Dissonance: 4.4

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Author’s Note: Hey guys, sorry about the late update again. There are reasons. I promise. As an apology, I am currently putting together playlists of some of the music that our main characters tend to enjoy, which some of you might hopefully get a kick out of. I’ll try and post the first of them with the next chapter. Next item on the list. The short story anthology that I’ve been linking to is concluding this week, with a couple more guest stories by TeowiMike Spivak, and Revfitz, who is the awesome fellow who got us all together for it. There is also this page, where, until monday, people can vote for the story they enjoyed the most out of the bunch, including my own submission: Rainy Days. I had hoped to continue uploading a single link with each chapter, but I kinda ran out of time. 

Anyways. On with the story!

Caleb:

Caleb followed the figures through the mall at a distance, keeping his eyes locked on the two adults of the group. Why were they so powerful? When he’d caught their scent the previous night, he’d thought that the scraps of power floating past his new familiar’s senses must have come from some dangerous mercenary commune, or perhaps a government garrison house. But no. It was a normal family, as far as he could tell. He watched, perplexed, as the little girl tugged on her father’s sleeve for attention. Just what the hell were these people?

The bird’s sense was limited; annoyingly so. He kept wishing that they could split up a little to allow him to get a sense of them separately, and perhaps determine where exactly all that power lay. As it stood, the four of them were keeping far too close to one another to allow him to get a decent read, their scents mingling so as to disguise the source of it all. All he knew was that they had power. It grated at him. He needed to get a better read if he wanted to be able to use this. Maybe if he could risk getting closer?

He followed behind them as they made their way into a game store, sticking close to the entrance and pretending to flick through a bargain bin while his bird took another sniff. The levels shifted slightly as the boy stepped away from the rest of his family to examine a rack of console games, a sizeable chunk of the power breaking away with him. Caleb’s eyes went wide. The kid? Really? He’d assumed that a power this vast would be divided among the two adults in some fashion, with the children possessing perhaps some small, underdeveloped fraction of that same potential, but no. The boy was a mountain. His familiar took another sniff, and he flinched.

There was another power now, passing close beside him, barely more than a foot away; big enough to dwarf him. He turned his head just enough to see the two teens moving past him into the store. The older of the two was a pretty boy, perhaps a year or so older than him, with his hand on the shoulder of a younger, freckled boy who looked way too tired. The younger boy was staring at him. He pretended to look away, watching them still in the corner of his eye.

Where was all this power coming from?

Caleb watched, hardly daring to move, as the older of the two newcomers leaned in to whisper something into the younger one’s ear, before letting go of his shoulder and pushing him gently forwards. As the two of them broke apart, Caleb noted the change with his newfound sense. The freckled one was normal, in a nominal sense, at least, with a power level around equal to his own, without encumbrance. That news didn’t calm him, though. It meant the older boy was another freak. Humans weren’t meant to be this powerful. It was the one thing he and his masters could agree on.

He watched as the sandy haired boy made his way towards the family, his face breaking into a tired smile as the other kids noticed his presence and rushed to meet him, their parents lingering a short way behind. The little girl threw her arms around the blond boy’s waist as they reached one another, giggling as he tussled at her hair. Caleb wasn’t even surprised now as he caught the girl’s scent. She was as strong as her brother. Maybe even stronger. The older newcomer made no such contact, moving off to the side, unnoticed.

He closed his eyes to listen as the two younger boys began to speak, murmuring quietly so as to force him to rely on his own enhanced hearing to make it out.

“Hey, Cas. You okay?”

“Yeah. I think so. Just tired.”

“You wanna talk about it later?”

“Later? Yeah. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.”

He frowned. Curious words, but nothing useful. The family was grouping up around the boy now, the girl clambering uninvited up onto his shoulders as they moved towards the exit. Caleb checked his watch with a sigh. His time was nearly up. He needed to check in with Twenty Three soon. He’d have to return to this later.

He felt a hand on his shoulder as he turned to take his leave. He glanced around. It was the pretty boy, power still flowing off of him like smoke.

“I don’t know who you are,” the stranger murmured, eyes fixed on his. “But if you do something to hurt my Casper, I want you to know, you’ll pay for it.”


James:

James set his eyes on the freshly repaired basketball and frowned, once more willing the air trapped inside the thing upwards. After a few moments, the ball complied, rising into the air a mite less jerkily this time than in his previous attempts, the first of which had almost destroyed his lightbulb. He grinned, extending his hands to it, and tried to will it ever so slowly towards him.

The ball jumped forwards at the order, streaking its way across his room and passing perfectly between his outstretched hands, before striking off of his face with a resounding snap, bowling him back against the mattress. He lay there for a moment, dazed, as the ball bounced its way happily across his bedroom floor. He brought a hand up to rub at the fresh red patch blossoming across his forehead.

“Oww.” He muttered, glaring at the ball. “Freaking ow.”

Then, he went back to practicing.

He’d rather be talking to Casper right now, figuring out what had been going on in the last half week or so of movement, or even just chilling with the guy over another bad anime box set. But no. Casper didn’t want to talk. The moment they’d gotten home, he’d just fallen down on the nearest couch and started snoring. Even after the guy had woken up, he’d been quiet. In the first brief moment James had managed to snag alone with him, he’d just asked for him to drop it.

“Look,” he’d said. “Can we not, right now? I don’t know about you, but I kinda just wanna forget the weird stuff for a while. Can you just, I dunno, gimme a few days?”

James scowled at the memory. He’d agreed, reluctantly; unable to think of a way to push the issue without acting like a jerk.

“Stupid doof,” he muttered. “Not like I might have stuff to say. I only got hit by lightning yesterday. It’s no big deal.” He gave his power another flick towards the basketball a mite more forcefully than he’d intended and winced as the shot sent it slamming off of his TV stand hard enough to make the device wobble dangerously on its perch, before he once more used his power to catch it.

“Hey,” Peter called from downstairs. “Are you okay up there? Did you break something?”

“No,” he called back, giving his best effort to force the frustration out of his tone. “Just fixing my basketball!”

“James,” came the aggrieved sounding reply. “Don’t throw that thing around in the house! You’ll break our stuff!”

“Sorry.” He grumbled.

He had to admit. This was a bad way to train. It was just unfortunate that it was also the least bad way he’d been able to think of. If there was one thing that his adventures over the last few days had taught him, it was that he needed to get better with his powers. He didn’t want to get sidelined by them again like he had last night.

He gazed at the ball, once more sitting motionless on his bedroom floor, and stewed.

It was perhaps half an hour later when his phone rang. His anger had just begun to fizzle out into boredom, and he was distracting himself by sending the air to rustle around the sides of the ball, trying to spin it like a top when the device at his bedside began to trill.

He glanced sideways at the screen, uncaring, and didn’t recognize the number. He shrugged, then picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, James. It’s Tasha. You okay?”

“Oh!” James breathed, relief for yet another nugget of pent up stress flooding through him. “Hey, Tasha! I’m fine. Are you fine? Please be fine. That guy was throwing lightning bolts!”

“Dude,” Tasha chuckled. “Chill out. I’m cool. I just had to punch the guy till he stopped being bullshit. Easy problem. Saw you got hit. You doing okay?”

“I think so,” he muttered. “Kinda made some weird stuff happen. I’m pretty sure I turned into a wind amoeba for a while. Better now, though.”

“… You what?”

“It’s a long story. You sure you’re okay? You got that food and stuff I left you, right?”

“Oh, shit, that was you? I thought I just stole it from some random camper. Yeah. I got it. That salami was good stuff, man.”

James leaned back against his headboard and let his body relax as he listened to his friend talk, feeling the tightness in his chest finally release. Casper was okay. Tasha was okay. Everything was good. He glanced in his dresser mirror, and saw that he was grinning. Tasha was still talking, but he wasn’t entirely sure what about.

“Casper’s safe,” he interrupted absently. “My Mom talked him into staying at our place until we can fix things up with his stuff.”

“You serious?” Tasha asked. “Oh, crap, man, that’s awesome! Hey. Tell him thanks for looking after my dog!”

“He looked after your dog?”

“Well, either that or someone broke into my place, stole most of my cash and fed Maxie a bunch of old cereal packs, and Casper’s the only guy I gave a key to my place, so, you know.”

“You mean you went back to your place?” James asked, nervous. “But aren’t those guys still looking for you?”

“Eh, probably,” she replied. “But nah. I sent some random old dude to pick my stuff up for me. I’m staying at his place for a while.”

“… Okay,” James mumbled, picking himself up off of the bed and beginning to pace as his brain tried to sort through all the snippets of new information. “But, I mean, what if they track the dog, or, like, figure out where you went or-”

“Dude,” Tasha cut him off. “Trust me. It’s fine. The guys I’m staying with know their stuff. You can chill.”

“… You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“… Okay.” He forced himself to stop, balancing on the balls of his feet, and took a breath. “Yeah. Okay. I’m calm.”

“Cool,” she chuckled. “Oh! Yeah. Also, new information. Magic’s a thing.”

James raised an eyebrow at that, gazing momentarily at the phone.

“… And?”

“What do you mean, ‘and’?” She asked, a touch annoyed. “I drop a bomb like magic and that’s all you give me?”

“Heh,” James chuckled. “Tasha, I’m a flying twelve year old who controls the wind, and yesterday, I got hit by lightning. Either magic’s real, or I’m supposed to unite all four elements and take on the Fire Lord.”

“… Man, now I just wish you were the Avatar.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, suddenly melancholy. “I know. I wanna be the Avatar.”

He moved across to the window, leaning on his elbows against the sill as he gazed out at the street below. In the early evening gloom, it took him a moment to notice the other boy gazing back at him.

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Dissonance: 4.3

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

Casper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freja nodded at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Is this about me running away?”

“Yes.”

“… Did James tell you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you still in New York?”

“… Yeah.”

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

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

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

It was a long while before the older man answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The older woman sighed at that.

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

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

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

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

“… Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Yeah?”

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

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

“… Sorry.”

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Cas?” James asked. “You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

“… I like you now.”

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

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

“I’ll make the call.” Said Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mel snorted. Casper grinned.

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

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

Father.

He began to run.

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Catharsis: 2.11

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Tasha:

Her captor had deposited her in a chair, her body slumped uncomfortably against the rigid wooden frame, before taking his leave, abandoning her to these three perverts. Tasha recognized each of them. The woman with the force breath was talking in a low voice to the guy with the broken hand while the man with the gun busied himself doing something behind her back.

“Why are you doing that?” the younger man asked. “It’s not like she can move and when that drug wears off, it’s not like a few cable ties will hold her.”

“They’re not supposed to hold her down,” the larger man grunted from behind Tasha, making her wish she had enough control to at least look at him so she could see how she was being tied. “They’re just supposed to make a noise if she breaks out of them. I’m keeping watch, and if I get distracted by something, these should stop her getting the drop on me. I hear a peep out of her, I shoot her.”

The force breath woman nodded.

“Makes sense,” she murmured, stepping forwards to peer into Tasha’s eyes. “Can she hear us?”

“Should do,” the broken handed one replied with a shrug. “Lewis said the drug just paralyzed. She’s perfectly aware.”

“Good,” the woman said. Without warning, she brought her hand sideways in a wide sweep, striking Tasha across the jaw. Numb as she was, she didn’t even feel it. Did they not realize her nerves just weren’t working? That being said, the strike disoriented, throwing her mind out of order for a moment. It made her angry. Very, very angry. The woman stood straight again, massaging her fingers with her other hand. “Might as well get some work in while we wait for it to wear off.”

“Yeah,” broken hand agreed. “Best if the punishment’s done with before she’s able to scream. I don’t want the kids having to listen to that.”

“Good call,” force breath nodded. “Where’d you put her bat, Samson?”

“Careful,” the older man replied, standing from his position behind her and moving to lean against the wall beside a window with its curtains drawn, a hand drifting under his jacket to unholster his gun and holding it casually pointed towards the floor. “If you hurt her too much, Father won’t be able to heal her. You’ll be in trouble, then.”

“Yeah yeah,” she replied. “Stop your fussing. I know when to stop. So, where is it?”

Samson shrugged, jerking a thumb towards some point behind Tasha.

“Storage closet. End of the hall.”

The woman took her leave and the two men waited in silence, both simply gazing at Tasha coolly. She tried to move again, but failed. This was hell. This was absolutely hell.


Casper:

Lewis led him out of the building, taking a left down the street, apparently headed towards the nearby subway terminal.

“So,” he murmured evenly. “I’m betting you have questions, so go ahead. Hit me.”

Casper shrugged. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d done all he could for Tasha at the moment. He may as well make use of the chance to learn some things.

“Well,” he said. “Big one first, I guess. Why doesn’t the whole world know about us?”

Lewis laughed as though he’d said something deeply funny.

“Truth is, they used to,” he replied. “Back before science got big and all the governments had so much control. The world used to be full of monsters and wizards and all sorts of stuff in between.” He paused for a moment, glancing back at Casper, who nodded, more to show his interest than anything else. “But that stopped being a thing over time. It used to be that the mages and monster hunters barely managed to keep all the bad stuff away, but then we started learning and inventing useful stuff, like guns, and suddenly the monsters weren’t so hard to fight any more. We started managing to keep them back a bit better, so the people being kept safe eventually stopped believing all the stories about monsters and magic and all the rest of it. Truth is, most of the governments active at the time liked that people were starting to forget. Less people knowing about magic and stuff means less people trying to mess with something powerful and getting everyone around them in trouble. So, most of them started trying to help everyone ignore it all.”

“So there really is a cover up?” Casper asked, uncertain.

“Only sort of,” Lewis grunted. “You get punished for telling normal people without a good reason, sure, but it’s usually a slap on the wrist, basically the same as a parking ticket, really.”

Casper considered this as Lewis led him down a set of stairs and into the crowded subway terminal, a small part of him wondering where he was being taken, the rest focused elsewhere.

“… I don’t get it,” he admitted eventually. “If it’s just a slap on the wrist, then why don’t we have superheroes turning up all over the place? People finding out they have powers and putting on costumes to go fight crime.”

“Well,” Lewis replied after a moment. “A couple things there. First, sometimes, that does happen. First gens like you getting ice breath or whatever and figuring they’re the chosen ones. They don’t usually last long. The moment they do anything big enough to get noticed, the government figures out where they are, someone way better at using powers brings them in  and everything gets made to look like a really well done hoax. A youtube video becomes a really cool CGI short film, a photo becomes part of an online scavenger hunt. It’s pretty easy to do, really, they just have to make the explanation sound more reasonable than a person in a costume who can literally breathe ice. Same goes for some of the stuff that’s just too common to hide. Magic effects like the purity marks get explained away by a dude in a lab coat pretending it’s just natural biology.”

Casper swallowed at that, unsure he liked where the conversation was headed, a small part of him surprised by the revelation that something as mundane as purity marks actually had some magical component.

“… What happens to the guy with ice breath, then?” he asked, his voice quivering just a little.

“Depends what he did,” Lewis grunted. “If he broke the secret to a few dozen people, he might get fined a few hundred bucks. If he hurt anyone, he might get a bit of jail time. Thing is, first gens get treated pretty evenly when they’re taken in. Suddenly developing superpowers can be enough to make you start acting real stupid, even make you a bit delusional. So it kinda gets treated like temporary insanity.” Casper nodded at that, relieved. “Different story for people who know about all this before, of course,” the hunter continued. “That’s why you don’t see people like me pulling superhero stuff. Vigilantism is a crime in this world just as much as it is in the normal one, and using powers to do it is treated a lot like using a gun to do it.” Again, Casper nodded. That made sense.

The two stopped talking a few moments as Lewis guided Casper onto a train car and they sat down, utterly ignored by those around them.

“So… I’m guessing a lot of people with powers wind up in gangs and stuff, right?” Casper asked, trying to think of a way to phrase it better and failing.

“Some of us,” Lewis replied evenly. “Depends what sort of person they are and what they can do. It comes in all flavors. Some of us set up shops, join the government, or start using our powers to do normal jobs in easier ways without attracting attention. Some of us have a bit less choice than that.” The hunter smiled at that, and it looked genuine, but under it, Casper felt a swell of bitterness from him.

“… What’s that mean?”

The hunter shrugged.

“Some of us have powers that are just too useful not to be used. Me, for example. I’m a tracker, a good one, too. I can find anything as long as I have its scent. My mom was like that, too. She was pretty well known for it. So when she died, I suddenly had a lot of people wanting the same services from me. A lot of the time, that was from people you can’t say no to easily. So I started taking jobs, and I told them that if anyone tried to make me work for them exclusively, I’d put a lighter up my nose and kill my power.” He gave Casper a hard look, before continuing. “Problem with that is, I have to be useful to everyone at least some of the time, or what’s to stop them just getting rid of me to stop the others having access? So sometimes I have to take jobs I really don’t want to do, like helping the Family track down some teenager.”

Casper wasn’t sure what to say to that. The hunter’s feelings weren’t giving him much to go on, either. Lewis’ emotions were cold. He wasn’t pleading, nor was he fishing for forgiveness, so why was he offering any explanation at all?

“… Why tell me this?” Casper asked eventually. “It doesn’t feel like something you’d just tell someone, so why tell me?”

Lewis shrugged, leaning back in his seat and gazing stonily at him across the train car.

“Because you’re the same as me,” he said dryly. “You’ve got the potential to be a tracker, and unlike me, your power probably wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of, so I’m giving you a warning. Keep quiet about it, or someone might force you to do things you really don’t like. Don’t even tell the government, if you can avoid it. They’re no better than the criminals, sometimes.”

Again, Casper wasn’t sure what to say. Something in the back of his mind told him that ‘thank you’ was a bad choice. Eventually, he settled on:

“Where are you taking me?”

“My place,” Lewis replied, shrugging. “I thought you might wanna talk to some kids your own age about all this. Help sort it all out in your head.”

Casper nodded, staring quietly at the floor, unsure of what to say once more.


James:

‘James. Come see me.’

He glanced briefly at the message as he unpacked his bag and shrugged. Maybe Casper was nervous again about what had happened at school.

“Hey, Mom?” he called into the hallway, opening his bedroom door. “Casper says he wants to meet up with me. Is it okay if I go to the mall for a bit?”

There was a momentary hesitation before Sarah’s voice replied from the living room on the floor below.

“Sure, sweetie. You want a ride? I was just about to go pick Bex up, anyways.” Her acting was good, James almost failed to notice the tightness in her voice.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Please. Should I call you when I’m done?”

“Yeah,” said Sarah, her head poking out into the stairwell. “If you could. Just tell me when you want to go, kay?”

James nodded, stepping briefly back into his room to change out of his school clothes, then headed down the stairs, flicking Casper a quick text in response.

‘Sure. Meet up at the GameStop near my place?’

He tracked down his mother and the two of them loaded into the car, spending most of the three minute journey to the mall in silence.

“You sure are spending a lot of time with Casper, lately,” Sarah murmured, eyes on the road. “You do remember you have other friends, right?”

“Yeah,” James replied with a chuckle. “I do. He’s just goofier than they are.”

“…He’s a nice boy,” she said after a moment, apparently more to herself than to him.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “He is.”

The rest of the trip passed in silence, Sarah depositing him at the entrance to the mall with another hug, and staying long enough to watch him step inside. He made his way to the GameStop and waited there for a few minutes, eventually taking out his phone and loading up a game to pass the time on. The game had just reached the opening screen when the text alert pinged. He closed the game for a moment to check the text. It was from a number he didn’t recognize, and only contained a single line of text, an address he didn’t know off the top of his head.

He gazed at the message for a few moments, confused, before the phone pinged again and another text emerged. His eyes drifted down to it, perplexed, then went wide. He felt his legs begin to shake a little, allowing his weight to shift down to the floor as he stared at the screen. This was not good. Not even a little. Forcing himself to be calm as best he could, he re-read the message, hoping against hope that he had somehow just read it wrong.

‘Tasha kidnapped. Using her phone. Second floor. Corner room closest to traffic light. They track by smell. She’s drugged. Wait an hour.’

He felt the panic begin to rise in his gut, and forced himself to breathe deep, shutting off the phone and closing his eyes.

Okay… Now what?

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Catharsis: 2.3

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James:

“Wait, so if she’s gonna be Queen of Mars, then why does she need the Silent Knight to die for her? Can’t she just order Lord Commander Hadran to step off?”

“Yeah, but if she did that, then we wouldn’t get to see this cool robot fight.” James gestured towards the television, where two animated metal figures were indeed dueling fiercely with one another.

“But the fight makes no sense. If the war’s over, then these guys are on the same side now, aren’t they?”

“… I think you’re putting way too much thought into this, Casper.”

“Hey, you said this show had politics. I just wanna make sure those politics make sense, which they don’t.”

“Shut up, you massive dork.”

Casper opened his mouth to reply, before being interrupted by a sound from his pocket. His phone, presumably, blaring out a drum solo from a song James didn’t recognize.

“Hang on,” Casper murmured, digging in his pocket. “That’s Tasha. Wonder what she wants.”

James grabbed the television remote with a shrug, and lowered the volume a fraction while his friend answered the phone.

“Hello?” Casper spoke, his voice curious.

James heard Tasha’s voice faintly on the other end of the line. He allowed his gaze to drift around the room as he waited for the conversation to end, glancing down at the DVD case on the bed, and looking over the blurb for lack of anything better to do.

“Jesus, Tasha,” the other boy groaned, drawing James’ attention for a moment, raising the palm of his free hand to his forehead in frustration, before resignedly continuing. “How bad is it this time?”

James returned his attention to the box cover, only to have it snapped violently back towards Casper.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU GOT SHOT!?” The boy screeched, forcibly lowering his voice at James’ frantic gestures for him to keep his voice down. “Why are you telling me this?” Tasha’s voice spoke for a few moments on the other end of the line, and Casper shot a glance at James across the bed. “I don’t know if he’d want me to give you his number yet… No, I’m in his room.” A few more words from Tasha, and the boy held the phone out towards him. “She wants to talk to you.”

James took the phone, his fingers shaking slightly as they wrapped around it, and brought it to his ear.

“You got shot?!” he whisper-shouted into the mouthpiece, aghast.

“Yeah, kinda,” came Tasha’s response. She sounded pained. “Look, I need a hand with something, okay? Now, did you test out how much weight you can carry with your power yet?”

“Not a lot,” he replied hurriedly. “More than a backpack full of books, less than my bed. I didn’t have much to test with.”

“It’s ok,” she muttered, letting out what sounded like a gasp of pain. “That should be plenty. Look, I’m on a rooftop about two blocks south of your school. I need you to come give me a lift home before someone finds me.” James didn’t respond at first, staying silent so long that Tasha spoke again. “James? You still there?”

“You what?” he hissed, incensed. “You want me flying in the open, in a city, in a place where people with guns are apparently looking for you? Are you insane, Tasha? What if I’m seen? What if my parents notice I’m gone? I don’t even know you!”

“Yeah, I know, I know. I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice tired. “I’m only asking cuz I’m out of options here. I managed to get some distance from them, but if they find me, I’m screwed. If I have to jump another building like this, I might make a noise loud enough for them to hear.”

“And who’s they?”James continued, his shock giving way to anger. “How bad did you mess up, Tasha? Who did you get so mad that you need ME to come save you?”

“… People selling kids for sex,” came the bitter answer. “I almost had them, too.”

That cut James short; stopped his anger in its tracks. What was he supposed to say to that? No?

“J-James?” Casper’s voice sounded from somewhere to his right. “You okay? You feel kinda messed up right n-”

“Shut up for a sec,” James cut him off. He stood, dropping the phone down onto the bed behind him, and took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to force himself to calm in the past few weeks, and he’d gotten surprisingly good at it. This time, however, was different. Whatever horrors his nightmares routinely showed him, they were all, at least, just variations on a memory. This, on the other hand, was very much present. This was a danger still to come. If he went, people might try to kill him. If he stayed… could he even stay at this point? He knew himself well enough to know that staying would feel like siding with the child molesters. The very thought made him feel ill.

He moved to his bedroom wall, rested his head on the plaster, and brought his fist up towards it, setting his knuckles gently against the material. It didn’t help. He pushed himself away, and started pacing the length of the small room, his hands held tight around himself. He needed time to think; needed quiet. The television in the corner played on. The little sounds broke his focus; distracted. Not what he needed. He moved to the bed, picked up the remote in trembling hands, and mashed at the off button for a few long seconds until his shaking fingers finally managed to shut off the sound. His heart was racing; everything moving too fast. He sat on a corner of the bed and tried to force himself to breathe deep.

James felt someone’s arms closing around his own, pressing his elbows to his sides, restricting his movement. He reacted without thought, forcing his head backwards as hard as he could. He felt it make contact with something, and a voice yelped in surprise and pain. Good, he had them on the back foot. He wrenched his arms to the sides with all his might, forcing his way free, and in the movement, felt a hand latch on to his shoulder. He took it in his mouth, and bit down, hard. Another cry. James pushed away, forcing himself off of the bed and starting to fall. He would have hit the ground in a heap, but he had more options now, so instead of down, he went up. His back found a surface, and he shoved himself to the side, coming to rest in a corner where the wall and ceiling met. He looked down. Casper sat on the bed, gazing up at him, a few drops of blood dripping down his hand.

“Everything okay in there?” came Sarah’s voice from the hall. “What’s with the noise?”

“It’s all fine!” Casper replied, his gaze level with James’ own. “James fell off his bed cuz he’s being a doof.” The boy raised a hand towards him, silently gesturing him to come back down to the ground. Somewhat ashamedly, James lowered himself to the floor, then moved towards the bed, and picked up the phone.

“This is the only time, Tasha. You understand me? The only one.” Before she had a chance to answer, he hung up. He held the phone out towards Casper, not looking at the other boy, opting instead to gaze at his own feet. “… Sorry.”

Casper chuckled.

“Panic attacks a new thing for you?” he asked, taking the phone. “They were an issue for me too when I got my powers. Lots of people around me with problems, you know? I learned to deal after a while.”

James wasn’t sure what to say to that, so instead opted to change the subject, too ashamed of himself to bring up the still bleeding wound on Casper’s hand.

“Can you cover for me if my parents come in?” he asked. “I’m probably gonna need about twenty minutes.”

“Yeah, of course.” Casper nodded. He reached for the TV remote, returning the robot fight to the display and upping the volume a little. “Just a thought. Wear dark clothes. It should be harder to see you against the night sky.”

“Good idea.”

Casper was good enough to turn away while James changed, turning back to face him when he moved to the window, opening it with a loud creak. He clambered up, his feet resting against the second story window sill, and took a deep, long breath.

“Sorry I hugged you,” the sandy haired boy spoke quietly from the bed behind him.

“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m sorry too.”

With that, James squeezed his eyes shut, placed his hands on the edges of the wall to either side, and pushed off, allowing himself to fall.

Immediately, he willed himself forward and up, as far and as fast as he could go, reasoning that he’d be harder to spot if he was higher from the ground. When he opened his eyes a few seconds later, he found himself high, high above the ground.

James took a moment, the sight of the hundreds, even thousands of tiny lights below him was… oddly invigorating. He stretched his arms back, his back cracking slightly as it worked through the cramps of sitting on his bed with his friend, and breathed deep. The air up here was cold, wet, and unexpectedly fresh, clear of the ever present tint of smoke he so often tasted out in the city streets below. He grinned, simply because it felt like the natural thing to do, and, without warning, even to himself, let out a loud, whooping yell into the night sky. There was no echo, and that fact elated him somehow.

He shook himself. He was getting distracted. There was a job to do. James pivoted slightly in the air, peering through the nighttime gloom until he saw a formation of lights that he was fairly certain belonged to his school, and began to move.

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Mistakes: 1.4

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James:

“James, Bex.” Sarah’s voice called from the kitchen. “Breakfast’s up in five. Finish getting ready!”

“Kay!” James shouted back, his head turning momentarily towards his bedroom door, before returning his attention to the mirrored door of his closet. He watched himself closely, holding onto the handle as firmly as he could. “Okay,” he mumbled under his breath. “Now then. Fly. Go on.” He tried to will himself upwards off the ground. Nothing. He groaned, then tried again, thinking of air and floating things and just about anything he thought might help. In spite of this, his feet remained very firmly planted to the ground.

“James,” Sarah called once more. “Grub’s up! C’mon, we’re gonna be late!”

James sighed, returning his attention to the door.

“Coming!” He shouted back, letting go of the dresser handle and taking a step towards his door. He let out a little yelp of surprise as his foot came down on nothing but air. He tipped forwards, a feeling disorientingly similar to falling, and threw out his arms to stabilize himself. He wobbled slightly for a few moments, before righting himself. “O-okay,” he muttered. “So that wasn’t a dream. I really am flying right now. Good to know.” He reached behind himself, grasping for the handle of his cabinet and using it to push himself back down onto the ground. “Now I just need to figure out how to land.”

“James!” Came Sarah’s voice again. “Last warning! Come eat your breakfast or I’m coming in there to drag you out here myself!”

“Right, sorry,” James replied with a small sigh, making his way through the door towards the kitchen. “Be right there.”


Casper:

Casper made his way to the school by a roundabout route that morning, the same as he had done the morning before and all the mornings of the last school week, taking a different route each time. He figured he may as well use his morning commute to try and find bad people for Tasha. It wasn’t a task he relished in any particular fashion, searching specifically for pockets of negative emotion. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he had made a promise, and Tasha didn’t really like to be kept waiting.

Casper extended his power out with a groan, feeling his personal bubble of awareness expand to it’s maximum range. Immediately, he felt minds colliding with his psyche by the dozen, from the thankfully neutral emotions of most early morning commuters, to the many spots of varied color littered all throughout the nearby buildings. He had been prepared for it, had known it was coming, and still the wave of input threatened to overwhelm him. He held on tight, letting the storm front of it break over him. He let out a small sigh of relief as it began to subside, his mind acclimating slowly to the influx. With a concentrated effort, he slowly began trying to filter out the neutral emotions from the crowd, letting them fade to white noise in his mind. It helped, in a way, having a backdrop of calm, almost bored people all around; it gave him something to anchor himself to. That done, Casper resumed his journey towards the school, his attention focused on the buildings that littered his side of the street. Cafe’s, alleyways, and apartment buildings.

The method wasn’t perfect. Even at his maximum range, Casper couldn’t fit whole multi-story buildings within his perception, but it functioned well enough for the first three stories or so. This was simply the fastest way of searching he’d come up with thus far.

The first three blocks or so were largely uneventful, littered with the occasional spot of misery or fear, but nothing of the sort that he thought might indicate a crime. The lack of activity wasn’t too much of a surprise to him. It usually took him days of searching like this to find a lead. He began to hum slightly to himself as he walked, trying to stave off the ever present boredom of the morning commuters in some small way, not that it really helped at all.

It was after about twenty minutes of this, that something finally caught Casper’s attention. A mind, male, if he’d had to guess by the color of it, although guessing like that wasn’t exactly perfect. He’d thought Tasha was a boy the first time he felt her mind. The feelings Casper got from this man were an odd mix. Pleasure, power, that strange, icky sort of warmth that adults seemed to feel when they liked someone. All of it seemed to be tinged by something else that Casper couldn’t quite define. He glanced up at the source, a second story window on a nearby apartment complex. The window was closed, the curtains drawn. He’d felt that sort of feeling before, once or twice, and the reason for it was relatively easy for him to discern. What caught his attention, however, was the other mind in the space, located perhaps half a foot beneath the first, and presumably the object of their attentions.

Casper almost dismissed it at first, pushing it into the back of his mind along with the commuters. It seemed just as bored as they were. He spared a small chuckle at the first mind’s apparent inability to satisfy, and was about to move on, when a small facet of the second mind caught his attention. Immediately, he pulled his power back from the room, feeling a little sick, and glanced around, searching for the address of the building. He looked back towards the window, noting the spacing of it for future reference. He dug his phone out of his pocket and began typing in a text.

‘Tasha, come see me after school, okay? I’ve found one. It’s urgent.’

The response came within a minute.

‘Good job, Cas! I knew you could do it!’

Casper looked at the phone screen blankly for a few moments, not sure how to take that, then he shook himself. He pocketed his phone and began pulling his power back towards himself as best he could. He spared the window one last glance before he set off, feeling himself shudder ever so slightly in disgust.

He set off towards school at a jog, not wanting to be late.


James:

James struggled to keep his mind on classes that day. He found his thoughts floating back every few moments to the idea of flight, at once both incredibly scary and the coolest thing he’d ever experienced.

One small thing niggled at him, and it was something he found hard to dismiss. He’d never heard of anyone with powers before, flight or otherwise. It seemed ridiculous to think he might be the only one; an almost laughable idea, in fact. But if he wasn’t the first, then why hadn’t he ever heard of anyone else who could do things? Where were they all? What had happened to them? Over the day, James looked at the problem from every angle he could think of and every time, he came to the same conclusion. He needed to keep this a secret.

The biggest problem with that, of course, was control. James was acutely aware that he had yet to activate this strange new power willingly, and that meant he could possibly just start floating up into the air without a moment’s notice, which wasn’t the sort of thing he expected to keep secret. He needed to practice, and to do it in a place where neither his parents, nor anyone else, for that matter, would be likely to see. That, unfortunately, ruled out his house. His father had never really mastered the delicate art of knocking before entering his children’s rooms. James sighed. He supposed he’d just have to find a place, then.

At lunch, he went to his locker and retrieved his phone, sending his parents a quick message.

‘I got invited to go see a movie with friends after school. Can I take a bus home?’

He lay the phone down and set about retrieving his lunch while he waited for the reply. It didn’t take his mother long.

‘Of course, sweetie. You have fun and make sure to get home safe.’

James read the message with a small sigh, wondering how hard it had been for his mother to send it, then pushed the idea out of his mind. There was nothing he could do to fix that particular problem at the moment anyway.

He placed his phone back in his bag and went off to eat his lunch, deciding to track down Casper again and make sure he had something to eat today. He found him without too much issue, but the other boy seemed just as preoccupied as he felt, staring up at the clouds, unblinking. They sat together in silence, content for the moment not to pry, and picked at the contents of James’ lunchbox. Casper had apparently forgotten his again.

Later, after school had ended, James set off. He had a few locations in mind, a few that might make good practice spots. The closest he could think of, however, was a small alleyway on the back end of the school campus. Some architectural misstep in the surrounding cityscape had led to the buildings around it being packed just a little too closely together, making it harder to fit roads in between them. Fortunately, that meant that this particular alleyway was distanced somewhat from the bustle of the main city streets.

James approached the edge of the alleyway quietly, grasping onto the links of the thick, interlocking wire fence that separated the school from the outside world, and climbing them with relative ease. He plopped himself unceremoniously down on the hard concrete floor of the alleyway, and set to work, digging in his bag for the thick, winter jumper that his mother made him keep in there constantly. He wrapped one sleeve around his waist and made a simple knot, before looping the other sleeve through the wire links of the fence. He gave it a few tugs, satisfying himself that he was well and truly tethered to the ground, before setting to work attempting to fly.

It was slow work, and James was at it for a solid ten minutes before anything interesting happened. After a few dozen failed attempts, he tried to remember what he’d done that morning, thinking of how he’d tried to walk, then found himself hoisted into the air. He folded his arms for a moment, it wasn’t much to go on. Well, he decided with a shrug, he might as well give it a go. Closing his eyes, James began trying to replicate the feel of the morning’s event, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in simulation of walking. The effect was immediate, James felt a momentary hard jolt against his midsection, a great tightness around his waist, then there was a tearing sound, and the pressure lessened slightly. He opened his eyes, only a little surprised to find himself in the air. What was more shocking, however, was how high up he was. He hung, suspended, perhaps twenty feet up in the air. It looked like the jumper hadn’t been sturdy enough to tether him down. Belatedly, he realized that the pressure against his midsection was his jumper sleeve, the knot pulled tight around him by the force of his separation from the ground. He began trying to loosen it, cursing a little under his breath. How was he going to explain the damaged clothing to his mother?

“H-hey,” came a voice from below, stopping James in his tracks. “A-are you… flying?” He spun in the air, turning to face the source of the sound, before realizing how exposed his face was, and slapping his hands up to cover it with a yelp. The speaker was a girl, a few years older than him, by the looks of it, every inch of exposed skin covered by a mottled pattern of bruises and sunburn.

“N-no!” He squeaked between his fingers. “I-I’m practicing a magic trick!”

The girl, surprisingly, laughed.

“Nah, that’s bull,” she chuckled. “You’re totally flying. That’s cool though, I promise I won’t tell.”

“B-but I’m not flying!” James protested. “R-really! I-It’s f-for a play!”

The girl laughed a little harder at that.

“Kid,” she chortled. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re a terrible liar? It’s okay, though, you don’t need to worry. I’m special too, you know.”

This proclamation caught James off guard. He hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it hadn’t been that.

“S-special?” He asked. “H-how?”

The girl shrugged, squaring her shoulders, before crouching down momentarily and launching herself across the alleyway towards the fence in a standing leap. A leap that carried her at least thirty feet. The girl had probably been aiming to land on top of the fence in a crouch, but her foot caught on the top of it, and she tripped, toppling off the fence with a squeal and landing with a thud in the grass on the other side. James stared at the girl, wide eyed as she stood up, blushing a furious red with embarrassment, and dusted herself off.

“My name’s Tasha,” she muttered, somewhat deflated. “I have super strength, and if you ever tell anyone what just happened, I’ll thump you.”

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