic. Surely it’s better to do it yourself, and give the kid as much help as they need in the aftermath. Yeah, I’m a crap dad, but I wasn’t wrong for trying to make it easier.” For a moment, he remembered his own father doing much the same. Afterwards, he’d been given ice cream.

“You say that,” the other man replied angrily. “But the way I see it, you just drove your kid out of his home. Powers aren’t worth that, Ray.”

Ray grunted.

“Wouldn’t have expected that, coming from you. You’re a Toranaga, after all. Are you really telling me Japan’s foremost wizarding line doesn’t help their children manifest? I waited until Casper was nine. How old were you, huh?”

The strike caught him in the cheek, sent him stumbling. There was less force to it than he might have thought. He righted himself, and met the other man’s glare.

“… That was the wrong road to take with me, Ray,” said Peter, his voice cold. “But fine. You want your answer? I was seven.” They stared at one another for a long moment. “Do you know what a faun is, Ray?”

Ray brought a finger to his lip, felt a trace of blood, and nodded.

“Yeah,” he replied evenly. “I know what a f-”

“Not the modern faun,” Peter cut him off. “Not C.S. Lewis. I’m talking about the old myths. The tricksters and the monsters. Pan and the Satyrs. Those myths come from somewhere, Ray; and one day, my parents went out and caught one.”

Ray cocked an eyebrow at that, confused, but Peter didn’t seem to notice.

“Turns out, they have a defense mechanism,” he continued bitterly. “And it’s a good one. They generate fear. That’s all. Just fear. So my parents caught one, chained it to a wall, and locked me in a room with it.”

It took a moment for the implications of Peter’s words to sink in.

“… Ah.” He said, for lack of anything better.

“They knew it had worked after three hours, when I started begging them to let me out. In turkish. Powers aren’t worth it, Ray. It’s just child abuse.”

“… I disagree,” Ray grumbled after a long quiet. “We need them. They keep us safe.”

Peter sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” he murmured. “But that doesn’t make it better.” He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “We’ll find your son, Ray, but I think we both know you’ll need to spend your whole life making this up to him.”

“Yeah. I know.”

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