Escapism: 3.13

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Tasha:

The man let out a panicked shout as James took his leave, scrambling to his feet on the damp grass upon which he’d landed and chasing after the boy’s shrinking form at a dead sprint. Another charge of electricity began rapidly building around his arm, ready to shock the boy out of the sky, when Tasha’s shoulder caught him around the middle, her whole weight thrown behind the impact, wrapping her arms around his chest and sending the both of them sprawling. His shot went wide, cutting a broad arc of light through the night sky.

The man screamed, his attention still focused on James’ now barely visible form, one arm reaching desperately for him. Tasha punched him, her fist striking him in the jaw, only to glance off as it met not with skin, but with some hard, smooth barrier that sent arcs of pain jarring up her arm in its refusal to give. For a moment, she thought she saw something above his skin flicker, like a window catching the light. She ignored it.

“Nope!” She yelled. “You focus on me! Not on him, cuz it’s me who’s gonna kick your ass!” To drive the point home, she struck him again with her other fist, feeling the same pain radiating up her arm as he simply took the blow, unflinching. Again, his skin seemed to flicker with a momentary light.

Slowly, he turned his face to her, and she was surprised to see a single tear trickling down his cheek. He looked her in the eye, his face contorted with rage and grief, and spat at her. It caught her on the chin. She raised a fist to punch him again and drove it down towards his face, only for it to bury itself in the ground as he disappeared out from under her.

“The fuck?”

She pushed herself to her feet, head turning this way and that, scanning the treeline around her for him. For a moment, she thought she saw a ripple in the air to her left, but dismissed it, continuing to cast her eyes about the field. Then, there was a small pop, and she felt something strike against the back of her shoulder, barely even hard enough to notice, followed a moment later by something much, much harder. She felt something give inside her, and let out a low growl of pain as her shoulder pulled itself free of its socket. The force of the impact spun her, sent her staggering. She caught sight of the man again just before his second strike hit, throwing her out across the grass. She hit the ground in a roll, the soft earth pressing again and again against her damaged arm. She grit her teeth.

He was ranting now, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth as he raved in some odd, flowing language. He raised a hand to point at her as she pulled herself to her feet, her body turned slightly to shield her damaged arm, and she heard a screech from somewhere far above her. She ignored it, keeping her eyes fixed on him as he stepped forward towards her. Then the first of the birds plunged down from the sky, talons outstretched, raking them across the side of her face. She let out a gasp of surprise and pain, flinching back for just a moment; the same moment that he chose to step forwards, and slam his fist into her stomach.

This strike was stronger than the last ones, Tasha realized as she felt her whole body lifted into the air by the force of it, the air shoved once more from her lungs, this time accompanied by a small amount of blood, splashing across the faded blue denim of his jacket. She hit the floor again, this time on her rear, and slumped to the side, wheezing. That had hurt. That had hurt a lot. She tried to force herself to breathe, and achieved nothing but a harsh coughing fit as something dragged painfully inside her chest.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him step over to her, standing above her and pausing for a moment, before leaning down, a hand outstretched towards her undamaged shoulder. She felt him take hold and begin tugging her upright, and chose that moment to make her counter. The moment she felt his hand on her arm, she swung it outwards, her fingers clenched into a fist, slamming it into his face in the fiercest hammerblow she could manage. Again, for a moment, his skin seemed to crackle with some momentary light, and she let out a growl as something in her hand crunched agonizingly against his face. This time, though, something was different. This time, his skin seemed less like steel, and more like layers of plasterboard, a few of them crumbling away before, for the briefest moment, her fist finally connected with his skin. For the first time, he actually seemed to feel the blow, the impact sending his head snapping to the side in its passing and drawing forth a grunt of genuine pain. He turned his face back to her, a small amount of blood building around his teeth, and raised his free hand to strike, the air seeming to bend around it just a little. Before he had a chance to hit her, however, she brought one of her splayed legs forward and kicked him in the knee with all her might.

Again, his weird forcefield flickered for a moment as she struck it; but it was slower now, the traceries of light more jagged. Again, she felt it give a little beneath her leg, and, with the most satisfying crunch she’d ever heard, she felt his knee give way against her, his leg bending unnaturally inwards. He hit the ground hard, yelping for all the world as if he’d been dealt a mortal blow. Tasha grimaced. Pussy.

Tasha didn’t waste a moment. One of her arms was loose of the socket, and she was pretty sure she’d broken a few bones in the fist she could still use. She didn’t care. She’d discovered this asshole’s weakness: Punching. Time to use it.

With a pained grunt, she pushed herself up into a crouch, before shifting herself forwards on top of him, half sitting on his waist to cut short his useless attempts to crawl away. He stared up at her and, for the first time, she could see fear in his eyes. Good. She raised her broken fist and struck him with it, ignoring the pain and watching him flinch as his barrier barely managed to absorb the blow, the flickering no longer fading away a few moments later, covering his skin with a layer of constant, crackling light. Damn it. She’d gone soft; reduced the strength of the blow in fear of the pain in her hand. That wouldn’t do. She needed to hit harder. She pulled her hand back again, when the birds struck again. They did it en masse this time, a bunch of them hitting her all at once, all flapping, scratching and pecking at her head. She felt a set of talons rake painfully across her right eye, and slammed her eyes shut just in time to feel another collide with the lid of her left. Instinctively, she brought her forearm up to shield her face, batting blindly at the things in some effort to get them clear.

She felt him land a strike against her stomach, weaker than the others, but enough to make her retch, all the same. No good. He was making her play defence. She needed to keep attacking. She let out a furious cry at the man below her, squeezing her legs tight around his waist and again, feeling the barrier give a little further under the pressure, before lowering her head, crunching her stomach, and forcing herself down in a blind headbutt. She felt something crunch against her forehead, and the man let out another yelp. Good. She reared back, braced herself, and did it again.

She felt his body vanish from underneath her once more as her forehead slammed into the soft earth, and, for a moment, was confused. Had he done the teleport thing again? God, being blind sucked. She pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the continual assaults of the birds as best she could, and peaked her left eye open just a crack.

It was next to useless. Even beyond the constant blur of feathers and beaks around her, she could barely see like this. She turned this way and that, heard a faint pop, and pivoted towards it. For a single moment, she thought she could see something bright blue crackling through her eyelids, before her whole world was engulfed by a wall of light and heat.

It only lasted a moment, a bright flash of orange flame all around her, burning through her eyelids. For the first second, she thought she was dead. Then, oddly, the smell of charring meat hit her nose, and the heat around her began to fade. Cautiously, she opened her good eye.

The man was still there in front of her, standing crooked on his one good leg, another glove of that weird lightning attack gathered around his arm. He wasn’t looking at her, though; he was staring at something far to the side of her, eyes wide with terror.

Tasha turned, noticing as she did so that the meat smell was rising from the dozen or so flame-scarred bird carcasses littering the ground around her, and caught sight of what seemed for all the world to be a person made of living fire.

It stood some thirty feet away, under the cover of the tree line and was advancing towards them at a slow trot, burning orange from head to toe. Still with that panicked look in his eye, the man raised his arm, sending his lightning bolt streaking towards the flame wreathed figure with a choked sounding cry.

It was less than useless. The bolt struck the figure dead in the chest, sparked briefly around its shoulders, then faded, leaving the thing apparently unscathed. The figure all but ignored him.

“Excuse me, miss,” a male voice called, the flame-person raising a hand towards her in a polite wave. “Is this fellow giving you trouble? I can take him off your hands for now, if you like.” As he spoke, his waving hand shifted to the side, extending outwards and giving a little flick of its wrist. Immediately, the flames surrounding the limb extended, forming a long, thick cord of solid fire, one end held in his hand like a whip.

“Who the fuck are you!?” She replied, for want of a better turn of phrase, before turning back towards her foe and stomping towards him.

“That’s nothing to concern yourself with, miss,” the fire guy replied calmly. “If you don’t mind, please just stand back and let me take care of this.” Without another word, the flame man turned his attention back towards their apparently mutual foe, giving his whip a demonstrative flick that sent the cord slashing over the damp earth, leaving it scorched. He extended his other hand towards her, and she let out a furious shout as she felt some invisible force pushing her back out of the way, releasing her when she was some fifty feet back from either of them.

James’ erstwhile attacker tried to take a step back from the man, and staggered, his bad leg failing to take his weight and leaving him to fall awkwardly against the grass. He didn’t seem to notice, his eyes fixed on the flaming man as he began once more gathering lightning around himself; not just one arm, this time, but both.

The flame man raised his whip, the other still forcing more and more lightning into his arms by the moment, before the flaming cord lashed forwards, and yet again, the man disappeared.

“Damn,” the fire guy muttered, turning slowly from side to side to scan the field. “Teleporter. That’s irritating.”

Tasha, on the other hand, did not hesitate. She’d already been sprinting forwards the moment the fire guy had released her, and now, she changed directions slightly, bending down and grabbing hold of a shoe mid stride before tearing it off of her foot with her one debatably good hand. She spotted the ripples in the air at the same time flame guy did, and he raised his free hand towards it casually, ready to strike. He never got the chance.

Her enemy returned to the world with the same loud pop she’d heard twice before, landing precariously on his good leg, and had about a tenth of a second to be surprised to see the flame guy waiting for him. Then her flung shoe struck him in the side of the head and sent him sprawling, his shield giving only the barest of resistance to the blow, his lightning discharging uselessly into the ground as he fumbled to catch himself. The flame guy turned to look at her, presumably surprised, and watched as she threw herself down on top of the fallen man, sat astride him, and punched him in the shoulder hard enough to feel something crunch beneath her throbbing knuckles.

“I don’t need your help, asshole!” She yelled over the fallen man’s screams. “Now just stand there and let me finish this!” With that, she pressed the flat of her palm against the man’s remaining shoulder, ignoring his feeble attempts at resistance, and pushed until she felt it pop. Then, she let herself roll off of him, and lay against the ground, exhausted. She closed her good eye, and was faintly aware of the firelight dying out against her eyelids, before a hand took hold of her shoulder, another positioned against her back, and unceremoniously shoved her dislocated arm back into place with an agonising crack.

She let out a loud, angry scream at that, opening her eye and catching sight of an elderly man crouched above her. Reflexively, she launched her damaged fist towards his face, then immediately regretted it as the blow collided with another of those damn shields. This one didn’t even flicker.

“That was quite impressively done, miss,” the man murmured, his lips curling in an amused smile. “My name’s Hideyoshi. May I ask for yours?”

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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 cataloged 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: 3.10

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Male:

The hobgoblin was a powerful one. Dangerous, even if he weren’t in the depleted state he found himself in. He had to be quick. The foe launched a strike towards his shoulder, and he evaded, dropping the last of his wards so as to better focus his energies on building towards his next attack. It wasn’t as if they would have been strong enough to parry the strike in their current state.

It should have thrilled him. The moments were rare when one of his kind was ever placed in genuine danger, and it had been centuries since he’d last faced a genuine hunt. But here, deprived of his wards, with a malformed aberrant going for his blood, he felt only frustration. He dodged one blow, then another, the creature’s fist carving a short trench into the angular stonework of the building alongside them. He let out a single, angry chuckle. Strong as the hobgoblin may have been, it was not the fastest of its kin, and the added force of its transformation did nothing to aid in the landing of its blows. He built up what remained of his power, pushed it into a single point at the tip of an index finger, and made his strike.

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

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

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

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

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


Casper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casper shook his head with a sigh.

Whatever.

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

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

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

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

Theo grunted at that, his mood darkening yet again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Escapism: 3.9

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Author’s note: Okay, so, just a quick note. I am revising my bonus chapter scheme. Instead of one per month, I am setting it to two per arc. This, hopefully, will allow me to slot the bonus chapters in a little more gracefully alongside the interludes or, if you happen to vote for something that becomes relevant to the arc in question, then it allows me to format the bonus chapter more organically into the lineup. So, yeah. There’s that. As for the bonus chapters to come at the end of this arc, well, the top contender at present is Natalie Sharpe, the therapist. All that being said, let’s get on with the chapter!


Casper:

The two strangers ran in silence for a time. How long exactly was hard for Casper to judge. He was too busy trying not to choke as the numb, claggy feeling in his lungs continued to spread. He couldn’t breathe, could barely think. What little air he could draw in tasted of burned metal and plastic fumes, enough to make him gag. He could feel his heart beating harder and faster in his chest, thumping out of sync against his ribs as his grip on the taller one’s back slowly began to weaken.

His power was flickering, the bubble around him sputtering and dimming as he tried and failed to keep an eye on their surroundings for any more of the birds. He thought he felt someone following them, someone angry, but before he had the chance to really check, his powers had collapsed inwards another few feet, and they were left beyond his reach. He tried to push his senses out again, but it was like willing a sleeping limb to work; his bubble barely even moved.

Neither of his supposed rescuers paid much heed to his troubles as they fled, save for the one carrying him shifting their grip a little to allow him a better purchase on their back, a hand raising itself against his back to steady him. Beyond that, however, they kept their attention focused on the task at hand, the taller one keeping their eyes forward as they ran, the other glancing constantly from side to side, watching for new attackers. Every pounding step they took jolted him again, testing his steadily failing grip with every stride and shaking what little air he could draw in free of him. He felt tears begin to work their way slowly down his cheeks as the fear spread its way deeper into his mind. He lost the feeling in his hands just a second or two before his grip finally gave way, and he was falling, his descent stopped short by the tall one’s hand pressed against his back. He felt a momentary panic jolting through his taller companion’s skull as they noticed his arms going limp around their neck. From what felt like very far away, he thought he felt something press against his chest, but he couldn’t see clearly enough anymore to say for sure. He could have sworn he heard someone shouting, or possibly swearing, but his mind was too muddled to make out the words.

He felt the last of the emotions in his mind fade away as the world around him slowed. Then, it all went black, and he felt nothing.


Male:

He watched from a distance as the boy’s condition continued to worsen, the taller of his attempted saviors lowering him quickly to the ground to provide what emergency care they could. He allowed himself an angry smile as he slowed his approach, observing as the boy’s limbs began to seize, his body writhing fitfully as the goblins set about him with their antidotes. Their plan had backfired. They were distracted. Now was the time to strike. The birds were gone. No matter. He could do this by himself.

He spared a moment to place a charm on the few humans that would be near enough to the group to notice his oncoming attack. A simple spell, really. He planted a looseness within their minds, a disruption to focus and memory. Enough that he’d be long gone with the boy before they had time to become aware of a fight. It was easier that way. Weak as the humans were, they tended to call to stronger ones for aid, and that held the potential to make this harder.

With the onlookers suitably distracted, he stepped forth, allowing the pair just enough time to administer their antidote, before leaping from his rooftop without a sound and diving down to land amongst them. The taller of the two turned and stared for a moment, his sudden presence taking it by a momentary surprise. The shorter one, however, did not hesitate, reaching into its belt for a blade.

He didn’t allow either of them time to make the first move. Goblins may have been lacking somewhat in terms of magical potential, but they were truly gifted little things when it came to speed. He had to act first. His dagger had been lost in the battle underground, but he had other means.

He swung his arms out towards his foes, each fist clad in a gauntlet of roiling kinetic force, and felt his right hand strike the larger one square in the jaw. The creature had been slow to react, surprise stripping it of the advantage granted by natural speed, and the blow connected against its face with a force great enough to shatter trees, flinging it roughly against the hull of one of the strange metal carts the humans used. The thin roof of the thing warped slightly under the impact.

The smaller of the two, however, was quicker on the uptake. It ducked smoothly under his attack, the ripples of his gauntlet discharging just close enough to it to tear the back of its garment to shreds, before it launched its knife towards his gut. He felt the weapon tear through his barriers, and let out a growl. Strong as this one may have been, there was no way that such a strike would have penetrated his wards had he still been fresh. He felt the tip of the blade graze against his belly, drawing forth a thin trail of blood, and bared his teeth. The goblin darted back from him before he had a chance to counter and hefted the boy up onto its back with one arm, the knife still held towards the male at chest height. Its companion was slowly pulling itself upright off of the vehicle, apparently still conscious. He growled. It must have been a hob to survive that strike. This was not how it had been supposed to happen.

The taller adversary peeled itself free of the metal cart and rolled its neck with a series of low, short clicks, stepping forward to interpose itself between him and the lesser goblin. As he watched, the hobgoblin began to grow, its frame expanding from a touch above five feet to almost seven in a matter of seconds. Its dainty, almost elvish features gave way to something a good deal rougher as the garments encasing its form drew taut around its flesh, then began to tear. The hobgoblin growled a few words to its companion, who nodded, took the boy up in its arms, and began to run.

The male made to pursue, but found his path blocked as the hobgoblin side stepped once more into his path, standing between him and his fleeing prey. The hob jabbed its slab-like fist towards his face in a boxer’s punch which he barely  managed to dodge in time, feeling one of his few remaining barriers crumble to nothing in its passing. He aimed a counter punch at the creatures ribs, wrapping what little force around the blow that he could muster in such a short time. His fist struck home with a thunderous crack, but the brute barely even seemed to notice, jabbing a second meaty fist towards his jaw, just a touch too slow to connect. He swore.

Fine. He’d deal with this one first.


Casper:

“Hey, kid. You awake?”

Casper groaned irritably as he felt a hand gently slapping at his cheeks, the sensation slowly bringing him back to wakefulness. He was uncomfortable enough as it was without being bothered. His muscles ached, his eyes stung, and his lungs felt like they’d been scrubbed with a wire brush.

“Nh… Go away…” he mumbled blearily, his mind slowly starting to warm back up as he tried to recall what exactly was going on and where he was supposed to be. Everything felt weird: his chest felt too hot, his limbs felt too cold, and there was a light behind his eyelids that was just bright enough to deny him the chance to drift off again. He wanted to go back to sleep. At least sleep didn’t feel like a bad migraine. His thoughts of rest were cut abruptly short by another slap, this one far harder than those that had preceded it. He yelped, his eyes flicking open as the pain forced his mind into alertness. He winced as the light dug painfully into his eyes, and looked around.

As far as he could make out, he was in a car. Whose car, he couldn’t tell. It certainly wasn’t one he recognized, the interior of it surfaced in functional black plastics and felt as opposed to the opulent cream and brown leather of his parents’ cars.

Off to his side, a figure was gazing at him from the driver’s seat, an expression of mild concern written across their features. He spent a few bleary moments trying to place the figure’s face. It was familiar, somehow, too soft in the cheeks and jaw to be a man, and yet too angular to really register as female. Then, he remembered what had been happening before he fell asleep, and jolted upright in his seat.

“Where are we?” He asked urgently, hastily pressing his power out to search their surroundings for birds. “Did we get away? What the heck was that stuff? Who are yo-”

“Calm down,” the stranger murmured quietly, turning back towards the wheel once they had verified that he was awake, and twisting a set of keys into the ignition. “Yeah. We got away… sort of. My partner’s buying us an out.” Casper felt a momentary pang of worry from them at those words. “I got you into the car about thirty seconds ago.”

Casper hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to say about that, then eventually settled for:

“… Is your partner gonna be okay?”

His rescuer didn’t reply, instead flicking the gearbox into reverse and pulling out of the parking bay, their focus determinedly fixed on the task at hand. Casper felt the concern eating into his companion’s mind, and chose not to repeat the question.

Eventually, the driver spoke again, their tone a touch more apologetic.

“As for the stuff that knocked you out… It was a gas grenade. They’re designed for hostage situation work. Non lethal. Supposed to feed on a person’s magic and convert it into a paralysis effect. It was supposed to just ward off the birds, but it looks like it took you out, too. Sorry about that. It’s honestly pretty rare to see a kid as young as you powerful enough for the gas to knock them out of the park like that. We weren’t expecting it.”

Casper nodded. At least that answered one of his questions. He settled back in his seat as the stranger drove, and resolved to simply stay quiet, keeping his power unfurled so as to watch the skies for birds.

It wasn’t long before the swarm began to grow again, gathering one by one above the car.

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Escapism: 3.5

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Strangers:

The gate bloomed forth in the shadows, hidden well below the urban sprawl that spanned from end to end of the human metropolis. They emerged in a tunnel, underground, the gloom around them near enough all encompassing. By the light flooding forth from the other side of the gate, they could see the iron tracks that lay along the uneven ground. The man knew by experience that these structures were for moving great carts of men and women from one end of the vast city to the other. He chuckled. It was such a novel idea, that a being could be so weak as to need the aid of metal for travel.

His companion silenced him, a motion of a hand alerting him to a new danger. The plan had failed. The enchantments surrounding the city stretched down into these tunnels as well. The humans were alerted. They would be mobilizing soon. The male swore. It had taken so much effort to work a gate precise enough to end in one of these tunnels, all for nothing.

It had once been so easy. The humans had lacked the organization to pose a threat to their hunters, the few mages they possessed with the skills to find them before the job was done being too weak on their own to fight them. The male remembered those times, when it hadn’t been necessary to hunt in pairs.

The female guided them forwards through the gloom, her ears attuned to the sounds in the dark, seeing blind, as the bats did. They moved quickly, intent on being far distant when the human alphas came to defend their precious herd.

It wasn’t long before the male saw lights distant in the tunnel, a platform of raised stone, built of the single, smooth hewn stonelike blocks that had so fascinated him in recent years, its surfaces tiled in gleaming white and dirty grey alike, painted in garish yellows with no heed to aesthetic or craft.

Before he had a chance to draw close, the female held out a hand to block him, signalling in silence, barely visible in the sheer darkness of the man made cave. They were too late. The place had been emptied of its normal inhabitants, and now stood guarded by two figures, each garbed in cold grey, their faces covered by cumbersome masks of metal and glass. He almost laughed. Why so few of them? Perhaps this tunnel had more than one terminus nearby.

He nodded, slowing his pace, the female doing the same in front of him. Best to smash through this small defence and be gone before reinforcements could come. The female readied her spell in silence while the male stood watch. She was the one more skilled in striking without warning. He left the guards to her.

Then, the plan went awry. One of the watchers looked up from his task and, it would seem, somehow caught a glimpse of them both in the darkness. He let out a deep bark of noise toward his companion, who immediately turned to run, digging a hand into a pocket of his coat.

The female let loose her spell with all the force she desired as the male charged, firing forth a dozen lines of black, ichorus flame from her palms, the weapons spearing through the dark towards their foes, both the standing guard and the fleeing.

The standing guard raised his hands with a cry as he moved himself into the path of the shots aimed for his companion, pulling forth a bubble of some transparent force. The darts met his shield with a screech like the call of a hunting bird, and the dome collapsed, the man thrown against the tiled wall hard enough to send shards of it tumbling to the ground around him. He fell to the floor in a heap, unmoving.

The fleeing man pulled forth a pair of devices from his garment as he ran, tapping one furiously with his thumb, tossing the other behind himself as he began to ascend the stairs.

The thrown device was an odd thing, cylindrical, covered in grooves and lines and buttons. The male ignored it as he ran, and was caught as it began to spew forth a cloud of thin foul, smelling smoke of a sort that stung his eyes and caught harshly in his lungs. He readied a counter without even thinking, and shielded himself with a gust of wind, pushing the smoke clear of him. He coughed painfully, and looked up at the fleeing man, angry. The air here was putrid enough already.

The fleeing guard gave the device in his hand a few more desperate taps, before flinging it up the stairwell away from himself. Then, he turned, fear in his eyes, to face his pursuer.

The male was angry. His eyes stung, his lungs burned. This human world had pushed enough indignities on him already, and this speck of a being now had the audacity to add a further insult. He raised his hands, building his power in his palms.

The human shook slightly as he did the same, some smoky, viscous force bubbling to the surface of his skin; like a man become mist. The male chuckled. This would not take long. He raised his palms to strike, when he felt a tug at his back, something grasping him about the middle, pulling him. His feet left the steps, his spell flickering out of being as his focus was forced to falter, before that same unseen force slammed him down against the ground with a sound like thunder itself. It was all he could do to shield himself from the blow.

The male scrambled to his feet, furious, turning back towards the platform. There, separating him from the female, stood a lone man, beside a strange, lightless portal leading into a dim room. The newcomer frowned, his face set in hard lines of rage and, much to the male’s surprise, spoke to them in the hunters’ tongue.

“You should not be here.”


Peter:

This wasn’t good. The hunters were working in a pair. Pearson was down and Greys, bless his soul, wasn’t powerful enough to be anything more than a brief distraction to their enemies. He knew his limits. He was smart enough to handle one hunter, if he was lucky, but two at once? That was the sort of challenge he happily left to his father.

They were an odd pair, he thought; the male dressed in a badly faded denim jacket, over a torn t-shirt for a concert some twenty years out of date, his pants ripped and scuffed. So, they’d started stealing clothes now? Fantastic.

He glanced behind himself for a moment at the female, dressed with a similarly apparent lack of awareness, before returning his gaze to the male. He knew Jackie was watching through the portal. She’d warn him if the female made a move. Neither foe did.

“… You speak our tongue,” the male murmured, surprised, cocking his head slightly to the side, his long hair spilling carelessly over a shoulder. “How?”

Peter ignored him.

“You should not be here,” he repeated, reaching down to his belt and pulling his flask free, before lifting it to his lips.

The male tried to stop him, raising a hand and sending a plume of some white, crackling energy towards it, but he deflected it, batting the bolt of energy aside with the palm of his free hand, expending far more energy on doing so than he would have liked. It was necessary, though. Hunters cared about power. He needed to make his defense look effortless. The bolt struck the tiled floor, and didn’t stop, carving a glowing white hole into the ground for who knew how far. Behind him, he heard the female attempt something similar, and he heard the grunt of effort as Jackie shielded him. He had to be quick here.

He took a swig from the flask and winced. Bitter. Much too bitter.

“What was that?” the female asked, on edge, her voice radiating suspicion and disgust.

Again, he ignored the words.

“You are launching an unprovoked attack on the citizens of New York,” he murmured, allowing a hint of his anger to bubble up to the surface in his words. “If you continue, I will hold you here until reinforcements arrive, and then we will crush you with all the fury you kidnapping bastards deserve. You have ten seconds to leave this place, or I will rain down fire upon you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Reinforcements due in forty seconds,” he heard Jackie murmur in english. He nodded. Behind the male, he saw Greys pull out a grenade, and revised his opinion of the man. Momentary distractions could be very handy, really. He flicked a hand towards Pearson’s unconscious form, shielding him as best he could without it being obvious, and then simply stood there, waiting.

The female laughed haughtily. The male, for his part, looked concerned.

“And how exactly does a human plan to hold us here?” she asked, her voice laden with contempt.

Peter didn’t answer. Instead, he jerked his wrist to the side easily. It was a small motion, easy to dismiss, but Greys knew what it meant. He pulled the pin on the grenade, held it in his hand for a moment, and tossed it down the stairs, before setting off at a run.

Peter didn’t waste a second. He turned towards the female and raised a hand, expressing out all the energy he’d been storing since the conversation had begun, and let loose a bolt of lightning towards her. She raised her hands to defend, just a moment too slow, and it caught her around the middle, flinging her backwards against the subway wall. He wondered how much damage had made it past her barriers. Nowhere near enough, probably.

Behind him, the male was doubtless readying some counter move, but was caught off guard when the grenade went off by his feet, flinging him across the platform, wisps of his own dissipating attack forming contrails behind him as he flew. The shockwave hit Peter too, but he was ready for it, and even though he stumbled, he felt Jackie’s arm reach out of the portal to hold him steady. The male landed in a sprawl, confusion and rage playing out on his face in equal measure. Peter struck him with a telekinetic blast just as he’d used to pull him back from Greys before. He wished he could do something stronger, but his energy was expended for the moment on his strike against the female.

The male took the blast halfway through an attempt to stand, and was struck against the paneled side of the terminal with a painful sounding crack. He growled, glaring at his opponent with a raw, pure fury.

Overwhelm, Peter reminded himself. You can’t win here. Just hold them down long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

He glanced to the female, already recovering from the lightning strike, her hands raising for some kind of blast.

“Jackie!” he cried, running towards the male in a dead sprint. “Cover me!”

He could almost see it playing out in his mind’s eye; the female calling forth a spray of some powerful, dangerous magic, only to be deflected with the last of his partner’s energy. Right on time, he heard the detonation behind him, just as expected, followed by the loud, rattling blasts of Jackie’s counterattack. He spared a single breath for a chuckle. Jackie relied more heavily on guns than any mage he knew.

The male was on his feet before Peter reached him. But they both knew he didn’t have the time to ready a spell with the power needed to stop him, so instead, the enemy drew his knife; a slim, greenish blade that seemed to shift and slide through the air like a mirage. Peter dipped a hand into a pocket for his knuckle dusters, his other hand going for his gun, fumbling, not enough time.

The enemy was lunging at him, swinging the blade in a wide arc at chest height. He ducked, crouching beneath the swipe before bringing his metal clad fist up into his opponent’s jaw with all the force he could muster. The male barely even flinched, twisting the knife in his grip and swinging it down towards his side. He shifted back, out of the way, but the blade moved, the shifting, mirage like echoes of its edge catching against his jacket, far more solid than it should have been. He felt a sharp pain as the blade carved a shallow trench in his side, and ignored it. On impulse, he pooled his gathered energy into his leg, reinforcing it as he pivoted on one foot, making use of the momentum of his dodge to slam a fierce kick into the enemy’s midsection. He felt something crunch satisfyingly underfoot, and saw the male wince in genuine pain.

The victory was short lived, as his enemy pushed forward with his free hand, coated, he realized belatedly, with a bubble of kinetic force. The hand didn’t even make contact with him, and yet the blast sent him slamming back some thirty feet against a pillar, struggling to keep his feet. He coughed, the air forced from his lungs, momentarily choking him.

From this new vantage point, he could see the portal, Jackie barely holding her own behind it, resorting to dodging to the side and allowing the female’s attacks to strike the wall of her office as she emptied shot after shot against her with her pistols.

The male growled, barely audible, as he stared towards Peter, massaging his side with a hand. He looked tired, physically, at least. Peter unclipped his flask, and took another gulp. Goddamn, that stuff was disgusting; but it did its job. He was renewed.

The male charged, knife held ready in one hand, the force held cloaking his other hand no doubt charged to its very peak. Peter snorted. With his newfound reserves, he extended a palm towards the male, letting loose a barrage of telekinetic energy that contained all the power he had available.

The wave struck the male dead on, flinging him backwards with enough force to send a deep fissure radiating not only through the tiles of the station, but through the thick concrete on which it was built. The knife flew from his grip, and landed on the train track, the blade hitting a rail and carving through it like nothing more than soft clay.

The male landed hard on his feet, unsteady, then dropped to his knees and vomited. The female stopped, mid-strike, staring at Peter, a little scared.

“Do you really want to continue?” he asked, making an effort to stand straight despite the aches in his back and side and making a show of dusting off his suit. “Because I have far more force to bring to bear here.”

For a long moment, neither intruder moved, staring at him, weighing their options.

Internally, Peter was praying for this to end. He could continue, he knew. He had enough tricks up his sleeve to drag this fight on for a long time, but Jackie was spent. They’d wasted too much of her energy on first the portal, then on holding off the female. Every second that this continued was another chance for her to die. They stood there for a time, in stalemate, before a single sound sent them all into motion. The pounding of feet from the other side of the portal. Jackie’s reinforcements were here.

The male surged to his feet at speed, his injuries apparently forgotten, and made towards Peter at a run. In response, he abandoned his attempt at force, and simply focused all his power on shielding himself. They were about to have all the force they needed. The female was making some movements with her hands, a series of words flowing thick and fast from her mouth, even as a stream of agents began to flood from Jackie’s portal, guns leveled, spells ready. Then, all was madness.

Birds, hundreds of them, began to flow forth from the space around the female, swooping and screeching; filling the confined space with feathers and claws and chaos. Between them, Peter caught only glimpses of what was happening. Agents trying to beat the things away, Jackie trying to close her portal while a few who had made it through clawed and pecked at her hair. He felt something thud against his chest, forcing its way past him. There were too many. He couldn’t see. He needed to fix that.

He gathered up his reserve, and fired out another blast, aimed in every direction at once, too weak to dislodge a grown man, but, he hoped, enough to force back the birds. It worked, partly. There was a mess of squawks and cries and crunching sounds as the hunting birds were blown away, striking walls or floors, or simply being flung out over the tracks. It didn’t catch all of them, but it cleared them enough that he could see. The intruders were gone. He swore.

As the agents began doing what little they could to corral what remained of the swarm, even as they escaped into the subway lines and up the stairway by the dozens, he pulled out his phone, and dialed a number. It rang for only a few seconds, before the man on the other end picked up.

“Dad,” he muttered into it, his voice tight. “Get Mom and come here now. We’ve got elves loose in New York.”

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