Dissonance: 4.5

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Author’s Note: Hey guys! I know this one’s late again, but my explanation for that is that it’s a long chapter, with a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes. Secondly, along with this chapter, as promised, I am uploading the first two of the playlists of stuff that James and Tasha enjoy. They’ll grow over time, probably, as I find more music I think they’d rock out to. If you guys have any suggestions on hearing them, you can feel free to shoot me your ideas. Here they are: Tasha’s Beatz and James’ Tunez.

James:

The boy was odd. That was the first thing that came to James’ mind upon seeing him. It was hard to pin down; nothing about him was particularly eye-catching in and of itself. Just another teenager, his shaggy brown hair cut perhaps a bit too long, wearing a faded shirt, a leather jacket that looked at least a size too big for him, and a pair of jeans that either badly needed replacing, or had possessed those tears in the knees since their purchase. James probably wouldn’t have looked twice at him if they’d passed one another in the street, but the older boy was still staring at him, standing on the curb across the road, unmoving. The stranger raised his hand in a wave, and James copied it, confused.

“Oi, bud,” Tasha asked from the other end of the line. “You still there? You went quiet.”

“Oh, right,” he muttered. “Sorry. There’s a guy outside being weird.”

“How weird?”

The boy outside smiled, turning his raised hand mid-wave to beckon to him. James raised an eyebrow at that, then shook his head. The older boy scowled.

“Pretty weird. Mind if I call you back?”

“Sure. Lemme know if you need backup.” The line went dead.

The stranger was moving again, glancing from side to side around the deserted street, before looking back at James. Then, he raised his hands to chest height, holding them about a foot apart from one another. Then, for the briefest moment, something appeared between them, like the flickering of flames through water. It was there for just a moment, before it faded from between the other boy’s fingers. James stared.

This boy was magic? Why was he here? How had he found him? Again, the boy beckoned him to come outside. Once more, he shook his head.

This time, the boy outside didn’t scowl. Instead, he grinned, shifted his shoulders briefly in an exaggerated shrug, and began walking forwards, making his way across the street. James watched him, perplexed. Was this someone from the Family? Had someone seen him flying?

James watched as the boy reached the gate that separated his house from the rest of the street, placing a hand on the latch before vaulting it in a single neat jump. Then the boy approached the front door, and glanced back at his window, still grinning. Then, he held out a hand, conjuring more of that odd, slightly off-coloured flame above his palm, and raised his other hand to knock on the door.

James felt the dread sinking into his stomach in an instant. This boy was going to show his parents magic? Without thinking, he brought his hands up at shoulder height, fingers splayed out, and slowly shook his head.

The boy grinned a little wider at that, the flame flickering out in his palm, and once more gestured for James to follow him.

He hesitated for what felt like the longest few seconds of his life at that, before reluctantly pressing his fingers against the window, and sliding it open.

“Hey there,” the stranger murmured as James clambered awkwardly down out of his window, not wanting to show this newcomer his flight unless he had to. “Name’s Caleb. Sup?”

He didn’t answer right away, lowering himself down from the second storey window bracket by his fingers, before dropping lightly to the ground, using his power just a little to soften the fall. Then, he turned towards the other boy, and found that he was angry.

“I don’t care who you are,” he growled. “If you go near my family again, I’ll-”

“Whoa, now,” Caleb chuckled, splaying his hands out casually in front of him. “Easy, tiger. I just wanted to have a talk. No one’s doing anything to anyone’s family. C’mon. Let’s go somewhere a little less likely to get us noticed.” With that, he turned, walked back towards the gate, and once more vaulted easily out into the street, leaving an angrily sputtering James to follow in his wake.

The strange boy guided them in silence through the evening dimmed streets, either not listening to or just flat out ignoring the three or four questions James attempted before he finally gave up, lapsing into a stony quiet as he let the boy guide him.

After a few minutes, they reached a skatepark, only a block or two from James’ house, the last of its occupants just heading off as the two of them arrived. Without a word, Caleb strode up the side of the concrete pit, before stepping over the edge to slide neatly down the curved wall and into the basin below, balanced on the balls of his feet.

“There we go,” Caleb murmured, shooting James a grin. “Now we can have a little bit of privacy.”

“Good,” he muttered, still furious. “Now why were you near my family, what the heck do you want from me, and who sent you here?” He felt his hands balling into fists by his sides, and only half-heartedly tried to keep himself calm.

For his part, the other boy shrugged.

“Like I said,” he chuckled. “I just wanted to talk. As for who we are. I’ve already told you my name. It’s Caleb. Now it’s my turn to ask a question. How are you so powerful, kid? Special training? Some kind of rit-” James didn’t let him finish. He dug into his power, extending his senses into the hands beyond his hands, and used one of them to punch the other boy in the face. The gust of air struck Caleb hard enough to send him staggering, collecting in the back of his jacket and pulling him off his feet like some strange kind of kite. James struck him again, and he heard the sharp crack as the older boy’s head bounced off the curved wall of the pit.

“I don’t care about your questions,” he spat, glaring at the newcomer as hard as he could. “I want to know who sent you, and why you came to my house. Was it the lightning guy? The Family?” He wasn’t sure if it was a smart move to name the Family. He didn’t care. If it was them, he had to know. He’d need make a counter move; get his family somewhere safe. He wasn’t sure what he’d do, but it would be something.

The strange boy gazed up at him from his spot against the wall, and it was with some satisfaction that James noted that, for just a moment, he looked scared. It was only a moment, though. He raised a hand to the back of his head, checking the point where his skull had met the concrete, and let out a low, quiet chuckle when he saw that his hand now bore a trace of blood.

“So,” he murmured, pushing himself upright against the concrete. “That’s how it is, huh?” He let out another quiet snicker, then continued. “Fine. Well, if you’re gonna try and threaten me, I’m gonna make damn sure you’re strong enough to follow through. Tell you what. You beat me now, and I’ll tell you everything you wanna know; but if you can’t, then I’m gonna make you sorry.”

James felt his eyes narrow. This was a challenge. He nodded.

Caleb wasted no time in answering before he launched himself at James, kicking off of the wall for some extra speed. He was fast, very fast, making it nearly halfway towards him before the next wind blast caught him around the chest, catching once more in the back of his jacket as it pulled him back. To James’ surprise, the larger boy didn’t try to fight the attack, simply letting his arms go limp as the jacket pulled at him, shrugging it off and letting the wind throw it out of the skate park and into the street beyond. He paused, recovered his balance, then charged again. James met him with yet another blast, dancing backwards a few steps for distance. Caleb took the blast head on, bracing his arms in front of his face to shield his eyes from the gale. The sheer weight of it forced him backwards a few paces, his feet dragging on the floor.

James prepared another blast, gathering the wind in the fist beyond his fist, before bringing it forwards against the other boy with all the might he dared. This time, Caleb changed tack. The moment James let the strike loose, he threw himself to the side, not quite fast enough. James almost felt it as the outer edge of the thing caught the other boy, buffeting his body through the air. It wasn’t enough. Hit or not, the other boy had avoided the lion’s share of the blow.

Caleb landed on beveled wall of the skate rink, hands and feet splayed apart to catch himself against it. Then, before gravity had a chance to take a hold of him, he pressed off once more, shooting himself at James like a bullet. James flinched back, the other boy missing him by a hair, and turned to face him, another strike charging between his astral fingers.

Caleb landed on the ground some feet away, and pushed himself to his feet. He was grinning.

“Your body clenches up when you’re about to throw a shot,” he murmured amiably. For the first time, James noticed something weird about how he spoke. “It makes it easier to dodge.” What was that accent? English? Canadian?

James pushed the thought aside, and threw another blast, taking the opportunity to once more make some distance from his all too agile foe.

Again, Caleb was moving before the shot even hit him. This time, however, he dodged better. The blast barely even grazed him as he threw himself out of its path. He hit the ground on his feet, then made his way for James at a dead sprint.

James began to ready another strike, but he already knew it wouldn’t be done before the older boy had time to reach him. He tried to dodge, shifting to the right, towards the middle of the pit, but to no avail. Caleb swerved mid-lunge to match his new trajectory, and when he came within a few feet of him, pushed himself into the air in a little hop.

James briefly felt the weight of it as the older boy crashed against his chest, his knees raised as they collided to pin his arms to his sides. Caleb bore him down to the ground and sat atop him, hardly even panting.

“You see?” He asked, laughing in the lighthearted, easy kind of way that should have been reserved for poking fun at friends. “You made your attacks too obvious, kid. You need more than just big old strong attacks, cuz eventually, people are gonna start thinking their way around them.” As he spoke, James watched the boy wipe his arm across his nose. It came away bloody. Then, Caleb gazed down at him merrily, seemingly just waiting for him to respond.

“… Aren’t you gonna make me sorry?” He asked, caught between confusion and the feeling of his own heart thudding away in his chest. “You know, for threatening you?”

“What?” Caleb asked, momentarily surprised as he ran his fingers through his wind-swept hair. “Oh, that,” he laughed. “Eh, maybe later. Wanna take another shot at me first, though? Maybe try something that isn’t just standing there and shooting me?”

James felt his eyebrow begin to raise. What was with this boy? Why was he helping him? Eventually, he decided to push those questions aside. Caleb had said his body went tense when he fired off his shots. Maybe he could…

“Dude, don’t do it when I’m on top of you. I could crush your chest with my knees right now.”

“Oh, come on!” He protested, indignant. “How’d you know? I wasn’t even tensing that time!”

“Nah,” Caleb replied, climbing off of him. “But you went all limp like someone trying really hard not to tense. It’s kind of a dead giveaway, kid.”

“Would you stop calling me that?” James pushed himself to his feet with a scowl, ignoring the hand the other boy offered to help him up. “You’re like, what, four years older than me?”

“Hey, if you want to stop being kid, then maybe you should give me a name.” Caleb grinned, ambling back a ways and crouching into some kind of stance.

“… James.”

“It’s nice to meet you, James,” Caleb grinned. “Now this time, try to come at me like you’ve really got a brain, okay?”

James glowered at the older boy, and they began.

The second time went even worse than the first. This time, instead of heavy strikes, he had opted for something lighter, quicker to charge and aim, like the flicks he’d used in helping Tasha escape. No use. The larger boy had simply barreled through them, arms held up once more to shield his face as he charged at James in a tackle. Without thinking, he’d taken to the air. He’d made it barely a few feet before the hand had caught the back of his hoodie, and he’d felt an arm wrap firmly around his chest.

“Gotta make sure you’re hitting hard enough to stop me, don’t you think?” Caleb asked, the laughter in his voice loud enough to set James’ blood to boil.

The third time, he had cloaked himself in a hurricane, wrapping the wind around himself and urging it to spin faster and faster by the second. It had drawn a wild laugh from his lips as he watched the older boy attempt to strike him, only to be pushed to the side by the gale. It didn’t last. Caleb had cloaked himself in some kind of shimmering veil of blue, before simply striding through the gale towards him.

“Congrats,” he murmured a minute later, a hand resting companionably on James’ shoulder. “You made me use a single spell. And in exchange, all it cost you was any ability to move, dodge, or take offensive action. Real good trade.”

“Shut up,” James muttered, a hand at his chin as he thought. “I’m trying to think, okay?”

“About a way you might be able to beat me?”

“… Shut up.”

Caleb snorted.

“Right. Well, while you think about that, James, I’m gonna take off home. I’ve kinda got places to be this evening.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?” James asked, trying to push away the strange sense of upset that met him at the idea. “But I was just getting close!”

“Sure you were,” Caleb chuckled. “Fine. Tell you what. I’ll come back in a few days. Call it Wednesday. See if you can figure out a way to win by then.”

“… You still haven’t told me who sent you to my place.”

Again, Caleb only chuckled.

“Yeah, I know. And you still haven’t beaten me yet.” He shot James a wink as he stepped towards the wall. “I’ll tell you this for free, though. I’m not with the Family, and I wasn’t gonna do anything to your folks. I just wanted a way to see how tough you were.” With that, he turned, grasped the lip of the skatepark wall with his hands, and vaulted himself upward. “Later, kid. Try and make it harder for me next time, kay?”

“Not a kid!” James shouted after him. He didn’t get a response.

He gazed after the departed boy in silence for a long while. His heart was still hammering like a bass drum inside his chest. He could barely feel the scrapes and scratches where his arms had hit the ground. Why did he feel so much… better?

After a few moments, he shook himself, and hastily made his way back home.


Caleb:

Caleb tried to ignore the shakes that wracked themselves through his fingers as he went to retrieve his jacket. Walking through that wind-wall had been enough to drain him dry. That kid was way too powerful to be worth it. In any other hunt, he’d have called for twenty three, and told her he was out of his depth, but he couldn’t do that now.

It had been a Hail Mary shot, approaching the boy in his home. Too stupid and thoughtless to be worth a damn as a plan, but if the pretty boy’s threat before had shown him anything, it was that he didn’t have time to waste playing it safe. He’d been hoping for some information; had known that they’d likely just leave him bloody. Against all probability, however, it had worked. The kid had either been scared of him potentially attacking his parents, or he was afraid of them finding out he had powers. In the first case, it meant he was stupid. In the second, he’d be easier to isolate. Judging by how new the boy seemed when it came to fighting, and how he never seemed to shift to other spells when his tactics had been questioned, it was beginning to look like the latter.

James was powerful, he was untrained, and he was alone. Caleb tried to wipe away his smile. He’d forgotten what hope felt like.

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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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Interlude 3

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Author’s note: 

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

Alrighty. Hope you all enjoy the chapter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Homeless?”

“Fuck off.”

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

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

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

“… Yeah. Pie’s good.”

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

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

“… I’ll walk.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Family trouble?” Hideyoshi asked.

Tasha let out a short laugh at that.

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

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

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

“… Yeah. How’d you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hideyoshi shot her a grin.

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

Tasha grunted.

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

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

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

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

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

Hideyoshi snorted.

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

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

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

With another tired chuckle, Hideyoshi nodded.

“Yeah. Pie first.”

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Bonus chapter: Ray Sullivan.

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

Ray:

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

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

‘I think I hate you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter nodded, casting his eye momentarily towards the girl.

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

The specialist shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” he replied. “Me too. Me too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a few minutes, Peter spoke into the quiet.

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

Ray shook his head automatically.

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

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

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

Peter thought about that for a moment, then shrugged.

“Fine. I won’t pry.”

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

‘I think I hate you.’

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

“I’m a terrible father.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray grunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly.

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

“Yeah. I know.”

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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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