V M Contact with Prejudice

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The aviankind was unsure where he was, or how he had come to be here… well, no, a better way of phrasing that second part might be that he was unsure how he had survived long enough to reach wherever he now found himself. The ritual magic that the trolls had cast upon him had dragged him into a realm of pure madness, in which anything based in logic ought to have been instantaneously stripped apart and reconfigured into something beyond the understanding of any sane being.

He couldn’t be sure how long he had been there, as the linear concept of time was a logical construct which could not endure within that reality, but he felt that it must surely have been longer than an instant… possibly several eternities longer. He had no memory of what had occurred there, for his mind shied away from contemplating such lunacy and impossibility.

As a powerful telepath, Ancell had enough of a command over his own thoughts that it was likely he could unlock those lost memories if he so desired. He made no such attempt, though, for he could only imagine that his subconscious had sealed them away purposefully to preserve his sanity. A less accomplished mentalist than he likely would not even have managed to achieve such a feat; a lower-worlder such as a human or elf would undoubtedly have lost their mind, and even amongst his own species it was likely that most would have failed to erect such a mental block without conscious compartmentalisation of their thought processes, which could potentially take as long as a whole second to implement… far, far too long.

That he would track down the trolls who had slain his friends and even now would no doubt be massacring those dwarves they had chosen to help was beyond doubt, but having no idea how far northward they had sent him, Ancell could not say exactly how much time it would take him to return home… though based on the higher temperature, it was clear that this place was much closer to the world’s equator than his own home had been. The battle would be long over by the time he had flown back. They had lost. He had failed them all.

Infuriating. Knowing that his dear comrades had died for nothing filled him with impotent rage. He wanted nothing more than to leap back into the ranks of the foe who had committed this atrocity and tear them apart en masse… but with a modicum of focus, Ancell quashed those rogue thoughts. Wrath did not suit such a noble species as his own.

As he had no hope of returning in time to save anyone, the aviankind decided that rather than dashing off immediately, he would be better to find the flock whose island he had been transported to, to commune with them and discover to where exactly he had been sent, so that he might plot the most reasonable route back to his eyrie. Yes, no matter how much he wanted to bring those unworthy creatures to justice himself, the rest of his own flock had the right to know of the consequences of his folly, and to join him in avenging their loved ones.

With that thought, he set off at a casual pace. He didn’t bother flying. The trolls wouldn’t be going anywhere his people couldn’t track them, so there was no need to waste his energy.

***

It took some time, but he finally confirmed what he had suspected since shortly after beginning his investigation: his people were utterly absent from this island. It was unthinkable that such a prime position would go unused when even an icy and desolate rock such as that which his own flock called home had been claimed as a nesting ground… yet what other explanation could there be?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, though, he had spotted an unwelcome and impossible presence: perched upon the idyllic island like a crowning jewel was a beautiful, little town with buildings wrought of metal, glass and some other material he was unfamiliar with. A human town.

How those barbarians could have crafted something so pretty, he could not begin to fathom, but he supposed he ought to be pleased… surely they could never have attained such fine culture if they had kept up the savage, warring ways of their kin in other parts of the world. Perhaps this group was some sort of peaceful sect who had withdrawn from the wars of the lower world and in recognition of their enlightened ways the nearby flocks had agreed to cede this island to them so that they might live their lives untroubled by the rest of their species?

It seemed highly unlikely to Ancell, though. It was one thing to feel as he did that the lower races were worth investing time and effort in—to believe that they too had the potential to become decent and upstanding people, despite all evidence to the contrary—but quite another to voluntarily surrender such fine territory to another race. These islands were theirs by right. All throughout recorded history, the sky island chain had belonged to the aviankind; even the other airborne races such as the harpies and fairies kept to their mountain and treetop homes, and the flightless ones had even less right than they to lay claim to such a place.

He simply could not believe that any of his people would willingly hand over their birthright like this… which left only one other possibility; that the humans had taken this island by force. That sounded almost as crazy… but he had to admit, from the glimpse he had gotten of their town, they did seem to be far more advanced than the humans he was familiar with from the southern lands in which his flock dwelt.

This required further investigation, obviously.

***

“Identify yourself!” the two guards pointed what he could only imagine were weapons in his direction. They looked a little like stubby crossbows, only without the bow parts. Ancell cocked his head to one side, faintly amused by their antics.

They weren’t shooting on sight, which made him doubt that they had taken the island from his people by force. If they had, they'd know that they couldn't possibly hope to win if they gave him time to react; it was only with the element of surprise that they'd stand a chance. Furthermore, the town had no walls around it, and no guards patrolled the outskirts; he had been walking through the streets for a good few minutes before this pair had shown up in their horseless carriage. Theirs had a strange aesthetic, but the aviankind wasn’t overly impressed by it. He knew already that such things existed, for the elves and some of the other more magically inclined surface-dwelling races did make use of them. Perhaps these humans had purchased some from them, or even learned enough magic that they could produce their own. For such an ungifted race, that would be an impressive accomplishment.

~I am Ancell, an aviankind of the southern islands.~ he said, projecting his thoughts directly into their minds. His people’s vocal cords and tongues were suited only to producing very limited, animalistic noises, not to civilised conversation. Fortunately, their mental powers were more than adequate at picking up the slack, ~I wish to question your leader, humans. Take me to them.~

The two men had gone pale.

Magic.” hissed one, as if the word was a curse.

“You’re not seeing anyone, monster. In fact, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll turn and leave this town while we’re still willing to let you.” added the other.

Enemies after all, then. It was unfortunate, but it seemed that they would not allow him to pass. What was more, they seemed utterly unaware of how powerful his species actually was. If they truly wanted to oppose the aviankind, they ought to have known to put him down the moment they laid eyes on him, rather than attempting to use threats.

Ancell made no visible movement, but he flexed his mental muscles, intent upon unleashing a wave of ice upon the pair which would ensnare them and hold them in place. They may be extremely rude and disrespectful, but he would rather avoid killing when possible, and slaying these ignorant buffoons could easily turn the rest of the town's inhabitants against him, which would be a bother.

A single, foot-long spike of ice burst up from the stone street, about halfway between himself and the humans, angled towards them. The aviankind was dumbstruck.

For a moment the men turned their eyes down to gaze upon it.

“Was that supposed to be an attack?” asked the second, his tone split between disbelief, scorn and humour.

Yes.” the first answered, clearly relishing the word, “Open fire.”

So saying, the man shot Ancell, who was still too shocked to do anything about it. He could not comprehend how his power had been so dampened. For a moment he considered that the humans had cast some form of anti-magic field over their own town, to counter the magic users they appeared to so despise. He quickly discarded that notion, though. It was unlikely that even the greatest of human archmagi could wield that kind of power… much less whatever poor excuses for wizards such a magiphobic society as this could produce.

The other immediately obvious possibility was that the passage through the plane of illogic had affected him more severely than he had originally realised. That seemed a much more realistic supposition.

When the weapon fired, it did not launch a crossbow bolt, as he had been expecting, but instead fired a small orb of red light his way, which trailed a comet-like tail behind it. Thankfully, the human’s aim was off, and rather than striking him in the heart, the shot connected with the left side of his gut. There was a small explosion of entirely too much sanguine fluid, and a pain unlike anything he had ever felt.

Ancell stumbled back, horrified at the crater—a few inches wide—which he had just acquired in his stomach. Had he hesitated a moment longer, he likely would have died then and there. As it was, his powerful mind immediately reanalysed the threat posed by the humans’ strange weapons, and he reacted to counter the threat almost on instinct alone.

Clamping his left hand over the wound in a futile effort at keeping his blood inside him, the aviankind reached out with his thoughts and enveloped the end of the second man’s not-crossbow in a chunk of ice several inches thick, just a fraction of a second before the trigger was pulled.

The weapon exploded, and the man shrieked in agony as semi-molten metal seared the flesh from the bones of his hands.

Ancell couldn’t stop now, though. His other attacker could strike again at any moment.

Another thought. Another block of ice on the end of an armament.

“Bastard!” the first man screamed, tearing his eyes from his ally’s plight and tossing aside his now-useless weapon. He charged straight for the aviankind, pulling a short, metal rod from his belt and flicking his wrist. The item extended telescopically, and gave a soft click upon reaching its full length, at which point an inch-wide orb of crackling, pale blue lightning formed at its tip.

Ancell had no desire to find out what would happen should that thing touch him.

Stumbling backwards, already feeling lightheaded and dizzy from blood loss, he called up another spike from the ground. These pitiful excuses for attacks were not worthy of a being such as he, but the aviankind were not just magical brutes who possessed vast power but had little control; he may be too diminished to marshal his true might, but his skill had suffered not at all, so precision was no issue.

The icy spine pierced straight through the attacker’s right foot. The human screamed again, though in pain this time, rather than rage.

Shockingly, though, the man simply tugged his foot free and limped forwards, still intent upon his target, despite the level of pain he must be in. He may have been a bigoted bastard, but the man's determination at least was admirable.

Ancell sent another spike up at him, through his other foot this time. Then, before his foe could limp free of that one as well, he expanded the ice, forming a crude lump of it around the pinned appendage, attached firmly to the ground, locking him in place. Then, for good measure, he made another block around the man’s hand and the hilt of the baton her wielded, in case the aggressor should attempt to throw it at him in some last-ditch attempt at inflicting harm.

Lastly, the aviankind poured ice outwards from where his left hand was pressed against his side, sealing his wound. He staggered, almost blacking out from the pain. The cold was appalling. He had never actually been injured this badly before, and so the sensation of ice fixed to his internal organs was entirely new to him. New, and not remotely pleasant.

Stumbling and weaving slightly from side to side, Ancell slowly made his way back outside the town; with his magic this reduced, there was no way he could carry on.

Had it just been the two guards who had seen him, he likely would have reluctantly finished them off, to prevent them from telling anyone else… but he sensed many more humans all around him. Taking shelter inside their houses, staring out at him through panes of glass, or hiding as best they could lest he break in and attempt to harm them.

He couldn’t silence everyone, so there was no point in killing anyone. He’d likely die as a result of this injury before too long, and even if he didn’t, the inhabitants would surely come after him once they had rounded up the rest of their town guards. In his current state, he’d be no match for them, even if he could manage to retain consciousness until they located him… which surely wouldn’t be difficult for them. It wasn’t like he could get very far in his current state.

The future was looking bleak.

***

A sharp pain in his arm returned him to wakefulness. His mental sense stretched out around him, and he detected her presence immediately. He reacted automatically, lashing out with one hand. The child shrieked and lurched backwards, barely avoiding his long, sharp nails.

She wore a dress of red and silver cloth, covered in black frills and lace, over white tights and with a pair of black shoes, polished until they gleamed. Her skin was pale, her hair black and chin-length and her eyes were grey.

He didn’t need to turn his head to look down at his right arm to see what had impaled it. He couldn't see it at all, technically, as he had no eyes with which to do so. He did, however, focus his senses slightly on that area, examining the object there. It was made of a clear material, resembled a poorly designed dart, and protruded from his forearm. He yanked it out and tossed it away, ~What was that? What did you do?~

He snarled the words inside her head and the child cowered, looking like she might start crying. Ancell was no expert in human biology, but based on her height and build, he imagined that she couldn’t be more than ten or eleven years old.

“I-it's a needle... I g-gave you a-”

She was cut off when he shrieked in agony, out loud, rather than in her head. His back arched and the aviankind clawed at his left side. Where the ice was still frozen to his flesh was suddenly intensely painful, worse even than it had been when he’d first sealed the wound. Unable to resist the irrational impulse, he tore free the frozen lump and flung it off across the clearing in which he lay. Unsurprisingly, this did not help. Blood gushed forth from the gaping hole in his side.

And then was staunched.

It was the girl. She knelt by his side, a wadded-up towel pressed on his injury. Blood and dirt marred her fine clothing, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her face had gone a little pale, but was set in a determined expression. Pretty impressive for a child of her age, Ancell had to admit.

He wanted to know what was going on, but the pain was overwhelming. His body was convulsing now, and it was all he could do to keep himself from lashing out at her again; he had no idea what her intentions were, but she was at least attempting to keep him from bleeding out, so he’d likely only diminish his odds of survival should her kill her now. He could spare no concentration to focus on projecting his thoughts to her, so any questioning would have to wait until after this pain had passed... assuming he survived whatever she had done to him.

And then his agony spiked, he screamed again, loudly enough to cause the child at his side to wince, and his mind went blank.
The aviankind slumped, unmoving, as he once again sank into unconsciousness.
 

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Shaken. He was being shaken. Reluctantly allowing himself to wake, Ancell’s mind reached out, picking up his surroundings. It was that girl again. She looked frightened. She glanced over her shoulder, then looked back at him.

Wake up,” she hissed urgently, seemingly on the edge of panic.

~I’m awake.~ he said in her head.

“Oh, good. Get up, quick. We need to go. They’re coming.”

~Who’s coming? And what did you do to-?~

Later! Come on!” she tried futilely to pull him up by herself. Hollow-boned and comparatively lightweight though he may have been, Ancell was still fully grown, while she was but a child.

~Leave me, I’m dying anyway, just go.~ he could guess that she meant more people from the town, whose aim was to finish him off, and figured that there was no sense in getting her into trouble when he clearly had no hope of escaping anyway. He wasn’t sure what the punishment would be for aiding an enemy of the state, but figured it’d likely be more than just a slap on the wrist, even if she was only a kid.

She prodded him in his side, right where he’d been injured. Ancell blinked, astonished at the lack of pain. In fact, his wound seemed to be gone in its entirety; even his lost feathers had regrown. Could it be that she had cast healing magic on him? Surely not, given how the humans here disliked magic. In fact, even if they had been magic’s biggest fans, that’d still have been hugely improbable; this girl wasn’t yet even an adolescent, so such power ought to be far beyond her capability.

What then? That dart? Her ‘needle’? Had it contained a potent healing potion? That still seemed odd, given the distaste for magic here, but then again, humanity and hypocrisy were practically synonymous, so it was probably best not to pay too much attention to their strange ways.

Before he could speak (well, think) again, or make an attempt at standing, a group of five people entered his sensory range. As they did, he began to pay closer attention to his surroundings. It seemed that before collapsing he must have made it quite a distance into the forest which lay outside the human town, as trees spread out far in every direction around him. He was currently laying on the ground in a small, grassy clearing, with the girl by his side.

Next to her sat a red box with a white, plus-shaped icon on its front, as well as the words ‘first aid’ written beneath that, in the same colour. It contained another needle filled with some sort of red, translucent fluid, as well as a couple rolls of bandages and a few other odds and ends. Healing supplies? On her other side was the towel she’d pressed against his wound, thoroughly soaked through with blood. It wasn’t alone in that, either; his feathers and the girl’s clothes were also rather bloodied.

“Over this way! I heard something!” one of the incoming humans called.

~Thank you for healing me, but I still lack the strength to move far. I’m not recovered yet, and we’re out of time. They’ll be here in moments, so hide while you can... there’s no reason for you to get caught up in this.~

She shook her head fiercely, tears welling up in her eyes for some reason. Weird kid.

The group charged into the clearing, and froze immediately.

“Girl! What do you think you’re doing here!? Get away from that monster, it’s dangerous!” a stern-looking blonde woman yelled. She and her followers wore clothing similar to the pair he had injured earlier. Some sort of uniform to allow their people to identify them as town guards, he supposed.

They also carried the same weapons, and immediately them aimed in his direction. The moment the child was out of the way, they’d open fire, he knew. He could see it in their minds. The aviankind sighed, resigning himself to his fate.

Then, the little girl got to her feet and stood before him, arms thrust out to the sides, “No, don’t hurt him!”

Still brandishing their almost-crossbows, the group began shouting at the child to get clear. For now, they only wanted to move her, but it was likely only a matter of time before they realised what she’d done and decided that she deserved to go down with him.

Sighing, he sat up and laid a hand on her shoulder. The town guards looked horrified that he’d actually do such a thing, and screamed at him to back up, though even without his ability to read their minds, it would’ve been blatantly obvious that their intent was to fire upon him the moment the kid got clear.

Tactically, it made sense to take advantage of her foolishness. If he was to act quickly, Ancell might actually be able to slay or subdue three—maybe even four—of them before the last one(s) grew desperate enough to fire upon him, regardless of the child’s presence.

But alas, he couldn’t bring himself to use a kid as a living shield, so that option was discarded without consideration. He shoved her to one side, then dived in the opposite direction and rolled across the ground, hissing through gritted teeth when someone’s shot burnt a hole in one of his wings.

Not all of them fired, though, a couple seemed so surprised that he could move—they had been acting under the assumption that he was practically dead already, after all—that for a moment they couldn’t react. And the other pair who did shoot both missed, thankfully.

Coming to a stop, Ancell encased one firearm in ice, then another, starting with the woman who’d hit his wing, then moving on to the leader lady, who had been one of the two to get off an inaccurate shot. Once again, the first person to have their armament iced failed to react in time, and had already pulled the trigger before she knew what was happening. The weapon detonated in her hands and she shrieked in agony, sinking to her knees and staring at the ruined appendages.

The boss wasn’t so quick to shoot again, unfortunately, and noticed the ice forming. She tossed away her ranged weapon and came at him with one of those telescopic lightning-batons that the guards wielded, as that man had done earlier. Rather than messing around with spikes this time, he simply encased one of her feet entirely in ice, while it was still touching the forest floor.

The idea had been to lock her in place, but it turned out that grass and dirt made for a much less stable foundation than stone, and she simply stumbled, tearing up a little patch of earth as she continued to charge his way, albeit somewhat more awkwardly than before.

She swung her weapon at him and the aviankind rolled again, just barely getting out of the way. The rod struck the ground where he’d been lying with a crack like thunder, forming a blackened crater a few inches wide. The blades of grass around its edges burned slowly away. These human weapons had to be magical in nature, despite their wielders’ proclaimed hatred for such things. Still, they would not normally have impressed him. In his current state, though, Ancell found their toys very intimidating indeed.

The only thing he had to be thankful for was that with their commander taking the fight to him, the rest of the guards had apparently decided that firing in his direction might be a poor choice. The remaining one who’d gotten off a shot so far had now drawn his baton as well and was closing in, either to strike with it or possibly just to shoot at closer range, so he could be sure to hit his target.

The other two were indisposed. A third female, who looked younger than the other guards—a rookie?—was staring in horror at the wailing woman on the ground, and at the ruined, shrunken claws that had been her hands, while the second man took a couple steps in the aviankind’s direction, only to be interrupted when that dumb girl charged into him and wrapped her arms around his waist in a futile attempt at holding him back.

After taking a moment that he honestly couldn’t really afford to spare in order to briefly peruse the guard’s surface thoughts, to reassure himself that the man wasn’t keen on beating up a kid—and so he could actually focus on his own situation rather than having to intervene to try and protect his would-be rescuer—Ancell turned his attention back to the lady bearing down upon him.

She drew back the rod, looking as if she planned on stabbing him with the lightning-orb on the end. He froze it.

And the ice immediately shattered, with another thunderclap-like noise, as electricity coursed through it.

Some of the tiny shards reached him, embedding themselves in his flesh, but many more struck the weapon’s wielder, who snarled in pain and staggered back awkwardly. With her unoccupied hand, she clutched at the lacerated mess that was her side.

The dual wielding man stepped forwards at the same time, immediately moving to take advantage of the opening his boss had left by moving away, if only a little.

As it was clear that he couldn’t hope to just keep getting lucky and facing opponents who’d fire unhesitantly at him without even taking the time to notice that their guns were entirely coated in ice, the aviankind knew he needed to improve his method. Flicking a finger dismissively in the attacker’s direction, he concentrated on visualising only the weapon’s barrel filling with ice, and as he did so, that image was imposed upon reality.

The human pulled the trigger, and his not-a-crossbow detonated. He screamed, but charged forwards even so, in spite of the horrific mess that had become of his hand, swinging his lightning-rod wildly. Slapping his palm down on the ground, Ancell formed a plate of ice right under the man’s foot as the guard took a step.

Slipping, he fell to the ground, and landed on his back with a grunt. That was the least of the man’s problems, though. Upon crashing down, the tip of his baton came to rest on his stomach. Lightning coursed through him and the guard spasmed and twitched as arcs of electricity coiled about his body.

For a few moments, every one of them froze, focused intently upon that horrific spectacle.

Then his arm jerked to one side and before it could come into contact with anything else, Ancell formed a block of ice around the man’s hand, keeping the rod held upright.

The guard didn’t move. The aviankind could still sense some dim thoughts passing sluggishly through his mind, so he wasn’t dead. He was most certainly out of the fight, though.

It took her a moment to recover, but then the leader roared at him and raised her weapon for another strike. Resigning himself to being unable to simply disarm or immobilise her, Ancell held up a hand, palm facing her, and a thick layer of ice spread quickly across her face, covering eyes, nose and mouth.

Almost immediately, she dropped her weapon and began clawing at it, trying to tear off the mask he’d given her. Blinded and unable to breathe, this was effectively the end of her as a serious threat. Even if she could tear the ice free, she’d not manage it without ripping the skin from her face… and as for her eyeballs… well, she wouldn’t be in any state to put up a fight, to put it mildly.

He got to his feet and stepped around her, facing the remaining two.

They both looked terrified. The one who had been charged by that girl now held her hostage, with his not-crossbow pressed to her temple, and did his best to keep her in between him and the aviankind. The girl herself had tears running down her face, and she was trembling. Finally realising the danger she’d put herself in. That idiot.

The other guard was crying too, shaking her head from side to side as she backed up, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing silently as she stared in horror at what had become of her allies. Her arms hung limply by her sides, her weapons forgotten.

~Is this how you people treat your own children? Disgusting.~ the aviankind thought to her, mentally indicating the male guard and his prisoner. She glanced over at that man, and edged away from him slightly. He caught her looking.

“What the hell are you waiting on!?” he yelled, “Shoot the fucker already!”

“And you!” he turned back, addressing Ancell now, while pressing the weapon against the girl’s head more forcefully, causing her to sob softly, “Don’t you dare try anything! If you try any of that icy shit on me then I’ll fire! Even if it costs me a hand, I’ll see this bitch dead before I let you get away with what you’ve done, monster!”

Ancell didn’t respond. The seconds ticked past. And then, behind him, the boss lady collapsed from lack of oxygen.

“Sarge...” the younger woman moaned piteously.

~I can’t save her. My magic allows me to create ice, not dispel it. If you want her to survive, you’ll need to remove that mask yourselves.~ the aviankind told the guards, making sure to face directly towards the male one, even though the direction his head was turned actually made no difference to how his own senses worked, ~You’re not the only one who can take hostages.~

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” spat the guard, “Kill this fucker! Kill it! Kill it!”

The probably-a-rookie clearly wasn’t taking this well. She continued backing away, “I-I can’t. It’ll kill us all. Oh god, we’re all going to die.”

“Kill that fucking thing!” shrieked the woman with the ruined hands. Without so much as twitching, Ancell froze her mouth under a layer of ice. He didn’t bother covering this one’s nose, though, as she already posed no threat. He just figured that the undecided guard would be less likely to put up a fight with fewer people egging her on.

~Hurt the girl and you all die.~ he stated bluntly, ~Throw down your weapons now and I’ll let you leave with your injured.~

“H-how do we know we can trust you?” the woman asked, stopping where she was.

“What!? Don’t trust it, you dumb bitch! It’s a fucking monster! Kill it! Shoot the fucking thing already!” roared the guy, almost incoherently, “And you, freak! This is your last warning, hear me!? The next time you make so much as a fucking snowflake, I’ll end this bitch! You get that!?”

~Yes.~ Ancell answered, his voice cold in the guard’s head.

He had no choice. He’d need to stop this man now. This was risky. It would have been much safer if he could’ve just negotiated with them. Obviously, though, that wasn’t going to be happening. He couldn’t just let the kid die after all she’d done to help him… and frankly, if he was being totally honest, he wouldn’t exactly have been keen on letting someone shoot a child in front of him, even if she hadn’t tried to save his life.

Taking a deep breath, he focused his mind, trying his utmost to push the meagre scrap of power that remained to him beyond what now was his limit. The aviankind felt something building up within him, like a burning star in his core, while the rest of his body was rapidly robbed of energy. His first instinct was to cut it off. It frightened him. He was unsure what this was, what it meant. If he fed it too much energy, drained himself dry, might that end up killing him?

He pushed aside those worries, though, and continued to build up his power. He staggered.

“Don’t move, you bastard! Keep still or she gets it! I’m not fucking kidding around here!” the male guard yelled. He wasn’t, either. Ancell could see the thoughts clearly formed in his head. He hadn't initially been willing to harm the child, but that had changed when the aviankind had shown what he could do by taking apart the rest of the man's team. He was now terrified out of his wits. The moment Ancell struck, that guy was going to shoot the little girl. He hesitated, knowing that he was going to feel guilty as hell if this didn’t work… but not sure what else could possibly be done at this stage.

Then he loosed his magic upon the kid’s captor. And at the same time he stumbled again, almost falling over as the energy was ripped forth from his body. It wasn’t just his raw power, but also his vast reserves of mana that the trip here had cost him. He was reduced in just about every way.

He felt vastly relieved, though, as he saw with his mental sense that his spell had worked exactly as intended. It had taken so much energy that he could barely stand, but he had succeeded in freezing that guard from head to toe in a single, huge block of ice. All except for the tip of his pseudo-crossbow, and his left hand, both of which were touching the girl. He hadn’t wanted to freeze her too.

“Wh-what!? What? No! No!” the last remaining foe pointed her weapon his way. She might’ve believed that they had time to save their leader, but there could be no doubt that that guy was screwed. There was no way they’d be getting through all that ice in time to stop the bastard from suffocating.

~Give up. Drop that thing already. It’s over.~ he told her. Even to himself, Ancell’s (mental) voice sounded hollow and tired.

“Monster!” she shrieked. Looking into her mind, the aviankind saw the mess that he’d made of it. She was just some small time town guard. He couldn’t read deeply enough to get a proper picture of her life—yet another weakened power—but even just from the fragmented remains of what passed for her surface thoughts, he could tell that this kind of battle was not something she’d ever expected to be involved in.

As far as she was concerned, her duties as a town guard—or rather, as a ‘police officer’, as she thought of herself—involved no more dangerous situations than apprehending shoplifters and vandals. It was going to take her some time to recover from going through something like this, if she ever did.

Falling to one knee, he expended yet more of his dwindling mana supply to freeze her weapon in a chunk of ice. He didn’t bother filling only the barrel. He didn’t actually care if she injured herself or not, he just wanted to keep her from shooting.

In her terror, she flinched the moment the ice formed. He caught a fleeting notion passing through her mind, a fear that the ice was going to envelop her entirely, as it had the hostage-taker. When she flinched, the young woman pulled the trigger.

The moment the explosive projectile which it launched came into contact with the ice inside the barrel, it detonated, utterly destroying her weapon, the ice around it, and most of the hand she’d been holding it in. Screaming in agony and clutching her mangled appendage, the rookie fell to the ground.

Ignoring her pained sobs and wails, Ancell forced himself to his feet and staggered over to the girl, who he pried free of the frozen guard’s grip. The moment he’d done so, she threw her arms around his waist, hugging him as she sobbed freely, her tears soaking into his feathers. He patted her head gently.

~I’m sorry you had to go through that~ he thought softly to her, though the statement elicited no response. For several long moments, he simply stood there, letting her get it all out of her system. Once she’d managed to pull herself together—for the time being, at least—she looked up at him. He angled his head down, as if he was meeting her gaze.

“A-are you alright?” she asked timidly, “Your wing… I-I have another needle.”

~I’ll be fine, don’t worry… I can’t afford to pass out again, not just yet, so please don’t use that needle. I just need to find somewhere else to rest for a while. This area clearly isn’t far enough from the town.~

She shook her head, “Nowhere is far enough. They’ll just find you again if you hide in the forest. But… if you want, I could sneak you into my house. We have lots of rooms that we don’t use, mum and dad will never even notice you, I promise.”

He hesitated, reluctant to endanger the girl any further… but he could hardly fly in his current condition, so reaching another island was out for the time being. He needed rest, and this might be his only way of avoiding these roaming gangs of ‘police officer’ people. It left a bad taste in his mouth, but he accepted nonetheless, while musing despondently on how far he had fallen. It would only have to be for a little while, he told himself; just until he could recover his strength, ~Alright, then. Thank you.~

She gave him a shaky smile, and he patted her head again. She first rushed off to gather up that first aid kit of hers, and the bloodied towel, then, taking his arm, the girl made to lead him from the clearing. He followed to start with, but upon reaching its edge Ancell froze, a sudden thought crossing his mind.

“Huh, what’s wrong?” she asked, looking back at him.

He sighed, ~These people have all seen you. If they tell anyone what you look like, the rest of their groups will most likely manage to track you down.~

“Oh.” the child said softly, and her grip on his forearm tightened.

He didn’t much like having to do this, but the aviankind couldn’t see any other way to keep her involvement hidden. Without turning back, he reached out with his mind and called into being another mask of ice, this time over the face of the unconscious man.

The woman who’d fired first noticed what had just happened and immediately sat up. She glared venomously towards him. He knew it would be more respectful to face her as she died, but instead of turning he simply envisaged the ice that already sealed her mouth shut creeping upwards. He didn’t see any point in being needlessly cruel, so he didn’t cover this one’s eyes. Once the mask had advanced past her nose he stopped the ice’s growth. She sat still and continued to glare. In her mind, he saw that she was desperate to keep from making a pointless attempt at peeling off the mask. She’d rather die without giving him the satisfaction of seeing her struggle.

Sighing again, he turned his power upon the youngest police officer, covering half of her face as well. She had no such desire not to struggle. All of her attempts at removing the ice were no less fruitless than her boss' had been, however.

~It’s done.~ he told the girl, ~Let’s go.~

And so they left.


Ancell uses 1 Focus on his Ability 'Thought of Glacier—Creation', in order to completely cover a dude in ice.

Focus Remaining: 0/1
 

Brain

of the Oración Seis
Level 1
Essence
€2,501
Coin
₡3,000
Tokens
0
She hadn't lied, Ancell found out, immediately after being snuck into the girl’s home (thankfully, her family lived on the edge of town); they had spare rooms in abundance. The odd thing was that the other houses in the area weren't noticeably smaller. He hadn't given it much thought initially—being too focused on his goal of getting back home to actually pay attention to the humans’ living arrangements—but all of these buildings were large enough that they would be considered mansions by the humans he was familiar with from the southern lands. His own people cared little for such frivolous things, so he wasn't impressed, exactly, by the size of them, but they did give him the impression that this town must be very successful, by human standards.

The child led him to a vacant bedroom and, once he'd lain down in the bed, stabbed his arm with that second first-aid needle of hers, and pushed down the plunger at its end, injecting the red, translucent fluid—which he assumed to be healing potion—into a vein. The healing hurt, but not nearly as much as the first time. Perhaps this was due to the hole in his wing being a less severe injury than the one in his gut, or perhaps it had more to do with his attempt to treat that first wound by freezing it shut. He didn't know, and didn't care to ask at that point. Also, he doubted the girl would know either; in all likelihood, her entire understanding of the needles was that using them on people made them get better… knowing how to administer a potion wasn't the same as actually being a healer, after all.

After that, he slept.

When he awoke, he found her sitting on the floor, leaning against his bed, asleep. He sat up, stretched out his arm and flexed it, examining the healing done by her potion and trying to determine if there had been any permanent damage. Nothing, so far as he could tell. The pain was gone entirely, and it didn't even feel stiff. It was impressive that these humans seemed so much more proficient in potion-making than those he was familiar with.

He had tried not to disturb her, but the child must have been a light sleeper, for she soon woke and jumped to her feet, beaming at him. He noticed that she'd washed off the blood and dirt—and realised that he should probably do the same at some point—and changed clothes… though her colour scheme was the same. The dress she now wore was mostly black, but with silver accents and patterns splashed across it, and sashes of gauzy, translucent, red fabric hung from various points. Her current pair of tights were also red, and she wasn't wearing shoes, now that they were indoors. Her outfits were a lot more complex (and much less practical) than those worn by most humans he had met before, which the aviankind imagined meant that they would be more costly.

“How are you? How do you feel? Are you okay?” the words poured out, spoken quickly.

~I'm fine, thanks to you.~ he patted her head, and ruffled her hair. Now that he'd healed, he really ought to leave. He didn't want to put this child in any more danger, and he obviously couldn't afford to stay in this town of well-armed humans, when he was so weak himself. Before he could do that, though, he needed to get some more information on how big of a journey he was facing to get back home, ~If I could just ask you for one more thing, could you-~

His stomach rumbled, and she snickered, then waved to a silver platter of food which sat on the bedside table, along with a glass of water, “Feed you? No problem! I don't know what you like to eat, so I just put some of everything on there.”

He could tell that much for himself. The dish held slices of meat, bread and cheese, as well as some fish, vegetables, fruit and some other, very brightly coloured things which he didn't even recognise. He'd been trying to ignore it, though. Despite his hunger, he was reluctant to eat, for he could not do so with his mask in place, ~I appreciate the gesture, but I can't take your food. Keep it, I'll-~

“It'll just have to be thrown out if you don't want it.” the girl said, giving him a shrug, “I've already eaten.”

He paused, ~You would throw all this away? You really don't have any means of storing your food?~

“Nope.” she told him in a chipper tone. Looking into her thoughts, he got the impression that she was telling the truth. But there was something else, too; a recent memory brought to the forefront of her mind by his question. She had retrieved all this food from some sort of metal box. She was certain that it wasn't a storage unit, but he couldn't imagine what else it could possibly be. Regardless of the answer, however, it seemed that her family was well-off enough that she truly believed that they'd not even notice this amount of food disappearing. It only made him more curious about this strange island on which he had found himself.

~Alright… but... I can't eat with you here.~

“Huh? Why not?” she was genuinely confused, her thoughts told him. It seemed as if she really knew nothing at all about his species. Stranger and stranger.

~I would have to remove my mask in order to do so,~ the aviankind explained, ~but we—my people—don't do that in the presence of others. Our faces are… private.~

“Oh.” she said sadly, looking down at the floor.

~Don't be upset, you wouldn't like my face anyway. It isn’t nice. Not at all pretty, unlike my mask.~

“If you say so.” the girl said glumly, then looked back up, “You’ll let me know when you’re done, though, won't you...? You’re not going to just leave?”

~Of course I will. And no, I wouldn’t leave without saying anything. Not after all that you’ve done to help me.~ he patted her head again, and she managed a smile.

Once she had gone, Ancell slowly removed his mask, though he kept his attention on her, on the other side of the door. He could tell from her thoughts that she was very curious as to what his face actually looked like—though thankfully not curious enough to have tried to remove his mask whilst he slept—so if she looked like she was about to burst in in an attempt at catching him with the mask off, he’d need to use his magic to freeze the door shut.

He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said that his species considered their faces private; hairless, eyeless, and with nothing but holes in their skulls for noses and ears, their heads were truly monstrous things. There must surely have been a time, back in the distant past, when they had been comfortable with their own appearances… but somewhere down the line, the aviankind had adopted the notion of beauty shared by the humans, elves, and many of the other surface-dwelling races, and had begun to consider themselves ugly. And then had come the masks. These days, they viewed them as being as much a part of themselves as their feathers were, and each designed their own, personal mask to best reflect who they considered themselves to be on the inside.

He pulled across the tray and began to eat. He was famished; he couldn’t be sure how long he had slept, but he figured that it must have been a while, and between that, the strain those healing potions had put on his body, and the mana cost for all the magic he had been using, Ancell had certainly pushed himself hard. His species were omnivorous, and he had no allergies, so none of the foods that the child had left him were things which he couldn’t eat. In only a minute or so, he had scarfed down the entire platter, including the colourful mystery-foods, which were extremely sweet, to the point of being sickly. He was hungry enough to eat them all even so, though he immediately downed the glass of water afterwards, in an attempt to wash away the taste.

Sighing contentedly, he replaced his mask, then invited the girl back into the room. She smiled when she saw that he was still there. Her thoughts told him this clearly, but even if he couldn’t read minds, it would have been obvious that she had worried he would leave the moment she was no longer of any use to him. It was a reasonable suspicion, as he did in fact have half a mind to do exactly that... it was just that until he was done interrogating her for information, she was still of use.

He had to admit that some random kid wasn’t likely to be the best possible source he could’ve found, but she should surely know something helpful, even if not much, and with his ability to pry into thoughts so stunted now, it wasn’t like he could just go rummaging through people’s minds to learn everything he needed.

“You’re done already?” she asked happily, eyeing the empty tray.

~I am indeed.~ he replied, then swung his legs off the bed, moving so that he was sitting on its edge. He patted the spot next to himself, ~Now, if you wouldn’t mind, please come and take a seat over here. I believe we have much to discuss.~

Nodding, she hopped up on the bed beside him, and they began talking.

It was a long conversation.

He started it off by telling her his name, and the child then introduced herself as 'Eleanor Myers'. That taken care of, he began asking her questions about the island. As expected of someone her age (eleven, she told him), she wasn’t exactly well-informed on the subject of politics, so he couldn’t really learn much about the town’s leadership from her.

She did, however, tell him where he was. As it turned out, he had been transported not to another point on his own world, as he had believed, but instead to an entirely different reality. This came as quite a shock, to put it mildly. It also wasn’t very reassuring to hear that, to the best of her knowledge, there was no exit from this realm.

It certainly explained why everything seemed so different, though. She told him that the place they were in was called ‘the Crossroads’, that there were actually several worlds in this reality, and those with enough money could afford to travel between them. The one they were on at the moment was called Opealon, and the vast majority of people here did not like magic at all.

He asked her about the magic weapons which the ‘police’ had used, and the healing potions she had injected him with, and Eleanor explained that though she had no idea how they actually worked, those things were all the result of science and technology, rather than magic. The people of Opealon loved to produce such wonders and use them as evidence that their ways were superior to the old fashioned mysticism and superstition practised elsewhere. Ancell had to admit, it was very impressive that such things could be done without magic, and it made sense that humans—being so much less adept in that area than his own people—would be keen on developing them.

The girl claimed that she loved magic, though, and had always dreamed of meeting someone who could actually use it. She begged him to teach her, and after much pleading, Ancell eventually agreed, though he did warn her that there were some humans who simply did not have the ability to channel mana, and so could never hope to actually use magic, no matter how hard they tried. That claim was based on how things worked in his own reality, of course; he hadn’t a clue if the same applied here or not, but he figured that it couldn’t exactly hurt to warn her, in case it turned out to be true.

She told him more about her world, about how magic users were regarded as lesser beings on the overwhelming majority of the islands, and how there were even those which had outlawed magic altogether; this one being such a place. She also told him that there was no real surface below the islands, only an unending ocean plied by vicious pirates and terrible, man-eating sea monsters. Sometimes, she told him, the seafarers would even find their way up to the islands and try to infiltrate the islanders’ towns and cities. Thankfully, the police would always arrest them on sight, before they could start murdering and thieving and raping people.

He interrupted her at that point, to ask if she actually knew what the word ‘rape’ meant. As it turned out, it was just something she had overheard adults saying on occasion; both from her parents, when they didn’t realise she was within earshot, and on something called ‘the news’, which her mother and father occasionally watched ‘on TV’... whatever that meant. She knew that rape was a bad thing, and that the seafarers liked doing it to people, but nothing beyond that. The aviankind didn’t bother enlightening her.

In exchange for Eleanor sharing all this information and more with him, Ancell told her stories of his own world, and of the wonders that could be accomplished with magic. He started off at the bottom, describing the least magically gifted races, then slowly working his way up through the different peoples’, so that she was suitably impressed when he told her of his own species—at the very top—and their immense power. He even proved his claim to be able to read minds by repeating some of her own thoughts back to her, which she was amazed by.

He had imagined that she might find it unnerving and invasive, as many of the less psychically gifted races in his reality did… but it seemed that she was too much of a magic fangirl to care about minor details such as having any privacy inside her own head.

Though she did ask about why his magic wasn’t nearly as powerful in reality as all of his people seemed to be in his descriptions. She didn’t say it out loud, but her thoughts told him that she believed he was exaggerating to make the aviankind seem more impressive than the spellcasters of the other races, when in fact they must surely have been on about the same level as the elven ones. Or perhaps the djinn, at best.

He ended up telling her all about his ill-fated attempt at helping the surface-dwellers end their warring ways, and his trip through the realm of illogic, which had seemingly stripped him of most of his magic before spitting him out here. Eleanor said she was sorry to hear about his friends’ deaths, and that they all seemed like nice people, then gave him a hug.

That was pretty much the end of their conversation. They sat there like that for a short time before he decided that he really should do something productive, like get himself cleaned up, and asked if there was somewhere he could wash off all the dried blood which covered his feathers.
 
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