Fandoms: Harry Potter, Dragon Age, Aquarian Age, Fable, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Inuyasha, Terra Nova, Max Ride, Gravity Falls, OFF
A/N: This fanfic is co-authored by two people: Lily and Moon. A quick heads-up: this story is written following some of our favorite headcanons and fanon theories. As such, it may or may not be close to the canon source but we will try as much as possible to be consistent.
Chapter One: Wizard, Mage, and Psychic
More than anything, he wished for a blanket–or a hot cuppa. Right about now, all Remus Lupin wanted to do was sleep. But instead, he found himself lying awake counting the seconds in snowflakes as they fell beyond the overpass. He couldn't tell anymore what kept him awake: the cold, or the moon. With the full moon about a week away, insomnia and fatigue played a nasty game with him, churning his stomach and pulling on aching joints anticipating the upcoming transformation. It was not his most comfortable—or safe—hiding spot, tucked under an overpass zipping with traffic at all hours. In fact, it was more a choice made by desperation than anything. No sane itinerant would remain so publically exposed on purpose, but the winter storm had delayed his travels and left him stranded on the roadside. But homelessness meant hardly affording such luxuries as peace or quiet, and for a werewolf on the streets even they were more often replaced by the simpler things like food. Remus was quite used to this by now. Still, having a place to go–a place to transform–was worth bargaining away one's remaining coin for. At least, to Remus it was. And he could only hope that he would find such a location, and soon. Staying here was not an option.
It was true: he could go to one of the werewolf colonies, and perhaps he could find better food and shelter there. Perhaps even medicines lost to conventional Healers, as those communities were dealing with a unique disease with lots of time to dwell. But Remus had seen them during the War–spied on them, infiltrated them–and he had seen worse monsters than any mere werewolf. In a way, they were so like him: shunned by their own society at large for an incurable illness that was thrust upon them unwillingly. A curse. But they were bitter, and lead by men more animal than human–men who would burn a thousand villages to satisfy their bloodlust for justice. Remus was not safe there.
He sighed. He was not safe anywhere.
Hot columns of steam poured from his lips, and Remus yanked his tattered, plaid coat tighter over his shoulders and flipped the collar up to protect his neck from the biting chill. Reaching for his knitted cap, Remus pulled his wand from its resting place behind his ear.
"Incendio," he muttered, pointing the tip and sparking more life into the small fire dancing at his feet. Even enchanted, it never seemed to keep him warm enough. He bounced his wand across his knee idly, watching the flames with forlorn disinterest.
This was not where he expected to be at twenty-five. But then, Remus supposed his life had been destined to take this turn from the beginning. It was a pessimistic thought, and he knew it. But it was hard not to think of the hardships that brought him here, down to the bottom. It was hard not to think of how disappointed he was–disappointed in the world, for being what he expected; disappointed in himself, for being right about his job prospects even as a teen; disappointed that he wasn't better than this, and disappointed for believing he could be. Werewolves weren't exactly favored dinner guests. Nor were they star pupils, kind strangers, or perhaps not even people at all. They were shunted between the Beast and Beings divisions in the Ministry as convenience dictated, like their lives didn't matter. Remus was disappointed in all of those things, but those things he had at least expected. No, at twenty-five he had hoped to still be living amongst friends, and able to manage his condition with their help. He expected to help babysit James and Lily's son, Harry, laughing freely at the boy's first words being "Moony," over, "Padfoot," and watching Sirius fume. He had expected to at least have a roof over his head of some sort, and to be with good company during the long nights. But he had never expected this. And in the darkest days, it was hard not to dwell.
A flash of white light. A car rushed overhead, banging loudly against the worn joints of the bridge. Remus only sighed. He should be used to that by now.
He wished for sleep again, feeling the ache of exhaustion weigh on his eyelids with every blink. As the moon waned, a restlessness took him through the night until he paced back and forth, screaming silently in his head for relief. Sleep came in fits, disturbed by savage dreams and dark memories planted in soil better left untilled. Why his mind dug into the muddy depths was beyond him, but it became a self-perpetuating spiral. He cursed under his breath, wishing he had been a better Potions study. A sleep draught might work wonders for him, if only he could afford the ingredients. But he snorted: for that price, a warm bed at the Leaky Cauldron would do even better.
He closed his eyes, pressing his palms into his eyes and trying to rub away some of the discomfort. A kaleidoscope of color splashed across the blackness with each turn of his wrists and he groaned, willing, pleading for some rest. Another flash of light blared overhead, bright enough to see through his lids. Glancing up, Remus searched the small smear of clouds visible beyond the concrete roadway. It was too late in the season for lightning.
When a pair of headlights tilted down the dirt road towards the underpass, Remus cursed, expelling the fire immediately and trying to make himself small against the concrete. Muggle authorities or no, the last thing he needed was any sort of trouble. The light drew closer, brighter, and he listened hard for the crunch of rubber as he waited. Thoughts raced through his sluggish mind: he needed this space. He needed the rest. He couldn't trust himself to Apparate safely without sleep–there was no way he could do it without Splinching half of him behind. He gripped his wand tightly as columns of white light tore apart the shadows hiding his belongings, exposing his tan suitcase and the remains of the fire. When the light rounded on him, Remus was blinded. Shielding his eyes, he searched desperately for the car he still couldn't hear. The silence disturbed him and he took a step back, trying to see whatever it was approaching–
Remus felt a stone shift under his feet, sending him crashing to the ground. He grit his teeth just as his back braced for an impact–an impact that never came. Panic shot through him as confusion shook exhaustion from him and he clenched his eyes shut–
He felt as though he were in a dream. His stomach lurched and motion sickness took him as all sense of direction was lost. The smell of damp trees surged into being on the chariots of birdsong, and finally he felt it: an impact, onto something much softer than concrete. Remus cried out unexpectedly, reaching out wildly on either side of him as his eyes ripped open.
Pine needles. He landed on a bed of pine needles.
Remus was in a forest.
But–how? What–what in the hell was going on?
He shot to his feet, spinning wildly on his heels. Nothing but trees in all directions: tall, red pines, ancient and thicker than his arms would reach. A deep fog rolled over the forest floor as sunlight–sunlight?–cast gentle pink beams through the canopy as the morning dawned. Remus stared. How could it be morning–wherever this was? How had he gotten here–and where was here? Merlin's beard… Fuck.
Remus hoped he was dreaming. He hoped he passed out in front of his dumpy little fire, and he'd wake up on his suitcase-pillow thinking himself a bloody fool. If this was what insomnia was going to do to him, he'd even try those ridiculous Muggle sleep aids the first chance he got.
But it didn't feel like a dream. The same exhaustion returned as his heart slowed, tugging at his limbs like a ball and chain. The smells were too strong, too crisp; the sounds to clear, the sensations too…
A twig snapped behind him, and Remus felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He extended his wand, still clutched in ghost-white knuckles, listening for the source of the sound. It was much closer than he would have liked. "Hello?" he barked, in a voice uncooperatively hoarse. He tried to swallow, but his tongue was thick and impossible to coerce.
A muffled sigh escaped through creases in his fingers as Anders sat on the bench along the wall of the clinic. Beside his boots, a small satchel of goods – the beginnings of his pack for the mission into the Deep Roads – lay open, assorted contents spilling out slightly. A few bits of clothing, quills, parchment, some dried meats and crumbling cheese... Truly the food of lavish kings, indeed, he thought wearily. But down in Darktown, the derelict mine-turned-sewers, that was luxury. Anders had become accustomed to this place rather quickly after settling here. It was almost as though he fit right in. Darktown is home to the diseased, the insane, to criminals, and even the dead—unwanted corpses are often discarded here by murderers and lazy undertakers. They say it is only a step up from the elven Alienage, but at least the Alienage isn't polluted with chokedamp that covers the streets in a toxic fog.
But Anders glared through cracked knuckles at the sack, thinking only of what it meant; of where he was going. Somehow, the thought of the Deep Roads churned his stomach more than the perpetual miasma down beneath Kirkwall. He ducked his head, running his fingertips across his scalp with another sigh. He hated confined spaces. Choosing to spend a month-or more-in the black, darkspawn-infested depths was not something he'd expected, nor thought he would ever have considered-let alone agreed to. But when Hawke asked him to go with her, he had agreed.
He'd fallen under the witch's spell, obviously, he snorted with feigned disgust. She was neither a templar nor a refugee, and when she strode into his clinic seeking his aid, Anders had initially been suspicious: it wasn't often that someone came to him without intent to kill him or asking for a miracle. He turned to her with Justice in his ear and weapon at the ready.
"I have made this place a sanctum of healing and salvation! Why do you threaten it?"
"I just came here to talk. I wish to know about the Deep Roads. Rumor has it that you were a Warden. You must know a way."
It wasn't a demand, but her eyes hardly faltered from his and her stature was loose, and yet commanded respect.
"Did the Wardens send you to bring me back?" he asked, eyeing her with a heated expression. "I'm not going back. Those bastards made me get rid of my cat."
She cocked a brow at him, her composure relaxing. "...You had a cat? ... In the Deep Roads?" But her shoulders firmed and her body stiffened. "I need to know about the Deep Roads," she said again. Stronger, this time. "Any information you have could save people's lives."
He was hardly impressed by her claim of dire need. Anders was a doctor – he was much more useful here, saving the lives of hundreds of refugees, than he was tromping through that wretched place with fools thick enough to go there.
"I will die a happy man if I never have to think of the blighted Deep Roads again. You can't imagine what I've gone through to get here. I'm not interested-" He stopped. "Although... A favor for a favor?"
Back in the present, Anders sighed again, a hint of bottled rage carried in his breath. He didn't want to remember the next part. He had come to Kirkwall to save a man – and, he supposed that he did, in a sense. But... not like that. No one deserves to die like that. Not after what those bastard Templars did to him...
In the end, he'd paid her for what she'd done to help him. All she needed were the Warden's maps, not a flesh-and-bone Warden. But he'd hardly met her, and yet, somehow, he felt like he knew her; that he could trust her. And that she was a mage – an apostate, no less, and someone who fought for the rights of mages everywhere? Anders had never met someone like that: someone who had accepted Justice and what he meant, someone who knew what Anders stood for and didn't back away...
He stood, collecting his staff and heading for the back room, where he slept and kept most of his belongings. It wasn't much – just a cot adorned with a moth-eaten blanket and a pillow, and a small writing desk topped with a half-burnt candle in a holder surrounded by pools of hardened wax. Pages of his manifesto hid the shabby wood from view. Some of the ink was fresh from this morning. From storage, Anders took up a bowl and poured in what little was left of the milk a farmer had given him for healing his son's broken leg. He never charged for services, but a little extra food sometimes came his way. He set it out in front of the clinic, noting happily that some of the scraps he had left out the night before had disappeared. He missed having a cat. Until recently, he thought the refugees had scared them all away. Or eaten them. Having someone around who didn't automatically loathe him for being alive was something Anders hadn't had for a long time, and he realized as he thought it that it wasn't just the stray cats on his mind.
An odd flash of light drew the mage from his thoughts. He felt himself become alert, almost stiff with anticipation. Like a wolf smelling blood on the wind, Justice stirred somewhere in him and they both knew: what Anders had initially considered lightning was nothing of the sort. It was something else entirely – something strange.
Unhitching his staff and placing it firmly at the ready, Anders stepped out into the chamber opening into the rest of Darktown. The sound of his boots on the stone echoed off the carved walls as he went. Firelight illuminated the paintings of the slaves that once inhabited this place, dancing off the screaming faces and burning their haunting eyes into Anders' retinas.
The light flickered again – brighter, closer this time. The smell of trees mixed in with the sulfurous chokedamp, making Anders breathe in and cough unexpectedly as silt and dust mixed with the tantalizing scent of pine. Just what was this?
A loud boom rattled the loose pebbles on the ground as a hot white sphere exploded into being directly ahead of the mage, pulling the air into its belly like a whirlpool. Anders fell to his knees, his robes and loose strands of blond hair tugging him into the pull of the angry maw. He kicked his feet out in front of him, sliding and scraping against the flattened stone as he tried to resist. But it was too close, and the pull far too strong.
The last thing Anders could recall was a blinding light, the smell of pines and a horrific, animalistic scream from somewhere below him.
With the flat concrete roof against his back, he took a moment to force himself to breathe. Tightness gripped his chest. Eventually it had to come out, he couldn't keep messing with the bulls without getting the horns – even if messing with the bulls was the only way to keep them from charging each other. He sighed, taking a cigarette from the box in his pocket and sticking it into his mouth – the opposite end sparking and coming to life with a short snap from his powers. He inhaled deeply. He took in so much smoke that it almost made him gag. He spluttered to try to keep it inside. When he couldn't hold it in anymore he exhaled out his nose, giving him an excuse to let his eyes water.
It was 1am, Saturday, the 4th of June, and Tokyo was still buzzing with life. The party had ended just hours before, the fireworks that had once lit up the sky now far faded, and he had long since changed out of the powder-blue hoodie and pink shorts he had last been seen in. He now donned black jeans that were just a little too big on his boney frame, a white t-shirt, and a black zip-up sweatshirt with sporty white stripes going down the arms. He liked the hoodless sweatshirt, it was just oversized enough where the sleeves didn't get in the way but still big enough to make it feel like someone was wrapped around him. Soon it would be dawn and he'd have to go back down the stairs to the apartment he shared with his mother and sister, once more change clothes, and trip out the door as he scrambled off to one of his many odd jobs.
But where the seventeen year old normally would do it dutifully by stuffing his emotions in a bag for the day, this time Naoya Itsuki didn't want to. Instead he laid there on the concrete roof, content knowing that he was above the streets, slowly savoring his cigarette and feeling comfortable in his favorite jacket. He knew the emotion he was feeling was a very unusual and morose one. He had accomplished what he had set out to: he had found someone more powerful than he was to help his sister and get her out of her comatose state. But in doing so, he had realized his place; now that everyone had their happy endings, he soon realized that, other than his sister, he was soon going to be alone once more and that it was a grave that the psychic had dug all for himself. His chest clenched again as he thought of Mana and Kaname hooking up, and even Yi Xin's family had – forcibly – paired him up with some crazy Arayashiki woman... and he was pretty sure that Amou and Nakaura were probably making out at this very moment, and in that old church of all places. And what did Naoya have to look forwards to? The Organization possibly coming for him when he turned eighteen to turn him into a breeder, or a violent death fighting in the War. He didn't know which fate sounded worse. Hands resting behind his head, fingers weaved in his hazel hair, he stared up at the dull and star-less night sky with only the gathering feeling that this universe hated him and that something was wrong. And when the familiar feeling of a Binding Shield being raised trickled over his senses – he knew he had been right. The sky became even more distant and unreal, and the human world about him seemed to freeze.
The teenager sighed, already exhausted from what he knew was coming. He didn't want to deal with this. Not now. Naoya tensed and his stomach dropped when he heard the unmistakable flutter of feathered wings sailing past him. He didn't know how the aliens knew how to use earthly Binding Shields – or why they bothered to at that, given their vicious and violent natures – but he knew that if he laid there and pretended not to hear or sense the bloodbath that was soon to come in the streets below, then the angels wouldn't come for him as well.
Not that his mother would let an Eraser near him or his sister. Still, he briefly thought, what was an angel doing so far inside an EGO-controlled zone? The psychics heavily controlled this zone, and it was far from any conflict zones. Very slowly he got to his feet and crept to the edge of the roof, worn brown sneakers expertly lifted with each step so as to not make a noise. Everything was as it should have been when there was a Binding Shield in place – he expected to see other EGO like himself, peering out their windows in the same haze of confusion as he was, but the streets were still and unmoving – and even the other EGO looked to be frozen in place, like beautiful fleshy statues.
Something was not right.
The sound of wings behind him caused Naoya to immediately turn, amber eyes widening madly. There was nothing there. His senses told him that whatever was nearby was not human, and it certainly wasn't terrestrial – but it also wasn't the usual extraterrestrial feeling that Naoya was so used to fearing. Drawing in a breath of smoke, he exhaled through his nose in a panicked frustration and quickly wiped the dried tears from his face. The intel his mother had obtained from the Organization warned that the Erasers were getting ready to retreat, and that they were planning on a massive final attack before they fled from the new incoming threat - Polestar, the new threat called itself. Rumor had it that their threatening transmissions didn't come from this dimension and Naoya couldn't say he was surprised. After all, if something was bad enough to scare off the Eraseri Fleet then it had to be something from another world.
If this was going to be his first encounter with the mysterious Polestar faction, he would have felt better if he wasn't alone. Someone should have been there to witness his death.
Naoya, what's out there? his sister asked, her voice buzzing inside his skull.
I don't know, Haruna. Stay inside. He couldn't forcibly reply to her; she was a telepath, and he was not, but she would still be listening to his thoughts.
No. I'm coming to kick their ass, Naoya. I'm streaming PPV pro-wrestling from America and that asshole is interrupting my smackdown time.
Naoya knew that his sister could hear him groaning in his thoughts.
When the door to the staircase swung open, Haruna was still mostly dressed as she had been at the party – pop-star-looking black hoodie, though she had changed into pink pajama pants, and her hazel hair, which had more auburn to it than his own, was still held up in long, perky pigtails. They were identical twins in all other aspects: same height, same heart-shaped face and soft facial features, and the same amber eyes.
So what are we fighting? Arayashiki? Darklore? Wiz-dom? Haruna asked. Her enthusiasm to fight and potentially maim someone made Naoya feel ill, though he knew that she was only eager because she had no experience fighting in the War.
Eraser or Polestar. Most likely Polestar. Their mother had only recently told them to be weary of the new faction that called themselves Polestar. Naoya had never encountered one – his gut told him, however, that this seemed like something they would be up to. He glanced back down towards the streets, where once-moving cars sat frozen in time. But this is the weirdest 'shield I've ever seen.
You're smoking again, Haruna briefly and smugly scolded him. She ignored the childish pout from her brother and the thoughts he had that were similar to 'mom already knows' as she glanced around the rooftop, extending her senses for any trace of life she could pick up. Her confident smirk quickly faded away to a look of absolute horror. "Oh no." The words came out both mentally and physically.
"What, what is it?" Naoya could feel her terror, and it was directed at him. Again he heard wings flapping but saw no wings, his psychic senses telling him that he was surrounded by air but his eyes telling him that he was still on the rooftop. "Haruna, what is it? There's nothing here!" He ran to his sister, but the more he ran - the further away he got, the sensation of vertigo suddenly overwhelming him. The world around him went completely grayscale before flashing away to a bright light; that for all the peaceful feeling it tried to force on him, left him tumbling in its bright pale void.
Naoya didn't know when he passed out.
He could sense the world around him, coming into focus in his mind's eye, before anything else. There was the orange setting sun overhead, with stars burning oddly bright for that time of day, and trees that he looked around at in the second his mind's eye was active. His mind's eye came crashing back into him much like a fish landing in water after cascading over a waterfall. Damn, he briefly thought, that was a really Arayashiki way to compare the feeling.
When he cracked open his eyes, he saw that he was in a clearing of some kind; laying face-down in a soft patch of clover, as he turned his head he saw that his cigarette laying just inches from his lips and was nothing more than a ruined butt. Naoya stared at it, debating the existence he suddenly found himself in. It wasn't an EGO-caused hallucination; nor was it an illusion from an Arayashiki or Wiz-dom spell. It felt like reality. He stayed on the ground for a few seconds more before weakly getting to his hands and knees – his limbs feeling more like wet noodles than appendages.
"Where are we?" Naoya muttered, feeling the words leave his lips just as they would any other time. When he received no response, he picked up his head and looked around. Freshly-budding trees, scrubby brush, and cold mud as far as he could see – but no Haruna. "Haruna?" Naoya scrambled to his feet, taking a few steps as if he were a foal just learning to walk. "Haruna!" He couldn't sense her, and he couldn't hear her inserting her thoughts into his head. He was alone.
That was when he noticed a strange shifting under his feet, like a carpet decided to crawl under his sneakers. Looking down that was exactly what had happened. Clover radiated out from his spot, broken by patches of defiant soft-looking grass.
"Well that's weird," Naoya marveled. Could have been an Arayashiki shrine, or some Wiz-dom Druid messing with him; but he couldn't sense anything. It was like the whole world, other than him, was a wild blankness. A sickening feeling began to creep up on him; had he been taken hostage by the Polestar?
Naoya took a step and noted the greenery followed with him. If he wasn't facing the fact that he was possibly an interdimensional kidnapping victim, he would've been more than happy to play with the strange effect and later dote on the half-demon Kaname about how he felt like a magical girl princess. A faint feeling tugged at the back of his mind, the feeling of another being out there in the void. He turned his head, hazel bangs dropping into his face, and slowly walked in that direction - his senses on alert. There was no telling what he'd find.
He could hear birds chirping. And it was so strange: there were no birds in Darktown, not unless they had gotten terribly lost. And yet the sound was all around him, and he wanted to listen to their song in peace–but he knew something was wrong. This wasn't right.
Opening his eyes, Anders sucked in a breath as a blast of light met his gaze, momentarily blinding him. Where he expected the darkened chambers of Darktown, a scene of treetops and clouds came into focus from where he lay on his back. A hiss announced the pain finally registering, and Anders groaned as his fingers shot to the back of his head and began feeling around for a sign of serious injury. Broken bits of dried leaves disintegrated as he combed through his hair, and something soft beneath his head tickled his knuckles.
"Maker's Breath," he swore, finding the source of the pain and grimacing: a large lump that pulled tightly on the muscles as far down as his shoulders. He must have landed hard. He hauled himself into a sitting position, exhaling with purpose as he willed a small amount of mana to the bruises. He rubbed the areas as he finished: still tender, but hardly as painful.
His nose twitched as the overwhelming scent of rotten wood and pine needles drew his eyes out over the area, surveying his locale. A forest brimming with lush undergrowth and soaked in a ring of fog expanded as far as he could see. And for a moment Anders pondered the idea that this was a very vivid dream. He felt a pulse from the quivering spirit inside him, but nothing more. He knew then: if this were the Fade, Justice would have taken over. And for the time being, he appeared to be–well, himself.
So that left him with a strange, unsettling alternative: that he was now somewhere else entirely, somewhere he knew nothing about. He meditated, casting his mind out in search of information. But he couldn't feel anything. Farther. Still nothing… Farther, still… No. This plane was far too open… far too wide… The longer he tried to sense it, the dizzier he felt. The emptiness of the plane was overwhelming. He couldn't even sense a single lifeform, and suddenly the cheery birdsong was uncomfortably disturbing.
His staff lay beside him and Anders pulled it to him, knuckles turning white as he gripped it and pulled himself carefully to his feet. He took a few wobbly steps, orienting himself. Beneath his boots, he could feel something shifting. Anders looked down wildly, spotting tiny seedlings beginning to grow in the soil beneath his soles. Where once was black earth, an eruption of green bloomed into a sheet of moss radiating slowly from where he stood in awe. He turned, eyes trying desperately to make sense of what he was seeing: it was not only where he was now, but also where he had been. The outline of his body was preserved in a ring of plants, the oldest of which had blended into a deep, warm emerald. Even his hand print from standing was transformed into a living memory–a plant trail, cataloging his every step and touch. He could feel the life from the moss, though–a hopelessly small pulse, like the weakest of embers.
This was so wrong. He circled the impression he'd left in the leaves, eying the moss even as it sprouted behind him. He was leaving a trail as he walked, footsteps growing and merging into a thin road of green like body heat spreading over melting ice.
"Oh, the Templars would love that," he frowned. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, looking again to the forest.
A savage, inhuman scream erupted from somewhere in the woods, sending a flock of birds flying off in distress. Anders clutched his staff a little tighter. Whatever this was, he didn't think he had encountered anything like it before. It wasn't a spirit, nor anything alive–and certainly not a darkspawn, he realized, as the taint in his blood had failed to react.
Another scream, closer this time–and a creature launched into the air after the birds, catching one in its razor like maw with a splash of blood. It landed with a sonorous thud onto a nearby tree, ignorant to the hundreds of pine needles forcibly shaken out of the trembling limbs as it tilted a thin neck back and swallowed what was left of the bird whole. When it looked at him, Anders felt a chill run down the length of his spine. Seemingly eyeless, it was a winged reptile of sorts. It held itself rooted to the branch by two forelimbs with claws dug deep into the wood. Without rear legs to speak of, it had a graceful, cat-like tail twice the length of its teardrop body that was ridged by spikes and swished back and forth through the mist. Its head was the shape of a pendulum blade, and it nearly disappeared as it looked at him dead on. In the center of its thin head was a red tongue lolling out from a bed of shark's teeth. A few feathers dangled from its mouth as it hissed at him and spread its wings wide.
As it launched itself towards him, the first thing Anders noticed was the speed. Incredibly fast, it was all he could do to jump out of the way before its claws tore into his armor. With a screech and a wild gust of wind, it flew by him with a narrow gap between them. Scattered dust and leaves billowed in its wake as Anders struggled to keep his sights on it. As it rounded on him again he sent his staff quaking to the ground, pushing a kinetic mind blast that knocked the thing from the air. It writhed on its belly in the dirt, flapping uselessly like an overturned insect.
Another screech behind him left Anders turning just as he readied a second blow, and scattered bits of blond hair scattered across his face as a line of pain was etched across his cheeks before he could blink. The second creature landed by the first, nudging and pushing it with its claws and dagger-like jaws.
Two of them. Anders twirled his staff and took several steps back. There was no way he could outrun these things, but he could probably take them. He felt the chill tingling against the skin of his left hand as he readied a frost spell, while simultaneously charging his staff with energy in his right. Something warm ran down the side of his cheek, and as he shot the first bolt of arcane magic he felt little remorse for the purple blood gushing from a searing burn in the side of one of the beasts. It writhed on the ground, crying out in agony as its partner hissed at Anders from behind it.
"You messed with the wrong mage," he growled low.
It was on him before Anders could raise his arm to strike again. He felt it latch onto his shoulders, striking his pauldrons rather than flesh. His staff was wedged between its jaws as the thing bore down on him, and Anders could smell rotten flesh clinging to its breath. It flapped furiously, pushing the heels of his boots into the soil as he tried to stay upright. But just as he felt the spirit within him grow agitated, a voice struck out from the woods and the monster was flung clear across the expanse, slamming into a tree and crumpling into the ground.
Anders turned his head, watching the newcomer emerge from the woods. He was young, probably about his own age. His brown hair was disheveled from combat and the clothes he wore were more than outlandish–but in his outstretched hand, a short, crafted piece of wood. The way he held it—was it a weapon? Anders glanced to the flowering wolfsbane trailing behind him, raising an eyebrow slowly.
"Thanks," he said, shooting the stranger a nod. "The bastard almost scratched my staff. Bite marks all over the bloody thing…"
"Are you alright?" the stranger said. His accent was the same as his, Anders noted. Could he possibly be from Fereldan?
"Well, we're both still alive," he noted, wiping saliva from the grip of his staff. "So I would say so–at least for the time being." He checked over his shoulder to make sure both of those creatures were still down. They were still moving, but whether they would fight again was another story entirely. "We should get out of here before any more of their friends show up," he added.
"Agreed," replied the man, though he still hadn't lowered his arm. "I've seen several of them already. I don't doubt that there are more."
Anders didn't care for the sound of that. And even as the words registered with him, he could see shadows darting around the trunks and through the fog. Smaller ones behind larger ones, they traveled in a formation eerily reminiscent of a flock of birds in formation. They had a pecking order.
"Call me Anders," he offered suddenly as the pair began to walk together, neither of them glancing away from the trees for more than a second. "Are you a mage? That was magic, wasn't it?"
"Remus Lupin," the stranger said, glancing at him with an odd expression. "And it was magic, yes," he added slowly, chewing on his words. "'Mage' is an older form of 'wizard' back home. So, yes–I suppose I am a mage."
"Well, Remus Lupin, do you know a safe place we can go?"
"Not a one," Remus admitted. His eyes were scanning the canopy, the sunlight bleeding through the leaves forming a patchwork of light and shadow across his sickly shape. "I'm not exactly from these parts."
"Nor am I," Anders returned. Remus was dressed for winter, but Anders thought little of it. His attention was continually pulled between the foreign weapon and attire of his companion and the endless expanse of trees. He felt eyes on him from everywhere, and the thoughts floating into his awareness told him Justice was just as lost as he was. Wherever they had fallen into, it was not any place either of them knew. Caution was unequivocally warranted. "But it's a picturesque little place, isn't it?" he sighed, shrugging with causality he didn't feel. "I mean, aside from being infested by flying death lizards."
"I can't say I agree," Remus said, and Anders grinned.
It was a movement in the woods that distracted Anders from his asking next query, though, and he shot a bolt of lightning at another monster bearing down from behind. There was nothing quite like the smell of singed flesh in the morning.
"They're fewer and fewer in coming," he noted. He couldn't believe they were scared off by a couple of lightning bolts. "I don't like this."
They stopped, listening for the telltale shift in the trees that betrayed the monster's direction. The shadows darting through the limbs had faded to a straggling few, and even the birds had gone silent. But Anders held his staff close, old battle memories returning. Was this an ambush? A hurricane of a hundred thousand fangs raining down on them–surely there were better ways to go. But Anders glanced to Remus and met his eye, and the fellow mage seemed similarly put out.
No, Anders thought. No, it wasn't that. He was wrong.
"Pack animals," he murmured under his breath, tugging on his lip. He cast his mind out suddenly as it hit him: the beasts were like wolves–they didn't go for the strong animals. They went for the younger ones. They went for the weaker ones. Searching the forest, Anders closed his eyes and scanned for any ember of life–any indication that someone else was here. He had to be right–the alternative was too dire.
"There's someone else," Anders spoke, snapping his eyes open and staring through the trees. "Faint, in the distance. They're hunting us like wolves."
The sounds of flapping wings caused the psychic to look up. He knew exactly what he had expected to see; and it certainly wasn't that.
Most Erasers looked like the old definition of angels: pretty, androgynous beings with variously-placed wings. In some cases they had scales for skin and gnarly teeth, and appeared more like feathery dragons than angels. But the legless creatures gathering in the branches of the trees looked nothing like any Eraser, aside from the wings. A nervous, teetering laugh escaped Naoya as he noted the way they were gathering. They were hungry.
This was a dream, a bad, bad dream. Normally Naoya's dreams were etched in nice tropical beaches, cute girls, and plenty of shirtless boys; but every once in a while the stress of the War made his subconscious throw him a curveball. This must have just been one of those times. Practice in dreams would make the reality easier, he reasoned.
So the hazel-haired teenager looked up at the beasts, and, smiling, held out his arms invitingly as he waited for the teeth to descend and for him to wake up.
Bolting into the clearing after the reptiles, the sight of the teen awaiting death greeted the pair like a wretched punch. High up in the trees, the creatures had begun to circle the smaller figure. They squawked and shrieked amongst themselves – larger ones nipping at the fluttering tails of the younger juveniles. The pause in chaos was short-lived, though, as several of the monstrous animals flung themselves from the limbs and dove towards the teen's outstretched arms.
Remus had his wand aimed before they could descend. "Everte statum!" he shouted, directing the spell at the boy. He was flung backwards as though he had been thrown – something Remus would make sure to apologize for, provided they all made it out of this alive. The satisfying crunch of fragile wings meeting topsoil confirmed the teen had made it out of harm's way.
"We have to close the distance!" Anders shouted, hurling an arcane bolt into the trees. A number of the creatures scattered, only to be dispatched by a bolt of chain lightning.
Racing towards the boy, the air was thick with the growing stench of singed flesh and the cries of savage beasts. Their shadows danced across the grass, lurking over the moss and aconite that blossomed as the mages pushed through the fight.
Naoya rolled over, confusion painted on his face as he sat up in the patch of clover growing around him. He stared at the men through the bangs that hung low into his face. "Wiz-dom," he muttered, disappointed. With an accepting sigh, he pushed himself to his feet. "So I'm not dreaming. That's fine, too." Shoving his left hand into his jacket pocket, he held his right out to the side, his palm facing upwards. A translucent, rippling energy formed and danced around his fingers, whirling around as he focused. When the nearest monster charged him, he aimed his attack right into its gaping, slobbering jaws – the creature was thrown back, and its body lay on the ground with its mouth broken and agape. "Then it just means I have to pick up my game."
The three met at the center of the clearing. Naoya looked both of the magic-users over, rolling his eyes ever-so-slightly as to not be caught – his expression looking as if he thought the men were very poorly hiding a secret. "I take it these aren't your pets?" he asked them.
"So you aren't nearly as thick as you appeared!" Anders quipped behind a slurry of fireballs, glancing over the teen with a quick sideswipe of the eye. He saw the look he got in return–but what did the kid expect, standing there like a fool? Maker have mercy!
To Anders' right, Remus found himself focused on the movement in the trees. By now they had thinned the numbers of this hoard by about half. And he was gaining confidence with cautious enthusiasm. "Duro!" he shouted, watching one of the reptiles turn into stone. With a flick of his wrist, it shattered into a thousand bits raining down on the grass and leaves. But Merlin, these things were fast. A small juvenile swung at his face with open claws in a gust of wind, and Remus felt it rip through the sleeve of his coat and into the tender flesh below. He cried out, swatting at it–and again, when Anders bludgeoned it away with the butt of his staff, taking a chunk of skin with it. Remus swore under his breath, cradling is arm. It was nothing to worry about right now, but it pulsed with pain at every racing heartbeat. The noise from the trees was overwhelming. But as he paused to check his wound, Remus' eyes widened as he listened. Instead of the toneless, senseless screeching, there was, beneath it all, a rhythm. A clicking, a tapping–a humming song of nails on a chalkboard, whispering beneath the earsplitting battle cries.
It hit him, then: their eyes–they're blind. Could it be–?
"Sound!" he blurted out, grasping Anders by the forearm suddenly, causing the man to turn to him in shock. His hair was falling from his half-pony and the blood on his cheek had almost dried into a fresh scab. The questioning look in his eyes bade Remus to continue. He spoke as fast as he could. "Sound!" he said again, almost breathless with the power of the realization. "They can't see–they're like bats! Use whatever you can–just make an explosion! Bombarda maxima!" With a wave of his wand, the ground beneath him trembled and a gathering of the reptiles floundered in the confusion. Several landed skull-furst into the soil–others collided in midair, and still others simply began to flee.
"Why not run just around screaming? Worked for you guys before," the teenager quipped. With both his hands in motion, he ripped one of the beasts from the ground in a fit of telekinetic power, before slamming the monster into the bodies of its packmates. The psychic paused briefly. His powers weren't suited for explosions, nor was it his style to be so noticeable when he didn't want to be noticed. That kind of flashy showmanship in a fight could have cost him his life early on in the War, least to mention the collateral damage that even the dullest of humans might start to question. "And I can't make anything explode," Naoya finally said, edging closer to the two magic-users. These things didn't have eyes, and he doubted his ability to cause a purely auditory hallucination; at least one of the magic-stick-guys had a plan, even if it meant being almost blown up on the process.
"Then just try to keep them away from us!" Anders cried out, feeling his throat sting as he attempted to be heard over Remus' spell. He turned to the kid, nodding at him in confirmation of his plan–and then, his attention was focused upward. From inside the circle of trees, a patch of pale blue sky frosted with stars was visible beyond the darting shadows of the monsters. Formless thoughts raced across Anders' mind, and he cursed at himself for not working faster. Explosions, explosions… He didn't think he could make an explosion. But if he didn't, could they make it out? What else could they do but hack and slash their way to a glorious, empty death? Anders thrust his staff in front of him, slinging a bolt of mana at one of the creatures that came much too close for comfort. It shrieked as it fell from the air, a gaping window in its middle splattering the turf with blood. A second one fell beside it, similarly wounded. "That's it!" The gory visual had spawned with him an idea. A brilliant idea at that, and Anders couldn't help but grin. "Boy," he turned, uncertain as to what else he should be called without a proper name as yet. "I need you to cover me–I have to concentrate. Everyone over here!" Anders widened his stance as the pair collected beside him. "If you both can hold them off for a second, I have an idea that just might work." Remus' reply was drowned in a metallic shriek, but the conviction in his face told Anders what he needed to know. "Alright," he said. "Destructive forces of nature, coming up!"
Breathing in, Anders closed his eyes shut and began to channel the mana throughout his body. Energy flowed through his veins and limbs in rivers, and each of his cells hummed to a silent vibration that only grew with each intake of air. Building up inside his core, Anders could feel a static clawing at his ribs. This was a dangerous spell–powerful, but deadly. The first time he had cast it, he almost died. The energy demanded escape like a caged wolf, and if it was starved too long–it snapped. Back home, there were stories of mages cooked alive from within that were favorites of the Templars. Anything to scare young ones into submission, he had thought then in his naivety. But the power he felt could turn against him at any moment. His own body was a dam, and it could crack if he waited much longer. He breathed out hard, willing the energy through the mana channels his veins had become. When he brought his hands together, there was a loud CRACK and a blue-white flash, and cradled between his wrists a live link of electricity crackled and screamed between his fingers. Anders stretched out his arms, feeling the intense heat begin to burn his nose. He squinted as he watched the plasma dance, blinded by the powerful light.
From his position at Anders' side, Remus turned when he caught the light out of the corner of his eye. Wide-eyed, he felt his jaw go slack at the sight of it and he stared in awe. Beyond Anders' head, Remus could see dark clouds roaming in from the horizon. As they closed in overhead with supernatural speed, he turned back to the chaos and noise. He didn't have to understand it to guess what was coming. Just as he felt the static in the air, he felt raindrops fleck across his cheek. And as Anders raised his arms to finally release the spell, a sonorous boom was hurled out over the area as thunder and lightning rained down from the clouds.
"Protego maxima!" Remus shouted, holding his wand above him as an orange-tinted shield bubbled around the three of them.
All around them, lightning tore through the sky and the pained cries of the many injured creatures had been lost to the thunder and the crack of electricity searing rock and flesh. The pack's organized formation of flight had scattered as their survivors fled to the safety of the trees. But even they had begun to take hits, and small columns of smoke could be seen rising beyond the pine needles. When it was all over, the sky began to clear and the rain had ceased. A strange silence blanketed the forest.
Anders fell to his knees, his vision swirling in front of him. He was exhausted, and as he tried to steady himself with one hand in the dirt, the other clumsily climbed his face. He wiped the trail of blood from his nose with the flick of his thumb. He scrunched his brow, closing his eyes as nausea washed over him. Andraste's tits - he'd forgotten how much the big spells took out of him. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and heard Remus asking from miles off if he was alright. He nodded. "Well," he said, after a moment to catch his breath. "We're all still alive."
Naoya patted his hazel locks, smoothing out the fine hairs that had stood up from the mage's storm summons. He turned away from them slightly, checking his cell phone in his pocket for any damage. "Huh," he breathed, only slightly impressed. He had a full battery now. Science be damned. Slipping his phone back into his jacket pocket, he turned back to the two magic-users. "Thanks," he said, offering a half-genuine smile. It was best to be courteous with mages and wizards. He was normally a good judge of people, but Wiz-dom were tricky; there was always a 50/50 chance someone would try to shove a bible into his face. At least they weren't Arayashiki cultists. "Hopefully they won't be back." He turned to look out into the forest, a tingling in his head telling him that they had gone... for now.
That was when Naoya noticed the plants. A curious look overcame his soft features, the large amber irises of his eyes briefly illuminated by the dimming sun, followed by a disapproving pout. So he wasn't the only special magical girl princess in the woods; there went his chances of finding a masked tuxedo-wearing man to sweep him off his feet. He looked back to the two older men. "This is the weirdest gardening club I've ever seen," he said, obviously motioning to their plant trails.
Anders followed the line of the boy's sight, and from where he sat in the grass it was easy to identify the plant trail growing beneath the teen: clover. Huddled together in the circle they had formed, Anders watched with mild interest as the clover and moss began to bleed together. Beside them, the stems of a tall flower began to creep from under the soil near Remus. Anders wished the headache pounding behind his eyes was only due to the spell. He inhaled deeply, pushing himself upright on shaky knees. The scent of burnt wood and passing showers mixed with the musky smell of wet forest, and he glanced to the pair before running his fingers across his scalp to retie his fallen blond bangs into submission. He let his shoulders and arms fall freely as he exhaled in a great sigh.
'You too, huh?' he wanted to say. But the words seemed to overlook his need for answers and refused to come. Surrounded by the ruined corpse of the creatures that had just tried to kill them, the shock of everything that had taken place in the last hour was beginning to overwhelm him.
Thankfully, it was Remus who broke the silence. "Is everyone alright?" he asked, looking between Anders and the boy. There was blood, yes, but by the look of it all nobody had been seriously wounded. There was no telling if or when those things would return, and a sense of urgency set his features on edge. He stared at the trees, his expression tense. But not a single chirp or hum–nor any sort of 'normal' sound–emerged from the woods. It was as though death had settled into the thicket, silencing the trees in a blanket of fear. The wind rattled through the creaking branches, and Remus finally let his wand arm lower. He held it close and at the ready, but he turned to the youngest of their group with a kindly smile. "My name is Remus Lupin," he said, but the words sounded vaguely awkward coming so formally as they stood in a blood-soaked field. He indicated the mage beside him. "This is Anders. Are you from here?" He studied them both as he spoke, and at their blank expressions the next few syllables escaped him with unusual haste: "Does anyone know where we are?"
The psychic arched his fine brows. These guys couldn't tell just from looking at him that Naoya wasn't from the middle of some random forest. "The woods?" Naoya quipped in reply. He slid his hands into his jacket pockets. "The now-slightly-on-fire-" he briefly eyed Anders with a slight smirk "-monster-filled part of the woods. That's all I know." He silently weighed telling them his name – the name Itsuki was hit-or-miss with non-EGO's, they either recognized it or they didn't – but if they were as clueless as he was about the sudden emergence of a forest, then they would be stuck together for a while; so they at least deserved to know his name. "And my name is Itsuki. Naoya Itsuki." When neither of the two magic-users showed any signs that they recognized his family's name, his boney shoulders sunk in relief. It saved a very long conversation.
"What were you doing just standing there like a fool?" Anders asked sharply, having found his voice suddenly returned to him. "You're lucky we came along, or else you would surely have been ripped to shreds!" He half-thought that in this rough situation, his anger could wait. But having just risked his neck for a boy who clearly didn't appreciate the scope of the reality facing them, he felt it wise to lay it out accordingly. "We need a place to go before those beasts decide to come back."
"Agreed," Remus replied. He let a silent sigh escape him, barely noticeable. "Regardless, if none of us has any idea where we are then we'll have to work together if we're going to stay safe." And, he mused, if none of them had any idea where they were, it was hardly a stretch to guess that they had been taken to wherever-this-was, just as he had. "My guess," he stated slowly, "is that this was no accident. And there could be others trapped in this forest, too. The best thing we can do is to try and find some shelter, and then we can attempt to figure something out from there." He balanced his wand in his open palm. "Point me," he whispered, but when the wand only spun in circles, he frowned. That was… impossible.
"What is it?" Anders asked. He had been eying the wand with curiosity now that he could take a good look. Just by observation, he couldn't tell much about it. It was about a foot long, made of wood; hardly suited for combat, and yet the spells Remus had been casting during the fight proved it more than capable.
"It was supposed to find north," Remus replied, casting the spell again with no change. "But it can't find any point at all. That's not possible."
"Figures," Anders breathed. "It seems the unusual is the norm here. How lovely." He cracked his neck, his whole body having stiffened after the spell. His mana was depleted, and he returned his staff to the mounts on his back. It could serve him well as a physical weapon, but something about a mage hurling a stick at his enemies didn't sit right with him. "Shall we go, then? Plenty of monster-infested forest to saunter through aimlessly."