Escapism: 3.14

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Hey, guys. So, yeah. I’ve been a little late with the updates these last two weeks. I apologize for that. I had a little of my time devoted to a short story guest submission for a literary friend of mine called Revfitz. If you’d like to see the story I wrote for him, then here’s the link: https://revfitz.com/everybody-dies-rainy-days/ Also, while you’re there, you might wanna check out his book. It’s pretty cool. Anyways. I intend to upload another chapter before the end of this week to make up for my tardiness. So I hope it’s all good. Anyways. On with the story!

James:

James wasn’t sure exactly when he had begun to cry. Whether it had happened when the lightning bolt struck him, when the bird tore the gash in his leg, or at any of a dozen points in between. He didn’t much care. The problem was that the tears made it hard for him to see where he was going as he flew, his eyelids only barely staying open to begin with.

He would have raised an arm to wipe his eyes clear, but his body refused to obey, the limb hanging limp by his side, his fingers occasionally twitching as the remnants of the shock sent spasms wracking through his form.

He was blind; blind and immobile, flying aimlessly through the night, just waiting to be spotted. To this, he did the one thing he could think to do. He went up. He may not have been able to see well enough to find a landmark to guide him, but he could at least tell well enough which way was up. A part of him wandered what might happen if he fell from such a height, and the answer he came up with did nothing to help him calm.

Everything felt wrong; the lines in his body failing to match what he knew in his head that they should be. Everything felt too… big; like his skin had somehow been stretched to cover a body the size of a football field. Had his nerves been thrown off by the shock?

For what felt like the hundredth time, he tried to force himself to calm down, to focus. It barely helped. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see. He wanted to pace, to yell, to punch something, just for some way to vent his state out into the world around him. He tried to scream, and once more heard, from somewhere high above, as the winds took up the call, echoing his voice in a shrill, distorted burst, more stormwind than shout.

Then there was that. He’d barely noticed it in the panic of the attack, but now, it was getting clearer by the moment. His body might not be moving, but his powers were, the wind echoing his every attempt to move without him even giving it conscious thought. He hadn’t even known he could make the winds shout for him, but he wasn’t pleased by the discovery; it wasn’t a nice sound. Just to confirm that it was what he thought it was, he tried willing his hand up towards his face in a gentle slap.

The effect was immediate. The wind caught him hard enough to nearly knock him out of the sky, sent him reeling. In a few moments, however, he caught himself, the fear slowly starting to fade in the knowledge that at least he was able to figure stuff out.

Okay. So his powers were doing a thing. That wasn’t great, but at least it gave him an idea.

Tentatively, he began reaching out into the wind with his power, trying to extend it out consciously in the hope that if he could expand his control around it, then maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to pull it back inside himself again. Maybe that’d be enough to let him move his limbs again. Even if it didn’t, it still felt better to be trying something.

James extended further, the hands beyond his hands reaching out further and further by the second. It was the strangest feeling, trying to stretch his senses to fill a shape. As he expanded, he felt the wind brush against fingers that weren’t even there; fingers that he knew, rationally, had to be dozens of feet away from him by now. Yet he could still feel them.

He was almost there when he encountered the barrier, his powers extended until they felt nearly as big as his body did. Then, just as he was about to reach it, he felt something press against his perception, like a wall in the air; immobile. He tried to swear, and heard the skies above give some ghoulish reinterpretation of the sound. Had he not been in such a state, he doubted he would have tried what he did next. At the least, he doubted he’d have tried it while floating what had to be at least a mile above the ground. As it was, though, he didn’t have the capacity left to care.

He pulled his power back a little, closing them towards himself by what felt like a foot or so, before sending them out again and slamming them against the wall as hard as he could. He had honestly expected it to do nothing, the attempt had been more an act of raw frustration than an effort to be constructive; but then he felt the wall give.

It was slight, minute, even, but it was there. He pushed harder, and it fell back another inch. The wind around him let out a furious cry, and he pushed harder.

When the wall finally gave way, a lot of things changed at once.

It was the changes to his vision that he noticed first, the world around him shifting from a tear blurred darkness to a perfect, almost crystalline clarity. The dark surrounding him fell away. In its place, his world was flooded with a trillion tiny lines of pure, faintly glowing light, like stars given breadth. Everywhere he looked, there were more of them, flowing and shifting around one another, cascading across the sides of the buildings far below and dancing through the clouds that hovered over the distant bay.

For a few moments, he just stared, in awe. Then, he found his mind brought back to earth as his clothes began to fall away, his body no longer solid enough to hold them in place around him. It was the strangest feeling, some tiny part of him thought, having something fall through him like that. He felt his torso give way under the weight of his hoodie, the scarf wrapped around his face sliding free and drifting off, seeming to pull his head apart in the process. It made him want to shudder.

He looked down, noticed his clothes sloughing off around him, and ignored them. He was far more concerned for the moment with his own apparent loss of solidity. As his hoodie finally fell free of him, he stared down at the nothing where his chest should be. Then, slowly, something began to form, no longer disturbed by the passage of his clothes. They hung about where his ribs should have been, a few faint, bluish orbs surrounded by a shimmering membrane of what seemed like mist, pulsing slightly every time he tried to breathe. In that one stunned moment, he honestly thought he’d become an amoeba.

… What?

For a few seconds, he quite simply failed to take it in. His body was gone. He no longer seemed to be paralyzed, perhaps, but his body was gone. He stared down at the faint, amorphous blob that seemed now to make up his form, and tried the hardest he ever had not to panic. The weirdest thing was that he could still feel his hands, even though he could see quite clearly that they no longer existed. More out of shock than anything else, he tried to clap them.

A few dozen feet away, there was a loud crack as two huge gusts struck one another, the shockwave of it sending the light lines into momentary chaos. As they slowly began to settle again, he gaped.

He hadn’t noticed it before. He’d been too busy focusing on the dazzling lights and the absence of his limbs. Now, though, as the lines began to settle themselves around it, he could see.

So that was where his body had gone.

It was definitely his body, he thought. He could tell that much from the shapes it made as the light lines drew contours across its face. But that didn’t explain why it seemed to be a hundred feet tall and made of nothing but air. He looked down, and saw his legs, carving invisibly through the flow of light. He looked up, and saw his head high above. As he watched, the titan opened its mouth, and let out a high, hysterical sounding giggle, so much more like his own voice than it had been before. He’d been worried that he couldn’t see his chest, because he was inside his chest.

He kept laughing for a long while. Then, the shock began to fade, giving way to dread. He was too tired for panic now. Too drained. Instead, he just felt hopeless and sad. It was too big. He could feel it beginning to overload him, like an ache inside his brain. He could feel the wind against his skin, all hundred or so feet of it. He could see the lights stretching out to every corner of the horizon, and they blinded him; overwhelmed. Perhaps, if he wasn’t so tired, he’d have coped; but as it was, he just wanted it all to go away. It was too new, every sensation like ice on an exposed nerve.

He tried to close his eyes to block out the light, but nothing changed, for his new form had no eyes. He let out a whine, pulling the titan’s arms and legs in towards his chest, hoping, at the very least, to block out a little of the breeze. Absently, he noticed his hoodie fluttering below, caught by a gust inside his larger form’s foot. In another frame of mind, it might have made him laugh.

He wanted to be small. He wanted the world to go away for awhile; needed rest. He tried to pull it all back in, and watched as the body around him began to deform, bits of it shifting oddly as they shrunk. It helped, though. He no longer felt the vastness of the wind against him. He kept pulling, and his exhausted mind was almost happy when he met the wall. The same wall he’d found when he started this failed adventure. It gave him hope. He pulled harder.

James wasn’t sure how long it took to come back to himself. He just knew that after a time, he could no longer see the lights all around him. The world was dark. His eyes were finally closed. He took a moment to enjoy that, before opening them once more to make sure that he was back.

He had skin again; real skin. He uncurled himself from his ball, and felt something slip free of his foot, then glanced down, and saw his hoodie tumbling away below him.

In that moment, he realized two things. Firstly: he was naked. Secondly: his hoodie still had his phone in it.

He dove.

It wasn’t a hard chase, really. James was a fast flier, and the hoodie barely eluded him beyond the first second or so before he caught it. First, he checked desperately in the pocket for his phone, then he let out a loud sigh of relief, and put it on.

It took him nearly ten minutes to find his way home, floating in through his bedroom window and collapsing on his bed, stopping only to close the window on the way. He felt himself fading to sleep before his head even hit the pillow.

As his thoughts faded to grey, he found himself thinking of Tasha. He got as far as hoping she was okay before drowsiness took its hold and he slept.

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Escapism: 3.12

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James:

James glanced at his blank phone screen for the fourth time in as many minutes, before once more trying to return his eyes to the television. His grandmother’s arrival had, as always, brought with it a new box of japanese media for him to consume, and he was trying as hard as he could to enjoy it. No matter how hard he tried, however, he couldn’t shake that last nagging bit of doubt out of his head.

It was irritating, really. The birds were no longer really much of a worry for him; he was pretty sure he’d been overreacting earlier, and, for whatever reason, he couldn’t really bring himself to be all that worried about the Family. He’d made his stand to them, and no matter how much he knew he should be scared, the fear just wouldn’t seem to come there. No. What had him on edge now, stupid as it felt, was his phone.

They had said they’d call him, they both had. He’d been expecting word hours ago. Nothing huge, just a quick note from Tasha and Cas to let him know they were okay. The problem was that every second his phone continued refusing to ring set him just a little more on edge.

He gazed out of his bedroom window at the rapidly darkening sky for a long moment, then let out an aggravated sigh.

“Screw it,” he muttered. “I’ll go look myself.”

With that, he pushed himself up off of his bed and stepped over to his closet, reaching up behind the oddly assorted mess of books, old action figures, and the basketball he’d punctured some two years previously until his hands found what he was looking for, a small camping bag. He tugged it down, then searched among his clothes for something big enough to fit the other two. There wasn’t much, really; most of his clothes were, well, him sized, and the others were both bigger than he was. After a while, he settled for the loosest sweater he could find, and stuffed it into the bag. Tasha could probably stretch it to fit if she had to. From there, he left his room and made his way across the landing towards the linen closet to grab a couple of towels he was pretty sure his mom wouldn’t miss. Finally, he went downstairs towards the kitchen, moving quietly so as to avoid drawing the attention of Granny and Bex in the nearby playroom. He snagged some apples from the fruit bowl, some bread from the counter, and a couple fistfulls of salami from the fridge, dumping it all in a lunch bag before returning to his room.

That done, he stuffed all of his assorted objects into the satchel, along with a torch from his dresser as a last second idea, and changed into his flying clothes, augmenting them this time with a scarf wrapped around his face.

He couldn’t really do anything for Casper for now; not without knowing where he even was, for a start; but he could at least make sure Tasha was doing okay.

He pulled open his window, slung the bag over his back, and for the third night in a row, vaulted himself out into the open air.

He made his way to the park at speed, keeping high in the air to better avoid watching eyes. At his full speed, it took him minutes at most to make it there. He began to descend, noting, as he did so, the odd spots of light scattered about among the trees. Torches? Maybe someone was doing a game night in the park? Whatever it was, best to stay unseen.

He found the clearing he’d deposited Tasha on the night before, and allowed himself to float down, hovering some ten feet or so above the ground. He looked around, hoping to catch some sight of the girl laying sprawled out somewhere along the grass. Nothing to be seen.

He swore quietly to himself, and once more dipped a hand into his pocket for his phone, checking the screen. Still nothing.


Male:

The male watched from the branches of his tree as the figures moved below him, the devices in their hands throwing two thin beams of illumination out across the half-forest floor, sweeping from side to side lazily as they searched the ground for his trail. He had to restrain himself as they passed beneath him, perfectly positioned for him to pounce upon. He wanted so much to strike something, to work his frustration and rage out upon some hapless human hunters. But no. He couldn’t spare the energy. He had work to do.

It had been some time since he’d heard the echo of his partner’s death ringing out through the swarm, long enough for the sun to dip below the horizon, plunging this human world into darkness. It had been a blow, for certain. She had been his companion for years; decades, even, and had saved his life on many a hunt, but he had a job to do, and there would be time to grieve later. He had focused simply on regaining his energy, finding a den in amongst what little woodland life the humans allowed to remain near their homes and hiding among the trees.

It was only when he had attempted to leave the half-forest that he had realized they were tracking him. Perhaps he hadn’t abandoned the scene of his battle against the hobgoblin fast enough. It could be that he had been spotted, or maybe they were using some other means to trace him. What mattered was that he was trapped. The half-forest had been closed off, its exits placed under guard, and the humans had begun to search for him within. Frustrating, but not insurmountable.

He needed to get to the centre of this place; to the burrow where the captive humans were placed, awaiting transit home. He reached out with one of his lesser used spells, gathered what little of his partner’s swarm he could with his limited mastery, and brought them closer, watching the searching duo cast their lights fruitlessly in the dark as they trod away below him.

It took a moment to connect the swarm’s mind to his own. They were flighty, unused to being outside without a master to hold them in sway. They resisted. It took time, but soon enough, he had a bare dozen of the creatures wrangled. He sent them skywards, flying low above the treetops all around him. With their senses, he could see the humans approaching with more than enough time to spare. He nodded to himself, the plan cementing in his mind. He would skirt between the hunters, retrieve his buried catch, and take them home.

He felt the regret dig deep into his heart at that. To come home like this would be irredeemable. No partner at his side, and only eight weak humans to show for the loss. He would never outlive the shame. He shook himself. Even worse to never come home at all.

He crouched, dropped down from his perch towards the earthen ground, and began to move, slipping between the search parties with an almost consummate ease. He made it nearly halfway to the burrow before he felt it.

The scent passed through his swarm without incident, merely catalogued and sent along towards their master, but it was enough to stop him dead. It was faint, fast moving, and utterly overwhelming. He looked through the eyes of his beasts to gaze upon the newcomer himself, flying the creature in close for a better smell. There it was again. Power. He could hardly believe it. Raw and untrained, but vast; a deep reservoir of strength that was greater by far than any human had a right to be. It came to a stop in the air some distance away, floating above the earth, far from the searching eyes of the trackers.

Perhaps he should have devoted more of his mind to how a human could possibly hold might so far in excess of the norm for their kind, or to what reason such a creature could have for being here. It was in hubris, however, that he did not. His mind was too focused on the potential that presence offered. If he could carry home a catch of that level, he knew, all could be forgiven. The failure of his mission would be the smallest of trifles when compared to such a boon. In that scent, the male saw a chance at redemption. He felt his tired, angry frustration give way for a moment to a simple kind of hope. This was his only chance, and he would take it.


James:

He knew, honestly, that it had been stupid to expect Tasha to be in the same place a whole day after he’d dropped her here. He’d known that before he came out here, but it still kinda stung to not see her hanging around. Did they have to leave him in the dark like this?

He sighed, and half heartedly shrugged the camping pack off of his back, dropping it down onto the ground below with a thud. Tasha’d probably find it at some point if she was hanging around, and if not, then no huge loss. At least he’d done something.

He took a deep breath as he slowly began to rise back into the air, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing himself to enjoy the feeling of the wind brushing against his face. At least the flight out had helped relax him some. Maybe he’d take his time on the journey home; try and cool off.

The first bolt struck him between the shoulder blades with what felt like all the force of a freight train, bending him double, his neck jerking sharply as his shoulders were forced forwards. For all that it should have hurt, his body didn’t really seem to register it, too busy dealing with the tingling shock of electricity coursing through every inch of his body, contracting muscles and skin against themselves. He felt the air pushed from his lungs, forcing his mouth open in a silent, breathless cry. The world swam, the edges of his vision crawling with something akin to static. It took nearly a second for him to realize that he was falling, and another one for him to catch himself, his fingertips twitching as his body began to acclimate to the shock. He turned in midair, searching desperately for whatever had struck him. He momentarily lost hold of his flight, and by that alone avoided being hit by the second blast, which parted the sky where he had been floating just a moment before.

His still crackling eyes followed the lightning to its source and found what looked to be a bedraggled man standing on the ground below. Some half stunned part of his brain told him he needed to run and, dimly, he tried to obey, pushing himself back with his power, trying to get away. He saw the ground shift slightly beneath him as his body began to move, when the first of the birds attacked.

He had thought, in his numbed state, that his nerves didn’t have the coherence yet for pain. It came as something of a surprise, then, when the creatures talons slammed against his leg, digging a deep gash into the skin of his thigh. He let out a quiet choking sound, his muscles utterly unresponsive, and saw the thing circle around for another strike, joined by another, and another, and another. On the ground below, he could see the man readying another bolt, and realized belatedly that something had to be done. His body felt loose, all of his limbs lining up wrong with the scale he held for them in his head. In the bleary panic in which he found himself, he attempted to raise a hand to swat the distant figure away. A stupid idea, and no less so for the fact that it worked. James’ slowly rebooting mind felt a glimmer of surprise as the bedraggled man staggered, his whole body buffeted by some unseen force. His hand hadn’t even moved.

There was still the squadron of birds to deal with, though, and again, James tried his best to move a limb in response, lifting a forearm to shield his face. Again, his body didn’t move. Instead, the creatures soared in for another strike, only to veer off at the last moment, thrown aside by a violent gust of wind.

In the seconds that followed, the haze around his mind began to clear, the pain bringing the world into focus once more within his mind. The stranger below had abandoned lightning now, and had a hand extended towards him. He felt something begin to tug around his waist, pulling him down. His body began to sink slowly towards the figure. Without needing to think, he pulled back reflexively against it, and felt his descent begin to slow. The force pulling at him redoubled. He tried to scream, and again, found that his body wouldn’t move. Instead, from somewhere high above him, there came a sound like the crashing of stormwinds through a flute; half gale, half speech, like being shouted at by a hurricane. It was loud enough to make the air around him quake. He tried once more to fly away, pushing what felt like every inch of himself into his power as he wrestled against the stranger’s unerring grasp.

The man yelled something that James didn’t understand, his face contorting with effort and frustration as he raised his other hand, sparks of cobalt light coalescing once more within his palm.

James tried to bring his hands up in some futile move to block the oncoming strike, and again, his arms refused.

The lightning built up more and more within the attacker’s grasp, the electric glow building to a sharp, blinding white, before a teenaged form collided with his midsection, wrapped its arms around him, and literally threw him at the nearest tree. The man let out a growl of rage as his body struck the solid surface, the lightning gathered around his arm dispersing through the air surrounding him in a thousand short, spasmodic arcs.

The newcomer turned towards James for a moment, meeting his gaze with her own.

“Fucking run!” Tasha bellowed hoarsely at him before turning back to her opponent. Numbly, unsure of what in god’s name was happening, James obeyed, turning his limp form away from the fight and shooting off into the night.

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Escapism: 3.6

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Swarm:

The hunting birds were brought forth in a dark, cramped space. They couldn’t see the sky, and that made them panic. There was noise in the cave. The shouting of apes and flashes of bright, loud power. It drove them to a frenzy. They needed to be out, to be free. This cave was filled with power and noise; why had the masters brought them here? The apes smelled of power. Developed power, far too much of it for them to hunt. The prey had to be weaker. They had to get out.

They were undriven, uncontrolled; their mistress far too focused on other matters to give them a command. They swarmed, flapped and faught, cawing and crying and biting, desperate to make their way out into the light. Some were caught, shoved back by the stronger of the apes, broken against walls and winds, unable to fly. Most, however, managed to find their way out of that cramped, loud space. Some fled into the tunnels, better total darkness than the chaos of the apes. Others made it up the slope towards where the light was more natural, where they could see the sky.

The apes tried to stop them, fought in vain to corral them back with spells and nets. It did not work. They were too many. They flooded through into the light from every cave mouth, traversing the darkness of the tunnels until they found places of less incessant energies. By the end of the first hour, the swarm had taken flight above the city. From there, they began to hunt.

One hunter spied a female ape, traversing the strange, straight lined paths of this place undefended. It flew lower, and smelled her power. Untrained, unrefined. But there was potential there. It dove, silent, between the vast, geometric mountains, and raked its claws along her arm. The female shrieked, dropped a bag to the ground. But the hunter was already gone, the winds carrying it rapidly back into the skies. It opened its beak, tasted the blood now dripping from its talons, and felt confirmation. This one would do. It sent a message to the mistress, marked the female’s scent.

The hunter’s nearby fellows within the swarm received their orders from the mistress and, as one, they dove, aiding in the next task. The female wasn’t alone; surrounded by lesser apes, their scent nowhere near as potent. A minor concern. The swarm descended upon the humans in one quick, chaotic flurry, driving those around the female screaming and running, while chasing the target herself down into a dark space between two of the great stone towers. They drove her back into the shadows, where the mistress’ companion waited. The ape hit the ground before she knew what was happening. The swarm took to the air once more as the mistress’ companion carried his catch back to the nest, the mistress already guiding them, searching out their next prey.

The hunter found its next prey in a more comprehensible place. A forest, similar to those of its home, buried in the heart of this odd stone landscape. With its keen eyes, it saw the prey from afar, laying sprawled upon the grass, its skin covered in a patchwork of dark, barely healed wounds. This ape was different. Her smell more potent, yet still unrefined. The hunter moved in closer. The target seemed to be sleeping, eyes closed, breathing steady. Easy prey.

It dove, raking its claws once more along unprotected skin, drawing a shriek from the girl as she jerked from her rest. Too late to matter. The hunter licked at its talons… Nothing? Had it failed to pierce the ape’s hide? Strange. It turned in the air, swooped in low, and brought its claws to bear again, ready to slice along the ape’s flesh, harder, this time. It drew in close, ready to strike, and felt an impact ringing through its skull as the ape brought a palm up to strike it with surprising speed and force, knocking it out of the air and sending it crashing down into the damp soil. The hunter slowly pulled itself up, dizzy, staring back towards the ape as it growled its rage for all the world to hear.

Perhaps not this one.


Tasha:

“What. The fuck!?” The girl shouted after the fleeing bird as it awkwardly flapped away, the feathers down one side of its body left bedraggled by the blow. “I’ve had a shitty enough day already, so you can just LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Tasha stood straight and glanced around herself, massaging the skin of her palm with her other hand. She saw one or two passersby staring at her, eyes wide, and gave the closest of them the finger before stalking off to find herself some food.


James:

He’d seen the first of them at recess, staring at him from atop the school roof while he ate his granola bar. It looked like a hawk, he thought, but that could easily have been wrong. It wasn’t as if he knew very much about birds anyways. It was certainly eyeing him like a hawk, though. At first, he hadn’t really paid it much attention, assuming it was just interested in his food before shifting his focus back to discussing the viability of firework stockpiling with Charlie. He was quietly enjoying having a chance to hang out with some of his other friends. He’d been spending most of his time hanging around with Casper, lately. It was nice getting back to his more normal friends for a while; he felt a little guilty thinking that, to be honest.

The bird only returned to his thoughts when he went to put the wrapper for his snack in the bin, and caught sight of it once more, still staring at him. It hadn’t budged from it’s spot at all in the last few minutes, and kept its gaze on him as he returned to the outdoor table around which most of his friends were clustered. Something about it felt… odd. He tried to push it from his mind, returning his attention to the discussion at hand.

When the bell rang, signalling time to return to class, he caught sight of it again as he rose from his seat, still perched there, unblinking.

Experimentally, he threw a little wind at it, trying to send it elsewhere. The bird stumbled slightly in the sudden brief gale, but recovered, unmoving. Again, he tried to ignore it, heading back inside. When he reached the school doors, he chanced a glance back at it.

There were five now. As he watched, another one fluttered down from the sky and took up a perch on the table he’d been seated at. All of them were gazing at him, utterly still. He swallowed and stepped inside, sliding in among the crowd of students heading to their next classes.

He managed to keep the creatures from his mind for almost an hour, when, halfway through math, their teacher, Mr Brown, had stopped talking for a moment; his attention caught by something outside the window. One at a time, the rest of the class turned to look, James among them.

There were over a hundred now, gathered on the tables, bins, and plastic rain roofs of the outside area, each gazing in at him. He felt something cold in his gut, and glanced around the class. No one seemed to have noticed where they were all looking, and none of his classmates was looking at him, either. He tried leaning slightly to the side in his chair, and watched as the birds’ heads moved to track him. This was just getting creepy.

He hid out in the library during lunch, finding himself a spot far away from any windows, and trying to make it look like he was busy reading. In truth, though, his mind was racing.

Who was doing this? Was it the family? Had they somehow caught sight of him after what happened last night? Was someone tracking him now? He tried to convince himself otherwise: told himself that he’d been careful, that he’d stayed off the ground; that he was just being paranoid. It didn’t work.

After lunch, it had gotten bad enough that their teachers made an announcement. Supposedly there was no cause for alarm. Apparently, birds were acting weird all over the place, some of them even attacking a few people in the street. That news did little to calm his fears. Why were they all still staring at him?


Tsuru:

She waited at the reception desk until the bell rang, eyeing the birds massing outside sourly. She wasn’t sure how to feel about them being here in these numbers. To have drawn down such a sizeable flock, then her grandchildren must be powerful, which made her proud. At the same time, though, if they were drawing this much attention without even being spellcasters yet, then that would make it near impossible to keep them hidden from the elves. That limited her options.

The bell rang before long, and the students began to file out of their classrooms en masse, each heading for the parking lots at the front and back of the school buildings. She stood, stretched, and waited for her grandson to descend the stairs, edging herself into a corner so as to avoid catching the boy’s eye. He wasn’t long in coming, and stood at the base of the staircase, staring out at the swarm outside, apparently psyching himself up. She took her chance, and stepped forward silently. He leapt a half foot into the air as she slapped her hand to his shoulder; she chuckled.

“Heya, squirt,” she murmured in Japanese. “You got taller.”

“… Granny?” The boy asked, dipping into the same language without apparent thought. Tsuru grinned. She liked it when he practiced speaking it with her, usually taking the opportunity to correct some of the few remaining flaws in his diction. “What’re you doing here?” He turned towards her, his expression just a bit too tense.

“Your father found some work for the firm to take on,” she replied, waving a hand dismissively. “Really, though, I just wanted an excuse to come down and hang out with you little brats for a while.” As she spoke, she pulled the boy into a hug, which he returned, somewhat half-heartedly, to her mind. “Now, come on,” she continued. “Car’s waiting. Let’s go.” With that, she grabbed his hand, stepped towards the school door, and pulled him outside. He squeaked slightly as they hit the open air, and she felt his fingers clench a little tighter around hers for a moment. She felt a momentary flash of approval at that. If the boy feared the birds, then he had good instincts. He needn’t have worried, though. The birds seemed content just to watch them, for now. Waiting.

Tsuru ignored them, holding her head high as she pulled her grandson towards the waiting car. After the first few seconds, she felt his grip relax a tad, and nodded. They made it to the car, and climbed inside, James joining his sister in the back, Tsuru climbing into the front seat alongside Sarah.

She gave her daughter in law a small nod as she strapped herself in, and received the same in turn. She held back a sigh. Sarah was a nice enough girl, she supposed, but it would have been infinitely preferable, to her mind, if Akira had chosen someone with some actual power to continue the family line. Hell, if Sarah had possessed a little power, then she wouldn’t have to be down here running protection detail. She pushed the thought from her mind. That wasn’t the point right now. Right now, she just had to keep the kids safe.

“Hi, Baba!” Rebecca shouted merrily, leaning forwards in her seat to give her grandmother a hug.

“Hello, little one.” Tsuru chuckled, wrapping her arms around the excitable child’s shoulders. “Wow, you got big!”

That was enough to set the girl to jabbering as Sarah started up the car, allowing Tsuru to keep an eye on the birds through the window as they traveled.

It wasn’t long before the gathered flock took off, following after the car and circling overhead. Well, that settled it. They were definitely following the kids. Either that, or they were interested in her. But she doubted that. It would have been very stupid for the hunters to design their hawks to pursue someone of her level.

She wasn’t the only one watching them, she noticed. Every minute or so, James would sneak a glance out of the window into the sky, his expression growing a little more nervous with each look. Had they gotten to him that much? Surprising. She grunted, filing the observation away for later.

“Problem?” Sarah asked from the driver’s seat, her voice tense. Tsuru couldn’t blame the girl for nerves. It must be hard being in a situation like this when you didn’t have any real training to draw from. To be honest, she felt it was almost cruel of Akira to have told the girl. Why put that stress on her?

“No,” she replied evenly. “Nothing major. Just watching the birds.”

Sarah nodded, her eyes on the road, and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter in her hands.

Tsuru sighed. At least Bex wasn’t on edge. Blessed girl.

They got to the house in short order, and Tsuru saw the other three inside before the swarm once again began to gather. There were more of them now, clustering on rooftops and driveways and whatever pathetic excuse Manhattan allowed for gardens. She glared at them. A strategy needed to be picked, and fast. She hated standing idle. Preferably something that would put her grandson’s mind at ease. She thought for a long while, staring at the birds while Sarah watched anxiously from the doorway. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw James through the living room window, gazing out at the birds as well, concern written clear on his face.

“… Can I borrow some bread?” She asked after a time, not turning her gaze from the birds. “I have an idea I want to try.”

Sarah didn’t respond, simply stepping back towards the kitchen, and returning a few moments later with a plastic wrapped loaf of bread, still cold from the fridge. Tsuru took it from the girl and nodded.

“Thank you. I won’t be a minute.” With that, she stepped towards one of the chairs sat on the tiny patch of grass that passed for her son’s front garden and sat down. James watched her, his expression anxious. “Might want to close the door.” Wordlessly, Sarah complied.

Now. How to do this without showing her hand to the boy? She thought for a moment, then reached into the bag, her fingers wrapping around the first thin slice of bread. Under her breath, she started whispering the words to one of her older spells, an old favorite she rarely had the occasion to use anymore.

In a few seconds, the magic took its hold, and she felt her mind expand, filling out a bubble around herself, no longer confined to the boundaries of her body. Calmly, she began crumbling the bread into small chunks between her fingers. The bubble swelled, expanding to fill the garden, then the house, then the street. She felt something press against her mind as the field expanded. Not people; the spell didn’t work on people. She pushed it further, the first of the birds becoming caught, unaware, as of yet. She needed a display of force. A warning. Something to convince the hunters to stay well away.

Easy enough.

She grew her bubble out further, feeling it make contact with what felt like hundreds, maybe even thousands of other minds. Each one tiny, diminutive compared to her. That should be enough. The bubble stopped growing. She took a moment to separate the ones she wanted to ignore from the rest. Household pets, local wildlife, the few small traces of amphibious life dwelling in the pipes far below. It was the birds she wanted.

She could feel something behind those minds: an energy, a will far more powerful and complex than a mere swarm of hunting birds. She looked closer, and felt the mind on the other end take notice, its focus homing in on her in an instant. She chuckled. Good. She had their attention.

She looked one of the birds in the eye, and smiled, pulling a piece of bread from the bag, and holding it in her hand.

The force behind the swarm made no move, confused. Then, the old witch made her power move. She pressed her spell against the first of the hawks, and felt resistance, the other mind offering a surprised counter to her attempt to take control. Tsuru kept smiling, pressing her spell further into the creature’s mind, slowly forcing her adversary back. She could feel the elf grow angry behind the mob; felt her command the other birds to strike. Nothing happened. The novice hadn’t even noticed when she took control.

She smiled a little wider and slowly, almost casually, forced the first of the hawks to flutter down from its roost and pluck the bread from her hand, before allowing it to fly away. She felt the other mage wrestling in her mind, furious, trying desperately to pry control of the swarm back from her. It was almost cute. She didn’t budge. Her grip was iron. She allowed the elf just enough control to be able to watch as she brought each of the birds down, small group by small group, and fed them all a single shred of bread.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw James begin to relax, happy to see the birds acting a touch more like he expected them to, before turning back towards the inside of the house.

‘Good,’ she thought. ‘Task number one: completed.’

She kept going for a good half hour, enjoying the feeling of the beastmaster growing angrier and angrier at her usurpation of the swarm. When she was down to the final one, she leaned in and patted it on the head, her final demonstration of supremacy.

Then, she released them back to their mistress and watched as, one by one, they flew away, defeated.

That done, she stood up, stretched, and dusted the breadcrumbs off of her knees, before going inside to spend some time with her grandkids.

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Escapism: 3.1

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Author’s note: Hey, guys. Sorry for the late update. I was kinda busy figuring out how I wanted the magic system to work, along with a bunch of other stuff. I decided to slip the Tuva bonus chapter a little further into this arc because I think it works better after this one gets going. So, yeah. Kay, enjoy!

James:

The two figures descended together in silence, the smaller one coming to a stop some ten or so feet above the grassy ground of the park, before the larger one finally allowed herself to let go, falling the short distance to the soft earth and opting to simply collapse there rather than bother trying to catch herself.

Neither one of them spoke for a time, James gazing at the ground, too lost in his own thoughts to really know what to say while his companion took a number of long, deep breaths against the floor. In the end, it was Tasha who broke the silence.

“That. Fucking. SUCKED.” She said loudly, emphasizing every word with all the energy she seemed able to muster. “Word of advice: Never do something that’ll wind up getting you tied to a chair, kay, bud? It’s really not fun.” Tasha opened her eyes at that, craning her neck slightly to shoot the boy a grin. He didn’t reply. He didn’t really know what to say. “Oi,” she murmured. “What’s up, little guy? You doing okay?”

“I… I dunno.” He said honestly, glancing across at her. “I’m… Kinda waiting for myself to freak out.”

“It’ll happen,” Tasha laughed. “Don’t worry. You’ll be on your way home, and it’ll hit you like a train, all at once. You’ll start shaking your hands and going ‘Holy shit, what did I just do!?’ and then you’ll calm yourself down a bit, and you’ll start feeling either really hungry, or like, super extra horny.”

James snorted at that.

“Why horny?” He asked, chuckling. “I think maybe that’s just a you thing.”

“Maybe,” Tasha shrugged, grinning. “Or maybe you’ll get home and start jacking like craz-” James didn’t hear the rest of that sentence, because he had already brought his hands up to cover his ears. She scowled at him, then very deliberately raised a hand in front of her, clenched her fingers into a fist, and started moving it from side to side.

“… You are the grossest person alive and I hate you.” James said, hands still pressed to his ears. Tasha stuck out her tongue. “… Whatever,” he grumbled, lowering one hand from his ear to his pocket and tugging free a small cylindrical wad bound up with a rubber band. “I figure you can’t really go home right now and you’re gonna be kinda weak for a couple days, so I bought this along for you.” He tossed it down towards her and she caught it, fumbling it slightly in her still stiff hands. “The money you gave me last night. Figured you could pay me back later or something, you know?”

Tasha glanced down at the money for a moment, then back up at him, and nodded, her expression slightly pained.

“Thanks, man,” she sighed. “Guess beggars can’t really be choosers, huh?”

James nodded, relieved. He’d been expecting that to be a bit more of a struggle.

“Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m paying you back for this, you hear me? Oh, gimme your number. I’ll buy a phone tomorrow and call you and Casper with it, kay?” She frowned suddenly. “Actually, can you call him now? The little guy went and did something really stupid trying to save me earlier. I wanna make sure he’s okay.”

James nodded, digging out his phone and quickly tapping in the number and calling it, pausing brieflly to read out his number for the older girl. It only rang for a few seconds before Casper answered, his voice oddly croaky.

“Hey, man. Good to hear from you. Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” James replied, trying not to use any names in case, god forbid, someone was listening. “I did it. We’re fine. You okay? You don’t sound too good.”

“Y-yeah,” came the reply, accompanied by what James thought might have been a sniffle. “I’m fine. Look… I kinda ran away from home… I’m gonna smash my phone after this. Not sure if they can follow it. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay with you guys first, you know?”

James was silent for a few moments, unsure how he was even supposed to react to something like that. He glanced down at Tasha, who was looking up at him, clearly curious. He gave her a half hearted thumbs up, before eventually settling for the basics.

“We’re fine,” he murmured. “I Promise.” He hesitated for a moment, then added: “ Is… is this cuz of your dad? Did he try to hurt you ag-”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Casper cut him off. “Look, I’m fine, okay? Just… Can I ask you something weird?”

“Uh, sure?” Said James, caught a little back footed. “What’s up?”

“That… the thing… The thing that made you get… You know…” Casper was silent for a time on the other end of the line, before he finally let all the words tumble out at once. “Was it your parents? Did they do something bad?”

“What?” James asked, disgusted, his tone earning him a confused look from Tasha, which he ignored. “No! Of course not! They had nothing to do with it!”

“Good,” came the reply almost immediately, the tone probably intended to be soothing, but missing the mark a tad. “I didn’t think they had. They’ve been too worried about you since it happened. I just… I needed to make sure.”

James considered that for a time, his disgust slowly beginning to fade, before something in the way Casper had spoken clicked in his head.

“… Is that why he hit you?” He asked, his voice very quiet.

“… Yeah,” Casper replied eventually, making a sound that James thought could have been an attempt at clearing his nose. “Yeah, it is. I… I just wanted to make sure your parents didn’t… You know.”

“No,” James replied, almost immediately. “They didn’t do anything. It…” He faltered for a moment, having to steel himself a little to say the words out loud. “It was a stranger in a bathroom… and he wasn’t hitting me.” In the corner of his eye, he saw Tasha curse under her breath at his words. He closed his eyes. It hurt less to admit than he had thought it would, but it still wasn’t fun.

“… Yeah,” the other boy muttered evenly. “That’s what I figured. Sorry.”

James opened his mouth to reassure the other boy, however empty the words might be, but the line was dead. Casper had already hung up. He let out a frustrated little sigh as he returned his phone to his pocket. He turned to Tasha.

“He ran away from home cuz his parents are dicks,” he said, making no effort to keep the bitterness from his voice. “He says he’s fine.”

Tasha nodded, her face set.

“Right,” she murmured. “When you see him again, figure out a way to bring him over to me. I can take care of him.”

James simply nodded, not looking at her as he turned to leave.

“Oi,” she called after him, pulling him briefly to a halt. “You’re not weak, okay?” The statement confused him, and he glanced back at her. She had pulled herself to her feet, apparently ignoring the pain in her limbs. She was looking up at him, her expression hard, almost angry. Her fingers were clenched into fists by her sides, the muscles in her arms standing out against the strain. “What you told us doesn’t change things, you got that? You saved my ass tonight, and that makes you strong. Whatever else that asshole did to you, you’re strong, like me. Don’t you forget it.”

James wouldn’t have expected the words to strike him as hard as they did, hitting him like a punch in the gut. He gazed down at her for a moment, feeling something crack inside him, and refused to let it show. He willed his face to remain controlled, forcing it into a hard, set scowl, just the same as hers, before he finally nodded.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Without another word, he left, rising into the skies and out of her sight.

He made his way home at full speed, trying to let the exhilarating feeling of being up in the air distract him for a time. It worked, if only a little. Whatever bitterness there was to the past few minutes, at least it was done with now. Tasha’s words had helped, surprisingly enough. As he traveled, he waited for the panic of the last hour to hit him, just as she’d said it would, but for some reason, it never came. When he arrived back in his room, he was calm; not happy, but calm.

He went downstairs, found his parents, and gave them a hug, his eyes determinedly dry.

That night, for the first time, the nightmares did not come for him. That night, he slept soundly.

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Catharsis. 2.12

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James:

James gazed out of his window into the evening sky, his hands resting gently against the windowsill. A part of him, if he was honest, had wanted to do nothing, to just go home and pretend nothing had ever happened, but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to just leave it. It went against the grain. Eventually, he had come to a decision. He would try to help, but if there was nothing he could do, or if it looked like it might go badly for him, he would leave.

He stepped back from the window for a moment, taking a second to change. Dark clothing, as before. He chose a hoodie, pulling the hood down over his face and pulling the string ties to bunch the fabric up over his face, leaving him just enough room to see. He took a breath. His parents were downstairs, watching a movie. Not much chance of either of them moving for the next hour or so. Bex was in bed, a story read to her, and a glass of water already set up by her bedside. If he was going to leave, now was the time. He returned to the window and pulled it open, then breathed deep again.

One… Two… Three.

James threw himself through the window, squeezing his eyes shut as if diving into a freezing pool. As before, he willed himself upwards as fast as his power could carry him. By the time he had the drive to will his eyes open, the streets were but tiny lines below him, illuminated by the sparse lights of cars and streetlights. He felt that momentary thrill, that giddy high of pure, positive vertigo, and pushed it from his mind. More important things at hand. He turned himself towards the place the text had specified, then pushed himself into the gloom at speed.

As before, it was not a long journey, two or three minutes, at most. He suspected he could have gone faster, but he was wary of pushing too far, running out of power in midair. The idea made him shudder. He floated some three hundred feet or so above the building, surveying the area from on high to assure himself that his plan would work.

There was a degree of traffic along the small street, but it was night, and far enough from the central districts that flow was relatively small. He allowed himself to hope that no one would notice, before choosing an alleyway opposite his target, and descending into it as fast as he dared. He didn’t allow himself to touch the ground. The text had warned that these people tracked by smell, and he had reasoned that his best defense was to stay high up enough that they would be left without a scent to follow. He hovered against a brick wall, hugging himself tight against the building’s shadow.

‘Corner room closest to traffic light.’ The text had said. James’ eyes fell upon a window, the curtains inside drawn against his view. He took another deep, steadying breath, and began to muster his power.

His plan was not the best, he had to admit. It had dozens of things that could easily go wrong, even if his newfound ability was strong enough to do what he wanted it to. More of them floated to the surface of his mind as he tried to focus. What if Tasha was too wounded to move? What if the drugs hadn’t worn off? What if his plan worked too well, and he hurt her? He did his best to ignore them. If it failed, he told himself, then at least he had tried. If it got too dangerous, he could leave with a clear conscience. He tried to believe it.

James extended his reach beyond himself, just as he had done the night before, feeling the strands of the light evening breeze beneath fingers that, to his newfound sense, were feeling less and less like fingers by the second. He extended further, collecting the strands and drawing them together in his grasp, letting them flow together, strengthening. When he felt he had enough, he drew them all together, bundling them up together tightly into a single imaginary fist, before pushing it forth against the building’s wall with all his might.

The result was not as he had hoped for.


Tasha:

Pain, everywhere.

That woman, Lara, the others had called her, had not gone easy. She had laid into Tasha with her own bat across every inch of her body while the soft voiced man delivered bullshit line after bullshit line.

‘They didn’t want to hurt her. She’d left them no choice.’ As if she gave a fuck. She’d done her best to tune him out after a time. In the hours that had followed, as the feeling slowly began to seep back into her nerves, she had slowly began to become aware of the pain, a dull, powerful ache across every inch of herself. She wanted to move, offer an insult, or at least do something to prove to them that they hadn’t beaten her, but she knew that the moment she did, not only would she lose the element of surprise, but the pain would become far worse. She had tested it with a few small flexes of her arms, and had barely managed to suppress the groan of pain as her battered muscles tugged along bruised, bloodied skin.

The one called Marcus had gone to bed, declaring something about seeing to the children as he took his leave. Lara and Samson had remained, Lara sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, the bat resting along her knees and a smug grin on her oh so punchable face. Of her captors, Lara had seemed the only one to actively enjoy the beating they had given her. Samson had seemed indifferent, passively watching with his gun at his hip, a pose he had held ever since, and Marcus had been almost apologetic, but Lara had enjoyed it. Tasha was grateful for that, in a way. Marcus confused her, Samson made her angry, but only Lara had done enough to really let Tasha hate her.

No one spoke. No one moved. It seemed like these two were content to watch her, unwavering, until their so called “Father” came to take her. For her part, however, Tasha was planning. Samson had the gun at his hip. That meant he would take at least half a second or so to raise it and point it at her. If she could move fast enough, then she could throw the chair at him before he had time to fire. If she could manage that, then she’d only have to deal with Lara. She just needed a single moment of distraction. That was the problem. Nothing was happening. Nothing had been happening for hours, besides the growing ache in every inch of her body. She needed to be alert, ready to capitalize on any distraction the moment it happened, but trying to keep herself that focused for so long was exhausting. She found her attention beginning to drift, a small part of her mind conjuring a scenario of what she was going to do to Lara when she got out of here. The ideas it presented were attractive, and she found more and more of her focus drawn towards it, figuring out what she’d break, what she’d say. That was when it struck.

It all happened so fast that Tasha barely had time to register what was happening, let alone try to make sense of it. There was a sudden, violent cracking sound, easily the loudest thing Tasha had ever heard, and at precisely the same time, the window imploded, shards of glass catching in the curtains and tearing them free, peppering the inside of the room with a hail of jagged shards. Tasha felt a few new tears emerge along the skin of her arms and face as she was thrown back in her chair, landing painfully on the ground. The room went dark, the solitary light bulb that hung from the ceiling exploding in the sudden wave of force. She brought up her hands by instinct, breaking her bonds with ease in some attempt to catch herself.

As she tried to work through the surprise, her ears ringing shrilly in the aftershock, a voice inside Tasha’s mind told her to move, to act. This was her chance. She had to take it. She reached down her hands grasping the edges of her chair to arm herself, but before she had a chance to go any further, a form stepped into view above her. In the sudden gloom, it was difficult to make out the face, but the shape of the gun aimed at her was unmistakable. She thought he might have said something, a command of some sort, but the ringing in her ears was too loud for her to make it out. The gun, however, sent a very clear message. Very slowly, she drew her hands back away from the chair. The gun jerked, gesturing her up, so she rose, her every muscle protesting angrily, to her feet. Lara stood at the window, a hand pressed to her ear. It was hard to tell, but Tasha could have sworn she was shouting something.

Whatever she was saying, it probably didn’t work, as another invisible wave struck her about the face. It was not as strong as the first, not by a long shot, but it was enough to make the woman stumble. She turned her gaze towards Tasha for a moment, her expression furious, before another wave struck her from behind, sending her off balance just in time for a third to knock her off her feet.

Tasha felt a hand grab her by the collar, and looked around. Samson had his gun against her cheek. He pulled her along with him, stepping around Lara’s form as she woozily pushed herself upright, a small trail of blood dripping down from her ears. The ringing had begun to subside a little, and Tasha was able to make out Samson’s words just fine as he shouted calmly out into the street.

“Keep attacking and I shoot her.”

Nothing happened. The ringing slowly died away to a low buzz as the two of them stood staring out at the empty street.

“Good,” Samson said eventually. “Now, show yourself, or I will shoot her. I swear to God.”

Again, nothing happened. Tasha glanced at her captor out of the corner of her eye. He was bleeding, a small shard of glass embedded in the flesh of his cheek, but he was calm, his eyes slowly roaming the darkened street. After a few moments, he pushed her to the side, shoving her against the window frame, his expression not changing in the slightest.

“You have to the count of five. Four, three,”

He still wasn’t looking at her. Tasha had an idea. A very stupid one, but one that, she hoped, would be enough to save her life.

Moving as fast as her aching arm was able, she swung her hand upwards, slapping her palm towards Samson’s wrist with all the force she could muster. Samson, still focused on scanning the street below, never saw it coming.

Tasha felt her hand connect, wrapping her fingers around the larger man’s wrist and forcefully wrenching the gun to the side, pointing it away from her, into the street. He squeezed the trigger, just a moment too late, firing off a loud, echoing shot into the wall of a nearby building. Tasha absently hoped there was no one inside as she reached out with her other hand, grabbed the gun, and wrenched it from his grip. He resisted, but not enough. She lowered her hand to his chest and, her back still braced against the window bracket, shoved him hard enough to launch him into the wall. She felt a few of his ribs crack under her fingers.

For a moment, Tasha contemplated leaving through the window, but then she realized, she had the gun. She had her strength, she had a gun, and Lara was doing only slightly better than her. With the surge of adrenaline pumping through her system, she couldn’t even really feel the pain in her muscles right now. She had promised to tear this place to the ground. Time to make good on that. She turned, grinning widely, back towards the more hated of her captors, just in time to see her finally rise to her feet.

Tasha raised the gun, but Lara was quicker. She opened her mouth, and Tasha felt something grasp her, pushing every inch of her backwards out of the open window. She let out a surprised yelp as she fell. Then, she felt the strangest thing beneath her. It was like wind, but stronger, much stronger, pressing her upwards, slowing her fall. She hit the ground on her back, nowhere near as hard as she should have done, and pushed herself to her feet. Before she had a chance to choose a direction, Lara peaked her head out of the window, her mouth already open as she exposed herself. Apparently she had started firing before she even left cover, because a chunk of the wall connected to the window split, the brickwork cracking away and sending out a fine plume of dust. Before Tasha had a chance to fire, the shot hit her. It was less focused now, and further away, but it still struck her dead on, knocking her off her feet once more. She landed on her knees, began slowly forcing her way to her feet, expecting a shot to the back, but none came. She turned, glanced up at the window. Lara had her arms braced against her face, seemingly trying to ward off some invisible force as it struck at her again and again, sending her hair frizzing out in every direction as she tried and failed to line up another shot. Tasha took the opportunity, and began to run.

Tasha ran a long way. She wasn’t sure if it was minutes, or an hour. All she knew was that by the end, the adrenaline had worn off, leaving her every muscle aching and screaming for her to stop. She ignored the pain, and kept running, gasping for breath with every other step. It took almost everything she had to keep going, her head lowering towards the ground, staring at her feet as she simply willed her feet to press forwards.

The first gust of wind was ignored, registered and written off as merely another trial for her aching body to overcome. The second, however, was stronger, sending her stumbling against a wall. She looked up, trying to identify the source. It took her a few moments to recognize it.

A figure, floating in the air to her left, a dozen or so feet above the road that divided the street. Small, child sized, dressed in thick, dark clothing that concealed their face almost completely. Tasha allowed herself an exhausted grin.

“Hey man, you here to give me a hand?”

The figure raised a hand, beckoning, and Tasha took a deep breath, building up the last of her strength, before she pushed herself away from the wall and launched herself up into the air. It was a relatively short distance for her, and yet she barely made it, her arms wrapping around the small form with what little strength remained and clinging tight. The moment they were connected, James took off into the sky, fast as he could go.

Author’s Note: Hey guys. I hope you all enjoyed that. Up next, we’re going to have an interlude, along with a couple of story relevant bonus chapters to conclude the Catharsis arc, after which we will be able to start on arc 3: Escapism. I hope you’re all looking forward to it as much as I am.

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